Aviation: Fit for a King
Wink Hartman, a Wichita, Kansas-based businessman who owns several energy companies and a health-care facility, logs many hours aboard his King Air 350, traveling from Kansas to operations in Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Florida. "We use it all the time—up to 60 hours some months," Hartman says. He was so impressed with the aircraft that he was one of the first to sign up for the upgraded iteration, the King Air 350i. The new King Air model, which started deliveries in December 2009, utilizes the platform and engines already in service on the 350, but with modifications that include soundproofing and more efficient propeller tips. The 350i’s most notable feature, however, is a spacious, well-appointed cabin with a suite of high-tech amenities. This, more than any other factor, will transform the 350, a popular corporate workhorse, into a luxury aircraft that is on a par with light and midsize business jets—but one with significantly lower acquisition and operating costs."The 350i is rugged, reliable, and efficient," says Charles Mayer, Hawker Beechcraft’s vice president of marketing, who likens the aircraft to a Range Rover. "It can take off from a short grass airfield of 3,000 feet, but its interior is elegant enough to take your most important clients to the opera." Beechcraft has manufactured almost 7,000 King Airs since launching the line in 1964. "They’ve seen service in more than 100 countries, for governments, corporations, and private owners," says Ron Gunnarson, director of product marketing for Hawker Beechcraft. "We’ve modified many of them for special-mission uses like reconnaissance and air ambulances." But until it developed the 350i, the company had not modified the ubiquitous King Air with an eye toward opulence. The 350i’s nine-passenger interior will feature the company’s FlexCabin design, which allows the space to be reconfigured by moving seats and using optional ottomans. "You can shuttle employees in the morning and configure it for a VIP group in the afternoon," Mayer says. The interior will share some features with Hawker Beechcraft’s business jets, including a refreshment center with a hot/cold beverage dispenser; touch-screen panels at each seat to control lighting and temperature; and an optional Aircell Axxess II telephone system. "We wanted to design luxury into the DNA of the 350i," Mayer says. "We use the same craftsmen who build our Hawker 400XP, so there is that same level of fit and finish, with hand-polished wood and leather." Finally, each 350i will be equipped with the Rockwell Collins Venue cabin-management system, which allows passengers to control in-flight media from their seats. "You can watch a Blu-ray movie or finish a presentation on your laptop and deliver it in high definition on any of the in-cabin displays," Mayer says. "Essentially, it delivers a home-theater experience." The system also allows passengers to listen to iPods or tune into Sirius XM satellite radio. Hartman likes the 350i’s technical wizardry and praises the FlexCabin design. "I can’t wait to take delivery and do some flying with it," he says. "I’m an old-fashioned kind of businessman. Teleconferencing is fine, but I prefer to shake hands and look my clients in the eye. I can’t imagine a better way to do that than aboard the 350i."