Used Aircraft Guide: The Cessna 206

Much more than a fixed-gear Centurion, Cessna's utility-minded Stationair is at home on a big-city FBO's ramp or splashing down in an Alaskan lake.

These days, a cursory glance around the mall parking lot reveals many customers prefer a vehicle pregnant with flexibility, the sport-utility vehicle (SUV). Extremely popular with growing families, soccer moms and businesspeople spending lots of time on the road, SUVs have all but eliminated the station wagon from the automobile marketplace simply by expanding a theme.

That need for flexibility is also present when considering a personal airplane. Some airplanes are optimized for speed, with little flexibility in loading. Some aren't, their designers preferring to carry people and things reliably over long distances or into small areas. Compromises can be made, but the results sometimes please few customers. Perhaps the poster-child exception is an airplane like the Cessna 206 Stationair, which carries the station-wagon theme to one of several conclusions.

Cessna 206
Chris Starnes

It's not fast, nor is it that slow, but it is stable, rugged, reliable, has six real seats and is remarkable for being able to carry a half-ton or so after the tanks are filled. You can put it on floats, turbocharge it, dump skydivers from it, and carry small packages or just your family. As one owner wrote us, "Cessna tried to market this airplane as an executive airplane. This is ridiculous. Everyone I know flies it as a utility airplane."

So popular has been the 206's combination of simplicity and load-carrying that it's one of three piston-powered singles Cessna saw fit to bring back to the land of the living. As a result and in addition to a wide range of mid-1960s and later airframes on the market, one can also opt for a brand-new one.

History

Cessna's biggest fixed-gear piston single is really three models, though all are essentially the same airframe. It was originally introduced in 1963 as the 205, with two doors up front and a relatively small rear door on the left side. The engine was a 260-HP Continental IO-470. This airplane was a fixed-gear version of the recently revamped 210; it was produced for two years, with 577 delivered.

In 1964, Cessna responded to demand for more utility and created the U206 (U for Utility) Super Skywagon, with a 285-HP Continental IO-520A, redesigned wing and bigger flaps. Intended as a flying pickup truck, even the seats were optional. There was one door for the pilot and a big double door aft on the right side.

The next model year saw the 205 become the P206 Super Skylane, with "P" representing "personal" or "passenger," depending on with whom you're speaking. The P206 had the same door arrangement as the 205, but with the bigger engine from the 206. The U206 was by far the more popular of the two.

In 1967, the U model got a takeoff-weight boost and a new engine, the 300-HP Continental IO-520-F, while the P model kept the 285-HP IO-520-A. Turbocharging became available on both variants in 1966, with a 285-HP Continental TSIO-520C. The P206 was discontinued in 1970, with a total production run of 647. The remaining U206 and TU206 were offered with either a utility or passenger interior, and renamed Stationair.

Mid-1970s Stationair Aircraft
Ali Epikman
The panel of this mid-1970s Stationair is filled with ARC-brand avionics, which was all Cessna offered at the time. Control and gauge locations are conventional Cessna. Note the electric flap switch's position to the right of the power controls and the rudder trim wheel below them. Many upgraded panels will lose the ADF in favor of some kind of long-range nav system.

A stretch of the fuselage brought into being the 207 Skywagon in 1969, powered by the 300 HP IO-520-F. One more seat was added, bringing the number available to seven. Useful load went up by about 30 pounds. An additional bonus was a nose baggage compartment, easing the task of getting the CG in the proper place during loading. The turbo model of the 207 was powered by a TSIO-520-G, also with 300 HP.

Camber-lift wings, which feature a slightly cuffed leading edge, were added in 1972. These improved low-speed handling at almost no cost to cruise speeds. At the same time, the baggage compartment got a seven-inch stretch (more on this later). An aerodynamic cleanup in 1975 boosted cruise speed by about six mph. The cleanup included more-streamlined wheel pants and improved cowl flaps.

In 1977, the horsepower of the turbo engine was upped to 310 (for takeoff only) on both the TU206 and the T207. A wet-wing fuel system was introduced in 1979.

In 1980, the seventh seat of the 207 was widened to hold up to eight passengers. This created the Stationair 8, but the designator remained 207. The world would have to wait for the Caravan to see the 208 and the ultimate evolution of the high-wing, strut-braced single. The 207 was discontinued in 1984, and the 206 two years later.

It was a great run. Along the way, 206s saw several suffixes added, starting with the 206A in 1966 and culminating, temporarily, with the 206G in 1986. More than 7000, by serial number, U206s had entered the market, along with 647 P206s, the 577 aforementioned 205s and another 788 207s.

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But then a funny thing happened: In the mid 1990s, Cessna started making piston-powered airplanes again. After starting up assembly lines for the 172 and 182, the Model 206 returned in 1998, powered not by a Continental IO-520 but by a 300-HP Lycoming IO-540-AC1A. Offered only as the 206H Stationair and, thanks to a 310-HP Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A, available with or without turbocharging, Cessna wants in the neighborhood of $500,000 for a new one.

