Flying the same aircraft all the time can be boring after a while. It’s an affliction most aircraft owners share, though it’s not one to generate much sympathy from non-owners.
But after months and years flying the same familiar flivver, one begins to seek out new opportunities, different aircraft and even additional ratings. So it was for me recently.
A close friend had a sweetheart deal with the owner of an early Beechcraft Model 55 Baron. He also happened to be a CFI-ME and was ready, willing and able to check me out in the bird.
I wanted to add some multi-engine time, so a deal was struck involving the additional insurance premium to cover me in a type I’d never flown before, and a dry hourly rate. A baby Baron like this Model 55 was perfect for me since I knew the systems and handling, thanks to my years of Debonair ownership.
The Baron’s radios were past their sell-by date, but its paint and interior were presentable, all the important stuff worked, and both engines and props recently had been overhauled. One engine still had break-in oil in its crankcase. Firewalls forward, it was in excellent shape.
At the appointed time, the CFI and I got together to check me out in the beast. We were flying from the Baron’s home base, the Manassas Regional Airport (KHEF) in Virginia, where I’d hangared my Debonair for a number of years before moving away to warmer climes. A winter cold front was moving out, having socked in the area for a few days, leaving behind it clearing skies, variable winds and gusts.
After a refresher discussion of multi-engine flying, a detailed walk-around and cockpit familiarization, we fired up and blasted out of Manassas for nearby Cheap Fuel Municipal, some airwork and some landings. (And when I say “blasted out,” I mean it: A lightly loaded 55 Baron gets past blue line — its single-engine best climb rate speed — quickly and can easily cruise-climb at 1,000 fpm.)
My first landing was in a gusty, direct crosswind. It wasn’t pretty, but we arrived at Cheap Fuel’s ramp with all the airplane parts we started with. After a breathtaking fuel bill and a debrief of the arriving flight, we launched again for another airport where we hoped the winds were better aligned with the runway.
Somewhere along the way, of course, the CFI “failed” an engine and I performed the identify, verify and feather procedure. Then he miraculously “fixed” it, and we motored on our way. That training repeated itself a few times.
Soon, we were maneuvering in the pattern at the other airport, where the winds weren’t what we hoped, but those are the cards we were dealt. This landing was better, which isn’t saying a whole lot.
We rolled the full length, where I discovered the left brake was going soft. Its master cylinder had recently been replaced, so we suspected some stubborn air in the line. The co-pilot’s side didn’t have brakes at all, a “feature” of many same-era Bonanzas, Debonairs and Barons, so the CFI couldn’t help with stoppage.
By the time we turned off at the end and started back for another takeoff, the left brake offered little resistance or deceleration. It had enough to kinda/sorta stop straight, and we had plenty of runway in case of an abort, so we launched for the hop back to Manassas. The landing there, on 5,500-foot-long 34R, was the best of the bunch so far, and we let it roll the full length again, with the idea of turning left at the end and taxiing back to the Baron’s hangar. The left brake had other ideas.
By the time the departure end of 34R was looming in front of us, the left brake had decided it didn’t want to play any more — at all. It offered no resistance and no deceleration. The right brake was fine, though, and we were slow, just not slow enough to steer the nosewheel left onto the taxiway, which presented a bit of a problem. The choice was to roll straight off the end into the grass or use what braking ability we had to turn right.
Going straight offered all kinds of problems, including witnesses and paperwork. Using the right brake was the best solution, and it’s the one I chose. The result was a very pretty and precise decelerating 360 turn to the right. About halfway through it, I started chuckling to myself, “Well, this isn’t what we planned.”
By the time we finished our little slow-motion groundloop, which took place entirely on pavement, we were at a speed safe enough to exit the runway onto the taxiway to the left, which we did. It was time to talk to the tower.
“Uhhh, tower, as you probably noticed, Baron 12345 has a little brake problem. Taxi to the west ramp.”
“Baron 1245, do you require assistance?”
“Negative; looks like we have it sorted out now.”
“Baron 12345, taxi as requested.”
The rest of the journey back to the hangar was slow and uneventful. I repeatedly pumped the left brake, trying to get it to develop some resistance and, curiously, by the time we shut down, it was working again. It wasn’t 100%, but anything was better than what we had five minutes earlier.
Adding some fluid and bleeding the line resolved the problem, and the Baron was pronounced ready to go again. I ended up spending a fun week bouncing up and down the East coast in it with a couple of friends, and turned it back over to its owner the following weekend with no further squawks.
My wallet was lighter, and my logbook had some new entries.
And I’m probably the only person to ever groundloop a Baron at Manassas, and live to tell about it.