Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 425 Corsair/Conquest I

More than just a 421 with PT-6 engines, Cessnas baby turboprop may be the least expensive way to move up to turbine power. But it still wont be cheap.

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For anyone alert and paying attention to general aviation during the 1970s, current offerings from the “big three” manufacturers-Beech, Cessna and Piper-must have seemed like an afterthought. Back then, all three companies offered a full range of propeller-driven aircraft, from two-seat trainers to mile-chewing turboprops. Heck, Cessna even began selling jets early in that decade. For most of us mere mortals, though, a turboprop was about all we could expect to ever try stuffing into a hangar.

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But even there, we had choices. Beech had been busy making its King Air line since the mid-1960s, while Piper gained FAA certification of its first Cheyenne model in 1972. Cessna, perhaps nodding to Beechs preeminence in the market, leapfrogged turboprops altogether, preferring to put its development dollars into the Citation line, a move thats paid off handsomely. But the 70s were almost ready to yield to the 1980s before Cessna type-certificated its first turboprop, the Model 441, in August 1977.

Now known as the Conquest II, the Model 441 was an evolution of the Model 404 Titan, a piston-powered twin, powered by Garrett (now Honeywell) TPE331-8 Series turboprop engines. Confusingly, the Model 425-eventually dubbed Conquest I-earned its type certificate almost three full years later, and started life as the Cessna Corsair. Itself an evolution of the very successful Model 421, the 425 was powered by venerable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-112 engines.

Before production of Cessnas “Baby Turboprop” ended in 1986-along with a lot of other models from among the GA manufacturers-some 236 Model 425 Corsair/Conquest Is were produced.

History

By the time Cessna was able to certify the Corsair/Conquest I in July 1980, general aviation production had peaked, and Cessna itself had been going through some very difficult years. Several of its high-performance twins were suspected of design errors that led to in-flight airframe failures. These included the 441, its piston-powered kin the 404 Titan, and the Model 340. Expensive ADs were applied while the company tried to fix the problems: All early Model 441 airframes were upgraded to a later configuration by the factory, at its expense. Meanwhile, the 340s empennage had to be inspected every 10 hours of operation for a period of time.

The 425, in short, was introduced in inauspicious times. Since then, single-engine turboprops like the Pilatus PC-12 and Socatas TBM-700 and -850 have come onto the market, offering equivalent performance (except when an engine fails), modern systems and avionics, similar cabins and around half the fuel burn. All of which makes it highly unlikely Cessna will ever again build a Conquest. And why should it, when a 2009 Citation Mustang is priced at $2.7 million and a new PC-12 goes for around $3.5 million?

Despite the comparatively small population, the market for used 425s is quite active and, for the most part, the airplane is favorably regarded. Its key strengths are relative economy with good performance, including balanced-field numbers, excellent handling characteristics (including face-saver landings), a well-designed cockpit for single-pilot operation, good CG range, good loading options and a comfortable cabin. For a properly-maintained airplane, dispatch reliability is high, and operational simplicity makes it comparatively undemanding to fly.

One of the elemental strengths of the 425s design is the nearly bulletproof Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 free turbine engine. The A-112 version originally installed in the 425 is a fairly unsophisticated one that is not highly stressed. It is flat rated at 450 SHP. For pilots transitioning to turbine power and for operators at smaller airports, PT6 power is the right choice and is easy to support. The in-flight shutdown rate is impressively low, which is why so many pilots call it bulletproof.

Dont Call it a 421

The 425 is widely referred to as the turbine 421. Not true. Aside from the powerplants, there are a number of distinctions, and very different systems were installed. It would make about as much sense to call a 421 a pressurized 411, or a 414 a wide-body 340.

Yet, all are products of the same basic design and engineering philosophy, and the later 400-series airplanes reflect many of the lessons learned in designing, developing and building the 500-series Citations. The wing span of the 425 is about three feet wider and wing area 10 square feet greater than the 421 wing. The 425s horizontal stabilizer has a distinct dihedral (and, as a former senior Cessna official later said, it really should have been a cruciform tail to negate the adverse effects of propeller wash, now often called whirl-mode vibration, but the company did not want to spend the extra bucks). Still, the aft fuselage structure is much beefier than that of the 421. Just count the rivets from the cabin door aft on the two airplanes.

