The last five years have not been easy for customers of Hawker or Beechcraft-branded aircraft. With hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars invested, those loyal to the brand face a gloomy future for assets whose value is substantially based on whether there is a commercial system available to support them.

For many years it all seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. First, there were bizarre-yet-futile moves by then-Hawker Beechcraft management to take the company out of Wichita, Kansas – the firm’s home since 1932. A plunge into bankruptcy in 2012 amplified fears that a worst-case scenario – liquidation – was possible. Amid bankruptcy proceedings in the summer of 2012, Hawker Beechcraft suddenly entered into exclusive negotiations with an almost unknown Chinese company, Superior Aviation Beijing. That plan fell apart for reasons never explained to Beechcraft’s executives.

Then-chairman Bill Boisture attempted to build some positive momentum at the NBAA convention in 2012, pledging to come out of bankruptcy as a standalone company working on a new single-engined turboprop concept, plus three smaller, piston-driven models. But his positive message was undermined by the announced closure of Hawker jet production, along with the voiding of warranties on certain models.

Behind the scenes, however, the Beechcraft that emerged from the bankruptcy process in February 2013 was undergoing an operational transformation. The production system was quietly being overhauled with the tools of a modern assembly line, including a difficult but necessary transition to an enterprise parts tracking system and lean assembly methods borrowed from Toyota.

Progress was not yet visible to outsiders, but Beechcraft was evolving rapidly. Cessna parent Textron executives said in mid-2012 that they would consider buying Beechcraft if negotiations ceased with Superior Aviation Beijing. About one year later Textron’s wish came true, as it announced an agreement to purchase the reorganised Beechcraft. The acquisition was completed in March 2014, with the Beechcraft, Cessna and Hawker brands coming under the newly created Textron Aviation umbrella.

As Textron Aviation makes its corporate debut at NBAA, those long-suffering Beechcraft customers will no doubt be ready to hear some good news. After all, Beechcraft has not announced a major update to its turboprop or piston line since the arrival of the King Air C90GTx in 2009, and the King Air 350i in 2010.

Textron Aviation is not inclined to disappoint these customers, within limits. To be sure, Boisture’s proposed single-engined turboprop is still a far-off proposal – if it remains under consideration by Textron Aviation at all. It is also too soon to expect a round of Cessna-driven avionics and interior upgrades for Beechcraft-branded designs. The two companies have only formally been merged for six months, which is long enough to move offices, but not enough time to reshape an aviation product portfolio.

However, NBAA visitors will see the first glimmers of Beechcraft’s potential evolution under Textron Aviation. Two performance upgrades of existing products – the C90GTx and King Air 250 – will complete efforts that began long before the acquisition.

The C90GTx will be upgraded with enlarged, swept-blade Hartzell propellers and Raisbeck strakes. The performance improvement package will become the new standard on the production line, but the type’s list price will remain $3.8 million. The package reduces take-off distance by about 20%, to slightly below 610m (2,000ft).

Beechcraft’s new option for the King Air 250 increases gross weight beyond the commuter certification category of 5,670kg (12,500lb) to 6,080kg. The extra weight allows operators to carry significantly more payload, if they do not mind adhering to stricter airworthiness requirements under Part 23 of the federal aviation regulations.

Source: Flight Daily News