Skyhawk vs Cherokee, Centurion vs Saratoga, Cub vs Champ, Citation vs BeechJet…there’s much passionate debate in the aviation world about which airplane type is best compared to its closest competitor for each class of airplane. One of the greatest debates amongst type clubs exists between pilots of the King Air and the Mitsubishi MU2. Since I’m qualified and current in both, I feel it is only appropriate for me to leap into the fray and post my own opinions. So, with hope that I don’t step on too many toes in either camp, here goes nothing…
Just looking at sheer numbers, the King Air wins the battle hands-down. For every one MU2 in the world there are 10+ King Air’s. Clearly Beechcraft did something right. For purposes of this discussion, I shall compare the Super King Air 200 and the MU2 Marquise. Let me also emphasize…I don’t have a dog in the hunt! I don’t sell MU2’s, King Air’s, or any other airplane so this report is about as unbiased as exists.
Cabin size: Slight advantage for the MU2. Both airplanes boast a large cabin that is quite comfortable. Comparatively, there is little difference. The King Air cabin is oval in shape, and probably has slightly more headroom, but the MU2 fits tall people easily. The MU2 has sliding window shades that do not work well at all, and the King Air has circular shades that usually work well. The King Air sits taller than the MU2, and this makes it slightly more difficult to load. The door on a King Air is heavy and tough to close. Loading luggage is much easier in an MU2 because it sits lower to the ground. For all practical purposes, the two cabins are different, but not different enough to tip the scales heavily making one better than the other.
Cockpit comfort: Big advantage for the King Air. The King Air cockpit is large and comfortable. Especially in the newer versions, the seats tilt back as well as move up/down and forward/back. There are two small “triangle windows” in the King Air that allow for really good cross-ventilation on the ground on those hot days when the sun bakes the cockpit. The gaspers for the climate control are large and work well. The entire cockpit is apportioned well for single-pilot operations.
The MU2 cockpit has less headroom than the King Air and the seat does not go back far making it cramped for long-legged pilots. There is a seat-track extension available for about $2k, but the bulkhead behind the pilot must be removed, and this may or may not be desirable or even possible on some airframes. The seat does not tilt back on any MU2. I’m 6’3” and am on the very edge of comfort and fit in the MU2. The gaspers on the MU2 are small, there is no freon air conditioning, and none of the windows open. So, on a hot day the MU2 can be sweltering until climbing through 10,000ft or so.
Weight and Balance: Neutral advantage for either airframe. Simply put, both airplanes can carry a boatload of people and stuff. I’m amazed with both at the load carrying capability.
Panel space: Moderate advantage for the King Air. Both airframes have a good amount of panel real estate available, but the King Air has slightly more. Additionally, the lower-left portions of the panel are available for avionics on the MU2, but the fuselage narrows quickly and avionics with deeper installations cannot be used. The center avionics section of the MU2 will allow a Garmin 750, but a smaller radar screen must be used. Nicer avionics can be added to the MU2, but it will require a shop with some dexterity, experience, and knowledge.
Environmental system: Huge advantage for the King Air. Simply put, the MU2 has a horrible air conditioning system. The gaspers are small, the flow poor, and there is no freon. On the contrary, the King Air has good flow, solid freon air, and large gaspers. The King Air wins in this category hands-down. On a side-note, the 90/100 series King Air’s have environmental systems that can be operated on the ground without the engines running. The 200 series King Air’s require an engine to be operated for the air conditioner to work.
Ground handling: Mild advantage to the King Air. The MU2 has a double nose wheel. This simple fact ensures that a “normal” tow bar that is found at every airport in the world will not work on the MU2. However, there is a tow bar that fits nicely in the back of the baggage compartment of the MU2, and it goes with the airplane everywhere the airplane goes. Both airplanes can be moved by a golf cart that is fully charged. One advantage for the MU2 is the shorter wingspan and shorter tail height. The MU2 will fit into smaller hangars. This is a huge advantage at my airport because I was able to buy a much smaller hangar for the MU2, and a hangar to fit the King Air I manage had to be built…one was not available that was big enough.
