This was the first test flight after the Blackhawk conversion was completed by Ben Esterhuizen at 208 Aviation (see also World Airnews' December 2011 and January 2012 editions).
"Does the Blackhawk conversion really make a difference to the Caravan's flight performance?" was probably the one question on everyone's mind. Emile Dellieu, ATP pilot with approximately 2500 hours just on Caravans and a Test Pilot Rating, was sitting in the left seat and Jim Allmon, president and CEO of Blackhawk, was in the right seat.
As the Caravan lifted off the runway with one of the shortest takeoff rolls ever seen performed by a Caravan at that airport, and entered into a steep, steady climb, all you heard from those watching, was "Wow!"
But a test flight like this does not start without its problems. There was a hold up when a fault was discovered in the new avionics system and this caused a rather long delay in the test flight which had to be rescheduled a number of times during the day.
This delay gave onlookers a chance to look inside the cowling and inspect Ben Esterhuizen's impeccable workmanship and see what Blackhawk has packed inside the cowling of the Caravan.
Allmon also used this opportunity to educate many of the onlookers by giving them a more detailed explanation as to why and
what the Blackhawk did. This session was very informative and gave spectators a good insight to what a conversion like this entails.
Eventually the avionics problem was resolved and the Caravan was pre-flighted for its maiden flight with the Blackhawk conversion, followed by an uneventful start up and taxi to the threshold.
Then the Caravan took off and climbed effortlessly to 11 000 ft where various power tests were performed and evaluated. The climb looked impressive from the ground and on return from the test flight, Dellieu was asked what his rate of climb was. All he said, with a huge smile on his face, was that, at one point, they were climbing at around 2000 ft/min.
The flight test was a huge success and there were smiles and congratulations all around. Almost immediately the cowling was opened and the PT6-42A was inspected for oil leaks and any unwanted signs of damage.
In celebration of this successful Blackhawk conversion, which is the first in the world outside the USA, Flitecare Air Charters arranged a weekend away for some invited guests and the media at a private game lodge in the Timbavati area. This meant that I was able to experience flying in the Caravan with the new Blackhawk conversion.
With two crew and six passengers, we took off from Wonderboom Airport on the Saturday morning early and headed east at a cruise altitude of 11 000 ft. We cruised with a maximum ground speed of 200 knots towards the game lodge.
On arrival and shortly after breaking cloud, we landed effortlessly on the game farm's grass strip and then waited for everyone else
to arrive. After a wet, but relaxing weekend, Sunday was home time and so arrived the end of a very historical moment in the history of the C208 Caravan in South Africa.
The official launch was held a few days later at 208 Aviation, which is still the only AMO in Africa qualified to perform the Blackhawk conversion on the C208. During the event, owner Francois Naude treated all the guests to a short but impressive display with the Caravan.
This display again demonstrated the absolute brute power the Blackhawk conversion packs. He demonstrated the short takeoff ability of the Caravan and the impressive rate of climb as well as performing a very short landing.
Small wonder that Blackhawk claims it has brought a new dimension to flying Caravans in Africa.