Pilot report - Cessna 310R vs Beech Baron 58

[Reprinted from Fliteguide / Imperial Aviation]

It is a long time since general aviation manufacturers abandoned their hopeful motoresque advertising lines. Some of us will remember Cessna's 'Omni-vision' windows and 'land-o-matic' undercarriage. The industry has never been quite the same sinve then and it was only after the bottom dropped out of the light aircraft business after the seventies oil crisis that makers realised aeroplanes and motorcars serve different needs - and pockets.

If Cessna were the leaders at attempting to persuade the travelling public that light aircraft travel was an everyday activity, Beechcraft cornered, though did not invent the concept of personal aeroplanes for business use. The last Beechcraft to feature wind-down windows was the D17 Staggerwing. Cessna would not let motor-avio ad copy die and even as the seventies drew to a close made a big thing of providing a rear window for the spiky but elegant 310.

The Cessna 310 and Baron 58 are many things but what they do better than anything else is to demonstrate each company's adherence to individual marketing traditions. Even as the 310 production line closed, Cessna's last be-tip-tanked piston twin still displayed motor car curves and fins. And just as mother earth turned 1960, sure enough, Cessna were right there with their 'Flite-Sweep' swept tail. There was no such nonsense in the minds of Beechcraft marketers - design was a matter of suiting the business executive and if the 58 has always been a sober sight on any airport ramp, what it lacks in glitz is made up in function. Perhaps because of it, the Baron 58 is one of the oh-so-few light twins still produced today.

The Cessna 310 was a revelation when it was launched in 1954. Its only competitors were the podgy Piper Apache, the Twin Bonanza and promising Aero Commander. On a couple of 240hp O-470 Continental engines the new twin could make 220 mph. It would be another four years before Beechcraft began delivering its own light twin - the Travel Air and a further six years before the first Baron.

The most profound Baron improvement took place in 1969. A year previously Beech had begun to sell an elongated Bonanza, the model 36. The Beechcraft designers had stretched the Bonanza fuselage by 30 inches and added two outward opening doors behind the wing trailing edge. This single development was perhaps the major reason why Barons are still in production. Beechcraft used the Bonanza 36's fuselage and applied it to the Baron.

The club seating arrangement allowed businessmen to conduct meetings whilst airborne, though in practice the noise levels make this a somewhat ambitious feature. Nevertheless it quickly established the 58 Baron as the darling of charter companies and corporate customers who couldn't yet afford anything bigger. Passengers were spared the inelegant clambe through the cabin to reach the rear and middle row seats. It was a huge marketing advantage over the 310 despite the Cessna's larger cabin.

Cessna's early efforts at improving the 310 were often cosmetic. With its jet fighter tip tanks, some say copied directly off Lockheed's T-80 and T-33, the aeroplane was already the sleekest thing in the sky. In '63 the exhausts were moved under-wing and the engine nacelles carried beyond the trailing edge - again following the car makers penchant for making everything appear like a
jet fighter.

As fashion dictated sharper corners, so the 310 evolved with a pointier nose, canted tip tanks, pointy tail and under fuselage strakes that must have turned Cadillacs designers green with envy. By 1975, when Cessna elongated the nose to accommodate extra baggage and remote avionics, the 310 looked like a rocket ship and must have scored many buyers seduced with sheer looks.

By the eighties, when both aircraft had reached their definitive airframe variants, they weighed in at 5400 lbs gross for the Baron 58 and 5500lbs for the 310R. These figures are interesting for they suggest that despite their reputation for sturdiness, Barons carry no extra weight. A look at the empty weights would supprt this with the Baron tipping the scales at 3443 lbs and the Cessna 3630 lbs. For those of us that take an acedemic curiosity in aircraft weights, the long nose 310R added 200 lbs. The last of the short nose 310s, the 'Q' stood at 5300 lbs in normally aspirated form. It's therefore easy to see why Cessna installed all subsequent 310s with the higher powered IO-520 Continentals.

Notwithstanding the perception that Baron's carry extra quality weight, Cessna's sexy-looking tip tanks obviously had a weight downside. Any Baron owner will boast of his aeroplane's speed and according to book figures they would be correct. However, 310 owners have always maintained their aeroplane's speed advantage, a point that will be investigated later in an effort to resolve this ongoing argument. Despite the drag implication, Cessna insisted the 310's tip tanks enhanced tip-vortex and even added speed.


