(Text and pictures – Guido Warnecke) – It may look the same – but the King Air B360 is a surprisingly big step up from the B350. Ferry pilot Guido Warnecke shares the experience of ferrying this state-of-the-art aircraft from the USA to South Africa.
THE KING AIR 360 is the latest iteration of the very successful King Air range and its detailed features and handling have been well covered in this publication before, both for the standard King Air 200, and for one sporting the full panoply of Blackhawk upgrades. This review will therefore focus on just one aspect of the King Air 360 – what Textron calls its ‘IS&S ThrustSense’ auto-throttles.
I have had the pleasure of flying all the King Air models from the very beginning of my commercial flying career at Lanseria in 2004. The first King Air I learned to fly was an old, heavily used 1963 model King Air 90 that was almost as old as I am.
Like me, I believe that many young pilots aspire to one day flying a King Air. Even the name has an aspirational element to it. It is a highly respected and much loved corporate turboprop. It does the job of getting you where you want, into airstrips that would challenge single engine Cessnas. The King Air has created its own class in the market as a corporate transport that is reliable, safe and good value.
As my career and experience developed, I worked my way up to the biggest and most modern 300 Series King Airs as a charter pilot in the USA. Out of my 11,500 flying hours, more than 4,500 hours are on King Airs, both on my SACAA and FAA ATPL, which I always keep current.
The 300 series was first built in 1972 and the latest King Air 360 is the flagship of the King Air series, which covers the 90, F90, 100, 200, 250, 300, 350, and now the top of the range 360. I have had the opportunity to fly them all, many on very demanding ferry flights, from places as varied as Greenland to the South African Highveld, and have been able to gain a good understanding of all operational aspects of these aircraft.
‘the auto-throttle pulls the power levers gently back’
In 2015, Textron introduced Collins Fusion avionics to the King Air, featuring touch-based glass cockpit EFIS with high resolution screens. It requires some training and practice and might not be as intuitive at the beginning for a pilot coming from Garmin avionics. However, once you get to understand and learn to navigate the Collins Fusion system it’s a joy to fly. It surpasses the capabilities of many airliners and is on par with the avionics in the newest Gulfstream jets.
The great flying writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. With this ideal in mind, I asked myself; is there anything more than cosmetic upgrades, being: a new interior, colour schemes and a few expensive avionics upgrades that a “new” King Air can offer?
I first heard about the new King Air BE-360’s auto-throttle system a while back. It was new electronic gimmickry and to be honest I was a bit reluctant when I was asked to fly the BE-360 on the overwater ferry from the factory in Wichita to Lanseria. It’s a long way over the North Atlantic and south through East Africa, and not a place where you want to have trouble with a complex new system.
I am pleased to say I was totally wrong. The auto-throttle is great.
Up to now auto-throttles have been seen only in airliners and in top-end business jets. Although ironically the Eclipse 550 – that smallest of entry level jets – also sported an auto-throttle. But now they have entered the mainstream turboprop market.
Many modern light jets have FADEC systems that enable the pilot to set takeoff and cruise power by just pushing the throttles into detents. The FADEC keeps everything under control and will not let you exceed engine limitations. Auto-throttles go a step further and are comparable to active cruise control in a car.
With auto-throttles you not only set the engine power automatically, but you can also set a desired air speed to maintain. This is very handy when flying approaches in bad weather or at night, especially as a single pilot. However it is not without a caveat: As the auto-throttle takes control over a vital system, you had better check that it works properly before each flight: After power on, it runs through an automatic self-test and the throttles move magically forward and back. After 30 seconds it should check out as ready to go.
The joys of auto-throttles
On takeoff the system computes the maximum power for the current conditions (pressure altitude and temperature). You push the TOGA switch on the left of the throttle T-handle and the system moves the throttles smoothly and evenly to the pre-computed take off power. Of course, you can manually pull back the power levers if needed and switch off the system at any time. There is a switch located on the right side of the throttle to conveniently switch it off. An aural warning “Auto Throttle!” will make you aware that it is switched off. There is also a large A/T annunciator light in direct view of the pilot.
In a single pilot operation, your full attention is required during the takeoff run, and with one eye looking out the cockpit and the other looking inside, you constantly watch the engine gauges in order not to exceed any limits. While on a cold winter’s day you might exceed torque limits, the operation at hot and high airports in the Johannesburg area poses a much bigger risk: exceeding the ITT (turbine temperatures) limit. Only a couple seconds over the ITT limit is enough to ruin your day and disastrously damage the turbine, with a massive $$$ repair cost. This risk is all but removed as the auto-
throttle advances the power smoothly and evenly and always keeps it below limits.
