Pilot Journal
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hawker Beechcraft Premier 1A: Little Big Jet

With six-passenger cabin seating, 450-knot cruise and fighter-like climb performance, the Premier 1A is the largest airplane in the light jet class

Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line 21 integrated avionics suite consists of three 8x10-inch LCDs that present critical information while reducing pilot workload. All inputs are through a keyboard, and the setup includes Collins’ Integrated Flight Information System, which offers XM satellite graphical weather, map overlay and more.
We met the Beech team at Santa Monica Airport and walked out to the airplane after a briefing on the why and wherefore of the Premier 1A. From the moment you see it, the Beech Model 390 is one of those designs that you somehow know you’re going to love. Even parked on the ramp, it has a different look than most other business jets: visibly taller and wider with an elegant wing sweep and an area-rule fuselage concaved at the aft engine station.

The airstair door folds down with one hand, opening into the kind of cabin you might expect of a Beech turbine product. The interior is impeccably furnished—a typical comment in several of the owner interviews.

With 12,500 pounds to lift and 4,600 pounds of thrust to do it, the 1A has to gather itself for takeoff, but once the power kicks in, there’s no question you’re leaving. We hopped out to the former George Air Force Base, now known as Southern California Logistics Airport, in Victorville, Calif., for a series of touch-and-gos and some climb/cruise checks.

To no one’s surprise, the Premier 1A did exactly what it was supposed to, climbing as if something bigger was chasing it and scoring an easy 445 knots at max cruise and FL330. Despite its speed up high, the airplane proved almost ridiculously easy to fly in the pattern, always the acid test for jets, especially those certified for single-pilot operation. Demo pilot Peter Kennedy kept me honest during the approaches, using a modest 120 knots down short final. The Premier proved friendly in all regimes.

Three years ago, when I went back to Wichita to fly the Cessna Mustang, I was impressed with how simple the airplane was to operate. The Premier was similarly easy to handle, a tribute to uncomplicated design that’s specifically targeted at single-pilot certification. Kennedy even allowed me to fly the Premier 1A into the stick shaker, and the airplane manifested no unusual characteristics at super-low airspeed.

In fact, the Premier’s docile manners and high performance may be the keys to its attraction. By the time you read this, there will be probably 270 of the type flying. At $6.4 million per copy, that represents a significant endorsement by some knowledgeable pilots who aren’t afraid to tell the world they fly business jets.

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