Beech Premier 1A

A composite cabin gives this light jet an important advantage: space to stand in the cabin. With speed and good (in relative terms) short field performance, Beech has a winner

During last year’s Reno Air Races I was invited to fly the Beech Premier 1A light jet. My assumption was that it would be targeted at well-to-do company chairmen. It wasn’t long before I came to see the Premier as the perfect go-to-the beach, family transport device.

I’ve flown in a modern business jet only one time, and that was in a previous employer’s Lear. I sat on the rear-most seat sometimes dedicated to other biologic functions. Biz-class jets have evolved a ton in the last few decades, with computer modelling and composites allowing faster, lighter, roomier aircraft greater payload, and more efficiency all at the same time. It used to be you got to pick only a few of those items, and gave up the rest. The Premier seems to deliver them all without compromise, reminding us once again that aviation is all about periodic rises of the technological bar.

The Premier is offered by the Beechcraft half of the “Hawker-Beechcraft” amalgamation, with Hawker specializing in the larger commercial aircraft and Beech the smaller. Beech has always strived to offer the best-in-class equipment.Product Manager Joe Grubiak and Public Relations Representative Nicole Alexander gave us a tour of the Premier, explaining that its extensive use of composites would not have been possible had it not been for the atypically radical Beech Starship exercise. Although that aircraft was not a commercial success, and ended up substantially over weight and under speed, it helped Beech to develop the methods used in the manufacture of the Premier fuselage. This structure is formed by computer-guided fibre placement machines, not hand lay-up, essentially spinning a digitally defined cocoon, providing strength and thickness where it is required, and lightness where it is not. Beech claims the Premier composite fuselage is 20% lighter and 70% stiffer than a comparable aluminium structure would be. The result is an aerodynamically refined exterior surrounding the roomiest and most luxurious cabin of all the light jets.

The fuselage is almost exactly circular, with the one piece wing structure passing under the passenger area. This allows an unobstructed walkway 5‘ 5” (1.65 meters) tall, and with no taper front to rear. I had felt a lack of head space sitting on the Lear’s loo, but the Premier’s aisle allowed me to pass from front to back with barely a stoop of my 6’ 2” frame.

As the organic fuselage gets its strength without metal stringers and structural bulkheads, there is a substantial amount of space left over for baggage, avionics, and easy service access. At the rear left was a large baggage area accessed by a swing-out door, and on the right a similar hatch exposed one of the systems bays for a quick and easy preflight.

The heated rear baggage area would easily accommodate numerous golf bags and/or skis (both usable on the same holiday visit to our local Lake Tahoe and surround area). Another baggage bay was found in front of the cockpit, with avionics taking up the remainder of the forward space.

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Composite construction is also used for the ailerons, flaps, and horizontal stabilizer, but the wing is a beautifully carved aluminium structure. I know the military and large commercial airliners increasingly use composite methods for their wings, but I have a personal preference for the main lifting structure to be easily inspected and repaired.

CADD/CAM manufacturing can very nearly duplicate the complex shapes previously limited to composites, and Beech has chosen the perfect mix of strength, weight, and efficiency in their material selections for the Premier 1a. There are six single-piece spars, and single piece upper and lower wing skins.

The ailerons are assisted in roll control by three spoilers on each wing that also provide lift dump and speed brake capability. Apart from a few small bays at the rear of the wing, it is completely filled by the 3,670 lbs of fuel that can be carried.

Climbing up the air-stair I could smell the new car wood, leather and polishing oil aroma that we associate with the upper tier of vehicles. The cabin demonstrated the challenge of being tastefully understated and impressively equipped at the same time.

As the 5’ 6” wide fuselage is so large, the six fully articulated cabin seats were able to be inset, somewhat preventing one’s head or feet from being cramped by the in-curving wall. Each has its own “secretary” that handily folds out, and individual air and temperature controls. The demonstration aircraft had the trim finished in a lovely dark wood, creating a feel somewhere between an aristocrat’s library and the office of his most recent divorce attorney.

