(September 2011) Anyone who's been around aviation for any length of time knows that there’s no such thing as a perfect airplane. As good as they are when they come out of the factory, they can almost always be made better with the application of some ingenuity and some well-thought-out hardware. Seemingly simple solutions and modifications can make an airplane fly faster, climb better and in some cases even look better.
James Raisbeck has made a career out of improving aircraft designs. Raisbeck is best known for his modifications for King Airs that improve performance, enhance passenger comfort and increase the carrying capacity of these already exceptional airplanes. But Raisbeck has done so much more than that.
As crazy as it seems, Raisbeck’s engineering experience dates back to the late 1930s, when he, as a 3-year-old, began playing around with go-carts.
“I’ve always had a desire to take things apart and put them back together,” Raisbeck says.
At age 75, this desire hasn’t changed.
“It seems that he wakes up every morning with new ideas for modifications,” says Scott Keefe, sales manager for King Air Performance Systems at Raisbeck Engineering.
Raisbeck’s career began as a mechanic on the B-36 Bomber in the U.S. Air Force, with a follow-up stint as an Air Force Reserve flight engineer on the Fairchild C-119 while working on his aeronautical engineering degree at Purdue University in the late 1950s. In 1961, he was hired by Boeing as an aerodynamicist on the high-lift project for the Dash 80. He went on to become president and chief engineer at Robertson Aircraft Corp., where he helped develop short takeoff and landing mod kits for most Cessna and Piper models of that era.
But Raisbeck was destined to run his own company, and in 1973 he founded Raisbeck Engineering and redesigned the Learjet wing, which reduced the stall speed and improved the performance to such a degree that the company adopted the wing into its production line in 1976. A similar wing was designed and manufactured for the Sabreliner 65.
In 1981, he turned to the King Air. It all started on his kitchen table.
“I started paging through Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide, looking for an airplane or series of airplanes with a large number in the field, still in production and flown by people who could afford to make upgrades. I came across the King Air and said to myself, ‘Look at this. … This is wild!’”
Raisbeck realized he had found exactly what he was looking for. Today, his modifications have been installed on more than 3,000 King Airs.