Anyone who’s island-hopped in the Caribbean or touched down in a remote location will likely recognize the Cessna Caravan. These turboprop aircraft are popular for everything from passenger transportation to FedEx delivery and more. But few people realize that Cessna planes also go into battle–specifically, the Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan

The Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan is a militarized version of the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan. This is an aircraft that’s just as capable of handling a Hellfire missile as an Amazon package. Deployed in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, the Cessna AC-208 provides critical military support for COIN and ISR missions across the globe.      

In this article, we’ll cover: 

  1. Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan: An Overview
  2. Cessna History & Production Specs
  3. The AC-208 and the Cessna 208 Caravan Project
  4. The AC-208: A Critical Military Variant
  5. Cessna Caravan Military Alternatives to the AC-208 
  6. Cessna Caravan Civilian Alternatives to the AC-208
  7. Cessna AC-208 Aircraft Sustainment with Greenwood Aerospace

Like any aircraft, the Cessna AC-208 needs aircraft sustainment services to ensure ongoing maintenance, repairs, and logistical support. As specialists in military and defense contracting, the Greenwood Aerospace team procures quality aircraft parts to support operational effectiveness and longevity for the AC-208 and other Cessna aircraft.    

Contact us today to learn more about our government aviation services.       

Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan: An Overview

The AC-208 Combat Caravan, derived from the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, is a light attack combat aircraft manufactured and modified for military purposes by Orbital ATK, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. Developed under the Combat Caravan program, this battle-ready turboprop aircraft integrates intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with a focus on counterinsurgency (COIN) missions. 

Unlike its civilian counterparts, the AC-208 is armed for combat forays thanks to:

  • Tactical displays
  • Ballistic panels for protection
  • AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
  • Wing hard-points

The AC-208 is also equipped with a STAR mission system for day and night reconnaissance and fire control, along with defensive countermeasures like the AAR-47/ALE-47 system. The aircraft is easily convertible for various mission configurations, transitioning from ISR to armed operations without issue.

Equipped with a Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop engine, the AC-208 demonstrates its versatility in supporting COIN and ISR efforts and has been deployed globally for combat missions in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and others.  

One stand-out design innovation associated with the AC-208 is its sophisticated modular design, which accommodates current weaponry configurations while supporting the integration of future weapons systems. Thanks to this modular, adaptable approach to aircraft design, the AC-208 will likely remain a pivotal military aircraft well into the future. 

Cessna History & Production Specs

The instrument panel of a Cessna Caravan.

Cessna has been successfully defending its reputation as an iconic American aviation company since 1927 when Clyde Cessna founded the company in Kansas. While the company initially focused on building biplanes, it rapidly evolved into a crucial player in general aviation. In the twenty-first century, the name Cessna continues to be a brand that holds household-level recognition.  

Since introducing the popular Cessna 172 Skyhawk in the 1950s, Cessna has diversified its portfolio with innovative designs ranging from business jets to turboprops.

In 2014, Cessna officially became part of Textron Aviation through a series of mergers and acquisitions. To this day, the brand has defended its reputation for reliability, with significant contributions made to the evolution of private, commercial, and military aviation. 

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the origins of Cessna and the postwar production boom that turned the brand into one of the most recognizable names in aviation around the world. 


Following its inception in the late 1920s, Cessna quickly gained attention for its innovative design and production of monoplane aircraft. 

One of the company’s notable early productions was the Cessna AW, introduced in 1928. This aircraft, a high-wing monoplane, cemented the company’s reputation for pushing the boundaries of aviation technology. Subsequent models like the Cessna DC-6 and CR-3 were equally successful.  

While not originally founded as a military-focused aircraft company, Cessna’s early dedication to monoplane designs and its pursuit of advancements in aviation set the stage for its continued evolution and expansion into military aviation during and after World War II.  

Postwar Production Boom

Cessna’s involvement in military aviation began during World War II with the Cessna UC-78 Bobcat. This twin-engine utility aircraft gained prominence as a military trainer and utility transport during the war. 

In the post-World War II era, Cessna continued its contributions to military aviation. The company diversified its portfolio with subsequent aircraft models, like the L-19/O-1 Bird Dog. This single-engine observation and liaison aircraft played a critical role during the Korean War, serving as a forward air control platform for guiding artillery and conducting surveillance. 

In the years that followed, Cessna developed military variants of its civilian aircraft to provide combat support in the following areas: 

  • Light attack
  • Reconnaissance 
  • Surveillance

The AC-208 Combat Caravan represents the latest aircraft in a long line of military adaptations, emphasizing modern counterinsurgency capabilities with its integration of advanced mission systems and weaponry. 

The AC-208 and the Cessna 208 Caravan Project

Cessna launched the 208 Caravan Project, intending to develop a versatile utility aircraft with a high-wing design. Certified in 1984, the Cessna Caravan offers various configurations for passenger transport, cargo hauling, military use, and humanitarian missions. 

