Getting the airplane of your dreams doesn’t always have to include a stop by the showroom to check out the latest models. For would-be owners who have the time and money to invest in upgrading an aging bird, the possibilities are endless.
Longtime pilot and aircraft owner Christophe Jouany recently went through that exact process, and the results of his efforts are borne out in the striking images in these pages. The 57-year-old is the proud owner of a Cessna 414A Chancellor, one that he transformed from tip to tail into what could pass for a brand-new airplane despite the fact that Cessna stopped making the model three decades ago.
Born in France and raised in the Caribbean, Jouany has been flying since he was 15. As a teenager coming of age on St. Barthélemy, he spent his days sharpening his flying skills on the island’s notoriously steep approach. He initially wanted to become a career airline pilot like his father, but instead his passions drew him elsewhere. Jouany moved to the United States and went on to become a highly successful fashion photographer, traveling the world to shoot for such names as Vogue, Ralph Lauren and Estée Lauder.
During his semiretirement in recent years, the Tampa, Florida, resident has owned a number of airplanes, including a Beech Bonanza and later a Baron 58TC. As much as he loved the piston twin Baron and its ability to fly high and fast, the fact that the airplane wasn’t pressurized made it a less comfortable ride in the flight levels. He wanted an airplane that could still provide great performance but without the hassle, either for himself or his passengers, of wearing oxygen masks. A turboprop was out of reach financially, so he set his sights on finding a pressurized cabin-class piston twin that hit the sweet spot in terms of performance, size, economics and aesthetics.
In the heyday of cabin-class piston twins in the 1970s, manufacturers simply could not get airplanes out of their production facilities fast enough. For a better part of the decade, they shipped more than 2,000 each year — to put the figure into perspective, that’s substantially more than the number of airplanes shipped last year in all categories, from pistons to turboprops to bizjets, combined. The industry was booming, pilots were buying increasingly sophisticated aircraft, and life in the aviation industry was good.
First used as corporate tools before companies shifted en masse to turbine aircraft, the cabin-class piston twin was marketed as a natural progression for established personal aviators who desired more room, more capability and the status such an airplane could provide. For those looking to make that step up, there was no shortage of options from which to choose. There were dozens of cabin-class twins in production, with Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft offering the most popular. Over time, advancements in the single-engine arena closed the performance gap with twins. Today, new-production piston twins have nearly disappeared from the market. Yet, while a number of today’s piston airplanes can go faster on one engine than past airplanes could go on two, the cabin-class twins still provide a unique value proposition. They offer exceptional carrying capability and spaciousness at an economical price, stimulating several of these surviving older airplanes to become prized on the used market.
The cabin-class twin that caught Jouany’s interest, the Cessna 414, is a perfect case in point. Cessna first started making 414s in the late ’60s, and the airplane quickly acquired a reputation for comfort and roominess thanks to its wide oval fuselage, which was borrowed from another of Cessna’s popular cabin-class twins, the 421. In 1978, 10 years after the 414 made its entrance, Cessna introduced the 414A, which featured a newly designed high-aspect-ratio wing that improved high-altitude performance. For those willing to make the investment, a RAM VII engine conversion took those capabilities even further by adding more-powerful engines — producing 335 hp as opposed to the original’s 310 hp — along with winglets and spoilers. The results were better speed in the flight levels — 215 knots at around 45 gallons per hour — and larger payload, two areas where the standard 414A was lacking.
Jouany decided that, with its load-carrying capability, cabin comfort and performance, the airplane was the best fit for his mission and budget, especially since he was already familiar with the Continental TSIO-520 engines from his time in the Baron. In addition to the hard and fast numbers, he liked the airplane’s classic look and thought it would serve as the perfect canvas for a full-blown restoration.
There were eight RAM VII conversions on the used market when Jouany began his search in December 2013, and by January he’d found one with low-time engines that he felt provided the best value for the price. The entire purchase process took quite some time, as Jouany took the necessary steps any buyer of an older aircraft must to ensure the airplane has no major maintenance problems and has complied with all applicable airworthiness directives. A month and a half later, after the pre-buy inspection and paperwork had been completed, Jouany arrived in Dayton, Ohio, to ferry the airplane back to his home base in Tampa. The very next day, the makeover would begin.
Glass and More Glass
The first stop in the process was Custom Avionics in Bartow, Florida, where technicians gutted the panel to make way for Jouany’s own vision. He came to the shop with a clear idea of what he was looking for, and that was a modern cockpit with the latest avionics technology.
