Rising from the ashes of 's bankruptcy, the King Air 350i now serves as the real-life phoenix of the new Beechcraft Corp., a far leaner and financially stronger company since its February 2013 reorganization and relaunch. Exiting jet production and promoting its enduring King Air line were key strategic changes that restored the health of the iconic Wichita manufacturer. The back-to-basics King Air 350i is as Midwestern as sweet corn and soybeans, and just as consistently in demand in the marketplace. It now claims title as the firm's top-of-the-line model for several reasons. The duration of most business aircraft trips is less than 2 hr. In fact, most business aircraft missions are no longer than 300 to 600 nm.
While a 300-kt. King Air 350i lacks the panache of a 430-kt. turbofan that can cruise in the stratosphere, it's only about 20 to 30 min. slower than a jet on shorter trips and notably burns 20% less fuel, even assuming an ideal, near parabolic vertical profile for the jet.
The 350i provides cost-effective business transportation for eight to 10 passengers at a significantly lower direct operating cost than a corporate jet with as many seats. Estimated direct operating cost is less than $1,200 per hour, including engine reserves, scheduled maintenance and $6.00 per gallon fuel.
Those economic realities hit home during the Great Recession of 2008 when hundreds of jet owners chocked or chucked their airplanes because they didn't make economic sense. The used business jet market became as flooded as Mesopotamia 3,500 years ago. Some light and midsize jet owners were nearly swept away in the surge.
So, gone are the more glamorous jets that caused Hawker Beechcraft to hemorrhage more than $1.6 billion from 2009 to 2012. Going forward, everything Beechcraft builds will have propellers.
“We're not selling the tip of the pyramid in luxury and performance. We're selling very well executed regional transportation,” says CEO W. W. “Bill” Boisture.
The old Hawker Beechcraft, as the 80+ year-old company was known from 2007 to 2013, was spinning out of control with more than $2.6 billion in debt, mainly due to its money losing turbofan product line. However, its prop models, and especially the King Airs, held their own during the global meltdown.
In May 2012, the firm negotiated a pre-planned bankruptcy reorganization with debt holders, owners, creditors and suppliers. In the process, that Hawker Beechcraft debt was converted into equity in the new Beechcraft Corp. The firm also secured $400 million in debtor-in-possession financing to kick-start operations as it exited bankruptcy last February.
Since then, Beechcraft's turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. Mid-year, it landed the largest ever order for general aviation turboprop aircraft when it inked a deal with Wheels Up, a new members-only air transportation venture started by the founders of Marquis Jet. (See sidebar.)
The King Air 350i has a lot going for it outside of attractive operating economics. It's an FAR Part 23 commuter category aircraft, thus it offers much the same one-engine-inoperative takeoff safety margins as an FAR Part 25 transport category jet.
Business aviation isn't the only market for the 350i. It's available in cargo/combi/freighter, air ambulance, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance and other special mission configurations. As a result, production rates of the 350i, along with the earlier 350, have averaged slightly more than 40 aircraft per year during the last decade.
What makes the 350i such an enduring design is the focus of this report.
All current production Beechcraft products have all metal, semi-monocoque airframes using spars, frames, ribs and stressed skins made of high-strength aluminum alloys. Very few parts are manufactured by using computer numerical controlled (CNC) mills and other automated tools. Instead, all Beechcraft are labor-intensive products, requiring several hundred skilled hand labor hours to complete.
Because of high labor costs in the U.S., much of the King Air 350i's air–frame, including tail plus upper and lower fuselage sections, now are built at Beechcraft's facility in Chihuahua, Mexico. But because of the noses' complex curves, building them requires the time-honed skills of the Beechcrafters in Wichita.
The upside to the hand labor construc–tion process is that it produces an airframe that's relatively easy to repair in the field. Rivets and fasteners may be drilled out of assemblies and subassemblies, so that only those components that are damaged need be removed, then repaired or replaced.
The King Air 350 was type certified in 1989, grandfathered as the Model B300 on the 1973 Model 200type certificate. Compared to the Model 200, the B300 features a 34-in. fuselage stretch, two more round cabin windows and double club seating for eight people. The wing also is about 3 ft. wider in span than the King Air 200's. As the aircraft's MTOW exceeds 12,500 lb., the additional weight moves it up into the Part 23 commuter category for structural integrity, aerodynamic and OEI performance standards and requires its pilots be type rated.
The Model 350i made its production debut in 2009, featuring much-improved interior soundproofing, aVenue IFE system, Raisbeck dual aft body strakes and Raisbeck wing lockers in the nacelles.
