Cabin Class Cessnas

With a veritable fleet of choices, we think the 421 represents the high-end best value while the 340A is an affordable hot rod.

Your ship has come in; youve unloaded it for a healthy pile of cash and now you can buy a high-performance twin. And not some clunker Apache, either, but a cabin-class job, maybe with known ice protection and pressurization.

But guess what? Even more so than with light twins, the choices in this class of airplane are staggering. We cant devote an entire issue to cabin class twins so well be breaking the species into smaller helpings, beginning with Cessnas offerings this time around.

And well omit a few, such as the Cessna Bobcat-yeah, we know, you never heard of it-and the Cessna 335 because so few were built. Ditto the 404, which well mention only in passing. But that leaves plenty to choose from because say what you might about Cessna, the company had a cabin-class twin for every mission and price point, far outdistancing Piper or Beech in variety if not quality.

Cessna 303 Crusader
In the 1970s, Cessna planned to get on the light-light twin bandwagon with the model 303. Early development indicated that it wouldnt exceed the performance of the Piper, Grumman and Beech twins by enough to make it worth doing so Cessna turned the airplane into a sophisticated, cabin-class replacement for the 310.

The result, produced for the 1982 through 1984 model years, was best described as interesting. Some loved it while others preferred the 310. The 303 had perhaps the finest handling of any twin ever built, but the merciless quest to make it light resulted in amenities that seemed cheap in an airplane that was anything but. And the airplane wasnt as fast as a 310.

Handling and Performance
Although no slouch, the Crusader doesnt match the later 310s speed simply because it has a bit less horsepower. The airplane will realistically cruise at 170 knots down low and 190 knots up high.

A T303 can be slowed to below 90 knots with confidence on a circling approach, and gets in and out of fairly short runways as a result. Single-engine handling is straightforward and Vmc is so low (65 KIAS) that only a feckless dolt would lose control when flying on one.

The landing gear configuration causes most pilots to have trouble smoothly lifting the nosewheel on takeoff and transitioning to the climb. It takes a tug then a quick relaxing of the backpressure to avoid a pitch bobble on departure. (A little nose down trim helps.)

The responsive handling means that a functioning autopilot is nice to have in cruise; any control input bumps the airplane off altitude or heading. When letting down, the ability to drop the gear and approach flaps at 175 KIAS means never having to chill the engines.

Flight Deck, Cabin
The flight deck is well appointed and the cabin is of adequate size, but only just. Its snug with six aboard. The drive to keep weight down resulted in cabin appointments that are, in our view, somewhat tacky. Many owners have refurbished their 303s to higher standards.

As high-performance twins go, the 303s operating costs are average, which is to say expensive. Although the exhaust system AD that affects the other twin Cessnas doesnt apply to the Crusader, you still need to mind the exhaust system.

The airplane has a long overboard exhaust pipe thats prone to cracking and should be checked every 50 hours.

For an airplane initially viewed as being too light for the rigors of the real world, we dont hear of consistent problems with components breaking. The airstair door was a problem until users learned to hold on to the chain when letting it down or until snubbers were installed to protect the hinges from over-extension damage.

Only about 305 T303s were built and because this model has few parts in common with other Cessnas, were told that parts availability can be a problem.

Cessna 340
Theres no other way to describe the Cessna 340A than as an attractive personal aerial hotrod. Its reasonably fast for the power and has handling that experienced pilots enjoy. However, as with a 310 or Baron, its not considered forgiving of the hamfisted.

The original 340 came out in 1972 with 285 HP per side. It looked like a pressurized 310, which it was in a way. But it shared wings, flaps, ailerons, landing gear and, eventually, engines, with the larger 414.

By 1976, Cessna bumped the power to 310 HP per side, a much-needed increase, creating the 340A. Virtually all 340s have been converted to at least 310 HP engines, or higher, with various mods available. In fact, because of their popularity, it s difficult to find a 340 or 340A without at least some modification, including vortex generators (VGs), spoilers, or bigger engines.

