“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”
Hawker Beechcraft's King Air 250
Hawker Beechcraft took the wraps off its latest 200 series King Air last October. Deliveries of the King Air 250 turboprop will begin later this year. Compared with its predecessors, the six- to eight-passenger, twin-engine 250 gives you more of what you buy a turboprop for: the ability to haul bigger loads out of shorter runways and fly longer distances, albeit at slower speeds, than you could with a similarly sized jet. This utility comes with a near-jet-like price of $5.799 million.
King Airs have been around since 1964 and the Model 200 debuted in 1974. Many people still consider it to be the best airplane Beechcraft has ever built.
The 200 was a remake of the 1960s' Model 100 with a three-foot fuselage stretch, a new T-tail, four-foot-longer wings, larger fuel tanks, 1,000 pounds of additional maximum takeoff weight and more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-series engines. Compared with other pressurized twin turboprops in this category-all of which are out of production-the 200 has a larger cabin. It measures 16 feet, eight inches long; four feet, nine inches tall; and four feet, six inches wide. Entry is through an aft stair door opposite the single-place kibitzer that covers a chemical toilet. To the right you'll find 55.3 cubic feet of netted cargo area; to the left, the cabin with six comfortable swivel-and-recline single seats and the cockpit.
The 200 quickly became a mainstay of business aviation, particularly in the Great Lakes and eastern U.S. There, its twin-engine redundancy, easy flying characteristics, ruggedness and economy made it a good choice for short hops across the big cold ponds separating what were then the nation's industrial hub cities. Its tall, robust landing gear-especially when fitted with optional "high float" or larger tires that delivered better ground/propeller clearance-made quick work of short runways, even the uneven and unpaved variety. The aircraft also was a hit with the U.S. military and other government agencies, which ordered hundreds of them for use as spy planes, air ambulances, cargo haulers and executive transports.
Factory updates and aftermarket modifications have kept this airplane relevant into its fourth decade. Upgrades began in 1981 with the Model B200, which featured a more modern cockpit, lower cabin-pressure altitude and better-performing engines. Later, the manufacturer replaced the standard three-blade propeller with a four-bladed one that quieted the cabin. In addition, glass-panel avionics were offered, culminating with the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 in 2003. Four years later, Hawker Beechcraft introduced the King Air B200GT. As the manufacturer added features and boosted performance, the price rose, from $896,000 in 1974 to $5.2 million by 2008.
The GT delivers a 20-knot boost in maximum cruising speed-from 285 for the stock B200 up to 305 knots-and quicker climbs, thanks mainly to an improved variant of the Pratt engine. The new PT6A-52 mates the turbine section of the more powerful dash 60A engines on the King Air 350 with the stock gearbox on the older dash 42 engines that the King Air B200 employed. The marriage means the GT can hold its 850 shaft horsepower rating through higher altitudes and thus climb and cruise faster. It can also take off from higher-altitude airports.
Good as this was, Hawker Beechcraft was about to go one better. After surveying more than 3,000 King Air owners, the company concluded that current and prospective series 200 buyers wanted an aircraft with even better performance than the GT offered. The King Air 250 delivers by incorporating Raisbeck Engineering's Ram Air Recovery System, BLR winglets and lighter and more efficient all-composite Hartzell propellers.
The Raisbeck system keeps foreign objects from being sucked into the engine during ground operations and in flight helps prevent engine icing and makes engine airflow more efficient. It has been a popular aftermarket option for King Airs for years. (The company also offers various other performance improvement and supplemental storage enhancements for King Airs.) The new Hartzell propellers and hubs are 65 pounds lighter (for the pair) and more efficient. The BLR winglets also improve the aircraft's aerodynamics and efficiency.
The results? This airplane can land on and take off from the proverbial postage stamp.
Well, almost. At maximum weights, the 250 can take off over a 50-foot obstacle in 2,111 feet at sea level-that's 400 feet less than a GT requires. At high-altitude airports, this airplane also shines. At a 5,000-foot elevation airport, it takes off in just 3,099 feet. And it can use 1,100 more of the world's airports than a GT. Speed increases modestly to 310 knots.
While this performance is impressive, you can enhance it even further by adding factory and aftermarket options. The high-float landing gear-basically larger main gear tires-is a must if you plan on using unpaved strips or snow/slush-covered runways.
Hang around King Airs long enough and you'll notice that many of them have their engine nacelles and the bottom half of their fuselages painted dark colors to disguise soot stains from the engine exhaust. Stainless Frakes exhaust stacks can go a long way toward minimizing this problem.
Finally, Raisbeck plans to offer a variety of individual and combination option packages for this airplane beyond its standard factory ram-air system. These include crown wing lockers that can each swallow 600 pounds of cargo with no adverse impact on aircraft aerodynamics; high-float landing-gear doors that are more robust and aerodynamic than factory fare; wing leading edges that reduce drag; and aft fuselage strakes that minimize yaw (an aircraft's tendency to sway from side to side in flight) and therefore make for a more comfortable ride. A 200GT fully tricked out by Raisbeck can make 318 knots and a 250 thus equipped likely will do a little better.
While the 250 unquestionably performs better than its predecessors, Hawker Beechcraft missed a prime opportunity to refresh the aircraft's interior with a more jet-like cabin appearance and amenities, along the lines of what it did with the King Air 350i in 2009. However, the aesthetics are adequate. And when you're doing a virtual carrier shot over tall trees from a ridiculously short grass strip, is your child really going to notice that there is no monitor for his Game Boy?