By Todd Fredricks
In aviation there are a few timeless truths. One of these truths is that airplanes that, for whatever reason, are invested with uncanny inspiration will remain timeless. the dC-3, the J-3 Cub and the Aeronca Champ are all airplanes that are well over 60 years old and are still being manufactured or re-manufactured because nothing else matches the mission that these airplanes were originally designed to perform.
In 1947 the Beechcraft aircraft corporation designed an airplane known as a Bonanza. This single engine airplane was built to appeal to the business traveler and the veteran pilot from World War II that found himself in need of a fast airplane that was economical to operate. The Bonanza met that need perfectly and in spite of some notorious accidents with early models, the basic airframe has remained in production to this day.
But single engine airplanes did not meet the need of pilots who needed the extra power and capability of a multi-engine aircraft. The first effort to address this came in the form of an airplane known affectionately as the “twin bo” or Twin Bonanza. This moniker is a bit misleading since the Twin Bo is by appearance more like a King Air 90 than a Bonanza with two engines. Nevertheless, the Twin Bonanza developed a sturdy and solid reputation and convinced the Beechcraft management that a light twin would meet the needs of the general aviation community.
It was with this understanding that Beechcraft ‘added’ a second engine to the Bonanza and created a true ‘Twin Bonanza’ in 1961. They called this airplane, the B55 Baron. Barons come as either a -55 with four seats or a -58 with club seating for 6.
The Baron has been produced in some 15 different variants. Today you can buy a new Baron for something over a million US dollars. Like the Bonanza, the Baron is essentially the same airplane as it has always been, various models differing only in performance, seating and avionics. The mission remains the same; provide the individual who needs travel speed and flexibility with an IFR capable airplane that is fast, comfortable and affordable.
Microsoft FSX includes the Baron G58. The G58 features 300 hp engines, which allow for a 175-knot cruise and a range of over 1500 nm at max range power settings.
The best way to experience the Baron is to fly it. A flight from KUNI to KDCA will allow us to leave my home and make a business meeting in the US capital city and still have time for a nice lunch in Georgetown before I need to get home and pick up my kids from school. We’ll file IFR because it is both fun and safer since we have to enter the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) that rings the area around Washington. It is also a good idea to check the TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions) that may have developed since my last trip.
After filing our flight plan and doing everything I can do to avoid an untimely F-16 intercept it is time for a walk-around. Microsoft has done a very nice job of modeling the Baron. The panel represents the best of what you might find in a factory new model. The Baron is a tall airplane. At 6 feet 3 inches,
the cowlings are at chest level on me so smaller pilots may have to find a stool to check the oil. Likewise, the wing of the Baron is just low enough to make those of us with bad knees creak and groan when we look in the wheel wells and check the brake lines. The walk-around demonstrates no significant deficits or abnormalities.
Once inside…you did check the fuel caps to make certain that they are secure didn’t you? You will find that the Baron is still designed around a long antiquated FAA 170 pound pilot standard. At 250 pounds, the Baron, and the Bonanza for that matter, is a tight fit for me. The yoke sits just off of my lap and I can just barely get full control movement. This will not be a problem in the sim.
Start-up is a non-event. You pull the checklist. Prime the engine. Mixture forward, props forward and throttle cracked ¼ of an inch. Hit the starter. Three blades and the engine catches. Pull the throttle back to maintain an RPM of 1000 and wait just a bit to look over the gauges. Once you are satisfied with all the dials, repeat the process.
Microsoft has made this process very faithful to the actual procedure and it is fun to start the FSX Baron with a regular checklist. You will find that a multi-engine throttle quadrant greatly adds to the experience.
Flying ANY multi-engine aircraft is an exercise in systems management. Systems-driven aircraft are never “kick the tires and light the fires” machines. They are checklist driven and the pilot who fails to follow procedure is asking for a shortened engine life… or worse.
Once up and running, it is time to call ‘ground’ and get a taxi clearance. If there is one deficiency in the FSX Baron it is that the functionality of the Garmin 1000 is put together like an afterthought. There are no convenient autopilot controls accessible without keystrokes. Finding the throttle quadrant window requires using the overhead menu. I suspect that this is a push on the part of Microsoft towards full time use of the virtual cockpit. The problem is that flying IFR is not an easy task in any virtual cockpit. The Baron would have been much better had more thought gone into the 2D panel controls.