Close up, the 310 towers over you. The company reduced the nosewheel leg angle in 1969 to allow pilots better maneuverability on the ground and apart from modifying the main gear leg in 1967, few would notice the changes. Whilst giving the 310 an appearance of wanting to be in the air, the height makes a preflight a somewhat ponderous. Physically checking fuel levels, especially if the aircraft has extra engine nacelle tanks requires mild stretching exercises.

Cessna's fuel system has a plethora of drain valves and vents depending on configuration. The complexity of the 310's fuel system is a result of designers insistence on making the tip tanks the main tanks. All twin Cessna's (indeed most light twins) are modestly limited in range without auxiliary fuel. The 310 is no exception so extra capacity was a popular option. 310s were offered with optional 20 or 30 gallon auxiliary tanks in the in the outboard wings and further 20 gallon wing locker tanks. Initially the mains have to be used for at least an hour before using auxiliary fuel and even though the aux's contain two hours endurance, the tanks empty somewhat quicker. The extra fuel is vented from the engine-driven injection pump back to the mains via a vapour return line, in effect, filling the mains again.

As can be imagined, the potential for allowing the engines to run for too long on the aux's can lead to as embarrassing non-bronchial cough, something that any Cessna push-pull, 300-series and 400-series pilot will have a story about. A mental picture of the fuel state must be maintained at all times, even more so with the ambiguity of Cessna's supposedly accurate 'Accu-measure' gauging system. If that is confusing there's more. The locker tanks don't feed directly to the engines and will only transfer fuel to the mains when their transfer pumps are operated - a handy panel light indicating when this operation has been completed. Moreover, it's worth remembering that the auxiliary tanks can't be used for cross-feeding, a compelling reason to use them as early as possible just in case an engine decides to quit. All this gives the 310 a wonderful 207 gallon capacity. Thus, the 310 pilot will be thinking about fuel for his entire flight - making their first adjustment an hour after takeoff.

However, the pilot will also be crossing his fingers that this collection of pumps and valves will be faithfully working beneath the clean and smooth wing surfaces for their entire trip.Filling the 310R with 207 gallons leaves enough capacity for three big chaps and a lunch box. Alternatively six passengers each with 25 lbs of luggage leaves room for about 120 gallons of juice - enough for at least three hours flying plus reserves.

The Beechcraft system is typically straightforward. Although Beech too offered an auxiliary system, it was merely a directly connected but additional 30-gallon outboard bladder and virtually all Baron 58s ever imported into the region were fittrd with the extended capacity. Thus, most Barons will be found with two filler points on each wing. If the inboard apertures are brimmed then there's 136 gallons - filling via the outboard caps enables all 194 gallons to be taken. The Beech's tankage system is simple to manage. All the fuel is available to crossfeed immediately.

194 gallons gives the Baron a useful load of about two lunch boxes. Filling the cabin with six 170 pound passengers with 25 lbs of baggage each allows a shade over four hours endurance before the tanks run dry.

Cessna's sexy-looking 310 may have given cabin volume but it never matched function with design. As a result Cessna's typical businessman had to clamber up some steps onto the wing and then climb inelegantly through the cabin to sit down. Moreover, the seat design lends itself more to wendy-house comfort than boardroom style. Admittedly, the 310 has oodles of luggage space and a huge door on the right hand side of the cabin as well as a nose bay and wing lockers. Whilst this is useful, the 310 does not make the best of its available space in making passengers more comfortable. Despite its presence and large cabin volume, the 310 is still firmly a 'small aeroplane' in this respect.

Seriously mindful of its passengers, the Baron 58's rear doors are such a practical addition to a light twin, it's difficult to see why other manufacturers ignored the concept (with the exception of Piper's Seneca). Although Baron 58s were available with tiered seating, few buyers chose that layout.

The two knot difference in VMCA is mostly academic as it would be wise to look for some level ground in an engine failure situation just after takeoff.

The 310's minimum single engine control speed is 80 knots, like the Baron, somewhat higher than its 70 knot symmetric stall speed. However, the 310's best rate of climb speed on one engine is 100 knots at 7000 feet. The lesson in bothe cases is don't meddle if a motor quits before blue-line. By the time the dead engine has been identified, feathered and the gear and flaps are on their way up, it may be too late to attempt a safe single-engine circuit and landing - even at sea level.

