Years ago the airlines and other turbine-aircraft operators were paying as little as 11 cents for a gallon of kerosene. But, in an unexpected flash of history, bargain-basement fuel prices vanished forever.
Fuel consumption had been a relatively unimportant factor when considering the purchase of a new vehicle, but OPEC changed all that. As a result, large cars are yielding to small ones, and pure-jet aircraft find themselves competing against the slower, but less “fuelish” turboprops.
This partially explains why many aircraft purchasers are willing to pay for a Beech Super King Air 200 when some of the less expensive business jets sell for very little more. For it is after the purchase is made that the economic curves often bend in favor of the turboprop, especially when stage lengths aren’t particularly long.
Beech’s T-tailed entry, for example, carries nine people on a 500-nm flight while burning only 156 gallons of kerosene in the process. This results in a fuel consumption of 33 passenger-miles per gallon. Small business jets, on the other hand, do not approach this level of fuel economy.
The pure jet aircraft is, of course, significantly faster, but on a 500-nm flight, the difference in flight time is on the order of 20-30 minutes. The prospective buyer must determine how much extra fuel he is willing to burn to save half an hour en route.
There are other turboprop advantages. These aircraft are not banned from certain noise-sensitive airports, and a turboprop can be flown by a single pilot; jets must be operated by a crew of two. And because the Beechcraft Super King Air tips the scales at only 12,500 pounds, the lone pilot is not required to seek a type rating from the FAA.
Other features of the relatively new aircraft are comfort, an extremely quiet cabin, extraordinary stability, excellent control response and beauty. There’s no denying that the T-tail gives the Super King Air a long, lean, aesthetically pleasing profile.
But the lofty horizontal stabilizer (it’s 15 feet above the ground) serves more than cosmetic purposes. Since it is well above the downwash of the wing, flap deployment and retraction results in the need for very little trim correction.
Without going into a lot of colorful adjectives, the Super King Air’s flight characteristics are easily summed up as being simply marvelous; it’s an easy airplane to maneuver. The only flight characteristic likely to catch the uninitiated off guard is the airplane’s extraordinarily efficient elevators. These create a tendency to overcontrol slightly in pitch during the landing flare when only a small amount of elevator back pressure is needed. After a few touch-and-go’s, however, the adjustment to this becomes automatic.
The Super King Air is a “go anywhere, go anytime” airplane and is certificated for flight into known icing conditions. The engine inlet ducts are heated with exhaust gas; an engine oil heat exchanger automatically heats fuel to prevent ice crystals from collecting in the fuel controller; pneumatic fuel-control lines are wrapped in electrically heated blankets; and the fuel tank vents, which are situated in such a way as to preclude the possibility of icing, are provided with electrical heating in case the impossible becomes possible.
Inertial separators (a pair of movable deflectors located in the intake ducts) prevent the engine inlet screens from choking with ice. These separators can also be used during operations on unimproved runways and taxiways to prevent the engine from ingesting foreign objects.
The windshields are electrically heated; the leading edges of the wings and horizontal stabilizers are protected with electro-pneumatic boots, and both pitot masts and propellers are electrically heated. To prevent damaging the heating elements on the propellers, a timing device alternately routes electrical current to each propeller for only 30 seconds at a time, which is sufficient to protect the blades during the worst conditions.
The aircraft is also well suited to the varying demands of air traffic control. Because of relatively high landing-gear and flap speeds (209 and 230 mph, respectively), this sleek machine can slow down in a hurry and fly the pattern with slower, single-engine aircraft.
When the original Model 90 King Air was introduced, it was difficult to imagine how the basic design could be substantially improved. But it has been. The Super King Air is a super airplane and an outstanding example of a family of superior aircraft.
Pilot Flight Check: Beechcraft Super King Air
Barry Schiff, AOPA Pilot, May 1976