In a sign of these pandemic times, Textron Aviation last month launched the new flagship of the Beechcraft King Air family with online fanfare only.
On Aug. 4, the company posted a 10-minute recorded video on its social media channels followed by distributing a press release with details of the King Air 360 and 360ER, a blockpoint change incorporating new features and structural updates on the 300-series production line. The new model is currently in production and the company expects deliveries to begin this fall.
Based on the timing of the announcement, there’s a good chance that anyone attending the King Air Gathering scheduled for the end of August in Wichita would have heard this announcement in person if COVID-19 had not interrupted plans for the event.
Raising the flag(ship)
The video announcement featured three company executives, beginning with Rob Scholl, senior vice president of sales and flight operations. He reviewed recent product investments Textron Aviation has made across its product line. When mentioning the King Air line, he said:
“We are always listening to our King Air customers and longtime operators to push the envelope and help their missions. Leveraging their feedback, we have chosen to take a closer look at the different King Air variants currently in production and ask ourselves some serious questions about the aircraft’s legacy and, more importantly, its possibilities.”
Ron Draper, president and CEO, Textron Aviation, officially announced the King Air 360 and 360ER stating that the enhancements were incorporated through many conversations and the company’s collaborative effort and “was the catalyst behind the innovation and next generation capabilities you’ll see in the King Air 360.”
Cockpit upgrades, including autothrottle STC
The company says the two major upgrades in the cockpit would improve the overall aircraft operational experience. The Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S) ThrustSense Autothrottle provides a full regime system that computes and controls the appropriate power levels from the takeoff roll through the climb, cruise, descent, go-around and landing phases of flight. It provides envelope protection that adjusts the power output of the operating engine during engine-out scenarios, which improves overall pilot control and allows the aircraft to accelerate and climb single-engine. The autothrottle is controlled by the new electronic standby instrument.
Textron Aviation also announced it had special type certification (STC) approval of the IS&S autothrottle on King Air 300 series aircraft equipped with Pro Line Fusion avionics and new production King Air 360 turboprops. This is in addition to the STC that was received in 2019 for Pro Line 21-equipped King Air 200 series aircraft.
Another update in the cockpit is the new digital pressurization controller, which automatically schedules cabin pressurization during climb and descent, reducing pilot workload and increasing overall passenger comfort. The pressurization gauges have been integrated with the Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion flight deck.
“Structural changes have allowed us to increase the maximum cabin pressure, which results in a 10% lower cabin altitude compared to the King Air 350i,” Scholl said. “For example, while flying at 27,000 feet, cabin altitude is just 5,960 feet. Another added benefit of the digital pressurization system is that it allowed us to eliminate some of the various indicators above the throttle. For example, the cabin pressurization gauges, along with the flap indicator, have been integrated into an electronic readout at the bottom of the Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion MFD.”
New seats and a complete cabin redesign
During the video announcement, Christi Tannahill, senior vice president of customer experience, which includes interior design and engineering, marketing, customer accounts and deliveries, called out other comfort improvements beyond improved cabin altitude levels. She described the changes as a collection of small refinements that make a big difference: additional legroom, increased table heights and higher sidewall armrests.
You’ll feel a greater sense of openness in the cabin and will notice the all new interior schemes. The complete cabin redesign also features custom-built cabinetry, partitions and side ledges, and upgraded materials and finishes. Other amenities that come standard on the entire King Air lineup include pull-out work tables, standard power outlets, USB charging stations and a private aft lavatory.
King Air magazine reached out to get more insight on the cabin redesign from Tannahill, who joined Beechcraft in 1999, working within customer support and eventually leading that team. At Textron Aviation, she led the turboprop aircraft and interior design organizations before broadening her responsibilities in her SVP of customer experience role.
“We have spent a lot of time gathering feedback from customers around overall comfort in the cabin,” she told us. “The team has done a lot of research to help determine what variables add or detract from customer comfort, such as seating.”
Her team digitally pressure mapped the seats in order to relieve hot spots under the tail bone and add additional support under sit bones and thighs. The process started in the development shop where the team put together a cushion buildup. A test subject sat on the cushion using the pressure mapping for an allotted time period. The team analyzed the captured data to determine hot spots and continuously tweaked the design and retested with the test subject until they had a cushion buildup with the right support in the proper areas.
Two other test subjects were tested on the seat design to ensure it supported other body frames, then the team took the final seat cushion buildup out to customers for evaluation and feedback.
Another change based on customer feedback is reverting to manual pull down window shades with the new model.
“While the monochromatic shades in the King Air 350i were technologically more advanced, we received some feedback around the usability and maintainability of them,” she said. “Many customers just want to quickly adjust the lighting in the cabin and the manual shades give them this opportunity. The manual shades are also easier to maintain.”
In-service yet this year
The King Air is still the best-selling business turboprop family in the world, with nearly 7,600 delivered around the world. The global fleet, which includes about 1,300 of the King Air 350 series, has surpassed 62 million flight hours in its 56 years.
With the King Air 360 already on the production line, it won’t be long before it enters service. As we went to print, Textron Aviation was teasing that the launch customer is a first-time aircraft owner and will take delivery before the end of 2020.
Tannahill wouldn’t divulge any other plans for the line beyond a warning to stay tuned.
“The King Air series continues to be an important part of our lineup at Textron Aviation and we are committed to investing in the platform,” she said. “The announcement also showcases our commitment to our current customers and fielded aircraft with the autothrottle available as an upgrade in the aftermarket at the same time.”