Used Jet Review: Beechjet
Life begins at 40
You don’t find many airplanes that still count among best in class after four decades in the marketplace. However, the seemingly ubiquitous Beechjet certainly qualifies. Overbuilt to stringent certification standards typically reserved for larger aircraft, it treats passengers to a cleverly designed and roomy cabin while having the durability to withstand ham-handed Air Force student pilots and merciless fractional operators who log more than 1,400 hours annually on some airplanes.
The Beechjet falls into the light-jet category: two pilots, up to seven passengers, a range of up to 1,885 nautical miles (ferry flight with the throttle pulled back; otherwise plan on a little more than 1,400 nautical miles with four passengers) and a top cruise speed of 465 knots. It has been on the scene since 1978 in various iterations, and more than 600 have been produced for civilian use. It is currently being remanufactured with many improvements by Nextant Aerospace as the 400XTi and by Beechcraft as the 400XPR. It has survived calamities that would have grounded lesser aircraft: initial quality issues, inept corporate owners, uneven product support and even a series of en route double engine flameouts about a decade ago, which NASA and the NTSB have attributed to a rare phenomenon called engine core icing. (All ended with safe landings, and some changes to operating procedures have apparently cured the problem.)
The aircraft was originally designed in 1977 by Japan’s Mitsubishi, the same company that built the MU-2 turboprop. The new jet was designated the MU-300 with an eye to reassembling it in Texas with Mooney. Mooney went bankrupt and Mitsubishi went it alone at its manufacturing plant in San Angelo, Texas, rebranding the aircraft the Diamond I and gaining FAA certification in 1981. The airplane featured a flat floor and a squared oval fuselage that gave passengers more shoulder room and made the 305-cubic-foot cabin seem larger. It measures 4 feet, 9 inches tall; 4 feet, 11 inches wide; and 15 feet, 6 inches long. Cabin pressure is equivalent to sea level up to 24,000 feet. External luggage capacity is a paltry 26.4 cubic feet but adding in-cabin closet space can increase storage room to 53.2 cubic feet. Overall luggage capacity is 800 pounds. The Diamond featured other innovations not typically seen on light jets of its day: a supercritical wing with a 20-degree sweep to cut drag and increase speed; roll spoilers, which assist with high-speed turns; and anti-skid brakes.
Mitsubishi built some 62 Diamonds, but they soon garnered a reputation for being underpowered: they were runway pigs on hot days and took seemingly forever to reach cruise altitude. They also suffered from noisy cabins and troublesome electrical systems.
In 1983, the manufacturer launched an improved model, the Diamond IA, which featured uprated Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-4D engines and first-generation glass-panel avionics. The next iteration, the Diamond II, offered more fuel capacity and still more powerful engines.
Meanwhile in Wichita, Beechcraft was watching the Cessna Citation fanjet take a big bite out of its King Air turboprop sales. By 1978, Cessna had sold more than 1,000 Citations. Without a jet program of its own, Beech was decidedly behind the power curve and needed to play catch-up. Its solution: buying the Diamond program from Mitsubishi in 1985 and acquiring kits to assemble 64 aircraft. These are known as Beechjet 400s. In 1991, Beech began native manufacturing of the airplanes with a few improvements; these are called 400As. That same year, the Air Force ordered 211 Beechjet 400As to use as trainers for tanker and transport pilots (the 400T or T-1A “Jayhawk”).
You can get some major deals on Diamonds and Beechjets made before 1991—prices go all the way down to around $175,000—but there’s a reason for that. While all of these airplanes were built like bricks, the earlier models tend to suffer from the aforementioned deficiencies and a lack of quality control. Unless you enjoy seeing your aircraft in pieces on the hangar floor, avoid these vintages.
The 400A, later rebranded the Hawker 400XP by Hawker-Beechcraft, introduced improvements. These aircraft begin with serial numbers “RK” and range in price on the used market from as little as $700,000 to $2.5 million for a Hawker 400XP from 2010, the last year they were produced. Production of the XP began in 2003, and if you don’t want to invest in a complete makeover, this is the model to buy. It features Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 avionics and an updated interior.
You can make a few modifications to an XP to give it new-airplane feel and performance. The Gogo Internet system (formerly branded “Aircell”) is a relatively inexpensive way to add cabin Wi-Fi with connection speeds up to 3.1 mbps. You can get Garmin 5000 touchscreen avionics installed for around $500,000. That system takes 200 to 250 pounds of weight out of the nose—enough to let you carry another passenger—and offers all the functionality and safety features found in a new airplane. Fresh exterior paint and interior soft goods—carpet, leather, coverings—ring up another $200,000.
Or you can get really ambitious and bring your aircraft in to Textron Aviation’s Hawker division for a complete makeover. Its XPR package will replace the Pratt engines with quieter, fuel-sipping Williams FJ44s and give you new winglets, avionics, paint and interior, all for a little over $2 million. That’s a lot for your money, when you consider that the upgrade increases maximum range with four passengers to nearly 2,000 nautical miles, bumps long-range cruise speed up 21 knots and reduces fuel burn by 17 to 19 percent on trips of 300 to 1,000 nautical miles.
Nextant does things a little differently. While it too uses the Williams engines, its goal is serialized production. Therefore, rather than having customers bring their airplanes in for revamping, the company is buying used aircraft and converting and selling them. Nextant executives say the Beechjet is ideal for remanufacture because its sturdy airframe doesn’t have a life limit and because most used ones have accumulated only 5,000 to 7,000 hours of flight time and could easily fly as many as 30,000 hours more—or about another 30 years.
The 400XTi gets a complete exterior repaint and interior gut job as part of the basic upgrade, and Nextant even replaces the soundproofing blankets. The company retains and refurbishes the seat frames but adds new foam and re-covers the seats in leather. The headliner, window lines, drink rails, sidewalls, carpeting and veneer are new. Customers can choose from several floor plans, all with single seats for five to seven passengers or a club-four grouping of single seats and a three-passenger divan opposite the main cabin entry door. You’re not going to find a divan that size in another light jet. The current 400XTi price—which covers the original airplane and its conversion—is $5.161 million.
The Williams engines don’t come with thrust reversers, so that saves additional weight and maintenance expense if you opt for the Hawker or Nextant makeover. The conversions make an already good airplane great and have the potential to keep Beechjets flying for another three decades.
Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in more than 50 aircraft models.