In the first part of our story- we traced the development of the King Air from its introduction in 1964 through 1978- when there were five King Air models in production (the Kind Air C90 business turboprops for sale- King Air E90 airplanes for sale- King Air A100 aircraft for sale- Garrett-powered B100 and the Super King Air 200)- and sales were exceeding all expectations.
The King Air business turboprop celebrates 40 years of success in 2004 - and for very good reason.
In the first part of our story- we traced the development of the King Air from its introduction in 1964 through 1978- when there were five King Air models in production (the Kind Air C90 business turboprops for sale- King Air E90 airplanes for sale- King Air A100 aircraft for sale- Garrett-powered B100 and the King Air 200)- and sales were exceeding all expectations.
For the past two years Beech had been test flying a jet-powered King Air but the performance was disappointing and by the end of 1977 the company had decided the jet King Air would not go into production. The King Air would continue to evolve through numerous new models for several decades to come- but it would always be a turboprop.
As 1977 rolled into 1978- another new King Air business turboprops for sale model was in test flight – the F90. Essentially a creation from the parts bin- the F90 featured the fuselage of the C90- the wing of the A100 and the T-tail of the 200. Powered by a 750-shaft-horsepower version of the PT6A- it had better performance than every King Air model except the 200- and was also dubbed a Super King Air. On reaching production in 1979- the F90 swelled the King Air family available on the market to six members.
Looking for ways to expand the product line even further- Beech engineers faced something of a dilemma. With the Model 200- the King Air design had reached a maximum gross weight of 12-500 pounds – the limit set by the FAA for light airplanes for sale certified to FAR Part 23. Any further growth of the design would require a different certification basis. The only alternative at the time was Transport Category or FAR Part 25.
Redesigning the King Air to Part 25 standards was considered impractical- so the King Air- for the time being at least- was limited to 12-500 pounds and the general layout of the Model 200. As a result- Beech engineers began looking at ways to improve the 200 that would increase its usefulness and broaden its market appeal.
A major step was the development of an innovative cargo door that had a conventional airstair door incorporated within it. The airstair was hinged at the bottom- and opened like a standard King Air door to board passengers for normal business aviation operations. The 52-square-inch square cargo door was hinged at the top and opened upward to accommodate items much larger than would fit through the standard door.
The cargo-door-equipped Model 200 was introduced as a separate model of the King Air- designated 200C- in late 1979 and was almost immediately ordered by the U.S. Navy. The cargo door also proved to be a very popular option with the petroleum industry- which was Beech’s largest commercial customer in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
To further broaden the market for the King Air- Beech developed a version of the Model 200 for maritime coastline patrol- featuring 50-gallon wingtip fuel tanks to give it extended range or to increase loiter time over the patrol area. Designated the Model 200T- it was sold primarily to international customers who equipped it with sophisticated search equipment- including forward and side-looking radar installations and a drop hatch in the belly to dispense life rafts- flares and other survival equipment.
Not all of the 200Ts were configured this way- however. At least one Super King Air equipped with tip tanks was sold to a commercial customer in the United States. Apart from its tip tanks- the airplane for sale was outfitted in normal executive transport configuration. Between 1976 and 1987- Beech delivered 31 Model 200Ts- and an additional four were delivered in 1992.
The 1979-1980 time frame would prove to be the peak period for multiple versions of the King Air being available in the market at one time. The company began to realize it had too many overlapping products and not enough differentiation in the market to support. As a result- the last King Air E90 business turboprops for sale and A100s were delivered in 1980- and by 1981 the King Air models available were reduced to four: the King Air 200- the B100- the F90 and C90.
Into the 80s
In 1981- Beech introduced an upgrade to the 200 and re-designated it the B200. Engine power remained the same- but the engines were upgraded to the –42 version of the PT6A. Internal improvements over the –41 version on earlier Model 200s produced better efficiency at high altitude and gave a slight increase in speed. Pressurization was increased to 6.5 psi and the zero-fuel weight was upped to 11-000 pounds. As 1981 transitioned into 1982- Beech delivered its 1-000th Model 200 Super King Air.
No one realized it at the time- but the Golden Age of the business turboprop airplanes for sale was coming to an end almost as abruptly as it began. Sales in 1982 dropped in half- to 458 units- down from 918 the year before- and fell further the following year to 321 units. King Air production in 1982 dropped to 271- down almost 38 percent from the 1981 production record of 435 units. By 1983- King Air production was down to just 129 units as Beech struggled to remain profitable in the market slump- which by now was affecting all categories of business aircraft for sale.
In response to the downturn- Beech pared its King Air line- eliminating the B100 from the product mix. It also scrapped plans for a Garrett-powered version of the F90- tentatively designated the G90- which had been in test flight development since late 1980.
