The Travel Air was Beech’s entry into the then-new light twin market, making use of a formula used successfully by several manufacturers: take the basic design of a successful single and make a twin out of it. The single in this case was the Bonanza. Later on, Beech did the same thing over again and got the Baron as a result. Compared to the prestigious and pricey Barons, though, the Travel Air can be a real bargain.
However, the Travel Air is, shall we say, a vintage airplane; one that, no matter how virtuous, is getting very long in the tooth. The tough decision for a buyer, then, is whether the price savings offered by the Model 95-which has escalated to perhaps $50,000 to $70,000 or so-should swing a choice away from one of the sweet-flying newer light twins like the Beech Duchess or Piper Seminole. Mechanics in the field tell us there are lots of really doggy Travel Airs out there moldering in tiedowns around the country, so it pays to be especially careful with this class of aircraft. That’s not to take anything away from the basic design, though, because its solid stuff, built to last.
There’s no problem identifying the Travel Airs. They’re the ones with the homely, old-fashioned squared-off vertical tails. (If they look the same as T-34 Mentor trainer tails, its for good reason: they’re the same.) The other main identifying feature: blunt little engine nacelles-shark-shape they are not.
The Travel Air started out in 1958 with four seats and carbureted Lycoming O-360 engines. It had a shortish six-foot-11-inch-long cabin with a small rear window. The Model B95 in 1960 came with another 100 pounds of gross weight and an optional fifth seat. The Model B95A a year later had a longer cabin, up to six seats and yet another 100 pounds of gross weight. Its biggest improvement, however, came in the form of fuel injected engines instead of carburetion. Next, in 1966, came the D95A, with new one-half-inch valves, raising engine TBOs from 1,200 to 2,000 hours. And finally, in 1968, the E95 introduced a bigger, more steeply slanted one-piece windshield.
Paralleling changes for the Beech Bonanza line, the Travel Airs received bigger rear windows, starting with the B95A in 61.
Other than that, there were few changes during the Travel Airs ten-year production run. A total of some 700-odd were produced.
No speed demons, the Travel Airs can be expected to motor along at no better than about 150 to 160 knots in cruise-quite a bit slower than any of the Barons. But the flip side is a relatively miserly fuel burn of only 16 to 19 GPH from the 180-HP Lycomings. Now and then, an owner actually reports urging a hustling 170 knots TAS out of the bird-as called for in the book at 75% power.
But even though the Travel Air looks like a Baron, it has much less powerful engines. When stacked up against the competition, the speeds don’t look so bad; modest though they may be, these speeds put the Travel Air at the head of the pack of comparable light twins.
Figure on a range with reserve (at 65% power) of about 900 NM-again a figure that decently eclipses that of comparable twins in its class.
Alas, the Travel Air does not shine in the area of engine-out service ceiling. Figure on no more than 4,100 feet when the chips are down and loading is heavy-worst in its class except, interestingly, for the much newer Piper Seminole (whose S/E ceiling is pegged at 4,100 feet).
With an equipped useful load of about 1,400 pounds, the pilot can count on carrying full fuel along with four adults and a little baggage. The monster baggage compartment behind the rear seats, and its placarded hefty 270-pound structural limit, might be a temptation to overload, so watch out. A smaller nose baggage compartment has the same weight capacity, CG envelope permitting. One pilot told us he liked to load small high-density items there like extra oil.
There’s only one cabin door for crew and passengers, but the interior layout is standard Bonanza/Baron; i.e., beautiful and beamy with high, handsome windows. Flip open the center windows on a hot day and enjoy the breeze. The Travel Air exudes typical Beech comfort and quality, said one owner. There is plenty of shoulder and leg room for everyone. All four seats have seat rail and back adjustments and individual overhead air outlets. Said another: This is the quietest lightplane cabin I have flown in. The seat height makes long flights less tiring than sitting with legs straight out in front of you.
The Travel Air has typical Bonanza/Baron control responsiveness-the kind that makes owners feel, well, sporty, rather than like bus drivers. In the same vein, landings are a breeze. Properly trimmed, glowed one owner, the aircraft will all but land itself.
The nice thing about the way these Beeches handle is that they make good IFR platforms without being overly heavy or ponderous. Its a formula that’s tough to get right, but one that Beech solved long ago. Suffice it to say that the Travel Air lacks any reputation for handling vices of any sort.
No particularly wicked accident trends related to aircraft deficiencies were detected in a scan of mishaps in FAA accidents/incidents for a typical five-year period. Four weather mishaps, a pair of fuel mismanagement/exhaustion accidents and a like number of engine failures claimed the greatest proportion of fatal accidents among Travel Air pilots during the period.