The typical refreshment centre includes cold water, heated liquids, plus various storage areas for food, drinks, and ice. One can add an Airshow 410 real-time flight information display, a 10” viewing monitor and speaker, CD/DVD player, and headphones. Good for keeping the kids happy while transporting the tribe to Tenerife or Cabo. Plus, the dedicated WC in the back.

Pete Kennedy, the factory demonstration pilot, led me to the front. Climbing into the right seat required a minor hurdle, but was entirely roomy once in place. The Premier is one of a few business jets certificated for single pilot operation, and this has been made an increasingly sane option given the state of avionics installed. Our aircraft used the Collins ProLine 21 Integrated Flight Information System (IFIS), including EFIS, FMS, and autopilot, with full graphic presentation of real time charts giving weather, navigation, approach, ground operations, and geo-political boundaries as required.

The aircraft does much of the thinking for you, including an electronic checklist, all presented on two primary flight displays and one multi-function display. High reliability and protection from BAD THING HAPPENING (BTH) is ensured by dual AHRS and Air Data Computers, plus FSU, GPS, EGPWS, TCASII, and radar, as well as an on-board maintenance diagnostic computer. A 115V power outlet is provided for laptop operation in the cockpit.

The engines are Williams FJ44-2A’s, each with 2,300 lbs static thrust. Engine technology keeps nudging forward, and these engines offer the latest in high speed with low fuel consumption and highly predictable maintenance costs. A typical mission might be expected to consume 138 gallons per hour with a block speed of 387 knots. The Premier 1a can cruise at 451 knots burning 1,203 lbs/hr, with a long range economy option at 368 knots reducing the burn to 657 lbs/hr. Where will this get you? If you live in Wichita, Kansas, you can go non-stop anywhere in the US and most of Canada and Mexico. If you must suffer living in London, you can make it to all of Europe and the fringes of Africa, and Russia.

This is not a non-stop trans-Atlantic hauler, it is a fast and efficient transport to the places you need to get to for a day or holiday weekend. Bear in mind, we first saw the Premier 1a being flown by NASA astronaut Hoot Gibson pulling hi-G turns around the pylons at the Reno Air Races. Not the usual way to handle a business jet, and it raised my interest in it as an airplane.

Our flight was to include close formation photography over Lake Tahoe. The Beech marketing team delivered their aircraft to us at our staging airport, CXP in Carson City, Nevada where we briefed for the formation and flight testing. I admitted to having zero jet experience, but was assured the aircraft was well behaved, and I was to be closely monitored in any case. After a quick, but competent walk around, we boarded and got busy.

As noted, the compromises are very few in this aircraft, with impressive short field performance available in the same airplane capable of best-in-class speed. The performance charts reveal a wide range of optional configurations and loadings, but most missions would require only 3,000 to 4,000 feet of runway, and these distances provide your choice of accelerate and takeoff to 35’ AGL, or accelerate to V1, lose an engine, and stop. Wow.

After start up, I was allowed to taxi us out via the smallish CXP taxiways. No problem. This is not a large airplane, and the handling is intuitive. Due to taxiway reconstruction, we had to wait a while at mid-field before our turn, but once on the runway it was quick business to the end and turn around. Checks completed, we rolled. At this point we were much less than full fuel, and had only the two front seats filled. Wow again. It had far brisker acceleration than the high-performance aerobatic aircraft I’ve been used to flying.

In spite of warm temps and a field elevation of 4,700 MSL (about 1,500 metres), we were off well before mid-field, or about 3,000 feet, pulled up the gear, and quickly settled into a climb around 200 - 250 knots. We had calculated a balanced field requirement of 4,500 feet, but the soft purring of both Williams kept us from having to test the truth of the performance charts. Pete was monitoring my flight, but I didn’t feel the need for his intervention.

The controls, although not light, were immediately effective with gentle inputs. We quickly found our camera ship, a Beech T-34, and began a tailchase planned to result in joining over the lake. Although I prefer to fly my own formation missions, given my vast three minutes of experience with jet controls, we agreed that Pete would handle the close work over Lake Tahoe.

