The aircraft is designed to carry passengers in all weather conditions from airports with relatively short runways. It is capable of flying in excess of 600 miles (970 km), although few operators use its full-fuel range. In terms of the number of aircraft built and its continued use by many passenger airlines and other users, it is one of the most popular 19-passenger airliners in history.
The 1900 is Beechcraft's third regional airliner. The Beechcraft Model 18 was a 6- to 11-passenger utility aircraft produced from 1937 to 1970, used by the military, airlines, charter operations, corporations for executive transport, and freight carriers. The 15-passenger Beechcraft Model 99 Airliner was designed to replace the Beech 18, and was produced between 1966 and 1975, and from 1982 to 1986. It was also commercially successful and remains in common use with freight airlines such as Ameriflight.
The 1900 entered service in February 1984, with the first ExecLiner corporate version delivered in 1985. A total of 695 Beechcraft 1900 aircraft were built, making the airliner the best-selling 19-passenger airliner in history. With market trends favoring larger 50- to 90-seat regional jets, Raytheon ended production of the Beechcraft 1900 in October 2002. Many airlines continue to fly the 1900.
Since the 1900 is derived from the King Air, all 1900s share certain characteristics with that aircraft. Cockpit controls and operations are similar to those of the King Air. While Federal Aviation Regulations require two pilots for passenger airline operations, the 1900 is designed and certificated for single-pilot operation in corporate or cargo settings, as is the King Air.
The 1900D cruises at about 285 knots (328 mph or 528 km/h) true airspeed. Ordinary trip lengths range from 100 to 600 miles (20 minutes to two hours), but with full fuel tanks, the aircraft is capable of flying well in excess of 1,000 nautical miles (1,900 km). Airlines often prefer the 1900 over jet aircraft for shorter routes due to its fuel efficiency, and because trip times are not significantly longer on distances up to 300 miles (480 km).
The Beechcraft 1900 can operate safely on relatively short airstrips and it can take off and land on grass and rough runways.
The airplane is certified to fly up to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,600 m) above mean sea level with its pressurized cabin. It is designed to operate in most weather conditions, including icing conditions, and it is usually equipped with weather radar to help pilots avoid severe weather. The aircraft can be fitted with an optional lavatory, using space otherwise available for passenger seating and cargo storage.
The original design is known simply as the Beechcraft 1900. It features two "airstair" passenger boarding doors: one near the tail of the aircraft much like the smaller King Airs, and a second at the front just behind the cockpit. It has a small cargo door near the tail for access to the baggage compartment, which is behind the passenger compartment. Only three airframes were built, with "UA" serial numbers of UA-1, UA-2, and UA-3. UA-1 and UA-2 are stored at a Beechcraft facility in Wichita, Kansas. UA-3, registered FAB-403, served in Bolivia until it crashed in December 2011.
It quickly became clear that having two airstair doors on an aircraft holding only 19 passengers was excessive. In creating the 1900C, Beechcraft kept the front airstair, but eliminated the aft airstair door, installing an enlarged cargo door in its place. Other than the redesigned door layout, the early 1900Cs were substantially similar to the original 1900s. These were assigned serial numbers starting with the letters UB. A total of 74 UB version were built, many of which remain in service. Aircraft in the UA and UB series employ a bladder-type fuel tank system in the wings. Later 1900Cs use a "wet wing" fuel system: entire sections of the wing are sealed off for use as fuel tanks. This design change allowed more fuel to be stored, substantially increasing the 1900C's range. The wet wing 1900Cs were assigned serial numbers beginning with "UC." These aircraft are also referred to as 1900C-1s. The wet wings proved popular, and the UC is the most common version of the low-ceiling 1900, with 174 UC airframes built.
Raytheon manufactured six 1900C aircraft for use by the U.S. military. These were assigned "UD" serial numbers, UD-1 through UD-6.
While the 1900C had become a popular regional airliner, Beechcraft undertook a substantial redesign of the aircraft, and in 1991 introduced a new version called the 1900D.