The 340 tends to be an owner-flown airplane leading, we have observed, to two effects: 1) a large number of mods as the aircraft are personalized, and 2) some absolutely horribly maintained airplanes.

In speaking with pilots seeking a good 340, we were told time and time again that there are lots of dogs on the market due to crummy maintenance, so a careful pre-purchase inspection is a must. We suspect that potential buyers will have to be prepared to pay a premium for a good one.

Handling and Performance
Having a smaller diameter cabin than the 340, the 303 is faster but the tradeoff is weak payload. With two people and modest bags aboard, itll range out to 1000 miles with the optional 203 gallons of gas.But if you need to fill six seats and go some distance, dont bother with a 340. True, VGs add 300 pounds to the allowable gross weight, a nice little touch, but that eats into single-engine rate of climb.

Reasonably loaded, you can climb into the teens and whistle along at about 200 knots at 65 percent for five hours and still have about an hour of gas aboard. Loading has to be watched, as its easy to crowd the 340s aft CG limit.

Service ceiling is nearly 30,000 feet and depending on engines, the 340A will climb nicely to 20,000 feet or above before things start to sag. About the only piston twin that will out climb a 340A on one engine is the P Skymaster.

Accelerate/stop distance is less than 3500 feet on a warm day so caution is advised in basing a 340 at a short strip. Even though approach flaps can come out at 160 KIAS (with a substantial pitch change), the gear speed is a relativiely slow 140 KIAS, so slowing down after a descent can be difficult, thus spoilers are a popular aftermarket mod among 340 owners. Once the gear and split flaps are extended, theres plenty of drag, so steep approaches are doable. The gear is somewhat stiff, thus smooth landings take practice.

Flight Deck, Cabin
The 340s airstair door isnt particularly wide, nor is the aisle, so the portly wont waltz through the cabin. Once seated, leg, elbow and headroom are adequate but not generous.

The panel is well laid out with power gauges high enough to allow cross checking to assure everything is snugged up against the respective red lines during the takeoff roll.

Most 340s have the optional pressurization system that takes only a couple of seconds to set to 500 feet above field elevation prior to takeoff. Monitoring the system, as with any pressurization, is easy with straightforward gauging. Maximum differential is 4.2 PSI, allowing an 8000-foot cabin at 20,000 feet, where most owners seem to fly.

The fuel system of the 340 should be addressed here. Like all the tip tank-equipped Cessnas, it seems complex at first blush. But it yields to POH review. For crashworthiness, the main tanks are on the wing tips. Theyre used for takeoff and the first 60 to 90 minutes of flight.

Fuel-injected aircraft engines generally return a portion of the fuel supplied to the engine driven pump back to the fuel tank. On the twin Cessnas, this goes to the tip tanks. So, when the aux tanks (in the wings, outboard of the engines) are selected, the return fuel goes to the tips and can fill them, then vent overboard if there isnt space. Thats why the savvy pilot runs the mains down a little first, to open up some tank ullage and prevent fuel dumping.

If wing locker tanks are installed in the aft portion of the engine nacelles, fuel from them has to be transferred, at the pilots discretion, to the tip tank on that side before it can be fed to the engine.

Cessna 401/402
In 1967, the Cessna 401 Business Liner and 402 Utililiner appeared simultaneously. They were identical structurally and had the same engines, but the 401 was marketed with six seats to carry business travelers in luxury while the 402 was to be a commuter, with up to 10 seats, or a bare-cabined freighter.

Neither was pressurized, which didnt seem to matter; both sold well. The wide oval fuselage, wider than tall, proved popular because it allowed plenty of side-to-side seating comfort without sacrificing headroom. A combination airstair and cargo door meant the airplane could be loaded with a forklift. The airplane was a moneymaker for the 135 set from the start.

