One never forgets the flight flight. And 2021 will certainly remain a memorable year for engineers, testing and tech specialists at GE Aviation and Avio Aero. Those memories from over the skies of Berlin, which last September 30 took the maiden flight of the new Catalyst engine on the experimental Beechcraft King Air 350 aircraft, to those of Wichita.

The famous Kansas town boasts a centuries-old tradition in aeronautics: In 1910, hot air balloons were already floating in its skies and the first Aero Club was founded there in 1915. The first airplane built in those parts in 1911 was the work of Clyde Cessna – a farmer from the close town of Rago – who shortly afterward started his business in North Wichita and six years later built the Comet. Within another four years, the Wichita area was already home to brands such as Swallow, Travel Air, Cessna and Stearman. The grand total of aircraft produced here was greater than any other in the United States.

It’s a legendary history, which Paolo Peraudo, Senior Performance Engineer at Avio Aero and key member of the Beechcraft Denali first flight team, rediscovered recently. “The American Chamber of Commerce of Aeronautics named Wichita the capital of the air in 1928 and since then it has obtained this title on several other occasions,” says Peraudo. “So much so that it is now called the ‘air capital of the world'”.

On the morning of November 23, at the first light of dawn under a crystal clear sky polished by a light breeze, Peraudo was there at the runway together with his colleagues and the team of Textron Aviation, the launch customer for the Catalyst engine. The two pilots were there even with their families to celebrate and enjoy that special moment.

“During the first flight I was lucky enough to sit next to the Textron Aviation team and communicate directly with Pierpaolo Forte and Alvaro Hernandez, our colleagues who were monitoring the engine and the various parameters from the telemetry room,” says Peraudo. “It is almost impossible to describe the feelings we had when the aircraft landed, suddenly all our hard work and sacrifices made sense. Accomplished there, before our eyes.”

Textron Aviation is the aircraft manufacturer, and world leader in its sector, which today carries the historic crest at its Wichita headquarters, along with the famous Beechcraft and Cessna brands. The prototype for the new Beechcraft Denali, last November, flew for 2 hours and 50 minutes during which the performance and stability of the aircraft, as well as the propulsion system, control systems and avionics were tested (and appreciated) by the two test pilots.

“I enjoy everything I fly, but especially the aircraft I’ve helped develop and certify. I have a passion for aircraft that perform well and are simple to operate,” said Textron Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot, Dustin Smisor, who has more than 23 years of experience and has accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours. “The Denali first flight was one of the highlights of my career. It was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. I enjoyed every minute of that first flight and the excitement surrounding it.”

The Catalyst can count on a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control), the system that integrates in a single lever the propeller and engine controls ensuring better control and greater responsiveness for the pilot, whilst also simplifying the integration between propeller and avionics.

Smisor’s excitement for the first flight is also due to the relationships and atmosphere on the testing field. “I have enjoyed working with GE, especially the onsite team here in Wichita. It is great to glean from their expertise and work towards a common goal.”

 

The Denali already attracted much curiosity on the aeronautical scene also thanks to its innovative technologies. “Denali is full of new features such as auto-throttle, single lever control, full FADEC engine and prop control”, said the Denali Program Manager, Ernie Krubsack. “Pilots will enjoy flying this aircraft.”

Krusback is an industry expert, who joined the aviation industry in 1980 and has been with Textron Aviation since 1992. He is looking optimistically at the future of the Denali. “It’s characteristics make it a highly versatile, universal and very efficient aircraft, so much so that since the first flight in November, there has been an increase in interest in it around the globe,” Krubsack added.

The Denali has all the requirements to carve out leading accreditation within the industry, along with its brand-new Catalyst engine, which in the meantime has yet collected 150 flight hours and over 3,000 hours of operation in tests and certification trials—relevant numbers for an engine developed and built from a blank sheet of paper in 2015.

“The new engine design and efficiencies have been very impressive to this point,” concludes Krusback. “It’s a versatile product for both the sports adventurist, as well as the business personal. It will serve both purposes in a compelling way.”