If one where to liken the Beech line of airplanes to a human family, there would be considerable wonder about the parentage of the Sport and Sundowner. Its hard to believe at times that the same company that brought us the epitome of single-engine class in the form of the Bonanza and the dashing elan and good looks of the Baron could also make aircraft as dowdy, frumpy and ill-performing as the Sport and Sundowner. Yet, there they stand on ramps across America, bearing the Beech name.
At the same time, these aircraft represent a sort of shopping paradox for those in the market for a used aircraft. Sure, you can pick them up at pretty good prices these days. But will you be able to sell it later? And whats it going to cost you to run in between?
Shades of the Sixties
The Sport and Sundowner came into this world back in the 1960s. First to appear was the Model 23, rolling out in 1963. Pulled along by a 160-HP Lycoming O-320, it could carry four people in comfort, if not style or speed. The original Model 19 debuted in 1966. With 150 horses up front, its best considered a two-seater. Except for engines, the two aircraft are essentially identical. Beech also came out with the same aircraft sporting retractable gear and a 200-HP engine as the Model 24 Sierra, which is outside the scope of this report.
Like any aircraft with a history stretch back this far, the Musketeers have gone through some changes over the years. For the most part, these changes have all been in the engine compartment. The original 1963 Model 23 came with a 160-HP Lycoming, following the lead established by the Piper Cherokee two years before. The Lycoming didnt last long, though-in 1964, Beech changed to the obscure (then and now) Continental IO-346-A. This little oddball engine was essentially an IO-520 with two cylinders hacked off. Unusual when it first came out, today its almost guaranteed to raise eyebrows. Many owners have since swapped out this orphan engine for something a little easier to service.
By 1968, Beech had turned out more than 500 examples of the IO-346-powered A23. That year, though, saw another engine change, this time to a 180-HP Lycoming O-360-A-series-the engine that was to stay with the line for the rest of its life.
Meanwhile, Beech wheeled out the 150-HP Sport as a trainer in 1966. Grossing out 150 pounds lighter than the Model 23s, the Model 19 Sport was intended to seat two and be Beechs answer to the Cessna 150 and Piper Cherokee 140. By 1970, the two models had become the B19 Sport and the C-23 Sundowner.
As the 1970s drew on, FAA began getting wind of possible problems with the Sports performance. By 1973, FAA had decided that, when flying at its certificated maximum gross weight of 2,250 pounds, the B19 could not meet the certification climb performance minimums. In response, AD 73-25-04 was issued, limiting the B19s gross weight to 2,000 pounds. Owners could regain at least some of their lost weight by installing a Beech kit that raised max gross back up to 2,150 pounds. Subsequent Sports which rolled out of the factory after 1973 came with the mods already installed.
The Sport continued in production until 1979, when Beech wheeled out a clean-sheet-of-paper design as a replacement-the two-place Skipper. Itself fated to a brief and lackluster sales career, the Skipper was the intended replacement for the Sport.
The Sundowner managed to cling to life for a few more years, but it, too, was finally sucked down in the great swirl of the general aviation depression. By 1983, it was all over for the Sundowner. In the 20 years it was in production, nearly 2,400 Sundowners had taken wing. The Sport fared less well in its shorter life, with only about 900 examples having been built.
The phrase, Built for comfort, not for speed might well have been coined for this pair of Beeches. Youre not going to get anywhere fast, but youll certainly get there in fine comfort, if not style. Owners rave about how comfortable these aircraft are, while speaking soto voce about performance.
Consider cruise performance. Owners typically report getting TAS cruise speeds of 100 knots or less in the Sport. The Sundowner with the big Lycoming will carry you to the destination at 117 knots-not exactly the speed of heat. Things go downhill from there as engine size decreases in the earlier models. Cruise speeds for the 160-HP models can sag as low as 100 knots. If you need speed, better think about owning something else.
And then theres climb performance. The Sport, in its original incarnation, got socked with an AD due to poor climb performance at max gross. But even after the AD-mandated improvements, things dont get much better. Hot-day performance can leave the aircraft near its service ceiling in short order. Some owners have reported max-gross rates of climb in the 300- to 400-FPM range on hot days.
Its worth pointing out, though, that at least some of the poor performance may be due to excessively beat-up airframes, since some owners report getting Beech book performance. One owner we know reported climb rates of about 500 FPM through 9,500 feet, in sharp contrast to some of the other reports weve received. Still, dont expect to be leaping tall boundary fences in a single bound. Loaded to gross, Beech itself claimed only a 792-FPM climb for the Sundowner at sea level.
