Piston Power Series: Cessna 310 and Beechcraft Baron

Piston Power Series: Cessna 310 and Beechcraft Baron

Piston Power Series: Cessna 310 and Beechcraft Baron

Two special people entered my work life about three years ago, also bringing along two special airplanes: Gerald West with his Cessna 310Q, and Deanna Wallace with a Beechcraft Baron 58. I would have enjoyed life with these two even without the airplanes, but they make the relationship all the more sweeter. 

For decades, Gerald has been a pillar of leadership and strength at my home airport, Cherokee County Airport (JSO), and is the patriarch of one of the neatest families in the East Texas area. Gerald and his family operate Westcraft Manufacturing, a supplier of hydraulic cylinders to industrial markets nationwide. Gerald purchased a King Air B100 that I manage and fly and also gave me access to his other airplanes: a Piper Super Cub and a Cessna 310Q. Gerald has owned the Cessna 310Q since 1978 and it is a creampuff. At first, I was not too excited about the airplane but that was because I was unversed with this fine family of airplanes. Now that I’ve been educated, I fly the 310Q frequently and it has become our go-to steed for any mission that seems too small for the King Air.

Deanna hails from Lufkin, Texas, and is locally called the “Baroness” at the Angelina County Airport (LFK). There are four Beechcraft Barons based at LFK and she is trusted by the various owners, ending up in the front left seat of a Baron multiple days each week. She came to work with me and now has the keys to every airplane in our hangar ranging from the King Air 300, B100, to all of the PA46s. But she continues to operate the Barons because they are such good airplanes and, well, she’s the Baroness. So, along with Deanna came the Barons, and I got an introduction to an airplane that somehow evaded my grasp in my earlier years in aviation. Now I get to fly the Baron, too and have grown to appreciate the airplane for what it is – a remarkable, overbuilt machine that is great for cross-country flying.

So, considering the 310Q or the Baron, which one do I like best? Which would I buy if I were to pony up the coin for a multi-engine cross-country steed? Well, that depends upon a few considerations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cessna 310 

The Cessna 310 is probably in the “Top Ten” list of coolest looking airplanes on the planet (at least on my list). Everything on the airplane is sleek and pointy, giving it the impression that it repels parasite drag like oil does to water. The non-turbo Q model is the one that I fly, and I have grown to love it. With a huge and comfortable cockpit, lots of luggage space, engine nacelle storage, and a panel that is spacious enough or all the latest avionics gadgets, the Cessna 310Q is a fantastic airplane for many varied missions. Gerald’s Q-model has been upgraded with the Continental 520 engines that develop a lot of power for their size/profile, and the performance is very good. We regularly climb at 1,100 FPM at max-gross, and cruise at 185 KTAS while burning 22 GPH. I’ve flown from Texas to Montana, New Mexico, Minnesota, Florida, and a whole host of other faraway states in the 310Q – each time with four-plus people and bags. It has the useful load, range and space to be a true cross-country machine. I’ve grown to love it for its efficiency and utility.

But, all is not perfect in the Cessna 310. While the seats are comfortable and space cavernous, the 310 is a hard airplane to climb in. If you or your passengers have mobility issues, then the climb up on the wing and the down into the seats (especially the back seats) can be troublesome. There’s a spar to contend with and only one door for everyone. I think it’d be a poor choice of an airplane for the owner who is a non-pilot and plans to hire a pro, for he or she will be sharing the same space as the pilot and will often be climbing into the awkward back seat.

On the ground, the airplane is easy to taxi and maneuver, and while in flight, it is a good performer. But in the air, the Cessna 310 can be nauseating for the newbie flyer due to the yawing. The large main tanks on the tips of the wings translate into a lot of weight on the wingtips. So, there’s a definite yawing moment in turbulence. The 310Q model we fly does not have a yaw damper and it could really use one. For the pilot (who is sitting very near the CG of the airplane), it is probably not a big deal, but anyone in the aft seats will be thrown side to side when the bumps are prevalent.