Wed probably be most concerned about the possibility of engine failure in this model aircraft, since power losses ranked fourth highest in 14 different root accident causes we isolated in the five-year run.
But that’s not to say the Travel Air represents any greater risk in this category than most other aircraft. Its perennially a big one for most aircraft categories. At any rate, no particular pattern was evident in the five engine stoppages we counted-at least those that were unrelated to fuel mismanagement. Indeed, in many cases, the investigators could not even determine the causes of the engine stoppage. In one, a dislodged oil quick drain plug caused oil pressure fluctuation. A handful of valve and cylinder cracking occurrences reported as service difficulties to the FAA would lead us to suspect that other engine stoppages were not reported as accidents after pilots made their way successfully back to an airport.
At least one apparent fuel mismanagement fatality would lead us to regard with wariness the fuel gauge arrangement on the Travel Air. There are only two gauges for the four tanks: two mains and two aux tanks. A toggle switch allows the pilot to shunt readings back and forth between tanks.
On one fatal accident where an engine failed, the fuel selectors were on the aux tanks, but the fuel gauges were set on the mains. It turned out that the aux tanks were empty, while the mains had 10 gallons each. To add to the problem, the pilot feathered the prop on the right engine, although the left one had stopped for lack of fuel. In another nonfatal accident the left fuel selector was not positioned properly in the detent, resulting in a power stoppage on takeoff.
As with most other retractable aircraft, landing gear problems of one type or another exacted the greatest toll in nonfatal accidents. Most of these are due to arrival with the wheels up, either for mechanical or stupidity reasons, but several over the years are traceable to the well-known backwards arrangement of Beech gear and flap controls, with the gear to the right of the throttle quadrant and the flaps to the left. Not that there’s anything wrong with this; its just that everybody else decided to arrange the controls the other way around. A danger for transitioning pilots, to be sure.
Owners for the most part told us they regarded the Beech twin as posing no special maintenance burden, though some railed about the familiar theme that Beech parts were so expensive. Despite the fact that the aircraft are decades old, most also reported they had no problem getting parts. Commonality with the Baron/Bonanza line in many components made the supply quite reasonable, many said. But we did hear some laments that parts peculiar to the Travel Air were not in abundant supply by a long shot, and sometimes they had to be scrounged from salvage yards.
Glen Foulk, service manager for Cutter Aviation in Phoenix, Ariz., who gives service clinics for the American Bonanza Society on Travel Airs, said he had encountered no big parts problem, except perhaps for cowl flap motors. The general maintenance situation for the aircraft, he said, was very straightforward. Prices are high, but not more than for any other aircraft. He did note that the cowlings were hard to get off, though, fastened with lots of screws with nuts rather than nut plates.
Incidentally, concerning cowl flap motors, one irate owner complained bitterly of having to pay Beech $2,700 for an entire cowl flap motor assembly when all he needed was a microswitch.
Corrosion and cracking
Since these are not spring-fresh aircraft, we were surprised to note the paucity of Service Difficulty Reports on corrosion and cracking, but buyers should have a close check made for these problems. We also counted several instances where the engine mounts were broken (the subject of another AD).The bladder fuel tanks should also be given scrutiny by shoppers. Don’t expect to get 10 years out of those bladders, one owner told us. Keeping the airplane outside and filled with fuel, we figure on five years for each.
Carrying the saga of inadvertent door openings of Bonanzas, Barons and Travel Airs through yet another chapter, Beech issued a mandatory service bulletin in September 1990 providing a warning placard to make sure the cabin door is properly latched before takeoff.
The SB observed there have been reports of accidents following a cabin door opening because the pilot did not make sure the door was properly latched prior to takeoff. In each accident the pilot failed to continue to fly the airplane and either lost control or allowed the airplane to stall at low altitude. The most recent Travel Air-specific AD (which also applies to Barons and Bonanzas), 97-14-15, calls for a check of the door latch.
An Airworthiness Directive issued in 1989 (89-5-2) requires inspection of the magnesium elevator and replacement if cracks are found. Cracked engine mounts are the target of another AD, 91-15-20, which mandates recurrent inspections.
As with the Barons, Travel Airs are subject to AD 90-8-14, which mandates inspections for cracks in the forward wing spar carry-through structure. Reinforcement kits are available from Beech. Also, buyers should carefully check the aircraft logs for prop age on Hartzells, since the five-year mandatory overhaul can cost a pretty penny. The props are also the subject of a relatively recent AD, 95-11-8, which calls for inspection of the blade clamp screws.
One owner told us how through the years the various prop nicks on his aircraft had been filed down and dressed out. So when they went in for AD compliance, it was found that all four blades were under spec. When I got them back, I was amazed at the size of the big paddles. They gave us another genuine five knots, he marveled.
