Twin turboprop workhorse now outfitted with touch-control Pro Line Fusion
As of last summer, all four models of the Beechcraft King Air — C90GTx, 250, 350i and 350ER — had been transitioned into fully-integrated Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics suites. This was no small matter, given that going from the Pro Line 21 cockpit to the touch-screen Fusion suite involved integration with the aircraft’s flight controls, environmental systems, powerplants, air data systems, and flight management system. The beauty of it all is that Pro Line Fusion handles a lot of the King Air pilot’s day-to-day tasks, seamlessly and logically.
Because Rockwell Collins-designed Pro Line Fusion to be customizable, the Fusion installation in the King Airs can be tailored in different ways than, say, the system in a Bombardier Global. In the King Airs’ case, it is set up with a eye toward single-pilot operation. The displays can be split into two, three or four windows, if desired. Synthetic vision, including the “glowing dome” marker for airports, is standard. ADS-B Out, WAAS and TCAS II are all included. Extreme redundancy is built in, with dual AHRS, air data computers and FMS as part of the system, supported by a triple-fed electrical bus in the King Air 350i.
Sampling The King Air Fusion
If the transitioning pilot is coming from a Pro Line 21 cockpit, he or she will find considerable commonality with the new Fusion setup. However, I was extremely fortunate to have a chance to sample the latest version of the King Air 350 under the tutelage of Errol Wuertz, Textron Aviation sales demonstration pilot. Errol could type what seemed like 60 words per minute with the Qwerty keyboard on the Multifunction Keypad, and he exhibited considerable patience while I stumbled through inputs and readout searches.
Wuertz’s plan was to show me some of the Fusion cockpit’s features during a round-robin flight from the Wichita, Kansas factory, heading out west to the Hays VORTAC, then looping back around to Hutchinson for the recovery into ICT. He had filed us for FL260, hoping to top most of the left-over weather from a severe set of morning thunderstorms that had moved off toward Missouri.
N1035S, the spotless King Air 350i demonstrator, was serial No. 1035 in the popular BE300 production stream that began in 1984. The 300-series King Air grew from the earlier 200 model, but required commuter-category certification to accommodate a maximum takeoff weight 2,500 pounds higher than the 12,500-lb gross of the 200. Therefore, a type rating is required. In 1990, the 350 was created by means of fuselage stretch of almost 3 feet, making better use of the 1,050-shp engines with a much larger cabin.
During the walkaround presentation, I learned much about the latest 350i; the “i” can be thought of as signifying a quiet, smooth interior experience, thanks to 236 vibration absorbers, plus insulation, that totally separate the cabin shell from the airframe. We were told the 350i’s cruise noise level is on a par with that of typical jets, and an inflight tour of the cabin proved the worth of that claim. Maximum pressurization differential is 6.6 psi.
Up front, the familiar King Air NACA inlet on the side of the nose is missing; an improved air conditioning system has obviated that blemish. The three landing/taxi lights on the nosegear are supplemented by any-speed recognition lights in wingtip fairings, which also contain strobe and navigation lights. The 350i’s winglets are a Beechcraft design, increasing the effective wingspan beyond the aircraft’s already-impressive 58 feet.
The nacelles for the PT6A-60A 1050-shp engines have hinged, prop-open sides for easy inspection and maintenance access; hot exhaust gases circulate continuously through the lips of the induction air inlets, so engine anti-ice is always on with no bleed-air penalty. The inlet bypass vanes are actuated electrically, with standby motors provided if the primary actuator fails. Clever airflow control devices between the exhaust stacks and the nacelle sides keep sooting to a minimum. The four-blade Hartzell propellers are 105 inches in diameter, turning a slow 1,900 rpm at takeoff, but normal cruise is conducted at 1,500 rpm.
Standard Raisbeck wing lockers aft of the engine nacelles add space and 300 pounds of carrying capacity on each side, keeping things like the prop slings and inlet plugs out of the cabin. The four-section wing flaps are electrically operated. The dual-wheel main landing gear is fitted with bleed air de-icing as standard equipment; the gear is hydraulically actuated, with a hand-pump backup.
The Inside Story
Boarding is via the traditional King Air airstair; Wuertz showed us a switch inside the entrance that turned on loading lights under the left wingroot and on the doorway, as well as inside the cabin. The 25-foot long cabin has plenty of room for a double-club seating arrangement, plus the flushing lavatory seat in the rear. Cabinetry was installed in aft, midcabin and forward locations, and four fold-out worktables are provided. The window shades are electronically dimmable.
