Caravan Nation Articles
Across the Atlantic in a Caravan
To some, 5 days and 51 hours of
flying across half of the globe in a single engine aircraft seemed like
a silly idea. But it was an exciting journey flying across the Atlantic
Ocean, diverse land forms and even more diverse countries.
Ferrying a new aircraft is one thing which most pilots would love to do, but when you tell them that you are crossing the Atlantic in a single engine aircraft, then they start asking, “Are you okay? How will you manage to fly a Caravan for 12 hours?” But we are talking about a brand new aircraft, the latest addition to Auric Air’s fleet, here in Mwanza, Tanzania. I was fortunate to get this chance of ferrying a new aircraft from Wichita to Nairobi, Kenya, and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.
So here we were in
Wichita, Kansas, the ‘Air Capital’ of the World. Cessna, Hawker
Beechcraft, Learjet, you name it and Wichita has it. I could see new,
shiny planes, all over at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita. Our journey
to Nairobi would take us through Cincinnati and Bangor in USA, Santa
Maria Island and Azores in Portugal, Luqa,Malta, and Luxor, Egypt. That
sounded exciting! Let me first familiarize you with our aircraft, which
was a Cessna Caravan, model C208B. It is a single engine turboprop
airplane, which can fly non-stop for six-and a-half hours and can cover
1,800kms. It is the most successful single engine turboprop ever made.
It can land and take off from short airstrips, especially in the bush. I
was at Wichita with Alex Haynes, my fellow ferry pilot, who would
accompany me till Nairobi. We departed at 0900 hrs for Cincinnati,
Kentucky, which would take us 4 hours. We over flew a lot of cities and
small towns and each one of them had an airport or at least an airstrip.
No wonder aviation is way ahead in the USA than India. While overflying
St Louis, Missouri, I could see the Gateway Arch, and it looked
beautiful from above. A couple of hours later we landed at Northern
Kentucky International Airport. We had a quick bite and then after an
hour we took off for Bangor, Maine, our final U.S. destination.
Flying for MAF
Our home base was the village of Nyankude, located about 1000nm from the country's capital, Kinshasa and around 400nm from Nairobi Kenya. Nyankude was a prime location, with a fully equipped hospital and two hangers to service and repair the aircraft based there. We had a fleet of around three 206’s and the one Cessna Caravan.
Around once a week I would make the trip to Nairobi in the Caravan to pick up the mail for everyone in our village. We worked over there before either telephones or the Internet were accessible. Mail usually took about four weeks for it to be delivered or received. If there was ever and emergency we had the option of using an HF radio in the Caravan to patch a call to the United States via Switzerland.
Many hours were spent flying over the Ituri rain forest, where the upper canopies would reach heights of 200ft. In the event an airplane did go down out in the rain forest; there would be little to no chance of it ever being found. Although I avoided thinking about it too much, looking back I realize how much my life and the lives of everyone I flew depended on the reliability and safety of the Caravan and PT-6.
Occasionally I would make the trip to the country's capital of Kinshasa. I could usually make the trip to Kinshasa non-stop due to the winds being out of the east; but on the return trip I would have to stop for fuel. The fuel stop would depend on the route taken, it would sometimes be a city like Kisangani, or at a remote out-station we had set up with stockpiles of fuel barrels.
I recall a particular incident on this route when I was to deliver a family with all of their belongings from Kinshasa to a remote village on the eastern side of the country. The trip would require a fuel stop at an outstation that was carved out of the forest. We arrived at the outstation without incident, and I started the tedious task of refueling the Caravan at the fuel stockpile. It required filling 5 gallon jerry cans from barrels using a hand pump, I then had to stand on the wing while someone passed me the can and I would poor it into the fuel tank with a funnel.
After successfully refueling the plane, seating the family back in the plane and preforming the pre-flight, I went to crank the PT-6. To my dismay there was no light off. I realized that the familiar ticking of the igniter, that we take for granted, wasn’t there. After checking and re-checking, sure enough the igniter box had failed, and in the worst place. I succeeded in contacting our base in Nyankunde on the HF radio, and unfortunately we didn’t have another box in stock. The closest one they could locate was at Wilson Field in Nairobi.
We then made ourselves comfortable in a couple of vacant homes in a nearby village, while waiting for help. I have memories of eating lots of bananas during those days, as well as taking tour on the river in a dug-out canoe. Two days later, one of our 206’s arrived with a new igniter box and I proceeded with the simple installation of bolting the new one in place. Since that time, I believe that Cessna has added a second igniter box for just that type of circumstance.
The Caravan was an amazing plane to be able to, not only work on as an A&P but also, fly as a pilot. I am grateful for the opportunities that I had at that time to use it to its full potential serving the people in Congo.