Engine start and run-up: Huge advantage to the King Air. The MU2 has direct-drive Garrett engines, and they take a long time to start compared to the Pratt’s that are on the King Air. Additionally, they require a lot of battery energy to starts. This translates into long starts with longer periods of time between starts to allow the generator on the operating engine to replenish the batteries to start the second engine. When you combine the longer starts with the poor cabin cooling of the MU2, the result is much sweat on a hot day. The King Air, with its free turbine Pratt and Whitney engines, starts in 20% of the time required to start an MU2.
Engine Considerations: Slight advantage to the King Air. MU2’s have Garrett engines and King Air’s have Pratt and Whitney engines (except for the B100, which I’ll discuss shortly). With full knowledge that this discussion is about as divisive as Coke vs. Pepsi, Cowboys vs. Packers, or Republican vs. Democrat…and there’s no way to change someone fully committed to one side or the other…there are some serious differences between the two engines. Garrett engines are more efficient, burn less fuel, have a much longer TBO, and are cheaper to operate. P&W Engines are easier to start, much quieter on the ground, easier to have maintenance performed, easier to operate, operate better at high altitudes, and have better support from their respective manufacturer. I think both engines are fine. All things being equal, as an operator I like the P&W and I’d like the Garrett better if I were paying the bills. Incidentally, I also fly a King Air B100 which has the same Garrett engine as the MU2. The B100 will outpace the King Air A100 (with P&W engines) by 30+ knots for the same fuel burn. Being completely fair, the MU2 will outpace the B100 by another 25 knots. More on the B100 later in this writing.
Noise: Advantage King Air. Bar none, the MU2 is the loudest airplane on the planet when on the ground! The exhaust pipes on the MU2 are mere inches in length and when it is operating on the ramp it will blow your brains out with noise! It is always interesting to see people mill around the airplane as I start, but quickly head for shelter after I start up. It is far too loud to hang around while operating on the ground. In flight, it is a different story. Both the MU2 and the King Air are moderately noisy airplanes in flight. I have an intercom for the folks in the back of the airplane and we all wear Bose QC-15 headsets (read this post about this super headset combination). So, noise while flying is really not something that is a big deal. If headsets are not worn in either airplane the noise levels will allow for some conversation, but not at length and not easily. I highly recommend the QC-15 headsets for either.
Appearance: Advantage MU2. Some will argue that the MU2 is not a good looking airplane, but I get more interesting remarks from people about the MU2 than just about any other airplane I fly. While the boring King Air can be found on any ramp on any airport, the MU2 is a topic of discussion anywhere I go. I think it looks really cool, but I also like red-heads, 68 Chevy Trucks, and Wilga’s. So, even if you think the MU2 is ugly, you’ll still get lots of comments and discussions from folks at the airport, at least you will before you start the engines…then everyone will head for the hills!
Climb capability: Advantage King Air. Both airplanes will climb well (1,500-2,000fpm) through 15,000ft, but the Garrett-powered MU2 will begin to suffer rate of climb soon thereafter whereas the King Air 200 can go to FL270 every time it flies at full gross weight. The MU2 doesn’t stand a chance of getting that high unless it is lightly loaded. The MU2 will effectively be operated routinely at FL200-FL230 daily, but you’ll rarely go higher due to climb limitations. On long international ferry flights over the North Atlantic, I’ve flown the King Air 200 at FL320 and it had no troubles.
Cruise speed: Slight advantage MU2. OK, alright, I know I’m going to hear some grumbling from the MU2 crowd on this one because the MU2 is reported as being so much faster than the King Air 200. Well, it is faster, but usually when people discuss the speed of the MU2, they use numbers from the shorter Solitaire, which cruises regularly at 300KTAS. I keep incredibly accurate records on the performance of the airplanes I fly, and the average TAS for the MU2 in cruise (over 450 hours of flight time in all seasons) is 285KTAS. In the winter I can get 300KTAS and in the summer I get about 270KTAS. The big issue in the MU2 is the fact that the Garrett engines lack the power at high altitude to develop fast cruise speeds continually. The fastest speeds for the MU2 are in the upper teens, and I don’t fly there often due to the higher fuel burns. Up at FL200 to FL240, the MU2 develops less speed. The MU2‘s speed is closely hinged to gross weight. Just like the faster jets, the cruise of the MU2 is faster later in a long flight as the weight of the fuel is burned off. The King Air will cruise at 270KTAS +/-5 knots and will do so at a higher altitude, seemingly regardless of gross weight.