I was amazed at the lack of bother, including the large amounts of cross-control that were required for some of the shots. Yes, there is a rudder on a jet. It is, indeed, a very fine flying airplane. After the aeronautical cheesecake was completed, Pete handed back the controls and off we went to fly around the Nevada desert.

As a mundane, single-engine aviation hobbyist, it was a moving experience for me to see how the top 0.1% gets to travel. As might be expected, planning ahead becomes the challenge, as what is in the future becomes the present very quickly. We had to pay attention to stay below the 250 knot speed limit imposed below 10,000 feet, but jumped up for a moment to see how she accelerated and how the systems took care of the pilot.

Beech and Collins have done more than give lip service to “single pilot operation”. With seemingly telepathic intuition, the next required information was already on the screen when needed, frequencies found and accessed, and TCAS always looking out for conflicts. We were flying in an intensive glider area, many of whom are playing in the wave up to 50,000 feet, and who do not have transponders, so I preferred to keep my eyeballs outside rather than in. The Premier was stable and just kept doing what was last instructed while my thoughts and eyes were elsewhere.I didn’t assess climb and high altitude cruise behaviour, which could be to a maximum certified ceiling of 41,000 feet. The phase above 10,000 is largely relegated to an autopilot and FMS in any case. A look at the manual, however, told us that a climb from sea level to 41,000 at mid-weight would consume around 20 minutes while covering just over 100nm, and that the structure and systems would maintain an 8.4 psi differential resulting in an 8,000 foot cabin pressure at this altitude. A trip of 600 nautical miles that would require four hours and 40 gallons in my Mooney would be completed in roughly 1� hours in the Premier, sucking down around 1,700 – 1,800 pounds (250 – 270 US gallons) of Jet-A. Ah, but a trip of 1,000 miles, which would require seven-ish hours plus a time consuming fuel-stop in the old M20, could have us on the beach in 2:30 – 2:45 in the Premier, burning less than 2,200 pounds of Jet-A (approximately 325 gallons).

I’m happiest flying with a maximum of one passenger plus a child in the Mooney, so the direct fuel cost for me and family would be roughly $120 per person for the 1,000 mile trip, an entire day, and leave us thoroughly wiped by the time we checked into the hotel.

The Premier’s fuel cost for a family of 4 plus pilot would be around $300 per person, and get you to the resort in time for a midmorning brunch, a welcoming mojito, and frisky kiddies in the surf. I have flown an 80- knot Stampe clear across the US. It took nine days and the scenery was sometimes thrilling and sometimes threatening. The Premier is what you want if getting there is the point. Use a Stampe or Mooney if the experiences along the way are the goal.

We turned the nose back toward the airport and entered the pattern for some landings. Pete told me to maintain 125 knots in the pattern, which wasn’t difficult in spite of the sense of financial weight in my hands. The full-flap stall speed is between 81 and 95 knots, depending upon the weight, with Vapp (safest approach speed for all considerations) ranging between 113 and 128, and Vref (1.23 x Vsro) between 104 and 117.

I found the controls to be soft, the trim readily at hand and suitably paced, and visibility as good as it gets. My chaperone handled the incidental systems, but I never felt overwhelmed and would expect single pilot operation to present an acceptable workload.

I had an urge to raise the nose slightly over the hedge, but I think Pete surreptitiously inhibited this, ensuring that we “arrived” rather than the more typical flare and soft touchdown. This demonstrated the impressive shock absorbing capability of the landing gear, and was the technique one would use to achieve the shortest landing distance. We elected instead to touch and go. Full throttle and we were off the ground in an instant. I brought the gear up, and found myself as we had before, climbing out at a bit over 200 knots and several thousand feet per minute of vertical speed. OK, I was busy, so I didn’t look at the VSI so much as the mountains off the end of the runway growing rapidly closer.

The second landing was to a full stop, but using the same max performance technique and aggressive braking brought us to a crawl in around 2,500 feet. We had to add some power to taxi to the midfield turnoff. It costs around $6m to fly in this style, depending upon your choice of options. Make sure the pre-nup gives her cash so you can keep the Beech.