True, many performance numbers are fairly close for the two types. But that is at a takeoff weight of 7450 for the 421 and 8600 for the 425-more than half a ton of difference. Basic empty weights are about 250 pounds different, but the 425 lifts nearly double the fuel weight of the 421 (2452 versus 1236, or 1572 with auxiliary fuel on the 421). Both all-engine and single-engine rates of climb are fairly close (1950/345 for the 421 and 1875/380 for the 425. The 421 wins the accelerate/stop race (3630 to 3800 feet), but the 425 runs away in accelerate/go (4960 for the 421 to 3360 for the 425).

The 425 also has the advantages of propeller reverse and autofeathering-a no-go system, by the way-the latter of which greatly simplifies aircraft control in the

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event of an engine failure. At comparable weights, of course, the power and higher aspect ratio wing advantages of the 425 enable it to run away and hide from its piston-powered cousin. Then, compare the in-flight failure and unscheduled removal/repair rates of the two engines. Its no contest: The turbine is far superior.

For the properly-trained pilot of a well-maintained airplane, the superior systems and performance of the 425 result in greatly reduced workload compared to the 421 or any other piston twin.

Characteristics Over Time

At its introduction as the Corsair, the 425 had a maximum takeoff weight of 8200 pounds and a basic empty weight of 4870. Full usable fuel weight of 2452 pounds (366 gallons) and average optional equipment weight of 375 pounds left a pretty miserly 503-pound payload.

Maximum takeoff weight was increased to 8600 pounds in 1983; basic empty weight increased by 52 pounds, leaving most of the increase for payload. At the same time, the 425 was formally inducted into the “Cessna Propjet” family and was renamed the Conquest I. No more privateering.

Earlier 425s could be modified to the new weights quite easily, and all have been. Zero-fuel weight increased from 6740 to 7000 pounds; maximum landing weight remains 8000 pounds. Most other changes to the 425 are system or operationally related, such as improved static wicks and additional avionics options.

Probably the most important of the latter is the optional Sperry (now Honeywell) SPZ-500 flight control system. Even at its $75,000 additional cost, it is a big improvement over the ARC (Cessna) 1000 FCS, which has been one of the weak links in the 425 and other Cessna twins. Some 425s were equipped with the ARC 800 series autopilot, which is even less desirable than the 1000. One reader told us the 800 in his airplane had a mind of its own despite many attempts to correct its abrupt pitch excursions.

From the beginning, Collins avionics have been an option worth the price differential over the standard ARC system. To be fair, it should be noted that a number of operators had good experience with their ARC avionics (and a Cessna technician, when asked about his early experience with the 425, said everything was great … “except for those @#$! Collins radios”). The Aircraft Blue Book Price Digest has a footnote that suggests reducing the price of a used 425 by $15,000 to $20,000 if it is equipped with ARC 1000 series avionics.

As a requirement for British certification, a master caution warning system was added. This is a useful addition because the annunciator panel can be hard to see in direct sunlight, even though it is mounted at the top of the panel, under the glareshield.

A noticeable improvement was made in the later run of 425s: better interior design, fit and finish. Appearance, comfort and durability all were improved. Redesigned cabinetry also provided more leg room for passengers in the principal four club chairs.

Another factory option made available in 1982 was Cessnas Cescom maintenance program, which recently was turned over to CAMP Systems. A genuine programmed maintenance scheme in its later form, Cescom provided more flexible inspection options that could reduce total hours and cost for those who scrupulously followed the recording and reporting requirements. A service life recorded on Cescom would be a strong plus for any used 425. Regular readers of aircraft resale advertisements will note that such programs as Cescom, various engine maintenance programs and good service bulletin compliance history are considered sales advantages.

A number of improvements have been missed by operators who do not carefully review product information, improvement and service bulletins from Cessna and component manufacturers. These include glass replacement windshields (although some technicians claim this change has not completely solved cracking and delamination problems), replacement of troublesome torque gauges with electric ones, water drains to control circuit breaker and avionics systems contamination, and shorting, plus a number of engine modifications.

The best Conquest I is one fully up-to-date on hourly, cycle and calendar maintenance, ADs, service bulletins and kits, product improvements, updated electrics-including connectors, good and current avionics. It should also pass the most meticulous, every-nook-and-cranny inspection by an experienced 425 technician. The best-looking Conquest I, with the newest interior and latest paint job may be a beast in disguise. Cosmetics are appealing, but they are the least important part of any airplane purchase. There are many thousands of buyers who were lured by good looks, only to find they had bought turkeys.

Performance / Loading

While the 425 does not have the payload capacity of a C90 King Air, it is nearly a fill-the-seats airplane. With lots of lard and luggage toward the rear of the airplane, CG has to be checked carefully, but the loading range is quite wide.