With turbocharging (and known icing certification on later models), operators found they could dispatch in most weather conditions. Naturally, in time, they wanted more space and capability.

The 402A got a longer nose, with more cargo space; the 402B upped the fuel to 184 gallons and got a series of modest changes as the years went by.

In 1979, the 402C followed the pattern of the other 400 series airplanes, appearing with 325 HP engines, a new wing without tip tanks and an excellent hydraulic landing gear. The 401 went through an A and B model at the same time but went out of production after 1972. The 402C has the highest useful load of the group, and while all are pleasant to fly, its the best handling of the series.

The 400 series Cessnas dont have the brisk handling of the 300 series twins. They tend to be more luxury sedan, less sports car. Because of the wide range of loading possibilities, the 401/402 require that a pilot checking out fly the airplane both loaded and empty; the difference is quite noticeable.

Heavy, climb rate is well over 1000 FPM. However, versions prior to the C-model had anemic single-engine rates of climb, on the order of 225 FPM if everything was done correctly, including closing the cowl flaps on the inoperative engine.

The C-model was better, with single-engine climb in the 300 FPM ballpark. The cernter-of-gravity range is long for an airplane in this class, so with an aft CG, pitch control forces get noticeably light. As the CG moves forward, the stick force per G goes up significantly. With such a useful load, the airplane is a rocket when light. All of the airplanes in the series wag their tails in turbulence, so a yaw damper is worth the price if you carry passengers frequently. The early airplanes cruise nicely at 175 knots or so at 10,000 feet while the C-model is slightly faster. Naturally, with turbochargers, climbing higher means going faster at the expense of passenger comfort while using oxygen.

A large proportion of the 401/402 fleet has been equipped with VGs, lowering Vmc. These provide an increased gross weight only on the C-model.

Dropping approach flaps and slowing to about 120 KIAS allows approaches to be flown without much fuss. Flap extension does cause a pronounced pitch change, although it can be quickly nulled with electric trim.

Landings are typical twin Cessna; a good pilot will close the throttles in the flare and get the nose up. The gear is wide, so directional control is easy. Strong crosswinds can be dealt with, thanks to the effective controls, differential power and the fact that once the nose is lowered after landing, the wing is done flying.

Flight Deck and Cabin
The airstair door on this airplane is plenty wide, with room between the seats to move about, as the cabin is wider than a 90 series King Air.

On the executive seating airplanes, theres stretch-out room. But commuter versions define the word cramped. Which leads to this observation: Shopping the 401/402 market, the potential buyer will find that the majority of the airplanes out there have been pack mules, with beat-up interiors and high-time airframes.

The flight deck on even the earliest models is well designed with a convenient circuit breaker panel under the pilots left arm.

The cockpit feels like a miniature airliner, particularly given the width of the fuselage. Copilots instruments are more than just nice to have; its tough to look across the panel to the opposite side. Worth mentioning in passing is the Cessna 404 Titan. Recognizing the shortcomings of the 402 series, Cessna designed it as yet another piston-powered load hauler.

The 404 was designed to be used by both commuter airlines and freight dogs. The 404 is such a capable, flexible hauler that theyre being used nearly exclusively as freighters and we could find none in private ownership.

Although a good load hauler and less demanding to fly than the 401/402, the 404 has the finicky GTSIO-520 engines, which are intolerant of throttle jockeying. As a result, every pilot flying a Titan has some sort of mantra regarding making small power changes.

In addition, because its a geared engine, they learn never, ever to have the manifold pressure low in a descent or approach so that the propellers are driving the engines, putting strain on the gearing. Do all that, and Titan engines will probably make TBO.

Cessna 411
The 411 was Cessnas first 400 series twin, initially appearing in 1965. It used what was available at the time for power, which was again the GTSIO-520-C. An early generation engine, it has a poor rep for longevity.

The 411 sold well to corporations seeking a fast, comfortable people mover. When new, it was the top of the line but was complicated and required plenty of money to maintain. (The money part is still true.)

