It was a scuzzy day in Wichita, and we waited in the run-up area while a pair of Texan IIs (another HBC product) arrived on the overhead and executed touch-and-goes. I back-taxied the 250 to near the end and set the power. Even with the torque set conservatively to 2,000 pounds instead of 2,200, I hit my rotation speed of 97 knots and lifted off well before the 2,000-foot marker. I estimated the takeoff roll at right around 1,800 feet, which is better than book on slightly reduced power.
We were soon in the clouds and flying a heading, and I got to experience the joy of hand-flying a King Air in the soup. The secret is manual trim. In its wisdom Beech has retained the big, manual, elevator trim wheel, which gives you all the feel and responsiveness that electric trim doesn’t.
Like the last couple of models before it, the King Air 250 is outfitted with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, a full-featured suite with good-size LCDs and the Collins FMS-3000 with multiple navigation sources. Pilots get a raft of utilities: Jeppesen charts, XM Weather, TCAS, TAWS, onboard weather radar and a full complement of engine instruments on the MFD. Pilots coming to Pro Line 21 from a G1000-based flight deck will find the transition at first difficult, in part because the logic of the FMS is so different from that which Garmin has used for more than a decade on its various products. That said, once pilots get used to how things are done on the FMS, they find it elegant and fast.
The cockpit is a complicated place compared with those of the most modern light jets because of the built-in complexity of propellers and the fact that there’s no fadec option. On top of that, many of the functions that are incorporated into G1000 even on Beechcraft’s own piston airplanes, the G36 Bonanza and the G58 Baron, have their own lights, knobs or indicators on the Pro Line 21 suite in the King Air 250. It’s an airplane that requires training, and HBC offers two pilots a full initial King Air course at FlightSafety (plus one for a mechanic).
As we climbed, getting vectored by Departure this way and that to avoid some moderate buildups, I was impressed by the King Air’s easy flyability and predictable manners, as well as by its performance. At 1,700 rpm, a setting that really quiets the cabin, we were seeing between 1,500 and 2,000 fpm as we headed up to the 20s.
At 28,000 feet (ISA +9) at 1,700 rpm, we were truing out at 302 knots, which is about 6 knots better than book, this while burning around 650 pounds (around 100 gallons) per hour. Remember, this is for a 12,500-pound airplane. A lot of operators, Mohler predicted, will fly this airplane high, because it gets up to altitude so quickly and because its fuel economy is so impressive in the mid-30s. At FL 330 we were getting 280 knots at around 480 pounds per hour. It was worth the climb.
Perhaps HBC’s most remarkable engineering achievement is making the King Air cabin seem so much bigger than it is, and that’s plenty big to begin with. You can get between eight and 10 people in the airplane, counting a belted lavatory seat. With a single club layout plus two rear-facing seats at the front of the cabin, the layout is convenient and comfortable. Thanks to big, round windows with effective polarizer shades, the lighting is excellent. The big, solid and sleepable seats are set up to slide out into the aisle and to angle in any direction while en route, so you can get away from the sidewall and position the seat to give you the most clearance from other passengers. The great hard-sided lav is in back. You can access bags in flight in the rear pressurized baggage area, and because it’s right next to the airstair door, there’s no need to haul bags through the aisle to get them stowed.
On our way south into Austin, Texas, soon after we were beyond Dallas’ Class Bravo airspace, it was time to begin our descent. We entered the crossing altitude of 13,000 feet into the FMS and started down. The Collins autopilot, by the way, is first rate.
Another advantage of the 250 was immediately clear, the increase in Vmo from .52 Mach to .58, which allowed us to keep our speed up during the descent and will make for quicker arrivals and less fuel burned.
We flew the ILS to 17L at Bergstrom amidst lots of business and airline traffic, so Approach asked us to keep our speed up to 170 knots, which was easy enough despite gusty conditions by using the trend monitor on the Collins PFD airspeed tape.
Coming in on final a little fast, because of the gusty conditions and my lack of recent King Air time, I was still able to plant it near the aiming mark and easily make the Juliet turnoff without anything dramatic in the way of propeller or wheel braking. I figured a ground roll of around 2,500 to 3,000 feet even given my less-than-top-notch proficiency on the airplane. And I could have made it a good deal shorter with more aggressive braking.
The King Air 250 should be certified by the time you read this, at which point it will take its rightful place in the long line of remarkable airplanes called King Airs. With its combination of speed, excellent runway performance, creature comforts and, don’t forget, that great cabin, the 250 is indeed a worthy heir.