“I basically transformed this 1978 dinosaur into a state-of-the-art glass cockpit,” Jouany says.
He didn’t start entirely from scratch, though. The airplane already had a solid foundation in the form of Garmin’s G600 glass-panel avionics system. The retrofit offers an abundance of features, including synthetic vision and a solid-state attitude and heading reference system, presented on two 6.5-inch LCD displays.
“The synthetic vision is absolutely magic and gives you incredible situational awareness during approaches in minimum weather conditions,” he says. “The runway appears even when you’re 10 miles away, and you know exactly where to look when reaching the DA even if you’re 20 degrees in crab.”
The G600 and its synthetic vision were a key draw that tilted the value scale toward N414XX during the initial search for the right airplane, as was the fact that the plane already had Avidyne’s TAS620, which ensures traffic awareness within a 21 nm range and up to 55,000 feet.
With those cornerstones in place, Jouany began putting together a larger mix of cockpit tech that rivals that of recent vintage business aircraft.
Searching for a navcom/GPS navigator (the G600 doesn’t have one built in), Jouany selected the expansive and intuitive GTN 750 panel-mount touch-screen navigator, which Garmin introduced along with the smaller GTN 650 in 2011 as a replacement for the company’s wildly successful GNS 430 and 530 line. As one of the first installers of the 750 during his days as a Baron driver, Jouany had a positive experience with the system, which, at 6.9 inches long diagonally, provides a big and beautifully vibrant display. That made the decision to go with the 750 in the Chancellor an easy one. In fact, Jouany decided to take advantage of the 414’s sizable cockpit and install two of the navigators in the center of the panel.
“That gives me twice as much display real estate and allows me to have direct visual access to all kinds of real-time info,” he says. “For example, when flying in a busy terminal, I usually keep one display on traffic mode and the other on GPS or the approach plate.”
For weather and traffic, Jouany chose Garmin’s GDL 88 datalink transceiver, which receives subscription-free Nexrad weather as well as ADS-B traffic over both 978 UAT and 1090ES. Due to the GDL 88’s 18,000-foot limit on ADS-B Out functionality, Jouany also installed two GTX33ES Mode S transponders to ensure his airplane fully meets the fast-approaching 2020 mandate for ADS-B compliance. To complete the weather picture, he installed Garmin’s GWX70 solid-state onboard radar, giving him a sharper look at conditions ahead without the time delay of Nexrad for when things get dicey.
To take full advantage of the G600 suite, Jouany installed Garmin’s GAD 43E autopilot adapter to work in conjunction with the airplane’s S-Tec 550 autopilot, which, like the G600 system, was in the Chancellor when he purchased it. The GAD 43E, which was introduced a few years after the G600, makes the system all the more useful by giving pilots access to an array of additional items on the displays, including altitude preselect and vertical speed control.
While Jouany decided to forgo the expense of digital engine displays, he did invest in J.P. Instruments’ EDM 760, which he says gives him finer control during the leaning process by providing readouts of cylinder head temperature, exhaust gas temperature and turbine inlet temperature.
While all that technology is impressive, equally so is the way it’s laid out in the cockpit. Before even stepping foot inside the shop, Jouany fully designed his future cockpit in Photoshop, detailing the exact placement of each instrument with both ergonomics and aesthetic appeal in mind. Once completed, he had a new panel laser-cut and silk-screened to accommodate the cockpit’s new arrangement.
“If you buy a new plane from the factory today, usually they’re well designed, but if you take a plane that’s 30 or 40 years old where the cockpit has been modified about 20 times as people keep adding new stuff any time something comes out without spending the money to laser-cut a new metal panel, you end up with switches all over the place. Nothing is put together by group, and it’s really cumbersome,” he says.
The overarching changes Jouany implemented cater to both convenience and safety. For example, the 414A’s aftermarket spoiler system previously featured an alert light, located near the floor between the pilot and copilot seats, that would illuminate when the spoilers were deployed. Being so low in the cockpit, the light had the potential to be overlooked, setting up a dangerous situation if the spoilers were left out during a go-around. With a strategic movement of the light, Jouany’s new cockpit now has it situated in easy view.
“Now it’s right in front of my face, directly in front of the synthetic vision. I cannot miss it,” he says.
