We strapped into the left seat of Serial Number FL-0831 at Atlantic Aviation's ramp at Wilmington, Del., with Beechcraft demo pilot Errol Wuertz Jr. Our first impression is that the King Air 350i is a blend of old and new technologies. The Pro Line 21 avionics system adds great capabilities and situational awareness, especially because of its glareshield-mounted flight guidance system control panels and three large, portrait-configuration format displays, but it's far from being fully integrated with aircraft systems.
Instead of having an integrated crew alerting system on the EFIS, for instance, the original aircraft's upper and lower annunciator light panels are retained. To initialize the FMS-3000, the crew must manually input fuel quantity because the avionics are not integrated with the fuel quantity indication system. The FMS isn't linked with the pressurization system, so departure and arrival field elevations must be entered into the pressurization control panel.
Wuertz noted that the new 350i has a Keith Products climate control system that automatically adjusts heating, cooling and fan speed to achieve the desired temperatures in the cockpit and cabin.
A performance computer is not part of the avionics package, so the crew must look up V speeds and takeoff field length based upon weight, airport elevation, wind and outside air temperature. Some crews elect to use their own EFBs to perform such takeoff performance computations. Computed V speeds then are manually entered to generate speed bugs on the PFD airspeed tape.
We initialized the FMS and program–med in the flight plan. Single-pilot BOW was 10,190 lb. since we had two other occupants aboard, plus galley stores and baggage. With 2,050 lb. of fuel, our ramp weight was 12,940 lb.
Wuertz rounded up our takeoff weight to 13,000 lb. Based upon using no flaps, Wilmington's 80-ft. field elevation and 23C OAT, the V1 decision speed was 99 KIAS, rotation was 104 KIAS and the V2 takeoff safety speed was 111 KIAS. Computed takeoff field length was 3,203 ft. and runway available was 4,602 ft. Target en route climb speed was 170 KIAS.
The 350i is easy to taxi because of differential thrust, smooth brakes and effective nosewheel steering through the rudder pedals.
Holding short of Runway 32, we commenced the litany of first-day pre-takeoff checks, including looking at operation of the electric pitch trim, prop overspeed governor and rudder boost, low pitch stop and primary governor, autofeather and engine anti-ice systems. Wuertz said that the checks can be done quite quickly with some practice. However, we believe it would be advisable to run through them before fare-paying passengers board the aircraft.
Various fuel system, cabin altitude, landing gear and fire protection system checks must be completed. Brake deice, TCAS and TAWS checks are performed before each flight.
Once cleared for takeoff on Runway 32, we advanced the power to about 85% torque as we began the takeoff roll. The pitot cowl inlets are so efficient at converting air velocity into air pressure that torque increased 5% during takeoff roll. We adjusted power to reach 100% torque. As the engines accelerated to 1,700 prop rpm, the aircraft interior noise levels rose accordingly; it wasn't particularly quiet.
We also noticed that we spent considerable time cross-checking engine output and making minor adjustments to set takeoff power. Quite clearly, the powerplants are long overdue for a FADEC upgrade to reduce pilot workload.
Rotation force was light, as was roll control force. The Beechcraft standard for gentle and progressive control force far exceeds any certification requirement, in our opinion. With a positive rate of climb, we retracted the landing gear, noting that there was virtually no pitch moment change. We observed a small lag in the pitch trim response to inputs to the pitch trim switch. The manual pitch trim wheel provided immediate response, but a comparatively small amount of rotation results in a large change in pitch trim.
Pulling back the throttles to 95% torque and then the prop levers to set 1,500 rpm resulted in a considerable reduction in interior noise. Quite clearly, the interior sound suppression system is tuned to sop up 100 Hz noise, the frequency produced by the four-blade props at that speed.
We also noted that the reduction from takeoff to climb power results in a significant change in yawing moment, requiring left rudder input and corresponding rudder trim to maintain balanced flight. A similar change in yawing moment was observed as we reduced power after level-off at cruise altitude. And the yaw damper doesn't compensate much for such changes.
