What’s your King Air to you? Is it only an inanimate object that provides transportation convenience for the owner(s)? Or is it something more, something that provides that mystical “pride of ownership” that makes you smile whenever you see it? For a lot of us – especially the owner-pilots among us – the King Air is definitely more than a mere means of transportation. It is a member of our family that brings great pleasure and enjoyment to our endeavors. Let me give you a few tips on how you can treat “her” kindly. Afterall, there’s the law of reciprocity: Treat her kindly and she’ll be more inclined to return the favor to you.
Cleanliness: A bucket of water and two terrycloth towels – one wet, one dry – work wonders in getting bugs off of the leading edges when she’s back in the home hangar. Doing this at the end of the day, before the carcasses have a chance to harden into the paint and boots, makes the task go swiftly. Hit the prop boots and blades and spinners while you’re at it. This doesn’t negate the need for periodic “deep cleaning” but it goes a long way towards keeping the airplane neat and presentable for the next flight.
Don’t overlook the windshields. Get out the ladder, a spray bottle and a microfiber towel and have at it. A mixture that I have used for eons – recommended in the old days by PPG itself – is a 50/50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and purified water with a couple of drops of Joy dishwashing detergent added. It takes off bugs easily and leaves no streaks. I use my bare hand to rub in the mixture for the cleaning and then use the towel to wipe it dry. It works well on the plastic side windows too when they need cleaning.
About that nasty exhaust soot: The one big disadvantage of a conventionally mounted PT6 powerplant is that the exhaust comes out near the front of the engine and hence the cowling and nacelle get coated with the exhaust residue. A student once opined to me that “The PT6 is the only engine that must continually fly through its own a-hole!” He kinda nailed the problem, eh? Some exhaust stacks work better than others in keeping the cowling soot to a minimum, but no stack prevents the problem entirely.
The longer the exhaust remains the harder it is to remove, so this is another task that merits regular attention … a last-flight-of-the-day cleaning whenever practicable. Many products are available and you probably already have a favorite. Mine is a spray bottle filled with about a 1:10 ratio of Simple Green and water. Spray it on, wipe it off with a towel … the nacelle is clean again until the next flight!
Gentleness: How are you at closing the cabin door? Whenever I am sitting in the cockpit while someone else closes the door, I can immediately tell how adept he or she is at this task. How? By sound. If I can hear the door being operated it’s not being done in an optimal manner. Here’s the best way: Use a hand-over-hand pulling action on the aft door cable – the standard, only cable on many models – until you can grab the door handle with your right hand. Rotate the handle fully counterclockwise (CCW) – the opening position – to withdraw the door hooks and bayonets into the door itself. Now place the door in the frame – don’t slam it! – and rotate the handle fully clockwise as far as it will go. See how easy that is? No slamming. No noise. No bayonets hitting the fuselage as they get pushed in far enough to allow the door to close. Before you head for the cockpit, of course you will make the six or seven checks to verify the door is properly closed.
You should have learned these checks in your initial training program. In case you need a reminder: One, the door handle won’t rotate in the opening CCW direction. Two, three, four and five … the green stripes on the bayonets are visible, centered in the viewing windows. (I keep a flashlight in a seat back pocket near the door to help in viewing this.) Six, lift the center step to view the inspection window – it has its own light operated by a little push button beside the viewing window – and verify that the red arm is properly engaged by the plunger. Seven – for the 300-series only – push the button for the hook inspection lights up above the door and verify that they look normal.
It seems that closing the door from the outside is also a weak area of “gentleness” for many pilots. First, bend your knees and lift up the door itself to start the process. Do not start by pulling on the lower cable section that goes from the support arm to the door. That misguided action puts a big kink in the cable. See that little spring down where the cable connects to the door? Its purpose is to position the cable into a proper, large curve as the door is closed. Kinked cables eventually fray, break and leave an exiting passenger with a nasty surprise as the door is now resting on the ground!
Once you’ve lifted the door to about waist height, now reposition your hands so that the left hand can continue closing the door while the right hand reaches in to the upper aft cable piece – the section above the support rod – and assures that the cable goes forward (left, as viewed from outside) of the door’s hydraulic snubber. The natural tendency is for this cable to get trapped between the door frame’s upholstery and the snubber, causing it to impede the next opening of the door.
We’re not done yet. Unless the exterior door handle is again rotated to the full opening position – this time clockwise (CW), as viewed from outside – we will again have the bayonets getting pushed in to the open position by striking the fuselage. Not cool; not gentle. So, grab the door handle and rotate it fully CW as you gently place the door into its frame. Now rotate the handle toward the closed position.