On a block to block flight, the MU2 will beat a King Air every time because it does cruise a little faster, but it will also win the race because it climbs at a higher IAS. The MU2 climbs at 170KIAS (+/-10 kts) and the King Air 200 climbs at 130-150KIAS depending upon altitude. So, they’ll both get to FL200 at about the same time on a flight, but the MU2 will be many miles ahead of the King Air when it is time to level off. If you are really just looking for the fastest turboprop and you don’t care about cabin space, a Solitaire is probably something to consider. It will climb faster than a Marquise and cruise faster than a Marquise, and will blow a King Air out of the race, for sure. This writing contrasts the Marquise with the King Air 200, and the Marquise is faster, but not overwhelmingly so.
Flight Characteristics: Huge advantage King Air. The flying characteristics of the MU2 must be weighed heavily by a potential buyer. Bottom line…the MU2 can be learned to fly safely, but it is completely different from any other corporate airplane. Do not think the transition will be easy. I’ve got lots of flight time in over 60 different types of airplanes including some really, really strange machines that are tough to fly (including UH-60’s, AH-64’s, Wilga’s, and lots of tailwheel airplanes), and the MU2 tops the list of airplanes that took a long time for me to become comfortable. At the end of MU2 flight training I was still uncomfortable in many regimes of flight, and self-induced high personal limitations until my experience grew. When I passed the 100-hour mark in MU2’s, I began to feel comfortable in most every situation. When I passed 250 hours, I’d take it anywhere in the world in some of the most demanding of situations. Do not romantically think you will get out of MU2 training and be “good to go” in any situation. This airplane takes time to make friends, but once the friendship is made, it is a great friendship. Full-span flaps, spoilers, sloppy control feel, quirky aileron trim, narrow gear, fast speeds, high wing loading, low-to-the-ground sitting height, stiff gear, and incredibly responsive Garrett engines make this airplane a handful for the uninitiated, but also give it great performance.
I think the MU2 is the absolute wrong airplane for an owner (or flight department) that has multiple pilots because one of the pilots is bound to be weak and will not be able to perform. The MU2 pilot MUST be a strong aviator. If you think you might only fly 100 hours per year or less, the MU2 is probably not your airplane. If you are an elderly pilot with low total experience and you’ve noticed your skills and reaction times dwindling, don’t buy an MU2. If you cannot commit to solid training and good study time to become very familiar, do not buy an MU2. If you rotate out pilots every couple of years as they move on to bigger and better opportunities, use “fill-in” pilots for trips when your “primary pilot” is on vacation, or are a demanding owner that treats pilots poorly (and pays them poorly) and “can’t keep a good pilot around”, don’t buy an MU2. Don’t buy an MU2 if you live “out in the boondocks” and have trouble attracting good pilots to your area. This airplane is not for rookies. Get the picture? I hope I’m not unclear…it is not for rookies! Any airplane requires a good pilot to be safe…given…but the MU2 requires a pilot that actually wants to be good. The MU2 has humbled me many times, but I’ve also landed at minimums in a 17 kt crosswind on an unfamiliar runway. In the hands of a caring, well-trained pilot, it’ll do exactly what you tell it to do. If you don’t understand it, aren’t familiar, or are simply aloof, it’ll eat your lunch.
Now, after that long diatribe against the MU2, there is a place for the MU2 in the aviation world, I think the MU2 is a great airplane for the owner who has a trusted professional pilot and plans to keep that professional pilot for a long time. It is also a great airplane for the owner-pilot who loves aviation, is devoted time to fly more than 100 hours per year, and takes personal pride in flying “by the numbers”. If you live in a location where you can attract good pilot candidates, are driven by good efficiencies, and want a super airplane that will flat-out perform, the MU2 is an excellent choice!
The King Air 200 has some of the best control harmony of all the airplanes I’ve flown. It is stable, easy to fly, climbs well, and has no “quirks”. It is easy to fly. Now, don’t get me wrong…the King Air will kill if flown by a bafoon, but it is far more tolerant of inexperience and ineptness.
