The last of the pressurized, piston, 400-series airplanes Cessna developed, pilots and mechanics will tell you that Cessna got it right with the models 414 and 414A.
Combining spacious cabins and relatively small, efficient engines, the 414 series can carry lots of fuel or a small crowd with their belongings—but not both. All told, Cessna built nearly 1000 of the airplanes—roughly a 50/50 split between early tip-tanked 414s and wet-wing 414A Chancellors—during 16 years of production. Once in service the airplanes became popular as workhorses for small charter and corporate flight departments, as well as comfortable transports for private owners.
Today, prices range from around $120,000 to nearly $300,000 for typically equipped 414s with mid-time engines. Operating and maintenance costs are attractive when compared with those of competing airplanes, such as the big-brother Cessna 421 and the Beech Duke.
In a study of accident records some years ago, the 414 stood out as the safest light twin. Of course, any airplane’s safety depends a great deal on the proficiency of its pilots—something you’ll need to fly a 414.
There are several good training programs available to help keep 414 pilots in top form, something we feel to be quite important. While the accident rate is low, our recent wreck report research showed things can get ugly in amateur-flown 414s and involve deficient pilot skills while flying in IMC, rather than anything wrong with the airplane.
Cessna borrowed components from existing 400-series airplanes to come out in 1970 with a model to bridge the price gap between unpressurized and pressurized twins. It had basically the same tail and “wide-oval” fuselage as the 421B, and the 401’s wing. The engines were adapted from those used on the 401 and 402 models—the differences were intercoolers and provisions for bleed-air cabin pressurization. List price was $138,000 (that’s over $850,000 in 2017 dollars)—$35,000 less than the Duke and some $50,000 less than both the 421 and Piper’s P-Navajo.
Engines were 310-HP Continental TSIO-520-J’s, and propellers were three-blade McCauleys. According to Cessna, 4.2-PSI cabin pressure differential could be maintained by either engine operating at 60 percent power. Six seats were standard; a seventh was available as an option. Maximum takeoff weight was 6350 pounds; max landing, 6200 pounds.
In the years following its introduction, the airplane saw few major changes. One of the most important came in 1973, when cabin length was increased 16 inches and a fifth side window was installed. Electronic prop synchrophasers became standard equipment in 1976, when two versions of the airplane were put on the market: a bare-bones 414 and a 414II, which came with an assortment of ARC 400-series avionics equipment.
That year, most limiting and recommended airspeeds were boosted a few knots (except Vmc, which was lowered from 84 to 82 knots), and the -J engines were replaced with TSIO-520-N’s. The difference is that an -N engine uses 38 inches of manifold pressure, rather than 36 inches, and 2700 RPM to produce its rated 310 horsepower. Standard usable fuel capacity of early 414s was 100 gallons (50 in each tip tank). Optional auxiliary and locker tanks were available to boost usable capacity to 180 gallons, then to 203 gallons in 1973.
The fuel system in early 414s is complex, especially with wing locker tanks installed, and proper fuel management requires attention to detail. There are only two fuel-quantity indicators, both with three-position switches, to help the pilot keep track. The drill is to run the engines off the mains (tip tanks) for 90 minutes before switching to the auxiliary tanks.
This makes room in the mains because all return fuel and vapor from the engines is routed back to the mains rather than to the tank selected. To get at the fuel in the wing locker tanks, it must first be transferred to the mains. Before doing so, however, the pilot has to ensure there are fewer than 20 gallons in each main (tip) tank. Fuel transferred too early is pumped overboard. The system left room for error, not only on the part of the pilot, but among line personnel. When told to “top off the mains,” a line person may not realize that the mains are the tip tanks and will fuel only the aux tanks. Pay attention to the fuel system in tip-tanked 414s.
A simpler fuel system was among a host of improvements unveiled in 1978 with introduction of the Model 414A Chancellor. Tip, aux and locker tanks were obviated by a 4.5-foot longer, bonded wing holding 206 gallons of usable fuel in internal bays. Controls consisted of on/off/crossfeed valves and a fuel flow computer/indicator was added.
