This Is a King Air
Perhaps the most intriguing product floated by HBC at its NBAA press conference was a single-engine turboprop. The company says the airplane has no public name or designation but will “absolutely,” said Holcombe, be “called a King Air.” That name, of course, has never been bestowed upon a single-engine airplane before.
This King Air, however, will be no scaled-back PT-6 single. Like the remarkably roomy and powerful Pilatus PC-12, the Beechcraft single will be big. Its fuselage will be — get this — based on that of the Premier 1A, which, HBC claims, has the best cabin of any bizjet in its class. It will certainly be huge for a single. In addition to the voluminous cabin, the single would feature a large side loading door, room for eight to 11 occupants and industry-leading pressurization. The composite fuselage allows for efficient pressurization. HBC says it will build the fuselage in the same way it builds the Premier 1A today, using state-of-the-art winding technology for extremely light and strong composite structures.
The use of a composite fuselage is an intriguing choice for a couple of reasons. First, the departure from the all-metal King Air design is worthy of note. Beech Aircraft has built more than 7,000 King Airs over the past almost 50 years, so it’s a big step to go composite with the fuselage of that iconic model.
But a composite fuselage makes a lot of sense. For one thing, you can pump up the cabin more effectively — because there’s little leakage — than you can with a sheet metal structure, so passengers can enjoy a lower-altitude cabin. This is increasingly a big selling point with business aircraft.
You can also save weight. The specifications HBC floated for its concept King Air single include impressive payload and full-fuel payload figures. HBC claims the airplane could have a max payload more than 500 pounds better than an unnamed rival airplane and a full-fuel payload more than
800 pounds greater.
At the same time, the King Air single would boast high speeds, projected to be better than 300 knots, which it will achieve via a combination of its slippery fuselage, new-design metal wings and an under-development Pratt & Whitney Canada turboprop that will increase the power of the PT-6, possibly to more than 1,800 shp. The combination of room, power and speed, if it all comes to pass, would indeed seem worthy of the King Air name.
What about price? HBC isn’t floating a price point yet, but it’s a good guess it will be within shouting distance of its turboprop competitors, though if the new Beechcraft is indeed bigger and faster with more payload, the market might bear more.
It also hasn’t announced any timetable for the new model, for obvious reasons, but it insists all of its new models will be brought to market within the window of its five-year plan. That five-year plan, in fact, could get started very soon, possibly by the time you read this, though Vick stressed that the process would be “robust” and Beechcraft would go methodically through “a very structured product development process” that will involve every segment of the business and include extensive discussions with potential customers. This process will begin only after the company emerges from Chapter 11, said Vick.