When research reveals that the King Air, which has been in continuous production since 1964, has outsold all its turboprop competitors put together, it’s obvious that there is something special about this aircraft.
So why would Beechcraft, part of Textron Aviation, want to make the King of Kings even more special? What has placed this aeroplane on the golden throne of turboprops, with more than 7,000 sales?
A “standard” Model 350i seats 11 passengers, has a maximum take-off and landing weight of 15,000 lbs (6,805kg), requires a takes off field length of 1,006m, will fly for up to 1,806nm, at speeds of up to 312 kts, at up to 35,000 feet, and land in 821mm.
Power is supplied by two Pratt and Whitney PT6A-60As, of 1,050 shp each, driving 4 blade, constant-speed, auto feathering, propellers with a reverse ability. Maximum payload is 2,545 lb (1,154 kg) and full fuel payload of 1,534 lb (696 kg).
Upfront the avionics include three 14-inch touchscreen displays powered by the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion system, described in the brochure as “an intuitive touch-screen flight deck that simplifies how we aviate, navigate and communicate. Featuring standard synthetic vision and enhanced situational awareness…”
Suffice it to say the package includes every desired functionality including: Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System (EICAS), Dual Flight Management System (FMS), Weather Radar System (WXR), Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS+), Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance (TCAS II), Automatic Flight Guidance System (AFGS), and Dual Navigation and Communication Radios.
Flexibility and reliability are the keys to the King Air’s success. First, and something suited to Australia, it can easily mix it with the “heavies” operating from controlled international airports, and just as happily fly into or out of unimproved dirt, gravel or grass strips in the outback. Secondly, the aircraft is equally at home in corporate transport, a cargo role, mixed, surveillance, medical, rescue or military roles. Thirdly, the large King Air 350 cabin can be configured to accommodate a variety of roles, from air ambulance, or humanitarian missions, to carrying cargo, or corporate transport. The chairs and cabinets are attached to floor-mounted seat tracks for easy and quick reconfiguration. An optional large cargo door 49 inches wide by 52 inches high (124 cm × 132 cm) accommodates oversized loads.
The Beechcraft catalogue index alone contains four pages of special mission options. The headings give a clue to the categories, and within each there are numerous options – all tried and proven, many times over:
• General Modifications and Services
• Aerial Survey Modifications and Services
• Air Ambulance Modifications and Services
• Flight Inspection Modifications and Services
• Surveillance Modifications and Services
• Utility / Transport Modifications and Services
All the “special purposes” are relevant to Australia. Both the engineers and accountants will be impressed not just by the offerings, but also by how well they are presented, defined and accessible, based on immeasurable years of development and experience. It’s hard not to pinch and modify that old IBM saying to “No one ever got fired for hiring a King Air.” We are talking proven modifications for special missions. No wonder Hawker Pacific has brought an aircraft down under for evaluation by a range of private and government customers.
Hawker Pacific made Textron’s world-wide demonstration aircraft, a King Air 350 extended range, special missions version (“350ER) available to Aviation Trader for a closer examination at Bankstown in mid-November. Added bonuses were both US and European demonstration pilots, and the head of special missions at Beechcraft. The aircraft was in Australia following a successful tour through South East Asia, before heading across the ditch to the “shaky isles.” Appropriately the registration was N350ER.
Here’s the things we noticed:
The overall impression is one of a powerful workhorse. The 350ER sits high with its blue and white Textron colours, and winglet equipped look, on an extra strong dual wheel per side undercarriage, borrowed from the larger Beechcraft 1900D. This makes for easy operation, even when heavily loaded, from unprepared fields. The area behind the engines, which would normally be reserved for storage has been extended to hold a total of 5,192lbs of fuel. This gives the aircraft its ultra-long range, or in the case of military use – of which it is getting plenty in Afghanistan, long loiter abilities. In forces’ speak “An ability to get to and stay on target.”
There are a few other external modifications that a trained eye will notice. For example, the slightly extended rudder. A very handy feature, given the places it sometimes operates, is the 350ER’s PT6A turbines’ ability, if necessary, to burn avgas, for up to 100 hours of operation. The cabin is long with incredible flexibility. At the back, there is double seating and a small curtain which can be drawn to one side when one of the seats is lifted to reveal a toilet – so essential for those long flights.
N350ER was equipped to demonstrate many of the different options – executive seating, a medivac “stretcher” and related medical equipment connections, “economy” seating, and surveillance monitoring consoles. There are eight large windows per side for observation by human eye. Most impressive of all was the cockpit. This was where the super flexible, multi-function role of the aircraft was most evident. Climbing over the consul between the pilots’ seats – conveniently with a lid that folds down to protect the instruments at the time, and slipping into the cockpit, pilots know they are in a large and serious aeroplane, that can do many things.
Although blessed with three, large, high resolution Rockwell Collins screens, that automate much of the pilot workload, this is still a busy cockpit. This is not a toy or a machine the average private pilot could jump in and fly. This is professional, highly trained territory, especially when it is flown, as it is certified for, with a single pilot. With “jet-like” performance from the 1,050 shp plus engines, the borrowed IBM slogan can be modified further with “No pilot was every unhappy at being asked to fly a King Air.”
Other manufacturers are trying hard to imitate the King Air 350ER and claim their machines can do special missions too. The reality, born out by ongoing class leading sales, and backed by millions of flights hours, equipment experience, FAA certifications, and Textron support, is that this King of Kings will be sitting on its golden throne for many decades to come.
About The Author
Paul M Southwick is a journalist, director, and pilot based in Melbourne.