In this section, we’ll discuss the following three aspects of the Cessna 208 Caravan Project: 

  1. Development
  2. Technical Specifications
  3. Operational History

Since its inception in 1981, the Caravan series has seen continuous evolution, earning itself a reputation for versatility and adaptability. Let’s take a closer look at the how and the why!


The Cessna 208 Caravan project began in 1981, driven by the Company’s vision of a single-engine, high-wing aircraft with substantial payload capacity. Approved by Cessna in November 1981, the prototype flew in December 1982, leading to FAA certification in October 1984. 

While it was originally conceived for varied roles like flight training and cargo transport, the Caravan evolved with specialized variants for a wide range of applications. For example, Cargomaster–the freighter version–gained prominence with FedEx. 

Subsequent developments included the stretched 208B Super Cargomaster and passenger-oriented 208B Grand Caravan. Over the years, upgrades, including avionics enhancements and a more powerful Grand Caravan EX, contributed to the Caravan project’s enduring success.

Technical Specifications

The Cessna 208 Caravan is a high-wing turboprop aircraft powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engine. It typically seats nine passengers in an unpressurized cabin and features a fixed tricycle landing gear that can be adapted for various environments, including floats or skis for landing in areas without adequate aviation infrastructure. 

The Cessna 208 Caravan has a wide range of configurations, from high-density passenger seating to cargo and combinations of both. Here are five notable examples:  

  1. 208 Caravan: The original production variant is designed for passenger transport, featuring a PT6A-114 turboprop engine and seating for up to nine passengers.
  2. 208B Grand Caravan: A lengthened version of the 208, officially named the 208B Caravan but marketed as the Grand Caravan. It accommodates more passengers with an extended cabin and a PT6A-114A engine.
  3. 208B Super Cargomaster: A cargo variant with a longer fuselage and a cargo pod under the belly, developed for FedEx.
  4. 208B Grand Caravan EX: An upgraded version of the 208B Caravan, featuring a more powerful Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140 engine for enhanced climb rate and cruise speed.
  5. Caravan Amphibian: Equipped with Wipaire floats with retractable landing gear, suitable for water landings or land operations.

Thanks to its modular design, the Caravan series boasts significant flexibility in mission configurations. This allows the aircraft to easily transition between roles, accommodating diverse missions ranging from passenger transport to cargo hauling and more. It’s a stand-out option for a range of civilian and military applications, with a good reputation to match. 

Operational History

Since its first delivery in 1985, the Cessna 208 Caravan has logged millions of flight hours during its rich operational history. Flying in 100 countries, Caravans excel in a range of civilian and commercial applications, including: 

  • Flight training
  • Commuter airlines
  • VIP transport
  • Air cargo
  • Humanitarian missions 

The Cessna Caravan has also played a crucial role during critical military events, such as the Afghan Air Force’s last-minute escape from Kabul in 2021. Thanks to its adaptable design, this aircraft has stayed relevant and defended its utility across a wide range of aviation applications. 

The AC-208: A Critical Military Variant 

The AC-208 Combat Caravan’s military history started in 2008 with the U.S. government’s push to rebuild Iraq’s air force. A militarized version of the Cessna Grand Caravan was developed, tested, and delivered by ATK to the Iraqi Air Force within 11 months, marking a rapid and successful transformation of the aircraft for counterinsurgency operations. 

While the AC-208 isn’t the first Cessna to fly in combat, since 2008 it’s become a critical military variant used in COIN and ISR missions worldwide

In this section, we’ll take a look at the reasons why. 

Military Specs

The AC-208 Combat Caravan is a military variant of the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan. It’s optimized for COIN missions and ISR thanks to wing hard-points where pylons are mounted to carry external stores like fuel tanks or weapons. For example, the air-to-surface AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are carried on wing pylons and feature a warhead capable of taking out tanks or other targets. 

In addition to the Hellfire missiles, the AC-208 comes prepped for operational readiness with the following battle-ready upgrades:   

  • STAR mission system for day/night reconnaissance and fire control 
  • BAE Systems AAR-47/ALE-47 Defensive Countermeasures System for dispensing flares
  • Ballistic panels for protection
  • Datalinks for real-time video
  • Integrated laser designator for illuminating Hellfire missile targets

These military modifications, combined with the 876 horsepower Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140 turboprop, make the Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan a formidable asset in military operations across the globe.


Unlike its civilian counterparts, the AC-208 Combat Caravan is employed globally by various military forces for counterinsurgency and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft made its formal combat debut in 2014 during Iraqi military operations against ISIS targets in Fallujah and Ramadi and has been going strong ever since

In addition to Iraq, several countries have integrated the AC-208 into their air forces, including: 

  • Afghanistan
  • Argentina
  • Honduras
  • Kenya
  • Niger

While the U.S. Air Force doesn’t officially own any Combat Caravans, it supports foreign Allied Nations with AC-208 acquisition through direct military sales or security assistance donations. As a result, the AC-208 continues to serve critical roles in various regions, strengthening the capabilities of air forces engaged in COIN and ISR operations.