The avionics installer also created custom overlays for the switch panels and circuit breakers to allow for backlighting, while linking all of the glass panels to a master dimmer to make it easy to turn down the brightness at night.
“We also put new lighting behind every instrument,” says Bob Jacobson, who has owned Custom Avionics for the past 15 years. “All the lighting matched perfectly. At night it just lights up wonderfully.”
It took about two and a half months to complete the entire panel renovation, and the total bill came to about $120,000.
The Ride in the Back
The next stop was Duncan Interiors, where the fabrics and plastic inserts in the 414’s cabin were replaced with stunning suede, French seams and dark-stained, burled-wood-veneer cabinetry. The team did away with the gray leather and sheepskin seats, and in their stead created a luxury feel with the use of beige and light brown toned leather. From the cup holders to the carpeting, no original amenity was left intact.
“People don’t realize how much work it takes to renovate a whole interior, the level of detail you have to deal with. It’s crazy,” says Jouany. “It’s hundreds of moving parts that have to be resanded, restained and so on.”
As with the avionics panel, the interior design was months in the making. Jouany wanted a look that struck the right mixture of modern and timeless, with an emphasis on celebrating the airplane’s storied heritage.
“I didn’t want to go too crazy. I wanted to keep the classic look of a Cessna 414, which was really the corporate plane of the ’70s,” he says.
To that end he found an original Cessna Chancellor logo, featuring an eagle in flight, for sale on eBay for less than $10. He used it as the template to redesign the logo in high definition, and the emblem can now be seen gracing the headrests of each seat as well as the faces of the yokes.
The New Paint Job
For the paint job, Jouany relied on the team at Foster’s Aircraft Refinishing to make the 414A look as good on the outside as it did on the inside.
“The airplane wasn’t bad when Christophe brought it in, but it had all straight lines,” says John Foster, who opened his shop in Lakeland 13 years ago. “It was kind of dated.”
To bring it into the modern era, Jouany spent a month getting the design just right in Photoshop.
“It was by far the hardest part of the entire process. I don’t have a 3-D program and could not find a 3-D rendering of the 414. I could only work in 2-D and try to visualize the curve I was drawing from different perspectives,” he says.
Jouany created a variety of different potential looks, ranging from conservative in style to a bolder use of geometric shapes — but all featuring a sleek white paint scheme with blue and silver accents.
“I went for the twist,” Jouany says. “I don’t think it’s ever been done before on a 414.”
What’s particularly unique about Jouany’s chosen design is that it includes a painted tail, something that’s uncommon among Cessna 414s.
To make Jouany’s design come to life, Foster’s team created a dozen or so test panels to ensure they got the colors just right. They stripped the airplane down to bare metal, rinsed it with a pressure washer, and sanded around the windows and other detail areas. Next came the primer and then, section by section, the coat of white. To lay the intricate stripe design, the team put on the tape outlining each paint area by hand, taking care to seamlessly connect each moving part to ensure one flowing design.
“It’s really a classic look, with a very new, modern metal-paint technology,” says Foster. “I think it works wonderfully for the plane.”
Ready for Flight
Jouany picked up his re-created 414A in September 2014, and the final result was all that he’d hoped for and more. Since then he’s put it to good use, flying it to Key West for a spontaneous lunch, using it to travel for a family Christmas vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and taking it back to his roots in St. Barts to show it off to his friends and family.
The countless hours he put into the redesign process, the substantial financial investment he made, and the many, many hours of meticulous labor completed by the technicians involved along the way are evident in the “new” 414A, which, to put it simply, is a thing of beauty.
“I think that I now have the best Cessna 414 in the world today,” Jouany says.
For those looking to undertake their own renovation project, who like Jouany enjoy the process of re-creating an airplane as much as the finished product itself, the pros have some advice.
“The biggest thing is to be patient. It’s not one of those things where you can say, I’m going to take two months and it’s all going to be done,” Foster says. “You can get a really nice airplane, but it takes time to do it.”
As for Jouany, the entire process ended up taking six months, but hear him talk about his airplane and you’ll know it was well worth the wait. As much as he’s enjoying the 414A, though, the artist in him is already itching to do another renovation, this time on a different subject airplane, possibly a Piper Cheyenne II. If he sold the 414A and brought in a third partner — he currently shares the Cessna with one other business associate — he says the economics might make sense for a jump to a turboprop.
“I love this plane to death, but I wouldn’t mind doing another project,” he says. “If I can do it, why not?”
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