DENALI: AT THE CORE
With a jet-like cabin design, dual-channel FADEC and the first clean-sheet turboprop engine in more than 30 years, the CESSNA DENALI aircraft is sure to disrupt the marketplace. But behind the features and capabilities of the new aircraft is a team of experts invested in both the plane and those who will sit inside.
THE TEAM’S LEADER
They call themselves “The Denali Core Team” and their mission is to deliver Textron Aviation’s most advanced single-engine turboprop. However, that’s where many of their similarities end. From manufacturing to customer service to marketing, the team is packed full of experts from strikingly different areas all working together to break boundaries.
“The best product comes from the best team,” stated Ernie Krusbsack, Denali’s Program Manager. “There isn’t an individual on this team that isn’t enthused and engaged about the product.”
Krubsack leads the core team, which is fitting considering his history with Textron Aviation. He’s been doing program manager work for nearly 20 years, most recently on the Cessna CITATION LATITUDE aircraft. His expertise lies in gathering innovators in many different fields of aviation and fostering an environment where they work in unison.
“It can be difficult,” Krubsack said. “But I find it enjoyable in the sense that you have to get into each person’s psyche, and you have to understand what makes them tick.”
GETTING TO WORK
While Krubsack leads the core team, each member of the team represents his or her own division. It’s a challenge they don’t take lightly.
“I’ve been interested in taking on the challenge of lead engineer on a program,” Manufacturing Engineer Program Manager Jonathan Braaten said. “When this opportunity became available, my supervisor handed me the keys and said, ‘Alright, let’s see what you’ve got.’”
Braaten’s push for human factors, ergonomics, and cost-effectiveness on the program stemmed from his manufacturing viewpoint. Others, such as David A. Dorner, emphasized the need for quality aftermarket parts and service options for Denali’s Customer Service Team.
“Early in the program, we established best practice, maintainability, and reliability goals to ensure reduced labor hours per flight hour,” stated Dorner. “We also monitored the associated design attributes for the platform to improve operational availability.”
Major aftermarket advances on the Denali aircraft included the implementation of an industry-leading diagnostic system, comprised of both a Central Maintenance Computer (CMC) and a full-time data recorder (AReS). When combined, the CMC and AReS provide indicated causes for crew alerts and advanced troubleshooting, a major boon for Customer Service representatives. Other on-board solutions already incorporated on the aircraft help to minimize specialized tools and test equipment needed for Denali turboprop maintenance.
The team’s use of the Maintenance Steering Group (MSG-3) analysis process further highlighted the unique collaboration on the Denali turboprop. Comprised of a steering committee of operators, suppliers, engineering personnel, and FAA representatives, the team involved in the MSG-3 process provided detailed analysis of every system, structure, and zone of the aircraft for scheduled tasking and maintenance interval requirements.
When other Core Team areas step up to support the needs of other departments in the build, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. “This engineering team has been amazing. Very, very responsive,” Dorner said of the requested changes from Aftermarket. “That’s been very exciting.”
That balance often revealed itself in gray areas and processes that had to be tested, developed and finally implemented. Much of the responsibility fell under Brad Bednar, the Experimental Project Coordinator.
“I think I’m just comfortable dealing with ambiguity and then learning something new each day and each week. In this role, if you want to stick to one schedule or one way of doing things, you’re not going to absorb all the knowledge,” Bednar said. “As the plane gets built, you check and adjust your plan seven, ten, twelve times and see what’s the best route to move.”
INNOVATION MEETS PASSION
“It becomes a big part of your life,” Braaten said about the Denali aircraft. “The Denali turboprop is a high priority program for Textron Aviation, so it’s a huge but exciting responsibility.”
It’s been nearly five years of work for many on the Denali Core Team and that time and investment means passion.
“We’re all personally connected to the Denali turboprop,” IT Senior Specialist Mark Thomas said. “It’s more than an airplane for those of us involved. It’s a collection of work from tons of people and the relationships that you build.”
Dorner equated the project to other legacy designs when he said, “KING AIR turboprops, CARAVAN turboprops, those have been around for a very long time and I fully believe that the Denali turboprop will be the next one of those. It’s an advanced turboprop and I believe it will be here for a long time. I think someday I’ll be telling my grandkids, ‘I was on that team.’”
Braaten added, “We’re doing something that’s unique. This is a brand-new clean-sheet airplane and when we’re done, I can say our team did that. That’ll be out there for who knows how long. Long past my lifespan, I’m sure.”
For some, it could be their future left seat.
“Because I have my pilot’s license and enjoy the plane aspect of this business, with the Denali turboprop, maybe it’s something I’ll be flying in the future,” Bednar added.
When that moment comes for the Denali aircraft to leap into the air for the first time, this team says it will be emotional.
“Hair tingling. It happens every time,” Krubsack said. “Every time I go to a first flight that I’ve been a part of, it really tingles the hair on the back of your neck and just gives you the enthusiasm that you get about every five years.”
Thomas added, “The first flight is that magic moment culminating years of work.”
As that moment nears, the Denali Core Team says it wants to highlight one other thing. It’s not just the core team behind this aircraft. It’s hundreds of employees on various shifts doing any number of duties who are making this innovative dream come alive.