By Boran Pivčić
The title probably got your attention, didn’t it? 🙂 Though the fact is that Beech has always been known for everything from the ultra-luxurious – like the King Air series – to the ultra-innovative, like the astonishing model 2000 Starship. However, decades ago, Beech also competed in the chaper segment of two seat trainers and four seat tourers, with limited success. While not as famous as their Cessna and Piper counterparts, the three aircraft for Beech’s section here are nonetheless outstanding aircraft, whose quality sticks with the reputation that Beech has so lovingly built.
The three in question this time are all small and simple low-powered aircraft that are surprisingly similar to three Piper products for the same market niche: the 19 Sport/23 Musketeer/24 Sierra range, the 76 Duchess twin and the Piper Tomahawk lookalike, the 77 Skipper.
1. Beech Musketeer, models 19/23/24:
The first on the list is not a single model, but the whole Beech Musketeer family, which spans everything from the cheap and cheerful 19 Musketeer Sport, the baby of the range, to the more powerful and retractable 24 Sierra – conspicuously similar in lineup to the PA-28 family, from the 140 HP Cherokee Cruiser to the 200 HP Arrow retractable. And like the PA-28s, the first model was the mid-range, fixed gear, 160 HP 23 Musketeer, designed to counter the PA-28-161 Warrior.
Introduced in 1963, the Musketeer was of pretty conventional construction, with a low wing, fixed gear and a cabin for four. Externally, it could be easily differentiated from the rest by the pronounced “hump” of the cabin, which would be turn out to be a defining feature of all the designs mentioned here. Initially powered by a Lycoming O-360, the 23 was later uprated with a Continental IO-346 productng 165 HP, but this engine proved to be problematic and was dumped from the lineup in 1968. Replaced by a different, 180 HP Lycoming O-360, the aircraft was then renamed the B23 Musketeer Custom, followed by the C23 Sundowner in 1972. Interestingly, these two models were approved for limited aerobatics outside the standard envelope of such aircraft, pretty much like the Cessna 150 Aerobat series. Production of the 23 ended in 1983 – 20 years on the dot – by which time 2,331 were produced (probably the highest of all the piston singles mentioned in this Rare Aircraft series).
Following Piper’s lead with the lower-powered Cherokee Cruiser, Beech introduced the model 19 Musketeer Sport in 1966, which remained in production up until 1979, with 922 built all in all. Powered by a Lycoming O-320 producing 150 HP (10 more than the Cherokee), all versions – the A19, B19 and M19 – were approved for limited aerobatics just like their bigger brothers.
Not to be outdone by Piper in the opposite end of the spectrum, Beech came up with the 23-24 Super III, powered by an IO-360 producing 200 HP (an engine very popular with light retractables such as the Rockwell Commander 112, and Piper Arrow). Interestingly enough for an engine of that power, a constant speed propeller was optional (!) and only about a third of the aircraft produced were delivered with it (normally, the lower useful limit for a constant speed prop is about 180 HP, with virtually all 200 HP aircraft in the touring class equipped with it). Produced only between 1966 and 1969, the 23-24 didn’t have a direct Piper equal (the closest would be the later-model Cherokees and Archers sporting 180 HP), but was notable for having one of the highest payloads in the four-seat, four cyl piston single category, from 476 to 490 kg – by standard ICAO norms, four adults and their baggage, with 110-122 kg left over for fuel. With a typical density of 0.7 kg/liter, this would boil down to a respectable 45 gallons – more than a Cessna 172 filled to the brim (though the lower powered Piper Archer had an even greater payload of 510 kg).
Only 369 were built before it was superceeded by the model 24 Sierra. Using the same fuselage and engine, the 24 introduced retractable landing gear that, uniquely, retracted outwards rather than inwards. Like all Musketeers, the 24 had trailing link landing gear, well used to landing on all types of surfaces, allowing the Musketeers to operate without problems even out of bad unpaved strips. Analogous in its intended niche to the PA-28R Arrow series, the 24 was produced from 1970 all the way till 1983 when the whole Musketeer line closed, with a production run of 744 aircraft.
Specs B19 (RisingUp Aviation): http://www.risingup.com/planespecs/info/airplane131.shtml
Specs C23 (RisingUp Aviation): http://www.risingup.com/planespecs/info/airplane127.shtml
Specs C24 (RisingUp Aviation): http://www.risingup.com/planespecs/info/airplane123.shtml
2. Beech 76 Duchess:
Quite different from the usual exquisite Beech piston twins – the Twin Bonanza, TravelAir, Baron, Duke, Queen Air… – the Duchess is a more humble four seat trainer/tourer, designed for the same small niche as the very similar looking PA-44 Seminole and Grumman GA-5 Cougar. Grown from the Musketeer by adding another engine – hence the cabin hump – the Duchess shares the Seminole’s low wing T-tail layout and is powered by the same counter-rotating 180 HP Lycoming O-360s (LO-360 on the left wing), driving fully-feathering two-blade propellers. The “same problems, same solutions” principle applied yet again.
While the Seminole went one up with engine performance, introducing the Turbo Seminole in 1979, the Duchess went for aerodynamic efficiency. Unlike most light aircraft, the Duchess (all one models built 🙂 ) featured a bonded honeycomb structure, avoiding the need for drag-inducing rivets. Despite this reducing the turbulent boundary layer along the wing – which, though it increases drag, causes the air to stick to the wing more than to a clean one, increasing lift at any given speed – the Duchess still had good and docile low speed handling.
In the end, the Seminole – still in production today, after a pause during the 90s – had the last laugh, with Duchess production ending 1982 after 437 were built. Despite the Duchess’ popularity with flight training schools, the demand slump for twins in the early 80s – the advent of powerful, faster and more economical singles one of the reasons – doomed it along with the GA-8, leaving the Seminole the sole leader of the niche until the arrival of the Diamond Twin Star.
Specs (RisingUp Aviation): http://www.risingup.com/planespecs/info/airplane94.shtml
3. Beech 77 Skipper:
I think I see a pattern here Scully. The last aircraft on the list can from a distance easily be mistaken for a PA-38 Tomahawk – and is again designed for the same function, as a cheap, survivable two-seat trainer that’s a bit more vicious than the forgiving Cessna 150 (like Piper, Beech used the input of flight instructors during the design phase – input that often asked for more spinnable characteristics). Indeed, the 77 is certified for intentional spins, which may have given rise to various nicknames like the “Traumahawk” often pinned to the PA-38.
In a fit of generous harmionisation, the 77 was fitted with the same 115 HP Lycoming O-235 engine as the Cessna 152 and the Tomahawk. Unlike the 152 – and like the Tomahawk, but you guessed that already – its wing was designed around the GA(W)-1 high-lift airfoil, developed by NASA as a new airfoil specifically designed for GA operations. The extensively glazed canopy gave an excellent all-round view, while entering the aircraft was easier than crawling under the wing like in a 150/152.
Originally designed with a standard tail and equipped with a 100 HP O-200 engine, the 77 uses the same bonded honeycomb structure as the Duchess – and, welcomed by its pilots, a very similar cockpit layout to the 76 and the Musketeer series. Built from 1979 till 1981 with just 312 produced, it ended up – despite being a traditionally fine Beech aircraft – the least successful of the three trainers mentioned.
Specs (RisingUp Aviation): http://www.risingup.com/planespecs/info/airplane133.shtml