Marketplace

Enormous fixed-gear singles aren't all that common in the marketplace. In terms of mainstream aircraft, the choices are pretty much limited to the Cessnas and Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six/Saratoga. Prices are comparable, and which makes the better choice depends in part on your needs. The big Pipers have a wing spar running through the cabin right behind the front seats, disrupting the loading area somewhat, and the Cessna is definitely the airplane of choice for floats. Both companies' products have proven reasonably reliable over the years.

The Pipers do have an edge in TBO. While the best one can hope for from any Stationair model is a 1700-hour TBO, the -540-series Lycomings bolted on the Pipers have a TBO of 1800 hours (for the TIO-540-S1AD), and as much as 2000 hours in the case of the IO-540-K1G5 on the Saratoga and Cherokee Six. Piper's TBO advantage is erased if one is considering a '98 or later Lycoming-powered 206.

Loading

This is the name of the game for Stationair pilots. While no airplane can handle anything you can fit in it, the Stationair comes closer than most. Full-fuel payloads of 1000 pounds or better are not at all uncommon.

The big rear cargo doors—creating an opening more than 44 inches wide—make getting bulky cargoes inside less of a chore than in other aircraft. Indeed, in the "U" (for Utility) models there are no seats, leaving a mostly flat floor for cargo. Another nice touch is the lack of a lip at the doors, so cargoes don't have to be maneuvered up and over to get them inside. Specialty kits were made available so the Stationair could take on such jobs as glider towing, parachute jumping and even aerial hearse service. There also is a cargo pod available.

With or without the cargo pod, the Stationairs offer ample loading flexibility. The allowable CG range is fairly wide, making cargo/passenger positioning less of a juggling act than with many aircraft. However, despite some pilots' assertions that, "If you can get it in, you can take off," weight and balance computations are not optional. Several accidents over the years show it is possible to load a Stationair outside its envelope.

Comfort

Cessna 206 Double-Cockpit
All 206 models, like this new 206H, plus the 207 and Stationair 8, feature these double doors aft of the right wing. The long-discontinued P206 had double cockpit doors while all other 206 models have these plus a single pilot-side door for the front seats. Headroom is adequate in the rear seats except for taller passengers. Baggage space is limited until moving up to the 207 or eight-seat Stationair 8, both of which have a nose compartment.

While the Stationairs have large cabins, they're not long on comfort with a full load of passengers. Noise levels, particularly during takeoff and climb, can be fairly high as piston-engined singles go. And the rear-most seats—row three in the 206, rows three and four in the 207—leave little in the way of leg room.

Another comfort consideration is the baggage compartment. In spite of Cessna's best efforts, it doesn't quite match the capabilities of the passenger compartment. As a result, passengers may find themselves sharing space with their bags.

Performance

Top cruise speeds will run in the 145-knot area while burning 15 gallons per hour or more. Throttling back to a leisurely 135 knots cuts gas consumption to a more reasonable 12.5 GPH.

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Handling matches the aircraft's size. Pilots who enter the Stationair after climbing the Cessna model ladder may find the aircraft is just more of the same (only heavier). Few owners seem to mind: Snappy handling is not why they bought the airplane.

This is not without its benefits, though. It makes the Stationair an excellent IFR platform—stable and rock-solid. It also makes for a relatively smooth ride in turbulence.

Another benefit is that the Stationair is reluctant to stall. Pitch forces are fairly heavy to begin with. Compounding this is the generally nose-heavy loading of the airplane. Since the CG envelope is so long, and most everyone wants to sit up front, the CG is often at or near its forward limit. Also, with power on, the deck angle required for a wings-level stall is alarming. Put it all together and the Stationair is not generally a willing participant in stalls.

A drawback of this nose heaviness is a tendency to arrive nose first during landing, especially at light weights. It takes a hefty pull on the yoke to flare properly. Thus, Stationairs are no strangers to hard, nose-first landings that sometimes damage the aircraft. In the 207, the nose baggage compartment can simply add to the nose heaviness. However, using less than full flaps for landing (say only 20 degrees) can ease the control forces required to flare. Also, as one reader aptly put it, "That is what trim was invented for: Use it."

Like most Cessna singles, the 206 does pretty well in short/soft/rough field operations, a big factor in the purchase decision for many of our respondents. Early models had 40 degrees of flap, which helped tremendously for short arrivals. However, the airplane just won't climb with that much aluminum hanging out in the breeze. Cessna later limited flap travel to 30 degrees.

Maintenance

Simplicity is a good thing, and helps keep maintenance costs down...but on the other hand, Stationairs are working airplanes by and large, and wear and tear can easily turn the tide in the other direction.

We've seen problems with the tail, mostly corrosion caused by the foam-filled elevator and trim tab getting soaked with water and pulling of rivets, screws and nuts. Obviously a concern if the airplane was ever on floats.

