Nearly 40 years ago and more than 650 miles apart, two entirely separate relationships began.
Randy Hooper had been flying since he was a teenager, quickly gathering new ratings while instructing and attending MTSU in Murfreesboro. As a chief pilot, Hooper was operating in Nashville, TN in the same hangar as Ingram Industries. Hooper’s reputation preceded him and quickly, a relationship formed, and Hooper was the company’s newest employee. This was all while he was in his early 20’s.
Meanwhile, in Wichita, KS, Jo Kimbell was starting her career at BEECHCRAFT AIRCRAFT in the design department, which at the time was part of Engineering. Like Hooper, she was learning FAA requirements and regulations, while constantly pushing the status quo and asking swarms of questions.
Their worlds would soon collide in the BEECHCRAFT KING AIR.
The King Air turboprop shattered the landscape of rugged, versatile aircraft in general aviation. Incredible interest and increased demand propelled Beechcraft’s design into the future, rendering a family of turboprops, including the BEECHCRAFT KING AIR 350 aircraft. The turboprop touted as a more capable and comfortable King Air began occupying airspace 30 years ago, and Kimbell knew it would have a promising future.
“I wanted an interior which had universal appeal as I was sure it would be photographed by the media and then eventually used for brochures,” Jo Kimbell said, who is now a Senior Specialist in Interior Design for Textron Aviation. “I specified the interior to withstand rigorous testing and not show wear.”
Though her confidence in the aircraft hasn’t faltered, she said she still wasn’t expecting the legacy that would come from the King Air 350.
“I don’t think any of us could have predicted the length of this aircraft’s popularity in history. If anyone admits to this, they should be buying lottery tickets,” Kimbell said. “What this says to me is the aircraft was designed and built when all ‘things’ were meant to last.”
“What this says to me is the aircraft was designed and built when all ‘things’ were meant to last.”
Randy Hooper said that’s exactly what he sees in Ingram Industries’ King Air 350i turboprop, which is the fourth King Air the company has owned.
“The worst thing for me is to have something that’s not working, and the King Air is just a reliable airplane,” he said. “We just don’t have mechanical problems.”
Ingram Industries takes delivery of a new King Air 350i turboprop in June of 2019.
Hooper said the company’s King Air 350i turboprop is perfect for on-demand trips that come with little warning. He said he appreciates how economical the aircraft has been for a company that has position in very diverse industries.
“If an opportunity pops up and we need to go look at something this afternoon, we get a phone call and we’re ready to go. We have the scheduling flexibility,” Hooper said. “We also have the destination flexibility. We don't have to go 30 miles from the spot that they want to visit. We just fly directly into the area.”
Hooper said it was the reputation and reliability that sold him on the family of aircraft.
“Simply, it’s a proven design. It was engineered for safety, reliability and economical transportation,” he said.
“Simply, it’s a proven design. It was engineered for safety, reliability and economical transportation.”
That design is something Kimbell says she’s especially proud of decades later, considering the technological limitations of the past. Starting out with a drafting table, T square and angle for line drawings, she never imagined she’d now be working with virtual visualization. She can now wear a special set of glasses and walk through the interior of the aircraft and see every angle of every component.
“We have come a long way with technology. New products, light weight technology in the build process, the need to be electronically connected at all times and much cleaner lines. We have taken many cues from the high-end automotive sector of transportation,” Kimbell said.
“It’s amazing where we started and where we are today,” she added and it’s the customers that emphasize that point at every delivery.
“All deliveries are so special,” Kimbell said, “To see the look on the customer’s face when they see their aircraft for the first time is magical. The anticipation of several months wait is finally over. I have had customers actually jump for joy, weep, smile and stand with stunned expressions. Hugs of joy and thank-you’s follow and to say, ‘this is exactly what I wanted’ is a feeling of accomplishment and pride. It is easy for me to picture the final product, but it is not for most customers. The physical sight of their new aircraft is a very special moment.”
Kimbell said she looks forward to more of those moments in the future with the unmatched name in aviation.
“The King Air has a very special place in my heart,” Kimbell said. “They are like one of my children. I have to realize I have had a very special career not many people get to experience and sometimes I take it for granted. But I still love getting up and coming to work every day.”
For Hooper, that passion holds true to this day as well, saying he’s pleased with every King Air purchase he’s made. He said working with the Textron Aviation team has been “the best” as employees “take care of everything.”
“Support is everything,” he said.
KING AIR 300/350 MILESTONES
1990 – B300 introduced with stretched fuselage and winglets, Maximum Take Off Weight 15,000 lb. Marketed as the King Air 350.
1990 – B300C first cargo door variant offered.
1993 – Take Off Field Length Performance Improvements: Redesigned rudder boost system and improved Vmcg reduced field length required for take-off.
1995 – Outboard main wing spar: infinite life limit introduced.
1996 – Elevator pitch trim actuator improvements: refined the movement of the actuator for better control.
1998 – Active noise canceling made standard on B300.
2001 – Raisbeck dual aft strakes standard: limitation for yaw damp inoperative increased to 17,000 ft.
2004 –Collins Pro Line 21 avionics package: phase 1 of Pro Line 21.
2006 – Improved environmental control system: installed system for greater airflow.
2006 – Added wing lockers standard.
2007 – King Air 350ER model was introduced including extended range tanks with a Maximum Take Off Weight of 16,500 lb.
2007 – Integrated Flight Information System Pro Line 21: Added electronic charts and graphical weather capability.
2009 – King Air 350i introduced including Beechcraft Serenity System passive noise cancellation and isolation technology and a restyled interior featuring one-piece side panels.
2011 – WAAS LPV: Wide Area Augmentation System with localizer performance with vertical guidance allows for greater accuracy of GPS signals. This also provides precision approach capability using GPS. Opens many smaller airports that were not equipped with ILS approaches.
2016 – Collins Pro Line Fusion introduced along with electronically dimmable windows. Venue Cabin Management System replaced by introduction of standard Wi-Fi for device-centric environment.
2016 – Maintenance intervals were improved from 2 years to 4 years, requiring (4) 200-hour inspections in a 4-year period with no annual inspection requirement.
2018 - Fusion upgrade includes standard integrated Terrain Awareness and Warning System (iTAWS) and multi-scan weather radar.