It was with great interest that I attended King Air Gathering IV, hosted by the King Air Academy in September at Fredericksburg, Texas. As an active, general aviation instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, I usually get to be the trainer instead of the trainee, so this was going to be of particular pleasure for me. As we used to say in my military days, I looked forward to “being in receive mode.”
As a side note: Fredericksburg is splendid. The Texas “Hill Country” around Fredericksburg is one of my favorite parts of the world. Besides the rolling hills and stately live oak trees, an added bonus is the Gillespie County Airport (T82), home of the Hangar Hotel and Airport Diner, both of which are singularly outstanding venues. I frequent T82 as often as possible during cross-country training events because I love on-airport restaurants, and the Airport Diner is one of the best.
So, with an excellent venue, I hoped the King Air Gathering would provide other benefits. I do think being a part of the “safety culture” of your particular type of airplane is an important part of being a responsible pilot. Simply put, there needs to be a passionate group of people that believe in the airplane type, who want to see that airplane flown in a safe, efficient manner by the aircraft’s pilots. Where does one find that core group with the King Air? I did not know and that is probably the biggest reason I wanted to attend the King Air Gathering … I wanted to get “plugged in” to the community.
I’m one of the leaders in the Piper PA46 OPA (Owners and Pilots Association), so I know how important it can be. There are lots of OPAs in the U.S., and the PA46 has one of the most passionate and cohesive organizations called the Malibu M-Class Owners and Pilots Association (MMOPA). As an integral part of that crowd, I know the good work done by MMOPA concerning the three pillars upon which it stands: safety, advocacy and community. We have a fabulous convention each year, a great cadre of instructors, a maintenance community that knows the nuances of the airplane, a vendor population that is passionate about supporting the owners, and many safety initiatives. Aside from annual recurrent training required by the insurance industry, MMOPA has collective training opportunities too. And, all of this training is required to advance up the ladder of pilot awards in the Master Aviator Program, a tremendous safety initiative founded and funded by MMOPA. Bottom line … the MMOPA community, like many other OPA communities is working cohesively and moving the safety needle.
Where does all of this collective training, maintenance information, vendor support and shared data exist within the King Air community? Heretofore, I did not know. I receive great recurrent training each year, but that is individual training focused on systems knowledge, emergency procedure training and IFR flying skills. I have a maintenance provider that does a good job of keeping our B100 and 300 in tip-top shape, but where does one find data on the latest avionics gizmos that can be bolted onto the airplane? Where do you find the newest upgrades to the interior? Who can I talk to that knows the true benefits realized by new STCs? Where can I talk to another B100 or 300 pilot to find out if they are having the same operational challenges that I experience? I found answers to those questions and many more at the King Air Gathering.
Want to know the latest and greatest upgrades to make your King Air better? All the major vendors supporting the King Air fleet were in attendance at the King Air Gathering. Along the periphery of the Hangar Hotel Conference Center were vendors that make the King Air better. The leaders of companies that sell auto-throttles, engine upgrades, window replacements, avionics upgrades, LED lighting, engine trend data management, and just about any other possible upgrades, were available for face-to-face talks. Pratt and Whitney and Textron were well-represented with knowledgeable staff and sample products. For those who might think this is all “just a bunch of sales talk,” they are right. But, make no mistake, any aircraft type needs a host of solid vendors that are healthy and strong to provide upgrades that make the airframe viable for the future. You show me an airframe type without good vendor support and that type will soon be headed for the boneyard. The vendor support at the King Air Gathering was exceptional, and that is a strong testament for the longevity and strength of the King Air fleet. I spoke with several vendors about their opinion of the benefit of the King Air Gathering and all stated the King Air Gathering is the one annual event they simply will not miss.
The speakers at the King Air Gathering were really solid, too. I enjoyed hearing from those who are the best in a particular area of expertise. Subjects such as weather, medical retention, and checklist use were enjoyable and beneficial but, to me, the two speakers that were a goldmine of information were Tom Clements (consultant to the King Air Academy and columnist in this magazine) and Robert Winchcomb (Pratt & Whitney (P&W) representative).
I’m not sure if there is a King Air pilot that hasn’t read “The King Air Book” by Tom Clements. I keep a copy onboard the B100 I operate and it has been a windfall of help to me over the years. I had not met Tom before the King Air Gathering, but I was totally blown away by his ability to stand before a crowd and tackle question after question in a totally professional manner. His knowledge of the various King Air airframes is astounding. Tom is a true gem to the King Air community and I now see why his name is synonymous with excellence to those that love the King Air. I so enjoyed Tom’s presentation and style that I pulled him aside for a private talk later in the day. He graciously gave me 15 minutes of his valuable time, and I cherish the memory of that talk, knowing I’m far better for having been in the presence of a King Air virtuoso.
I’m not sure how many hours I have sitting behind PT6s, but it is enough I feel like I’m capable of operating the PT6 with excellence. I expected little from P&W’s Robert Winchcomb as he took the podium to tell us about the PT6 engine, but he quickly dispelled any thoughts I might have conjured of the irrelevance of his presentation. He did a super job of assuming the general PT6 knowledge of the crowd, not making the talk a boring sales lecture, and targeting the nuances of the operation and management of the PT6s on the King Air fleet. I learned a lot from his lecture, but also gained more from talking with Robert during an afternoon break. His knowledge of the PT6 is amazing and he relays that knowledge as a master trainer.
While the vendor support was excellent and the speakers were informative, I felt the best part of the King Air Gathering was the ability to talk with other King Air pilots. During the breaks, it seemed that pilots of particular airframe types would gravitate to each other for discussions of “best practices” and personal experiences. Several times I ventured out to the flight line with a new friend in the form of another owner/pilot to see their airplane and learn about various aspects of their operation. Those discussions proved to be instrumental to my growth as a King Air pilot.
An oftentimes forgotten critical ingredient in a great aviation event is the local FBO. The professionals at the Fredericksburg FBO figured out how to park an enormous amount of King Air aircraft on a ramp that didn’t initially appear that it would hold a flock of King Airs. The line guys were exceptional, the front desk personnel outstanding, and the whole operation was obviously well-led. And, they did all of this work without charging any fees. I believe most of the pilots realized how good the Fredericksburg FBO was during the King Air Gathering and supported them with fuel purchases. The Fredericksburg airport is well run and exemplifies what other airports in the U.S. should strive to be: no fees, top notch service and great facilities. I knew T82 was a special place and the whole airport, including the Fredericksburg FBO, showed the King Air Gathering participants why.
Next year the King Air Gathering will be in Wichita, Kansas – home of Textron, where all King Air aircraft are built. I anticipate that King Air Gathering V, in 2020, will sell out quickly and be a super event. I’ll be booking my seat early and I suggest you do too. The King Air Gathering is certainly a must-attend event for any pilot desiring to plug in to the developing safety culture of the King Air, as well as connecting with the King Air community overall.
Joe Casey is an FAA-DPE and an ATP, CFI, CFII (A/H), MEI, CFIG, CFIH, as well as a retired U.S. Army UH60 standardization instructor/examiner. He manages and operates a King Air 300 and B100 and is an active instructor for the PA46 and King Air models. He has accumulated 14,300-plus hours of flight time, with over 5,200 dual-given as a flight instructor. Contact Joe at: www.flycasey.com, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (903) 721-9549.