Landing performance can be equally dicey. Although the book says you can stop your Sundowner on less than 1,000 feet of pavement at sea level with no wind, thats based on your ability to turn in test-pilot level performance. A safe additional margin for Joe Average would be to add 25% to that figure. (And its worth noting that landing distance over a 50-foot obstacle is almost twice the ground roll distance.)
Even so, if you do manage to shoehorn your way into a 1,000-foot strip, youre probably not going to get back out. Listed takeoff performance for the same plane at max gross, sea level, no wind, and a 59-degree OAT call for 1,130 feet of pavement just to lift off. Youll need nearly 2,000 feet of level ground between brake release and the first 50-foot obstacle if you expect to clear it. Let density altitude start creeping up and you can quickly find yourself needing jet-length runways. At a 2,000-foot high field on a calm, 88-degree day, figure on needing 1,700 feet to get off the ground and almost 3,000 feet to clear the obstacle.
Payload and range
Okay, so these aircraft dont burn up the course speed-wise. But dont look to them for aerial pick-up truck duty, either. Net payload of both the Sport and Sundowner are quite close to other aircraft in their class.
Range is certainly not outstanding, though quite acceptable for most owners. In all but the early model Sports, standard fuel load is 57 gallons useable. Thats enough gas to carry the Sport about 620 NM, while the Sundowner will cover only 530 NM on the same load.
That fuel load may sound impressive, especially when you look at the fuel capacities of the competition. The Piper Cherokee, American General (Gulfstream/Grumman) Tiger and Cessna Cardinal all carry seven gallons less gas. Yet, all those airplane can fly just as far because their higher cruise speeds let them cover the same amount of ground on less fuel.
Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if youve got any illusions about carrying people and baggage. Fill the cabin and you cant fill the tanks, its that simple. The Sundowners can be expected to haul about 900 pounds of useful load in their average equipped condition. If you need full tanks, that means you can only carry three people and 50 pounds of baggage. If youre in a Sport, toss out the third person and the baggage-and you still get to sweat those high-weight climb rates.
Like most any Beech product, the Sport and Sundowner are routinely described as being delightful to fly. In the air, the controls are light and well harmonized, smooth and responsive. Theyre stable enough to make good IFR platforms, even if their low cruise speeds turn them into one-plane traffic jams. There are even aerobatic models.
But the picture isnt all sweetness and light in the handling department. The Sundowner, and especially the Sport, can be downright vicious on landing. These airplanes have developed a reputation for providing some truly ego-crushing landings for even experienced pilots. Student pilots who were unfortunate enough to endure training in the Sport all too often wound up with more than their egos crushed.
The reason for all this sturm and prang is the airplanes bad habit of porpoising and crow-hopping on landing. Some experienced Sport pilots can regale hangar-flying crowds with tales of epic wrestling matches as they worked throttle and yoke desperately trying to stop the porpoise before A) the nose gear collapsed; B) the aircraft groundlooped horribly; C) the runway completely ran out; or D) all of the above.
At least part of the reason for this touchdown behavior is the landing gear design. Beech chose a trailing-beam configuration for the aircraft. Normally, this type of landing gear is quite forgiving of botched landings. But Beech went for stiff rubber shock mounts instead of oleos, converting what would have been wonderful cushioning into terrible springs, ready to help the aircraft rebound into the air at the drop of a wheel. Gentle, mains-first touchdowns are the rule to prevent a crow-hopping excursion across the field.
All this is not to imply that good landings are impossible in the Musketeers. Precise speed control is the key. If youre the type who likes to tack on a few knots for the insurance company and another couple for the wife and kids, buy a Cherokee or some similar, more forgiving design. The Sport and Sundowner demand precision handling down final and into the flare. If your landing technique is off, these aircraft will show you exactly where youre going wrong by magnifying the results out of all proportion to anything youve seen before. Great training, if it doesnt scare you to death.
Speed control is also important in the opposite direction for Sport pilots. Coming over the fence a few knots too slow can result in running out of stabilator in the flare. That, in turn, translates into a nose-first touchdown and at least some crow-hopping down the runway. Pilots report the Sport is a bit nose-heavy, especially with flaps down, and many have found that carrying some power into the flare provides much more controllability into the touchdown.
Another strategy for coping with the aircrafts landing habits is to install the Beech spin kit. One Beech dealership we spoke with some years back reported that the spin kit, which adds strakes to the nose and stabilator along with a ventral fin to the rear fuselage, seemed to tame the aircrafts landing characteristics.
