King Air 200 review

My turbine-crazed friends and I did a test flight in a King Air 200 today.  David is a magnet for miserable weather and every time we fly together the clouds are spread over the airport with winds gusting to 30 knots (fairness compels me to note that he accuses ME of being the bad weather magnet).  Today was no exception:  clouds, cold, wind gusting over 30 knots, snow showers, wind shear advisories.

If you’re going to fly in miserable weather, the King Air isn’t a bad choice.  The plane is famously immune to icing, rough runways, pilot incompetence, and mechanical woes.  The plane has two big jet engines turning 4-blade props that spin at 1500-1900 rpm.  Cabin size is slightly smaller than a Pilatus PC-12 and the King Air lacks the huge door that enables bulky cargo (and obese passengers?) to be forklifted into the plane.  If you do have a lot of fat friends, it is comforting to know that the plane, designated C-12F, is regularly operated by the U.S. military at 15,000 lbs; the civilian model has a gross weight of 12,500 lbs., coincidentally the maximum weight aircraft that may be legally flown without a type rating.  Cruise speed, range, and payload are similar to the PC-12.  Construction quality is superb, as is the cabin fit and finish, at least on a par with the Pilatus.  The pilot seat is more adjustable and comfortable than the seat in the PC-12.  Once seated, you’re surrounded by Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, the same glass panels that are in mid-sized business jets and very similar to what is in Boeing airliners.  The Pilatus, by contrast, comes with the same radios as the Diamond Katana two-seat plastic trainer.  I immediately fell in love with the user interface, presentation, and capabilities of the Collins system, which were vastly better than anything that I’ve ever flown before.  [God help you after the five-year warranty runs out and you have to replace one of those puppies at airliner prices.]

Taxiing the King Air is simple, much easier for a beginner than the Twin Commander.  Takeoff is straightforward except that the pilot is 100 percent responsible for watching engine torques and temperatures.  You rotate at 100 knots, enter the clouds, and if you’ve pushed the power levers too far forward a couple of small gauges off to the right will start flashing.  The consequences of overtorquing a free turbine such as on the King Air are much smaller than the direct-drive engines on the Twin Commander, which is presumably why Beech didn’t bother with automated systems to limit power automatically.

The King Air is extremely stable and it was easy to hold the plane in a reasonable attitude despite moderate turbulence.  I felt no urge to engage the autopilot and was able to keep the plane on heading and altitude more easily than the similar weight Twin Commander that I’ve been flying (on the downside, the King Air felt less nimble).  Interior noise is as low as 78 dBA in some parts of the airplane during some phases of flight and as high as 88 dBA.  Generally speaking, interior noise was 81-85 dBA, similar to the Twin Commander, but inferior to the turbojets that people have been buying instead of the King Air.  Sitting in the back while others flew, my stomach did not enjoy the side-to-side yaw from all of the bumps.

Our friend David, with 600 hours and no multi-engine rating, was given a simulated engine failure.  The King Air has an autofeather system; if an engine quits, the prop automatically feathers to a low-drag angle.  He handled the resultant yaw with ease, keeping the airplane straight with rudder.  An engine failure in a twin turbine airplane is much easier to manage than in a twin-engine piston.

Landing wasn’t all that easy with a gusty 30 knot wind at a significant angle to the runway, but it wasn’t all that difficult either; 120 knots down the glideslope slowing to 100-110 over the numbers.  Despite the supposed power lag with a free turbine, I found the airplane to be approximately as responsive to power changes as the Twin Commander, which is a similar weight.  The switch and systems complexity didn’t seem substantially greater than in the Pilatus or TBM-700.  A lower time but serious pilot could be trained to operate this plane safely and the insurance companies seem to agree, having quoted similar rates and training requirements for my 600-hour friend in the Pilatus and King Air.

Operating cost on a King Air is higher than on the Pilatus due to spinning two engines.  The fuel burn is 100 gallons per hour instead of 70-75.  Is the difference worth it?  If you’re over the North Atlantic and one of those engines suffers a loss of oil pressure, very likely!

