Flying - - We Fly -

Set­tled into the left seat at our fi­nal cruise alti­tude of 26,000 feet, we were show­ing a true air­speed of 304 knots and burn­ing about 700 pounds of jet-a per hour. As the lush rolling land­scape of cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia slid by far be­low, a nag­ging ques­tion had en­tered my mind. What is it about the Beechcraft King Air fam­ily of twin tur­bo­props, I asked my­self, that keeps these air­planes rolling out of the fac­tory in Wi­chita, Kansas, more than 53 years after the first one emerged? I al­ways thought I knew the answer to that ques­tion, but there in the con­fines of the King Air 250’s cock­pit a quiet cri­sis of con­fi­dence was be­gin­ning to bub­ble up in my mind. Who, pre­cisely, should be buy­ing this air­plane any­way? I won­dered.

Beech con­ceived of the orig­i­nal King Air 90 in the tur­bu­lent pe­riod in his­tory that co­in­cided with the JFK as­sas­si­na­tion, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the dawn of Beatle­ma­nia. The mod­els that fol­lowed in the en­su­ing years — the King Air 100, 200 and 300 se­ries — con­sti­tute the best-sell­ing busi­ness-air­craft fam­ily in avi­a­tion his­tory, with well over 7,000 pro­duced and de­liv­ered. Still, I asked, how can a decades-old de­sign like the King Air pos­si­bly con­tinue to keep pace with the lat­est busi­ness air­craft mak­ing their de­buts in the era of Uber and Usher?

The T-tail Su­per King Air 200, in­tro­duced in 1973 and su­per­seded by the up­graded ver­sions that fol­lowed, in­clud­ing the King Air 250 that emerged in 2010, holds its own spe­cial place of dis­tinc­tion as the most suc­cess­ful busi­nes­sair­plane model bar none, with more than 2,400 in ser­vice across the globe. Clearly, peo­ple have al­ways had their rea­sons for buy­ing this air­plane. Still, I couldn’t quite get over the sticker price. At $6 mil­lion, a new King Air 250 sells for a mil­lion dol­lars more than a Hondajet, 2 mil­lion more than a TBM 910 and 4 mil­lion more than a Cir­rus Vi­sion Jet.

Per­haps these com­par­isons are un­fair, I ad­mit­ted, be­cause none of these com­pet­ing air­planes can do ev­ery­thing a King Air 250 can. Un­de­ni­ably, how­ever, the truest ri­val of a new King Air 250 is a used King Air 200, which you can find on the open mar­ket for un­der a mil­lion dol­lars, up­grade to your heart’s con­tent and still end up nowhere near the price of a new King Air 250.

It took me a while to have an epiphany about why the King Air 250 re­mains rel­e­vant, but I fi­nally did. A new King Air 250, I de­cided, can in­deed of­fer clear ad­van­tages over a used King Air. Come along on a tour of the lat­est it­er­a­tion of this time­less air­plane and see if you don’t agree.

Why the King Air Still Mat­ters

Over the years, Beechcraft (now part of Tex­tron Avi­a­tion) has made more than 2,000 im­prove­ments to the orig­i­nal King Air 200, some ma­jor, oth­ers mi­nor. One of the most im­por­tant re­fine­ments is an en­gine swap that gives the King Air 250 more speed and bet­ter climb rates. The lat­est Pratt & Whit­ney PT6A-52 en­gines in the King Air 250 (first in­tro­duced to the King Air 200GT) de­liver the same flat-rated shaft horse­power as the PT6A-42 in the pre­vi­ous Model 200, but the newer en­gine can pro­duce max­i­mum power all the way up into the high 20s, where cruise speed can be 30 knots or more faster, and climb rates sev­eral hun­dreds of feet higher.

To achieve this im­prove­ment at high alti­tude, Pratt & Whit­ney took the gas generator sec­tion of the PT6A-60A that pow­ers the big­ger King Air 350 with a 1,050 shp rat­ing and mated it to the gear-box sec­tion of the -42 en­gine. The re­sult­ing PT6A-52 en­gine is still lim­ited — or flat rated — to 850 shp at the pro­pel­ler, but the en­gine has the ther­mo­dy­namic abil­ity to pro­duce well over 1,000 shp.

Speak­ing of the pro­pel­lers, an­other key im­prove­ment in the King Air 250 is the in­cor­po­ra­tion of a pair of Hartzell 93inch nickel-steel-tipped com­pos­ite props, which weigh 25 pounds less per side than the old alu­minum pro­pel­lers and pro­vide an ad­di­tional 3 inches of ground clear­ance. Best of all, time be­fore over­haul is 4,000 hours or six years, and the blades aren’t life lim­ited as is the case with the alu­minum pro­pel­lers. The Hartzell pro­pel­lers also pro­vide greater thrust for im­proved take­off per­for­mance, and re­duced time to climb and less noise.