With all this as background, it should come as no surprise that the Sport and Sundowner have their greatest safety troubles in the landing arena. But, at least the aircraft are consistent in this regard. Consider that an NTSB study reaching back to the early 1970s identified the Sundowner as the worst aircraft in its class for hard landings (were talking about a rate of hard landings that was five times worse than the Cessna Skyhawk or the Piper Cherokee).
Indeed, every time weve looked at the safety records of the Sport and Sundowner, the story has been the same-lots of hard landings and lots of overshot landings. And even today we find the pattern intact.
One interesting finding of our studies down through the years has been the low rate of groundloop accidents. Both the Sport and Sundowner have nice, wide-stance main landing gear, so once the aircraft are firmly on the ground, they handle and track quite well. Musketeer ground handling is so good, in fact, that its possible to get the aircraft to pivot around inside its own wingspan, making maneuvering on the ramp or around the gas pumps a breeze.
If theres one thing that really seems to keep Musketeer owners happy, its that the airplanes are cheap to keep. Maintenance troubles through the years have been mercifully few and far between.
Thankfully, Beech seems able to maintain a sense of proportion as to whats important and whats mere window dressing when it comes to issuing mandatory service bulletins.
Other maintenance items to be concerned with are fairly obvious. The landing gear, for example, should come in for detailed scrutiny at any pre-purchase inspection, as well as during annual inspections. Given the previously discussed landing troubles, its a better-than-even bet that some sort of trouble will be found on pre-purchase. By the same token, make sure the firewall gets a good once-over, since bending and warpage of the firewall is one consequence of excessive crow-hopping and nose-first arrivals.
Some other maintenance points to ponder include AD 78-16-06 (inspection of the elevator trim tab actuator rod), AD 73-20-07 (inspection of forward wing attach frames and brackets for cracking), and a 1988 AD mandating improved fuel boost pumps. Beech and Dukes have been steadily upgrading and improving these fuel boost pumps-the originals had carbon vanes that had a bad habit of fragmenting and clogging the engine fuel intake screen-and wed strongly advise owners to make sure their boost pump is of the latest and greatest configuration. The most recent type-specific AD as of late 1998 is 89-24-9, calling for the installation of access ports and the inspection of the aileron rod ends.
Two engine ADs of note are 98-2-8, which calls for inspection of the hollow bore of the crankshaft for corrosion pitting (possibly repetitive until overhaul, depending on whats found), and 95-3-14, which calls for replacement of the engine mount brackets on IO-346-equipped aircraft.
Another item to scrutinize closely on annual inspections is the fuel caps. NTSB called for pressure checks of older caps, but simple visual inspection should be able to detect caps that have become too stiff and crusty to provide a good seal to the wing filler port. Nevertheless, cap replacement and/or overhaul every ten years is not a bad idea as a prophylactic measure. And, of course, pay attention when checking the sumps on preflight.
Engine troubles on these aircraft should be few and far between. One notable exception is valve sticking, which on the O-320 and O-360 should be considered facts of life. Lycoming Service Bulletin 388B calls for checks of valve guide wear every 400 hours, but wed cut that interval in half if youre experiencing normal 100- to 150-hour-per-year utilization. Cut it in half again if youre flying less than 100 hours per year. The inspection is fairly simple, once youve got the proper jigs, and it could save you thousands in later cylinder work.
In the just-plain-annoying category, there are complaints about leaking windshields and windows. This sort of thing is not really a problem particular to the Musketeers, since most of the smaller GA singles seem to be suffering from window leaks to one extent or another. The cure (the real cure) is to remove the suspect window, clean the tracks and reinstall it with new sealant. The route most often taken, though, is to simply slather more RTV around the rim and hope for the best. On pre-purchase inspection, pay special attention to the sidewall insulation and carpet padding for clues to potential pre-existing leaks.
About the IO-346…
Make no mistake about the IO-346-A found in the 1964 through 67 Sundowners-this engine is an oddball. It was used only in the Musketeer and is found nowhere else. Only 513 examples where built.
Despite its origins as a partial IO-520, its a rare mechanic indeed whos familiar with this engine. If you insist on buying one of these models, be prepared to finance your mechanics learning curve.
At the same time, be prepared for the prospect of owning a very interesting lawn ornament. Pistons are no longer available for the IO-346, according to Mattituck. Your only hope come overhaul time is that your current pistons are serviceable and that your cylinders can be chromed back down to size. Otherwise, youre in for a long, hard search to find serviceable pistons.
Compounding the situation is the fact that the engines listed TBO is only 1,500 hours. And an overhaul, if you can find someone willing to take the engine, is going to run you in the neighborhood of $13-15,000.
Well, how about just swapping the Continental oddball out for something a bit easier to deal with? Dont hold your breath. We could find no STCs available to allow such an engine-ectomy.
