Fly most any Beechcraft model and you will likely come away impressed with its sturdy feel, excellent build quality and, especially, its handling qualities. All the way down to the lowly Musketeer, Beech just took pains to get the airplane’s flying manners a cut above everything else, and that applies in spades to the Baron series. Even so, every aircraft company has to make compromises. In the 55 Baron, for instance, what many find to be pleasant handling characteristics can prove to be a handful in poor weather, or when the air turns green with turbulence. And nothing comes for free, particularly in a higher-end Beech.
Shops won’t feel sorry for the owner who rolls up in a Baron, and this airplane is far from cheap to own or operate. The bright side is a perennially soft market for piston twins means a Baron may not be ruinously expensive to acquire. In fact, there are some real bargains out there on model 55s—also known as the “baby Baron.” Older Baron models are often priced lower than older Bonanza models.
In the current market—the autumn of 2015—we think model 55 Barons represent good buys, as well as good investments for pilots who already own them. While the prices of other light twins have tanked several years ago in the sour economy and high gas prices, Barons have declined just slightly less. But even in the current improving market, there’s enough softness left for the canny buyer to negotiate a deal on most twins, including a Baron.
Although Beech (now Textron) isn’t quite the master of the parts-bin model evolution that Piper is, the Baron has nonetheless been through some changes.
Like the Bonanza, it came in two sizes, long- (model 58) and short-cabin(55). There are several sub-types: The 58 could be had for a time with turbocharged engines and, if desired, pressurization. There aren’t many P-Barons flying around and today, only the long-body 58 remains in production. Plan on an eye-popping invoice well north of $1.3 million, complete with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit and no shortage of luxurious appointments in its cabin. But there are more palatable options if you haven’t budgeted that kind of dough for a Beechcraft twin.
The Model 55 was Beech’s first Baron. It came out in 1961 as a replacement for the Model 95 Travel Air, which was a bit long in the tooth to meet competition from Cessna’s 310 and Piper’s Aztec.
Like the Travel Air, the 55 comprised a Bonanza fuselage fitted with a conventional tail, not the V-tail. In place of the Travel Air’s somewhat anemic 180-HP Lycomings, the original Baron had 260-HP Continental IO-470L engines.
After building 190 Barons that first year, Beech came out with the A55, which has a 10-inch longer fuselage and could be ordered with a second fold-down rear seat, bringing potential seating capacity to six (more on that later). A total of 309 A55s were built in 1962 and 1963. The airplane’s nose was then extended seven inches for more baggage and avionics equipment, and gross weight was bumped from 4880 to 5000 pounds. The airplane was redesignated B55.
This version remained in production the longest, until 1983, when all 55s were dropped from the line, along with the 58TC and V-tail Bonanza. Browsing the for-sale ads, expect to see more B55s than any other model because there are simply more of them. Beech built 1954 of the “long nose” B55s from 1964 through 1982, not including about 70 T-42A versions for the U.S. Army. Among a number of minor refinements during this time was an increase in gross weight to 5100 pounds, starting with S/N TC-955 in mid-1965. Earlier B55s were eligible for the higher gross through a Beech STC kit. The big-engine version arrived two years after the B55. The C55 Baron appeared in 1966 with a 12-inch longer fuselage and 285-HP Continental IO-520C engines. The “little Baron with the big engines” also was certified with a gross weight of 5300 pounds. The airplane was redesignated the D55 in 1968 and the E55 in 1970. It, too, was dropped from production in 1983, after 1201 were built, 451 Cs, 316 Ds and 434 Es.
Big-engine 55 Barons are easily identified by the air scoops atop the cowlings. The difference in length is less obvious, but it shows up when it comes time to load the airplane: The nose baggage compartment is larger, as is the cabin. Other differences included the level of standard equipment, and the availability of a 166-gallon fuel system on the big-engine version.