With the correct procedures, the 310R should climb at 275 feet per minute on one engine at a pressure altitude of 7000 feet on a 30 degree celsuis day. The Baron 58 should make at least 150 feet per minute.

Single engine performance and its ramifications satisfies bar-room argument more than sales figures. In practice, though twins may be a handful if a motor quits, we'd all be flying Cessna push-pulls if it was considered a frequent problem. With the motors in full song and everything else working, the Baron is the most flattering to fly. Despite the 30-inch fuselage stretch Beech has never had to add C of G enhancing control line bobweights and up/down springs to its control system. The Baron 58's wings are 13 inches further back than the 55 model's, resulting in none of the critical rearwards C of G movement as fuel is burned. As a consequence the Baron's natural instability gives responsive and well harmonised controls. The pleasant handling qualities are a legend amongst Baron owners. However, it does make harder work during an IFR approach.

The 310R is not as flattering. On takeoff, the extra 300 lbs plus weight of the tip tanks is felt and pilots unfamiliar with the type may be tempted to counter the perceived instability with constant control input. In practice, the 310 is best left to sort itself out, not only at slow airspeeds but also in cruise. Nevertheless it makes for a more pronounced rolling motion until fuel is burned off. Cessna has never built aeroplanes with sports car handling and the 310 is no exception. On takeoff a firm pull is required to raise the nose and the aircraft feels heavy but not unpleasant in pitch throughout the rest of its flight envelope. The aircraft is best left to what its designers wanted it to do - fly fast and comfortable from A to B, bearing in mind most pilots will travel from A to B with their autopilot on.

The Baron lifts off with gentle back pressure on the column giving an early indication of its friendly handling with both engines in full song. Again, as with most twins, it's best to accelerate to blue line speed before climbing away. The Baron's reputation for having responsive and well harmonised controls is well founded - the aircraft is a delight to fly - even fun.

If the Baron wins the handling match is it faster? Speed is an emotive subject and no aircraft owner likes to admit that his aeroplane is slower than the competition. At risk of inviting open warfare with Nigel Forrester and his team at NAC Beechcraft sales, we put the Baron 58 and 310R in line abreast over the Hartebeespoort dam and pushed both throttles forward and propellor rpm to maximum green-line - 2500 rpm.

At a highveld lower cruise level of 6500 feet the highest throttle setting produces about 22 inches manifold pressure. The Baron appeared to stay on the 310's wingtip at first but as the 310 settled down it started to pull away, the Baron slipping gently behind.

Most realistic Baron pilots will flight plan for 180 knots knowing their aircraft will fly faster. However, a look at the handbook reveals a high cruise speed of 195 knots compared to the 310's 194 knots. These figures are probably misleading and may be evidence of Beechcraft erring on the side of optimism or their test pilots knowing something most Baron pilots don't. A look at the President's Air Race handicap system supports this. The normally aspirated 310R is handicapped at two knots over a Baron 58. Wanting to give the Beech as good a shot as possible, a phone call to one of the region's largest charter operators and one with extensive 310 and Baron 58 experience - Westair in Windhoek, Namibia, also confirmed that the 310R is the faster of the two. Westair reckon a 310 will save them (an admittedly marginal) ten minutes on a 560 nm flight from Eros airport to Sun City.

The 310R's 2-knot speed advantage is more psychological than practical but at least the Cessna pilot will score important pub points. However, Beech has a trump card. In 1984 the Baron was sold with 300-hp Continentals, so before placing money on a fly-off the 310owner would be best advised to enquire if his sparring partner has a late model 58 which will show a clean pair of heels over the 310R by a significant 5 knots or more depending on mixture settings.

The Baron is an extremely flattering aeroplane to land. Like its single engined Bonanza counterpart, the 58's natural instability makes for pleasingly light controls. The Baron gives no indication of any unpleasnt characteristics at the flare - at touchdown, the undercarriage geometry and good pitch response results in easy to achieve greasers.

Short nose 310's have a nasty tendency to fall out from under you as soon as the throttle is closed over the threshold. This has led to some spectacular incidents. An accident at Rand is recalled where a 310 hit the runway so hard it burst both tyres, damaged the propellor tips and twisted the fuselage so much, the occupants had to call the fire department over the radio to release the doors. However, the undercarriage was undamaged - a testimony to the ruggedness of the 310's gear design, including the nosewheel which looks so fragile.

