King Radio Founder Dead at 90
June 4, 2012 - Ed King Jr., who founded King Radio, one of the most successful GA avionics companies ever, passed away on June 3 at the age of 90. Since selling his company, Ed had spent the past many years at King Estates, an acclaimed winery he established with his family in Oregon.
Ed King was born in rural Kansas on August 8, 1921, and studied engineering at Kansas State University. In 1948 he founded his first electronics company to make components, and Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was a major customer. Collins was so happy with the components that it bought Ed's company, paving the way for King to found King Radio in 1959.
After establishing King Radio in his basement, Ed moved to a farmhouse in the Kansas City suburbs. At the time Narco dominated GA avionics but King Radio engineers created the KX 170 navcom, one of the first navcom radios housed in a single panel-mounted box without need for a remote power supply. When Narco stumbled with introduction of its first solid state radio, King was ready with the KX 170 and the radio went on to become the best selling navcom of all time.
King Radio expanded into all levels of GA, including turboprops and business jets, but the company's greatest success was in personal piston airplanes. King Radio created a product to fill every niche, and pioneered many technologies at piston prices such as the integrated flight control system KFC 200, the combination VOR/DME/RNAV KNS 80, and the KLN 88/90 long-range navigators.
In 1985 King sold his company to Bendix and the name was changed to Bendix/King. Additional mergers left Honeywell in charge, but the Bendix/King brand is still very active and new product developments are underway.
Though Ed King is gone, his entrepreneurial spirit lives on most clearly at Garmin, where the founders are both King Radio alums, along with many others throughout all parts of Garmin. And it is fitting that the first piece of GA avionics to outsell the King KX 170 family is Garmin's GNS 430/530 line of GPS navigation systems.