The 1900 and 1900C, like most 19-passenger airliners and business jets, have fairly small passenger cabins, with ceilings so low that passengers cannot walk through the interior without bending forward. The 1900D was designed to remedy this by providing a "stand-up cabin", which would allow most passengers to walk upright. It is one of only two 19-seat airliners with this feature, the other being the British Aerospace Jetstream 31/32.
Because the taller passenger cabin adds both weight and drag to the airplane, other elements of the 1900D were also changed. More powerful engines and modified propellers were installed, winglets were added to reduce drag and increase the wings' efficiency, and the tail was made larger in response to the more powerful engines. The cockpit was updated with an Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS). The 1900D was certified under the then-new FAR Part 23 "Commuter Category" standards, which had replaced the earlier SFAR 41C. Since the UD serial numbers were already in use by the military 1900s, the 1900D airplanes have serial numbers beginning with UE. The 1900D is the most popular version of the airliner, with 439 of the 1900D built.
The U.S. military designation for the Beechcraft 1900C is C-12J. This is a variant of the C-12 Huron, which is the most common designation for military King Airs. The C-12J includes the 6 UD series Beechcraft 1900s built for the U.S. military, as well as other 1900Cs in U.S. military service.
November 23, 1987: A Ryan Air Services 1900 crashed on approach to Homer, AK airport. Flight 103 was fully loaded (all 19 seats occupied; 1437 pounds of cargo) when it took off from Kodiak runway 07. The aircraft lifted off the runway, fell back and accelerated for about another 15 knots before it became airborne. The aircraft was approaching Homer when it was cleared for the localizer/DME approach to runway 3. The crew reported a 2-mile (3.2 km) final 5 minutes later. On short final the wings were seen to rock back and forth; the aircraft then dropped steeply to the ground in a rather flat attitude, struck the airport perimeter fence and slid to a stop on its belly. Probable cause - "the failure of the flight crew to properly supervise the loading of the airplane which resulted in the centre of gravity being displaced to such an aft location that the airplane control was lost when the flaps were lowered for landing."
May 18, 1990: A Beechcraft 1900C, operating for Aerolift Philippines as flight 75 to Surigao, took off from runway 13 at Manila's international airport. During takeoff the no. 2 engine failed. The airplane began turning to the right as the crew radioed that they were returning to the airport. With the undercarriage down and the flaps still in takeoff position the airplane impacted a house in the suburban Paranaque neighbourhood. All 21 aboard the plane and a family of four inside the house were killed.
December 28, 1991: A Business Express Airlines 1900C crashed during a training flight when the instructor refused to take back the controls when the students became disoriented due to heavily stressing conditions imposed by the instructor, against the company's flight manual. This conclusion was controversial, as an investigation by the Airline Pilots Association showed that there were many indications of catastrophic airframe failure, not due to pilot error.
January 28, 2004: A Tassili Airlines B1900D, 7T-VIN was reported executing a missed approach at Ghardia DAUG and according to reports wreckage was found approx 10 km from the airport. Of the three passengers and two crew members, one crew member was killed
January 14, 2008: An Alpine Air Cargo Raytheon Beech 1900 crashed into the Pacific Ocean on a cargo flight between Honolulu Intl Airport and Lihue Intl in Hawaii. This crash claimed one life: the pilot of the aircraft.
May 2, 2008: A South Sudan Air Connection 1900 leased from CEM Air crashed, killing 22 people including Southern Sudan's Minister of Defense.
May 22, 2008 An Alpine Air Cargo Beech 1900C, operating as Alpine Air flight 5008, crashed into a warehouse shortly after departure from Billings, MT. ATC instructed the plane to turn left, but for unknown reasons, it banked to the right instead. Witnesses report seeing the plane inverted before hitting the ground. The crash, & subsequent explosion, claimed the life of the pilot, the sole person on board. The final NTSB report cited "The pilot's failure to maintain aircraft control during the initial climb for undetermined reasons." as the cause of the crash.