G1000 King Air Retrofit

Avionics upgrades breathe new life into well-aged airframes

Most tried and true airplanes have any number of aftermarket modifications and upgrades available and the Beechcraft King Air is one of them. The first airplane in its class, the King Air line of aircraft has been in continuous production since the early 1960s beginning with the Model 90 and 100 series.

Later the larger siblings came along, the 200 and 300 series, which were originally marketed as the Super King Air family, and this line has been in continuous production since 1974. In 1996 the distinction “Super” was dropped by Beechcraft, although many are still known to use the name Super to differentiate them from the smaller airframes.

Some of the typical upgrades and modifications have been engine and propeller upgrades, cargo conversions with a larger rear door, wing spar modifications, larger baggage compartment in the nose section and engine nacelle compartments, and many more including of course avionics upgrades.

The Garmin G1000 Suite

When it comes to the flight deck one can argue a strong case that perhaps the ultimate King Air upgrade so far may be the Garmin G1000 retrofit. The G1000 suite integrates all primary flight, navigation, weather, terrain, traffic, radio frequency, and engine and fuel data readouts on large-format, high-definition liquid crystal displays (LCD).

The cockpit layout features a 15-inch multi-function display (MFD) in the center, and 10.4-inch primary flight displays (PFDs) at the pilot and copilot positions. The G1000 system for the King Air also includes the GFC 700, a three-axis, fully digital, dual-channel, fail passive Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) capable of using all data available to G1000.

Another offering is the Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP), an option for new King Air 200, 300, and 350 series retrofits. The ESP is designed to provide another layer of protection when the pilot is hand flying the aircraft by applying a gentle corrective force to the yoke when it detects excessive pitch and roll. And there’s more. Because the G1000 integrates so many components into one system, depending on the model, most airplanes can see a weight savings of at least 200 pounds, 65 of which relates to the wiring harness alone. Garmin holds the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the G1000 upgrade to the King Air C90B, 200, B200, 300, and 350 models.

The Elliott Aviation install

To understand more of the installation, I visited Elliott Aviation in Moline, IL. Mark Wilken, director of avionics sales, describes the program. “We began the program in 2009 and today we accomplish two to three G1000 King Air upgrades per month and are currently celebrating accomplishment of 75 aircraft.”

He goes on to say that in order to understand why this program has been such a success you need to go back a couple decades.

Wilken says, “As we all know technology has driven dramatic changes in avionics. It seems like not long ago we had round-dial mechanical instruments. Then in the early 1980s the cathode ray tube (CRT) became a standard in cockpits and continued into the last decade. But what happens when your CRT eventually fails? Replacement costs are high. Some operators are known to have spent upwards of $20,000 per year for avionics maintenance and component replacement costs. At what point do owners and operators say enough.” He goes on to describe how the consumer electronics industry transitioned to LCDs and the CRT really became obsolete.

“In aviation the similar took place and obsolescence of certain electrical components drives upgrades. I believe this is when Garmin stepped into the scene,” Wilken says.

Jon Young, avionics lead technician, gave me a demonstration on the Elliott King Air G1000 simulator. Although I am a pilot, I’m not current on modern avionics systems and rapidly became overwhelmed by all the available functions. It was clear the system has the capability to do most anything. Young, who holds an Avionics Repairman Certificate and Private Pilot Certificate, demonstrates the G1000 capabilities to all pilots considering or upgrading King Airs. Young flies with the flight crews after the install to demonstrate and educate pilots on the system. Yes, that’s correct, the technician teaches the pilot.

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