Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cougar Baron: Most Happy Baron


Rocket engineering offers the world’s most enthusiastic Baron


In the world of corporate turboprops, 300 knots is something of a holy grail. Three hundred knots begins to intrude on jet country. Not many jetprops will manage such speed: the MU2, Cheyenne 400, Commander 1000 and perhaps one or two others.

Adding an STC’d conversion to the mix might seem like cheating, analogous to matching a full-race Porsche 935 against a group of stock 911s. Still, Darwin Conrad of Rocket Engineering (www.rocketengineering.com) in Spokane, Wash., has introduced a turbine-powered 58P Baron, and it does indeed nudge into the 300-knot club.

Conrad calls his modified Baron “the Cougar,” and it’s basically a 58P converted straight across with a pair of 500 shp P&W PT6A-21 turbine engines with fully reversible, four-bladed Hartzell props. The PT6A family of turbines is indisputably the world’s most renowned, with more than 36,000 in service in 170 countries. Included in the bargain are a pair of 200-amp generators and two 24-volt batteries.

The Cougar is the fourth in Conrad’s chain of P&W PT6A conversions. The other three are the Malibu Jetprop (a Piper Malibu/Mirage), the Turbine Air (Beech B36TC) and the Royal Turbine (Beech Duke). The new airplane employs the same engines used on the other three conversions.


The Cougar Baron is a converted 58P that’s powered by a pair of 500 shp P&W PT6A-21 turbine engines, offering a total of 1,000 hp, and a four-bladed Hartzell propeller.
Beech built about 500 pressurized Barons between 1976 and 1986, each with a pair of Continental TSIO-520s under the cowls. The 58P was an enthusiastic little twin, capable of an honest 210 to 220 knots, depending on which model you purchased (engine power varied between 310 and 325 hp).

I caught up with Conrad at EAA AirVenture 2009, and arranged to fly the prototype Cougar out of nearby Appleton Airport. This was the one and only flight-test article, and Conrad was halfway through testing for the STC award from the FAA. Conrad hopes to have full approval later this year.

Any time you boost horsepower by more than 50% (in this case, from 310/325 to 500), you can expect some major performance improvements, and that’s exactly what happened to the P-Baron we all knew and loved. Under the Rocket Engineering banner, the plane has undergone a dramatic transformation in personality while retaining the Baron’s gentle handling and endearing disposition.



Labels: Turbine Twins

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