Like model comparison
When analyzed for performance and load carrying, the Travel Airs stand up quite favorably with other light twins powered by smaller mills of 180-HP or so. A check of prices reveals the Travel Air to be the cheapest, as well, by several thousand dollars.
All things considered, our preference would be for one of the newer line of twins, just to shave off a decade or three of wear and tear, or just sitting idle. For its roominess and triple-door access, frankly the Beech Duchess would be our choice of a light twin below the Baron/Cessna 310 class.
Wed consider the extra $25,000 or so over the Travel Air probably worth the investment against the silent ravages of time, corrosion and cracking. But an older Travel Air with a good bill of health could sway us strongly.
Hitch up with the American Bonanza Society for support on all the Bonanza/Baron class aircraft. The American Bonanza Society, Mid-Continent Airport P.O. Box 12888, Wichita, KS 67277. (316) 945-6913.
I have been very pleased with my 1958 B95. At 10,000 feet it trues between 190 and 200 MPH and burns 17 GPH. The only problem I’ve had is corrosion on the magnesium control surfaces. I stripped and repainted them, but the corrosion returned in a few months. My advice is to buy new magnesium skins-aluminum, if available.
The 95 is a nice-flying airplane with solid yet responsive handling. Beech quality is quite evident, even on this 30-year-old plane. The 180-HP Lycomings make for excellent fuel economy and low maintenance. I think the Travel Air is a very under-rated light twin.
My 1958 Travel Air has treated me well during one year of ownership. It is simple (for a twin) and has reasonable single-engine performance. It carries a lot for a long distance in comfort. The airplane is very easy to fly. Cruise performance is fair: 145 knots @ 16 GPH.
In short, it is a good compromise between performance and cost for a twin. My most bitter experience has been in dealings with Beechcraft. Their prices for parts are abusive. For example, a microswitch on a cowl flap motor failed. Could they sell me the part? No, only a complete cowl flap motor assembly. Could I contact the switch manufacturer directly? No, they only sell to us. How much for this assembly? $2,700. For a microswitch? I will never own another Beechcraft product.
League City, Texas
Show me another twin-engine flying machine that offers anywhere near the same in terms of comfort, speed, economy, simplicity, safety and peace of mind, for double the money as my Travel Air, and Ill buy it.
Our 1959 Model 95 is a delightful airplane. I get 150-160 knots TAS on about 15 to 16 GPH. It handles beautifully. It also carries a good load. It pays to be very patient in searching for a Travel Air that has been properly taken care of by its prior owners. I looked at one that turned out to be assembled from three different airplanes. Parts are available, which is pretty unusual for a 1959 airplane.
I am happy I have one of the early models; its lighter and doesn’t have fuel injection. Beginning in 1961, Beech used two fuel injection systems, and I have heard that one of them is very expensive to overhaul.
Joseph N. Hosteny
I have operated a 1964 D95A Rayjay-equipped Travel Air since 1979. For the last eight years the plane has been based at an elevation of 5,300 feet with a 4,200-foot runway at Boulder, Colo. The turbos are, of course, a great advantage here in the west.
The advantage of this aircraft is the Beechcraft quality throughout, the Lycoming powerplants (hard to find on Beechcraft products), and in my case a wonderful radio package with a Century III autopilot. All of this adds up to excellent economy and great comfort. This is a much better aircraft than a Twin Comanche. I like to call it the poor mans Baron.
In the years of operating this aircraft, there have been no maintenance surprises. The biggest problems I have experienced are turbo exhaust leaks, induction leaks and an under-designed wastegate. Century Aviation, the parts supplier for Rayjay, charges $300 to $500 to overhaul each wastegate.
I feel this is a high expense, but all-in-all I have had great luck with the performance and suffered little maintenance. It has been 2,000 hours since the last engine overhaul on both engines, and I have not had a jug off as yet. The lowest cylinder compression is 74 pounds, which in my opinion is very good.
On a recent trip east, I used one quart of oil per engine over a period of 14 hours (turbos operating eastbound). The speed and fuel burn is somewhat involved with the turbo option, but I figure at 8,000 feet 160 knots costs me 18 GPH. This summer I departed from the Aspen, Colo., airport, which has a density altitude readout on the taxiway which gives continuous information to pilots. The reading that day was 11,400 feet. I had no problem on takeoff, and climbout with four adults and two hours of fuel.
The downside of this aircraft is that it has a tendency to do the Beech rock in heavy turbulence. The engine cowling has never looked graceful to me. Also, the old-fashioned non-swept tail is handy for fitting in a shallow hangar, but looks dated on the ramp next to aircraft with swept vertical stabilizers.
Now for the best part-flying the airplane. The ailerons are a delight, with fast, smooth and positive roll response. Most light and medium twins handle heavily, including Barons. This is not the case with the Travel Air. Another positive feature is that the cabin is extremely quiet.
