King Air C90GT
King Air C90GT

King Air C90GT

A lightly used copy of this twin turboprop goes for under $2 million. Invest a bit more and you can give it the look and avionics of a new airplane.

From the outside, a King Air C90GT twin turboprop resembles the first King Air 90, which took to the skies in 1964. Over the years, that model has been morphed into a variety of variants and has been stretched and fitted with longer wings and more powerful engines. One model, the 1900, was turned into a 19-seat commuter aircraft that was the darling of many a regional airline in the 1980s. But the C90 pretty much stayed true to the original, save for better avionics and interiors, until 2006, when it received more powerful engines that bumped the maximum cruising speed up to 270 knots. Fitted with the hotter motors, the aircraft was rebadged the C90GT. 

King Air C90GT interior
King Air C90GT interior

Back when it premiered, Beech touted the then $2.9 million C90GT as a “very light jet killer,” affording customers a time-tested design, a larger cabin with room for six to seven adults to sit comfortably, large oval windows, and pressurized baggage space capacious enough for several full-size roll-ons, hat bags, and many sets of golf clubs. You got a big main cabin door aft of the wing. You got a twin that sat high off the ground on beefy landing gear and was built like an M-1 Abrams tank. And you got an airplane you could land on an incredibly short and rough grass strip or a gravel bar without having to file an accident report afterward. 

In 2006, its first year of full production, the GT outsold its slower predecessor, the C90B, by almost two to one. The GT's new, more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada engines delivered more speed and better high-altitude/hot-temperature performance and cut climb-to-altitude times by 35 to 50 percent. At full power, the big Hartzell four-bladed propellers rotated slower than on the C90B, reducing component wear and tear and, just as importantly, the decibels in the passenger compartment. And you got all this—at the time—for about the same price as a single-engine Pilatus PC-12 turboprop. 

You can find a good, lightly used, C90GT today for less than $1.6 million—and that’s what Massachusetts-based business owner Eric Hagopian did last year. He wanted to move up from his Beechcraft G58 Baron twin piston to a turbine single but was turned off by the high prices. 

“I just couldn’t stomach it, not for my first turbine,” he said. Working with Elliott Aviation, the owner-pilot found a 2007 King Air C90GT with 3,400 hours total time and had it refurbished to his exact specifications, which called for installing Garmin G1000 NXi avionics and adding fresh paint and a new interior. The turnkey solution appealed to Hagopian, who wanted that “new airplane smell” combined with the familiarity of the G1000 avionics system in his Baron. “I didn’t want to have to learn all new stuff,” Hagopian says. “Upgrading to a turbine is a major departure. And my feeling was that as I transition into a totally different platform, I’m going to have enough to learn without mastering totally new avionics.”

Hagopian’s company, Pilot Precision Products, manufactures industrial cutting tools sold through distributors in North America, and he plans to use the King Air to keep in touch with them, as well as flying to his homes in South Carolina and Florida. His typical stage length is 750 to 1,100 nautical miles. While the King Air has shorter legs than new single turboprops such as the Daher TBM 910/940 and Pilatus PC-12 NGX, Hagopian said he envisions making multiple daily stops, so the shorter range wasn’t a significant factor. His main reason for transitioning to turbine was to get above the weather. 

King Air C90GT Cockpit
King Air C90GT Cockpit

Like a New Airplane, But for Less Money

Working with Elliott, Hagopian was able to secure his airplane and have it refurbished in just eight weeks. Elliott’s designers gave him the look and feel of a brand-new airplane for slightly more than $1 million less than a new turboprop single. His total cost is around $2.5 million, including the future engine overhauls. 

A big chunk of the expense was for the installation of the Garmin G1000 NXi avionics. Elliott has installed 385 of the G1000 systems in King Airs since the STC was issued in 2008, about 35 to 40 per year— around 53 percent of the total market to date, according to director of avionics sales Bill Forbes. The average installation price is around $400,000. 

The system can provide weight savings of 100 to 150 pounds, compared with the standard Collins Pro Line 21 system from the factory, as well as maintenance savings of between $100,000 and $150,000 over the typical ownership cycle, Forbes said, noting that Elliott’s Moline, Illinois facility can do the installation in as little as 15 working days. Overall, he said, the G1000 NXi retrofit, despite its price, "is one of the most cost-effective upgrades a King Air owner can do. It retains 85 percent of its blue book value when you go to sell the airplane," he said.

Like Hagopian, 25 to 30 percent of Elliott’s customers for the retrofit have the system installed while they are upgrading the aircraft's paint and interior. With Hagopian’s airplane, Elliott fashioned an exterior paint scheme and interior that mimicked those of a new-production aircraft, according to director of paint and interior sales Meghan Welch. “A lot of interiors are done in concert with avionics and engine overhauls," she added. "Customers pay money for that asset [the airplane], and they want to get quick turn.” 

She said Hagopian expedited his project somewhat by electing not to refurbish the hard goods aboard—chiefly the laminated cabinetry, which, despite its age, was still in good condition. But just about everything else in the cabin was upgraded. The polarized window shades were replaced with the electrochromatic iShade system, which allows the pilot and passengers to control window tint gradations. The seats were refoamed, resculpted, and recovered in new leather; the carpeting was replaced; and the headliner and sidewalls were given fresh, “ink-resistant” Ultraleather. New lighting and USB ports were also added. Hagopian updated the cabin with an eye to eventual aircraft resale, choosing a neutral color scheme and not doing any personalizing, such as initials or his company logo.

“It was just a fun experience for the customer,” Welch said. “He got to make the airplane his own.” 

King Air C90GT  in flight
King Air C90GT in flight

2007 Beechcraft King Air C90GT 

Price (typical): $1.6 million 

Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) PT-6 PT6A-135A

Avionics (standard): Collins Pro-Line 21

Crew: 1–2 

Passengers: 6–8 

Cabin: Height, 4 ft 10 in, width, 4 ft 6 in, length: 12 ft 5 in

Maximum cruising speed: 270 kt 

Range: 981 nm 

Takeoff distance: 2,400 ft