Buying Your First Twin Cessna

Every week here at TTCF, we get questions from owners of high performance singles who are thinking about moving up to a twin. Some have “twin fever” and have already made up their minds to upgrade. But most are very cautious and want to know everything possible before making the leap. My hat is off to the latter group, as moving up to a twin is something best done with a well-thought-out plan.

There are several different scenarios we hear:

Scenario 1: The most common is

that the owner and his family have outgrown their current airplane – usually a high performance single like a Cirrus. They’ve had another child or the kids have grown larger and they now need a bigger airplane that can haul all the stuff they can fit into their SUV.

Scenario 2: The second scenario is that they have become concerned about flying in a single engine airplane over water, over inhospitable terrain or at night. The idea of a second engine appeals to them from a safety standpoint.

Scenario 3: The final one is they’ve been scanning Controller and Trade-A-Plane and see the prices of light twins and think “wow, for what my Bonanza/Cirrus/210 is worth, I could buy one of these twins.” This is the scenario that concerns me.

Yes, you can buy the twin, but do you need it from a mission standpoint, and can you afford to maintain it? (The phone calls I dread most are from Twin Cessna owners who have bought more airplane than they can afford. Consequently, they don’t fly it and the airplane begins to deteriorate as it sits in the corner of a hangar, or even outside.)

With these scenarios in mind, here is what we tell prospective twin owners to consider before they buy.

Consider Your Mission

Most pilots crave speed. If speed is all you want, stick with a single. Some of them are just as fast and do it at less cost. The fastest Twin Cessna is a 340 with a RAM VII conversion. RAM lists a cruise speed of 232 kts at 40.6 gph fuel consumption. The fastest production piston single is the Mooney Acclaim Type S. The Acclaim boasts a top speed of 242 kts with a more typical cruise of 230. But it does this at exactly half the fuel burn of a 340.

If all you want to do is fly yourself and your buddy a couple of hundred miles to play golf at a nice resort, maybe the Mooney or 210 or Bonanza is all you really need. It certainly will cost you a lot less. But if you’re flying two couples, four sets of golf clubs and a week’s worth of luggage, then a twin starts making much more sense.

What is your average flight length and what kind of terrain do you fly over? As a general rule, long trips with mountainous terrain favor turbocharging. Short trips over flatland don’t. There are exceptions, such as flight in icing conditions when the extra climb capability that comes with turbos can be a lifesaver.

If your wife says she doesn’t like flying because it’s too noisy and makes her ears pop, then congratulations, you’ve just received a free pass to start looking for a 340! If you have a family of 6 and like to travel, consider a 421 to use instead of the airlines.

Consider your mission and crunch

the numbers. All airplane purchase decisions involve some element of emotion, but if you include data and facts in your decision-making process you’ll be much happier with your airplane in the long run.

Make a Commitment to Training

I won’t get into the single versus twin safety debate here except to say that without a commitment to training, any advantage conferred by a second engine is lost. In fact, a twin pilot that is not proficient in engine-out procedures is likely more at risk than a pilot of a single.

Making a commitment to annual recurrent training in a simulator (RTC, Flight Safety, SimCom) is best. But at minimum we recommend including simulator training as part of a new twin pilot’s initial training. It’s the only way to safely practice engine loss scenarios at low altitude. Then, at the very least, train annually with a competent multi-engine instructor.

There’s more. To internalize what you learn during training, you must use it in your regular flying. You must make a commitment to fly more “professionally.” Many singles can be flown by the seat of your pants, so to speak, since they have large margins of error built into their handling characteristics. Most twins do not. They need to be flown by the numbers. It’s a more challenging type of flying, but it’s more rewarding as well. You’ll be rewarded by the better performance of a twin versus single, but more importantly, you’ll have achieved a higher level of proficiency, competency, and safety.

Alternatively, without this commitment to training and professionalism, you might never be totally comfortable with flying a twin. You’ll come to dread your BFRs and IPCs. The airplane may wind up sitting in the hangar, deteriorating, until you decide to sell it someday at a considerable loss. I’ve heard this story a number of times. Don’t let it happen to you.

Go In With Your Eyes Wide Open Regarding Cost and Commit to Good Maintenance

First, check with your insurance agent. How much will it cost to insure your new twin? How much dual will the insurance company require before you can fly solo and will they require recurrent training?

Will your home field tiedown or hangar fees increase if you upgrade to a twin? You’ll certainly be paying twin rates at FBOs when you’re out traveling. There may be higher fuel purchase requirements to waive ramp fees. These will be a small fraction of your overall costs, but they will be higher.

