The normally aspirated 200-HP piston single is a popular niche, filled with a variety of aircraft types. Each, however, comes in the same basic configuration of four seats, a constant-speed prop and-except for the Cirrus SR20 and the much older Beech Musketeer Super III-retractable landing gear. For example, this is where the Mooney 201 resides, alongside most Piper Arrows and Cessnas Cardinal RG, all of which were developed from earlier models with less horsepower and, except for the
Mooney, originally equipped with fixed gear.
Beechs entry into this market-like its competitors offerings-was also a growth model, from the Model 23 Musketeer, in this case. Never a speed demon, the Musketeer and other models using the same basic airframe-and most any product from Beech, for that matter-are well-known for quality components and construction as well as comfort. The end result, the Model 24R Sierra, isnt the sleekest of the 200-HP crowd, and it certainly isnt the fastest. It might be the most comfortable, however, and perhaps the most reliable.
Beechs Musketeer was the companys answer to the Cherokees and Skyhawks of the world. The first of that line, the Model 23, hit the market in 1963. Three years later, the Model A23-24 Super III debuted. With 200 HP and fixed gear, it wasnt nearly as fast as the same-power Mooneys of its day (the Arrow and Cardinal RG hadnt hit the market yet). In 1970, Beech made the decision to fold the A23-24s landing gear, dubbing the result the Model A24R Super R. The Sierra name came with the B24R in 1973. Also, Beech one-upped Cessna, Mooney and Piper by making the A23-24 and the 24R models nominal six-seaters, if so ordered from Beech; they cannot practically be retrofitted with the aft seat, due to structural differences.
It gained some speed, but still lacked some of the better, more utilitarian features that would make its successors much more likeable. It did, however, have the hallmark of all Beeches: it was comfortable (as in roomy) for the occupants. In a general aviation world where most designs crammed people shoulder-to-shoulder, this alone was a good selling point; the Sierra (and fixed-gear Sundowner) cabin is two inches wider than any Bonanza or Baron.
Optional in 1970, in 1971 Beech capitalized on the designs comfort by adding a second cabin door along with enlarging the baggage door and moving it to the left side. These changes made loading and unloading much easier. The split passenger seats could now be removed literally in seconds, for pets, bikes or cargo. Many also discovered the big aft door, with its child-resistant inner handle, was perfect for
placing squirming children in the rear jump seat. In 1973 Beech introduced the new instrument panel featuring quadrant-style engine controls. They also changed props, going from the original McCauley to a Hartzell.
In 1977, the C24R was introduced. Last of the line (production ceased in 1983), the C-model featured several improvements: New aileron bearings resulted in a smoother control feel. Usable fuel was again certified at 28.6 gallons per side, following a brief hiatus involving misoriented fuel pickups in some tanks. The cabin vent system was changed, improving what was already an excellent system by most owners reckoning. A larger-diameter prop was hung out front to provide a bit more thrust. A rather modest drag-reduction program was instituted and leading and trailing fairings were added to the main wheel wells, gascolator, and battery vent. The ailerons gained nominal gap seals. In fact, the changes made in mid-1978 and 1979 could easily have qualified for a D-model designation and included a 28V electrical system, different brake calipers and disks, and much more.
All models, even the fixed-gear Super IIIs, were powered by a 200 HP Lycoming IO-360, with the retractables getting the -A1B6 version. Total production for all retractable 24R versions came to 793.
Comfort And Utility
The Sierras cabin comfort has always been one of the designs better points. Owners tend to rave about it. Beech has always been known for building airplanes that didnt squash occupants, and the Sierra was no exception. But theres a price to pay for comfort, and in the Sierra as in so many other designs (like the Rockwell 112/114), the penalty for all that space is greater fuselage wetted area, translating into drag. The partially-unenclosed landing gear does nothing to help here, particularly on the A and B models.
If theres one uncomfortable aspect of the Sierras, its noise, probably resulting from the numerous windows. These days, with noise-canceling headsets, thats not as big a problem as it was in the day. If refurbishing a Sierra, thicker glass is an option, especially if willing to trade some useful load for noise reduction, while sound-insulating foam in the doors and sidewalls might be a better way to spend money as todays ANR headsets do solve the noise issues.