What does the Pilatus do better?  Short runways.  The Pilatus flies and lands so slowly that pilots experienced with both seem to be comfortable with 30 percent less runway.  Unless the approaches were completely flat, you probably wouldn’t take a King Air 200 into an airport shorter than 3000′.

[Second opinions:  Our Boeing 767 pilot friend thought the plane was vastly superior to the Pilatus.  The 600-hour pilot thought it was harder to control than the Pilatus (I reserve judgement on this one because we flew the planes under such different weather conditions).]

18 Comments

  1. Flyin Dutchman

    December 9, 2006 @ 12:35 am

    1

    I fly a PC12 for a living so I am biased a little. I have never flown a King Air but strictly on numbers I think the PC-12 wins in all aspects especially single engine climb performance ! :)

    I can take off at gross out of a 2800 foot strip and with 3 people fly from Toronto, Canada to Cuba (under good wind conditions of course).

    It maybe slower then a TBM but at least I can fit in the PC12 without a shoehorn (I am 6’3″).

    The only thing that people can truly question is the single engine. Now I don’t have the stats but from an operational stand point especially in the US an engine failure from above a 1000 feet would be not that big of a problem if you are in the mind set and focus on what you are doing every take off.

    Recently in recurrent training I was given a simulated failure from 800 feet agl on departure and without even simulated feather for the first 120 degrees or so in the turn I was almost to high and easily made the field. If its 200 feet and 1/2 mile then its going to be more challenging and probably a weekend warrior that flies 100 hours a year might kill himself but that could go for any aircraft type where the pilot isn’t as current as he would like to be.

    As for your EFIS comments I am sure you have heard of the new PC12 set to come out in 2008 with new EFIS so that should solve that qualm.

    Is your 767 pilot friend a former King Air pilot ? Impartial just like me :)

  2. Trevis Rothwell

    December 9, 2006 @ 12:35 am

    2

    Vaguely related: any opinions on the Diamond DJet?

  3. philg

    December 9, 2006 @ 1:04 am

    3

    Flyin: The B767 pilot had never flown a King Air before. He has experience with the engine from his days as a night cargo pilot in a Cessna Caravan.

    Trevis: The DJet looks like a nice plane for a rich guy with low time who wants something simple to operate. For anyone who is willing to put more effort into flight training, the Eclipse seems like a much better value (two engines, high altitude capability, same price more or less).

  4. Mark

    December 9, 2006 @ 4:38 am

    4

    Phil,
    You mention fairly often the single vs. multi-engine safety margins. Do these engines fail that often?
    Do you have any stats that could be shared with us of engine failures in the single and multi-engine aircraft?
    Regards,
    Mark

  5. Jim Howard

    December 9, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

    5

    Just the other day I followed a King Air that only had one running engine into the Austin airport.

  6. Steve

    December 9, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

    6

    I’ve skydived out of a King Air a few times. The door is quite small — it’s really hard to get more than two or three people out the door and have them end up close enough to see each other. But, you can’t beat 8 minutes to 14K AGL

  7. philg

    December 12, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

    7

    Mark: In the old days, the theory was that a piston engine failed every 4000 hours and a turbine every 40,000 hours. I think we’re up to closer to 1 in 200,000 hours for the turbines and a carefully operated low performance piston engine (e.g., IO-360) is probably improved by a similar factor (1 in 20,000?). East Coast Aero Club has around 27 airplanes and flies at least 400 hours per year per plane, so in round numbers that is 10,000 hours per year. Since Adam Harris took over as head of maintenance, which was quite a few years ago, the club has not had any in-flight engine failures (or anything else that led to an off-airport landing). Even with a piston engine, I think you’re more likely to run out of gas than to have the engine stop due to mechanical failure.

  8. jvc

    December 13, 2006 @ 1:01 pm

    8

    What about the Cessna Mustang? Seems like a step up on the $$, but has all the cool jet features one might want? Also fully certified and made by a company that already knows how to make jets.

  9. philg

    December 14, 2006 @ 1:51 pm

    9

    JVC: A Mustang is cheaper than a Pilatus or King Air, but it doesn’t have any range or payload (or enough seats for two families, which is a requirement for my friend). The VLJs are good for single people who are capable of flying a jet by themselves and who want to travel alone or with one or two friends.

