Elliott Ready To Modify King Air 300/350 with G1000 Cockpit

 - April 5, 2012, 6:00 AM
Operators choose modern cockpits such as the G1000 not only for their improved functionality but also because finding parts for older aircraft is becoming increasingly difficult.

Beech King Air 300 and 350 owners and operators will soon be able to refurbish their airplanes’ instrument panels with a modern Garmin G1000 avionics suite. Garmin expects to receive the supplemental type certificate (STC) for the G1000 installation in the King Air 300 and 350 soon. G1000 upgrades are already available for the C90 and B200.

Elliott Aviation has done more than 40 C90 and B200 G1000 upgrades at its Moline, Ill. headquarters. “From the beginning of the G1000 retrofits in the King Air,” said Mark Wilken, director of avionics sales and product development, “I’ve seen a huge potential, and even in the great recession this product sold well.” The King Air 300/350 modification was a natural next step.

After certifying the King Air 200 G1000 package, Wilken explained, Garmin was looking for the next retrofit program. “At the time it had to be a Part 23 aircraft,” he said, “so we looked at some aircraft values, the current aircraft setup, and time after time the King Air 300/350 kept rising to the top.” Garmin needed both a King Air 300 and a 350 for the STC, so it purchased a 350. “We approached Garmin and said we’d like to help with this and we’ll provide a King Air 300 as part of the program,” Wilken said. Elliott Aviation technicians installed the G1000 system in the 300 last May, and the airplane spent the latter part of the STC program at Garmin’s Olathe, Kan., headquarters for flight testing alongside the King Air 350.

Garmin and Elliott worked out a pre-certification incentive for the 300/350 G1000 package and Elliott signed about 20 customers for the specially priced upgrade. “So we already have this backlog waiting for certification,” Wilken said.

The King Air 300/350 G1000 STC is a major upgrade and includes Garmin’s GFC 700 automatic flight control system, RVSM, dual 10-inch PFDs and single 15-inch MFD, Waas GPS, weather radar, VHF navcoms, electronic charts, XM WX and engine instruments and crew alerting system. Popular options include Garmin’s synthetic vision technology, electronic stability protection for the autopilot system and an XM Radio controller for the cabin.

Such a comprehensive upgrade normally would take more than two months, according to Wilken. “We knew up front it’s not realistic to ask a customer to have an airplane down for two-and-a-half months. We knew that we had to shorten this considerably.” Elliott began with the goal of four weeks’ downtime, but shaved it to three weeks and now includes a financial guarantee if the upgrade takes longer than promised.

To accomplish the upgrade, Elliott technicians remove every scrap of wiring, old brackets and all the old avionics, typically a cathode-ray tube (CRT) Rockwell Collins EFIS-85 system. “We don’t just leave a bunch of stuff behind the panel,” Wilken said. The upgrade lightens the airplane’s empty weight by between 200 and 400 pounds, all of which boosts the useful load of the King Air. The new wiring alone accounts for about 60 pounds of that difference. A completely new avionics wiring harness is part of the upgrade. “We fabricate all of our wiring harnesses in house,” he said. “We’re proud of everything that you don’t see. That’s where quality comes in.”

Another area that pilots and owners typically don’t see is the forward pressure bulkhead, which over the years might have acquired a few extra holes for various upgrades. Instead of patching the holes, Elliott sheet metal and structural technicians fabricate new bulkhead sections to replace the holey areas and then repaint the entire avionics bay. “When you take those avionics doors off and look behind the scenes, it’s hard to tell that airplane never came off the assembly line that way,” Wilken said. This attention to detail also helps keep maintenance costs down. “This avionics package most likely will be there for the remainder of the life of that airframe,” he added.

Wilken sees a large market for G1000 upgrades to the King Air fleet, with a few thousand King Air 200s and nearly one thousand 300/350s and about 600 C90s in the field. Operators are choosing modern cockpits such as Garmin’s G1000 not only for all the features, but also because parts are getting hard to find for older avionics systems, according to Wilken. “Parts obsolescence is becoming more of a driving factor as much as feature sets or FAA mandates. On all those airplanes with CRTs, those CRTs have a life limit–and when you run out of replacement parts to fix them, there’s going to be a decision made. Do you scrap the airplane? No, not over this. But it will drive a cockpit replacement of some type. And it’s coming faster than most people realize.”