Beechcraft Denali Faces Delays, Adds New Garmin Autoland Feature

Credit: Textron Aviation

Textron Aviation’s clean-sheet Beechcraft Denali turboprop single will now come equipped with the Garmin Autoland system, officials announced, while the Denali’s entry-into service has now slipped to 2025 due to delays in its new GE Catalyst engine.

Supply chain challenges and additional rigorous certification requirements have led to additional engine delays, officials said during a briefing on the Denali.

Because of customer input, Garmin’s Autoland system is now part of the Denali’s development and flight test program and will be a standard feature. The system will land an aircraft automatically in the event the pilot is incapacitated. The system, activated with the push of a dedicated button, takes control of the aircraft informs ATC of an emergency, calculates and flies a plane to the most suitable airport, lands and shuts down the engine.

The Autoland system is an excellent addition to the $4.8 million Denali and its G3000 avionics suite, says Lannie O’Bannion, Textron Aviation senior vice president of sales and flight operations. “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.”

Textron Aviation first announced the single-engine turboprop Denali in July 2016. Most recently, in October 2022, officials announced a one-year delay in certification, anticipated in 2023, but had moved to late 2024. The company is now contacting customers about the additional program delay. 

That time period has slid to align with further delays in the certification of the GE Aviation’s clean-sheet Catalyst engine. The engine, a 1,300 shp engine, is the first clean-sheet turboprop engine design in the past 50 years. 

Engine certification is now expected in late 2024. 

To date, GE has conducted 5,400 hours of ground and flight testing across 26 Catalyst engines. The Denali has completed 540 flights across three test aircraft, amassing 1,300 flight hr.

The GE Catalyst engine is “running great,” says Paul Corkery, GE Aerospace vice president, with up to 20% better fuel burn and up to 10% higher powered cruise. 

“We feel very good about what we’ve seen so far in terms of the availability, the engine, the performance, the starting capability, operability—all the things we’re really looking for in this kind of product,” says Chris Lorence, GE Aviation chief engineer and general manager.  

The engine includes many firsts taken from GE technology found in its large engines, including variable geometry in the first two stages of the compressor and, with the engine runner hotter, cooled turbine blades. 

The Denali will also include Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), integrating the throttle, propeller and mixture controls into a single lever control. 

“It’s all integrated into one unique solution,” Corkery says. 

To that end, the company has conducted 3,400 hr. of testing on the Denali’s new McCauley five-blade propeller.

The Catalyst engine is the first clean-sheet design in its class in five decades, Lorence says.  

“A lot has changed from a certification standpoint in terms of regulations,” he says. Over the past 15 years or so, the FAA has implemented more than 20 new or updated requirements, many of them relating to ingestion and the ability to handle conditions such as crystal icing, supercooled droplets and large birds.

“We’re incorporating all of that in our certification program,” Lorence says. “It’s a very rigorous approach. It’s also taking a lot of capacity to be able to go do it, and so that’s what we’re working through right now. We’re very proud of the progress we’ve made so far.” 

GE has also encountered many supply chain challenges. The bulk of its supply chain is in the European Union. Final assembly and test is located in Prague. 

“What’s influencing our perspective right now—it’s being able to get trained people who are able to work at our supply base, being able to get raw material flow—all those sorts of things are challenges across the industry, and we are standing up a new supply chain for a new product,” Lorence says. “Getting down the learning curve to get the efficiency that we’re look for, that’s caused us to really reevaluate the schedule and have a high confidence plan.”

GE is nearly three quarters of the way through its test plan. It has six additional engine tests and 11 more certificated component tests to finish before testing concludes. The company has completed certification record reports on the testing that has been concluded. 

GE recently completed the initial maintenance interval inspection test. In the test, GE runs the engine and then tears it down to the piece and part level to conduct inspections, Lorence says. 

“One of the areas we always look for when we do these kinds of tests is to look at the hot section,” he says. “We’re very pleased with how these parts look. That goes straight to durability.” 

In the year and a half since the Denali’s first flight, the company has made an “incredible amount of progress,” says Dustin Smisor, Textron Aviation chief test pilot for the Denali.  

It has been tested in extremely hot conditions in Yuma, Arizona, and in extremely cold and icy conditions in far northern Canada. 

Test pilots have robustly tested the avionics, the autopilot, the auto throttle, environmental control system, ice protection system and, most importantly, the engine, Smisor says. 

“We’re very pleased with all the work that they’ve put into designing this engine,” Smisor says. “We have just been super pleased with the reliability of this engine and the airplane in general .... The airplane and the engine are just a perfect match for each other.”

The Denali is simple to operate yet provides a “jet-like experience” in the cockpit and the cabin, he says.

“It’s simple, but yet you sit in the back of the cabin—you feel like you’re in a jet,” Smisor says. In the cockpit, pilots find few switches and a single power lever for an integrated and automation. “It’s a lot of fun to fly.” 

Smisor was on the third flight of testing the Garmin Autoland in the Denali. 

“We went out to Colorado. Got behind Pikes Peak, just activated the buttons to see how it would route around mountainous terrain,” he says. “We want to take this great product that they already have out there and optimize it and make it even better for the Denali. I think we’re doing that already.”

The Beechcraft Denali is designed for cruise speeds of 285 kt, a full fuel payload of 1,100 lb. and a 1,600 nm high range at high-speed cruise with one pilot and four passengers. It is equipped with the Garmin G3000 avionics suite and features a standard seating configuration of six individual reclining seat, inflight accessible baggage compartment and forward refreshment cabinet. It also offers a nine-place high density seating option.

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.