Designing an airplane is one decision after another followed by one compromise after another. You have to put switches and controls somewhere and Beech decided to put the flap switch on the left, and the gear on the right. There’s nothing at all wrong with that arrangement. But as it happened, everybody else in the industry decided to do just the opposite. The result was (and is) predictable:
A new Baron pilot reaches for the flap switch on rollout and retracts the gear instead. The record shows a long string of gear goofs over the years and although some insist that the switch location has nothing to do with this, other models don’t seem to suffer the same kind of incidents. The picture is further confused by the fact that in response to customer pressure and its long history of gear retraction accidents, Beech changed the controls around in later years so they matched the rest of the industry. (This only showed up in later versions of the 58 Baron. The 55 was out of production by the time the change was made.) The “backward” switches aren’t really a bad design, it’s just that a pilot has to remain aware of them. Many Baron pilots make a particular point of touching nothing until they’re clear of the runway and stopped, so that they can devote their full attention to the controls. And it’s not just the gear and flap switches.
Beech’s throttle quadrant is different, too. Instead of the more usual throttle-prop-mixture, Beech put the throttles in the middle. But the power levers are taller, so they don’t demand the kind of care you need with the gear switch. While there have been some fuel mismanagement accidents, the Baron’s system is simpler than some others. Early models can draw fuel into the engines from the main tanks—37 usable gallons, each side—or the auxiliaries, each with 31 gallons. The fuel system was simplified in 1974 with interconnected tanks and three-position (on, off, crossfeed) selectors. Also that year, extra aux tanks became available for the E55 model, boosting max fuel capacity to 166 gallons.
Cabin, cockpit, payload
Beech cabins are notably plush and comfortable, and the 55s—even the early ones—are par for the luxury course. The tapered fuselage, however, can cramp normal-sized adults banished to the rear seats, although it does provide a couple of big windows to ease their exile. Since the rear seats can be gained only by clambering over the middle seats or through the baggage hatch, they’re of little use. Many pilots get rid of them, using the space for baggage.
The front seat of a 55 Baron has to qualify as one of the world’s greatest places to be, with comfort enhanced by a retractable center armrest, adjustable rudder pedals, lots of headroom and good visibility over the nose and out the side windows. Beech was less successful at the finer
points of panel design. The massive tube-like structure carrying the yokes obscures instruments on the lower portion of the panel and hides circuit breakers and switches. Also, the seats have limited forward and aft travel.
As twins go, the 55 Baron has decent if not exceptional payload. A typically equipped 260-HP Baron can carry about 1800 pounds of people, bags and fuel; a 285-HP model, about 1950 pounds. There is no zero-fuel-weight restriction, but care is needed to avoid busting the aft CG when the rear seats or aft baggage compartment is used, a typical Beech weak spot. Balancing the load is facilitated by a nose compartment that can hold up to 300 pounds (270 pounds in early models with gross weights below 5100 pounds). With the fifth and sixth seats removed, 400 pounds can be loaded into this space. Many Barons also have an extended aft baggage compartment approved for up to 120 pounds.
True airspeed of a small-engined Baron cruising at 75 percent power is about 190 knots on 27 gallons of fuel per hour. That’s faster than the naturally aspirated Aztec and Cessna 310, but a good bit off the Aerostar’s pace.
The big-engined Baron is about five knots faster and five GPH thirstier than its stablemate. Takeoff and landing performance is average. A B55, for instance, can take off or land over a 50-foot obstacle within 2160 feet. The E55 needs only about 2050 feet to clear the obstacle on takeoff but a bit more than 2200 feet to get back over it on landing. Short-field technique can cut these figures roughly in half, but it’s hairy, involving lift-off below Vmc, for example.
Two-engine climb rates of 1630 to 1700 FPM for the small-engined Barons, and 1670 to 1680 FPM for the more powerful models, outpace the Aztec by a wide margin but lag behind the Aerostar and 310. The B55’s single-engine climb rate is a paltry 318 FPM—again, better only than the Aztec.
At 388 FPM, the E55’s single-engine performance is about par with the 310 and Aerostar. None of these are exceptional single-engine performers, so the wise pilot will keep them as light as possible.
