The prototype Super King Air 200 first flew in 1972, and has established itself as the leading business twin turboprop during almost four decades since. Even though operators recognise their drawbacks, Beech 200s hold a special place in the affections of many pilots.
Wayne Fuller, operations manager of the UK's Zephyr Aviation, says: "We provide the convenience, flexibility and privacy of a private jet but at realistic prices. Thanks to the STOL performance capability of our EASA/CAA-approved Raisbeck-modified B200, we are able to use literally hundreds of local airfields around the U.K. and Europe, usually closer to the clients' office or home, saving them hours of unnecessary ground travel."
Zephyr Aviation recently installed new, more powerful PT6A-61 engines, twinned with the Raisbeck enhanced performance leading edges, dual aft body strakes and ram air recovery system. "This gives us increased cruise speed, improved passenger ride quality with a quieter cabin and cockpit along with significantly improved climb and cruise performance," Fuller says. "This STOL aerodynamic package enables us, for example, to lift six passengers and fuel for, say, Nice and still be capable of lifting out of airfields with runways less than 800 metres."
He adds: "The high cruise speed and excellent range of the B200-61, along with its operational flexibility and affordability were all key points in our selection. We have a wide variety of clients, ranging from those who need medical flights in support of transplant operations or repatriation of sick and injured holidaymakers from Europe through to freight flights including dangerous goods, for which Zephyr Aviation is fully approved. We can also offer passengers the option to have their pet fly with them to and from Europe."
The King Air is reported to be popular with sportsmen such as golfing parties and is economic for up to eight passengers.
The idea for the launch of Zephyr Aviation followed the flying around Europe on business for several years of the company's founders Tim Grace-McDonald and Andy Gent. They decided that a real niche existed for an affordable, highly flexible air charter service. Subsequently they were joined by Kate Fitton and Zephyr Aviation gained its AOC in March 2009.
Fuller says: "The King Air is a very reliable aircraft and we have had no problems with it at all. Our maintenance team does an excellent job of maintaining the aircraft to a very high standard. The King Air is still in full production after 30 years - this speaks for itself!"
Capt. Peter Scott of Scottish Ambulance Service also praises the King Air, which along with the P180, is likely to remain a part of charter and ambulance fleets for years to come.
He says: "The weak components are the ELT aerial which breaks frequently, probably due to ice, vibration, resonance and the prop de-icing which has one strap per blade (four) which frequently require changing in the winter months. The DV windows have always been prone to rain water leaks over the circuit breaker panels below. The wing spar crossing the cabin can be a trip hazard when working in the cabin area."
But Scott adds: "The best aspects of the King Air are its performance and speed. Rates of climb at maximum weight are very good and it is easy to climb above most of the bad weather. For patient transfer we can maintain a sea-level cabin up to 17,000 ft making it very comfortable for elderly patients and anyone else with breathing problems or head injuries. This is good too for premature babies in incubators." He jokes: "It is also good for pilots with colds!"
Scott, who manages the Aberdeen base which operates Gama's two Beech 200C on behalf of the Scottish Ambulance Service, says: "For us perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the cargo version King Air is the weight penalty of the cargo door over the standard version."
Jordan's Arab Wings is one of many operators that can confirm the suitability of King Airs for medevac. The Amman-based company flies regular medical evacuation flights and has for years flown missions into neighbouring Iraq.
Capt Ibrahim Nahar says Arab Wings is happy with the availability of spare parts and the provision of maintenance. "The B200 is a very powerful aircraft that can use short runways. It provides good comfort for passengers, has very reliable engines and flies in all weather conditions. In addition it is very economical, has fully equipped avionics, carries heavy loads and can be converted easily into an air ambulance. Its weaknesses are that it flies at low altitudes, has a relatively short range and a low speed compared to jets."
Desirable improvements through retrofits or upgrades include extending the range and ability to fly at higher altitudes along with enhancement of the avionics: "Ice boots could be substituted with hot bleed air but the baggage area is excellent."
The UK's Dragonfly Executive Air Charter is opening a new base at Durham Tees Valley airport, initially operating one of its B200s on passenger transport and medical flights.
Howard Palser, ceo, says "The cabin is renowned for its spaciousness, particularly when compared with the more cramped, tubelike fuselage of light jets. The King Air has been around the skies for over 35 years and has a world-wide reputation for its safety record and ruggedness. The aircraft is fast, cruising at 270 kts at altitudes up to 25,000 ft bringing Paris within an hour of London's orbital airports and getting passengers to Cannes in 2.5 hours. Although capable of greater distances, and we have regular clients whom we fly from Cardiff to Seville and to Rome, we find that charterers will tend to opt for a turbofan when contemplating longer distances, irrespective of the greater cost. Economics are always a key factor and here the King Air has a significant advantage over jet operators."
