When an entire organization bands together to conquer a challenging project, that project often takes on a life of its own. Such was the case with the stunning aircraft you see featured here.
Early April 2020, in the midst of a very busy spring schedule, the sales team at Stevens was contacted about a 1994 Beechcraft King Air 350 that had taken multiple lightning strikes while parked on the ramp in Naples, FL. The owner wanted to find a company he could count on to make the repairs, while also making a number of significant upgrades and modifications to the plane.
Thus, began a coordinated, seven-month journey that touched literally every division of Stevens Aerospace and Defense. A journey that revealed the professionalism, dedication, quality and soul of an entire company.
The first order of business was to make the plane airworthy for the trip up to Stevens in South Carolina. Andy Wilson, one of Stevens’ regional sales representatives explains, “We had an AOG team nearby. We went to Naples and took a number of photos that told us the extent of the damage to the plane. The project was very involved right from the start.”
A maintenance crew was dispatched from Greenville, with a trailer loaded with rental engines, props, and the rest of the equipment necessary to get the plane in the air. Over the next several weeks, they reworked everything to make it airworthy. Once completed, the plane was flown to the Stevens GYH facility in Greenville, SC where the rest of the upgrades and modifications would take place over the next five months.
The client came from Texas with a family background in ranching. Having been a college football player at Texas Tech University, and he wanted to incorporate Red Raider black and scarlet on the aircraft.
“If you can dream it, we can do it,” Denise DeYoung, Stevens’ Head of Design, told her client early in the process. And the client had some very definite ideas. He would turn his aircraft into something he’d always wanted, starting with an all-metallic color palette in dark charcoal, scarlet and silver.
“The interior feel he was looking for was very different from the typical buttoned-up, sleek, polished design scheme of most interior renovations,” said DeYoung. “He wanted rugged, raw materials, using all-natural leathers without protective coatings.”
The owner specified materials to give the impression of a lived-in aesthetic, ones that were timeless in application yet utilitarian in scope. Not fancy, but very classy, like a classic saddle. After explaining this vision to the Interior Design team, they got to work, sourcing the hard-to-find hides and leathers.
Constant communication with the client was essential for meeting the prescribed timetables. Most of the materials specified were not easily found or sourced, but the Interior Design team was able to procure all the necessary hides and leathers the client requested. They assembled the interior by completely gutting the plane and rebuilding from scratch.
Simultaneously, while the design work progressed, there were numerous other activities going on. Avionics was performing major upgrades to the flight deck. Originally the plane had stock engines and a standard G-1000 panel. The new upgrades involved the addition of the G-1000 NXi suite upgrade, along with new Blackhawk XP67A Engines and 5-Blade MT Composite Propellers, which gave the plane the ability to fly 40 knots faster than before. They also installed new LED landing lights.
On the production line, the plane needed critical repairs. “The six lightning strikes did significant damage throughout the fuselage,” explains Micah Denny, Stevens’ project lead. “The production team fit and installed a new winglet; the belly skin was replaced; the tail section had to be completely removed, repaired, then reinstalled; and the tail tie-down was repaired,” said Denny. All of these had to be completed before Stevens’ paint team stepped in do its job.
One of the most difficult aspects of painting the plane was the dark charcoal color of the entire fuselage. Most aircraft paint jobs use white as a background color, which is much more forgiving. Using a dark metallic color took a steady, deft hand and extreme patience due to the effect static electricity can have on the metallic chips within the paint.
It wasn’t until the entire fuselage was painted black that the two other colors could be masked off and then painted/applied separately. The scarlet metallic first, then the Grey “tear strips” applied last. “With the exception of the computer generated ”tear strips” and flight decals, the entire plane was painted by hand,” explained Mike Royals, manager of the Greenville paint division.
Today, this 1994 King Air precisely captures the client’s vision inside and out. Exactly five months to the day after it arrived at Stevens Aerospace in Greenville, the plane was returned to service and ready to fly. This is a very real testament to the dedication of every service team member that touched the project, from AOG throughout the entire Greenville operation.
“The magnitude and scope of the work involved speaks to the capabilities at Stevens Aerospace,” says Wilson. “We saw the potential and the customer was great to work throughout the process. The end result is something that’s really taken on a life of its own. In a way, you can say that Beechcraft gave this airplane a life back in 1994; but twenty-seven years later, Stevens gave it a soul.”
Unlike anything in the air today, the King Air flies as a reminder of what can be accomplished when parties work together to achieve something extraordinary.