Moving forward, the front office is at once familiar, from 50 years of King Air memories, and newly-advanced, with three huge 14-inch AFD-3700 displays occupying the panel. The useful vent windows remain on both sides, providing welcome relief in summer heat and ramp communication when shut down (ramp communication jacks are under the 350i’s nose). The fuel control panel is still on the left sidewall and circuit breakers are on both sides, with electrical gauges and other controls in the overhead. The traditional power quadrant has six levers and three trim wheels, plus the flap switch, and the pedestal extends aft to accommodate the Pro Line Fusion’s keypad and cursor control panels.
A sturdy step-on cover folds over the pedestal while we settle into the seats.
To set up the flight, a “ground ops” switch position allows preloading our information into the flight management system. The keyboard is not sensitive, and in fact it requires a distinct push to actuate each keystroke; the touch screen actuations are similarly firm and positive, requiring a firm input, not a tablet-like tap. The display bezels are fitted with fingergrip surfaces, allowing a solid support for the hand in turbulence when using touch screen features. The CCPs, one for each pilot, do much of the entry work, selecting and entering info as directed by the user; and, yes, there’s still a radio-tuning knob on each CCP. To avoid confusion, each pilot’s cursor shows up on the display differently; four petals are shown on the captain’s cursor, three petals denote the co-pilot’s icon. Dual Pro Line 21-style audio panels are provided on the sides of the panel. The autopilot controls are up under the glareshield, to help keep attention outside.
Wuertz stressed that Pro Line Fusion is all menu-driven in its operation, with many options to perform functions like going direct to a fix. One can use CCP, keypad or touch screen to enter data and interface with the FMS. While more capable, Pro Line Fusion logic follows earlier Rockwell Collins systems and, as much as possible, workload is shed for the pilot. No entry is required for the leading “1” in frequencies. The transponder actuates automatically. When on descent, the local barometric setting can be preloaded and armed to execute as the transition altitude is crossed. In all critical functions, however, the pilot pushes to execute an entry. Checklist items, shown on the MFD, require an acknowledgement, even if not previously completed.
Firing up on battery power was the usual simple Pratt procedure; Ng stabilized above 11 percent fuel to low idle, ITT rising only to 660 degrees and generator on to replenish amperes for the second start. The 350i features an automated ground idle/flight idle selection, simplifying and smoothing out the landing sequence. It also employs auto-feather and rudder bias if an engine fails, greatly lessening the pilot inputs needed in an emergency.
Our clearance was amended to include a leg direct to KYLER intersection before heading to Hays, so we quickly typed in and inserted that waypoint, a good demonstration of the Pro Line Fusion’s versatility. The commuter category-required V-speeds were computed as 99 knots for V1, 104 for V2 and 110 after liftoff, if needed. Lined up, we set in 85 percent torque and rolled to 99 knots for rotation, flying away in around 3,000 feet. Climb was brisk at our light weight, and we found the hefty control feel so stable we left the autopilot off to enjoy just steering the 350i ourselves. As Wuertz put it, “the bigger the King Airs get, the easier they are to fly.”
As we ascended, we eventually encountered the ITT’s 785-degree temperature limitation for climb; the max cruise limit is 800 degrees. Quickly reaching FL260, 77 percent torque was used, requiring a fuel flow of 345 pph per side. The TAS worked its way up to 304 knots. As we rounded the corner at Hays, we checked the weather and other options by scrolling the displays to longer ranges; returning to the previous setting required only a tap to reset the display. Wuertz demonstrated how easily the VNAV could be set up to generate a three-degree glideslope to a destination airport without an ILS.
During descent, the Mmo of 0.58 was limiting, but a variable redline on the PFD gradually increased from 240 knots to 263 knots, the limitation below 21,000 feet. The local baro flipped into the active window as we penetrated FL180 and we were soon aligning with the ILS to ICT’s 19L. Approach flaps can be extended below 202 knots and the gear’s limit is 184 knots (166 knots for retraction), so flying fast is no problem for the 350i. Full flaps go out below 158 knots, with minimal trim changing. The Vyse of 125 knots is an adequate speed for maneuvering to final, with a Vref computed at 112 knots on the airspeed tape. Over the fence at 110, we felt for the ground and thumped onto the pavement, exiting with braking and reverse at the 3,000-foot point.
Clearly, the King Air 350i Fusion is a workhorse, yet with the newest avionics suite it has the tools to assist even a single pilot with his or her duties. Even with the displays split into two, three or four sections to show additional windows of information, with their size they remain readable. Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion brings the King Airs into their second half-century of service with all the capability one could ask for.