Many years ago, a prospective aircraft owner came to me with the proposition that I assist her with the purchase of an airplane, then manage and fly that airplane inside my company. She wanted to move six-plus people within 800 nm, and do so with efficiency. But, she left me with one additional statement that added another level of excitement to the search. She said, “I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to be in the herd.”
That statement can mean different things to different people, but what it did was send me on a search to find the right airplane regardless of what “everyone else” thought. So, with this unusual permission granted, I hit the market to find the right airplane.
Looking Outside the PT6
Any turbine pilot who seeks efficiency is going to end up looking at a Garrett engine-powered airplane (TPE-331), and that is where my search took me. While I absolutely love the trusty PT6 engine that undoubtedly dominates the market, there is another engine available. Though some will sneer at an airplane with any other engine than a PT6, those pilots are usually less experienced and just echoing what others have told them. Chances are they have less than 10 hours of non-PT6 turbine time in their logbook.
I’m okay with that. But for those efficiency-minded individuals who are willing to look beyond the PT6, a whole new brave world exists. All you have to do is look at the King Air 100 series of airplanes. The A100 has the PT6 and the B100 has the Garrett. To contrast the two is an embarrassment for the A100 as the B100 will operate 30-plus KTAS faster than the A100 and have lower operating costs. The B100 has a passionate following even today, and that can be attributed to its efficiency.
If you value efficiency and want to move six-plus people within 800 nm in comfort, you’ll likely end up with several airplanes on your spreadsheet that are powered by a Garrett engine. I ended up flying an MU2 Marquise, then shortly after flew the King Air B100 for another client. Strangely, I ended up with an MU2, B100 and King Air 200 in the same hangar. I had the fun opportunity to operate three very different airplanes, often on the same day. I had a bird’s eye view that few ever see. Which one do I like the best? Which one should you consider buying? Well, read on for my analysis.
The MU2 is a clean-sheet airplane with short wings, crafty aerodynamics and a worst-to-first past that either attracts or repels. It attracted me. I understand the aerodynamic efficiency of having high-wing loading and spoilers, but this airplane is unlike any other in general aviation. The MU2 is an airplane that flies wonderfully, but only in the hands of a pilot that respects the airplane and operates it with a professional’s touch. In the 1990s, the fatal crash rate of the MU2 increased alarmingly, and both the MU2 community and the FAA responded. The FAA issued an SFAR and the training for the MU2 became much like a type rating. The fatal crashes diminished greatly, and the MU2 training is now looked upon as one of the great success stories in aviation training.
All of this history is well documented and known by many prospective owners, but what is not as well-known is the ensuing support and cohesiveness amongst the MU2 community. Mitsubishi repeatedly, year after year, gets the highest marks for support from the manufacturer when contrasted against the other turbine manufacturers. This is absolutely critical. Show me an airplane without factory support, and I’ll show you an airplane headed for the boneyard. The MU2’s tremendous support is one of the reasons why it continues to have some of the most passionate followers ever.
King Air B100
The King Air B100 has a similar following amongst its owners. While there’s no “B100 owners Group,” make no mistake that the B100 has a passionate group of owners and pilots who love the efficiency of this wonderful airplane. I’ve flown the B100 for nearly six years, and I still have one in my hangar that I fly around 100 hours per year. The B100 is the “hidden gem” of the King Air world, in my opinion.
So, should you efficiently opt for an MU2 or a B100?
Think about the noise. Bar none, pound for pound, the MU2 is the loudest airplane on the planet when on the ground! The exhaust pipes on the MU2 are mere inches in length, and when it is operating on the ramp, it will blow your brains out with noise. It is always interesting to see people mill around the airplane as I start but quickly head for shelter after I start up. It is far too loud to hang around while operating on the ground. In flight, it is a different story.
The B100 has the same engines, but the exhaust is about 3 feet in length, and it ports that noise outside the engine nacelle. The B100 is still loud on the ground, but nothing like the MU2. However, in the air, passengers in either airplane enjoy a quiet ride that is nothing like the experience of those standing around the outside of the airplane on the ground.
Where the MU2 is audibly loud, it is also aesthetically interesting. I get more remarks from people about the MU2 than just about any other airplane I fly. While the King Air can be found on any ramp on any airport, the MU2 is a topic of discussion anywhere I go. I personally think it looks cool, but I also like redheads, ‘68 Chevy Trucks and Wilgas. So, even if you think the MU2 is ugly, you’ll still stir up a lot of comments and discussions from folks at the airport. At least before you start the engines – then everyone will head for the hills!