Zero-fuel weight dictates that anything between 7000 and 8600 pounds has to be fuel, but that still leaves a healthy payload of crew, passengers and baggage or freight of 1673 pounds for a typically-equipped airplane.

The average 425 can seat eight: two in the cockpit, four in club seats, and two in the additional full seat on the left rear side of the cabin and belted potty seat. Even with the maximum number of seats, there is a generous baggage area in the aft cabin (about 30 cubic feet and up to 500 pounds). The cavernous nose houses another 22.4 cubic feet of baggage area with a maximum load of 400 pounds.

There is a lot of cubic space in both the cabin and baggage areas that could tempt those lacking caution and experience to exceed load limits. Yield not to that temptation. Aside from CG concerns, exceeding maximum loads can cause serious performance deterioration, especially in high density-altitude conditions.

With sea-level, standard-temperature conditions and gross weight the (well-flown) 425 can clear a 50-foot obstacle after a run of 2420 feet and land over the same barrier in 2120 feet. With the already mentioned accelerate/stop and accelerate/go distances of 3800 and 3360 feet, a properly qualified pilot can safely operate from 4000-foot runways with room to spare. If you are used to flying a Skyhawk or a Cherokee, that may sound like a lot of runway. For a nearly 9000-pound airplane, however, thats pretty good.

Rate of climb is good enough to make it practical to climb into the flight levels for even relatively short trips. The 425 operates best between FL230 and 280. While maximum speed of 260 knots comes at 18,000 feet, fuel burn is high. At FL260, max cruise power produces 251 knots and 1240-NM still-air range. In the mid-20s, the 425 is a five-hour-plus-reserves airplane. With a maximum operating speed of 230 KIAS and max gear operating of 175 and approach flap of 174, the 425 can return to pattern altitude quite quickly when necessary.

Good for the Single Pilot

As noted above, the Conquest cockpit is well organized. It also is quite comfortable for most pilots of average to large size. Visibility is good. Control harmony in flight is fair. Pitch is the heaviest force, and this is by design. Appropriate trim input is a key to flying the 425 smoothly.

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Even so, pitch changes resulting from configuration adjustments are modest. They are more obvious with power changes-particularly major power changes as when transitioning from approach to missed approach or go-around.

There are no peculiar tricks, however. From both the pilot eye-level perspective and physical/reaction demands, the 425 probably is the simplest of all the turboprops to transition to. Thus the nickname “baby carriage.” Pilots transitioning from light twins will have a bit of trouble at first with control pressures, trim use, aircraft performance and weight (inertia). But good training and a bit of experience quickly leads to confidence. Engine management, from start-up to shut-down, is as important as how well you can shoot an NDB approach where the flying budget is concerned. Poor power management can lead to premature failure or, at the least, much higher hot-section inspection and overhaul costs. They cost gobs of money.

Flying the airplane entails extra time and extra care during pre- and post-flight operations. There are good tricks to learn. For instance, if a quick landing and turnaround is planned, shutting off the bleed air source from one engine about 15 minutes out, then starting that engine first on the turn-around means lower start temperatures and lower stress on both engines.

On the ground, both before and after flight, the airplane needs special care, and operations such as ground towing and refueling must be closely monitored.

Comfort levels

Starting with the first 400-series twin, the universally-panned Model 411, Cessna has advertised the wide oval cabin. Sure enough, like an oval laid on its side, the Cessna cabin affords a good bit of elbow room. This, together with generous windows and reasonably comfortable seats, creates a comparatively high degree of comfort.

The combination of good cockpit design and roominess makes the 425 pilot more comfortable than in many other turboprops. Accommodation of tall pilots is determined largely by the type of cabinets installed between the flight deck and the cabin than by available room to adjust the seats.

A Conquest with well-balanced rotating components and a fully-functioning propeller synchrophaser can be relatively quiet and comfortable at cruise power settings, especially at propeller RPM of less than 1900. Each airplane has an ideal, low-vibration RPM that can be determined with practice. Good propeller balancing makes it even better. For a number of 425s, the best compromise of noise and vibration occurs at propeller settings of between 1825 and 1850 RPM. Experimentation pays off, because once cruise power is established, vibration is more of a noise-generating factor. The two major sources of noise both involve propeller vortices: hitting either the nose cone or the tail, and then being transmitted to the cabin (the fuselage acts like a megaphone).

The 425 is a good airplane with respect to noise and comfort.