Operating costs: Advantage MU2. Anything with two Garrett engines will be cheaper to operate than anything with two P&W’s. I know I just pissed off a lot of P&W lovers out there, but it is true. The Garrett has a 5,000 hour TBO and costs $250k to overhaul. The P&W has a 3,600 hour (or even 3,000 hour!) TBO and costs $350k to overhaul. It is just that simple. A Hot Section Inspection (HSI) on either engine will run about $30-60k depending upon how hard the pilot flew the airplane, so the HSI is a wash. Plus, the Garrett-powered airplanes go faster, so they effectively fly fewer hours for a given trip. Nuff said, right? Nope, there’s more…
The MU2’s maintenance program is based upon an hourly schedule. By this, I mean that there’s an inspection required every 100/200/500/600/1200/1800/2400/11,500/12,500/13,500 hours. This sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s nothing like the King Air. The MU2 has a few “calendar” inspections, but very few. The “maintenance run sheet” for an MU2 is about 2 pages long. The “maintenance run sheet” for a King Air is about 5 pages long. Why? The King Air has a bunch of hourly inspections and also a bunch of calendar inspections. The King Air has a “Gear Inspection” every 6 years ($35k), “wing bolt replacements” ($12k), and a whole host of life-limited parts requiring replacement, enough to make a frugal owner want to choke.
Another consideration is fuel-burn. In cruise the MU2 will burn about 75 gallons per hour, more in the first hour (for climb) and then less once cruise is achieved. Since the altitudes an MU2 will fly is fairly narrow (18,000-24,000ft), the fuel burn is predicable. The King Air will burn about 100 gallons per hour on average on the same trip.
Make no mistake about it…the MU2 is a cheaper airplane to operate than a King Air. Neither is cheap, but the MU2 does win in this category.
Purchase price: Advantage MU2 Go to controller.com and compare the two. An MU2 will cost about $400k less than a comparably equipped King Air with similar AFTT and engine life that about the same.
Manufacturer support: Neutral advantage. The MU2 support is the best in the industry. MHI wins the award year after year, and that is a really good thing. The problem is that the Garrett Engine (owned by Honeywell) completely sucks when it comes to owner support. They will not answer the phone regularly, will not return voicemails promptly (or at all), and love to only do business by habitually tardy emails. So, the MU2 has good support, but the engine that is on the wing gets crappy support. The King Air has good (but not great) support for both the airframe and the engine. To me, neither has a clear advantage. Mitsubishi quit making airplanes in the early 80’s and they still support the airplane phenomenally. I’ll just underscore the fact that support from the manufacturer is absolutely critical. My hope is that both manufacturers will support both airframes for a long time…I think both will. If I had to give a slight edge to either manufacturer, I’d probably give it Beechcraft, but only because brand new King Air’s are currently rolling off the production line in Wichita.
Resale value: Neutral advantage. There are passionate people in the world the will buy either airframe. Usually the King Air buyer will have an eye for “not getting burned” and wants a “market leader”. The MU2 purchaser is someone who can do math, create a spreadsheet, and has an eye for efficiency. When it comes to resale, you’ll find a willing buyer if you have a nice airplane with no skeletons that is appropriately priced.
King Air B100: Yup…I fly one of these too. And…it is one of my favorite airplanes. It has all the benefits of a King Air airframe with the efficiencies of a Garrett. I fly a -10 powered airframe and it’ll do 260KTAS all day long, has great range, and will carry a huge load. The maintenance run sheet is still long and expensive to comply with, but it is a still a King Air and that is a good thing. My biggest complaint against it is the 4.6 PSI Max Diff pressurization. It has the same cabin as a 200, so you’d think it’d be the same, but it’s not. So, when flying at FL250, the cabin will be at 10,000 cabin pressure and the cabin pressure light will be on (most likely). So, I routinely fly around in the low 20’s in the B100, and it flies just fine there. The B100 is one of my favorite airplanes, and for the owner that is willing to put aside any bias towards a Pratt, it might just be the airplane to consider.
Any questions? Give me a holler…but please, don’t call just to complain! I really don’t have a dog in this hunt. I write this because this is information that I could not find as I considered airplanes to purchase. So, I do hope it helps someone out there!