The Model 95-55 was aimed directly at the CEO who wanted fast, economical transportation at an affordable price
”Outstanding single event of the 1961 meeting was the introduction of the new Beechcraft Model 55 Baron, a fast, sleek, four- to five-seat twin-engine plane designed for the businessman-pilot. Ruggedly strong, yet extremely trim in appearance with swept tail and compact, flat-decked engine nacelles, the Baron offered a useful load of 1,920 pounds and a top speed of 236 mph.”1
That glowing declaration about the new Model 95-55 excited salesmen attending the 1961 Beechcraft International Distributor-Dealer Sales Meeting held in November 1960. Although the Baron was the center of attention during the event, senior Beech Aircraft Corporation officials proudly declared that the 1960 fiscal year had ended with total sales of $98.8-million – a 10.4 percent increase over the previous year. In addition, the company’s worldwide sales force had responded well to the rallying cry of “60 Million in ’60” by selling $62.2-million worth of new Beechcraft airplanes.
As for the Baron, it was designed specifically to fill a critical gap in the product line between the smaller Model 95 Travel Air and the larger, quasi-cabin class Model 50 Twin Bonanza. In addition, Beech Aircraft needed to respond to improved versions of the Cessna Model 310D and 310F and Piper Aircraft’s versatile PA-23-235 Apache as well as the PA-23-250 Aztec. Although Piper customers liked the Apache, they clamored for more power, speed, range and cabin comfort. Based on customer feedback accumulated since the PA-23-150’s introduction in 1954, Piper Aircraft management realized that the Apache had matured to a point where a major upgrade was not only feasible, but essential.
As for Cessna, its leader, Dwane L. Wallace, had no intention of allowing Piper’s new Aztec to upstage the highly popular Model 310. As a result, he authorized development of the Model 310D (1960 model year) and Model 310F (1961) that featured a “Flight Sweep” vertical stabilizer and a host of systems upgrades including 260-horsepower Continental IO-470-D engines and an increase in maximum gross weight to 4,830 pounds. Maximum speed increased to 242 mph with a service ceiling of 21,300 feet.2
Meanwhile, Beech salesmen were experiencing an increasingly tough time selling the Model 95 Travel Air against the more powerful and faster Aztec and Model 310F. During 1959-1960, however, Beech engineering had been busy designing what would become the Model 95-55 Baron – a stylish, fast and thoroughly modern lightweight, twin-engine airplane that would not only be competitive with the Aztec and Model 310, but more importantly, keep customers in the Beechcraft family.
A production prototype first flew on February 29, 1960, powered by two Continental IO-470-L engines, each rated at 260 horsepower and equipped with two-blade, constant-speed, full-feathering propellers. The overall dimensions of the Baron were slightly larger than those of the Model 95, with a wingspan of 37 feet 10 inches, length of 28 feet and a height of nine feet seven inches. Unlike the Travel Air, however, the Baron’s cabin could accommodate up to five people, although the fifth seat was at the rear of the cabin and was more suitable for a child than an adult.
The wing, with a total area of 199.2 square feet, featured an NACA 23016.5 airfoil at the root, changing to the NACA 23010.5 at the tip. The six-cylinder engines were each housed in compact, low-drag nacelles that represented a major design improvement compared to the deep, bulky nacelles used on the Travel Air. Whereas all versions of the Model 95 used a standard vertical stabilizer, the Baron boasted a swept stabilizer similar to those found on the Aztec and the Model 310D that included a dorsal fairing that helped to promote the airplane’s sleek lines from nose to tail.
Maximum takeoff weight was 4,880 pounds for the initial production Baron 55, and the new Beechcraft was capable of achieving a cruise speed of 190 knots at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Carrying 116 gallons of fuel, or 136 gallons with optional auxiliary tanks, the Baron had a range of 1,200 statute miles with a 45-minute fuel reserve. The electrically-operated, retractable tricycle landing gear was a typical Beechcraft installation, with the main gear swinging inward and upward to retract, and the nose gear swinging aft and upward into the lower nose compartment.
As required by federal regulations, an emergency extension system (essentially identical to that of the Model 35 Bonanza and the Travel Air) was provided that required the pilot to crank down the gear until it locked in place for landing. Cabin heating was achieved by a combustion-type heater and blower rated at 50,000 BTU. The heater unit, which was fed avgas only from the left main fuel tank, was mounted in the nose section.
In September 1963, the Model 95-55 was certificated under FAA Type Certificate 3A16 (with amendments) that was originally issued to the Travel Air. A standard-equipped Baron 55 sold for $58,250 – a price that compared favorably with that of the Cessna Model 310D ($61,000) and the Aztec ($51,000).
New Barons began rolling off the assembly lines at the Wichita, Kansas, factory late in 1960 for the 1961 model year, and 190 of the original Model 95-55 were manufactured before production changed to the Model 95-A55 for the 1962 model year. Beechcraft salesmen were excited about the new airplane, and the Baron quickly established itself as a strong competitor to the Model 310D and the Aztec.
The next version of the Baron that was designated 95-A55 featured an optional six-seat interior, an increase in maximum gear extension speed to 175 mph with flaps extended to 15 degrees. Maximum gross weight also increased to 4,880 pounds from 4,830. Despite its price tag of nearly $60,000 for a standard-equipped airplane, the 95-A55 sold well with 187 units built in 1962 followed by another 122 in 1963. As with its predecessor, the 95-A55 could be equipped with instrumentation allowing appropriately-rated businessman-pilots to operate their Baron under FAA instrument flight rules.
