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Textron adds Garmin Autoland to Denali aircraft; certification now expected in 2025

By Dayna Fedy-MacDonald | May 8, 2023

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 15 seconds.

Textron Aviation announced on May 8 that it is adding Garmin’s Emergency Autoland system to the new Beechcraft Denali single-engine turboprop, which is to be available as a standard feature upon the aircraft’s entry into service, which is now slated for 2025. This announcement marks the first Textron product to be equipped with Emergency Autoland.

Textron said Autoland — which allows the aircraft to land automatically with the push of a button in the event of pilot incapacitation — is currently being “implemented into the [Denali’s] development and flight test program.” The system has been added to the Denali as a direct response to customer feedback, Textron said, and will complement the aircraft’s Garmin G3000 avionics suite with integrated Garmin autothrottle.

The Beechcraft Denali single-engine turboprop. Textron Aviation Photo

Once activated, Autoland “immediately takes control of the aircraft and informs [air traffic control] of the emergency,” Textron said. “It then calculates a flight path to the most suitable airport or runway, while avoiding terrain and adverse weather, initiates a stabilized approach and automatically lands the aircraft — bringing it to a stop before shutting down the engine.”

Regarding the new FADEC-equipped, 1,300-shaft-horsepower GE Catalyst engine that was selected for the Denali, GE Aerospace chief engineer Chris Lorence said the engine is nearly three-quarters of the way through its test plan, and GE feels “very good about what we’ve seen so far in terms of the availability of the engine, the performance, the starting capability, and operability.”

The engine has a total of 5,400 hours on it between ground and flight tests. Of those, 1,300 hours are from 540 flights between three Denali aircraft in the flight test program.

According to Paul Corkery, GE’s general manager of turboprop programs, the Catalyst engine is running great; “we’re getting up to 20 percent better fuel burn and up to 10 percent higher power in cruise.”

However, the engine OEM has been feeling the effects of industry-wide supply chain challenges, which is partially responsible for the Catalyst’s certification timeline slipping from late 2022 to late 2024.

Another factor contributing to the delay, Corkery noted, is that the Catalyst is the first clean-sheet engine design in its class in roughly 50 years, and there are more factors to consider from the certification standpoint — such as being able to handle ice crystal icing, supercooled droplets, large birds, etc. “It’s a rigorous certification process,” he said.

Lorence added that GE has six more engine tasks and 11 more component tests to work through before completing the certification report.  

The Denali during cold weather testing in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Textron Aviation Photo

Textron said it has aligned the certification timing of the Denali (2025) to the certification timeline of the Catalyst engine. The Denali’s certification target has been pushed twice since the aircraft was introduced in early 2017. While the initial target was 2023, Textron announced last October that the Denali’s certification would slide to mid-2024; since the company was working on both the SkyCourier and the Denali at the same time, the Denali was “purposely rescheduled” behind the SkyCourier due to resource constraints. Now, the new target timeline is 2025 due to certification of the GE Catalyst engine being pushed to late 2024.

Nonetheless, Dustin Smisor, flight test manager and chief pilot for the Denali, said Textron has achieved a lot throughout 1,300 hours of flight testing across three flight test aircraft so far, from hot weather testing in Yuma, Arizona, to cold weather testing in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

“We’ve tested the airplane in icing conditions, we’ve robustly tested the avionics, the autopilot, the autothrottle, the environmental control system and, of course, the engine,” said Smisor.

“We as test pilots take the airplane to the extremes . . . to extreme parts of the envelope . . . and we have been super pleased with the reliability of the engine and the airplane in general,” he added. “There’s a lot of work that goes into starting with a clean-sheet airplane and a brand-new engine . . . but we have made incredible progress.”

The Denali — which can accommodate a six-seat executive cabin or nine-seat commuter configuration — is engineered to achieve cruise speeds of 285 knots and full fuel payload of 1,100 pounds, with a range of 1,600 nautical miles at high-speed cruise with one pilot and four passengers on board.

The Denali can accommodate a six-seat executive cabin or nine-seat commuter configuration. Textron Aviation Photo

While Textron has not yet shared backlog information for the Denali, the company’s senior VP of global sales and flight operations, Lannie O’Bannion, confirmed there is “strong demand” for the aircraft, and noted that “we’re going to see more demand as we announce the addition of the Autoland feature.”

He added: “The feature makes the Denali even more desirable to a wider audience as it adds yet another element of assurance and peace of mind for pilots and passengers.”

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