Company pilots verify extended range with California-Hawaii flights
Since the extended-range King Air 350ER was certified in 2007, Beechcraft has promoted it as a solution for government and private operators who need to get anywhere in the world without using cabin space for ferry fuel tanks and spending time making modifications or de-modifications.
In September, two longtime Beechcraft company pilots completed flights to verify the promised performance was not just a marketing claim. The results should be helpful for future sales of a model that has more than 120 serving a variety of military and civilian roles across the globe.
“This is the first time a King Air class airplane has made the California to Hawaii leg without additional ferry fuel tanks,” said Dan Keady, vice president, Special Missions for Textron Aviation. “We’ve been touting the King Air 350ER’s endurance, range, payload and mission flexibility and now we’ve demonstrated the airplane’s unique deployment capabilities.”
Here’s a look at the planning and execution of
In August, sales demonstration pilots John Guidry and Mark Mohler were selected by Textron Aviation’s chief pilot of turboprops to begin working with one of the company’s contracted flight planning agencies to look at routing, altitude and weather options for the mission. They settled on a route starting at California’s Napa County Airport (KAPC) to Hawaii’s Honolulu International Airport (PHNL).
“Our team worked closely with our flight planning agency to see what type of forecast winds aloft would be present for the September timeframe targeted for the mission,” Mohler said. “We also looked at a variety of altitudes to fly the mission. One of the selling points of the King Air models is the ability to fly missions at different altitudes economically. We were interested in flying the trip in the mid 20,000-foot range, as well as the lower 30,000-foot range to show the ability to burn roughly the same amount of fuel with the altitude variances. We proved this by flying to Honolulu at FL280, and returning at FL310 then FL330 and burning the same amount of fuel (with the average wind component being the same).”
As demonstration pilots, Guidry’s and Mohler’s days are spent working with a global sales force to demonstrate aircraft capabilities and providing transportation for Textron Aviation personnel. They were both thrilled with the proving flight challenge and they split pilot-in-command duties, Guidry taking the flight to Hawaii and Mohler taking the return flight to California.
This wasn’t the longest flight in a King Air for Mohler, who previously flew a 350ER 10 hours and
six minutes on an endurance mission from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Yakima, Washington. After graduating from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Mohler was a flight instructor then advanced from first officer to captain at a regional airline. He missed instructing so he moved to Wichita, Kansas, for a job at FlightSafety International’s Beechcraft Learning Center. In 1997, Raytheon Aircraft hired Mohler for what he calls the best flying job in aviation.
“It is diverse and never has a dull moment,” said Mohler, who enters his 18th year flying for the company with just over 13,000 hours. “I get to fly brand new airplanes all over the world. As we like to say, ‘I’m ‘living the dream.’”
Guidry has been a pilot at Beechcraft for more than 25 years, joining the company in 1989 after stints giving flying lessons, flying freight, then flying for a regional airline. He is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and has 13,600 total flight hours since he started flying at age 24.
“Being with Beechcraft for 25-plus years now, I’ve seen the King Air mature into the best turboprop in the world,” Guidry said. “In my opinion, the King Air 350 and 350ER are the best. The multi-role mission of this airplane is incredible. I’m very proud to have proved that by flying the first King Air from California to Hawaii nonstop without having to put in internal fuel tanks.”
For the proving flights, Beechcraft used a standard production configuration King Air 350ER, which is based on the King Air 350i with several minor airframe modifications, aft-engine mounted fuel tanks and heftier landing gear to handle the increase in weight. The company advertises that the 350ER could take off at gross weight with full fuel and full payload, fly out 100 nautical miles, perform a low altitude surveillance mission for seven hours and 20 minutes, fly back 100 nautical miles and still land with more than 45 minutes of fuel on board.
About three of every four King Air 350ER aircraft delivered (80 of 120-plus) have gone to Department of Defense-type customers around the globe. There have been a handful delivered to private operators for executive transport and commercial ventures like Sundt Air in Norway who use the 350ER to contract with various agencies for oil pollution patrol, fishery inspection flights, border patrol and search and rescue missions. Aside from surveillance, the most popular uses of the 350ER are air ambulance, aerial survey, transporting people or freight, flight inspection/airway calibration and radar/navigation training.
