by Alex Jones, Owner-Pilot
I bought my G58 Baron in January 2015 as an upgrade from the A36 Bonanza I had been flying for four years. The concurrent moves – Bonanza to Baron and modular to G1000 avionics – both offered improved utility with some additional challenges.
The Baron has allowed me to travel safely around the country with my family for years. It has carried us to some of our most memorable vacations, including Nantucket, northern Michigan, Montana, Colorado and others. From our current home in Chicago, we can fly to central Ohio for family visits in just over 90 minutes each way – something we do at least half a dozen times a year. This easily wins over a 6-hour drive, and I can beat the airlines door-to-door.
Single to Twin
The purported safety advantage of a twin over a single is one of the most oft-cited and controversial reasons for the move. I will leave that topic aside and focus on other practical improvements that get little attention yet make a big difference in everyday life.
The Baron has a spacious nose baggage compartment. It can hold three carry-on size suitcases, in addition to the chocks, tow bar and quarts of oil I carry. The aft baggage is the same as the A36; very useful, but not that large. These three cases just wouldn’t make the trip in its single sibling. For a family, this makes the airplane practical for weeklong cross-country trips we couldn’t have made in the Bonanza without sending our luggage by UPS ahead of time.
Living in the Great Lakes region, known-ice certification increases the plane’s utility between October and April when there is often a stratus cloud deck with icing potential somewhere along our route. A piston twin like the Baron with “k-ice” is capable of climbing or descending through such a layer to reach clear conditions above or below. But there are limits. It will pick up some ice, which will impede performance, so it is imperative to know the level of the bases and tops – you don’t want to hang out in icing conditions for the whole trip. Skew-T/log P diagrams are very useful for this. Now, this may seem like a lot of hardware to carry around for a few minutes’ use on the occasional trip, but these are all trips I never would have made in the Bonanza. And for every trip where I use the Baron’s de-icing capabilities, there are several more where I thought we might need it and wouldn’t have attempted the trip without it. About half of our wintertime trips are ones I wouldn’t have tried in the Bonanza.
The Bonanza is a strong climber down low, especially when light, but the Baron does better. Below gross weight in the cold weather, I routinely see 1,500-plus FPM. In warmer weather and at higher weights, 600 FPM is typical later in the climb. In real terms, this means less time bumping around below fair-weather clouds in the summer and less exposure to potential icing in winter. Cruise speed is 185 KTAS lean of peak on about 28 GPH. This is a modest cruise speed increase over the Bonanza for twice the fuel burn, but this is the price of flying a much more flexible and capable airplane.
As for the avionics, I wanted a pre-2005 model, so I could upgrade the panel the way I’d done in my old Bonanza. The Bendix King KCS-55A HSI had become unreliable, and in late 2012, I rode the upgrade-logic elevator to the top floor. I started with the honest intention of a Sandel HSI, and after many logical and modest steps, ended up installing a G500 with synthetic vision, an Alpha Systems AOA, and an EDM-830 engine monitor. I loved the way the G500 worked with the two GNS-530W NAV/COM units. The EDM-830 allowed lean-of-peak operations with single-degree precision.
This upgrade path suited me well. When my family and I travel, we will explore lightly trod areas for a restaurant the locals love rather than a chain. The few times I’ve bought a new car, I have done painstaking research and found or ordered exactly what I wanted. I am not fond of prepackaged, one-size-fits-all things.
As it turned out, the market got me into a G58. There were very few late-model, steam gauge Barons available. My favorite, a beautiful, low-time 2005 airframe, was shackled to an owner whose heart was set on an unrealistic selling price. When that deal finally fell through, I found a fantastic G58 (N888WX). The previous owner, nearing retirement, thought it would be his last plane. He doted on it. However, his business did well beyond his expectations, and he sold the Baron to upgrade to a Mustang. Win-win.
I really didn’t think anything could get better than my old Bonanza’s panel, but in reality, the G1000 works much better, especially the autopilot and the overall system integration.
The GFC 700 autopilot is smoother and more capable than the KFC 225. The Flight Level Change (FLC) mode allows me to select a target altitude and an airspeed to get there. This offers flight envelope protection in all phases – stall protection in climb and overspeed protection in descent. I routinely set 130 KIAS for climb and watch the vertical speed decrease gradually as I climb. The Vertical Navigation mode took me a while to appreciate. Coming home to Chicago from the southeast, I am often cleared to cross 20 miles southeast of Joliet (JOT) VOR at 4,000 feet, a clearance which implies pilot’s discretion on the descent. I can create this waypoint (JOT -20) in the flight plan page, set the target vertical speed, and the autopilot will start the descent at the right point. The autopilot mode is annunciated at the top of the PFD, right at eye level.
There are more examples of this seamless integration. The MFD supports the GWX 68 radar display, so there’s no need for another screen on the panel for that. XM weather is overlaid on the MFD map, as is traffic from the Skywatch 497 or ADS-B. There are dedicated pages for each of these functions and others in the MFD. Flight plans can be entered in a large window on the MFD, or a small window on the PFD, including airways. There is a reversionary mode so that key information from each screen is presented identically on both screens.
There are, of course, some down-sides. The biggest one is that the unit has a single attitude heading reference system (AHRS) when it should have been certified with two. If that goes out, so does the attitude indicator and the autopilot. The backup AI is on the far right of the panel by the door handle. The size and location make it very difficult to use. I have had two AHRS failures since I bought the plane. Both were gradual failures, therefore not emergencies, but an actual failure would be stressful. As a workaround, I have added a Dynon D3. This is a small, self-contained AHRS and attitude indicator which mounts with a RAM suction mount on the windscreen. It is not certified as a backup but could provide excellent situational awareness in the event of an AHRS failure in IMC.
Upgrades to the G1000 are few and expensive. Updating the software and replacing the transponder to gain ADS-B compliance cost nearly $6,000. This has allowed me to keep flying IFR in 2020 and beyond but adds no new utility to the avionics considering that I already had a Skywatch 497. The system can be upgraded to the much newer NXi platform at an estimated cost of nearly $30,000. I didn’t find this worthwhile, but one day I might, and it is clear that Textron supports the avionics in the earlier models.
While this platform is 15 years old, it is still more capable than 90 percent of the GA fleet, giving me everything I need. Critics of the G1000 seem to hold it to an ideal while comparing aftermarket glass avionics only to each other. And repairs and upgrades aren’t cheap, whether for a G1000 or a modular system. My Bonanza upgrade in 2012 cost $33,000. I was fortunate that I didn’t have any significant interface issues, but that isn’t the case for many people. And as much as I loved the Bonanza panel, the G1000 is just easier to use and more capable.
After six years of ownership, I really love the G58. The only reason I would consider a different plane is that my kids are getting bigger and our trips longer, so a higher useful load would be beneficial. Bottom line, if I had to do this again, I’d be thrilled to buy a G58.