I’m looking for an inexpensive plane (I would like to buy a plane). Please advise me on why I should buy a Sport, Sundowner, Musketeer, Sierra, etc.; as opposed to buying a Cherokee, Warrior, Cessna, Arrow, etc.
When I wanted to buy a plane, I looked at Cessna, Cherokee etc. Then I bumped into Musketeer N2353Z, and I bought it in a 10 minute conversation with the FBO which sold it. I offered the FBO owner a flat reasonable price I was willing to pay, take it or leave it; he agreed, and gave me 6 months warranty on labor. I could not see any reason why not to buy a plane with more room, power and ruggedness, for a lot less money. To this day, I love the plane; and being the miser sort of guy I am, I am very, very satisfied with what the plane offers for the amount of money you pay (buying and maintaining). Mine came with an almost new paint job, 35 SMOH, new tires, and bunch of other new stuff; so I should not have to worry about major stuff for a while.
As far as landing, come in by the numbers and just let the plane settle on the runway. No extra throttle to flare and all that jazz required. The cockpit view is awesome, too. Whatever the hoopla in books and all, I cannot see any problems whatsoever with landings. In fact, I enjoy the landings in my Musketeer more than in a Cessna 172, because of the better view of the approaching runway.
I have flown cross country from Minneapolis all the way to the Bay Area a few times, with a stop-over in Wyoming, and the roomy cabin makes the trip quite comfortable with three more buddies along with me. Me and some buddies just hop in and fly to Chicago for a Friday/Saturday trip, with comfort. I cannot imagine cramming into a Cessna, after getting used to the amount of head and shoulder room the Musketeer line offers.
The deal with a Musketeer is that until you buy and try one, you won’t be able to appreciate it. The only things I have fixed is to change the landing light, fix a leak with brake fluid (within FBO warranty so it did not put a dent in my pocket), put in a Tanis heater, installed a GPS, and oil changes. Annual inspections, like someone said, are inexpensive because of the simple systems.
My advice, if you are looking at the 150-200HP range of aircraft, buy a good Mouse; you will be quite satisfied with the baby.
From Bob Bradley, Sierra versus Grumman:
I am in the process of selling my Sierra. It is under deposit, awaiting suitable weather for delivery. I did all of my initial training in a Grumman A1A, which is the smaller brother of the Tiger. I did not know much at the time, but in retrospect the Grumman is a great little airplane. It was very responsive on control inputs, without being jumpy. It was very sturdy, and you could land it with your eyes closed. It was unbelievably fast relative to engine size, and used very little fuel. The down-sides were noise (due to the canopy I guess), draftiness, small interior size, and a low useful load. I also thought it was a lot of work on cross country trips, to stay on course and heading. It was not nearly as stable as my Sierra.
The good points of the Sierra are: smooth controls (but heavier than the Grumman), respectable useful load, roominess, and versatility (many have a jump seat to accommodate 2 additional small passengers). There are some down-sides. The performance is so-so. At 6000 feet with 75% power I get 130 KTAS on 11.2 GPH. Certainly not best-in-class. My first and only annual inspection cost me $7,200. That may have been just a one time, get-her-in-shape cost, but I’ll never know since I have
purchased a new plane. I have found the Sierra to be nose heavy, particularly on landing. I found her to be very difficult to land well. Granted, I am a low time pilot with a lot to learn. I am sure you could get good at it with time. The Piper Comanche that I just purchased is a dream to land by comparison.
I enjoyed owning and flying my Sierra. In the end I sold her for some very specific reasons: I wanted more useful load (the six-cylinder Comanche has 1,350 pounds useful load), more speed (the Comanche cruises at 160 KTAS), and I wanted a plane that I would be keeping for many years so that I could upgrade her with modern avionics and nice paint & interior.
My Sierra is a 1972 A24R. I have the Johnson-bar manual flaps, the small baggage door, and push-pull levers. I believe the major changes were in the 1973 B24R, which includes the large baggage door. That’s about all I can give you here.
The third row of seats was an “at purchase” option. I don’t think it would be easy to add them now. Also look for the optional external auxiliary power plug (see below).
Regarding hot starts, they can be tricky. During my first month of ownership I ran my battery dead, while trying to hot start. We pulled the battery out and recharged it on the bench. While I was waiting, an old salt wandered over to discuss my plight. He graciously hung around for and hour or so ’till my battery had some juice, then proceeded to teach me how to start my Sierra. We shut her down half a dozen times and he got her started every time. The people you meet in aviation are great! Basically, he would turn on the boost pump and flood the engine intentionally, assuring that there was no vapor lock, and then use the flooded engine starting procedure.
C24R Sierra Versus Sundowner Performance – Mike Rellihan
With the rear seats out (our usual traveling configuration), we have a legal payload with taxi fuel of 998 pounds (includes usable fuel). For most of our moderate-distance flying we carry 40 gallons, which leaves us with a cabin payload of 758 pounds. When we are doing maximum range cruises we carry the full 60 gallons, which still leaves us 638 pounds for the cabin. The rear seats go in or out with two knurled thumbscrews each, which makes the plane extremely flexible for loading, when combined with the full size (large) rear baggage door. We have even carried a full size gas kitchen range in our Sierra.
On our long range travels we have flown many 5.5 hour legs, and landed with an hour’s fuel remaining. Those are usually slightly reduced power due to higher altitude, with a fuel burn of 9 GPH. At lower altitude we more typically burn 9.5 GPH. The last time I did the math some years ago, we had averaged 9.5 GPH over 1,500 hours of flying the Sierra, which I thought was quite good. We most commonly true out at close to 135 knots TAS, and seldom see less than 130 TAS. We generally indicate 120 knots IAS in the 7,000-8,000 foot altitude range. We very seldom see ground speeds under 130 knots, unless we’re getting stronger headwinds. We very often see ground speeds of 140 knots or better, but anything over 135 knots or so should be from tailwinds.
Every airframe is different, and there can be surprisingly large differences due to the way you operate and load the plane. We usually load closer to the aft limit to reduce pitch trim drag. One very nice characteristic of these planes is an extremely wide CG and loading range. You actually can put the proverbial 270 pound anvil in the baggage area, put in full fuel, and put my fat butt and my wife’s up front, and be within max gross and CG range. Very few planes you can do that with. When we travel out West with our friends (they fly a 1969 V35A Bonanza), we usually have to bring home most of their souvenirs for them (like pet rocks), due to their limited aft loading capability.
I think you could expect a cruise speed increase in the 10-15 knot range, burning a bit less fuel (which is becoming more of a factor every day). One major improvement is getting the fuel injected engine. It is both safer and easier to live with than the carbureted engines, and the combined FI engine and CS prop bring more instrumentation that enables you to operate the plane more efficiently. In most (but not all) cases, the Sierras are often somewhat better equipped with a powered ground blower, left and right wing taxi lights, and better avionics and radios.
Unless you are running light all the time, I would not expect a big improvement in climb. That’s because of the added empty weight related to the retractable gear. Having said that, back in my early days I still remember actually feeling the runway acceleration when I first flew a Sierra, after a year of light Pipers and Cessnas. We usually do flat climbs to cool the engine with air rather than fuel, so we seldom use a Vy climb; and we reserve Vx climbs to shorter or obstacle-laden grass strips. Any Vx climb in hot weather warrants the full rich setting, except at high density altitudes (like 5,000 feet or more). We don’t fly out of rough fields or truly short fields. The planes really aren’t made for that. Having said all this, in cooler weather (meaning under 60 degrees) we commonly see initial Vy climb rates of 1,000 FPM or more, but seldom routinely operate above 500 FPM. It is more efficient and better on the engine to climb slowly and descend slowly, circumstances permitting. If I am able to start our descent far enough out, I try to limit the descent rate to 250 FPM. It’s easier on the ears and allows you to keep cruise power in place, so you regain what you gave up in the climb, in terms of average trip airspeed. Of course, weather conditions and ATC can alter this plan, but it’s the one we usually start with. My target performance profile is no power reductions until we are within 2,000′ of field altitude, and gradual power reductions from there until we power off over the threshold. If I have to add throttle anywhere from the time we start the initial descent, and it isn’t due to external factors such as traffic or ATC, then I have failed to meet my goal. Just a personal challenge that I enjoy.
19/23/24 Performance General Observations Versus Brands P and C – Mike Rellihan
These planes came in versions having 150 HP (carbureted O-320 Lycoming), 165 HP (fuel-injected IO-346 Continental), 180 HP (carbureted O-360 Lycoming), and 200 HP (fuel-injected IO-360 Lycoming). While the airframes all look similar, and most of the airframe parts do interchange, there are subtle differences. The later models have more doors (up to three full size doors), and a wider cabin (2 inches wider than a 33-35 Bonanza or 55 Baron, for example). If you search the MM archives, you can probably find some comparison articles.
All these planes typically cost less than their peers in Brand P and Brand C, for comparable model years and equipment. This is because they are typically little-known to most pilots. Most parts are still available, either from Beech, Beech resellers, or salvage yards. I have never heard of anyone having a grounded plane due to a parts search, other than for the Continental IO346 engine models. These planes have a reputation for being about five knots slower than their peer models. In most cases this was due to honesty in the Beech POH books, versus pie-in-the-sky in the books from the other manufacturers. Many owners have found that their Beech birds are as fast or faster than the competition, on the same fuel burn. Generally speaking, any difference is so slight that it disappears with the differences in loaded weights, power settings, fuel burn rate, antenna configurations, loading configurations, etc. Just ignore anyone who tries to tell you that these are always “slower airplanes”.
In many cases, these planes have been better cared for than their peer group. They have typically been in private ownership, while most of the small-engined Ps and Cs have been in trainer service during their life. The “Baby Beeches” or “Musketeers” are often found with avionics upgrades, due to previous private ownership. Few trainers get upgraded, and the trainers typically have very high airframe hour time.
The 150 HP plane is somewhat underpowered, but is typically less expensive than the others.
The 165 HP plane has an “orphaned” engine, meaning that Continental no longer makes new cranks, cams, etc. They do sell a cylinder replacement kit. When overhaul time rolls around, the mechanic typically has to do a lot of scrounging to turn up all the needed parts. They also typically have a shorter time before overhaul, as compared to the Lycoming engines. Unless you have unique circumstances, I would recommend against buying the Continental-powered version, even though the fuel injection is generally a plus. There are a few 200 HP fixed-gear planes out there (called the Super); they are generally prized, and it is reflected in the price.
All the Model 19/23/23A/24 aircraft have been regarded as being extremely well made; more durable than competing brands in the same performance range. There are even aerobatic versions of the Model 23 Sundowner; it was used as an aerobatic trainer by the Canadian Air Force. A 180 HP Aerobatic Sundowner would be a great find, and they do periodically appear for sale.
The wider cabins in these planes, compared to their P and C peer models of the same years, makes these planes much more comfortable for most people. This is especially true for taller and heavier people. My 1977 Sierra (200 HP retract with three doors) has a cabin that is 44″ wide in front, and 43″ wide in the back seat. I have even hauled a full size gas kitchen range in it, and have flown it all over the Continental USA and Canada. The rear seats in these planes typically pop out in a couple of minutes, using knurled thumb-screws. Makes them perfect for dogs, or heavy packing for long trips by a couple. These planes typically also have larger fuel tanks than peer models, making them more flexible when choosing to carry more people or more fuel. Most have tanks approaching 60 gallon capacity (total). Because of the large tanks, be wary of comparing aircraft brands and models based on a “full fuel payload” figure. You naturally can’t put as much weight in the cabin if you choose to put it in the tanks instead, but it is very convenient to have the choice (more so than in typical brand P and C models).
To wrap up, my strong recommendation is to get a 180 HP or 200 HP model. You should also buy one already equipped with whatever equipment you think you’ll need; for example, at least some modern radio equipment. Don’t buy something with the intent of buying new radios or a new engine. For example, don’t buy a plane with VFR-only equipment, with the intent of upgrading it to IFR later so you can use it to obtain the IFR rating. It will always cost more in total to add it later, than to buy it with what you need or want. Let someone else pay for the purchase depreciation and installation labor. Of course, this may not apply if you have a desire to buy current-model avionics, which are unlikely to be found in any for-sale aircraft.
19/23/24 General Summary Versus Brands P and C – Mike Rellihan
You’ll probably get a lot of comments about Musketeer landing manners; you’ll get these comments from people experienced in the plane, and from people who have never even landed one. There is no reason to have any problems landing this very nice airplane. I can probably sum it up as follows:
It is a wonderfully roomy plane compared to its peers.
It has a wide CG range for loading, compared to its peers.
It has a combination of full-flying tail (stabilator), and slight “nose heaviness”, that gives it the wide CG range.
The Cherokee also has the stabilator, but it is significantly smaller; and it is easy to load the Cherokee too far aft in CG.
The Musketeer stabilator gives a lot of control authority, even at slow airspeeds. It will hold the nose up right up to the point of a tail stall, at which point the nose will suddenly drop (as it will in any plane).
If you land the plane much too fast, it will be sensitive in pitch; a slight yoke pull aft will pop the nose up.
If you land much too slow, and flare too high, with no power on, the nose will suddenly drop if the stabilator stalls.
You want to avoid an arrival on the nose gear first, in any airplane. It is easy to avoid this in the Musketeer. Immediate addition of power and slight aft yoke, then a go-around, can easily prevent any nose-first arrival. If you do bounce on the nose gear first, the same technique will prevent a “porpoise” from developing; i.e. power, slight aft elevator, and a go-around. In any airplane, the only people who have problems with nose-first landings are those who keep trying to salvage a bad approach and nose bounce.
Most Musketeers are certified in the Utility category rather than the Normal category; and there are a lot of aerobatic Musketeers and Sundowners out there. The Canadian Air Force used them as their primary trainer, including for aerobatics. It is a very strong airframe (about 15% stronger than required for Normal certification), with very few ADs on it compared to its peers. The plane has very good manners in a full stall; it is very hard to deliberately spin it, despite the powerful stabilator. Unlike the Cherokee, you actually have to know how to deliberately get the Musketeer into a spin. Most “accidental entries” are simply developing spiral dives, and slight control inputs (or releasing the controls if the plane was properly trimmed) will let the plane fly right out of the spiral (as there is no true spin component).
One of the ways I have come to describe the Musketeer line (and my own Sierra) is that in flight it feels like a “fun airplane”; light and responsive ailerons, light pitch response, great visibility, etc. Despite this great Beech flight handling, when it comes to landing it feels like a larger and heavier airplane; more like a highly maneuverable heavy retract single or light twin. The drag rises quickly when the plane is nose-high in slow flight. This is a huge advantage when compared to most other light planes, in my opinion. It makes it easy to get the plane down when ATC gives you a “slam-dunk” approach, for example, when the typical Piper or Cessna has to enter a hold and spiral down (or do 360’s to lose altitude). As one example, my home airport has an 8,000 foot runway. We have been at minimums on night IFR approaches (460 feet), when we didn’t see the runway environment until we were above the approach end runway lights (on a VOR approach). It is a simple process to slip the airplane down and land it safely before the end of the runway, despite still being at 460 feet above the approach end of the runway. It has to be an interesting sight to the IFR light jets that are awaiting IFR release/departure on a sloppy night, to see the lights of the Sierra suddenly drop out of the fog and cloud bases. They don’t have the capability to handle an approach like that, while it is little different from handling gusts or wake turbulence on final, in the Sierra.
The other side of this great handling characteristic is that you have to be aware of your airspeed, power setting, and nose attitude as you approach the flare. As the nose gets higher and speed slows down, the drag rises quickly. Too many pilots (both low and high time pilots) aren’t really paying attention and actively flying the plane at that point; they are just waiting for the landing to play itself out. If you become a passive pilot at that point, and let the plane get too nose high and too slow, it can drop the nose onto a nose-gear first arrival. If that happens, the plane won’t settle onto all three gear; the nose will bounce back into the air, and will come back down even harder on the nose gear (termed a “porpoise”). You will see it coming before the first bounce, if you are paying attention, as the nose will start down before the main gear make contact with the runway. The correct recovery, as with almost any poor arrival, is an immediate go-around with full power and slight aft elevator for a positive rate of climb, before the plane can bounce a second time on the nose gear. With a little more experience, you will learn how to apply just a little power instead, in order to let the nose back down slowly and let the plane land on the main gear. Initially, however, it is unwise to attempt to salvage a bad approach or flare; just go around.
Some people (and instructors), who are flying out of fields with very long runways, try to cover this up by making landings while carrying a slight amount of power. This is OK while someone is demonstrating things like the attitude and visual picture during touchdown from the flare, but it should not become the normal technique for all landings; it burns up too much runway. Virtually all my VFR landings at VFR fields are made using a decelerating final approach, and a touchdown and turn off the active in less than 1,000 feet, with no use of brakes. This is in the heavier Sierra, that theoretically requires more runway than the lighter fixed-gear airplanes. It is a good safety factor, once you are comfortable with the airplane, to fly most VFR approaches as though they were short-field approaches. That way you are always prepared to deal with short strips, or emergency landing sites.
Sorry this got too long-winded. Too many people who are accustomed to the lighter singles that are “floaters”, and who don’t really know the Musketeer, tend to knock its landing characteristics. They are opining more on rumor than knowledge. If you have found a prime Musketeer, and like it, go buy it. You won’t be sorry. Thousands of pilots have earned their license in this great airplane. You’ll be comfortable with it in no time.