Taxing the Baron is a combination of braking and the use of asymmetric thrust. It is expensive to operate any airplane. Any airplane labeled ‘Beechcraft’ is among the most expensive. Brakes cost money but in a twin you can steer using differential thrust. By adding some throttle to get us out of the chocks the airplane responds and starts rolling. It is important to reduce the throttles back to idle and stay with the airplane. Turning to the right involves a slight tap on the right brake and perhaps a touch of left throttle to nurse the nose around. The point is that going slow saves on wear and tear and allows you to stay with the airplane. It also allows the oil temperatures to come up into the green.
After run-up and completion of the before-takeoff checklist it is time to depart. The FSX Baron responds like the real thing and as such requires a slow taxi for line-up. The nose-wheel should be aligned straight down the centerline. With the brakes on, slowly advance the throttles to 2000 RPM and check all the gauges. If everything is in the green advance them all the way and release the brakes. Vr will come rapidly and a little aft trim with a bit of aft yoke will lift the nose wheel and allow for a smooth climb. With a positive rate raise the gear and at 500 foot AGL set climb power and call for the climb checklist.
There is a fair amount of roll inertia with all Beechcraft airplanes in the sense that rolling them takes a bit of effort. The nice thing is that once a bank angle is set, Beech’s stay where you put them. Stalls are predictable and give you a good buffet before the nose drops abruptly. “Abruptly” means just that. When a Baron stalls, the nose drops. If you have an uncoordinated rudder you may drop a wing and proceed toward a spin. With coordinated rudder you will experience a very noticeable and deliberate nose drop. This is not a scary event, just one that demands the pilot fly the airplane. Allow the airspeed to build and gently pull the yoke back to maintain level flight followed by a positive rate of climb.
I would like to say that FSX replicates aerobatic maneuvers, like spins, faithfully. It does not. Likewise, loss of an engine gives some visual cues that are similar to the actual event, but nothing faithfully replicates spins and engine failures like the real thing. It is just a limitation of the sim.
En route at 7,000 feet, the flying is the same as any other airplane.
I use the autopilot whenever I can. The FSX Baron’s autopilot works okay, once you figure it out. I never was able to determine the exact method for programming the autopilot to fly off of the GPS and had to use the heading hold with the OBS selector. Thankfully the Baron is so stable that once the flight plan was entered, maintaining course with the OBS knob while referencing the Garmin 1000 moving map is very easy.
The Baron is a fast airplane. Speeds of 190 knots are easily achieved and because of this, the airplane can mix in with heavier traffic at larger airports. It is, however, not a simple airplane and its engines demand attention to avoid shock cooling. Before decent we will need to have the checklist out. We will start reducing power by an inch of manifold pressure a minute to allow the engine temps to stabilize and avoid shock cooling. Because we are covering 3 miles a minute in very busy airspace and we would like to have something around 20 inches of MP set by downwind, power reduction should start about 20 miles out.
Maneuvering in the Washington ADIZ is not for the faint of heart, especially at 8 AM on a Monday morning. The traffic is thick and the controllers have no time for pilots who want to negotiate. ATC clearances for descent begin to arrive at about 40 NM out but managing airspeed, engine temps and power settings in the midst of traffic calls makes for a very busy single pilot. The wise Baron pilot will use a checklist and have the airplane configured well in advance.
Maneuvering takes us south of DCA and winds favor an approach from the east. In the typical real-world traffic flow you will likely end up sandwiched between a Canadair RJ and a 757. This means that you will need to keep your speed up. We will simulate this by using an approach speed of 130 knots. We will not set approach flaps or lower the gear because, like the real Baron, adding flaps and dropping the gear will lower our airspeed rapidly and with a fast approach we will rely on this to help us cross the numbers at a more sedate airspeed.
Crossing the Final Approach Fix we set approach flaps and drop the gear, push the props to full forward and repeat the GUMPS check. On short final, select full flaps and trim to relieve backpressure. The Baron settles down to 100 knots and with a steady decrease in power and a bit of backpressure on the yoke, the air plane flares and finally settles into a smooth touchdown.
Maintaining the centerline in the airplane is a function of quick feet on the rudders and selective differential thrust. Remember that a little bit goes a long way. There is no need to push tons of throttle into the airplane after taking such care to bring the temps down. Judicious use of brakes avoids high cost annuals as well.
FSX’s Baron is a nice airplane to fly. Microsoft has faithfully modeled the airplane, panel and avionics. The Garmin 1000 demands some study for full capability. The virtual cockpit, like all VCs, is ‘okay’ for IFR flying, but for maneuvering close to the airport while doing pattern work, it is as functional as any other Microsoft product. FSX’s Baron G58 performs very much like its
real world co unterpart. Aside from poor simulated spin performance it is a great airplane to start flying if you are interested in flying twins. It is also the perfect airplane for simulating those $500 hamburger runs as well.