A cou­ple of other no­table fea­tures of the pro­pel­lers, which have ac­tu­ally been in­cluded in the de­sign for decades, are


the elec­tronic syn­chrophaser, which al­lows the pilot to eas­ily keep the props in sync, and au­to­matic feath­er­ing. This sec­ond ca­pa­bil­ity is a safety en­hance­ment that quickly — and with­out pilot in­put — feath­ers the prop in the event of a loss of en­gine power. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, rud­der boost pro­vides rud­der in­put op­po­site the dead en­gine to make an en­gine fail­ure at low alti­tude a rel­a­tively be­nign event. The King Air 250 has power to spare to climb briskly even on one en­gine un­der most con­di­tions. When I did my King Air 200 ini­tial train­ing a few years ago, I re­call mar­veling at what a no-brainer en­gine fail­ures were com­pared with lesser twins.

The next clue that the King Air 250 rep­re­sents a marked im­prove­ment over pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions comes the mo­ment you pop the rear door latch and pull down the airstair that al­lows en­try to the cabin. The pas­sen­ger com­part­ment of­fers im­proved re­fine­ment, com­pared with older King Air 200 mod­els, while af­ford­ing the same large space, which is big­ger than a Cessna Ci­ta­tion M2 or Em­braer Phe­nom 100’s cabin and about the same di­men­sions as the Hondajet. The “square-oval” de­sign of the King Air’s fuse­lage pro­vides lots of head and shoul­der room for the oc­cu­pants of the six pas­sen­ger seats in back, plus a seventh belted lava­tory op­po­site the en­try­way.

What stood out to me was the cav­ernous rear bag­gage com­part­ment just to the right of the airstair en­trance, which mea­sures 55.3 cu­bic feet and can han­dle a load of 550 pounds of suit­cases, golf bags, cargo or what­ever else you might wish to bring aboard. Other wel­come en­hance­ments in the cabin in­clude elec­tronic win­dow shades that au­to­mat­i­cally go dark when the air­plane is un­pow­ered for pri­vacy and to keep the cabin cool. Each win­dow can be con­trolled sep­a­rately by the pas­sen­gers, or the pilot can con­trol all at once. Pyra­mid-style cab­i­nets at the front of the cabin pro­vide easy ac­cess to drinks and snacks and also make smart use of the cabin space, which also stays rel­a­tively quiet in flight thanks to pas­sive nois­ere­duc­tion fea­tures added to the air­plane back in the mid-2000s and the qui­eter com­pos­ite props. Op­tional Wi-fi, ei­ther through Gogo’s air-to-ground network or global In­marsat Swift­broad­band ser­vice, com­pletes a pack­age that stacks up well against pretty much any other tur­bo­prop or light jet on the mar­ket.

A Daz­zling Front Of­fice

Where the King Air 250 re­ally sets it­self apart, how­ever, is in the cock­pit, which is home to the Rock­well Collins Pro Line Fu­sion avion­ics sys­tem. Fu­sion in the King Air fea­tures three large 14-inch touch­screen flight dis­plays, a pair of cur­sor-con­trol de­vices and a qw­erty key­board. The cock­pit space is a blend of old and new. The mod­ern avion­ics con­trast with the ana­log fuel con­trol panel and cir­cuit break­ers on the side walls and the var­i­ous switches be­low the dis­plays and else­where that will be

in­stantly fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s flown older King Air 200s with round gauges or the orig­i­nal Collins EFIS. Re­tained in the King Air 250 are cock­pit win­dows that can be opened, a rar­ity for tur­bine busi­ness air­planes nowa­days.

On the glareshield re­sides the elec­tronic backup dis­play, be­low which is the mod­ern au­topi­lot con­trol panel de­signed for ease of use by sin­gle pilots. In fact, ev­ery­thing in the cock­pit has been cre­ated to make the King Air 250 a sim­ple air­plane for a sin­gle pilot to mas­ter with ease. Syn­thetic vi­sion is in­cluded as standard, as is dual FMS, weather radar, WAAS GPS, an­i­mated Nexrad graph­ics, charts and in­ter­ac­tive maps, and graph­i­cal flight-plan­ning ca­pa­bil­ity. This last item is one of the coolest fea­tures of the Pro Line Fu­sion sys­tem be­cause it lets you use the touch­screen to ma­nip­u­late your route of flight with the sim­ple swipe of a fin­ger.

