Higher-end business turboprop drops in
Seen briefly in local skies last month was a new (just over 100hr on the clock) demonstrator from Beechcraft. King Air 350i N871EU visited Ardmore, Ohakea, Wellington and Queenstown before heading back across the Tasman Sea for more Australian centres and on into Southeast Asia.
The King Air line is well-established, with more than 7000 examples emerging from the Wichita factory during its 50 years of production. All are powered by various models of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6, the turbine engine that itself has set records of longevity and quantity — 51 years’ continuous production of 52,000 examples of 90 models in service approaching 400m flight hours.
The King Air 350 model, a development of the 300 with 1m fuselage stretch and winglets, has been in production for 24 years and is available in two main versions. The 350ER, for extended range, is more accurately a multi-mission aircraft with beefed-up landing gear to cater for higher weights and extra fuel tanks in the engine nacelles.
Nobody can quite say what the “i” stands for with the 350i, announced in 2008, but apart from marketspeak it’s most likely something to do with up-to-date information technology, from the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics in the cockpit to the digital connectivity for the passengers. They are cosseted with large dimmable windows, USB ports, iPod docks, high-definition video monitors and the expected fold-out tables, and the manufacturer claims cabin noise levels and passenger comfort on a par with corporate jets.
The passenger seating is normally eight in a double club layout, with extras accommodated either in the cockpit (single pilot IFR certified) or further aft, one on the fully belted and upholstered fold-up toilet seat and another tucked into the baggage compartment. Up to 300lb of luggage, of the sort that doesn’t mind being cold and unpressurised, can also be carried in each engine nacelle.
The business end of each nacelle contains a 1050hp PWC PT6-60A, and once off the ground in 1006m the 350i will cruise faster than 300kt before needing 821m to land at the other end. All performance figures are for the maximum takeoff and landing weights of 15,000lb (6804kg), and while range naturally depends on payload, it can carry four passengers for 1700nm for comfortable eastbound trans-Tasman capability and careful headwind calculations westbound. Queenstown–Hobart was the plan on this trip, but on the way here N871EU flew direct Bankstown–Auckland direct in a little over 4hr.
The King Air is aimed at rather more than just corporate use. Certified operations from grass, gravel and unimproved runways have such users as the Royal Flying Doctor Service in mind, and attention is given to balanced runway lengths for commuter use. Its range of 950nm with maximum payload would suit it for operations in this country, pressurised and able to climb rapidly above terrain and weather to a maximum of 35,000ft.
Aimed at the higher end of the market, the 350i comes with a starting price tag of $US7m ($8.165m) and so is unlikely to crowd New Zealand skies, but much attention has been paid to passenger comfort — and during those 50 years’ King Air production the people at Beechcraft have shown their ability to make robust aeroplanes.
- Report and photographs by John King.
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