39 Years Of The Beechcraft 1900: The Aircraft’s History

Earlier this week, US manufacturer Beechcraft celebrated 39 years since the maiden voyage of its 1900 family. This twin-turboprop design has served various purposes over the years, with its bread and butter work being as a regional airliner. Let’s take a look back at the history of this versatile plane, of which there have been several different variants.

Beechcraft 1900 Getty
The Beechcraft 1900 went on to become one of the most popular aircraft in the 19-passenger category. Photo: Getty Images

A history of small airliners

Beechcraft is an American aircraft manufacturer based in Wichita, Kansas that knows a thing or two about producing light and regional aircraft. Its first regional airliner was the Model 18, which took to the skies for the first time in January 1937.

Beechcraft produced more than 9,000 examples of this six to 11-seater between 1937 and 1969. Of these, some 4,500 were made for military use in the Second World War. Their versatile nature has also seen them deployed on crop-spraying missions, among others.

Beechcraft’s second regional airliner was the Model 99. This was a step up from the Model 18 in terms of capacity, as it typically seated between 15 and 17 passengers. It first flew in July 1966, and was an airliner development of Beechcraft’s King Air and Queen Air designs. Beechcraft terminated production of the unpressurized Model 19 in 1987.

Beechcraft Model 99
The Model 99 (pictured) preceded the Beechcraft 1900. Photo: Christian Volpati via Wikimedia Commons

The Beechcraft 1900 emerges

The early 1980s were key in terms of new designs in the 19-seat market. The Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner had already been in service for a decade, and the BAe Jetstream series entered service in 1982. This is a key domain for regional aircraft as it is the largest capacity that an airliner can have without needing a flight attendant to be onboard.

Beechcraft also entered this market in the early 1980s with its 1900 family. The aircraft was a development of Beechcraft’s Super King Air. This aircraft can trace its roots all the way back to the five-seat Model 50 ‘Twin Bonanza,’ which first flew in 1949.

While Beechcraft’s previous Model 18 regional airliner had been unpressurized, it altered this element for the 1900 to give it a pressurized cabin. This allowed it to compete directly with the aforementioned Jetstream and Metroliner families. After its first flight on September 3rd, 1982, it received Federal Aviation Administration certification in November 1983.

Beechcraft 1900
The FAA certified the Beechcraft 1900 as airworthy in 1983. Photo: redlegsfan21 via Flickr

Following the Beechcraft 1900’s certification, it was just three months before it entered commercial service in February 1984. Beechcraft also developed a corporate version of the 1900, known as the ExecLiner. It delivered the first example of this variant in 1985.

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Several different variants

Beechcraft ended up producing numerous versions of its 1900 family to suit various operational criteria. The original version was known simply as the 1900, and seated 19 passengers in a 1-1 configuration, as seen below. Passengers could board at both the front and rear of the aircraft. Beechcraft produced just three examples of this variant.

Beechcraft 1900 Cabin
The typical two abreast cabin of a Beechcraft 1900. Photo: Phillip Capper via Wikimedia Commons

The reason for Beechcraft producing so few original 1900s was that the company realized that the aircraft didn’t need two doors for its 19 passengers. As such, it developed a new version known as the 1900C. This variant had just one passenger door, located at the front of the aircraft. Otherwise, the 1900C was largely similar to the original version.

The 1900C was a strong performer commercially, selling over 250 units including military examples. However, in 1991, Beechcraft decided to redesign aspects of this successful twin-turboprop regional airliner. A key talking point was the 1900C’s low ceiling, which forced taller passengers to bend down as they walked through the cabin.

As such, Beechcraft opted to fit its new 1900D with a ‘stand-up’ cabin, allowing taller passengers to walk normally. The BAe Jetstream 31 is the only other 19-seat regional airliner to feature this higher ceiling. The 1900D, which sold an impressive 439 units, also featured winglets and more powerful engines to compensate for the taller cabin’s increased drag.

Air New Zealand Beechcraft 1900D
Air New Zealand’s former regional subsidiary Eagle Airways operated the Beechcraft 1900D until 2016. Photo: kiwinz via Flickr

Performance and specifications

The Beechcraft 1900 is a fairly compact aircraft, although it is longer than some 19-seat designs like the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 ‘Twin Otter.’ Taking a look at the specifications for the 1900D variant, we can see that it measures 17.62 meters in length (compared to 15.77 meters for the Twin Otter). Its wingspan is almost the same, at 17.64 meters wide.

Meanwhile, the 1900D, which weighs 4,732 kg when empty, clocks in at 4.72 meters tall. Its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 7,764 kg. While a single pilot can fly it, airline operations require two crew members to be in the cockpit. Two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67D turboprops power the 1900D, each producing 1,279 shaft horsepower.

Air Canada Express Beechcraft 1900D
The 1900D’s length and wingspan differ by just two centimeters. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

In terms of performance, the 1900D has a service ceiling of 25,000 feet. When flying a little lower, at 20,000 feet, it can cruise at speeds of 280 knots (518 km/h). When it comes to range, the aircraft can fly for up to 382 NM (707 km) with 19passengers onboard. During empty ferry flights, this figure rises significantly, to 1,245 NM (2,306 km).

Also a military and cargo aircraft

While the Beechcraft 1900 has been deployed primarily as a small regional airliner, it has also seen service in military and cargo roles. The freight-carrying version of the 1900 is known as the Super Freighter. Beechcraft did not build these as new aircraft, but rather they are being converted from passengers 1900Ds to freighters by Alpine Air Express.

Beechcraft 1900
Various military operators also fly the Beechcraft 1900. Photo: Gerard van der Schaaf via Flickr

Meanwhile, the 1900 family has also flown for various military operators located all over the world. The US military is a key example, as Beechcraft produced six 1900s specifically for this role, with special UD’prefixed serial numbers. The US military designates the 1900 as the C-12J, and also flies the Beechcraft King Air under the ‘C-12 Huron’ designation.

The 1900 serves various roles in the military. For example, one such aircraft is used by the US military to operate radio jamming tests. Outside of the US, countries to have utilized the 1900 in a military capacity include Australia, France, Switzerland, and Thailand.

What do you make of the Beechcraft 1900? Have you ever flown on one of these twin-turboprop airliners? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!