As mentioned, and despite the windows, the fresh-air vent system-especially on later models-is capable of keeping back-seat passengers from frying under the summer sun. In winter, the heating system is able to get warm air back there, too, preventing cases of flying frost
Yes, you could get all six of them in there and still have enough load ability left to hoist 50 gallons of fuel (and remain within the CG envelope, too). There arent many 200-HP airplanes that can do that realistically, if at all.
If its not people you want to haul, the Sierra still may be a good choice: The rear compartment is rated to a staggering 270 pounds. And, unlike many other aircraft,
thats not just a marketing number. Its entirely possible to toss in all that with two adults up front. The middle and jump seats will have to be vacant, but most of the competition couldnt do this, anyway. If youre ever going to haul Uncle Ernies antique anvil collection, its nice to know you can do it with a Sierra. Owners have reported hauling kitchen ranges and clothes dryers, shower door sets, two-blade constant-speed props, and other unlikely cargo.
The Sierras 60-gallon fuel capacity enables a wider tradeoff between range and effective cabin payload. As one result, comparing a Sierra to its competitions full-fuel payload can be misleading (yet well still do it on page 25). But few of the competition allow as much load flexibility as the Sierra: Having a higher useful load is useless if CG or access restrictions prevent you from using it. The Sierras useful load is more of a real-world thing: An IFR-equipped Sierra can haul three adults, 60 pounds of baggage and full fuel. Or fill the seats, keep the baggage loaded and still have more than two hours in the tanks.
Going somewhere? Whats your rush? Speed is not the strong point of these smallest-engined of the retractable Beeches. As weve hinted, what the large print giveth in comfort, the small print taketh away in drag.
Consider the Rockwell 112. It, too, is known for its comfortable, roomy cabin. And, like the Sierra, its not known for getting places quickly. The Piper Arrow, also with an IO-360 bolted up front, books in about seven knots faster. Cessnas Cardinal RG, also the same basic engine, has about 11 knots on the Sierra. At the far end of the scale is the Mooney 201, which traded cabin space for speed and comes out 20-plus knots faster.
Something important to keep in mind here, though: Most comparisons are based on “book” numbers. Reports from the field tell us the Sierra will nearly always meet or beat the book numbers. Others? Not so much. And if you are really after max fuel economy on a local burger run, you can operate a Sierra lean of peak at an indicated airspeed of about 95 knots and burn only 4 GPH. Thats Light Sport territory, with a huge cabin.
So the Sierra isnt going to get you anyplace fast. And its also not known for getting in and out of tight fields with any degree of aplomb. Some owners consider their airplanes to be fit for paved-runway duty only. Short grass strips are not normally an appropriate venue for the Sierra, with an inexperienced pilot. However, owners tell us low-speed operation based on the go-around configuration, as outlined in performance charts, allow Sierras to easily handle most common turf strips.
Like most of the Beech line, the Sierra is considered an absolute delight in the air. The controls are light and smooth, and fluid handling through graceful maneuvers is a breeze. The controls make it handle like something much lighter while providing a smoothness normally found only in much larger aircraft. Owners report the Sierras full-deflection roll response likely will surprise.
All this is true, until you try getting the thing on the ground. While the Sierra may be slow in cruise, its pretty fast on landing. VSO is 60 knots, making for a fairly high approach speed. For comparison, consider the Mooney 201, considered a “hot” landing airplane, actually has a stall speed five knots slower than the Sierra. Other competitors, like the Arrow, also have lower stall speeds (11 knots slower than the Arrow; nine for the Rockwell 112B).
So, your speed down final is a bit higher to start with. And speed control is absolutely vital in the Sierra. A bit too fast and shell float badly. As you slow, the stabilators declining authority can lead to some pretty wild oscillations and over-controlling. Its not a pretty picture. Try coming down final a bit on the slow side and youre in for a hard nose-first arrival, unless you carry some power.
The same stabilator that had so much authority when the airspeed was too high tends to run out of ability when the plane gets too slow-especially at forward CGs. This generally results in a wheel-barrowing landing. On the other hand, if you get the nose up while the airspeed is too low, the escalating sink rate makes for a hard landing-same result, just for different reasons.
Compounding all of this is the fairly stiff trailing-link landing gear. The “shock absorbing” system consists of rubber donuts as per Mooney. These have never been noted for their give, and age does nothing to soften their disposition. That said, what you give up in shock absorption might be gained back from savings on conventional strut maintenance. If theres a secret to getting good landings out of the Sierra, its carrying some power into the flare. A little throttle jockeying can go a long way towards making for a smooth touchdown, provided your airspeed is right on the money.