Ongoing Support

At least the Conquest is not an orphan. Despite the fact no 425s have been produced for more than two decades, operators tell us that Cessna support is commendable, particularly when compared to most other manufacturers or former manufacturers. Cessna also can be a good source of research materials for determining what the proper maintenance status of a 425 should be. The few bucks (or hundreds of bucks for all materials) represent a worthwhile investment.

So, too, it pays to get to know someone in customer service at Pratt & Whitney (PWC). While the PT6A-112 is a fairly old and mild version, there is much to learn about modifications and recommended procedures. For instance, one reader who bought a 425 had a nearly $55,000 shock when discovering the original cobalt inlet guide vanes had been replaced by nickel vanes (that large payment included hot section inspections).

Basic changes have occurred-which operators on Cescom or on the mailing lists at Cessna and PWC would have known about-that increased propulsion system serviceability and durability (and reduced major maintenance costs). Among these are compressor washes. A mod was introduced that adapted a fitting much like the one on a garden hose to make compressor washes easier to perform.

PWC has a lot of eye-opening information for operators. Among these are some of the reasons for regular compressor washes. You might accept the necessity in a high salt-content environment. Pratt specialists can show you maps of concentrations of contaminants such as sulfur that occur at cruise altitude in parts of the North American continent, where you might expect the air to be pristine. Among the relatively simple modifications that can be made to the 425s engines is one that reconfigures the inlet nozzles to reduce temperatures in the combustion section of the engine during starts.

What some operators of turbine engines never learn, and others learn only after expensive inspections and overhauls, is that heat is both the friend of performance and the enemy of endurance. Going for maximum performance all the time means running temperatures to the recommended limits. Given the vagaries of most gauges and the benefits of just a few degrees lower temperature, a little touch of conservatism can mean literally thousands of dollars reduced cost during a hot-section inspection or overhaul, not to mention diminishing the stress that could result in one of those rare in-flight failures.

Of course, much the same can be said for piston engines, from a big Pratt radial all the way down to a Briggs & Stratton.

Maintenance

While the care and feeding of a high-performance piston-powered airplane and a turbine are not that different, proper maintenance is more important for the latter, if for no other reason than the higher costs of problems. Everything related to 425 is more serious and potentially more expensive.

Even during its heyday, there were not many qualified Conquest-support organizations. Today, they are few and far between, and some are qualified in nameplate only. One reader told us he wishes he could turn back the clock and swap his 425 for his old 421, which he remembered as superior in every way to the Conquest.

Another, after a long period of research, comparison and number crunching, he bought a 425 to replace a 414. Despite the considered approach, there were a number of surprises related largely to the condition of the airplane at purchase and to the demands for maintenance in terms of frequency, downtime and cost.

This is not the kind of airplane to use for on-the-job training for technicians for your local, or favorite but unqualified shop. Thats a major reason for unhappiness with the 425 and similar airplanes for many operators. Selecting the wrong shop can be as expensive as neglecting proper maintenance altogether. The best approach is to talk to other Conquest I operators to get their recommended service and information sources. Keep meticulous records, too. Get involved in an information-sharing network of operators and service/support organizations. It can serve as effective early warning and help keep operational readiness up and costs down. With all that in mind, any Conquest I owner should run, not walk, to join the Cessna Pilots Association (CPA, www.cessna.org). Despite the overwhelming number of piston-powered aircraft Cessna has produced over the years, CPA is well-equipped to serve the needs of turbine owners, also.

Mods, ADs

Given the relatively low number of airframes produced, and the resulting small market, it shouldnt come as a surprise there isnt a huge list of STCd modifications available for the Conquest I. Of course, various avionics manufacturers have FAA approvals to install upgraded boxes, or modify existing ones. At least two companies hold an STC to convert the 425 into an air ambulance while a third-

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Aircraft Performance Modifications, Inc., www.aircraftstc.com-can install aft fuselage strakes the company claims can boost cruise speeds of 400-series Cessnas by up to 12 knots. Meanwhile, Seaton Engineering, www.seatoneng.com, holds an STC to install a pulsing landing light controller.

The known maintenance record of the 425 fleet, consisting mainly of service difficulty reports (SDRs) and airworthiness directives (ADs), has highlighted some shortcomings of the design. While there has been no overwhelming weak point, several problems identified in the field have resulted in ADs. There are a few that suggest careful inspection in hard-to-get-at areas is required. These areas include control cables at pulleys, fairleads and pressure vessel seals, and window retainers.