Need to lock the door for security? If so, go ahead and rotate the handle as far as it will go and lock it with your key. But what if you’re in your own hangar and security is not an issue? You just want the door closed to keep dirt and bugs and rodents out. In this case, just rotate the handle about 45 degrees, not the full 90-plus degrees to the locked position. This action keeps the door in a “loosely closed” condition, not loading up the bayonets and hooks with the tension they must have to hold the door against the inflight pressurization force it experiences. (Side note: A King Air door is approximately 30 inches wide and 50 inches tall: 1,500 square inches of surface. Pressurize to 5.0 psid and it experiences 7,500 pounds trying to push it open!) I am probably optimistic in my belief that not putting the full closing forces on the hooks and bayonets when not needed will lead to better door reliability and less maintenance … but it couldn’t hurt!
Starting engines: Starting a PT6 is easy. Starting it correctly is not. That’s why two chapters in The King Air Book and at least one in Volume II are devoted to that critical procedure. Just this week I watched a pilot initiate the start of the second engine while the first engine was at Low Idle, not the correct High Idle setting. To compound the problem, we were at an airport with an elevation of 6,700 feet and an OAT above 20 degrees Celsius. As the first engine got dragged down below 50% Ng and with ITT approaching the redline, I emphatically demanded, “Turn off the generator!” We reverted to a second battery-only start and all was well. But the “kindness” factor – giving the second engine a generator-assisted start with the benefit of a much cooler ITT peak – was non-existent.
The potential for engine harm, in my opinion, is greatest during starting than at any other operating regime. Do it right, without fail, to be kind to your powerplants.
Taxiing: By the time I observe a pilot get to the runway, I have a fairly accurate assessment of the skills he or she is about to demonstrate in flight. In my opinion, accuracy always trumps smoothness in flying. Holding altitude and heading perfectly, tracking an ILS with tight tolerance, doing steep turns to licensing tolerances … things most King Air pilots are rather good at, in regards to accuracy. Smoothness? It is much rarer to find that a pilot can exhibit the proper degree of accuracy combined with smoothness. That combination demands a high level of proficiency and talent.
Likewise, when taxiing. Pretend the client/boss/spouse in back is continually about to take a sip from their coffee cup or martini glass. Is your taxiing smooth enough that nary a drop will be spilled? Do you start and stop rolling so smoothly that it’s hard to tell when movement starts or stops? Strive for that. Your brakes, struts, and propellers will all benefit.
In most cases, releasing the brakes at Low Idle will start the airplane rolling. A slight hill to climb or sitting on grass or dirt may prevent this “automatic” roll. In that case, rather than adding power, a kinder technique is to pull the propeller levers into the feather detent and then immediately place them forward. The extra bite of air almost always creates enough thrust to initiate the roll smoothly.
As taxi speed increases, it’s time to lift the power levers into the Beta range to decrease blade angle and thereby to reduce thrust so as to hold the desired taxi speed without the need to drag the brakes. As you enter Beta, your eyes should be scanning the prop RPM gauges. Two things are important to observe: First, it is rare that the engine control rigging is so perfect that equal results will occur on the left and right sides when the power levers are side-by-side. If you see one tach reading 1,300 RPM and the other is reading only 1,150, you have a problem that is easily corrected. The side at 1,300 is going faster because it has less rotational drag. Why? Because its blade angle is flatter than the other side. To remedy this difference – which is causing the airplane to not roll straight – split the power levers by pulling back farther on the side with the slower prop speed. Why, looky there! Now both props are going the same speed and directional control is noticeably improved. The second thing to watch for is that there is no increase in N1, indicating that you have left the Beta range and entered the Reverse range … you’ve pulled too far back. If your model has the Ground Fine stop, this should not occur until the second lift of the power levers has occurred but sometimes it is misadjusted and comes in too early.
This becomes automatic for us high-time King Air pilots. The prop tachs get a lot of our attention whenever we are using the Beta Range and what we see determines where the power levers get positioned.
Coming to a stop while taxiing should involve (1) Keeping the power levers deep into Beta so that the prop RPM is as high as possible without any change in N1. This indicates the blade angle is near or at flat pitch, giving the least thrust. (2) Applying brakes to achieve the stop desired. Remember the imaginary cup near the lips in back. Brake usage should be modulated and lightened so that the stop is never really felt; the nose strut never does a little dip. (3) Once the stop is achieved, apply the brakes firmly, set the parking brake as desired, and move the power levers forward over the gate to Idle.
Is your King Air going to cower in the hangar corner the next time you approach or is she going to smile, wag her tail and look forward to the kindness you shower on her every time you fly? (What?! You didn’t realize that King Airs are living beings?!)