The Commuter Turboprop Challenge
By Ron Blehm (July 28, 2011)
One day I was driving past my local International Airport and stopped to watch a couple of Dash 8-Q400s land; to my surprise, one of them was actually an ATR-42. On the flightsim I had been doing some flying in the Do-328 turboprop and it got me to thinking about how so many aircraft are so similar in so many ways. I got to wondering, "Other than price, what is it that leads an airline to choose the Dornier over the ATR?" So I looked up some information on some of the most current Twin Turboprop Commuters and here's what "the book" says:
Is the ATR really that great?
LENGTH / SPAN:
- The EMB-120 is certainly the smallest
- The Do-328 is certainly the fastest
- Even if we cut the ATR's range in half it still tops the others
- The Russian plane is the biggest / strongest
- The Saab has the least power
- While not shown, the Max takeoff weight goes to the An-24, then ATR
- The Dash-8 is just buried in the middle somewhere
But my questions remained, "If you don't need a big moose to haul stuff in, but you want to be maneuverable and efficient, which one do you choose?" So, as we do so well around here, I went to the sim. I loaded up a flight plan from runway 28 at St. Barts in the Caribbean, around St. Maarten and back. I wanted to see which aircraft could clear the obstruction on the west end of the airport, make the circuit with speed and efficiency, land back over the obstacle and (importantly) stop while still on the pavement. (I know it's not a mountain but still very challenging) Failure to complete any segment would mean elimination! (If I crashed I'd give a second (or third) try just to minimize the risk of pilot error.)
- I loaded the flight plan.
- I placed the aircraft on runway 28 with 2,000 pounds of fuel and no payload.
- I cleared all weather factors.
- In each flight, I'd release the brakes, hit the stopwatch and firewall the throttles.
- I had my autopilot altimeter set at 1,200 feet ASL.
- At the finish line we'll add 2 seconds for every pound of fuel burned and the plane with the lowest overall score wins.
Time = 12:17
Fuel = 429 pounds (rounded)
Total = 26:40
Time = 14:00
Fuel = 408 pounds (rounded)
Total = 27:35
Time = 13:50
Fuel = 308 pounds (rounded)
Total = 24:24
Time = 11:42
Fuel = 407 pounds (rounded)
Total = 25:15
In three attempts to take-off the Antonov did not clear the rising obstacle off the west end of the airport. FAILED!
Time = 13:30
Fuel = 387 pounds (rounded)
Total = 26:30
I know that different modelers may have various opinions about how to set up performance and configuration details but according to my testing ...
- The Do-328 had the fastest IAS
- The ATR was 30 seconds faster due to a quicker turn after take-off
- The ATR had the shortest take-off and landing rolls - it was spectacular!
- The EMB was a pure joy to fly - great handling and the smoothest landing although I landed long which meant I was sweating the stop!
- The Dash-8 was pretty twitchy on finals
- The Saab was steady and solid - generally unremarkable but the final score beat-out the Dornier for overall efficiency.
- On the first attempt in the AN-24 I plowed through the building. On the second attempt I held the brakes while the engines spooled up but still failed to clear the rooftop. The third attempt I backed up onto the grass and took a longer roll but suffered a tailstrike that resulted in a crash.
For pure efficiency you'll want to fly the EMB-120. (Congrats to the Brazilians)
For efficiency PLUS payload, you'll want to fly the ATR. (Congrats to the Europeans)
For pure speed and money to burn, go ahead with the Dornier - kinda like the BMW!
And to our Canadian friends ... You could have done better; I'm frankly disappointed.