In spite of the market downturn after 1981- Beech continued to upgrade the King Air line though. In 1982 the C90 received its first major improvement since 1971- with an upgrade to the –21 model of the PT6A busturboprop and an increase in cabin pressurization to 5.0. The new C90 was renamed C90-1. In December of 1982 Beech began flying an upgraded version of the King Air F90 airplane for sale- designated F90-1 and equipped with new engine intakes that were dubbed pitot cowls. These were intended to increase airflow through the engine- particularly at higher altitudes. They also gave the engine nacelles a distinctly different look from earlier King Airs. The following year the C90 also received the new pitot cowls- giving it a modernized appearance. It was again renamed- this time C90A.
Grasping the Opportunity
A change in the FAA’s certification criteria created the opportunity to improve on the Model 200 and Beech took advantage of it. The FAA originally created (Special Federal Aviation Regulation) SFAR-41C to allow construction of regional jets for sale if the resulting airplanes were based on an existing type certificate. The rule was subsequently interpreted to allow SFAR-41C airplanes to be used business aircrafts for sale.
In September of 1983- Beech began flying a B200 airframe equipped with P&WC PT6A-60A engines- developing 1-050 shaft horsepower each. This represented an increase of 200 horsepower per side- or a 23 percent increase in power over a standard B200. To improve performance even further- the new model was fitted with the pitot cowl design introduced earlier on the F90-1 and C90A.
This new airplane for sale was named the Model 300 Super King Air and introduced to the market in 1984 with a gross operating weight of 14-000 pounds. The 300 represented an increase in performance in almost every important parameter over the B200- but its new certification basis also brought operating restrictions that caused some operators to continue to prefer the B200.
In Europe- the King Air 300’s higher operating weight brought a sharp increase in Eurocontrol fees. To overcome this- Beech began selling a version of the 300 in Europe that was designated the 300LW and certified to maximum takeoff weight of 12-500 pounds. With its powerful engines- the 300LW was also a very capable short-field performer.
In 1985- just as the Super King Air 300 was beginning to be delivered in significant numbers- Beech dropped the F90-1 from its product line- citing falling sales and insignificant product differentiation between the F90-1 and the B200. So in the years between 1981 and 1985- the King Air line changed significantly.
Three models- the E90- the F90 and the B100 were gone. The 300 and 300LW had been added and the appearance of the C90 had changed significantly. Only the B200 looked much as it had at the beginning of the decade. The King Air line- now consisting of the 300- the 300LW- the B200 and C90A- would remain largely unchanged for the remainder of the 1980s.
The significant change was the competition. By the mid-1980s- it was essentially gone. The other major turboprop competitors- the Cessna Conquest I aircraft for sale- the Piper Cheyenne business turboprop for sale- the Mitsubishi MU-2- the Rockwell Commander and the Fairchild Merlin were either out of production or about to be discontinued. Indeed- by the end of the decade- of the business turboprops for sale- King Air alone remained in production. However- that is not to say that the King Air had no competition.
Developments in jet engine technology had improved fan jet efficiency and the gap between the cost to operate a turboprop airplanes for sale and the cost to operate a light jet had narrowed significantly. The development of a number of new very light jet programs was creating a new threat for the business turboprop airplanes for sale in general and for the King Air specifically.
The year 1990 brought both a new decade and the first new King Air model in more than five years. The Super King Air 350 was more than just a new King Air. It represented the first major upgrade to the airframe since 1974 when the 200 was introduced.
Beech created the 350 by stretching the 200/300 airframe by almost three feet and adding two more cabin windows on each side. Winglets added to the 350’s distinctive appearance. Inside- a double-club seating arrangement gave the 350 the ability to carry eight or more passengers in comfort. Moreover- the 350 King Air could carry a full load of passengers and a full load of fuel. Its 15-000-pound maximum takeoff weight was 1-000-pounds greater than the Model 300’s.
The 350 was designed to the FAA’s new Part 23 Commuter Category regulations. The earlier SFAR-41C regulations- to which the King Air 300 was built- contained a sunset provision that caused them to expire after 10 years. Commuter Category was created to replace SFAR-41C. The expiration of SFAR-41C meant that the King Air 300 could no longer be produced after 1991- so the Model 350 replaced the 300 in the Beech product line.
A total of 214 Model 300s and 300LWs were built between 1984 and 1991- but production of the 300LW model continued in low volumes for several years afterward- because the airplane was still popular in Europe and the 300LW could be built and sold under Normal Category Part 23 regulations since its maximum weight was 12-500 lbs.
A cargo door version of the 350 was introduced in 1991- with the first customer being the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
About the same time the Super King Air 350 was making its debut- Beech announced a further upgrade to the basic C90 King Air model. With a new interior and tuned vibration dampeners to quiet its cabin- the baseline King Air was now designated C90B. The first C90B off the production line was fitted with the 10-000th Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engine delivered to Beech since King Air production began in 1964.
