Garmin glass for King Air 200s

October 1, 2009

Garmin International continues its march toward penetrating more of the turbine market. The company’s popular three-screen G1000 avionics suite is already standard equipment on Cessna’s Mustang light jet and Caravan single-engine turboprop, Daher-Socata’s TBM 850, and Piper’s Meridian. When Diamond’s D-JET goes on the market it, too, will come with the G1000 (see “Dawn of the D-JET,” page 52).

Most recently, Garmin has turned its attention to turbine retrofits. In 2008, supplemental type certificate (STC) approval was granted to install G1000s in King Air C90A and -B models with triple-fed electrical buses. Some seven C90s were given the G1000 conversion. Now, Garmin has earned a G1000 STC for more time-tested winners among turboprop twins: the King Air 200 and B200. Since this series’ debut in 1974 some 4,200 of these airplanes have been sold, making their older cohort rich targets for panel upgrades.

The 200/B200 STC does away with the airplane’s original round gauges and replaces them with two 10.4-inch primary flight displays (PFDs) and a single, 15-inch multifunction display (MFD). Also included in the package is Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) navigation capability, for access to RNAV approaches with vertical guidance to lower minimums. A Class B terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) is another standard feature. So is Garmin’s GFC 700 digital, dual-channel, fail-passive autopilot/flight control system, complete with vertical navigation and flight-level change (FLC). The retrofit can also accommodate Blackhawk’s engine upgrades for the King Air 200 series. And for satellite weather and digital audio programming, Garmin’s GDL 69A datalink receiver is provided.

Another valuable standard feature is Garmin’s SafeTaxi and FliteCharts. SafeTaxi is a database of more than 850 airport diagrams. With the help of a georeferenced symbolic airplane superimposed on a runway or taxiway display on the MFD, pilots can navigate around unfamiliar airports with a higher degree of safety—especially at night. FliteCharts are electronic depictions of arrival and departure procedures.

The STC comes with approval to add other safety features such as Garmin’s synthetic vision technology (SVT, a $25,000 option), which gives the PFDs three-dimensional portrayals of the terrain below. SVT includes terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) shading and voice alerts of dangerously close terrain or obstacles. It also comes with highway-in-the-sky (HITS) symbology, which lets the pilot fly through sequential boxes defining route segments, climbs, descents, and instrument approaches. Finally, there is ChartView, which uses Jeppesen’s charts and diagrams to show the airplane’s position as it travels.

A flight in one of the first nine King Air 200-series conversions gave AOPA Pilot a chance to see the G1000 at work. While the G1000 may be capable and versatile, let’s start right out by saying that it takes time, concentration, and practice before the “knobology” becomes second nature. Those with Garmin 430/530 experience will have less trouble learning the system, but there are so many button-push, knob-twist combinations that everyone will need to log some ground school and flight time before reaching a reasonable comfort level.

In the King Air 200/B200 incarnation, you have three data-entry methods. The concentric rotating knobs on the screen bezels let you manipulate the G1000 in much the way you would a Garmin 430/530. The flight control system’s glareshield panel has the autopilot controls, while a center-console-mounted keypad gives you the option of using alphanumeric keys for flight plan and other data entries. If there’s a trap, it’s that using the keypad makes working the G1000 even more of a heads-down proposition than it always has been. This is where L-3’s Skywatch and Honeywell’s TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance system) really come in handy. The retrofit is compatible with both of those collision-avoidance systems.

After firing up the Pratts, there’s a brief wait while the G1000’s dual attitude and heading reference systems (AHRSs) spool up and initialize. Electrical, fuel, and engine gauges are depicted on the MFD, with red carats signaling engine interturbine temperature redlines for both start and in-flight operations. Soon, it’s time to enter a flight plan on the MFD. The latest versions of the G1000 let you enter airways and/or airway segments, allowing you to conform to a clearance without the hassle of entering course-change waypoints à la Garmin 430/530 course-definition logic. Next comes entry of the initial altitude in the G1000’s altitude preselect, and entry of the appropriate departure procedure. Then off you go.

Select FLC on the autopilot/flight control system panel, and you can command a climb speed to the preselected altitude. Select NAV and the airplane will track the PFD’s command bars so as to follow your planned route. When it’s time to descend, this G1000 lets you select crossing altitudes or step-down descent altitudes into terminal areas. Select PROC (procedures) on the MFD, pick an approach, activate it, and the flight control system does the rest.

Weather so bad you have to do a missed approach? At the missed-approach point, hit the left power lever’s go-around button, power up, pitch up to the command bars, and hit the NAV key on the glareshield panel. The GFC 700 will automatically fly the missed approach procedure—complete with holding pattern entry and tracking. With practice, it’s possible to fly the King Air on autoflight from just after liftoff to just before landing.

Installing the G1000 in an older 200-series King Air can make a lot of economic sense. In terms of resale value, it’s been estimated that adding the G1000 can bolt an extra $350,000 to $400,000 to the sales price. Not bad, considering that this covers the retrofit’s $358,803 price tag. The owner who gave us our familiarization flight in his 1979 King Air 200 shared his reasons for buying the retrofit, as well as his plans for the future.

“I bought the G1000 because the original autopilot, a Collins AP105, was difficult to find parts for—and then it had a trim runaway,” he said. “To repair it would have cost $17,000—this for a 30-year-old autopilot. So the GFC 700 was the real selling point for my retrofit.

“My idea is to get the Blackhawk SuperXPR61 engine upgrade [which replaces the stock Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42 engines with more powerful, 850-shp PT6A-61s, and adds Raisbeck aerodynamic mods that boost true airspeeds to 305-plus knots] so that I can carry more power at altitude, add three-blade props, and put in a new interior. That, plus the G1000, will run me about $1.5 million—but the airplane will be good for 20 more years.” That’s the kind of talk that should resound with many King Air owners in these stressful economic times.

E-mail the author at tom.horne@aopa.org .

Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.