I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the sale (and training) of a BE60T Royal Turbine, or “Royal Duke” (what we called it). The experience allowed me to gain significant flight time in the Royal Duke, so I thought it would be beneficial to give a “PIREP”.
The piston Duke was considered by many to be a great airplane plagued with terrible engines. I’ve never flown a piston Duke, but the chorus of complaints in the marketplace is the same…the piston engines were maintenance hogs, expensive, and unreliable. So, Rocket Engineering did what they do best…take a great airframe and mount a great engine (PT6) on the front. They were the first to install the PT6 on the PA46 airframe to create the Jetprop (which is a wildly successful STC with 305 conversions (to date) in the air), and the Royal Duke was a natural conversion candidate too.
Bottom line forward…I really like the Royal Duke! It has absolutely stunning performance and handles well. There’s a definite “niche” in the marketplace for a Royal Duke, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s my analysis…
Overall Performance: Stunning, spectacular, incredible…those are common adjectives to describe the Royal Duke. The excess power translates into performance that is much like any vehicle that has high power-to-weight ratio. It’ll accelerate rapidly, decelerate rapidly, and go fast in between. This is one of the best reasons to buy a Royal Duke!
Ground handling: The adjustable rudder pedals are a nice touch that really does make the Duke ergonomically better. Turns are easy and the turning radius is similar to a PA46, meaning that it turns nicely in a tight area. The steering is mostly “positive and smooth” and there is no propensity to dart away from the intended path. I found myself rarely using the brakes for steering in the Duke (and I use them fairly often in a PA46).
Takeoff and early Climb Performance: This is where the Duke really shines. Whenever I would takeoff in the Duke the people at my airport would stop and come see the airshow. The takeoff roll can be super-short…easily less than 1500′, and probably much less. Acceleration is brisk, even downright startling for the uninitiated. Rotation comes quickly and the climb rate increases quickly. At near gross-weight on a 85F day the Royal Duke will easily climb at 3500FPM and it’ll probably do much better than that if it is lighter or cooler. While the RATE of climb is impressive, the ANGLE of climb is even more impressive. From my 5000′ runway, I could easily start the takeoff roll at one end of the runway and be at 1600′ AGL when over the departure end of the runway. It is a fabulous short field airplane, for both takeoff and landing. The takeoff performance is so good that I migrated to departing with less-than-full power habitually, simply not needing the additional power. I would slowly advance the Power Lever to about 200 lb/torque below the redline and then finesse the additional power in the climb once things had settled down. This way the airplane accelerates less quickly and is much more controllable.
Climb: At max climb, the Royal Duke will climb well above 3000fpm, but I found myself climbing out at 2500fpm routinely. With the lesser climb rate I had a lesser pitch attitude and a higher airspeed (150-160 KIAS). This seemed to be the “sweet spot” for the climb in the Royal Duke.
Cruise: The Royal Duke will cruise at 290KTAS easily, and will do a little better than that when the temperature is ideal. The Janitrol Heater does a fine job of keeping the cabin warm, and you’ll use it regularly since the normal cruising altitude is “as high as possible”. The Duke’s cruise speed is fastest at higher altitudes, and there’s rarely a time when you’ll select any altitude other than “as high as possible”. The Jetprop is flown with the same mental paradigm. Cruise fuel flow is almost always 32-33 gallons per side (64-66 gallons/hour total). If a lower altitude is selected, the cruise power usually ends up being less, and it always ends up being very near 32-33 gallons/hour.
Descent: Much like the Jetprop, the Royal Duke can descend very rapidly with the power pulled back. So, the savvy pilot will stay at high altitude as long as possible and then throttle-chop for the airport. The airspeed will be near the barber pole for much of the descent. Conducting my own personal “test”, I once remained at 20,000MSL until I was 40 NM from the airport (JSO, on a nice clear day). I was easily able to descend so as to approach the runway without being uncomfortable. If the power is pulled back and the drag items deployed, the Royal Duke will descend super-fast.
Landings: The approach is easily flown, and configuring for landing just requires gear, flaps, and the “other items” on the checklist. I have a saying that I believe to be true about a PA46…”it’s an easy airplane to land safely, but a hard airplane to land smoothly every time”. The stiff gear in a PA46 will rarely garner “smooth landing awards”. Not so in the Duke…the Duke’s landing gear is much more forgiving and smooth landings are easily found.
Rugged: People that love Beechcraft products can testify that most Beech’s are rugged. None are the fastest, none are the fastest climbers, but all are solidly built airplanes. The Duke is no exception.