Range, of course, depends on fuel and that varies a bit in the 55 Barons. Depending on year and model, standard tankage was 100 to 112 gallons but optional tanks of 142 or 166 gallons were also available. The 56TC Baron could be fitted with as much as a whopping 204 gallons of gas. With 112 gallons aboard, the 55 has acceptable but not exceptional endurance and range.
Figure on 26 gallons an hour at 185 knots in the mid altitudes and three- and four-hour legs are easily doable. Without larger tanks, four-plus hours chews into the reserves. The Baron is not a 1000-mile airplane, but it’ll knock off 600 miles without breaking a sweat.
The 55 Baron is proof that a light twin doesn’t have to handle like a truck. Responsive and well-harmonized, the airplane’s controls are one of its biggest selling points. As one owner put it, “Once you’ve flown an E55, everything else feels like a tin can.” As mentioned earlier, however, hand-flying may be delightful in nice weather, but when it gets bumpy, an autopilot comes in handy. There are trim controls for elevator, rudder and ailerons. Early models have relatively low gear- and flap-extension speeds (143 and 113 knots, respectively). Gear speed was raised to 152 knots, beginning with airplanes built in 1969. The B55 came with approval to lower flaps 15 degrees at 153 knots, and full-flap speed was raised to 122 knots, beginning with TC-955 in 1965.
Owners of all Beech models consistently complain about one thing: The high cost of Beech parts, especially control surfaces in need of replacement due to hangar rash or corrosion. Fortunately, the 55s aren’t considered maintenance hogs and owners say replacement parts aren’t needed often.
Much maintenance relates to the engines. The O-470s are among the most robust and reliable engines in the Continental line and although the O-520s are nearly as good, they might suffer premature cylinder wear. Some owners complained of low compression on Continental cylinders after 500 or fewer hours.
Owners say annuals range from $2000 (we don’t think that happens often) to as much as $6000 (realistic), but we think the wise owner will budget at least $10,000 a year to cover both the annual and ongoing maintenance. As an hourly maintenance cost, one owner told us a good guideline is to double the fuel cost. With avgas running about $4.50 a gallon, that works out to about $230 per flight hour. Fly 150 hours a year and you’ll spend about $35,000 to include engine reserves.
The IO-470L is considered a bulletproof engine, although a few owners, as well as several Service Difficulty Reports, mentioned occasional cylinder problems. The IO-520’s reputation is not so good; operators have been beset by cracking crankcases. Continental’s switch to so-called “heavy” cases in the late 1970s helped somewhat, but case cracks and broken camshafts have appeared frequently in the SDRs.
Among the notable Airworthiness Directives are: 87-18-06 Rev. 1, requiring replacement of recline actuator handles on copilot and center passenger seats to prevent inadvertent unlocking; 84-26-02, replacement of paper air filters; and 84-09-01, requiring various inspections and modifications to ensure that the emergency window will open. Prospective buyers should also ensure that 91-15-20 (repair or reinforce cracked engine mounts) has been complied with.
There are three ADs on the props: 97-18-2 (repetitive inspection, A55 and B55 Hartzell props); 95-24-5, (repetitive inspection, E55 McCauley props); and 91-15-4, on the A55. AD 89-5-2 deals with cracking elevator components, with possible replacement of the elevator. Owners of Beech 55, 56TC, 58 and 95 Barons should look for cracks in the wing forward spar carry-through. The cracking, according to Airworthiness Directive 90-8-14, could lead to “loss of the airplane.” Beech first apprised owners through a mandatory service bulletin. The bulletin—No. 2269—was originally issued in August of 1989. In March 1990, Beech revised the investigation has shown that increased allowable crack lengths as described in this service bulletin will not compromise the integrity of the forward spar carry-through structure.”
The AD specifies that the carry-through must be inspected at 1500 hours total airframe time and repeated every 500 hours if no cracks are found. To get at the carry-through, the mechanic must remove the front seats and the carry-through cover on the floor. From there, it’s a standard crack inspection. The carry-through and webs are cleaned, then checked using visible dye-penetrant. If no cracks are visible, he can button it up and come back in 500 hours.
