FedEx has ordered the first 50 SkyCouriers that will be turned out from the Wichita, Kansas, factory, with options on another 50. The Wichita Business Journal reported that FAA certification of the heavy-hauling turboprop twin (capable of flying with a 6,000-pound payload, or configured as a 19-seater for passenger service) expected later this year will solidify Textron’s place as the top local employer, with a workforce of 8,200 people that recently surpassed that of commercial aviation vendor Spirit AeroSystems Inc. While the coronavirus pandemic crippled commercial air travel, Cessna is bullish that sales lost to COVID-19 in 2020 will be recaptured this year and next.
The SkyCourier test fleet has completed more than 700 hours of flight tests, Textron announced March 25, and remains on track for first delivery later this year. Recent test program developments include envelope expansion and “bird strike testing, which included eight separate tests over a two-month period, to demonstrate the impact resistance of the windshield glass and surrounding structure,” the press release noted. The Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-65SC engine has been certified by Transport Canada, with FAA approval expected soon. The SkyCourier has also been tested at extreme temperatures, and “all corners” of the speed, attitude, and structural design envelope have been expanded. SkyCourier has also passed its tests in icing conditions.
The production line has also been completed, including “high-speed machining,” and final assembly of the $5.5 million production aircraft is or very soon will be underway.
“The SkyCourier was designed to fulfill a need in the marketplace for a flexible, reliable, high-utilization aircraft for customers around the world, and its versatility makes it a great fit for a wide range of operations,” said Chris Hearne, Textron Aviation senior vice president of engineering and programs. “The aircraft has performed exceptionally well through every phase of testing, and we’re pleased by its progress. With the start of [the] certification flight test phase, we are entering one of the most important phases of the SkyCourier program, and I’m confident in our highly skilled team and the outstanding abilities of this aircraft.”