Looking For an All-Weather Airplane

September 2003 - February 2004 -- I've been looking for an airplane that is certified for known icing conditions and has sufficient weather display capability that I can fly more reliably year-round. I spent a lot of time at www.aso.com and www.controller.com pouring over listings before choosing a few to go look at. Here are three planes I looked at before buying the fourth.

N100VS 1979 Beech Baron 58P at CID (Cedar Rapids, IA)

This was a nice airplane but the panel was in desperate need of a $100,000 make-over (below). Bought at the right price, it could have been a good deal. The engines were almost at TBO so that was another expense that had to be considered.

This is what scared me. From left to right, the left panel is a hodge-podge of add-ins (below the two rows of instruments), the radio stack includes the original radar CRT display and ancient radios, the glove box door is gone, a hard-to-use Hoskins fuel flow computer occupies part of the glove box, the radar altimeter indicator is missing and the radar altimeter unit itself is non-functional. Otherwise the interior and exterior are very nice, including the boots.

N988JG 1989 Beech B36TC at SJC (San Jose)

This was a gorgeous B36TC. It's like my A36 only it has longer wings and a turbocharged engine that allows it to maintain sea-level pressure (and therefore more power) up to 25,000 feet. It had air conditioning and a beautiful panel with all the instruments I wanted.

The panel included the Garmin 530/430 pair and a Sandel 3308 electronic HSI. It had a Stormscope and Skywatch that displayed on the Garmin displays. Autopilot with flight director, yaw damper, and altitude preselect. Copilot HSI. Very, very nice.

We ran the TKS "weeping wing" de-icing system on the ground just so I could see what it looks like. Rumors of the TKS system oozing gallons of toxic, corrosive goo onto your hangar floor are way exaggerated. When run in the air, the liquid evaporates shortly after use so by the time you land and taxi to the hangar it's dry. Unfortunately, the sales person told me this plane was "known-ice certified", which it's not. That was blow number one. Blow number two was its payload: about 350 pounds with full fuel. That's not enough for me and one other adult, let alone filling the remaining four seats! To get the 950 lbs payload that my A36 has, I'd have to leave a bunch of fuel at home, leaving me with a range (with IFR reserves) of 15 minutes!! This would be a great airplane for someone who likes flying a bunch of empty leather seats around by himself.

N119CA 1982 Beech Baron 58P at DVT (Phoenix)

This was a sharp looking airplane that had the benefit of being painted in the same colors as my A36. Again, the problems were in the panel.

The panel is reasonably updated but not enough. It has a pair of Garmin GNS 430's but it needs an Avidyne FlightMax MFD to replace the CRT radar display. That would give you a nice moving map and make up for the tiny screens of the 430's. Also the Stormscope doesn't display on the Garmins. They were nervous about flying it to my mechanic and suggested a location half way between Phoenix and Cedar Rapids. I found that odd.