If cracks are visible, it’s time to get out the rulers. The cracks must be measured and, depending on where they are and how long they are, repaired. Beech sells a kit to do any required repair work. The other area of concern is the spar web face, in the area of the huck fasteners. Here, cracks are limited to one inch length. Only one crack is allowed per side, and Beech specifies that it can’t be stop drilled. Instead, the mechanic must look at it again in 200 hours to see if the crack has grown. If it has grown, or if it was more than an inch long to begin with, another Beech kit is needed for the proper repair. The repair must be made within the next 25 hours, or immediately if it is between two fasteners and extends more than a half inch beyond the fasteners.
Beech figures one tech should be able to complete the inspection in four hours, provided the airplane is already apart for an annual or similar inspection. Like EPA mileage estimates, your labor charge may vary. If cracks are found, there’s the added cost of stop drilling, plus the price of the kits if the cracks need repair. The kits cost several hundred dollars each. Installation time depends on the shop’s sheet metal proficiency. The average shop should be able to install one kit in about 55 to 60 hours.
Many mods are (or once were) available for the Baron, including the usual engine upgrades from Beryl d’Shannon and the defunct Colemill. General Aviation Modifications makes GAMIjectors for the Baron line. One mod in particular deserves mention, since it gives such a dramatic improvement in performance: vortex generators. VGs are available from a couple of different manufacturers. We tested V/G Systems’ product for an early issue of The Aviation Consumer. Bottom line: They work as advertised. Kits are available from Beryl D’Shannon and Micro AeroDynamics of Anacortes, Washington.
Baron owners don’t have an association of their own, but the Wichita-based American Bonanza Society supports the Baron along with the Bonanza. The ABS publishes an informative newsletter and conducts service and proficiency clinics at about a dozen locations each year.
Contact them at American Bonanza Society, Mid-Continent Airport, P.O. Box 12888, Wichita, Kansas 67277, phone 316-945-1700 or www.bonanza.org.
Because of its safety record and single-engine performance, I bought a nice 1975 model 95-B55 with the Colemill upgrade around five years ago. I have added most available upgrades which might improve safety, plus an interior upgrade to include heavy duty noise insulation. In my view, some of the best safety items are dual shoulder harnesses, vortex generators, a thicker windshield, Garmin GTN750 touchscreen navigator, Garmin G500 PFD/MFD, Cobham 55X autopilot (shooting a low approach into a strange airport in heavy IMC with synthetic vision is close to doing it visually), plus a good graphic engine monitoring system.
I fly mostly on the West Coast and make it a point to avoid ice, but I’m not bothered by weather flying, small airports or to other countries. I frequently fly long distances (Mexico, Canada and Alaska). I typically cruise in the mid to high teens and see 12.5 GPH per side lean of peak and cruise at 185-195 knots TAS and purposefully climb at 500 FPM climbs after 3000 feet, and at 1500 FPM to 3000 feet. I descend at 400 FPM unless ATC requires 500. At 12.5 GPH in cruise at 2400 RPM I typically see cool CHTs of 350-390 degrees and EGTs of 1350-1450 degrees with a GAMI spread of 80 to 90.
This is a six-seat (four adults, plus two small people) aircraft, but many Baron owners take out the back two seats. The Baron 58 models with side doors work better for carrying more than four people.
Avionics and autopilot upgrades have totaled $100,000, but a shrewd shopper can easily cut that in half. Annuals typically run $5000 and up to $12,000 with squawks. I replaced two cylinders during a five-year period ($1900 per cylinder) and I change the oil at 30-hour intervals. While I maintain things like door seals and minor nuts and bolts, I am too busy flying to want to do my own oil changes and assist in annual inspections. That said, my five-year average costs—including avionics and other upgrades, plus a $700 per-month hangar and a $4000 insurance premium—has been around $60,000 annually, with an average of 40-plus hours of flying. Actual hourly costs are around half of the above totals. Some owners can probably get by for less than that if they can avoid the “toys” upgrades. However, my flying philosophy is I would rather be on the ground figuring out how to pay for things than up in the air wishing I had them.