To be fair, most owners report no problems at all with landing qualities. And on the plus side for landings, the Sierras gear has an admirably wide stance, and can handle tremendous impacts. Crosswinds are easily handled with a crab to the flare and then dropping the upwind wing just before touchdown to straighten out the nose. At the same time, avoid coming down final in a slip: The airplane is placarded against slips of more than 30 seconds in duration, due to fuel unporting problems if the low tank is selected during uncoordinated flight.
Despite these vices, the Sierra is a most pleasant airplane, at least up until landing. The stall is gentle and gives good advance warning. At forward loadings, its more likely to simply hunt the nose up and down with a prodigious sink rate, rather than snapping down or over if the ball is not kept centered.
One handling virtue of the Sierra is the great strength of the landing gear in flight.
As a speed brake, with those huge flat-faced castings, gear-lowering speed is pretty close to cruise speed-you can drop them at up to 135 knots. If you need to get down fast, or slow down fast in an emergency, dropping the gear is a good way to do it. Owners tell us the Sierra can handle a “slam-dunk” approach with aplomb: Fly it at 140 knots or more down final with the gear up, then close the throttle, throw out everything and land safely from a quarter-mile out. Spiraling down at rates exceeding 3000 FPM is reportedly possible, without exceeding any limitations.
A recent review of FAA Service Difficulty Reports (SDRs) indicates some common items require regular attention. Broken nosegear steering lugs (from bad ground handling), nosegear actuators that internally bypass fluid, cracks in the nosegear yoke (usually impact damage), binding or broken nosegear downlock springs and so on all added up to indicate that the nosegear merits special attention, as is really the case on any aged retractable. Owners tell us the auxiliary nose gear downlock switch called for in Beech Service Bulletin SB-2683 is really a must-have on a Sierra, but most are still missing that switch.
We also found several instances of airframe components requiring repair or replacement due to cracks or corrosion. From our research, fuselage components coming in contact with fresh air ducting need close examination, as this apparently is an area experiencing rampant corrosion. The Sierras type club, the Beech Aero Club, has teamed up with a supplier who provides premium replacement parts for the standard ducting.
The Sierra has had its share of type-specific and shotgun ADs, but most of these are better than 20 years old and should long since have been complied with. The few most recent are: 89-24-9, aileron rod end bearings (see below); 88-10-1, replacement of fuel boost pump; 87-2-8, inspect the stabilator hinge fasteners every 100 hours; and 85-5-2, modify the guard on the fuel selector (this guard had been replaced as the result of a 1975 AD). Owners tell us none of these ADs have proven onerous thus far.
When searching for a good used Sierra, there are some points to remember. One of the first things to look at is the front end. Examine the engine mount and firewall for evidence of a hard wheelbarrow. This is where the damage occurs, so a careful check is in order. Also, examine the logs carefully for evidence of a gear-up landing. Another item to look for in the logs is replaced aileron rod end bearings. Over the years there have been many instances of these concealed forward bearings seizing due to lack of proper lubrication during 100-hour servicing, leading to stiff or even frozen controls. Ultimately they were targeted by AD 89-24-9, which calls for installing inspection ports and inspecting the bearings every 100 hours. All of the C-Model Sierras came from the factory with the improved inspection and lubrication access.
Mods, Type Club
Perhaps due to the relatively low production numbers-only 793 retractable Model 24 airframes left Beechs now-closed Liberal, Kansas factory-or maybe because owners are happy with their decision, few modifications seem to be available for the Sierra. Nothing, at least, like its bigger brother, the Bonanza. Sure, one can install just about any electronic gauge or navaid one wants, including a Garmin 600 glass panel or Precise Flights (www.precisefllight.com) Pulselite control unit for landing/taxi light systems. But the list of available airframe mods isnt a long one.
Met-Co Aire (www.metcoaire.com), Globe Fiberglass (www.globefiberglass.com), and a couple of other suppliers offer fiberglass wingtips and other fairings, which reportedly are far preferable to the crack-prone ABS plastic ones Beech put on at the factory. Meanwhile, Micro AeroDynamics (www.microaero.com) offers a vortex generator kit for wings, stabilator and vertical stabilizer it says will reduce the clean stall speed by as much as 10 knots, with a correspondingly shorter takeoff and landing roll. This might be just the ticket to cure the Sierras runway-related shortcomings, including regular operation at unpaved strips.
