New King Airs are wonderful airplanes, but they do cost what new airplanes of that caliber cost. As with any new model, a factory-fresh King Air gives you a lot of things you can't retrofit affordably, if at all, into a 20- or 30-year-old airplane. That's why people keep buying new King Airs.
While there are a lot of mods available for older King Airs, the end result is not going to be an airplane that's as good as a new one -- as much as you might wish that to be true. What you can get is one that is, without question, better than it was back when it was new.
That is, indeed, exactly the case for N48AZ, the 1979 King Air C90 I met out in Phoenix recently, an airplane that Cutter Aviation extensively refurbished, showing just how far a reasonable investment could go toward making a long-in-the-tooth airplane a desirable commodity once again.
Now, a good-sized volume could be written about the history of the King Air line, but here's the short story on the C90. Beech launched into King Air development in the early 1960s, and by the middle of the decade, the precursor of the C90 was being delivered to customers. The King Air, then and now, offered an unparalleled combination of cabin size, low operating costs, short and rough field capabilities, load carrying might and reasonable speed. You know the rest of the story. The King Air is the most successful turboprop in history, and its sales continue strong to this day.
The C90 in particular was a great seller for Beech. Introduced in 1971, the C90 had the upgraded Pratt & Whitney PT6A-20A engines and a significantly longer wingspan than earlier models. These changes combined to allow an increase in maximum takeoff weight of 350 pounds, to 9,650 pounds. Over the roughly dozen years it built the C90, Beech delivered more than 500 of them (and more than 50 C90-1s, a nearly identical model that was built until the early '80s). The C90 wasn't the swiftest turboprop in the skies, but it was apparently fast enough to every year outsell its speedier competition, which, by the way, hasn't been around for the last few decades.
The King Air is also a famously rugged airplane, and that means there are still a lot of those roughly 550 C90s out there. And in today's used aircraft market, there are some great values to be had in older C90s with a lot of life left in them. And those King Airs can be had at a good cost, well less than half a million dollars for an airplane in good shape but needing engines.
This story is about one of those airplanes.
The Cutter Way
Cutter Aviation has been in the FBO business -- and all the sub-businesses that that implies -- for longer than just about anybody. And as a family-owned business, a rarity in the FBO world today, it has a different, more hands-on feel than many of its competitors. While the Cutter name might be familiar to you, you might not know the story behind this historic FBO.
Cutter was founded by William P. Cutter as Cutter Flying Service in 1928 in Albuquerque (just a couple of months after Flying got its start). Cutter somehow survived the Great Depression, and when World War II started, it became a major military pilot training center. In 1947 it became a Beech dealer, an association that lasted more than 60 years, until just earlier this year when Hawker Beechcraft started selling its airplanes direct. Today, in addition to its KABQ location, Cutter has a number of FBOs and maintenance centers in the West, including its facilities at Sky Harbor in Phoenix (KPHX) and nearby Deer Valley (KDVT); and also in Dallas (KRBD), El Paso, McKinney and San Antonio, Texas, as well as a new location in Colorado Springs.
In terms of services, it's not so much a question of what Cutter offers as what it doesn't. At various locations, it offers its customers full-service fueling, tie-downs and hangars, maintenance and avionics installation and repair, aircraft sales and charter.
And it's still family run today, with William P. Cutter's son Bill Cutter serving as chairman of the board and his son, Will Cutter, as president.
Trash or Treasure?
Typically, when an airplane sales company comes into possession of an airplane, it's through a trade. That was not the case with 48AZ. Cutter had done some work on it for a customer years ago, putting in a good number of avionics upgrades, including a new Stormscope. But when it came time to pay, the folks at Cutter told me, the owner, despite the best efforts of all concerned to track him down, was nowhere to be found. Cutter was left with an older airplane with runout engines sitting on the ramp with no one to get it out of hock. And there it sat for several years with a mechanic's lien and a prop lock, getting dusty but not rusty -- you've got to love Arizona airplanes.
Just last year Cutter decided to do something with the old King Air, and settled on making a refurbishment demonstrator out of it, using it to show prospects just what it could do with some investment and a little time.
Cutter bought the airplane at auction -- it was the only creditor and the only bidder -- and went to work at making it shine again. The whole project, and it was an extensive one, took just 30 days.