I own a 1967 A23 Mouseketeer, and I believe it to be the absolute best value for the money of any small plane. It was cheap to buy in the late 1980s ($2,000 to 3,000 less than a comparable Cessna 172) before they were discovered. It is typical Beech-very well built and, in general, free of the nagging maintenance problems that plague many older aircraft.
The airplane flies according to the book. Fuel burn at most efficient altitude of 8,000 feet is 7.5 to 8 GPH, leaned by a single-probe EGT to about 25 degrees rich of peak and 2,475 RPM. The airspeed trues out at 120 MPH. I flight plan for 105 knots-obviously it is not a speedster. Ive gotten comments like when did you leave, yesterday? and have been referred to by controllers as the slow moving target. The other side of the coin, though, is comfort, and more importantly, range and strength. With 60-gallon tanks, depending on the situation, by flying longer legs between fuel stops, I can do better than a 40 gallon Cessna or Piper. How about flying one of those to a strip with no fuel that is three hours away? I could easily fly there and back without a fuel stop.
Generally, on take off with about half- to three-quarters gross at about sea level, I can fly these numbers: 2500 RPM, 90 MPH and 500 FPM climb out. It is typically anemic at high density altitude.
At near gross, max. altitude is about 10,000 ft, higher when lighter. Landings can be a bit tricky, though. It lands rather fast, coming over the fence at 80 MPH with a little power all the way to the runway. I had a typical Musketeer porpoising incident after a tiring flight while landing on a newly blacktopped runway devoid of numbers and markings. After the second bounce, full power and a go around was in order. One must always have the possibility of a go around in mind when landing the Mouse.
My throttle has a vernier, so I usually handle bounces like this: while flaring without power, at the first bounce add three twists of the throttle and thats enough power to settle it gently down on the runway. Dont over do it, though, since a porpoise can result.
My only gripe regarding its IFR characteristics is that it tends to wander off course as soon as my attention is diverted. It will not vary in altitude, though.
Farmers Branch, Texas
Shortly after I got my private certificate in the late sixties. I joined a flying club that owned a Beech A23 Musketeer with a fuel injected Continental 165 engine. During the checkout, it was explained to me that the airplane landed like a stiff legged horse, but that it did have a wide stance that made it great in crosswinds. It was also supposed to be hard to restart on hot days because of the fuel injection. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the Musketeer because it seemed so stable in the air and well-built.
Since that time I have owned two Piper Cherokee 140s, a Cessna 182. and my current aircraft, a Beech B19 Sport. My Sport is only two place, but some (maybe most) come in four place versions. The real attraction to me about the Sport was that it, like some Musketeers, Sundowners, and yes, even Bonanzas, was available in aerobatic versions. Having tired of straight and level. I was determined that my next aircraft would be a real fun machine. After looking in vain for quite some time for a decent Citabria at a reasonable price, I saw the ad in Trade-A-Plane for my bird. It was a beautiful plane, reasonably priced, maintained by a Beech Aero Center, and it checked out pretty good with my mechanic.
I have never had an aircraft that I like more. It is pretty modern looking, especially compared to most vintage aerobatic craft, and with some avionics updates, is now IFR capable and certified. While I bought a two-place Sport instead of the larger four-place Sundowner, where else can one get an aerobatic plane thats four-place, all-metal, tricycle gear, actually carries four, and can be a decent cross-country IFR airplane? I will have to disagree with the comments made in Aviation Consumers Used Aircraft Guide, 3rd Edition, which said, We believe the Sport is, frankly, too doggy to consider in these dog days.
Like so many craft with long range tanks (the Sport holds fifty-eight gallons), its easy to overload. But one just needs to know that this aircraft holds 58 gallons, not 36 like a Cessna 152, and that those extra gallons are there for endurance when the passenger/baggage load isnt too great.
The reputation for difficult landings, I think, is overrated. In fact, my plane is great on landings. much easier than my Cessna 182 was.
Maintenance costs have been reasonable, except that Beech parts are high priced and hard to get. Im still waiting on a heated pitot tube that was ordered in June; and the factory wanted $320 each to reweb and certify my shoulder harnesses that were frayed. We found new replacement harnesses for about $189 each instead.
Fuel burn seems to be slightly above book-about eight or nine gallons per hour-and cruise speed seems a bit slow. I get 105 MPH at 2,500 RPM at 2,000 or 3,000 feet.
I really like the Sport and plan to keep it for some time.
Thomas C. Smith
I own a 1976 Sundowner which Ive had since 1989. The purchase price was $21,500, and since buying it, Ive invested that much and more.