Now, let’s talk about maintenance. Some owners are experts at maintaining an airplane at minimum cost. If something goes wrong, they don’t just drop it off at the shop and say,  ‘fix it.” They find someone who can rebuild the part or they find a replacement part at a salvage yard. Downtime is much less important to them than minimizing the cost of the repair. I really admire these people. They know their airplanes, sometimes better than their shops do.

Others want to minimize their downtime and are willing to pay for it. Plus, they don’t have the time or inclination to source parts, etc.

Personally, I’m in the latter category. I bought my airplane to fly it and I want minimize my down time. I have parts shipped overnight.  Whenever I’ve replaced an engine, I’ve always done an overhaul exchange in order to get it done quickly. To not be able to fly for days or weeks on end due to my airplane being down for maintenance would be more than I could bear! Needless to say, this type of maintenance is more expensive.

Based on the type of owner you are, consider the following steps:

Step 1: Take an honest look at your finances. What do you have to spend now on the purchase of an airplane? What are you likely to have available on an annual basis for maintenance?

Step 2: Get accurate data on the projected purchase price and cost of ownership of the airplane you want. (TTCF can provide this information for Twin Cessnas).

Step 3: Prepare a conservative budget. We recommend the following:

• Plan on the initial annual costing up to 3 or even 4 times the cost

of a “normal” annual. Even the world’s best pre-buy will not catch everything that needs to be done to the airplane. If you don’t get a pre-buy done by a shop that specializes in Twin Cessnas, all bets are off. We’ve seen situations where the cost of the first annual exceeded what the owner paid for the airplane.

• Always be financially prepared to replace an engine at any time.

• In my experience, the happiest airplane owners are the ones who could have bought the next aircraft up the ladder but didn’t in order to afford top-notch maintenance and upgrades. (For example, the 310 owner who could have afforded a 340, or the 421 owner who similarly could have bought a King Air 90, but then wouldn’t have had much of a cushion left over for maintenance.)

• Do not skimp on your maintenance budget, or you will be constantly stressed at best, and grounded at worst.

Make Sure You Buy the Right Airplane

You’ve considered your mission and you know the exact make and model that fits it. Of course, it’s a Twin Cessna! You’ve thought long and hard about the challenges of flying a more complex airplane and you are committed to getting proper training. You’ve prepared a conservative budget that doesn’t “stretch” you and has some cushion in it. Now you are ready to find an airplane and make an offer. I have good news for you, it’ a buyer’s market and good deals abound!

1. I’d join the Twin Cessna Flyer and start taking advantage of all the information on our website. I’d log onto the online member Forum and start asking big picture questions. What Twin Cessna model best fits my mission? What does it really cost to own a Twin Cessna?

2. I’d immediately sign up for one of the TTCF Systems and Engine seminars. This is the very best thing a prospective owner can do to prepare for Twin Cessna ownership. I attended one prior to purchasing my first Twin Cessna, a T310R in 1999, and it saved me at least thousands, and more likely tens of thousands of dollars. I got a great airplane at a fair price and was very happy with it for many years. There were no surprises and it performed reliably and as advertised.

3. I would also call a shop that specializes in Twin Cessnas like TAS Aviation, DFW Aeromechanix, or Tom’s Aircraft. I’d tell them which model aircraft I was looking for and see if any of the ones they maintain might be for sale. Buying an aircraft maintained by one of these shops or another Twin Cessna specialist would considerably reduce the risk of unexpected maintenance surprises. Frankly, I’d pay a significant premium for one of these.

4. I’d contact Jerry Temple and see what he had in inventory. Unlike many other brokers, Jerry goes over the aircraft he represents with a fine-tooth-comb. No one in aircraft sales knows more about the Twin Cessnas market than Jerry. He has been working with these airplanes since they came off the assembly line in Wichita. His reputation for honesty is impeccable.

5. Once I found the aircraft I wanted, I’d have the prebuy done by TAS Aviation, DFW Aeromechanix, Tom’s Aircraft, or another Twin Cessna specialist. I would spare no expense here even if I had to fly one of their mechanics to the airplane. Money spent on a top-notch prebuy is the best investment you’ll make in your new twin.

6. I’d buy the airplane and have the time of my life flying it!

If you follow the above advice, you’ll love owning your Twin Cessna. Buying it will be some of the best money you’ve ever spend!