Flying - - We Fly - BY ROB MARK

MMak­ing a good avi­a­tion prod­uct bet­ter is a con­cept as old as cap­i­tal­is­tic in­ge­nu­ity it­self. OEMS re­lease im­proved ver­sions of their best air­planes and power plants, each per­haps a bit faster or more ver­sa­tile than its pre­de­ces­sor. Not ev­ery­one can af­ford the lat­est edition of a ma­chine, of course, nor does ev­ery­one want one. Some op­er­a­tors get as comfy with an air­plane they’ve spent years break­ing in as they might be with a fa­vorite jacket or pair of run­ning shoes. But most wish their air­plane could de­liver bet­ter per­for­mance. That’s where mod­i­fi­ca­tion com­pa­nies stand ready to make that good air­plane even bet­ter.

Con­sider re­cent pro­duc­tion fig­ures from Tex­tron’s Beechcraft unit show­ing nearly 7,500 copies of the rugged King Air tur­bo­prop de­liv­ered since its in­tro­duc­tion more than 50 years ago. Any mod house would con­sider a uni­verse that large enough rea­son to be­gin en­gi­neer­ing ef­forts, but some­times real suc­cess de­mands more.

Dave Cole­man cred­its part of the King Air’s tri­umph as a mod plat­form to the orig­i­nal link be­tween Beechcraft and the U.S. mil­i­tary. Cole­man works in air­craft sales and ac­qui­si­tions at Dun­can Avi­a­tion and has been around King Airs for decades. He points to the King Air’s pre­de­ces­sor, the Queen Air, as the place where the mar­ket re­ally de­vel­oped. “The mil­i­tary wanted the Queen Air to be mod­i­fi­able right from the start,” he says. The Queen Air of­fered an enor­mous cabin for its day, but it wasn’t pres­sur­ized, a fact made more prob­lem­atic once peo­ple be­gan hang­ing Pratt & Whit­ney Canada PT6 tur­bo­props on them. Thus was born the first pres­sur­ized King Air 90, in 1964.

King Air up­grade op­tions to­day run from new en­gines and pro­pel­lers to air­frame en­hance­ments to a host of ad­vanced cock­pit avion­ics. Toss in some new paint and an in­te­rior up­date and the re­sult is an older air­frame ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing per­for­mance that closes in on that of a new air­plane, all for a less costly in­vest­ment.

Ed­win Black, Black­hawk Mod­i­fi­ca­tions’ se­nior vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing, says King Air 300 own­ers he meets of­ten strug­gle with whether to “keep the air­plane’s com­fort­able cabin and good short-field per­for­mance or trade up to a jet.” One answer is Black­hawk’s re­cently ap­proved XP67A en­gine STC for the King Air 350. Work be­gan on the mod in July 2016. Among its ben­e­fits, the Black­hawk re-en­gined King Air will race to FL 350 in just 18 min­utes ver­sus the 45 min­utes it takes a stock air­craft. At that alti­tude, the 13,000-pound Black­hawk King Air will scoot along fully 50 knots faster than a new fac­tory air­plane.

Blend­ing these air­frame num­bers — 2,980 Model 90s, 400 Model 100s, 2,580 Model 200/250s and 1,400 Model 300/350s — with a struc­ture just beg­ging for im­prove­ment was the honey that at­tracted bees like Jim Rais­beck, one of the in­dus­try’s first mod­i­fi­ca­tion giants. Rais­beck earned his mod­i­fi­ca­tion stripes re­think­ing Lear­jets and North Amer­i­can Sabre­liner 65s, as well as build­ing hush kits for the Boe­ing 727. Rais­beck and his team de­liv­ered their first King Air 200 mod, a set of en­closed land­ing gear doors, in July 1982. The rest is Rais­beck his­tory, with King Air up­dates such as wing lock­ers and to­day’s Epic plat­inum per­for­mance mod, which of­fers near mag­i­cal im­prove­ments to a King Air 250, for ex­am­ple.

Rais­beck can add a pair of swept­blade props, a ram air re­cov­ery sys­tem, en­hanced-per­for­mance lead­ing edges, or high flota­tion gear doors on the King Air 250 and other mod­els, as well as in­crease the air­plane’s op­er­at­ing weights. Rais­beck claims its mod­i­fi­ca­tions can be found on more than 4,000 King Airs to­day. Some of Rais­beck’s im­prove­ments proved so unique that Beech be­gan of­fer­ing them as standard equip­ment on new air­planes. Cole­man sug­gested com­par­ing a 40-year-old King Air 200 with an Epic gold pack­age to a much newer 200GT. “The Epic King Air will per­form bet­ter on paper than the 200GT,” he says.