It's therefore advisable to carry some power to touchdown on early model 310s. The long nose version is far kinder and more like its big brother 402 in the landing regime. Nevertheless, Cessna hasn't been as adept at stretching its fuselage's as Beechcraft has. Whilst the Cessna has a linger C of Grange than the Baron, they've achieved this by adding downsprings to the elevator controls resulting in higher sticj forces at the flare. In practice this does not call for higher degrees of skill, just a little more anticipation. The 310R though, is the easiest version to land and power can be safely chopped at the threshold withou fear of the main undercarriage legs appearing through the upper wing surfaces.

A Baron owner is almost certain to get fatter maintenance bills than his 310 counterpart. Beech's structural integrity in renowned - but you pay for it. For example, wing bolts have to be magnaflux inspected every 15 years. Although replacement isn't a huge cost, there are other items requiring regular investigation. Until February 1996, Beech required an inspection and virtual overhaul of its flap and undercarriage system every 2000 hours. The inspection included the removal of gear legs, the undercarriage 'gearbox' and flap actuators - an expensive workshop visit. This was amended and called for a 2000 hour inspection rather than a complete removal. Nevertheless the undercarriage gearbox, or actuator, as Beech prefer to call it, still has to be opened up and overhauled every 400 hours.

Any AMO will consider the 310 easier to maintain. The airframe, being larger, is more easily accessed and Cessna does not have Beech's long list of inspections and items that need mandatory replacement. Barons tend to be used more for charter work in South Africa, so low time examples are more difficult to come by.

In contrast, the 310 tends to be used as a personal aeroplane, so low time R models tend to be the rule rather than the exception. In some countries the positioned is reversed. In Namibia and Kenya for example, the 310 is a far more popular charter aircraft. The Cessna isn't without its own maintenance idiosyncracies. For example, the 310 has a mandatory and major 6500 hour wing inspection and the multi-disc brake system on early models were notoriously expensive to replace until Cessna started using Clevelands from the Q model onwards. Another potentially expensive maintenance glitch that need to be investigated on early models is the condition of the rear spar. Until Cessna installed protruding exhaust stubs in 1970, exhaust efflux was inclined to corrode the rear wing spar at and around the engine nacelle. If corrosion has gone too far, the repair bill is monstrous.

Both aircraft share the same 285hp IO-520 Continental and with it, their reputation for cracking cylinders and crankcases. According to the American Aviation Consumer Guide, the cracking crankcase stndrome is more prevalent on the Baron although the reason for this is unknown. The same problem has afflicted owners of so-equipped aeroplanes for a long time and even the introduction of the 'knuckle headed', beefed up crankcase did little to improve matters. A careful inspection is a must for any buyer.


Beechcraft's South African distributor, NAC, prefers to be modest when talking about the Baron's huge popularity in the region. Nevertheless there is no doubt their marketing efforts were instrumental in establishing the Baron. During aviation's boom period in the late sixties and early seventies, NAC would regylarly place stock orders with the factory. Buyers were able to visit the showroom, inspect and fly the aeroplane and then make their choice from a selection on the floor. Moreover, they could choose their own avionics package rather than have to put up with Cessna's standard ARC radios. Beech's strength today is a consequence of NAC's policy of putting its money where its mouth is and the end result is an aeroplane with a deserved and esteemed reputation.

Early and aggressive sales methods also accounted for the 310's success in other parts of Africa, particulary Namibia which is almost entirely 'Cessna country'. Like so many things in aviation, choosing between the Baron 58 and 310R is largely subjective. It might also be worth remembering that Barons are worth more or cost more, depending on which way you look at it. A 310 will cost some US$20,000 less than an equivalent Baron of the same vintage. The Baron's advantages are clear; rear doors, shorter runway requirement, cabin layout, magnificent handling, easier resale and on post-1984 versions; higher speed. The 310R is kinder when it comes to paying for maintenance, the cabin is larger and less noisier than the Baron's, it has greater range/payload flexibility, more luggage space and year-model for year-model, has the seductive advantage, albeit marginally, of being faster.


Note: PlaneCheck often has some nice Cessna 310's for sale as well as Beech Baron 58's