““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
King Air B200
Hawker Beechcraft, which filed for bankruptcy protection last May, is now expected to shed its jet lines before emerging with its crown jewels intact: its line of King Air twin turboprops. Some 7,000 remain in service, making it the most ubiquitous business aircraft of all time. Of those 7,000, nearly one third are 200 series.
The 200 was spawned in 1974 and many still consider it the best Beechcraft ever built.
It was a remake of the 1960s’ King Air 100 with a three-foot fuselage stretch, a new T tail, wings spanning four more feet, larger fuel tanks, 1,000 pounds of additional maximum takeoff weight and more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-42 engines. The 200 features a larger cabin than other manufacturers’ pressurized twin turboprops, all of which are out of production. (Hawker Beechcraft is the only company still manufacturing such aircraft.) 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 a 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 swivel-and-recline single seats and the cockpit. Throw four big guys in the back and you can fly 1,100 nautical miles at a spritely 283 knots.
The 200 quickly became a mainstay of business aviation, particularly in the Great Lakes region 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. This was the “foundry flyer,” a winged chariot for middle management or a junior executive on the rise.
What it lacked in glamour it made up for in utility. Shoulder room was snug, but still better than on most other turboprops. Lower cruising altitudes made for quick climbs and short trips, but they also meant you got banged around more in turbulence. On early 200s, the cabins weren’t particularly quiet and soot from the engine exhaust stacks stained the nacelles and aft fuselage with a distinctive big black stripe: capitalism’s carbon code. Beverage service was whatever you could bring aboard and not spill on yourself, and the pilot was either still using acne cream or a grizzled veteran with a monosyllabic answer to any question. This kind of flying was definitely about the destination, not the journey. A King Air is designed for missions that a jet is not.
Its tall, robust landing gear, especially when fitted with optional “high float” larger tires, delivers better ground/propeller clearance and makes quick work of short runways, including the uneven and unpaved variety. The aircraft was a hit with the U.S. military and other government agencies, which ordered hundreds of them for use as “Guardrail” spy planes, air ambulances, cargo haulers and executive transports. Factory updates and aftermarket modifications have kept this airplane relevant into its fourth decade.
Factory upgrades for the 200 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-blade one that quietened the cabin. In addition, the company offered glass-panel avionics, including the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 suite beginning 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. Today, a new King Air 250 will set you back $6.015 million.
Perhaps none of the aftermarket performance goodies are more famous than those designed by Raisbeck Engineering. They include a ram-air recovery system, enhanced-performance wing leading edges, dual aft-body strakes and enclosed gear doors for aircraft with high float gear. The dual aft- body strakes reduce cabin noise and cut drag on the back end of the airplane. The enhanced-performance wing leading edges reduce drag at cruise speeds and lower the wing’s stall speed. The ram-air recovery system keeps the engine from sucking in debris during ground operations; in flight it helps prevent engine icing and improves engine airflow. It has been a popular aftermarket option for King Airs for years and is now standard on the 250.
Other popular upgrades include BLR winglets, which add style and performance; Hartzell propellers; and Blackhawk Modifications’ XP52 engine-modification program. The BLR winglets give the B200 wing the same performance as the larger King Air 350 wing, yielding better high-altitude cruise and runway performance. The Hartzell propellers and lighter-weight hubs chop 120 pounds off the aircraft’s empty weight. By themselves, the XP52 engines deliver a 20-knot boost in maximum cruising speed–from 285 knots 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 -60A engines on the King Air 350 with the stock gearbox on the older -42 engines that powered the King Air B200. The marriage means that a B200 retrofitted with -52s 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.
The B200 “is the workhorse airplane of America,” said Ed Kilkeary, president of LJ Aviation of Latrobe, Pa. Kilkeary signed a deal late last year to have his 2006 King Air B200 retrofitted with the Raisbeck, Blackhawk and BLR modifications as well as LED lighting at an estimated combined cost of more than $1.3 million. To him, it makes perfect sense. “This makes a tremendous airplane that much better,” he said. “I’ve owned a lot of King Airs. This is the best turboprop ever built. I am making the investment to make the airplane better and faster. It’s important for us to have the best.”
Kilkeary said he will see improved safety margins and estimated that he’ll enjoy a 30- to 35-knot increase in maximum cruising speed with the modifications installed. Hawker Beechcraft Services is completing the work in Wichita. “The blending of [these modifications] with the [standard Rockwell Collins] Pro Line 21 avionics–I don’t think I will be the last one to do this,” Kilkeary commented.
He’s probably right. But the list of available modifications doesn’t stop with his package. B200 owners can add Garmin’s G1000 avionics suite, as well as synthetic- and enhanced-vision systems, according to Hawker Beechcraft Services. Retrofits under development include autothrottles and antiskid brakes. With so many 200-series King Airs out there, the market appears ripe for continued retrofits. No matter what becomes of Hawker Beechcraft, the B200 will endure.
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