Of the 400 series, the 411s were the most demanding to fly and expensive to maintain, requiring constant need for careful inspections and preventive maintenance. The operational costs drove the price of a used 411 to shockingly low levels.

The predictable happened: The airplanes were simply not kept up. They were flown by operators on the lowest rung of the freight dog ladder because they were cheap and carried an impressive load or by skinflint owners who just wanted cheap.

In both cases, training was essentially nonexistent, so the accident rate was awful. The aviation plaintiffs bar latched onto a convenient lever and claimed that because the vertical stabilizer and rudder were smaller than on other 400 series, the 411 was uncontrollable on one engine.

An expert in a lawsuit against Cessna testified that the rudder force needed to keep the airplane straight at Vmc was more than 200 pounds and that Cessna had faked meeting the 150-pound limit during certification.

The 411 was thought to be so bad, in fact, that Aviation Consumer deemed it too dangerous and suggested that Cessna buy them all back and junk them.

However, it turns out the trial experts data was flawed due to an incorrect measuring method. So while the 411 requires skill and training to handle, its slightly less demanding than the Beech Duke on one engine. (Actual rudder force at Vmc is 145 pounds; high for twins but the Duke is higher.)

In retrospect, we think the 411 got a bum rap suggesting its recall was perhaps over the top. That said, we still dont recommend the 411 but for maintenance cost reasons, not safety. Instead, we recommend that an owner considering a 411 examine the 401/402 because they have newer technology systems and components are less expensive to maintain.

Theyre also easier to fly, if not quite as fast. The criticisms of the 411 historically have had to do with its ability to maintain directional control on one engine. Having flown 411s and followed up on the claims made against the type, we learned that the airplanes are fully controllable down to Vmc and, in many cases, below Vmc.

Failure to feather the propeller of the dead engine or close its cowl flap will probably cancel any ability to hold altitude on one engine, if heavily loaded.

Naturally, that can cause a pilot to keep pulling the nose up until the speed gets well below Vmc and then the airplane, as with any twin, rolls uncontrollably. For other regimes of flight, the 411 is quite nice to fly, in our view. The 411 moves right along. If youre willing to use supplemental oxygen, it will easily do cruise at well over 210 knots in the high teens.

Cessna 414
The 414 was introduced in 1970 as a 421 with smaller engines. With 310 HP per side compared with the 421s 375 HP, it would seem that the airplane would be hopelessly anemic.

Yet its performance is comparable to the 340A; both have the same power. The 414, with a larger cabin, can carry a little over 300 pounds more than a 340A, but is about 7 to 10 knots slower. In 1973, the cabin was stretched 16 inches, and in 1978 the A-model came out with a new wing without tip tanks, a hefty bump in takeoff and landing weights, a simpler fuel system and a wider track, hydraulic landing gear.

Handling and Performance
Owners report a great deal of affection for the 414 series. It can haul full fuel and five people with baggage at 190 to 200 knots in the high teens. Handling is consistent with the other 400 series Cessnas, that is, comfortable and almost without sin.

The solid ride and nicely harmonized controls dont obviate the need for serious recurrent training for those who fly the marque. The pilot needs to be on top of things should an engine fail, particularly if VGs are installed and the allowable extra 350 pounds is stuffed inside. (Single-engine climb, merely average, will suffer at higher weights.)

414 systems are complex and require that the pilot know them intimately. Nevertheless, the 414 has one of the best safety records, if not the best, for piston twins. Flight controls are effective at low speeds and operators report landings in winds in excess of 50 knots and direct crosswind components as high as 35 knots.

The 414 is one of the most modified twin Cessnas ever, with larger engines, winglets, liquid-cooled engines, speed brakes, STOL kits and VGs available.

This is a comfortable airplane, particularly on models with the stretched cabin. The pressurization system will hold the cabin at sea level to nearly 10,000 feet. Avionics vary wildly among the airplanes, and will affect price substantially, something thats true of all the twin Cessnas, actually.