If you can find a Colemill President II (P2) conversion (IO-550s) with low-or mid-time engines, you might be better off with a 1975 or later 95-B55. Though Colemill is out of business, the aftermarket mod is fully supported by most shops. The original cost of the conversion was $100,000-plus. The present $15,000 to $20,000 premium for a used Colemill 95-B55 is a good deal, in my view, while adding a layer of safety. The single-engine maximum altitude (14,000 feet) climb rate at a 1000-pound gross weight is proof. Plus, the centerline on each engine is at least six inches closer to the hull than other production twins, taming engine-out situations. For flights over 1.5 hours, I comfortably fly in the mid-to upper teens and use portable oxygen. The extra horsepower of the IO-550s means a fuel burn per mile equal to a pair of IO-470s.
The airframe is a bit heavy due to the landing gear and wing design, but it’s solid in turbulence and readily handles crosswind landings. The only modern Beech that’s more fun to fly may be the V35, but I wouldn’t fly my routes with a single engine.
Airspeed builds up rapidly in a descent, so plan your numbers well ahead when shooting approaches to keep within flap and gear extension speeds on final.
Last, a competent multiengine CFI for flight reviews is an absolute must. I also think a membership in the American Bonanza Society and participation in the Bonanza/Baron pilot proficiency program is the best investment you can make to be safe and proficient in a Baron.
I’ve had my 1980 B-55 Baron for nearly 15 years and 800 hours. I generally cruise between 8000 to 10,000 feet burning around 25 GPH at lean of peak. It trues at around 175 knots and I generally flight plan for four-hour legs or a little longer, which leaves 1.5 hours endurance at the destination. Useful load is roughly 600 pounds with full fuel.
The IO-470 engines have run well and at nearly TBO, the original cylinders still have strong compressions.
Beech parts are expensive, but are available. My engines are coming up on TBO and I expect to pay around $80,000 or more for replacing both of them with factory remanufactured engines with new hoses and accessories.
After my initial purchase I invested in a new paint job accomplished by Dial Eastern, plus a new leather interior by Airmod. Both shops were rated high in Aviation Consumer surveys. In addition to new windows I also installed new Garmin avionics, plus a Stormscope and XM satellite weather and radio system. Since the King analog HSI with remote gyro and flight director system has been showing its age, I plan to install an Aspen PFD system in the near future.
Additionally, I added vortex generators and a TKS FIKI-certified anti-ice system. The TKS fluid reservoir is in the nose where the old alcohol tank was previously installed, providing 90 minutes of continuous use.
There are times when I would like an aircraft with pressurization and air conditioning, plus the ability to go faster and higher. However, the added complexity comes at a premium and for now the Baron meets all of my needs. Until I can afford something that burns jet fuel, I plan on keeping my Baron.
I have owned my B55 Baron for a little over seven years and I fly it between 125 to 150 hours per year. For me, the Baron is an easy twin to fly. It’s a stable platform for IFR and the controls are positive and responsive. The large vertical stabilizer and rudder make for good control during single engine operation. In turbulence, there is a slight wing rock, but I have never found this distracting. Many Barons have been converted to dual control yokes, but still do not have copilot brakes.
Between 9000 and 12,000 feet, LOP fuel burn is around 25 GPH at 185 knots. On short trips powered back to 22 inches and 2200 RPM, I have seen 150 knots at 18 GPH, LOP.
My Baron has only needed a few repairs. Many of the systems are similar to those found on the Bonanza, so with the exception of a second engine and propeller, it does not impose expenses beyond that of the Bonanza. A second engine to maintain, additional fuel burn, larger hangar and higher insurance is the main difference in expense between this twin and a complex single. The Continental IO-470L engines pose few problems, but an occasional repair is still necessary.
Since I bought my Baron, there has been a large price increase for some parts. I check Beechcraft first and then start checking around for FAA PMA replacements. I usually can find ones at a fraction of the cost of OEM parts, but I’m sometimes surprised to find OEM parts cheaper.
Kansas City, MO