Barry M. Barnow
I am chief pilot for the West Houston Aero Club, which has leased a 1959 Travel Air.
Fuel has averaged 14.5 GPH, mostly with one engine caged. Speed at 75 percent power is 155 knots with both mills turning. One notable maintenance item involved the retractable boarding step, which is retracted by a bungee cord in the aft fuselage and extended by a cable in the aft fuselage which runs to the nose gear assembly. The step failed to retract, and the loose cable wrapped around the nose gear assembly.
Extending the gear caused the cable to bend the mechanism which engages and closes the nose gear door. Fortunately, no other damage occurred, and we noticed the damage before the next flight. The step is now permanently extended, and the offensive cable has been removed. The plane is an excellent trainer, especially for those who plan to transition to the larger Baron B55 or B58 series.
The aircraft systems, control feel and single-engine performance are similar to the heavier Barons. The Lycoming 180s are superb, having required no significant engine maintenance right up to TBO. Compression is still in the 70s on both engines. We have Baron drivers who come for recurrent training in our Travel Air because they fear the potential damage full power engine cuts might do to their big Continentals.
Stall characteristics are gentler than with the heavier Barons. If sufficiently provoked, however, the Travel Air can demonstrate a dramatic wing-drop characteristic of the Bonanza wing all these Beechcraft share.
Single-engine flight is possible up to 6,000 feet with a student, instructor and 80 gallons of fuel (max is 112 gallons). Single-engine control is excellent-as it is in the larger Barons. Vyse is comfortably above Vmca (100 MPH and 84 MPH). We are careful, however, to avoid single-engine stalls.
With the ability of the wing to stall completely and unload suddenly, we halt the Vmca demo at the first sign of buffet or stall warning light, as the Beech manual recommends. To give the student a feel for Vmca loss of directional control, I will restrict the rudder travel with my feet.
The strange position of the flaps, gear, throttle and prop controls are not a problem. Our heavy single is an A-36 Bonanza, and several of our students go on to fly Barons. Of course, the student touches not one switch until the plane has cleared the runway and come to a complete stop. Flat switch is the Flap switch.
The American Bonanza Societys Baron/Travel Air Pilot Proficiency Program is excellent, and is a true bargain. Both the ground school and flight training are top notch, and the aircraft walk-around offers straight answers by maintenance people who know about the systems and their upkeep.
My 1967 D95A was manufactured with most of the available options: long-range tanks, prop and windshield and anti-ice, fifth seat and soundproofing. The original owner added Rayjay turbos, a Skyox oxygen system, Hoskins strobes, a Brittain B4 autopilot and the Smith speed kit. The engines had one top overhaul at about 700 hours, but no other major repairs.
Two partners and I bought the plane at a distress sale for $13,500. It had 2,100 hours total time and had not flown in two years.
An AD required replacement of all 43 engine hoses with fire retardant versions. These had to be custom manufactured, which cost us $1,763 at Hoses Unlimited in Oakland. Another $2,800 in parts and labor put the airplane back in service. Insurance for the first year cost $3,000 for pilots with 170, 20 and zero multi time. In May of this year, after putting 150 hours on the plane, we took it to LyCon in Visalia to have the engines rebuilt.
The Cermichrome rebuilds cost $24,600, including all new gears and cams. Prop reconditioning added $2,443, and the annual was $500, plus $120 to comply with the spar inspection (no cracks) and stabilizer AD. One of our electric boost pumps went south just before the annual. Beech wants $650 for this little item, but LyCon found one for $400.
The Travel Air exudes typical Beech comfort and quality. There is plenty of shoulder and leg room for everyone. All four seats have seat rail and back adjustments and individual overhead air outlets. The panel is large and accommodates lots of equipment.
The nonstandard layout of prop/throttle and gear/flaps has not been a noticeable problem since they are quite clearly distinguished by size and shape. And with the dual yoke, the gear lever is difficult to get your hand on, anyway.
The real drawback is load capability. With the long-range tanks full, you can only carry three 170-pound people, no baggage. If you fill the seats and add 100 pounds of baggage, you have to leave 45 gallons at home, somehow. There is no easy way of measuring partially full tanks. However, one partner accidentally overloaded the plane by 200 pounds and took off from a 6,000-foot airport at 80 degrees. This turboed version didn’t even work up a sweat.
The Travel Air is a real diamond in the rough. Hidden behind the straight tail and four-banger powerplants is a fast, comfortable, reliable and inexpensive twin. If you never carry more than one or two passengers, you’d be hard pressed to find a sweeter personal or small business airplane. And no, ours is not for sale.
Santa Clara, Calif.