A few operators are unhappy with the maintenance support provided for the Beech 200. Matthew Webb of EDT Offshore says: "Being based on an island it is out of sight, out of mind."
But, like many others, he is very satisfied with the dispatch reliability, operating capability and value. "It has performed as reliably as we could ask. It does not have the latest in avionics but we still have a really well equipped B200. The FMS is a godsend. The King Air is very economical for the regular trips we have in the region and can go to all the airports we need to get to. It is fuel efficient and has a good range for a turboprop with great short field performance. But the worst thing is that the passengers find it noisy and their endurance is limited to about two hours before they get uncomfortable. The King Air is great as it comes from the factory but, depending on operations, the best upgrade is the dual strakes. We also really see a benefit from the BLR winglets."
Capt Glen Heavens of Synergy Aviation Ltd is satisfied with the value and maintenance support and very satisfied with the dispatch reliability and operating capability. "The best thing is the short field performance: the worst thing, it is not a jet!"
"The most desirable upgrade is Raisbeck," he adds. "The King Air is one of the most flexible and desirable business aircraft ever produced. Its short field performance and near jet speeds make the B200GT the best King Air ever!"
Martin Schiffner is very satisfied with the maintenance support and operating capability of the B200 and satisfied with the dispatch reliability and value. He praises the short runway and high payload capability and points out that it is fuel efficient and cost-effective particularly when prices rise.
"It is like a SUV for the sky in this class but it is not as speedy as possible and has a noisy cabin and the flight deck and air conditioning could be better. The most desirable upgrades are an engine upgrade by Blackhawk and BLR winglets. But the B200 is smooth and forgiving while flying. This is the aircraft for short legs ... a pilot's aeroplane."
Christopher Mace, md of SaxonAir Charter Ltd which operates the King Air 200 with Raisbeck modifications, is very satisfied with the maintenance support and operating capability and satisfied with the dispatch reliability and value. "The best aspects are the versatility, good payload range and also the runway performance but the worst thing is the slow cruise speed. The most desirable upgrades include four-blade propellers to bring the cabin noise levels down and wing lockers to enable extra storage and pilot baggage to be stored outside the cabin."
Bjorn Ellermann Horner of Royal Unibrew is satisfied with the main-tenance support and very satisfied with the dispatch reliability, operating capability and value: He also praises the versatility, short field performance and stability and regrets he cannot afford a personal B200 just for himself. Stuart Beresford of Keypoint Aviation LLP says he is very satisfied with the B200's maintenance support, dispatch reliability and value and satisfied with the operating capability. "The best thing is its versatility: it goes anywhere, even landing on grass."
But: "The MTOW could be lifted to say 13,500 lbs instead of the historic 12,500 lbs and the most desirable upgrades are ventral stability fins and stainless steel exhaust stacks and, of course, the four-bladed propellers." Beresford says: "The Beech 200 will take its place in aviation as a classic aircraft and a real pleasure to fly."
Europe better than UK for maintenance, King Air 350 operators told
The Beech 200/300 was a stretched version of the original Beech 90 King Air, while the Super King Air 350 has a longer fuselage still and longer wings than the Beech 200/300 from which it evolved, and features two extra windows and winglets.
Capt Tristan Esteves of Specsavers Aviation Ltd, which operates B350s with Pro Line 2, says: "We maintain the aircraft in Europe, not the U.K. as UK-based maintenance support is poor." He is very satisfied with the maintenance support and operating capability and satisfied with the dispatch reliability.
"The best thing is its load carrying, rugged build and speed," he says. "The worst thing is that you run out of fuel very quickly on a long sector, so this aircraft is only good for 1,000nm." He would also like an RVSM upgrade. Dr Gert Kroll of Mike Fly Ltd says that his B300 had many problems during the first 700 hours of operation. "Factory support at that time was unacceptable," he adds. But he is now satisfied with the maintenance support, although the spare parts supply is sometimes slow and expensive, he is very satisfied with the dispatch reliability, and satisfied with the operating capability and value.
King Air 90 operators, specifically of the Beech F90-1, are generally satisfied or very satisfied with the dispatch reliability, operating capability and value but there is some dissatisfaction with manufacturer support. The aircraft, they say, is relatively good on short and gravel runways but a higher takeoff weight would be useful.