A 30-square-foot increase in wing area accommodated a 400-pound increase in maximum takeoff weight and a 550-pound increase in landing weight. A ramp weight of 6785 pounds was approved to allow for the consumption of six gallons of fuel during start, taxi and runup. Also, a zero-fuel weight of 6515 pounds was published to preclude excessive wing bending loads.
The 421’s longer nose also was grafted onto the 414A, making space for an extra 410 pounds of baggage and avionics. All told, maximum useful load was boosted about 200 pounds and an eighth seat was added to the options list. Pressurization differential was increased to 5.0 PSI to enable the airplane to maintain cabin altitudes of 10,000 and 11,950 feet at cruising altitudes of 26,500 and 30,000 feet, respectively. (RVSM rules have generally limited 414s to 28,000 feet.) Limiting speed for the extension of 15 degrees of flap was raised from 164 to 177 knots; Vlo and Vle were increased to an impressive 177 knots, from 143 knots.
Beginning in 1978, Cessna offered three basic equipment packages. In addition to the bare-bones model and the ARC 400-equipped 414AII, there was a III version with ARC 800- and 1000-series avionics, a Bendix RDR 160 weather radar and 100-amp alternators.
After the Chancellor debuted, there were few further refinements. One of the most important was the switch in 1979 to TSIO-520-NB engines, which have improved crankshafts. Four years later, Continental incorporated some changes to the -NB’s cylinders, valve lifters and piston pins, and increased the engine’s recommended TBO from 1400 to 1600 hours. Continental also published overhaul procedures to enable -NB engines to get the TBO boost.
Despite that, cylinder head cracking has been a persistent problem for the -N and -NB engines (as well as for other IO-, TSIO- and GTSIO-520s). An AD issued in 1986 requires cylinders to be pressure-checked for leaks every 50 hours until the engine has amassed 500 hours.
Four different pressurization systems were offered during the run of the 414A, so it’s essential that the maintenance technician working on a pressurization glitch confirm which system by aircraft serial number.
Service ceilings are above 30,000 feet, but few owners fly that high. Most prefer the upper teens and lower 20s, where they get about 190 knots on 32 to 34 GPH at 65 percent power. A pilot in a hurry will see 205 knots on 38 GPH at 75 percent power rich of peak, although few operate that way anymore. With GAMIjectors and lean-of-peak operation owners report a reduction of about 3 GPH per engine at all power settings as well as cooler operating temperatures.
Single-engine performance at sea level is average, about 240 FPM for the 414 and 290 FPM for the A model. At 11,350 feet, the 414’s single-engine service ceiling was below average, but, at 19,850, the 414A is tops in its class.
Owner-pilots give high marks to cockpit room and layout of systems controls and enthuse about handling characteristics. The 414 and 414A share the distinctive silky-smooth control response of the other 400-series Cessnas. They are the Cadillacs of the piston line, with attention having been paid to detail; even on an airplane of this vintage, only slight trim changes are needed when flaps or landing gear are reconfigured, although single-engine handling, as with any piston twin, is demanding and requires regular practice.
The big cabin, wider than it is tall, makes for comfortable seating and copious baggage space—the 414’s forte. There’s enough room in the aft cabin, the nose and wing lockers of a 414 to hold 930 pounds of baggage. With its bigger nose and lockers, the 414A can carry 1500 pounds. Loading must be watched carefully to avoid going out of the rear CG limit. The nose baggage compartment of the 414A made CG juggling easier.
With full tanks—enough fuel for nearly 4.5 hours with IFR reserves—a well-equipped Chancellor will have room left in its weight-and-balance envelope to accommodate six FAA-standard people with their toothbrushes. Load a six-person marketing staff with 800 pounds of equipment, and there will be room left for only about 1.5 hours of fuel.
It’s important to note that a 414 is 7 knots slower than its little brother, the 340, which has the same engines and many of the same systems, but a notably smaller cabin. So, if it’s just pressurization you’re looking for and you’re going to be flying with only another person or two aboard, you might want to look at the 340 for a personal hot rod.