Service difficulties that resulted in ADs include wing spar cap cracks caused by landing gear loads (AD 91-25-8, repetitive inspection or replacement), windshield attach point failures (84-3-4, repair or replace the windshield), nose landing gear actuators (84-20-2) and horizontal stabilizer attach fittings.

There have been a few reports of accessory corrosion and contamination, including air conditioning tubing, oxygen system elements, engine mounts, oil lines and hydraulic system elements. When you consider the temperature and humidity variations between sea level at summer and operation for a few hours in temperatures of -20 to 30 degrees centigrade, the possibility for condensation/contamination/corrosion is evident.

On September 1, 2007, Cessna introduced the Supplemental Structural Inspection Program (SID) for the Model 425, after working with Model 300/400 operators and the FAA. The program consists of the current structural maintenance inspections, plus supplemental inspections, as required, for continued airworthiness of the airplane as years of service are accumulated. The current inspection program is considered to be adequate in detecting corrosion and accident damage. The SID programs emphasis is to detect fatigue damage whose probability increases with time.

Approximately 60 percent of the active 425 fleet (approximately 240 aircraft worldwide) has had the SID inspections accomplished, which are due on all aircraft over 20 years old (i.e., the entire fleet). The initial inspection requires the entire series to be completed, which is a sizeable task and not to be accomplished by the average maintenance shop. The complete series of inspections involve 943 labor-hours, plus non-destructive testing if completed simultaneously. Individually, there are 1685 labor-hours of inspections, plus NDT.

Once the initial SID inspection is completed, additional inspections will only come due again over the course of 10 years or 5000 hours of operation. Only one minor inspection has been added to be accomplished every 200 hours of operation or 12 months, whichever occurs first. The vast majority of the inspection series repeats again in five years or 2500 hours of operation, or 10 years or 5000 hours of operation. A comprehensive explanation of the program is available from Cessna Technical Support or one of the Cessna Authorized Propjet Service Centers.

Although the announcement and introduction by Cessna of the SID inspections were met with anxiety and trepidation, reports from the major service centers and the resulting SDRs indicate the program is productive and the 425 has many, many more years of reliable service to offer. As is the tradition with Cessna, the 425 continues to be well supported by factory engineering and parts supply.

Thorough pre-purchase and periodic maintenance inspections are essential. Selection of a knowledgeable maintenance provider is key. Operators familiar with the 425 and various shops recommend Cessna Authorized Propjet Service Centers. An oft-mention specific facility is Yingling Aviation at the Wichita (Kan.) Mid-Continent Airport.

As it is with almost any aircraft, operators with lengthy experience maintaining the type can be the best place to solicit advice. Too, and for the most part, the low bidder for airframe or engine work should be avoided like the plague, unless there is evidence to suggest it really is a bargain.

Owner Comments

We purchased our 1983 Conquest I in July 2006, with 3150 hours total time. Its been used to grow our joint ownership program, which already included a Conquest II. At purchase the panel was the original Collins package with Proline radios, plus the FIS-70 flight director and the Sperry 1000 autopilot.

The only changes to the panel were the addition of an MX 20 MFD and removing a Collins WXR 300 color radar. This particular 425 was one of only three we are aware of equipped in the cabin with the three-place lounge/divan at the aft bulkhead, in addition to the standard four-place club seating. McCauley four-blade props and speed stacks had been installed by the previous owner, adding to performance.

We had the airplane re-painted, added several items to the panel including a GMA 340 audio panel, a GNS 530, GTX 330, Skywatch 497 and re-installed the WXR 300 radar. In addition, we refurbished the entire interior, including cabinets, and added two flat-screen monitors to the cabin with wireless headsets driven by a DVD player.

The previous owner had taken good care of it, which has been apparent in its low cost of maintenance. The aircraft has accumulated 550 hours since purchased. The engines were overhauled at 3600 hours by Vector Aerospace at a cost of right at $200,000 each, which is higher than average and attributed to the first-run overhaul of older engines. Although the 425 does quite well on the original powerplants, the addition of the Blackhawk XP engine conversion to the PT6A-135A engines makes the 425 a real athlete.

With the PT6A-112 engines, the airplane cruises at 255 to 260 knots at FL240-280; slightly less in higher-than-average temps.

The 425 is a magnificent combination of features and performance. What other turboprop has the amount of nose baggage (plenty of room for golf clubs or snow ski s), factory equipped with air conditioning, trailing link main landing gear, fits in almost any hangar and for the cost of operation of a turbocharged pressurized piston twin?

Name withheld by request.

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