The Rarest King Air
Produced for only seven years in the early ’80s, Beech’s “Little” King Air F90 may have been a bit too good
Zagami bought his King Air specifically for its outstanding performance and adaptability to a variety of missions. The CEO’s airplane is configured for eight seats plus a blue room or 10 seats total, but the executive says he rarely has the need to carry that many folks. “The F90 is a very flexible airplane with more talents than I’ll ever use,” Zagami laughs. “Most of my flying consists of relatively short hops, 100 to 200 miles, and the F90 is perfect for those trips. I do let the airplane stretch its legs a few times a year, however. I fly it to the Kentucky Derby every year and also to Florida; it’s a good long-distance traveling machine.
“From my point of view, the F90 is a tractable airplane, easily capable of lifting six people plus baggage plus 2,400 pounds of fuel if I need to fly that mission. The big PT6A turboprop engines make the F90 about as safe and bulletproof as an airplane can be. It’s easily adaptable to an up-and-down, out-and-back mission, comfortable for any passenger load and a very quick mode of travel.”
In fact, in a perverse sense, the F90’s very speed and efficiency may have helped doom it to a short production run. The larger and more powerful King Air 200 flew only about 15 knots quicker, though it could carry five more people at much higher altitudes. It’s significant to note that the F90 was produced for only eight years before being discontinued, possibly to avoid stealing sales from its larger, more expensive stablemate.
Like the 200, the F90 was labeled a Super King Air and granted roughly the same 1,200 to 1,500 nm maximum range. The F90 was 1,500 pounds lighter, however, and only 100 shp less enthusiastic per side, so its high speed was no great surprise. The F90 also incorporated a few other improvements. One was an increased pressurization differential from 4.6 to 5 psi, enough to provide a sea-level cabin at 11,000 feet and a 10,000-foot cabin at 26,500 feet. Considering that the F90’s service ceiling is only slightly above 29,000 feet, there’s little incentive for owners to certify the airplane for RVSM operation (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum starts at 29,000 feet), and perhaps appropriately, Zagami reports that his King Air does its best work at heights between FL220 and FL250.
“The best performance comes at about FL230,” Zagami explains, “and the airplane climbs so well—2,000 to 2,200 fpm—I’ll file for cruise levels in the low 20s on practically every flight, no matter how short the leg. Even on a 100 nm hop, I can usually be level at cruise within 10 minutes of takeoff, cruise for 10 minutes and be on the ground in another 10 minutes.”
That’s partially because Zagami’s particular King Air is faster and more efficient than the stock airplane. It incorporates a ram-air recovery system and an exhaust-stack drag-reduction program developed by American Aviation Inc. (www.americanaviationinc.com) of Hayden Lake, Idaho. American uses more efficient cowling and induction design to improve airflow at high altitudes.