When discussing cruise speeds, you’ve got to consider the engine size. There are two available, the TPE331-6 and the TPE331-10. Most pilots call it the “dash six” or the “dash ten.” I keep meticulously accurate records on the performance of the airplanes I fly, and the average TAS for the -10 powered MU2 Marquise in cruise is 285 KTAS. In the winter, I can get 300 KTAS, and in the summer, I see about 270 KTAS. The MU2‘s speed is closely hinged to gross weight. Just like the faster jets, the cruise of the MU2 is faster later in a long flight as the weight of the fuel is burned off.
In the B100, I repeatedly see 260 to 265 KTAS, and it seems to vary in speed only slightly with varying gross weights. So, between the two, the MU2 is definitely faster.
While the B100 is slower, it does have far more pleasant flight characteristics. Bottom line, it is easier to fly. The flying characteristics of the MU2 must be weighed heavily by a potential buyer. The MU2 can be learned to fly safely, but it is completely different from any other corporate airplane. Do not think the transition will be as smooth as other turboprops. The MU2 training will be like a type rating, whereas the King Air B100 will be far easier.
I’ve got lots of flight time in more than 60 different types of airplanes, including some really strange machines that are tough to fly like UH-60s, Pitts S2Bs and many tailwheel airplanes. But the MU2 tops the list of airplanes that took a long time for me to become comfortable. At the end of MU2 flight training, I still felt uncomfortable in some regimes of flight, and I self-induced high personal limitations until my experience grew. When I passed the 100-hour mark in MU2s, I began to feel comfortable in almost every situation. When I passed 250 hours, I’d take it anywhere in the world in some of the most demanding of situations.
So, do not romantically think you will get out of MU2 training and be “good to go” in any situation. Full-span flaps, spoilers, sloppy control feel, quirky aileron trim, narrow gear, fast speeds, high wing loading, low-to-the-ground sitting height, stiff gear, and incredibly responsive Garrett engines all make this airplane a handful for the uninitiated. This airplane takes time to make friends, but once the friendship is made, it is a great one. It provides impressive performance for the pilot that knows how to handle it.
The B100? Well, it is a King Air, and that means that it has less performance, but it has benign flight characteristics. It flies differently than the 200 or 300 series of King Airs, but it is still easy to fly.
To me, the biggest difference between these two airplanes aside from flight characteristics is the air conditioning. The B100 has large gaspers and a good environmental system that heats and cools nicely. And, the B100 has the benefit of having the air conditioner compressor powered by an electric motor in the nose of the airplane. So, a GPU can be hooked up and the cabin can be cooled down prior to the passengers showing up.
The MU2? Well, there’s no air conditioning at all. So, the MU2 can be really hot on those summer days. I can remember sweating bullets on afternoon flights until the airplane climbed up through the teens. There was no air conditioning and not enough air movement. As a tried-and-true Texan, I especially appreciate air conditioning.
Which one is right for you? To be forthright, I really like the B100 and I still fly it regularly, while I do not fly the MU2 anymore. When the MU2 sold, I still had a hangar full of other airplanes that kept me engaged in flying, so the loss of the MU2 from my management didn’t faze me at all. Could it be the right airplane for you? If you value efficiency, love performance, don’t mind sweating, and are willing to dedicate yourself to flying more than 100 hours per year, then the MU2 can be a great selection of airplane. You must train rigorously to ensure you keep your skills equal to the capabilities of the airplane.
If you are thinking about buying an older King Air 90, the B100 is a really solid option. It’ll have equitable operating costs to the 90 model, and the cabin is the size of a 200. I think the B100 is a special airplane worthy of pursuing.
If you fly either an MU2 or a B100, you’ll be a part of a flock, but it’s a small and passionate flock. At the last King Air Gathering, out of the 35-plus airplanes on the ramp, there were two B100s in attendance with three qualified B100 pilots. All three of us B100 pilots found each other, had lunch and reveled in the love we have for the wonderful machines we fly. It is a close-knit community and the MU2 pilots are the same way. Birds of a feather flock together, and that is a good thing. Want to join the flock? The MU2 and the B100 flocks are super. Plus, no one will confuse you as part of the herd.