For more information about MAF, please visit their site www.maf.org
How to Properly Fly Skydivers in the Cessna Caravan
The Cessna 208A Caravan and 208B Grand Caravan are by far the most common turbine jump airplanes in the world. From Skydive Switzerland to Skydive Andes, from Skydive Sydney to Skydive Dubai and everything in between you will find Caravans hard at work flying skydivers. Jump pilots love how fun and easy it is to fly, owners love its lower operating costs compared to other turbine aircraft and skydivers love the high wing and large exit door.
There are many versions of the Caravan: 208A, 208B, 208B EX, Black Hawk upgrade Aero Twin upgrade and Texas Turbines upgrade. The 208A Caravan aka “Mini Van” climbs fair, the 208B Grand Caravan aka “Grand Van” climbs good and the Black Hawk (850hp), Aero Twin (1000hp) and Texas Turbines (1000hp) conversions climb great! The version that you will see at most drop zones around the world is the 208B Grand Caravan, and is why I will mostly refer to this model.
For most of the jump pilots that will transition from a piston to a turbine, this will be your airplane. Most of us pilots did our training in a high wing single engine Cessna which makes the Caravan the easiest turbine to transition to and another reason why DZOs love it.
Before Take Off:
The loading of the Caravan is similar to most other turbine jump airplanes. There are 2 benches that the skydivers straddle and face the back of the airplane. Make sure that no one sits in the very back near the back wall, and trust me, they will try and sit there no matter how many times you tell them not to. It’s not quite as big of a deal if you have a light load. But I have definitely noticed some CG issues on that with heavier loads.
One of the most critical parts of any Caravan pilots day is avoiding a “hot start”. A hot start is when temperatures rise above 1090 degrees Celsius in the combustion section and cause internal damage to the engine on start up. You may have a hot start if you have a weak battery, if the emergency power lever is not stowed or if the bleed air switch was left on. Most hot starts are the fault of the pilot, it is very rare for a Caravan to have a true hot start. If you cause one, you more than likely will be looking for another job in the near future. The engine will need to be removed and tore down for a complete internal inspection at the very least.
After start up, be sure and check to see that you do not have a fuel imbalance greater than 200lbs. If you do, turn the lighter tank switch off, in order to burn off fuel from the heavier side. You should burn enough fuel during your taxi and run up to equal things out a little. Monitor that fuel imbalance in the air as well. I’ve flown a Caravan that liked to drink from one tank more than the other and I had to constantly monitor that.
I know a lot of us jump pilots fly from rough airstrips, so be sure and make use of the Inertial Separator while taxiing. It will minimize ingestion of foreign matter into the compressor. Just be sure and stow it before take off or you will notice a great reduction in take off power and it is very hard to stow with full throttle.
As part of your GUMPSFITS check, add 20 degrees of flaps for take off. Advance the throttle slow and steady. As with most airplanes, it will let you know when its ready to rotate, but it’s usually around 70 KIAS because we’re usually heavy. Obviously, when we’re lighter, it will want to get off the ground sooner or at a lower airspeed. Climb out initially at around 90 KIAS and then lower the nose to 100 KIAS, which is slightly less than Vy (104 KIAS). That speed seems to work the best for the C208B. As with any jump plane you fly, initially you should experiment with different airspeeds while timing yourself. Your torque should be Max. until ITT or Ng limit. Retract flaps 10 degrees at a time starting at 1000 ft AGL. Check in with ATC.
Once on jump run your airspeed should be at 85 KIAS, your flaps at 10 degrees, torque between 600-900ft-lbs and prop RPM at 1850. It will be possible to lower that airspeed and RPM slightly as you get more comfortable flying this airplane. At about 2 miles out turn the red door light on. Make your 2 minute call to ATC and then a 1 minute call on CTAF. Turn on the green jump light. While the jumpers are exiting, make sure that your tail never gets low. I have personally never had a skydiver strike the horizontal stabilizer of the Caravan, but I have heard of it happening.
It is important to note that a lot of Grand Vans have a front float step and you will notice that if someone is on it they will be very close to the left flap trailing edge. I have had inexperienced jumpers on that front float step bend the corner of the flap with their rig. Brief your video and fun jumpers not to lean up against the flap. Luckily most DZs will only allow experienced jumpers to use the front float step but even some of them do not realize how easily they can bend it.
We jump pilots are basically doing an emergency descent on every flight. As soon as the last skydiver exits, put the flaps up, power to idle and jump light off while simultaniously lowering the nose. Constantly scan for other air traffic that might be in the area and/or any skydivers that might have pulled high. The maximum cargo door open airspeed is 155 KIAS. Your descent rate will be around 5000 ft/min. If it’s your last load of the day, be sure and thank ATC for all their help. They appreciate it and it’s the least we can do, considering that they look out for us every day. For landing, use full flaps unless it’s windy. After landing, again, if you’re on a dirt or similar airstrip, use the inertial separator.
If your’re a new turbine pilot be sure and read the book The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual. Most pilot’s that have moved up to the turbine world have read it and highly recommend it. Also, for the new Caravan pilots, be sure and read Caravan - Cessna’s Swiss Army Knife with Wings.