Fuel burn is 8.7 GPH at 2,350 RPM. I dont fill the sump to its eight-quart capacity, except when doing an oil change. I found that the engine blows out the top quart on the first flight, so I maintain the oil level at seven quarts, adding a quart when the dipstick indicates just above six quarts remaining. The Beech dealer does my maintenance, and the parts support has been great, though expensive.
I fly strictly VFR now, just for pleasure, and the airplane is a joy to fly. It is stable and light on the controls. I just trim it up and it does the rest.
Im 62″ and 240 lbs., and the cabin is ample for me. I like the two doors for entry. At my age, its a help not to have to crawl over the seats.
Climb is about 700 FPM with the nose just below the horizon. Approach speed is critical. These airplanes live up to their reputation for porpoising and floating if you come down final too fast.
Frank Colburn, Jr.
Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
We have a 1963 Musketeer with the Lycoming O-320-D2B 160-HP engine. It is VFR equipped with a Garmin GPS and King Marine LC-8001 loran. The engine has 700 hours since major.
We have owned this Musketeer for the last 7 years. It was purchased as a trainer for Nancy to obtain her private license. She had soloed in a Cessna 152 and found the transition to the Musketeer relatively easy.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our 500+ hours of flying our Musketeer. The performance has been relatively close to the charts, including fuel consumption. We typically plan a 10 GPH consumption and realize nine GPH at 2,550 RPM.
While living in New England, we took many long cross countries to Georgia, and one to Oshkosh and Colorado. We find it a roomy, comfortable aircraft for long rides. I am 65″ and find there is plenty of head and leg room. The visibility is great. It can be a true four-place airplane if loaded properly. Most of the time, it is just the two of us and camping gear. Our typical leg is 3.5 to four hours, which leaves us a large fuel reserve. We typically true out at 115 MPH at 6,500 feet and 2,550 RPM.
Our particular airplane is very stable. Trimmed for cruise, it can be flown with rudder corrections only, going for as long as 15 or 20 minutes without having to touch the yoke. It would make a good IFR platform. It lands easily, but is relatively heavy and will drop out from under you if you chop the power without a compensating rotation. Full-flap stall speed is around 52 MPH. The break is gentle and recovery is immediate.
We now live in Asheville, N.C., at 2,124 feet. On warm summer days, our takeoff roll can be 2,000 feet. Climb varies from 400 to 800 FPM, depending on density altitude.
Annual inspections have typically been around $2,000. We feel this is quite high, but the plane is also 35 years old. There have been no major repairs except for the replacement of the nose gear assembly, which cost $5,000. If grease is not running out of the nose gear strut after each flight, there is not enough grease in it. Make sure your A&P lifts the weight off the nose gear and checks it for play. Ours didnt and the shims were completely chewed out from lack of service. Our only nagging problem has been that the engine vents a considerable amount of oil, which then trails down the belly. Several efforts have been made to rectify this problem, but it still persists.
In all, weve been very happy with the ol Musketeer, and expect to keep it for several more years.
Jerry and Nancy Marstall
I own a 1972 C23 Sundowner 180 with 2,890 hours total time on the airframe. The engine has 920 hours since a new-limits major. Ive owned this airplane for 14 months, during which I have put on 335 hours.
The C23 is equipped with the 180-HP Lycoming O-360-A4G engine. The plane is IFR equipped. I use this plane for business trips between 150 and 500 miles one way, and I need to carry tools and heavy parts requiring lots of space. This is where the Sundowner really shines. With its three doors and 270-pound baggage limit, I can load 60 gallons of fuel, all the tools and parts I need, and fly for five hours with more than an hour reserve.
My Sundowner handles turbulence well, and long trips are reasonably comfortable with the autopilot handling the basic flying. The only cons with my C23 are the poor heating system and the universally poor fuel gauges. At 10,000 feet or anywhere during winter weather, it gets quite cold after three or four hours, and the Sundowner heater does not keep me or the cabin warm, even though my tennis shoes are melting. An insulated flight suit solves this problem, and a dual digital timer (one for each fuel tank) solves the fuel gauge problem.
I traded up from a Tomahawk and bought the C23 for $28,000 in 1994. My insurance runs $825 per year from AOPA for $1 million liability and $32,000 hull. My only annual inspection (so far) ran $2,400 because I wanted a very complete checkup the first time. Subsequent annuals should run about $425. So far, I have replaced the engine fuel pump, one tire, the battery, the left magneto, the alternator and the entire exhaust system.
The Sundowner is one of the great values for the money, and I would buy another if anything ever happened to this one.