However, a 414 appears to be a good choice for anyone who wants a pressurized airplane with a big cabin and lots of baggage space. Compared to its biggest competitors—the 421 and Duke—a 414 provides more room than the Duke, as much as the 421, travels a little slower, but does so more economically.
Ensuring that all ADs have been complied with before buying a 414 will take work, because there have been several dozen of them (not counting a flurry of service bulletins), although the rate of issuance slowed down dramatically in the last 10 years.
The current concern is with wing spar cracking in high-time airplanes, with a series of ADs calling for inspections and modifications to the spar—compliance is expensive. One owner reported discovering mis-drilled holes in the spar of his airplane when it was opened up to install the spar strap: ADs 2005-05-52 and 2005-12-13 are current. (As of this writing there is an alternative method of compliance published by the FAA in CE-05-35.)
A potential buyer should carefully investigate the compliance status of the airplane by flight time and serial number, especially if the airplane is high time. The exhaust system sees a great deal of heat and vibration, thus components wear out. An exhaust leak is a critical item on a turbocharged airplane and can lead to a serious fire in flight. (See page 25 for an abbreviated AD list.)
We spoke with Michael Cook and Todd Voshell, who direct maintenance at Rapid Air, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which has been operating 300- and 400-series Cessna twins for over 25 years. Both were quick to praise the 414 and especially the 414A as the best of the Cessna piston twins, with good systems, particularly the hydraulic gear on the 414A. They said that the Cessna inspection procedure manual for the airplane is one of the best such manuals written. If followed carefully, a mechanic won’t miss anything. Areas to watch on the pressurization system are to make sure the nine drain seals are changed regularly as they deteriorate and become brittle and to regularly check the pressurization ducts off of the heater, forward of the forward pressure bulkhead, as they can develop major leaks.
The exhaust system AD must be followed carefully, including the 30-day checks whether the airplane flies or not. The gear system of the 414A is easy to maintain, with one spot to watch: When assembling the center bolt on the main landing gear scissors, the correct washers must be installed in the correct sequence or the bolt can pull out, allowing the main gear wheel to turn sideways.
Boost pumps seem to be a weak point, requiring what seems to be frequent replacement. The deice light on the panel illuminates only very briefly when the pneumatic deicing system is activated and only indicates that there’s pressure to the tail boots. The switch for that light is on the underside of a T fitting in the pressure line to the tail and thus fills with water, rust and crud and should be pulled and cleaned periodically, or it will fail. It’s an $800 part.
Mods, Type Clubs
Among the most popular mods are the RAM Aircraft Corporation engine swaps. Four variations are available, all of which offer a boost in useful load, increased TBOs and new props. The top of the line for the 414 is the series VI. In addition to 335-HP engines, new props and intercooler scoops, it includes a set of vortex generators and gives an increase in useful load of 415 pounds. Owners of 414As can opt for the series V conversion, which includes Continental’s 350-HP liquid-cooled Voyager engines, which have a TBO of 2000 hours. RAM also makes winglets and vortex generators. (See www.ramaircraft.com.)
VGs are also available from Micro Aerodynamics (www.microaero.com) and V/G Systems, phone 800-328-4629. By all accounts, vortex generators reduce Vmc and stall speeds. We highly recommend them. Micro Aerodynamics’ VGs provide a 350-pound gross-weight increase.
Speedbrakes/spoilers are available from PowerPac Spoilers (www.powerpacspoilers.com) and more advanced intercoolers come from American Aviation (www.americanaviationinc.com). There’s also the Speed Cover wheel mod from Premiere Aviation. In the November 2016 Aviation Consumer, we covered the Speed Covers in the speed mod roundup article after verifying the company’s claims of a 5- to 10-percent reduction in fuel burn and a single-engine climb rate increase of 25 percent.
Premiere has an STC for the 402C, 414A and 421C. There’s also approval for the Cessna 425 and 441 twin turbines. Contact the company at www.premiere-aviation.com.
