(June 2011) We’d just landed, taxied in and shut down the one-of-a-kind King Air 250 on the Atlantic FBO ramp at my home airport of Austin Bergstrom. We’d made our fuel order, closed up the big airstair door and started into the FBO when my flying buddy, Hawker Beechcraft’s Mark Mohler, spotted a pretty King Air 200 on the ramp. Mark’s been flying these airplanes for a while and knows a thing or a thousand about them, so I asked just out of curiosity what vintage it was. With a new paint job, a pair of Raisbeck wing lockers and that same company’s dual ventral fin mod, the airplane looked nearly new.
“There’s one sure way to tell,” Mohler told me as he ambled over to the rear left side of the airplane, “the data plate.”
It was an early ’80s bird. A lot of these King Airs have 10,000-plus hours on them and they’re still going strong.
The reason they do and that Hawker Beechcraft Corp. (HBC) is still building them is that King Airs make sense for so many applications. They are used for hauling cargo to mountainous villages, for flying executives to board meetings at downtown airports, for evacuating injured off-roaders from outback gravel strips, for taking family and friends on mountain vacation getaways and much more. The hallmark of their versatility is that a single airplane, with a quick change of seats, can be and often is used for several different purposes.
The new King Air 250 aims to do all that and more while doing it better. It’s a tall order.
Legacy of Success
If it seems to you as though the Beechcraft King Air has been around forever, maybe that’s because, for most of us, it has been. Like so many other airplanes of its generation, the Beechcraft King Air wasn’t so much created as it evolved from lesser but closely related designs, and I say “lesser” advisedly. The nonpressurized (with one exception), piston-powered Twin Bonanza and Queen Air platforms, which were the basis for the King Air line, were solid airplanes for their time but have not stood the test of time. This is clearly because they suffered built-in limitations — no pressurization and no turbine power. The King is all about both of these things.
The model history of the King is complicated, and at times Beechcraft had half a dozen models — small and large, with and without T-tails, with special equipment and different engine configurations — all competing for various turboprop niches. For the past many years the lineup has been greatly simplified, with just three models; today they are the 350i, 250 and C90GTx.
It’s interesting to note that none of the King Air’s pressurized, turboprop cabin-class competitors — through much of the ’80s there were rivals from Cessna, Piper, Mitsubishi and Swearingen — are around anymore, while the King Air has doggedly maintained its popularity. Hawker Beechcraft, as the company is known today, has built more than 5,000 King Airs over the years, starting with the first King Air, a Model 90, way back in 1964. (So, yes, the 50th anniversary party is on short final.) And despite the discredited theory that turbofans would replace turboprops by now, the King Air motors on.
The King Air 250 is the latest model in the enormously popular King Air 200 series. Beechcraft introduced the first Super King Airs back in the early 1970s with the launch of the 200 and 300 models. The 300 featured a three-foot stretch and more powerful engines, while the 200 was a “sub-twelve-five” airplane, meaning one did not need a type rating to fly it. Indeed, the King Air 200 was the largest, most complex airplane a multiengine-rated pilot could theoretically simply hop in and fly. The 300-series airplanes required a type rating. The Model 350i continues in production.
The 200 series debuted in 1974 and has undergone nearly continuous improvements in that time. Before the soon-to-be-certified King Air 250, the most recent 200 was the 200 GTi, which featured more powerful engines and the Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite. It was faster and more sophisticated than any King Air 200 before it.
The 200 is a big airplane, with a generous cabin and an eight- to nine-seat capacity. Its T-tail and big, round windows give it a serious ramp presence, and its big, beefy, double-tire main landing gear makes it look ready for business, which it most assuredly is.
The Pratt & Whitney engines on the 250 are the same hybrid version, the –52 model, that was on the 200GT. The –52 is essentially the gear box of the previous –42 engine mated to the power section of the engine that powers the larger King Air 350. While the Dash 52 is still limited to 850 shp, as in previous B200s, the engine has greater thermodynamic range, up to 1,050 shp, so it can propel that 850 shp to higher altitude than the Dash 42 can. It unfortunately goes without saying that the PT-6s are not fadec-controlled, so there’s a good deal of engine management to complicate the job of the single pilot.
Faster, Quieter, Stronger
Normally when you try to find out what makes a new model different, you start by looking at hardware changes and go from there. You could do that with the 250 as well, but I’d argue that it’s more instructive to start with performance figures and work your way back from there.