Garmin Ambassador Pete McLeod: Owning, Operating and Upgrading a Cessna 414

Every aircraft owner has a unique mission. And every airplane has an ideal role. Finding the perfect balance can help establish a successful partnership between airplane and owner. Garmin ambassador and air race pilot Pete McLeod understands the formula well — he owns and operates a 1977 Cessna 414. His missions vary from business to pleasure, but above all, he loves having the opportunity to fly himself to locations all over North America. Pete explained his process in choosing an airplane that fit his needs, and how upgrading the vintage ’70s aircraft with modern Garmin avionics not only expanded the capabilities of his aircraft, but also increased his confidence when flying it.

Growing up in a land where aviation is a necessity

In Canada not all destinations are accessible by road. Like many remote parts of the world, general aviation is an essential part of life for many in Canada, especially Pete.

“I grew up in a small town in Northern Canada — Red Lake, Ontario. Although serviced by a paved road, Red Lake sits at the ‘end of the road,’ and if you want to go any further north, or to any destination off the single road access, an airplane was the only way,” he said. “In a location where aviation is more necessity than luxury, flying is a way of life, and is ingrained in the cultural fabric of the people who live and work here.”

Airplanes are a part of the fabric of life in places like Canada. It’s just a matter of finding the right one.

Pete McLeod and his family walking to his Cessna 414.
Pete McLeod and his family use a 1977 Cessna 414 for business and personal travel.

Outlining a mission, identifying an airplane

For Pete, finding the right airplane started with defining his mission profile. He needed to determine the role an airplane would play, how it would be helpful in his business and personal travels, and where he would conduct his typical flights.

“My mission required a capable and reliable IFR cross-country aircraft. Many of my flights are over remote terrain or water, so the systems and powerplant redundancy of a multi-engine [aircraft] was a priority,” he said.

Once his mission was established, it was time to start looking at the market. The light twin-engine piston market satisfied Pete’s mission profile and made a lot of economic sense.

“The systems, performance and capability of the legacy piston-twin aircraft segment are very affordable compared to newer aircraft and turbine variants, so the category also maximized utility within my budget,” he said. By choosing a legacy aircraft like the Cessna 414, he combined the benefits of a proven airframe with a cost-effective investment. “The 414 has a great mix of speed and altitude flexibility for an aircraft of its class. It’s comfortable for the pilot and passengers, reliable, and it offers tremendous overall performance for the price of purchase and operation,” he added.

21st century technology in a 20th century airframe

Improving the performance of an aircraft beyond its original specifications is not always an easy task. Flying faster or higher can sometimes be accomplished with airframe or powerplant modifications, but these options aren’t always available, or don’t make economic sense. An upgrade to the avionics, however, can increase the capabilities and sometimes offer improvements in a few performance categories. For example, some larger aircraft can benefit from weight savings with an avionics upgrade, allowing additional passengers or luggage with the same fuel load.

LPV approach capability can be achieved with an avionics upgrade. By adding a modern GPS navigator — like our GTN 750/650 series — pilots can take advantage of GPS precision for instrument approaches and increase the number of IFR-accessible airports. With a modern digital engine information system, available in our TXi series flight displays, pilots can optimize in-flight engine performance and fuel consumption. Pilots and technicians can also review engine performance data to monitor the overall health of an engine.

Pete McLeod in the cockpit of his Cessna 414.
The upgraded flight deck includes Garmin G600 TXi, GTN 750, GTX 345, GMA 345 and more.

Modern avionics technology can also help improve a pilot’s performance in the cockpit. Advanced features, wireless connectivity and intuitive user interfaces have been designed to help reduce pilot workload and increase situational awareness within the flight environment.

“My aircraft is relatively complex, and I fly it single pilot IFR in and out of airports and airspace of all sizes and complexity. The technology in my cockpit has made flying single-pilot, multi-[engine]-IFR much more manageable, organized and predictable,” Pete said.

His Cessna 414 features G600 TXi touchscreen flight displays for primary flight displays, multifunction displays and engine information system gauges. Dual Garmin GTN 750 navigators give him GPS precision, LPV approach capability, easy-to-use comms and flight planning tools, plus additional options for viewing navaids, traffic, overlaying geo-referenced charts and more.

“It’s like having a great co-pilot on board! No longer do I dread getting a complex clearance completely different than filed — flight plan programing is quick and easy. Juggling weather, traffic and terrain en route — I still rely on planning and ATC for help — but now I see everything directly in front of me long before I even hear from ATC on the issue,” he said. “The ability for me to competently and confidently complete a flight is the biggest benefit I have gained from my avionics upgrade – and that makes the flying all the more enjoyable!”

And with a Garmin GWX doppler weather radar in the nose, real-time weather tracking and analysis displayed on the TXi and GTN 750s help increase certainty when navigating around storm cells.

Pete in the cockpit transferring a flight plan from his iPad to a GTN 750.
With Flight Stream 510, Pete can wirelessly transfer flight plans, databases and stream weather and traffic information to a mobile device running Garmin Pilot.

One airplane, endless opportunities

Whether it’s a business flight or taking the family on vacation, Pete’s Cessna 414 fulfills a number of different roles. We asked him about his favorite flights in the airplane:

“I took my daughter for her first flight at 5 weeks old. And, how about three friends, three deer, a truck-bed full of gear onboard and 302 knots ground speed in cruise — it was a heck of a tailwind. We spent the day hunting, then turned what would be a 17-hour drive into a two-and-a-half-hour flight directly home.”

Pete McLeod is a Garmin-sponsored athlete and ambassador. For more information about the Garmin avionics he uses in his aircraft, visit