In our view, the Twin Cessna Flyer club (www.twincessna.org) is the hands-down go-to type club for the 414. It offers extensive and excellent support for the airplane, in addition to all other twin Cessnas.
Chancellor Accidents: IMC Events
When we reviewed the most recent 100 accidents involving Cessna 414s and 414As, we were struck by the absence of runway loss of control (RLOC) events—there were only two. Both were on runways contaminated with snow and ice. The Chancellor series apparently has extraordinarily good ground-handling characteristics.
On the other side of the coin, we were surprised at the number of crashes—most of which were fatal—tied in with flight in IMC or dark nights where there were no outside references. Twenty-four pilots got themselves into trouble doing everything from ignoring the MDA or DH on an instrument approach in foul weather and flying into the ground to trying to fly VFR into IMC—frequently in mountainous terrain—or simply being unable to control the airplane in the clag.
The 414 series is among the most IFR-capable of piston airplanes, but they require the loose nut on the control yoke to use a modicum of judgment when dealing with IMC. We were surprised at how often the pilot failed to do so.
In terms of things of concern to 414 owners, we think attention has to be paid to the landing gear and fuel systems. There were 10 events involving an inability to get all three of the Firestones into the wind and a gear-down-and-locked indication or in which one leg collapsed on rollout. All were due to improper maintenance or maintenance that was simply not performed.
The majority were on the 414, which has electromechanical gear that must be rigged per the book or will hang up. There were fewer failures of what we consider the better-designed hydraulic gear of the 414A, but it still requires actually performing maintenance.
We did see one example of the traditional bugaboo of the electro-mechanical twin Cessna gear: If the nosegear strut is completely deflated it’s a no-go item. If the pilot ignores it, it will jam upon retraction and will not extend.
We noted that one of the gear failure mishaps involved a nosegear trunnion that failed in fatigue. It had been on another airplane for 20,000 hours before being installed on the accident machine. “Hey, Boris, it looks just fine to me.”
The 414 has what we consider to be a fuel system that isn’t particularly complicated, it just has to be learned to make sure the pilot uses all of the fuel in what can be as many as six tanks. The 414A has a much simpler system, but the pilot still has to understand it to do things right. There were 12 fuel-related accidents, slightly fewer than we expected to see. They ran the usual gamut from total exhaustion to not selecting a tank with fuel in it to contamination not detected and removed before flight.
Three pilots attempted to take off with ice on the wings. None made it very far. It appeared to us that a majority of the stall-related accidents were also connected to an accumulation of airframe ice and attempting to maneuver at low altitude—such as during a circle-to-land approach.
Incredibly stupid pilot tricks led to two fatals: one after a gear-up touch and go and one after the aircraft slammed onto its tail during loading, causing significant damage. The pilot took off, reported that the elevators were jammed and crashed trying to return.
I moved up from a Beech Baron 58 (that I owned for nine years) to a 1981 RAM VII 414A with winglets, which I kept for three years and about 600 hours. To say the aircraft was maintenance intensive would be an understatement. It was almost a certainty that after a round-trip flight over 1000 miles it would require repairs of some kind, often an engine component.
Even though I had well-balanced GAMI fuel injectors, the engines would not run smoothly lean of peak. They always had a rumble, creating a noticeable vibration in the cabin. I understand this to be normal for the TSIO-520, but was not the case with the turbine-smooth IO-550 piston engines in the Baron.
Takeoff and climb performance was mediocre. Initial climb was roughly 1000 to 1200 FPM, decreasing to 300 to 500 FPM in the lower flight levels depending on temperature and weight. To help, winglets, strakes or Premiere Aviation’s Speed Cover wheel mods are desirable.
Engine cooling during climb was problematic. It was necessary to switch the boost pumps to high and quickly pull the mixtures back to keep the engines from stumbling yet rich enough for cooling. I aimed for CHTs below 400 in climb and 380 in cruise. At altitude the aircraft was remarkably efficient. I would see 210 to 215 knots at FL210 on less than 32 GPH lean of peak with the aforementioned rumble. Cabin comfort was excellent.
