In 1981, Cessna began work on a next-generation "bushplane", designed for hauling passengers and cargo under austere conditions. The design that emerged, the Cessna "Model 208 Caravan", was a single-engine turboprop machine with a high wing, fixed tricycle landing gear, a boxy fuselage that could accommodate three-abreast seating, and a large cargo door.
The first Model 208 prototype performed its initial flight on 9 December, 1982. The first production Caravan was rolled out in August 1984. It was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) PT6A-114 turboprop engine providing 448 kW (600 shp) and driving a McCauley three-bladed reversible propeller. It was the first all-new single-engine turboprop to achieve production status.
The Cessna Caravan has become a premier utility aircraft. Designed for ease of operation and dependability, the Caravan has become popular as both a people and cargo hauler for short routes. FedEx entered into discussions with Cessna to build a Caravan variant optimized for the parcel business. The result was the "Model 208A Cargomaster", which was a pure cargo lifter, with the passenger windows and left rear door deleted, plus a large cargo pannier fitted to the belly. It also featured an increase in tail height by 15 centimeters (6 inches), longer engine exhausts to keep hot exhaust gases off the pannier, and BendixKing avionics. FedEx ordered 177 Cargomasters and FedEx Caravans have logged well over 1 million flight hours to date. The spacious interior can easily be converted from passengers to cargo, or a combination thereof. A cargo pod, mounted beneath the fuselage, is available. The Caravan is also available as an amphibious aircraft.
The Grand Caravan was announced at the 1997 NBAA convention.
Initially featuring a 600 shp PT6A-114, current models have the 675 shp PT6A-114A. The 208B is a stretched version and is available in passenger, cargo, and amphibious versions.
The Grand Caravan EX was certified in January 2013 and is powered by a 867 hp (647 kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-140 that improves climb by 38 percent.