It’s a new decade. Such milestones tend to prompt us to stop and take a look back. For me, I’m continually impressed by the resilience of the Beechcraft King Air – all of them. Every model has its virtues, and they have stood the test of time like no other aircraft in general aviation.
I went to work for BeechWest Van Nuys in 1975. Beech, Cessna and Piper were to general aviation what GM, Ford and Chrysler were to the auto industry. Many considered Beech head and shoulders above the rest and I heartily concurred. As a mechanic I was struck by the relative ease with which things went back together after disassembly. Beech Aircraft built each airplane by hand, and care was taken in the fitting of panels and where possible, components were located where maintenance could access them.
Everything comes apart faster than it goes back together. Having to fight every nut and screw in every panel during reassembly takes tons of time. That time is money coming out of the customer’s pocket. When I worked on other brands it was a constant struggle to replace panels after inspection. The screw holes in the panel never lined up with the airframe. Interior removal and replacement is generally a nightmare on any aircraft, but interior jobs seemed to go more smoothly on a Beechcraft. Looking back, I considered myself lucky to be working on them.
Strolling Down Memory Lane
During my first year at BeechWest we took delivery of BB-6, one of the very first King Air 200s. That was exciting. The model 90s already in existence were very popular, but the buzz on the 200 was spectacular – more speed, greater range and a comfortable cabin. Recently, on a whim, I checked BB-6 on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) website. It was de-registered in 2005 (at age 31) and exported to Mexico. Who knows? It could still be flying today and coming up on its 46th birthday. Another serial number that stands out in my mind is LJ-10, a model 90 built in 1964 (no A, B, C or E … just a straight 90.) It came into Van Nuys for regular maintenance and I performed a lot of work on it. I saw on the FAA website it was de-registered in 2016. I’d like to assume it gave 52 years of King Air caliber service.
Buying High Time
I am asked about high-time King Airs often. Prospective buyers see a King Air with 10,000 hours and they balk. In most cases, as long as an aircraft has been properly inspected and maintained, having high hours is not a red flag. However, good research is necessary to determine how that aircraft has been treated over the years. The reports generated by computerized maintenance programs are easily passed around to brokers and prospective buyers. At minimum they show that the aircraft has had maintenance performed. But if you want the real story on an older aircraft, nothing beats slogging through the actual logbooks, related documents and the POH.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Right now, I’m evaluating a model 350 for a seller who will be putting it on the market. The computerized maintenance report lists one engine as having 2,200 hours since Hot Section Inspection (which means the HSI is 400 hours past due on that side) yet the report did not flag that item as overdue! The engine logbook, however, showed the HSI was done 400 hours ago. This happens all the time; data entry mistakes are common. Numbers are transposed or entered in the wrong field and it goes downhill from there. Garbage in, garbage out. In a typical pre-buy inspection, if there’s a computerized report, I use it as a starting point. I comb through it and make a list of everything I don’t see, or that doesn’t make sense. When I finally see the aircraft in person, I jump all over those logbooks to get the real story. Almost always, I find revelations in the logbooks that did not appear in the computerized report. I found an engine logbook missing on a King Air that had been advertised as a cream puff in every way, including all paperwork. I found a high-time and high-cycle King Air that looked pretty good on paper, but the logbooks revealed it had spent 20 years in the Philippines so corrosion became a huge concern.
Pushback on Maintenance?
Looking back at when the King Air 200 hit the market, Beech couldn’t make them fast enough. The 90 models were already a huge success. Getting into a King Air was the thing to do; getting into a bigger one was even better. Owner attitude on maintenance was very agreeable, even though the maintenance program then was comparatively stringent. Back then a Phase Inspection was required every 100 hours, but the owners did not hesitate. The interval between phases was later extended to 150 hours and ultimately the factory decided on what’s currently used – 200 hours between phases with all 4 phases complied with in a 24-month period.
Somewhere along the line, I began to feel pushback from owners regarding required maintenance. More and more I would hear “I’m Part 91, is that really necessary?” Owners and pilots began to question the necessity of every item on the checklists. I was not alone. My colleagues have noticed the same thing. I mentioned this in my presentation last September at King Air Gathering IV. Is it just a reaction to the high cost of everything aviation-related? I completely understand keeping an eye on the bottom line. I would gently caution the bargain shoppers not to lose sight of safety. Proper maintenance of any aircraft is going to cost money.
Throughout my career I worked very hard to save my customers money. I would troubleshoot to isolate the problem. I would always repair instead of replace, if possible. I shopped around for pricing on exchanges and PMA parts. I gave warning when high-ticket items were coming due so customers could be prepared and took care not to gouge on labor. Aircraft maintenance is not an easy business; if it were, everyone would be doing it.
Maintenance Revisions and Updates
In the last few years there have been changes in the maintenance requirements for King Airs. We’ve seen some new inspections added, such as the 3-year/3,000-hour/ 3000-cycle flap inspection and the 2,500-cycle interior inspection, which I’ve touched on in previous articles. Very recently the mandatory 5-year replacement of flammable fluid carrying hoses was removed (for 200s, 300s and 350s – the 90 manual hasn’t been updated yet). This surprised me. Engine hoses are essentially a rubber product and rubber doesn’t last forever. Looking back, I remember learning that Beech called out a very specific type of hose, made by Stratoflex, to be used on King Airs for flammable fluids. When I had my shop, I made certain my hose fabricator only used the Beech-specified Stratoflex material in making new hoses. They weren’t cheap by any means. Hose shops sent their salespeople my way, and some could do the job for half the price, but the garden-variety black rubber hoses they used did not sit right with me. I was not willing to compromise in this area, so I tried to save my customers’ money in other ways. Needless to say, I didn’t see this one coming … or should I say going?
Looking forward, I’m anxious to see what other changes are in store for the King Air maintenance schedule. Additionally, I extend wishes of health and prosperity for the new year and the new decade to all.
Safe flying in your Beechcraft King Air!
Correction/Clarification: In the Maintenance Tip article titled “Winter Readiness” featured in the December 2019 issue of King Air in the paragraph discussing FCU heat on page 18: Model 300s do not have FCU heat; in 200s the FCU heat comes on when the condition levers are moved forward: later 90s have the same condition lever setup as 200s, whereas earlier model 90s have a cockpit switch for each engine.
Our apologies for the lack of clarity.