The pri­mary and mul­ti­func­tion touch­screens are used for just about ev­ery­thing you can imag­ine, in­clud­ing touch pan­ning, data en­try, set­ting up in­stru­ment ap­proaches, look­ing up and tun­ing ra­dio fre­quen­cies, and se­lect­ing map over­lays, such as to­pog­ra­phy, ob­sta­cles, weather and air­ways. The win­dows that re­side within Fu­sion are cus­tom­iz­a­ble, al­low­ing you to choose one, two, three or four for dis­play of charts, maps, flight plans, main­te­nance in­for­ma­tion and more.

Icons on the screens are easy to in­ter­act with, as is Fu­sion’s shal­low menu ar­chi­tec­ture that makes it all but im­pos­si­ble to get lost in the weeds when search­ing for in­for­ma­tion or mak­ing in­puts.

Two other en­hance­ments to the air­plane’s de­sign, ac­com­plished through Stc-ap­proved mod­i­fi­ca­tions, are what fi­nally el­e­vate a King Air 200 to King Air 250 sta­tus. The first is a Rais­beck ram air re­cov­ery sys­tem that max­i­mizes air­flow to the en­gine in­duc­tion in­let, al­low­ing the Pratt PT6AS to main­tain the same power with the ice vanes de­ployed as when they are stowed. The ram air sys­tem also al­lows the King Air 250 to pro­duce more torque at all al­ti­tudes, pro­vides cooler in­let tur­bine tem­per­a­tures and in­creases avail­able shaft horse­power.

The sec­ond mod, and the one most King Air pilots will no­tice the mo­ment they see a King Air 250 on the ramp, is the ad­di­tion of car­bon-fiber winglets from BLR Aero­space. Be­sides their great look, which is re­ally just a bonus, they in­crease ef­fec­tive wing­span by al­most 3½ feet to 57 feet 11 inches, thereby pro­vid­ing re­duced drag and bet­ter take­off and climb per­for­mance. The added wing­span in­creases lift, while the winglets them­selves af­fect the air flow­ing past them, mak­ing it work for the wing in­stead of against it. It’s no won­der winglets have be­come a near uni­ver­sal in­dus­try standard on tur­bine air­planes.

Be­cause the PT6A en­gines lack full-au­thor­ity dig­i­tal en­gine con­trol, there’s a good deal of en­gine man­age­ment re­quired, which keeps the pilot oc­cu­pied more than I’d pre­fer. The en­gine start pro­ce­dure is nearly iden­ti­cal to that of older King Airs, re­quir­ing a dance among the con­trols that takes a prac­ticed cap­tain a solid cou­ple of min­utes to com­plete. I found that the process, which at one time I could per­form from mem­ory, had mostly left my brain. With prompt­ing from my trav­el­ing com­pan­ion, King Air demo pilot Bill Sen­tilles in the right seat, I was able to get the en­gines spool­ing and we were on our way.

To ex­pe­ri­ence what the per­for­mance im­prove­ments

can do for the air­plane, we topped the main tanks with 2,585 pounds of fuel and headed off with three aboard a bit un­der the King Air 250’s max­i­mum cer­ti­fied take­off weight of 12,500 pounds. Take­off is no dif­fer­ent from other 200 se­ries King Airs as you ad­vance the throt­tles to the torque lim­its — a mea­sure of power to the pro­pel­ler — and raise the nose gen­tly to ro­tate. Once off the runway and cleaned up, the King Air 250 flies beau­ti­fully.

We saw climb rates of be­tween 1,500 and 2,000 fpm all the way up to our ini­tial alti­tude of 22,000 feet. Once cleared to FL 260 and set up for cruise flight with the props set at a low 1,700 rpm and the power set for high-speed cruise, we saw speeds just over 300 ktas on the Isa+3-de­gree day. That’s 30 knots faster than the -42-pow­ered King Air 200 of yore, an air­speed we could have kept up at higher al­ti­tudes with a lower fuel burn, though we were lim­ited by the fact that our air­plane did not yet have RVSM ap­proval.

Fly­ing the King Air 250

I hand-flew all the way up to FL 260 to get a feel for the air­plane, which has a re­as­sur­ingly heavy feel and is nicely bal­anced. It’s ex­tremely sta­ble in pitch, so it was no trou­ble for me to main­tain our pre­cise alti­tude us­ing trim and oc­ca­sional light fin­ger­tip ad­just­ments on the yoke to keep the air­plane chevron sym­bol on the PFD nuz­zled against the flight-direc­tor cue. Dur­ing ma­neu­ver­ing, I also found the air­plane to be just as sta­ble as I re­mem­bered, an­other ex­cel­lent attribute for sin­gle pilots who will fly in IMC as of­ten as Mother Na­ture and ATC dic­tate.