The King Air line achieved two major milestones in the mid-1990s. The economy was picking up and new private aircraft sales were improving in 1995 when the 1-500th Super King Air Model 200 was delivered. Just a little more than a year later- in June of 1996- and the 5-000th King Air was delivered. The historic aircraft was a Super King Air 350- and it went to a west coast U.S. manufacturer of specialty wood products.
Despite competition from business jets for sale- the King Air continues to carve out a market niche- and now- just about eight years later- the 6-000th King Air delivery draws close.
King Airs Today
King Air sales have fallen in recent years- along with the rest of the market- but its overall market position still seems quite secure. As recently as the year 2000- Beech delivered 151 King Airs- including 46 C90Bs- 46 350s and 59 B200s. In 2001- sales slipped to 119 units- including 41 C90Bs- 46 B200s and 32 Model 350s- and were down to just 80 units in 2002.
Last year- however- King Air sales picked up slightly- with 86 airplanes delivered- including 18 C90Bs- 44 B200s (six delivered to the U.S. military)- and 24 Super King Air 350s. The weak numbers in 2002 and 2003 are reflective of production cutbacks Raytheon made in 2002 to try to control costs and improve its lagging earnings.
During the first quarter of 2003- just four King Airs were delivered – the worst delivery quarter for the King Air since production began in 1964. This was- however- evidently an aberration. A more normal expectation of the market seems to be 20 to 30 King Airs per quarter- with Model 200s outselling the 350 and the C90B by a ratio of about 3 to 2.
The Future of the King Air?
Obviously the design is aging- but Raytheon Aircraft has done an excellent job of continuing to upgrade the King Air and keep it relevant in the market. The most recent improvement is the addition of Collins Pro Line 21 avionics as standard equipment on the 350 and the King Air B200 airplanes for sale- which was announced late last year. Clearly- Raytheon is positioning these airplanes to continue to be players in the market.
Light jets may have captured much of the market turboprops once owned- but there are some missions that turboprops in general- and King Airs specifically- simply perform better than jets. Operation from short unimproved fields is just one example.
It seems evident that the King Air will continue into the future for many years to come. If the market performs as recent surveys suggest that it will and we see a decade of relative prosperity in business aircraft for sale- we can look forward to the delivery of the 7-000th King Air and the 2-500th Beechcraft King Air 200 sometime in the next eight to ten years.
Why has the King Air been so successful?
Why did this business turboprop survive the collapse of the overall turboprop business aircraft for sale market in the mid-1980s and go on to approach its 6-000th unit delivery?
It’s a question that has certainly vexed many competing sales executives who brought to the market airplanes that were faster and more efficient- and yet saw those airplanes fail to capture the King Air’s place in the market.
The King Air was certainly not the fastest business turboprop. In fact- at the height of the turboprop boom- in the 1977 to 1981 time-frame- it was among the slowest. The MU-2 could outrun it easily. So could the Cessna Conquest. Models of the Piper Cheyenne- the Fairchild Merlin and the Rockwell Commander could also claim to be faster.
The King Air also was not the most efficient business turboprop for sale in the market- nor was it the least expensive to operate. Indeed- the retail price of a King Air was always at the top of the turboprop market… Beech had a reputation for building a quality product- and priced the King Air accordingly.
King Air Success Story
SO WHAT MADE THE KING AIR SPECIAL?
Beech itself did a survey in the late 1970s- asking customers why they liked their King Airs. Appearance- comfort- reliability- confidence in the product – all of these were reasons cited by King Air owners. But the reason cited more than twice as often as any other reason was the King Air’s big cabin.
Compared to the competition- the King Air was very roomy. In fact- many aviation writers evaluating King Airs in the 1970s and early 1980s used the term 'cavernous' to describe the cabin.
Another significant factor was reliability. It was not uncommon to interview King Air owners who had gone three or four years without having a trip cancelled due to a mechanical malfunction. Admittedly these were corporate customers- whose flying typically totaled less than 300 hours a year- so their airplanes weren’t pushed very hard. But it was more difficult to find owners of competing products with similar missions who could make the same claim.
Yet another factor was the Beech distributor network- which had been in place since the 1940s across much of the United States and elsewhere in the world- and did a good job of taking care of both customers and airplanes for sale.
Arguably- the King Air’s appearance is yet another factor. The airplane stands tall on its gear and looks impressive on the ramp – particularly the T-tail models. On the other hand- some would argue that the King Air looks stodgy compared with competitive products.
Clearly there is no single answer- other than to say that the King Air was the right product for its time- and it has stood the test of time well. After all- 6-000 buyers can’t be wrong- can they?
Did you miss the first part of the King Air Story? If so- then why not read it online at www.avbuyer.com
• More information from website: www.raytheonaircraft.com