Then there are en­gine mods like Black­hawk Mod­i­fi­ca­tions’ for the Pratt & Whit­ney Canada PT6A-42 en­gines that were standard on the King Air B200 se­ries. Sign up for the XP61 up­grade and Black­hawk will re­place the orig­i­nal en­gines with a pair of PT6A-52S for im­pres­sive ben­e­fits. Max­i­mum cruise speed on a stock B200 is about 266 ktas, but pilots fly­ing a Black­hawk Xp52up­graded B200 will see speeds closer to 310 ktas, more than a 15 per­cent in­crease. The se­cret is that Black­hawk in­stalls en­gines with a ther­mo­dy­namic shaft horse­power of 1,320 ver­sus the 850 on the standard air­plane, so the per­for­mance ben­e­fits do come at the price of a higher fuel burn.

The larger power plants ar­rive with full new-en­gine war­ranties from Pratt & Whit­ney Canada while de­liv­er­ing in­creased rate of climb, a re­duc­tion in time to climb and re­duced fuel burn for the climb. A Black­hawk-up­graded en­gine also de­liv­ers bet­ter sin­gle-en­gine climb per­for­mance, along with an

in­crease in re­sale value. New en­gines may call for new pro­pel­lers too, but not al­ways. The Rais­beck or MT pro­pel­lers are an option if needed.

Of course, some King Air mod­i­fi­ca­tions don’t nec­es­sar­ily de­liver quan­ti­ta­tive per­for­mance up­dates but are popular none­the­less, such as Frakes Avi­a­tion ex­haust stacks. Straight from the fac­tory, King Airs were known, like other jet-a burn­ing air­planes, to cre­ate ugly black soot stains on the en­gine nacelles that of­ten de­manded reg­u­lar and ex­haust­ing work to re­move. Thanks to Frakes’ en­gi­neer­ing work, in­stalling new stacks can re­duce soot stain­ing by 90 to 95 per­cent. Frakes says the stacks are fly­ing on more than 1,000 King Airs of var­i­ous mod­els. Should a Frakes stack crack in the first seven years of own­er­ship, the fac­tory guar­an­tees a no-charge re­place­ment.

BLR Aero­space says its winglets on a King Air 200 mean re­duced times to climb, ex­tended range, im­proved han­dling, as much as a 33 per­cent re­duc­tion in re­quired runway length and up to a 50 per­cent in­crease in climb gra­di­ent at sea level. BLR says the winglets in­crease the air­craft’s hull value too. Winglets add to the cos­metic value by mak­ing a legacy King Air look more 21st cen­tury just sit­ting on the ground.

Garmin’s no stranger to the King Air cock­pit. The re­cently an­nounced NXI avion­ics up­grade is a faster, more mod­ern suc­ces­sor to the G1000 that de­buted in 2004. The NXI re­quires a min­i­mal amount of down­time be­cause the dis­plays pre­serve the same foot­print and con­nec­tors as the G1000. Once it’s in­stalled, pilots will see faster boot-up times and much-im­proved graph­ics thanks to the bet­ter pro­ces­sors and higher-res­o­lu­tion dis­plays. The NXI up­grade is also ex­pected to shave 250 pounds of weight off most King Airs.

Rock­well Collins’ Pro Line Fu­sion up­grade is a good choice for any King Air al­ready op­er­at­ing with Pro Line II or Pro Line 21 avion­ics. Pro Line Fu­sion adds three 14.1-inch widescreen LCDS with ad­vanced graph­ics, touch-in­ter­ac­tive maps, con­fig­urable win­dows, and touch-screen or pointand-click nav­i­ga­tion. The up­grade

Dual aft body strakes (top) im­prove di­rec­tional sta­bil­ity and ride com­fort. A King Air C90GTX in the process of re­ceiv­ing a new four-blade swept pro­pel­ler.

Rais­beck's ram air re­cov­ery sys­tem can cut ITT by 18 de­grees at the same torque. Ice Shed­der by Rais­beck (above) im­proves air­flow with­out com­pro­mis­ing FOD pro­tec­tion.

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