Appearances: The Royal Duke is stunningly beautiful on the ground or in the air. It has sleek lines and looks unbelievably fast. I’ve always thought a Duke was a cool looking airplane, and the Royal Duke is simply gorgeous. The example I flew was particularly pretty. One thing is for sure…you’ll turn heads on the tarmac…it seems everyone’s heard of a Royal Duke, but there’s not many that have seen one up close. It’ll clear out the FBO faster than any other production airplane I’ve flown.
Interior: The door opens differently than a PA46, but it is quite easy. Getting into the Duke requires no particular special mobility, and once inside the space available is nearly identical to the PA46 family. The space up front (in the cockpit) is similarly sized to the PA46. I’m 6’4” and I fit just fine. It’s a tad bit easier to get in the front of a Duke than a PA46 since the spar is slightly shorter in a Duke. Once in the seat, the Duke is quite comfortable. The seat moves down as the seat moves back, which I found to be really neat. Both from seats recline nicely. For a tall guy (like me) the seat goes fully back and fully down, and there’s plenty of room in a Duke. Plus, the rudder pedals are adjustable, making the Duke slightly better. I like the ergonomics of the rudder pedals on the Duke, as it’s much easier to keep your feet off the brakes in normal operation.
Baggage Space: The Royal Duke has about as much baggage room as a PA46, at least the PA46’s that have a nose baggage area (not a Meridian). But, the majority of the baggage area is found in the nose. With a HUGE forward area and a high weight limit, the natural place for everything is up front. That’s good because the baggage space inside the pressurized cabin is paltry compared to the PA46. I actually like this arrangement because the nose area provides easier access.
Noise level: I found the noise level to be comparable to a turbine PA46, which means it is quite low. Passengers can converse amongst themselves without a headset, but the pilot will definitely want a headset for communication.
And then there’s the drawbacks…not everything is ideal on the Royal Duke, but the non-shiny aspects of the Duke are not terrible…and there are only two that come to mind:
Max Cabin Differential: At 4.7 Max Diff, the Duke is lesser than the 5.5 Max Diff found in the PA46 fleet. This translates into a higher cabin altitude at higher cruising altitudes. For instance, when a Jetprop is flown at FL260, it’s cabin is going to be around 9,000FT…the Royal Duke will have a cabin altitude of about 10,300ft. Is this a HUGE deal? No…but, I sure wish that Beech would have made the Max Diff higher (in fact, I wish they had made it higher in many of the other Beech aircraft…especially the 100 series and 90 series). It’s a sold, robust system that will seldom if ever fail you, but the Max Diff is lower than desired.
Autopilot: I love the KFC-150 Autopilot (found in MANY PA46’s) and call it an “oldie, but goodie”. The KFC-200 (found in the Royal Duke) is also an “oldie but goodie”, but it has a few differences. Basically, the KFC-200 has the benefit of providing a “Go Around Switch” on the Power Lever (huge bonus) and the detriment of NOT having Vertical Speed (V/S) Mode. In just about every other way the two are flown the same. I fly the KFC-150 often in Pitch Attitude Mode in climb (I’ll bet 90% of PA46 pilots don’t even know their KFC-150 has a Pitch Attitude Mode), so it was not difficult for me to use Pitch Attitude Mode in the Royal Duke. But, for most newbies, it’ll take a few hours of flying to get comfortable. But…the Go-Around Mode is a HUGE improvement to the KFC-150.
Transitioning to the Royal Duke: If you have experience in a Jetprop, then the transition to a Royal Duke will be super-easy. Rocket Engineering’s approach to the cockpit-layout, engineering of the engine and components, and operational flow is nearly identical. And, this is a HUGE compliment! Both the Jetprop and the Royal Duke are easy-to-fly conversions that are VERY well designed. If you are transitioning from any piston airplane, you’ll have a tad bit longer transition simply because you’ll have to get used to managing excess horsepower.
Maintenance: Unlike the Jetprop, the Royal Duke does not have an “Annual Inspection”, per se. It has “100-hour inspections” that are done either “every 100 hours” or “annually”. The 100-Hour inspection is not a overburdening inspection (and there’s no “phase inspections”), so the maintenance costs should be reasonable.
As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of Rocket Engineering and their turbine conversions. The Royal Duke, although not perfect, is a great conversion that will find an audience with the owner that is efficiency-minded, wants to go fast, and doesn’t want a big-footprint airplane. I am associated with about 25 aircraft sales per year, and I got more phone calls with the Royal Duke than I did with just about any other airplane I’ve sold (and this airplane never made it on Controller!!). There’s definitely LOTS of interest in the marketplace, and I think there will be more Duke’s converted as time progresses. It’s certainly a “safe bet” for purchase as there’ll always be the owner/pilot that wants the most “bang for the buck”.