The King Air 260 (T-54A) Is Replacing T-44C Navy Trainer Aircraft

Back in January of last year, we reported that the Navy had selected the King Air 260, under the designation of T-54A, as the replacement to its aging fleet of T-44 Pegasus twin-engine trainers. The T-44 has been in continuous service since 1977 and, with a projected sundown of 2026, will have served just one year shy of five decades. 

The T-54 is expected to train naval aviators destined for twin-engine, tilt-rotor, and multi-engine aircraft in the basics of multi-engine flying over the next thirty years. The King Air has been the preferred platform for decades, and the King Air 260 will take naval flight training well into the 21st century. 

First T-54A Delivery Received on April 18th, 2024

The first two T-54As were delivered in mid-April, with an initial batch order of ten aircraft. However, the total package of the multi-engine King Air 260 will be up to 64 total aircraft. The delivery schedule of the T-54 program goes from 2024 through 2026. 

How Long Will The Sundown Phase Be?

Just because the Navy is receiving T-54s now does not mean their implementation will be immediate. There are a lot of steps between picking up the aircraft and flying them as a line trainer. 

All instructor pilots for the Multi-engine Training System (METS) program must first be qualified in the T-54A, and then instruction can begin with the new airframe.

If everything goes according to the delivery and training schedule, the final T-44 Pegasus sundown will commence around October of this year and should be completed around the time that the T-54 deliveries are either complete or near completion. 

The T-54A Service Life

Any time a new piece of military equipment is selected, the process is thorough and well-researched because these aircraft need to last for a long time. And frankly, the T-54 has big shoes to fill; the T-44 Pegasus will have served for almost fifty years by the time the last one flies a sortie, and that is a big accomplishment. 

As of now, the T-54A is supposed to be in service for three decades. Of course, several aircraft in the collective military fleets have way outlasted their intended lifespans (the KC-135 and B-52 are prime examples). So, whether the T-54 serves only its anticipated service life to train pilots will remain to be seen.  The Multi-Engine Training System is a critical program for both the Navy and the Marine Corps to prepare pilots for fleet aircraft, and the King Air is the most popular turboprop in the world. If the Navy wants to use the T-54 beyond the 30-year plan, the odds are pretty good that it is up to the task. 

With all that said, there are no guarantees, but the next multi-engine Navy trainer to train pilots may very well be in the King Air lineage. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be. Naval Air Station Corpus Christi has been hosting the King Air as a METS aircraft for five decades, and it certainly could do the same for another five. 

What Makes The T-54 Different Than the T-44?

So, what makes the T-54 different than the T-44 Pegasus? They are both Beechcraft King Airs, right? 

Yes, that is correct. But there is a world of difference between the two aircraft. 

The T-54 is a King Air 260, which is a later generation of the King Air franchise. It is one of the “Super King Air” models, specifically part of the Model 200 series of aircraft. The B260 is the latest of the King Air 200 series and was just released in December 2020. 

One of the first things you will notice to differentiate the two aircraft is the empinage. The T-44 uses a standard empennage, while the King Air 260 employs a high T-tail. 

More to the point, the T-44 Pegasus is a derivative of the original King Air models, technically an H90. The original 90-series King Airs have been flying since they began in 1964, and the T-44 is not much different than those specimens. Really, the biggest change was an avionics update to bring them up to the T-44C, but the powerplants and airframe remained unchanged. 

King Air 260s offer a lot of features that will make them highly desirable for many years, including:

  • Pressurized aircraft cockpit is handled through the flight management system
  • MulitScan® weather radar is completely automated and is optimized to present accurate weather pictures for aircrew.
  • IS&S ThrustSense® autothrottle system reduced pilot workload, allowing the instructor pilot and student pilot to focus on flying the King Air 260. This system is also     
  • Twin PT6A-52 engines produce 850 shp each, an increase of 600 shp total over the T-44. 

How Soon Will All of the T-54s Be Delivered? 

Production of the T-54 has commenced and deliveries are now happening for the initial order of ten aircraft. No total number is identified as a deliverable for the T-54, but the option is for up to sixty aircraft. 

Final deliveries are said to be in 2026, although the exact timetable has not been released. Of course, the Navy would prefer sooner rather than later, as there are considerable logistical hurdles in getting these METS aircraft set up for multi-engine training. For one, the curriculum must be completely rewritten for a new aircraft. Study material for the King Air 260 must be written and built out to replace the current curriculum for the Pegasus, and there will be some overlap for the next couple of years.

This also means that the instructors will have to be dual-qualified for a while, so the quicker the T-54 is fully implemented on the Training Air Wing, the better. Of course, it is better for the student pilots as well since the T-54 is a much better representation of the modern multi-engine fleet aircraft in the Marine Corps and Navy.   

Is the T-54 the Same As a King Air 260?

Many people are asking whether the T-54 is the same as the King Air 260.

The short answer is yes. The T-54 is a slightly modified version of the King Air 260, although the mods are insignificant to the naked eye. Since it is made for passenger transport, it is slightly adjusted to be a trainer for the multi-engine fleet communities and asymmetric engine handling training for naval aviators. 

But yes, the King Air 260 is a T-54, and vice versa. One of the main reasons this makes so much sense is that the parts supply and logistical chain is extremely strong. Also, the King Air 260 shares many common parts with other 200-series King Airs, which the DoD maintains hundreds of in the many forms of the C-12

Final Thoughts

The Navy wisely chose to continue their advanced platform training with a new METS aircraft in the King Air lineage. The King Air is a great airplane, with thousands of examples flying around the world. It has been a staple of multi-engine military aviation for over five decades, with many different models performing countless different missions, from passenger and cargo transportation to reconnaissance.

Greenwood Aerospace is here to help with all of your military and government procurement needs for all King Air models. We have over forty years of experience with the airframe and are here to help!