It is interesting to note that in 1963 Beech Aircraft Corporation shipped 19 Model A55 airframes (no engines) to its European affiliate in France, Societe Francaise d’Entretien et de Reparation de Materiel Aeronautique, or SFERMA for short. These airframes were part of a technical agreement between the two entities to cooperate on development of turboprop engine installations in the Baron, Travel Air and Model 18 aircraft. SFERMA was responsible for installing Astazou IIJ turbine engines, each rated at 450 shaft horsepower, in the airframes and marketing the modified Beechcrafts as the Marquis. The concept seemed sound, but what the business flying industry was waiting for arrived in 1964 – the Beechcraft Model 90 King Air that combined turboprop technology with a well-appointed, cabin-class interior that established a new standard for executive travel.
By 1964, production of the Baron had changed again, this time to the Model 95-B55 that featured a maximum gross weight of 5,000 pounds (increase of 120 pounds compared with the 95-A55), a lengthened nose section that increased baggage space by 50 percent, and optional fuel tanks holding 144 gallons that gave the airplane a range of 1,225 statute miles at an altitude of 10,000 feet, at a 45 percent power setting (economy cruise). The fuel-injected, six-cylinder Continental engines remained the same, each rated at 260 horsepower. The 95-B55 cruised at 225 mph at an altitude of 7,000 feet, and earned a solid reputation as an excellent, easy-to-fly lightweight Beechcraft twin.
During the Baron’s 1964 model year, the factory produced 271 airplanes. Eventually the upgraded 95-B55 proved so popular with customers that it remained in production (with minor upgrades) from 1964 until 1982 when production was terminated after 1,851 commercial units had been built.3
In addition, in February 1965, the U.S. Army chose the Model 95-B55 to serve as an instrument and multi-engine transition trainer. Designated T-42/T-42A and carrying the nickname “Cochise,” the rugged Beechcraft proved itself up to the task as the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War increased along with the Army’s demand for more multi-engine pilots.
The first five airplanes were delivered in September 1965, sporting a mixed olive drab and white exterior livery, but later the T-42A version was painted olive drab overall. Beechcrafters built 65 of these airplanes for the Army. In 1971, another five T-42A were built for the Army under the Military Assistance Program and delivered to the Turkish Army, and the next year the Spanish Air Force received seven T-42A. By 1986, only 30 of these airplanes remained in Army inventory and were assigned to units of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard to serve as light utility transports.4
By comparison, during model years 1963-1965, Cessna built 548 Model 310H, 310I and 310J. As for Piper, during the first seven months of 1965 the company delivered 454 Aztec and PA-30 Twin Comanche aircraft that accounted for nearly 50 percent of all five- and six-place, twin-engine lightweight airplanes sold by U.S.-based airframe manufacturers that year. The combined output of Beech, Cessna and Aero Commander amounted to only 459 aircraft.
During the mid-1960s the competition continued to improve the Aztec and Model 310, and Beech Aircraft answered their challenge with the Model 95-C55. The most salient change was an increase in horsepower to 285 from 260 using Continental’s relatively new engine designated IO-520-C that featured a gear-driven alternator. Horizontal stabilizer and elevator span were increased slightly, the fuselage nose section was lengthened to accommodate more baggage, as well as a growing list of optional avionics. A one-piece windshield was installed and the cabin interior received minor upgrades in materials and an expanded choice of colors. Price increased modestly to $68,350.
The 95-C55 was built alongside the 95-B55 and 265 of the improved version were produced in 1966 followed by another 185 in 1967. That year production was terminated to make way for the 95-D55. In addition, the College of Air Training based in Hamble, England, took delivery of 12 new Baron 95-C55 in 1967 to train aspiring airline pilots for the British air carrier industry.
By 1968, the venerable Baron was due for another upgrade in the form of the 95-D55 that retained the IO-520 engines but added three-blade propellers. The 95-C55’s larger horizontal stabilizer/elevator was adopted that spanned 15 feet 11.25 inches. Once again, the popular Beechcraft Baron demonstrated its competitive spirit and 181 were built in 1968 and 135 in 1969 before the final version of the short-fuselage Baron series appeared for the 1970 model year.
The 95-E55 was fitted with the same IO-520 engines of the 95-D55 but could be configured to seat up to six people in the cabin or carry light cargo with four seats removed. Minor changes included a new exterior paint scheme, flush-mounted wingtip and rotating beacon lights, improved avionics and reconfigured instrument panel. An optional 172-gallon fuel capacity with one fuel cap per wing was offered for the 1976 model year. Price began at $83,950 in 1970 but had risen to $219,500 by 1982.
Maximum speed increased slightly to 230 mph, and two-engine rate of climb increased to 1,670 feet per minute. Although the 95-E55 initially was built in small numbers (59 in 1970, 434 total), it continued to be manufactured alongside the 95-B55 until 1982 when production of both versions ceased.5
- McDaniel, William H.: “The History of Beech;” McCormick-Armstrong Company, Inc., Wichita, Kansas; 1971.
- Kirby Grant, star of the popular 1950s television series, “Sky King,” flew his “Songbird III,” a 1960 Model 310D registered N6817T. He was often accompanied by his female sidekick Penny (Gloria Winters) in the co-pilot’s seat. The 310D replaced “Songbird II,” a 1958 Model 310B registered N5348A.
- Not including production of the T-42A militarized version for the U.S. Army. By 1982, the price of a commercial Model 95-B55 had skyrocketed to $177,500.
- Harding, Stephen; “U.S. Army Aircraft Since 1947.” Airlife Publishing Ltd., United Kingdom, 1990.
- As of late 2016, the used aircraft market for the Beechcraft Baron was strong with all versions of the short-fuselage series demanding prices from $60,000 to more than $230,000. According to Trade-A-Plane, a 1963 95-A55 was offered for $35,000, the owner of a 1969 Model 95-B55 was asking $68,900 for his airplane, and a 1977 95-E55 was priced at $189,900.