Could a New Cessna Find Its Way to the Battlefield?

An artist concept of the new Cessna SkyCourier 408. An artist concept of the new Cessna SkyCourier 408. Cessna

Cessna, known for its iconic single-engine passenger aircraft, announced Tuesday that it will build a new twin-turboprop after receiving an order of up to 100 of the planes from FedEx.

The new plane, dubbed the SkyCourier 408, will be larger and more modern than the single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan currently flown by FedEx — and militaries mostly in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

So could the new SkyCourier find its way into the military market? If past experience is any indicator, the answer is a resounding yes.

“SOCOM buys a couple of everything, right,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group a Virginia-based consulting firm, referring to the niche fleet of propeller-driven planes flown by U.S. Special Operations Command.

SOCOM uses various turboprops and other civil-market planes to covertly fly troops in and out of airfields around the world. Air Force Special Operations Command has its own mixed fleet of small turboprops, including the PZL C-145A, Dornier C-146A Wolfhound, and Pilatus U-28A. All three planes are modified civil aircraft.

Slated to enter service with FedEx in 2020, the SkyCourier will be able to carry nearly twice as much cargo and more people than the Cessna Grand Caravan. Some militaries, such as the Afghan Air Force, use them exclusively for transport. Others fly them on intelligence and even strike missions; the Iraqi Air Force arms its Caravans with Hellfire missiles.

“That’s sort of in a sweet spot where you can get in, infiltrate, exfiltrate, but also small enough where you can do recon work,” Aboulafia said of the Caravan. “I’m not so sure what the 408 gives you that the 208 didn’t, or somebody else didn’t.”

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