Since manufacturing the first King Air 90 in 1964, Beechcraft King Air products have earned the reputation of capable and versatile aircraft recognized by pilots worldwide. Today, more than 7,300 units of the iconic turboprop have been produced, with Textron Aviation currently offering the following commercial versions: King Air C90GTx, King Air 250, King Air 350i, King Air 350ER.
Though the largest model, King Air 350i (the “i” stands for interior), has been in production since 2009, Textron Aviation recently released a special edition with renowned agricultural brand, King Ranch. Similar to a branding deal existing between King Ranch and Ford Motor Company, the King Ranch option presents customers with a rustic-themed exterior and interior along with complementary accessories.
Upon completing the first production King Ranch edition, Textron Aviation invited Twin & Turbine to experience the uniquely configured 350i up close. Joined by T &T Editor Rebecca Groom Jacobs, I had the opportunity to speak with the interior design team as well as fly the aircraft at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.
With a wingspan of nearly 58 feet, length of over 46 feet and height of 14 feet, the King Air 350i is impressive on the ramp. The aircraft is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-60A (1,050 horsepower) engines, each mounted with four-bladed 105-inch Hartzell propellers. With a takeoff weight of 15,000 pounds, the 350i requires a type rating but can be still be flown single-pilot.
The full-fuel payload is 1,534 pounds, which it can carry over 1,500 nm at normal cruise. If you need additional range, the King Air 350ER features nacelle-mounted fuel tanks that provide 1,580 pounds of additional fuel and extends the range by 700 nm, along with higher weight limits. No wonder individuals, corporations and government agencies operate these airplanes with such a large operational envelope as it offers amazing utility.
Since 1989, Beechcraft has manufactured more than 1,200 Beechcraft King Air 350’s and more than 500 King Air 350i’s. With the latest 350i, one of the core goals was to improve the interior design for sound proofing. As you can imagine, noise control can be a challenge with two powerful turboprop engines. Beechcraft has mastered it through the use of frame and skin mounted dynamic vibration absorbers that are tuned like a tuning fork for their specific placement. This technology coupled with new insulation throughout the fuselage has
substantially reduced overall cabin sound and vibration levels.
With the Beechcraft King Air 350i, LED lighting was introduced throughout the cabin with individual passenger controls. Electrochromic windows are incorporated and have electronic tint control that is far superior to the early polarizing filters (an added advantage is they automatically darken when power is removed, helping keep the cabin cool while parked on the ramp). And since airborne Wi-Fi is now an expected feature for passengers as well as crew, King Air 350i operators have the choice of Gogo ATG 5000 for domestic use or the Inmarsat-based Gogo Aviator 200 system with capabilities for international operations (standard).
Prior to the flight, Rebecca and I first met with longtime “Beechcrafters” Martin Tuck with technical marketing and Jo Kimbell, senior interior design specialist and lead designer of the King Ranch edition. The pair provided a thorough briefing on the history and engineering behind the latest King Air 350i King Ranch. It was immediately clear they are proud of the accomplishment (as they should be).
After the successful branding program with Jaguar across many Beechcraft aircraft in the 1990s, Textron Aviation opted to promote the King Air’s rugged reputation and collaborated with King Ranch, one of the largest ranch and agriculture operators in the United States and well-known brand. The goal: Develop an aircraft that would be reflective of the rugged yet refined King Air style. Jo explained that teams from both Textron Aviation and King Ranch met frequently, and it took over three months to develop the resulting design.
Following the introduction, it was time to see the real thing. So, we walked out to the airplane alongside Karen DeMauro, Textron Aviation demonstration pilot, and Christina Walser from the communications team.
When you walk up to the King Ranch configured aircraft, you first notice the custom paint – white with pearlescent dark caramel and black stripes. The combination provides a distinctive look. And to the left of the cabin door is the familiar King Ranch “Running W” logo as well as on the inboard side of the winglets.
Upon opening and entering the cabin door, there is a obvious difference from other interiors. The King Ranch interior is a rich ranch-style, just what you would expect from an aircraft that matches its moniker. When designing the interior, Jo explained her objective of making it unique and beautiful yet capable of standing up to the rigors of operations on rough airstrips. For instance, the durable wool carpet is meant to stand up to a lot of use by passengers who opt for cowboy boots versus dress shoes.
The seats are bold and feature a dark brown Sundance Ranch leather that has a great look and feel. To further the ranch-inspired design, Panama Antigua croc-embossed leather lines the sidewalls. Along with the Tendu wood grain sides and cabinetry, the King Ranch 350i showcases an elegant interior that teams the brown leather and sidewalls with bright window panels and headliner.
To top it off, the King Ranch 350i has the Running W logo embossed on the aft bulkhead of the 55 cubic feet aft baggage compartment. The theme continues with custom hair on leather pillows, throw carpets and even Running W whiskey glasses in the galley
With the latest Beechcraft King Air 350i, Beechcraft has significantly upgraded the avionics. The aircraft features Pro Line Fusion and now includes Collins Aerospace’s latest multi-scan weather radar. This new radar (the same one found in the Cessna Citation CJ4) provides the pilot with a comprehensive view of precipitation with pre-selected tilt angles, which are compared to terrain and obstacle data to remove ground clutter and provide a more accurate volumetric view of potential threats. To improve traffic awareness, the 350i now has TCAS II as standard equipment.