One of the more visible operators of the 350ER is the United States Air Force, which uses a fleet of 350 and 350ER aircraft (designated Project Liberty MC-12W) to support ground forces in Afghanistan. The aircraft are modified with intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) equipment. King Air 350ER aircraft are also used by the Iraqi Air Force for type training, VIP transport, light cargo duties and as part of Operation Peace Dragon, the air force’s daily sortie missions over Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Local government agencies also employ the 350ER, like North Slope Borough in northern Alaska, which uses a 350ER for medevac and search and rescue services within its remote 95,000-square-mile territory.
The airplane used for the California-Hawaii flights is one of Beechcraft’s two King Air 350ER special mission demonstrators that tour the world. This one – N350KA/serial number FL-924 – has an interior that shows both a four-seat executive club configuration including writing tables in the front cabin and an air ambulance configuration with a fully functioning medical station including medical oxygen, vacuum and pressure, a medical cabinet and a side-facing, three-place couch.
“When the extended-range fuel tanks were added to the King Air 350 and branded the 350ER, it took a platform already utilized for staying aloft for extended periods in search and rescue, reconnaissance, aerial survey, etc. and gave it an additional 236 gallons of fuel to stay aloft even longer,” Mohler said. “Demonstrating the aircraft can fly up to 2,580 nautical miles and 12 hours economically, places it in a category very few products are capable of doing.”
The night before departure, the pilots stocked up on water, soda, sandwich supplies and snacks. “Probably the biggest challenge on long flights like these are physiological – food and potty brakes,” Mohler said. “John and I would take turns going to the cabin to take care of said requirements.”
The pilots departed Napa with full fuel at 5,192 pounds and landed in Honolulu with 790 pounds remaining. The 2,121-nautical-mile flight took eight hours, 52 minutes with average winds aloft of 237 degrees at 33 knots. The pilots reported cruise altitude of 28,000 feet and an average groundspeed of 240 knots.
“When we reached the halfway point, I was very optimistic we had the fuel required to complete the flight and very proud of the airplane and the people who made this possible,” Guidry said. “On final approach into Honolulu, I remember trying to get a glimpse of Pearl Harbor. I could only imagine what went through the minds of our military personnel that fateful morning of December 7th.”
The mood changed from solemn to celebratory quickly.
“Upon landing, we were met by a young Hawaiian woman who was the customer service representative for our handling agent,” Guidry said. “As we were securing the aircraft, she asked if we wanted a mai tai. Of course after an eight hour, 53 minute flight, we gave a resounding ‘yes.’”
Guidry and Mohler had plenty of time to get to know each other on the long haul to Hawaii, including reminiscing about comfort foods from their youth. So when it was Guidry’s turn to shop for provisions for the flight back to California, he remembered Mohler mentioning liverwurst sandwiches his mother made. He made sure to stock some for his co-pilot.
Returning from Honolulu to Napa, the 350ER again took off with full fuel and landed with 900 pounds at shutdown. The trip covered 2,131 nautical miles in eight hours, 17 minutes. Cruise altitude was 31,000 feet, then 33,000 feet for the final third of the flight with average winds aloft of 234 degrees at 15 knots and an average groundspeed of 257 knots.
While every effort is made by the flight planning agencies to provide accurate winds, seasonal winds are a factor when flying the Pacific Ocean and can change unexpectedly. Both pilots said having plenty to keep their minds focused on during the flight made the time in the air go quickly.
“On a trip like this, the pilots are busy monitoring the aircraft’s progress with the master document flight plan log,” Mohler said. “Obviously there isn’t anywhere to land and get fuel, so monitoring fuel burn is very important. The crew is constantly tracking winds aloft as well as the weather at destination and alternate airports. Every hour there are required position reports to ATC, so time goes by pretty fast.”
California-Hawaii is an important stage length for aircraft lacking in-flight refueling capability, and while the mission has always been successful on paper, now the 350ER is the first King Air class airplane to have demonstrated the mission in a standard production configuration.
“Making these oceanic flights demonstrates that operators can go anywhere in the world without the need for installing internal ferry tanks,” Keady said. “There are some government organizations that have rapid response requirements to be able to stage halfway around the world and be prepared to conduct operations on arrival. The King Air 350ER can do that without taking up cabin space with ferry tanks or the penalty of waiting for modifications or de-modifications.”
Both commercial and government operators also like the endurance because it means they can depart with full fuel and land at airports that don’t have fuel, charge too much for fuel or have unreliable fuel or fuel delivery.
Armed with the data from the September proving flights, Beechcraft will keep its two King Air 350ER demonstrators busy showcasing the model’s multi-mission versatility and reliability this year with visits to governments across the globe and on the show circuit in North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia.