|Make Way for the Chancellor|
|Written by Bill Cox|
|Thursday, 24 February 2011 13:36|
It may be a little hard to believe today, but there was a time when corporate, piston twins were all the rage. In the early 1980s, Piper, Cessna, Beechcraft, Commander and Aerostar were producing a dozen different models of dedicated executive transports.
Cessna was perhaps the pre-eminent producer of corporate, piston twins, with a half-dozen models available to cover all contingencies. At the bottom, Cessna offered the unpressurized 335 (for a short time) and the 340 was the pressurized airplane. The next step up was the 400 class, the 402 Businessliner, essentially a commuter model, and the 404 Titan, a popular heavy hauler for cargo and charter use. At the top, there were the 414 Chancellor and 421 Golden Eagle, most often corporate transports.
Today, they’re all gone. Sure, you could suggest the Beechcraft 58 Baron remains a viable corporate transport with piston engines, but even that airplane features the narrow, Bonanza cabin and omits the signature airstair door in favor of traditional over-wing entry.
Though the market was already in a downhill slide 30 years ago, two of the top models were the aforementioned Cessna 421 and 414. In many respects, the 421 Golden Eagle was regarded as the Queen of the Fleet, arguably the most luxurious and comfortable contender for the luxury twin dollar … depending upon who you asked.
The Cessna 414 Chancellor was regarded by many as a better airplane in many respects. Much of the debate stemmed from the 421’s temperamental, geared Continental engines. The big, turbocharged GTSIO-520s were pumped up to 375 horsepower (hp) and the gearing system atop the engines that reduced cruise rpm to a more civilized level was the source of continuing headaches for Cessna.
The 414 utilized essentially the same fuselage, empennage, pressurization and fuel system as the 421 but with the 402’s wings and direct drive engines rated for only 310 hp per side. In 1981, the price difference between the two models was significant, though performance didn’t seem so dramatically divergent.
The current (Winter 2009/2010) Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest suggests that the extra $84,000 for the 421 bought a little more payload, climb and short field performance, but cruise and single-engine ascent didn’t improve that much. (To see a full specification and performance comparison of the 414 Chancellor and the 421 Golden Eagle, turn to page ##.) Realistic cruise numbers for the two airplanes suggest the gap may have been closer to 10 than 17 knots, about 210 knots for the 414 and 220 knots for the 421. Still, both airplanes easily managed to exceed the 200-knot bottom line considered so essential for a corporate twin.
Of course, another obvious benefit of the smaller engines was and still is reduced fuel burn. Specific fuel consumption (sfc) is fairly immutable, and both airplanes sport an sfc on the order of .44 pounds/hp/hr. In other words, at 75-percent power, you could expect a fuel burn of roughly 17 gallons per hour (gph) per engine in the 414, 21 gph in the 421. In real terms, a 34 gph burn in the 414 will cost you about $170 an hour, while a 42 gallon consumption would be $210 an hour in the 421. That’s 10 percent higher burn in exchange for only five percent better cruise.
Yes, I know — if you have to ask how much …? Still, fuel economy is becoming progressively more important as supply becomes constricted and prices reach toward European levels.
The basic 414 was born in 1970 with a 4.2 psi pressurization differential and ascended to become the Chancellor in 1978. The updated Chancellor abolished the original tip tanks in favor of a longer, wet wing, benefitted from a lengthened fuselage, mounted an improved 5.0 psi pressurization system and enjoyed a 400-pound heavier gross weight. The result was an airplane physically almost identical to the 421 but with slightly less power. (In fact, a company in Waco, Texas, RAM Aircraft, offers a popular modification that upgrades the engines to as much as 335 hp per side for stronger climb and improved cruise.)
Pressurization differential is an impressive 5.0 psi, generating a comfortable 8,000 foot cabin at 25,000 feet. However, the 414 is most often operated in the low flight levels (FL), FL180 to FL220. It’s most comfortable at those heights and will still turn in the magic 200 knots. Pressurization has always been the ultimate luxury; it’s one of those systems, like air conditioning in cars, that seems almost mandatory.
It’s also important to remember that even 18,000 feet without oxygen masks is a major victory for pilots and passengers. (Cessna’s 210 and 337 were back-engineered to accept pressurization and employed a 3.4 psi system that allowed a 10,000 foot cabin at 20,000 feet, not outstanding but certainly adequate most of the time.)
At 18,000 feet, you’re above half the Earth’s atmosphere and since weather demands moisture and there’s very little of that above 18,000 feet, a Chancellor most often cruises in smooth air and sunshine.
It’s an eminently comfortable ride, too. The eight-seat cabin measures 55 inches across, making it one of the roomiest in the class. It’s also 51 inches high, not nearly tall enough for stand-up headroom, but big enough to allow easy walk-around space inside the cabin.
From a pilot’s point of view, the front office is easily accessible and well-laid out, with everything logically oriented in a left-right format. Engine start is about as simple as it gets: full rich, mags, master, prime, starter. The Chancellor comes off the blocks with minimum breakaway power, and differential thrust is rarely necessary for directional control unless you’re trying to maneuver in a confined space.
Climb isn’t in the Apollo class, but the airplane does very well once it’s sped up and cleaned up. Count on an easy 1,200 to 1,300 feet per minute (fpm) to 15,000 feet, and 1,000 fpm on up to 20,000 feet. With the strong pressurization system cranked up to max, there’s not much reason to level lower than about 16,500 to 17,500 if you prefer visual flight rules (VFR), or FL180 to FL200 if you’re filed instrument flight rules (IFR).
Cruise performance may not be quite what you expect from the manual, but most Chancellor owners are content with the airplane’s cross-country speed. I’ve delivered perhaps a dozen Chancellors domestically and internationally, and the airplane is good for a solid 200 knots up high, 180 to 185 knots down low. I imagine a perfectly rigged and tuned Chancellor might touch 220 knots at 24,000 feet, but that’s probably the realistic limit.
I plan on 37 to 38 gph minimum at cruise, so the standard 213 gallon fuel system provides about 4.5 hours endurance plus reserve. Even at 190 knots, that’s adequate for 850 nautical miles (nm) between fuel and food stops. The nice thing is everyone in the airplane is comfortable with fold-down tables in back and plenty of elbow and head room for every seat.
It’s a reasonably peaceful environment as well as one of the quietest you’ll find in a piston twin. Conversations barely above a whisper are easily audible, there’s little vibration transmitted through the fuselage, and the chairs articulate in all the proper directions. The airplane takes turbulence well, with a high wing loading of nearly 30 pounds per square foot.
Couple the whole package to a good autopilot, and you have a truly smooth and luxurious mode of travel. At reduced fuel levels, I’ve transported six in comfort in a 414. I’ve also loaded them up 1,500 pounds over gross with ferry fuel for the Atlantic or Pacific and seen very little speed loss. Once, 20 years ago out of Gander, Newfoundland for Shannon, Ireland, I climbed out directly to 20,000 feet to take advantage of strong tailwinds and still saw an initial 190 knots true airspeed (ktas). With the help of the wind, I did the 1,717 nm from Gander to Shannon in just under seven hours, averaging nearly 250 knots.
At the end of your flight, whether IFR or VFR, the Chancellor is one of the most manageable of corporate twins. Unlike the 421’s geared powerplants, the 414’s engines aren’t unduly sensitive to power reductions. The airplane will accept approach speeds anywhere from 100 to 120 knots, and it’s as stable on a long VFR straight into Long Beach, Calif., in good weather as it is to a tight instrument landing system (ILS) to minimums at Wichita, Kan., in a snowstorm.
Like most other Cessna piston products, the 414 Chancellor was discontinued in the mid-1980s after some 1,100 had been sold, and many of those are still active. Despite the airplane’s age, it remains a popular corporate transport, reasonably economical to operate, simple to fly, fairly easy to maintain and a popular machine with both pilots and passengers.
In today’s soft market, you can find late model Chancellors in good shape for $300,000. Of course, that’s just the price of admissions, and any intelligent twin buyer should be careful to consider upkeep and normal operating costs. After all, a quarter-century-old piston twin is bound to have a few maintenance issues. You need to iron those out before the sale or negotiate a lower price to cover the deficiencies.
Exhaust systems are always a concern on the older TSIO-520 Continentals, and turbochargers can also demand major attention (read: expensive). Pressurization can be problematical, as well. The system may begin to leak after a few years, partially nullifying the whole reason for buying an inflatable airplane in the first place.
As time marches on, most pilots eventually stop marching altogether. Chancellors can be made timeless, however, with indefinite lives extended by new engines, improved avionics and modernized components.
The 414 may be a tad slower than the 421, but it’s also less expensive to buy and operate, easier to fly, and it’s one of those airplanes that hardly anyone dislikes.
From the April 2010 issue of Cessna Owner