Cessna 421
The initial success of the 411 lead directly to the 421 Golden Eagle. With 375 HP engines and an easy-to-operate pressurization system, the 421 took the market away from the 411 almost immediately.

The first version would cruise comfortably over the weather at 220 knots in the low 20s. With pressurization and geared engines, it was the quietest cabin that anyone had experienced. The 421 was an immediate success with the airplane evolving through a C-model and gaining more than 600 pounds in gross weight while also increasing useful load substantially. Power stayed at 375 HP but TBO eventually went from a paltry 1200 hours to 1600 hours.

The C-model was the first of the 400 series Cessnas to get the new wing without tip tanks, a simpler fuel system and hydraulic landing gear. The trailing beam gear truly makes even a crummy pilot look good on touchdown.

Handling and Performance
A 421 will run with a number of turboprops and is faster than most of the King Air 90 series as well as the Piper Cheyenne I.

Owners report cruise speeds from 215 to 230 knots once they get into the teens and upward, although some C-model owners will push the power up at 25,000 feet and get 240 knots.

Fuel burn seems to average around 45 gallons per hour, including climb. VGs add 129 pounds to the gross weight of the B- and C-model, but hurt single-engine climb with the excess weight.

We constantly hear of huge differences in success with engines reaching TBO on the 421 series and can only conclude that the difference is pilot technique.

The GTSIOs are not tolerant of any abuse. A rule of thumb is that a quick throttle movement of at least one inch of the lever takes 50 hours off the engines life.

Successful operators tell us the secret to engine longevity is to keep engine temperatures as nearly constant as possible, so long, low-power descents are bad news.

Flight Deck, Cabin
We keep hearing that the 421 is the Caddy of piston-engine airplanes. The handling is more of a touring than sports car, but theres never any question of control authority when needed.

The airplane is appropriately responsive and smooth, never twitchy and for a piston, its quiet. The reduced noise and vibration due to the geared engines make a noticeable difference in crew fatigue at the end of a trip.

Owners who have installed VGs give us somewhat inconsistent reports on stall behavior. Some say that they cannot get an actual break; some report an almost violent roll off at the stall. We suspect the latter is due to improperly installed VGs.

The instrument panel is typical 400 series, well laid out and functional. We like having the power gauges up high where they can be easily seen, particularly on takeoff, as overboosting is an anathema to these engines. The capacitance fuel gauges seem to be accurate if they are regularly calibrated.

As with the 414, there are lots of mods for the 421, including attempts to put turbine engines on the airframe. We think thats a serious mistake given the cost. Its far more sensible to just buy a PT-6-equipped 425 Conquest .

Cutting to the chase, which ones do we like and which would we avoid? If money were no object and we were willing to pay to maintain these airplanes, wed buy a 421C in a heartbeat, thus we think it represents the best value here.

With good recurrent training and attention to the engines, this is the luxury yacht of piston twins. The 414 series is a close second and, for a personal hot rod thats somewhat more affordable, wed go with a 340A. For the smaller family, the T303 would be perfect but, alas, no pressurization if thats an issue.

For a budget heavy hauler, an older 401/2 is not a bad choice but its an airplane not commonly found in private ownership.

Frankly, we would avoid the 411. While it goes fast and carries a good load, an older 310 or a nice Aztec is a better value strictly on cost of operation and maintenance. Speed is of little good if you own a dollar-eating hangar queen.

With any of these twins, a thorough pre-purchase is a must. While inadvertently buying a hangar queen single could be painful, doing the same with one of these twins could be ruinous. And given the amount of junk on the twin market, thats an easy mistake to make.

Also With This Article
Click here to view the Cabin Class Cessna Checklist.
Click here to view the Cessna Data Points and Hard Specifications.
Click here to view “Maintenance a Stretch? Don’t Even Think About a Twin.”

-Aviation Consumer staff report