Along with the adoption of Pro Line Fusion, Beechcraft greatly simplified the maintenance schedule for the 350i. Before, there were four phase inspections, one every 200 hours. All four had to be completed within 24 months. Concurrent with the Fusion upgrade, the calendar limit has been extended to 48 months. This was particularly advantageous for owners with low annual utilization and operators that fly more frequently can now combine inspections. Both operator groups now benefit from lower downtime for maintenance and operating costs.
Textron Aviation offers two engine maintenance programs: Pratt & Whitney Canada’s ESP or the company’s own Power Advantage. The 350i features five-year limited warranties on the airframe, engines and avionics with two-year limited warranties on other components.
A few key things popped out at me as Karen and I spent time doing a thorough preflight and discussing the features of the 350i:
- The King Air has one of the most detailed pre-flight checklists I’ve used, with a robust description of each item making for a very complete check.
- The aircraft comes standard with two very large nacelle storage compartments, referred to as wing lockers, which can accommodate items up to six feet in length.
- The dual wheel main gear is robust, designed for rough runway operations, and features bleed air heating to dissipate freezing precipitation on the ground and while they
- The airplane holds 539 gallons (3,611 lbs) of Jet A in the main wing and auxiliary center section fuel tanks. With robust fuel heaters, it does not require fuel anti-ice additives.
Following the preflight, Karen and I selected a flight plan that would provide a solid review of the airplane’s capabilities, with a cruising altitude of FL240 where we could experience the max cruising speed of 312 KTAS. The 350i has a service ceiling of FL350, however, Karen mentioned she usually cruises anywhere from FL270 to FL310 unless optimizing for winds or range.
Settling in the cockpit, with the GPU connected, we took our time reviewing the cockpit and the flows. There are a lot of switches and controls in the King Air 350i, but once Karen explained the logical grouping by function, it was much easier to understand. Using Fusion, we quickly set up the defaults for the flight including weights and fuel loading. Flight plan entry with Fusion is aligned with the process in Pro Line 21. Start with the Flight Plan tab, enter departure and destination airports, waypoints and airways then press “Execute.”
Starting the 350i involves a short series of steps. Without a GPU, after starting the right engine, you leave the condition lever in high idle to assist in the cross-generator start of the left engine. The condition lever is then set to low idle on both engines, props forward and on to the Pre-Taxi check. Once the avionics powered up, we were able to utilize another fantastic feature with the Fusion – the electronic checklist. Using one of the split screen panels of either PFD and a pair of yoke mounted switches, either pilot can bring up the electronic checklist and quickly move through the required checks without fumbling around a paper checklist. Using this feature, we worked our way through the Before Takeoff checks while still on the ramp.
Taxiing the plane, the 350i can turn easily in tight areas especially when using differential braking combined with differential propeller “braking” (commonly known as propeller ground fine). In fact, you can turn it within a circle only 26 feet larger than its wingspan. The 350i has a solid feel taxiing. I find it slightly heavier than the Citation CJ3, which has a similar gross weight and may be related to the dual main gear.
Cleared for takeoff by Wichita Tower for takeoff on runway 1R, we confirmed lights, autofeather, probe heat and other necessary switches active. I moved the throttles forward and 2,100 horses propelled us forward. We quickly accelerated through a V1 of 99 KTAS, rotated at a Vr of 104 KIAS and changed to Wichita Departure. ATC quickly gave us a climb to FL240 and a very flexible flight path.
As you would expect, the King Air 350i is very stable and enjoyable to hand fly. Using the climb checklist, I reduced the prop RPM to 1,600 and we were quickly at 312 KTAS at FL240 burning 400 PPH per side, with a torque setting of 90 percent and propellers at 1,500 RPM.
Behind me, I looked to see Rebecca seated across the aisle from Christina, exploring and enjoying the King Ranch’s sophisticated cabin. With its double club arrangement, the 350i offers a great passenger space for either work or relaxation.
We then requested a descent to 10,000 feet for some air work. I hand flew it down to altitude and prepared to practice steep turns and just enjoy flying the airplane. Flying steep turns at 45 degrees of bank was extremely easy with obvious stability (such stability that the large turboprop even maintained altitude and bank without control input). And the Pro Line Fusion’s large PFDs and MFD provide great situational awareness.
After flying around western Kansas for a half-hour, it was time to try an approach back into Wichita. I selected the ILS to runway 19L on the Fusion’s MKP (multi-function keyboard panel). With Fusion, there are multiple methods of selecting an approach, either by touch on the displays or with the MKP. Once loaded and executed (confirmed), we were ready for vectors to final.
With its large propellers, the King Air 350i can easily be slowed down to the flap extension speed of 202 KIAS for approach. As we neared the final approach course, the Fusion displayed an extended centerline of the runway and a “dome” over the arrival airport. These graphics, also for the departure and alternates, significantly increase situational awareness.
Once cleared for the approach, and with our Vref of 100 KIAS and DA of 1,520 set, we joined the localizer. Over the runway at Vref and a smooth reduction of power resulted in a nice landing on the robust landing gear.
After more than 50 years of producing an iconic aircraft, Textron Aviation has again proven that they can innovate, both with technology and design, with the Beechcraft King Air 350i. When you couple the aircraft with the King Ranch option, operators have a very capable aircraft that offers a unique inflight experience for pilots and passengers alike.