During initial and recurrent training at SIMCOM I learned of the superior piloting skills required to manage the aircraft after an engine failure at takeoff. Not to say it’s impossible, but there was little excess thrust after loss of an engine.
Also, the cockpit of the airplane is extremely busy. I believe the 414 is the tip of the pyramid in complexity in general aviation aircraft.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was an engine case crack. It was at this point I decided the airplane was unsuited for reliable business transportation.
I now own a Cessna 425 Conquest that is a much better airplane with similar costs of operation, even with its turbine engines.
New Braunfels, Texas
We operate N620CA, a 1977 414 that is owned by Cloud Nine Rescue Flights, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that I founded and am president of. We’ve owned the aircraft for approximately 20 months and put roughly 230 hours on it in that time frame.
We upgraded from a Colemill 310N and find the 414 to be a much more versatile aircraft. We burn in the low 30 GPH range combined for a solid 200-plus knots true airspeed at 18,000 to 20,000 feet.
The aircraft’s sweet spot is in the low flight levels. Going up higher takes too long, the cabin altitude is too high and the engines just aren’t very happy. At FL190 there’s a 7500-foot cabin, which is comfortable even for long days. Block fuel burns compared to the 310 are higher, but not tremendously so on a long trip.
Our 414 holds 203 gallons of fuel, which I consider to be essential if you want to make long trips non-stop. Making 1000-NM nonstop trips is routine for us in no-wind conditions (providing there is good weather). However, even 163 gallons of fuel will allow for a solid 600-NM block. Our mission involves a number of long legs, so we specifically sought out an aircraft that had over 203 gallons of fuel.
Although some tiptank-equipped birds have more complex systems than the 414A’s, the system is not inherently difficult to manage once you understand it. The system is effectively the same as a 310, so those making the upgrade won’t have any difficulties with the transition. An additional benefit of the tiptank 414 versus the 414A is that it is smaller in overall length and width, meaning it can more easily fit into hangars. Plus, the purchase price for a 414 is significantly lower than an equivalent 414A. For us, these benefits were important.
The best improvement we have made to the aircraft thus far is the MT four-blade propellers. I consider this to be the single best improvement I’ve made on any aircraft. The upgrade saved 27 pounds and we notice a 100- to 200-FPM improvement in climb rate, as well as a 6- to 10-KTAS improvement in the low flight levels, while also being noticeably quieter than the old propellers they replaced.
The 414 is a stately aircraft—not the least bit sporty or nimble. It is not as fun to hand fly like a 310 is; however, it is easy to hand fly and very stable when shooting approaches. It’s extremely comfortable for long trips. Our missions frequently are in the range of 10 hours of flight time in one day, and the cockpit leaves enough room to stretch on those trips so that it remains comfortable. There’s lots of room for any portables, iPads or other items.
Many of the costs on the 414 are bipolar; either the big-dollar items need to be done or they don’t. Being pressurized, new windows (especially windshields) will get into the low $5000 range for parts and labor. Expect to pay in the low $5000 range if you need an engine beam, which unfortunately is not uncommon, especially if the shop performing the exhaust AD has not done a good job of finding issues when they come up. We had to replace an engine beam that had been damaged by an exhaust leak.
As for the overall airframe itself, we have found it to be reliable thus far, but we also started out with one that had lower time and had primarily been a Part 135 and corporate-operated aircraft.
The RAM upgrades on the 414 are of tremendous value, if for no other reason than the useful load. Without a RAM upgrade (ours is stock), useful load on a 414 is not very generous, and requires careful planning to stay within weight and CG limits. Weight reduction at any possible opportunity is worthwhile on this aircraft regardless of RAM status. We have managed to remove over 150 pounds from the aircraft thus far, which is huge.
On a side note, if you receive feedback from any tiptank 414 owners on performance improvements they found by adding strakes, I would be interested in that. I have been considering this upgrade for our aircraft, but haven’t found anyone with a tip tank 414 who can tell me about changes before and after. I hear generally mixed results regarding the performance aspect.
Cloud Nine Rescue Flights