The aircraft's 1940 vintage, NACA 23000 series airfoils are considered dated by many modern aero purists. But Beechcraft aerodynamicists point out that the time-proven airfoil offers a good blend of stall characteristics, relatively low performance degradation in icing conditions and good lift-to-drag characteristics in the turbulent wake of the aircraft's twin, four-blade, 105-in. props throughout the flight envelope. If King Airs had pusher configuration turboprops or turbofans, then other airfoils might be better suited to the aircraft.
The 310-sq.-ft. wing has a 10.8:1 aspect ratio and it is built in three pieces. The center section includes the left and right engine nacelles and it uses a constant 23016.5 cross section airfoil. Compared to the Model 200/B200, the leading edge of the center section was extended and recontoured for the 300 and 350, resulting in more elliptical lift distribution throughout the flight envelope. The inboard leading edge change both reduces induced drag and wing bending moments at normal cruise speeds.
The left and right outboard wing sections are bolted to the center section outboard of the nacelles. They have 6 deg. of dihedral to enhance stability and to promote transfer of fuel. They feature modest geometric and aero twist, tapering down to 23012 airfoils near the tip. Winglets improve the aircraft's lift-to-drag characteristics at relatively high lift coefficients, such as during takeoff and landing. That improves OEI takeoff performance.
The addition of Raisbeck Engineering dual aft body strakes considerably im–proves yaw stability. The strakes allow the aircraft to be dispatched and flown at altitudes up to 19,000 ft., versus 5,000 ft. for an unmodified aircraft, with an inoperative yaw damper.
The primary flight controls are man–ually actuated by means of cables and pulleys between the control yokes and rudder pedals and the flight control surfaces. Control forces are neutralized with trim tabs on the left aileron, rudder and both elevators. The aircraft has electric pitch trim and manual pitch, roll and rudder trim. An electric rudder servo provides yaw damper and rudder boost functions. When the difference in engine torque output between the engines exceeds 30%, the rudder boost function helps deflect the rudder proportionally to the difference in engine output to reduce the pedal effort needed to offset yaw.
The four-section Fowler flaps are actuated by an electric motor. The flap lever in the center console has up, approach and down positions. Intermediate positions cannot be selected.
Left and right, 300-amp starter generators and a 42-amp/hour sealed lead-acid battery provide three power sources for the 28-VDC electrical system. A ground power cart can be connected to the aircraft by means of a receptacle under the wing outboard of the right engine nacelle.
In normal operation, the left and right generator buses, plus the battery-powered center bus, all are connected in parallel. The left and right generators share loads equally. The relay ties between the buses only open in the event of a malfunction.
The 3,611-lb. capacity fuel system uses mainly fuel bladders in the outboard and inboard wings and engine nacelles, along with left and right outboard wet wing tanks. The main system holds 2,546 lb. and the inboard aux tanks hold 1,065 lb. The aircraft may be fitted with additional, external nacelle tanks, in place of the Raisbeck wing lockers, thereby increasing total fuel capacity by 1,581 lb.
The tricycle landing gear has a single nosewheel and dual main wheels. A 28-VDC electric power pack provides hydraulic pressure for landing gear extension and retraction. In the event of power pack failure, a hand hydraulic pump enables the crew to extend the landing gear. The hydraulic fluid reservoir has a low fluid level warning function. A separate, unpowered hydraulic system is used for the wheel brakes. Engine bleed air is used for brake deicing.
Left and right engine bleed air, pre–cooled through heat exchangers in the inboard wing sections, is used for cabin pressurization, engine inlet anti-ice protection, wing and horizontal stabilizer leading edge deice protection, window defogging and brake deicing. The 6.5-psi pressurization system provides a 10,380-ft. cabin altitude at the aircraft's FL 350 maximum cruising altitude. Pressurization is manually set by a controller in the instrument panel and controlled by normal and safety outflow valves in the rear pressure bulkhead. A 115-cu.-ft. oxygen bottle supplies quick-donning masks in the cockpit and individual passenger drop-down oxygen masks.
The dual-zone climate control system uses engine bleed air for heating. It also has an electric heating system that can be powered by a ground power cart prior to engine start. Air-conditioning, though, only is available when the right engine is running because it drives the vapor cycle machine's compressor.
Occupants enter the aircraft through an aft, left-side 4.3-ft.-high-by-2.2-ft.-wide air-stair door that has passenger assist hand cables on the left and right. The aircraft also is available with a 4.1-ft.-high-by-4.3-ft.-wide cargo door. The aft lavatory is immediately across from the entry door. It features an internally serviced flush toilet, a window and optional, foldout vanity with wet sink, mirrors and storage racks. Aft of the lavatory is a 55-cu.-ft., internally accessible baggage compartment. If the lav features the optional foldout vanity, baggage compartment capacity is reduced to 45 cu. ft. Raisbeck Engineering wing lockers add 16 cu. ft. and 600 lb. of external baggage capacity.
