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Mon, Nov 03, 2003

The First King Air: It's Baaack

Restoration Of First King Air Underway

At 40 years old, she honestly needed a little work. But then, she's been busy. Exactly 40 years after she was created, the very first King Air off the Beechcraft assembly line in Wichita (KS) is about to be in the spotlight again. So she's getting a make-over, a fresh face and avionics to die for.

The Wichita Eagle reports the first-ever King Air is being restored and will make a round-the-world flight early next year. The King Air rolled off the assembly line October 30th, 1963. It was certified and went into service in January, 1964 as Olive Ann Beech's personal transport. "That plane changed the face of aviation," said Alex Major, an entrepreneur who plans to spend the next year overseeing the restoration and flight of the first King Air, which rolled off the Beech production line on Oct. 30, 1963.

"It's probably the most important plane in the history of the company," said entrepreneur John Major, who's overseeing the King Air's restoration. "This airplane made that company what it is today."

As testimony to that last statement, the King Air is still in production 40 years later. Sure, things have changed, but the twin turboprop is, at its heart, just what it used to be. "It's considered the SUV of the sky in that it's rugged, it's extremely reliable, it can fly into unimproved air fields, it's highly dependable," said Raytheon spokesman Tim Travis. "You can fill it full of gas, full of people and full of luggage and know you can complete your mission.... It's just been a workhorse since it was introduced."

It was never an economy model. When it was introduced, the King Air cost about $300,000. Now, a top-of-the-line King Air now costs a whopping $5.8 million. The first King Air featured a baby-blue interior (decorated and signed by Ms. Beech herself). It's current owners, Major and New York doctor Fred Pasternack, bought it in 1985. It's now been moved from its hangar in Salina (KS) to a site in Mississippi, where it's now undergoing extensive renovation and updating. That process is expected to last about six months. Afterward, Major and Pasternack will take it on a 30,000 mile round-the-world tour before they hope to donate the King Air to the Smithsonian.

It's slated to be a celebrity-driven event. Broken into 30 segments of 1,000 miles each, Major and Pasternack hope to have well-known names in the left seat for each part of the trip. Already, actor Morgan Freeman has signed on. The owners hope that other high profile pilots will join in as the trip gets closer. They might include well-known aviation enthusiasts John Travolta and Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise and Kurt Russell.

FMI: www.raytheonaircraft.com

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