The oscillations on the yaw axis are most prevalent on landing in a gusty wind. It takes a well-trained pilot who knows what the feet are for when flying to manage the longitudinal axis during the landing sequence. Don’t expect to just hop in the 310 and go when you purchase one. Plan to spend some time with a CFI who knows the 310 well.

I find that I operate the 310 at a lower power setting normally. We pull back the power to 60 to 65 percent power, and we still see cruise speeds in the 170 KTAS range while only burning 18 to 19 GPH. It can be a very efficient airplane.

Beechcraft Baron

The Baron is like most other Beechcraft products – rugged, reliable and a pleasure to fly. The version we fly is a 1994 Beechcraft Baron 58 Model that flat out performs. The pilots have about the same access as a Cessna 310 (climb in the right side and slide over), but the passengers are afforded a huge door in the back that provides access to a club-seating cabin that is plenty big enough for comfort.

The spacious cabin is allied with the super large nose baggage. We’ve carried three sets of golf clubs, five people and even some other baggage items, and the Baron performs well. Many of the Barons have a useful load of over 1,300 lbs – that is a gob for a six-place airplane.

In cruise, we flight plan for 195 KTAS on 32 GPH and are rarely disappointed. We’ve loaded the Baron right up to max gross weight and it still performs well. We are repeatedly amazed at how much stuff the Baron will legally carry.

Performance-wise, the Baron is similar to other Beechcraft products in that it is not the best in any one category, but it is solid in nearly every category. It is not the fastest piston twin, but it is reasonably fast. It doesn’t carry the most, but it carries a lot. It won’t go the farthest, but it goes really far. There’s not a hole in the Baron’s game. I even asked Deanna, “What does the Baron not do well?” Her answer was, “Not do well? I don’t know; it does so much so well.” That was that. And she is right. The Baron is a great airplane that doesn’t really have an area of consideration where it scores poorly – except for maybe one – cost.

The Baron can be expensive to purchase. It is such a good airplane that people actively seek them on the market, ensuring that it holds its value well. While some multi-engine piston airplanes have plummeted in value over the years thanks to the plethora of more efficient single-engine offerings, the Baron remains a desirable purchase consideration. Deanna operates is a 1994 model and a similar airplane would retail on the market for about $350,000. That’s a lot of coin for an airplane that is 25 years old. But, again, this is an airplane that performs well, has no holes in the game and is still being made new from the factory.

And, that last fact is important. Any airplane that is still being built generally enjoys better support than one that has been orphaned by the manufacturer. So, the support for the Baron is arguably better than the support of the Cessna 310, which last rolled off the line in 1981, and they didn’t roll many that year. Most of the 310s were built in the 1970s and that is a long time ago for an airplane to still be relevant. But, the Cessna 310 is still relevant because it is a great airplane. A nice example of a Cessna 310Q with average times will sell at retail for about $100,000. A slightly newer R-model will be harder to find and will fetch a bit more.

The Decision

So, if you are working with a budget of $250,000 or more, then you can find a very nice Baron where youthfulness (newer year model) will get more and more expensive. If you want to find a nice Cessna 310 and spend $250,000, then you can buy the best possible 310 out there and add all sorts of the best modifications and upgrades. That is if that seller will sell. Most Cessna 310 owners are longer-term, owner-flown pilots and will only let their estate sell their beloved airplane once they’ve flown west for the last time.

In my opinion, you really can’t go wrong with either steed from a
functionality or investment standpoint. Both have stood the test of time, both are great cross country airplanes, and both have a following of faithful supporters. I think the cabin-class seating and the newer-year models make the Baron better for the buyer with more coin in the pocket, and the Cessna 310 is an ideal airplane for the owner-flown pilot who is value-driven that wants multi-engine reliability.

To me, when I get a mission that calls for the Baron or the 310, I’m thrilled at the prospect of flying either. Both are solid airplanes that we trust to haul around our loved ones and friends.    

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