  10. Justin

    May 4, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

    10

    I’ve heard the PC-12 fully loaded has a terrible climb rate (less than 500 FPM) once you reach the mid 20,000 range.

    Truth?

  11. marco

    September 18, 2007 @ 5:07 pm

    11

    In most discussions and reviews of turboprops (or VLJs vs Turboprops) I see references to PC12 and TBM, but rarely to Piper’s Meridian. Is there a reason? It seems as large as the TBM, cheaper, even though a bit slower than (260 kts) than TBM, same as PC12, but it has had Avidines since 2005, and Piper has been around for a while making reasonable airplanes. I have flown one, the climb fully loaded from FL200 to 250 exceeded 1200 fpm with power to spare. So what’s wrong with it? I am looking in the market for something reasonably safe for a low hours pilot, probable trips of 200 – 800 miles, with family, using a safety pilot for the first, say 100 hours.

  12. Michael

    January 2, 2008 @ 11:49 am

    12

    The problem with the Meridian is that it’s useful load with enough fuel to get anywhere is very low (approximately 393lbs Useful load with full fuel).

    The TBM has 703lbs of useful load with full fuel.

    The PC12 has 1082lbs of useful load with full fuel.

    The Meridian handles great, but it just isn’t close to being a 4 seat go someplace aircraft, let alone a 6 seat aircraft.

  13. Bill

    February 26, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

    13

    I have sufficient experience in the Meridian and the BE200 to comment. The Meridian is very small inside, particularly in the cockpit. It’s best points are efficiency and speed once you get to FL250. If you get stuck low or have to make crossing restrictions far out, you lose range, and there wasn’t alot to start out. If you cruise low, the TAS isn’t very high.
    The BE200 does everything pretty well, and nothing perfectly. Carries a load, operates in and out of 3500 ft, cruises 280 kts.
    I am interested in learning about the Commander 1000. How is it?

  14. theo chesley

    December 16, 2008 @ 11:48 am

    14

    Loved the review. Flown everywhere fom the Miami area, midwest, The Basin ,Northwest and about 7000hrs in Alaska. The 200 sounds like what I need to be in. Looking to get insured in one with 9000 total and 1500 me pic cabin class, but no turbine or pressurized time. I know I am going to school and do you think Simcom or Flightsafety is better?

  15. Bob Hales

    March 22, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

    15

    Turbines are very reliable. I flew eight years 135, dispatched 135 and 121 operation with passenger schedules. Although engine failures are very rare, I had FIVE in ONE year, all mechanical such as O ring or seal failure. Fellow pilots joked that I did not need six month proficiency checks because I was getting real experience.

  16. scott

    May 24, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    16

    hello…would anyone have a resource to figure fairly accurate annual operating costs…i had a company figure one on the pilatus at 150 hours and they came up with 176400. thats 1176 per hour. Do these numbers seem resonable. i was not expecting numbers this high for the pilatus. Any opinions would be welcome.

  17. ken

    June 8, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

    17

    Any comparisons done between the pc12 and the conquest?

    speed
    time to climb to 22000?
    range with 6 people on board including pilot .. for each plane?

    If I had a budget of 1.2 mil for a used plane in this class what would be the best bang for the buck?

    We’re leaning towards the KingAir 200, but I sure like that big door? any one have any direct experience?
    What would one expect to spend for total operating cost minus pilot for 200 hours/year for the king air 200 and for the PC 12? conquest?

  18. scott

    June 16, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

    18

    i have since gotten specific operating numbers. We were considering the conquest ii as our first option. however the recent AD debacle quickly changed our minds about an aircraft of this age. the conquest is going to climb faster by a rate of a few hundred feet per minute and will fly 20 kph faster. however that is where the benefits end in my opinion. The king air and the conquest are approximately 40% more to operate than pilatus. The pilatus carries more payload than either and is close in speed with the king air.On either of the twins plan on somewhere in the 300000 range for that many hours. good luck

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