Our assigned route of flight was radar vectors to Modena VOR, thence V3 to Solberg VOR and direct to Morristown, N.J., expecting 7,000 ft. in 10 min. as a final cruise altitude. But ATC kept us down to 4,000 ft. for the 93-nm jaunt. Reviewing our video footage, it was apparent that Pro Line 21's glareshield-mounted flight guidance control panel is quite effective at promoting situational awareness through hand/eye movements, particularly when the aircraft is being flown with two pilots.
We settled into a 200 KIAS cruise be–low the floor of the Philadelphia Class B airspace. Operating at low altitude at this speed, the King Air 350i shows off its large-scale advantage in fuel efficiency over similarly sized turbofan business aircraft.
“You know, in this area, this airplane operates so much cheaper than a jet and you're doing the same thing that the jets do. They can't get high, either,” Wuertz says. Since most of our assigned route would take us below the floor of either Philadelphia's or New York's Class B airspace, we would be limited to 200 KIAS in whatever we were flying.
Wuertz said it's taken him 90 min. to fly a jet from Teterboro, N.J., to nearby Farmingdale, Long Island, because of the congested airspace around New York City. “You can drive it [as quickly],” he quips.
At a weight of 12,700 lb., the aircraft cruised at 200 KIAS at 4,000 ft. in 17C conditions while burning 730 lb./hr. Once clear of the shadow of Philadelphia's Class B airspace, we accelerated to 250 KIAS.
“Easy on the power,” cautioned Wuertz, as we fine-tuned the power to avoid exceeding 100% torque. Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A engines tend to be very sensitive in response to throttle movements at higher power settings. And the response is anything but linear. At a weight of 12,500 lb., the aircraft settled into cruise at 250 KIAS (266 KTAS) in 17C conditions while burning 1,020 lb./hr.
Passing Solberg and approaching the floor of New York's Class B airspace, we slowed back down to 200 KIAS. Wuertz entered the Runway 23 ILS approach into the FMS for reference purposes. The FMS automatically tuned the VOR/LOC receiver to 110.3 MHz for the ILS Runway 23 approach and the PFD displayed the 229-deg. inbound localizer course in the preview mode.
“831 Kilo Alpha, New York Approach, depart Solberg 040 vectors visual approach 23 Morristown,” we hear, basically aligning us on downwind for the runway. We also noted that changes in power and thus fuel flow resulted in simple time/distance/fuel remaining computations by the FMS. Unlike most jets, the FMS-3000 in this aircraft isn't sophisticated enough to consider expected climb, cruise and descent fuel burns and speeds when computing fuel remaining at the destination.
“It's just like a calculator. You punch it in and that's what it's telling you,” Wuertz explained.
On downwind, Wuertz switched on the aircraft's optional nose-mounted IR EVS camera. It's a microbolometer design that's great for sensing thermal images at night or in partial obscuration. The technology much improves situational awareness when flying “black hole” approaches, particularly where obstacles in the final approach path pose potential hazards.
New York directed us to descend from 4,000 to 3,000 ft. on downwind to Runway 23 and slow to 160 KIAS. Those 105-in. props function most effectively as rotating speed brakes, thus the aircraft easily goes down and slows down simultaneously.
We extended flaps to approach on base leg, noting a slight ballooning tendency. Turning base to final, we descended to 2,000 ft. and were cleared for the ILS approach. We elected to fly the initial part of the procedure at 140 KIAS with approach flaps so as not to impede arriving jet traffic. We extended full flaps over the BINGG final approach fix, slowing to 130 KIAS.
“It slows pretty easily,” Wuertz com–mented. But the inflight idle pitch stops prevented the blades from going almost flat when the throttles were retarded. Nearing 500 ft. AGL, we slowed to the 101 KIAS Vref final approach speed.
We disengaged the yaw damper at 100 ft. AGL. Over threshold at 50 ft. AGL, we gradually reduced power. We could have chopped the power to idle sooner to slow the aircraft below Vref and there would have been less float prior to touchdown.