Cessna Military Alternatives to the AC-208 Combat Caravan

The Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan may be the most formidable variant for light attack and COIN missions, but it certainly isn’t the first Cessna to fly combat sorties. 

In the 1950s, the U.S. Army flew Cessna L-19 Bird Dogs as artillery spotters and tactical reconnaissance aircraft during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. These versatile aircraft played crucial roles in supporting ground forces, providing valuable information for military operations in challenging terrains.

The Bird Dogs were eventually superseded by the Cessna O-2 Skymaster, a military observation and forward air control aircraft developed during the 1960s. The O-2 served with the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War and continued to see use in various military roles for several decades. 

Another military variant is the U-27A, a designation used by the U.S. Department of Defense for some Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft configured for military utility and transport purposes. These aircraft are valued for their versatility and provide support in various roles–a testament to the adaptability of the Caravan series. 

Cessna Caravan Civilian Alternatives to the Cessna AC-208

The Cessna Caravan is no stranger to civilian life. From hauling cargo for FedEx to shuttling passengers around islands in the Caribbean, this aircraft is a reliable mainstay in the Civilian aviation industry

The Cessna Caravan is popular for civilian applications thanks to its: 

  • Capacity: Room for up to nine passengers
  • Versatility: Its adaptable cabin can be configured for different purposes
  • Cargo capabilities: It can be designed with cargo pod installations
  • Adaptability to different terrains: It boasts various landing gear configurations

In this section, we’ll take a look at some common Cessna Caravan civilian and experimental variants.

Civilian Variants

Civilian alternatives to the Cessna AC-208 for passenger and utility purposes include various models from the Cessna's Caravan series. 

The Cessna 208 Caravan and 208B Grand Caravan, in particular, are popular choices for short-haul flights, cargo transport, air charter, and other civilian applications. These aircraft feature a high-wing design, turboprop engine, and spacious cabin configurations suitable for different purposes. 

The Grand Caravan EX, an upgraded version with improved performance, is also commonly used in civilian operations. These variants provide options for operators with diverse needs in terms of passenger capacity, cargo transport, and versatility.


A U.S. Air Force Cessna AC-208 assigned to the 492d Special Operations Wing taxis after landing at Grenada Municipal Airport, Mississippi, during Emerald Warrior 21.1, Feb. 22, 2021. Emerald Warrior is the largest joint special operations exercise involving U.S. Special Operations Command forces training to respond to various threats across the spectrum of conflict.

In addition to its civilian and military variants, Cessna has produced an experimental version of the Caravan called the 208B eCaravan, which took its first 30-minute flight from Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, on May 28, 2020. 

This variant aims to provide an eco-friendly alternative for short-haul flights, reducing carbon emissions. Impressively, the aircraft’s inaugural flight consumed around $6 worth of electricity and only required 30-40 minutes of charging.  

The eCaravan is an electric aircraft modification of the 208B built by AeroTEC and MagniX, featuring a 750 hp (560 kW) motor and a 1-ton (2,200 lb) 750 V lithium-ion battery. The Magni500-powered Cessna has a range of 100 nautical miles (185 km) with 4–5 passengers and aims for further advancements in battery technology for extended flight capabilities.

While still in the experimental stage of development, this innovative electric variant represents a move towards sustainable aviation and explores the feasibility of electric propulsion in commercial aircraft, aligning with the broader industry trend towards cleaner and more environmentally friendly aviation technologies.

Cessna AC-208 Aircraft Sustainment with Greenwood Aerospace

The Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan flies all around the world, supporting COIN and ISR missions with its versatile design and battle-ready modifications. At Greenwood Aerospace, we’re proud to provide aircraft sustainment and quality aircraft parts for the C-208/AC-208 Combat Caravan and other Cessna Caravan variants. 

Given the AC-208’s important role in foreign military operations, our proven track record of working with Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is a major asset. With over 41 years of experience supporting the United States and Allied Nations as trusted and experienced suppliers, our dedicated team knows how to keep a fleet of AC-208 Combat Caravans well-equipped and in the air–no matter the place on the map. 

We lead the industry in the supply and procurement of parts for Cessna aircraft, as well as: 

As specialists in government contracting and military and defense contracting, our job is to ensure your aircraft always has parts available for priority missions. If you need it, we will source it. 

If you’d like to learn more about our work supporting Army fleets through parts procurement, check out more of our services at

Ready to get started? Request a quote or contact our team with any questions. We look forward to keeping your fleet in the air and ready to face the challenges of modern warfare.