After takeoff you pull back the props to 1,600 rpm. This would normally require reducing power first to prevent an over-torque of the engine. This adds to the high workload for the pilot in a critical and busy phase of flight. You guessed it already: when the pilot reduces the prop rpm the auto-throttle pulls the power levers gently back, with all engine parameters remaining in the green.
With manual throttles, during the climb the engine ITT will rise due to the thinner air. The pilot must therefore constantly monitor the ITT and set a good safety buffer below the maximum to avoid any exceedances. The auto-throttle is ‘set and forget’. It gives you maximum power and once the engine ITT limit is reached, it pulls the power levers back to keep the ITT at the exact temperature. This is better than any pilot can do it. Having the maximum power available ensures a faster climb into thin and smooth air and enhances overall fuel economy.
‘you can switch off the system at any time’
Once established in the cruise, you can set power for a speed and the system will nail the ITT at the exact limit. Or, if you want to fly for maximum range, you must regularly adjust the power according to the reduced weight in flight as fuel is burned off. For example, the long-range cruise (LRC) table might give you a torque value of 57% for optimum range. However, it is easier said than done to set the power to that exact value manually. The auto-throttle makes it easy. You turn the control wheel in 1% increments to the desired value and it will set the torque with great precision. This also enhances the overall fuel efficiency. On the ferry flight to Lanseria I flew an unprecedented 1,800nm non-stop in 7:06 hours and had still 1:15 hours of fuel on board.
Another useful feature is the Vmc (minimum control speed) protection. If you lose one engine, the other engine tends to yaw the aircraft and only the pilot applying enough rudder allows you to keep it flying straight. Once the speed decreases, the available rudder force might not be strong enough to compensate and the aircraft rolls very abruptly and usually unrecoverably on its back. Many fatal accidents are attributed to this Vmc loss of control. YouTube shows this King Air 350 at Addison Airport in Texas making this mistake – https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=Urr-AxPUc3c . The auto-throttle detects it and reduces the power on the good engine to always ensure controllability of the aircraft.
Another useful feature is automatic pressurisation. In older King Airs you must set the cruise flight level on the controller before takeoff and then during descent to the elevation of the landing airport. This ensures that the cabin is at the correct differential pressure in cruise and that it is de-pressurised before landing. With auto-pressurisation it is all automatic: the system takes the elevation of the origin and destination airports from the flight plan in the Flight Management System (FMS) and it does its thing automatically. As an added benefit in the King Air 360, the cabin is structurally beefed-up, which allows a higher differential pressure. This gives approximately a 600ft lower cabin altitude which makes a big difference on long flights. It is also a big advantage for medevac flights when patients must be flown in a sea level cabin.
With all the automation, the King Air B360 is still very much a hands-on aircraft. It is very easy to fly and a great joy for any pilot and passenger.
As a ferry pilot I always get emotionally attached to the aircraft I fly for many days and for the long hours on a delivery flight. This time this attachment was even more pronounced. I handed over the aircraft at Lanseria with a lot of jealousy. To the owner of this beautiful King Air BE-360 I wish a lot of fun and always happy landings!
Follow Guido’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/ UCKIERSbtj6SrJChnKPVUgWg
Contact him through his website: https://www.guido-warnecke.com/
|Beechcraft King Air 360|
|Specifications & Performance|
|Max Ramp Weight:||15,100 lb|
|Height:||14 ft 4 in|
|Wing Span:||57 ft 11 in|
|Length:||46 ft 8 in|
|Cabin Height:||57 in|
|Cabin Width:||54 in|
|Cabin Length:||19 ft 6 In|
|Max T/O Weight:||15,000 Lb|
|Max Landing Weight:||15,000 Lb|
|Empty Weight:||9,955 Lb|
|Fuel Capacity:||3,611 lbs Lb|
|Payload Useful:||5,145 Lb|
|Payload W/Full Fuel:||1,534 Lb|
|Max Payload:||2,545 Lb|
|Avionics:||Pro Line Fusion|
|Propeller:||4 blade, auto-feather, reverse|
|Max Range:||1,806 nm|
|Service Ceiling:||35,000 ft|
|Takeoff over 50 ft:||3,300 ft|
|Landing over 50 ft:||2,692 ft|
|Stall Speed:||81 kcas|
|Rate of Climb:||2,700 fpm|
|Max Speed:||312 KTAS|