The 350i features a new sound suppression system featuring triple-layer skin panel insulation and dynamically tuned vibration dampers, plus 3-in.-thick thermal insulation and an acoustically isolated interior shell. The system is tuned for 1,500 prop rpm and it lowers noise to about 78 dB in cruise, a 4-dB reduction.
The main seating area is 4.8 ft. high, 4.5 ft. wide and 13.9 ft. long, providing about 248 cu. ft. of volume for the passengers. The fuselage has a square oval cross section and a flat floor, except for a small rise in the front to accommodate the center section wing spar. Thus, it has more usable foot, hip, shoulder and headroom than the raw dimensions might suggest.
There are seven windows on each side of the main seating area. Similar to those on the, each window has an electro-chromic darkening pane.
Most King Air 350i aircraft are con–figured with fore and aft double-club seating accommodating eight passengers. One or both forward facing chairs in the aft cabin can be swapped temporarily or permanently for optional ottoman leg rests. Individual seat warmers are avail–able as options. Cargo/combi, 15-occupant high-density seating, air ambulance and special mission versions also are available.
A Rockwell Collins Venue inflight entertainment system is standard, including a foldout 15.3-in. HD LCD monitor at the front of the cabin, individual seat monitor jacks and a Blu-ray player. Right-side pairs of facing chairs have USB, RGB and other A/V input ports in covered compartments in the side ledges. Options include two- or four-channel XM satellite radio entertainment systems; Airshow moving map; a second, aft-mounted, swing-out HD LCD monitor; and individual plug 10.6-in. HD LCD monitors for each seat, along with Aircell Axxess II Iridium satcom phone and Gogo Biz air-to-ground Wi-Fi.
Cabin IFE functions, including lighting and temperature modulation, are controlled by means of a touch-screen, programmable switch panel (PSW) at each seat. The PSWs also have iPod/iPhone tray mounts that support both audio and video entertainment inputs that can be enjoyed by all passengers.
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 Rockwell Collins 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.
The King Air 350i is a more fuel efficient and practical alternative to a business jet for short-range trips, ones that most business aircraft operators fly on an everyday basis. If you really needed to fill the tanks and fill almost every seat, the King Air 350i offers load-and-go operating flexibility. Typically equipped, it can carry seven passengers with full fuel and plenty of baggage in both the aft bay and wing lockers. It also has a wide center of gravity envelope for easy loading.
While few groups of seven people want to spend 5.6 hr. together, flying 1,500 nm in this class of aircraft, the King Air 350i would enable those seven people to hopscotch from White Plains to Montreal to Pittsburgh toand home to White Plains without refueling.
Some business jet advocates point out that their FAR Part 25-certified transport category aircraft provide one-engine-inoperative takeoff safety margins while normal category turboprop takeoff performance assumes no engine failures. The lackluster OEI takeoff performance of most twin turboprops disqualifies them as serious corporate air transportation assets.
But the King Air 350i is certified as an FAR Part 23 Commuter Category aircraft, so it provides essentially the same one-engine-inoperative takeoff performance margins as an FAR Part 25 Transport Category jet.
The Rockwell Collins Venue IFE system puts the Model 350i's cabin environment on par with best-in-class light jets. However, it needs an Apple-compatible IFE Wi-Fi distribution system so that iPads, iPhones and MacBooks can double as personal video monitors.
The aircraft is not as easy to fly as a business jet, particularly because its avionics system isn't fully integrated with aircraft systems, the engines lack FADECs and the cockpit has dozens of legacy switches and manually operated systems, some of which date back to the original 1964 King Air.
These graphs are designed to illustrate the performance of the Beechcraft King Air 350i under a variety of range, payload, speed and density altitude conditions. Do not use these data for flight-planning purposes because they are gross approximations of actual aircraft performance.
|B&CA Equipped Price||$7,563,200|
|Engine||2 P&WC PT6A-60A|
|Output/Flat Rating OAT°C||1,050 lb. ea./ISA+10C|
|Payload With Max Fuel||1,299/589|
|Fuel With Max Payload||2,600/1,179|
|Fuel With Executive Payload||3,510/1,592|
|FAR Part 23 Commuter Category OEI Rate (fpm/mpm)||552/168|
|FAR Part 23 Commuter Category OEI Gradient (ft./nm; m/km)||304/50|
|Certification||FAR Part 23, 1989|