The big­gest change in the King Air 250 since the last time we wrote about the air­plane six years ago is the switch from Pro Line 21 to Pro Line Fu­sion avion­ics. This was my first time ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the cock­pit in the air. I im­me­di­ately felt at ease with the tech­nol­ogy as I quickly came to un­der­stand just how sim­ple the touch­screens are to use. Even in oc­ca­sional light chop I had no trou­ble se­lect­ing what I wanted and mak­ing the sys­tem do as com­manded. Most pilots will use a com­bi­na­tion of touch-screen and key­board in­puts. I re­ally never found the need to use the cur­sor-con­trol de­vice, although I could imag­ine it com­ing in handy in rougher air.

Se­quenc­ing for the ar­rival back into Morristown Air­port in New Jer­sey, I re­quested a de­vi­a­tion around a cell and had a chance to use the “rub­ber-band” fea­ture on the touch­screen. I tapped on my course line and pulled it slightly to the right to skirt the weather I could see on the screen and out the wind­shield. The an­i­mated Sir­iusxm Nexrad im­agery is an ex­cel­lent fea­ture, as are elec­tronic check­lists and the abil­ity

to se­lect a visual ap­proach that will pro­vide Il­s­like course guid­ance all the way to touch­down — although, with­out ter­rain or ob­sta­cle clear­ance as­sur­ances, it should be noted.

All cur­rent-pro­duc­tion King Airs have a three­p­o­si­tion flap sys­tem with avail­able se­lec­tions for up, ap­proach or down. Se­lect the set­ting you want and the flaps move to that po­si­tion, easy as could be. That’s a wel­come change from the pon­der­ous phi­los­o­phy in some older King Air mod­els, in which mov­ing the flap han­dle from down to ap­proach elic­its no move­ment of the flaps what­so­ever. In­stead, you have to move the flap han­dle from down all the way to up, wait for the flaps to reach ap­proach set­ting and then move the flap han­dle to ap­proach. Thank­fully, I wouldn’t have to worry about any of that for my ILS ap­proach back at KMMU.

It wasn’t un­til long after the en­gines were shut down and I had time to think about it some more that I be­gan to men­tally reac­quaint my­self with the al­lure of the King Air 250. Be­cause its weight is be­low the 12,500-pound thresh­old, there’s no need for a type rat­ing. The cabin size, speed, range and op­er­at­ing eco­nomics all make the 250 a fab­u­lous fam­ily air­plane, es­pe­cially if you’ll be fly­ing in busier airspace where ATC will of­ten keep you down low — the bane of any light-jet owner’s ex­is­tence.

Re­ally, the King Air 250 is ideal for the buyer seek­ing an air­plane that can tackle a range of mis­sions, from de­liv­er­ing cargo to jun­gle vil­lages to fly­ing to ex­ec­u­tive meet­ings at down­town air­ports, tak­ing fam­ily on far-flung va­ca­tion get­aways and more. Big, rugged and de­pend­able, the King Air 250 is a go-al­most-any­where kind of ma­chine that can be flown con­fi­dently by any prac­ticed pilot and de­liver an ex­pe­ri­ence few other air­craft can match. The proof is that no other man­u­fac­turer or air­plane has yet suc­ceeded in push­ing the King Air off its throne.

So why not buy a used King Air 200 in­stead and up­grade it with the range of en­gine, prop and avion­ics mod­i­fi­ca­tions avail­able for af­ter­mar­ket pur­chase? By the time you hang the new en­gines and props, in­stall a new in­te­rior, fit the up­graded avion­ics and pay for a fresh coat of paint, you might find that your re­furbed King Air has cost more than you bar­gained for — and re­mem­ber, at the end of the day it’s still an old air­frame. If a King Air truly makes sense for you, you can buy a new 250 with all 2,000-plus of those great Beech-in­spired re­fine­ments, fly the heck out of it for as many years or decades as you have left on this earth and be com­pletely sat­is­fied with your de­ci­sion.

5. The mod­ern and smooth­fly­ing Rock­well Collins au­topi­lot is a sin­gle pilot's dream, with knobs and but­tons ar­ranged log­i­cally. 6. There's still a bit of en­gine man­age­ment re­quired in the King Air 250 be­cause its en­gines lack fadec, but it's...

3. The most no­tice­able change to the King Air 250 is its standard in­te­grated winglets that of­fer im­proved take­off and climb per­for­mance.

2. The belted lava­tory seat makes the King Air 250 a nine-per­son air­plane that has the use­ful load to carry all those peo­ple, their bags and plenty of fuel.

1. Well known as a busi­ness air­plane, the King Air 250's big cabin and smart use of space make it a great choice for fam­ily get­aways too.

1. Like its pre­de­ces­sors, the King Air 250 is a sub­stan­tial, well­built air­plane de­signed to stand up to the rig­ors of fre­quent use over many decades. 2. An en­gine swap to the PT6A-52 pro­vides a 30knot faster cruise speed than the orig­i­nal air­plane, and...

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