Some of the brackets in the tail can crack. There have also been some instances of cracking door posts, though these problems have not proven to be a safety issue.

Given the number of respondents who routinely operate out of short and rough fields, combined with the nose-heavy landing tendency, we recommend paying close attention to the landing gear (particularly the nose gear) and brakes.

And, of course, there's the perennial favorite: case and cylinder cracking. This is not quite as much of a problem as it once was, since owners seem to be more willing to pamper their engines these days. The availability of quality engine monitoring instruments helps, too.

There have been a couple of 206/207 specific ADs: 85-2-7 calls for inspection of a roll pin in the fuel selector, and 85-10-2 mandates recurrent inspection or modification of the induction air box. Other ADs of note are 91-15-4 and 82-27-2, inspection of the prop; 97-26-17, ultrasonic inspection and possible replacement of the crankshaft; and 96-12-22, recurrent inspection of the oil filter adapter.

The 206/207 is also subject to the infamous 84-10-1 fuel tank bladder AD.

Mods, Clubs

Cessna 206 Handling
Daniel UmañA
Not known for being light on the controls, the 206 handles something like the airborne station wagon it's designed to be. But it remains predictable, retaining Cessna's typical easy-to-fly characteristics. Early ones featured a full 40 degrees of wing flap travel but subsequent models are limited to 30 degrees. Vortex generators are available and some airplanes may have STOL kits installed, enhancing short-field capabilities.

There's probably a modification available for the 206/207 to allow it to do most anything someone might want. This includes skis, floats, long-range tanks, STOL kits, vortex generators and various speed mods.

One can even opt for an STC'd 450-SHP Rolls Royce turboprop engine, courtesy of Soloy (www.soloy.com). And Thielert last year secured a European STC to install a 310-HP V-8 diesel in the 206F through -H models (www.centurion-engines.com). If either of those two options prove too much, and the factory IO-520 isn't enough, maybe an IO-550 from Texas Skyways (www.txskyways.com) or Atlantic Aero (www.atlantic-aero.com) would be your mama-bear solution.

As far as type clubs, the Cessna Pilot's Association (www.cessna.org) is your one-stop shop for all things Cessna. The Cessna Flyer Association (www.cessnaflyer.org) also comes highly recommended.

Owner Comments

I've been flying a Cessna 206 for the last five years; I presently own a 1999 206H. Before that, I flew one in Central America for a religious organization. I own property above the Arctic Circle, so most of my current flying is done in Alaska's interior.

Cessna tried to market this airplane as an executive airplane. This is ridiculous. Everyone I know flies it as a utility airplane.

For the kind of flying I do, heavier landing gear components, larger wheels and the cargo pod are a must. I also have vortex generators and an extra 30-gallon fuel capacity thanks to Flint's integral tip tanks.

The rear seats may only be removed by a certified mechanic, so I fly it as a three-place airplane, piling stuff on the third seat until I need it to carry someone. An STC for putting in quick-release seats is over $12,000, so someone needs to come up with a cheaper solution.

When carrying a full load, my fuel burn is 15 GPH; my liability insurance is approximately $650 a year though AOPA.

If your readers want a rugged, dependable, economic solid, utility airplane, this is the one for them.

Jack McManus
Oregon, Wisconsin

My father and I own a 1979 U206G with a Horton STOL kit, and approximately 2500 TTSN and 450 on a factory new IO-550-F conversion done by Atlantic Aero in Greensboro, N.C. We are both average VFR pilots flying about 100 hours per year. We use the airlane mostly for local flights of 150 miles or less, plus a reasonable amount of longer trips up and down the East coast.

We find this plane very forgiving and easy to fly. My father (80 years old this summer) has no trouble at all landing in just about any type of VFR condition. We have previously owned a 1979 Cessna 172 and a 1974 Cherokee 6.

The IO-550/STOL kit combination provides a substantial improvement. Short-field takeoffs can be accomplished at just over 40 KIAS with 20 degrees of flaps. Landing as slow as 50 KIAS with 30 degrees of flaps is no problem either. Rich-of-peak fuel consumption is between 14-16 GPH at 75 percent power and 5500 ft, with speeds around 150 KTAS.

I can't say enough about how helpful the Cessna Pilots Association people have been. They really know their stuff and are very patient and persistent when helping to solve a problem or answer a question.

A quick personal comparison between the 206 and the Cherokee Six: We find the 206 slightly easier to fly. We prefer the high-wing's visibility and clearance over brush and snow banks. The 206 seems to be a little more ruggedly built, especially in the landing gear. We occasionally use the Katama Airpark on Martha's Vineyard. The 206 handles this much better than our Cherokee Six did. We do miss the Piper's forward baggage compartment and center console, but having owned both, we prefer the 206.

Richard Mezzanotti
Swansea, Massachusetts

Also With This Article
Cessna 206: Used Aircraft Guide
Accident Scan: Utility Leads to The Usual

An Aviation Consumer Sample Airplane Review: The AGAC AA-1


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