Hands down, the best resource for Sierra owners is the Beech Aero Club, an Internet-based type club (www.beechaeroclub.org). The organization takes its name from the way in which Beech marketed its training and personal aircraft beginning in the 1960s. At its Web site are available the many resources one expects from a type club, including AD listings, contact info for CFIs experienced and knowledgeable with the type, service bulletins and-through experienced owners-a wealth of knowledge. Another online resource is Beech Talk (www.beechtalk.com), which is generally focused on Bonanzas and Barons but also enjoys active participation among Musketeer, Sport and Sierra owners.
I am the proud owner of a Beech Sierra, the last one built. The plane is a joy to fly and far exceeds all others in its class for comfort and visibility. Also, the ventilation system is great in the summer heat. The two doors make getting in and out easy.
The aircraft handles extremely well and its relatively high wing loading (18.9 pounds per square foot) provides a smooth ride even in moderately rough air.
I routinely fly at 24 inches and 2500 RPM, giving me 135 KTAS on 11 GPH. Also, the airframe is solid and built like a tank. There is little maintenance and both annuals and insurance are approximately $1500 each year if there are no problems.
The only downsides are the extremely stiff landing gear and cabin noise resulting from all the windows-nine in all. I would recommend noise canceling headsets, for this reason.
The Sierra is exactly what I was looking for in personal transportation and meets or exceeds my requirements. Its roomy: Most dont know it is a couple of inches wider than the Bonanza. Visibility is similar to one of my favorites, the Grumman Tiger. In fact, it outdoes the Tiger in all aspects. Faster, better range, better overall performance, quieter and it handles pretty much as well. But it should-it is in the next class of airplane.
It has some drawbacks, as every airplane is a compromise. My particular airplane only has a 594 pounds full fuel payload. But its so easy to offload fuel precisely and the range is so good, it hasnt mattered much.
One of the nice aspects of flying a Sierra is economy. Its better than I ever thought possible with a 200-HP airplane. Using my engine analyzer, I routinely fly at 9 or even 8 GPH. It is really affordable to go places in this airplane. And performance isnt as bad as the airplanes reputation.
Although my airplane is not a pristine example, it is most probably one the fastest Sierras flying at the moment. This is due to a drag reduction program that I undertook during an extensive annual. Most items were not measurable alone, but the combination of all resulted in an airplane that is pretty fast by Sierra standards.
There was a notable exception: Removing the rotating beacon from the vertical stabilizer was good for 3-4 knots. Still, it is not Mooney fast, or even Cardinal fast…but almost. I think I can fly side by side with most Arrows on the same fuel burn or less.
I typically fly high and use the engine analyzer to lean to peak EGT as a compromise between speed and economy. When running rich of peak, I have seen 143-145 KTAS on 10 GPH.
The first airplane I bought and did not have to share with others was a 1975 B24R Beech Sierra. The Sierra was purchased in early 2001 and traded in on a twin in 2007.
It had about 2500 TT and was flown about 550 more hours while in my care. The aircraft had a useful load of 932 pounds after adding a lightweight starter. My first annual cost about $8000 and included a new exhaust system and the oil pump AD on IO-360 Lycomings.
There were significant issues with the engine, however. A former owner had done a field overhaul about eight years before. The first problem was the typical (Im told) Lycoming leaks. I asked the shop to try and run them down and, although they tightened things up all around, oil use still ran about a quart every three to five hours. Its possible the shop overtightened the studs on one cylinder, which led to all but one of them failing over western Kansas. That cost me $3000 for a rebuilt cylinder, new studs and labor.
After replacing the flywheels ring gear teeth, a leaking prop governor seal was blamed for the oil leakage. Twelve hundred dollars later, it was replaced. Not as much leakage was apparent but oil consumption was still high. Between the oil pump AD ($2000), the prop governor ($1200), a new exhaust ($2000) and replacing the starter and flywheel ring gear (about $850 total), it became apparent a factory overhaul would have been more economical.
I installed the wheel well fairings from a C-model Sierra around the main gear wells. At an installed cost of about $600-$700, there was perhaps a two-knot speed increase. Hard to say. The real ceiling on the plane is probably about 13,000 feet when 200-300 pounds under gross. While flying a Sierra in the mountains, it behooves the pilot to understand the wind direction and dynamics of mountain flying because there is not much performance left above 10,000 feet.
