Long Live the King
Beechcraft’s royal twin turboprop turns 50 and joins Cessna’s Caravan in the Textron family.
The 50th anniversary of the King Air twin turboprop’s first flight is one cause for celebration at Beechcraft (www.beechcraft.com). Another is the company’s new ownership. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2013, Beechcraft was acquired in March of this year by Textron, a global conglomerate based in Providence, R.I. A new division, Textron Aviation, now operates Beechcraft and Cessna, a longtime Textron subsidiary, which, like Beechcraft, is headquartered in Wichita, Kan.
The King Air, one of aviation’s most durable and popular designs, made its maiden flight in January 1964. Since then, Beechcraft has delivered more than 7,200 planes from this model line. Beechcraft has continuously updated and enhanced the King Air over the last five decades, adding speed, range, and payload capabilities and improving the avionics and interior, but always the aircraft has featured a roomy cabin and efficient performance. The current top-of-the-line King Air, the 350i, can carry as many as eight passengers and travel nonstop as far as 1,900 miles. It is priced at about $7.42 million.
Textron Aviation won’t be reviving Beechcraft’s stalled Hawker jet line, but it does provide service and support for that fleet. The company hopes Hawker owners will eventually become Cessna Citation owners.
Cessna (www.cessna.com) also has its own turboprop aircraft, the durable single-engine Caravan, which the company will continue to produce. The Caravan can accommodate as many as nine passengers, and it can land on unpaved runways. The plane’s rear double doors enable travelers to load nearly any type of gear with ease. The premium variant of the Caravan, the Grand Caravan EX, is priced at about $2.2 million.
Earlier this year, Cessna rebooted the single-engine Corvalis design that it took over from Columbia several years ago and rebranded as the TTx. The all-composite four-seater—which, with a 270 mph maximum cruising speed, is Cessna’s fastest fixed-gear single-engine piston—now comes with an optional anti-icing system.
Another venerable single-engine-piston manufacturer, Mooney International (www.mooney.com), formerly Mooney Airplane Company, re-entered the market this year after closing down production in 2009 but continuing to provide parts and mechanical support for its fleet. The company’s factory, in Kerrville, Texas, has resumed deliveries of the Acclaim Type S, a $700,000 four-seat aircraft. The plane now features an oxygen system, a leather interior, and updated avionics as standard equipment, and achieves a top speed of 278 mph. Options include air-conditioning and an anti-icing system.
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