The figure that the manufacturer seems most impressed by is the reduction in fully loaded takeoff distance, from an absurdly low 2,579 feet to an even more absurdly low 2,111. In hot and high conditions, the 250 outperforms its predecessor, the 200GT, by an even greater margin. At a field elevation of 5,000 feet and a temperature of 25 C (77 degrees F), the 250 uses just 3,099 feet of runway, compared with 3,800 feet for the 200GT. The time to climb to 35,000 feet was cut from a respectable 27 minutes to just 23 minutes, and the max Mach operating speed was increased from .52 to .58. Moreover, the single-engine service ceiling (the altitude at which the airplane is not able to do much useful climbing) increased nearly 2,000 feet, from 24,200 to 26,000. All of these improvements have benefits. The faster climb saves fuel, the increased high-speed operation allows for faster descents, and the enhanced takeoff performance means operators can choose from more airports and operate with more payload on hotter days and from higher elevations.
Because the weight of the airplane is essentially fixed for all time at 12,500 pounds or less — its ramp weight is actually a bit higher than that — by FAA regulation, Hawker Beechcraft had to be smart about how it improved the performance of the model. As it turned out, “smart” looks a lot more like “brilliant” because the program heads were able to achieve remarkable performance improvements, like the 18 percent gain in hot, high takeoffs, with a few simple upgrades. We’re used to seeing remarkable gains in other areas of our technological lives, but in aviation, getting these kinds of gains with a nearly 50-year-old product is unheard of.
The most noticeable of these improvements is the winglets, and, no, they aren’t just for a flashier look, though they manage to pull off that feat too. The winglets, created by BLR, a longtime partner and supplier to Hawker Beechcraft, are made mostly of carbon fiber for light weight, so they add much in terms of performance while nearly nothing in terms of weight.
The tips increase the wingspan by 3 feet 5 inches to 57 feet 11 inches, though the effective span increases even more than that. The wingtips have built-in position, recognition and strobe lights, though they are not covered by boot extensions (expect that option to be offered at some point by the company or BLR).
Increasing the wingspan and the effective span with winglets makes sense in a variety of ways. First, the added wingspan increases lift, obviously, and the winglets act as a kind of aerodynamic fence, keeping the airflow from spilling over, losing lift and creating drag. The winglets energize that flow, making it work for the wing instead of against it. These devices work. The notion that winglets were wishful thinking in composite form has been abandoned by nearly every turbine airplane manufacturer today. Everyone uses them because they work.
In this case, they work in conjunction with a pair of other technological enhancements, the first of which is as old as the airplane itself: the propeller. Hawker Beechcraft went with composites again, in the form of new, four-bladed composite Hartzell props, which do several good things for performance and more.
For starters, the props are lighter, which makes up for weight gained in other places on the airplane. They also provide greater thrust, which is seen mainly in two places, in takeoff performance, as already noted, and in climb.
There’s an added bonus: The props are quieter than their aluminum predecessors, a fact that everyone at the company who has flown the airplane and who lives in the vicinity of the airport knows, but which has not been verified by HBC.
On top of their performance and low noise, the props boast two great features that are not new but bear note. One feature is an electronic synchrophaser, allowing the pilot to easily keep the props in sync. It will make you forget that it’s not always that easy. The other is one that on its own has sold airplanes, Mohler told me: automatic feathering. When an engine loses power, the system automatically feathers the prop and adds rudder, all in the matter of a couple of seconds, to make the loss of an engine at low altitude a no-brainer. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this feature to safety.
We tried out the latter and it worked as advertised. Cutting the fuel to the right engine (at the safe altitude of 12,000 feet), the system immediately feathered the prop and applied left rudder. On departure I could have done nothing but flown the airplane and it would have worked out just fine. Try that in a Baron. Actually, please don’t.
The last of the three big improvements that make the 250 the 250 is a new ram-air recovery system that makes the airplane as powerful with the ice vanes deployed as without. When the vanes are deployed — to prevent ice damage or foreign object damage when you’re on the ground — the system modifies the inlet flow so that more air gets to the engine, cooling it more effectively and allowing for more power with lower temps. It’s simple and ingenious, and it works.
While it’s hard to say exactly how much each new feature — winglets, props and ram-air recovery — has done to improve overall performance, it’s clear that between them they have made a big difference.
To the Test
Heading out of Wichita, Kansas’ Beech Field (KBEC) in the 250, I was accompanied by Mohler and King Air specialist Justin Phillips. With the three of us aboard and just the mains full, we were about 1,000 pounds below the maximum takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds. That would have been around an additional five passengers, for whom there was plenty of room and plenty of snacks. The galley is first rate.