The airplane is very roomy compared to Cessnas and Cherokees. This one had the third rear bench seat, which was handy. I used it for passengers a few times when my children were smaller and lighter. Unfortunately, a common problem seems to be that the skin on the rear baggage door will delaminate from the honeycomb core to which it is bonded and there is really no reasonable solution I could find. Its ugly. The paint shop did a pretty good job of making it look nice, but it wasnt really as nice as I would have liked.
Something to remember on the Sierra is that the manufacturers gross weight on this aircraft is truly the number to fly by and should be heeded. Ive heard anecdotally that you can cram an extra 100 or 200 pounds in a Mooney and get away with it, but if you try it in a Sierra you may wind up picking weeds out of your teeth.
I actually used about 4500 feet of runway at Los Alamos, New Mexico (elevation 7170 feet), when the density altitude was 9500. The plane was only about 100 pounds under gross, but it turned out to be more of an adventure than I wanted. I wound up flying the windward side of the exit valley and catching just a little bit of lift that way. Waiting for the temperature to cool would have been smarter.
My Sierra was a sweet little aircraft, taking me and the family many places comfortably if a bit more slowly than would have been nice. Not unlike the Commander 112, the trade-off is cabin space for speed. I think if you ever fly side by side in front, youll like the extra width and roominess. If there were an STC for a stronger engine, this would be in many ways a perfect aircraft. For someone living near sea level, I would highly recommend it as a decent, reliable, roomy and, for the most part, affordable plane for personal transportation.
Name withheld by request
I have owned a 1981 C24R Sierra for about 10 years. Over this time I have flown it quite a bit, over 1500 hours, including a number of trips from Virginia to the Bahamas.
The amazing flexibility and comfort is what makes the Sierra special. Six seats? Four? Two seats? All an option in the Sierra. The 59-gallon fuel capacity and 975-plus-pound useful load allow quite a range of missions. Tampa to Virginia Beach nonstop with four adults is usually doable unless there is a strong headwind. I usually cruise at 130 KTAS on 8 GPH. Max knots was 141 at 10.2 GPH.
Insurance is about $1700/year with one million smooth and hull value of $95,000. Hangar, annual inspection and GPS data updates make up the rest of the fixed cost. My annuals rarely exceed $1700, unless I build in some upgrades.
Maintenance varied-more when I bought the plane until I caught up with the odd neglected items. I worried about Beechcraft prices, of course, but most of the parts are standard aircraft items. Lycoming got things right in the 200-HP IO-360-A1B6. Having only four cylinders to feed and care for pays off. This engine just needs routine care to be as reliable as any aircraft engine out there.
The Sierra cowling does a good job of cooling and preventing excessive cooling during descents. In cruise, I rarely see CHTs above 330 using common-sense power settings.
When I was shopping for a plane I wanted a real four-seater with enough speed for weekend trips and the ability to carry full-size bicycles so I can ride when I get there. The Sierra with rear bucket seats can carry three adults and three full-size bikes. Or, be nice and carry four bikes and tell your friends to meet you there!
I have not had any CG issues. The few weight and balance p roblems that I have heard about seemed to stem from improper weighing procedures. The Beech landing gear requires you to follow directions for weighing, or you will end up with numbers that dont make sense.
I purchased a Lycoming factory overhauled engine in 2003, but it had to go back for a new crankshaft at factory expense. The airplane was purchased with a Hartzell two-blade prop that was later saddled with an AD. A McCauley three-blade prop resolved that one.
There are only three recurring ADs on my plane; none are time-consuming. All are 100-hour items.
Without a doubt the Beech Aero Club owners group is the best resource. Together, we have been able to form some group purchases and encourage aftermarket producers to seek and achieve PMA authority for some parts we need. The pooled knowledge is incredible.
The gear is very strong and the backup extension procedure is simply to slow down and open the hydraulic valve. No pumping and minimal distraction. Well-built components help keep it working well and the very wide stance provides easy handling in a crosswind. I strongly suggest having a knowledgeable A&P look at the gear occasionally. There are some nosegear collapse stories out there that resulted from improper maintenance and neglecting to follow some service letters.
In the air, the Sierra really outshines in many ways all the other planes in its class. It handles like a dream-very responsive and fun to fly. Yet, its also a very stable platform for long IFR flights and challenging approaches. Lots of interior room helps passenger comfort. The solid feel and the three doors helps passenger confidence; they often comment that they feel like they are in a much larger plane.