One of the great automotive success stories of the 1990s is the sport utility vehicle. Although occasionally reviled for its abysmal gas mileage, truck-like handling and iffy safety record, SUVs remained among the hottest selling vehicles well into the 21st century.
The car companies spend millions trying to understand exactly why buyers like these behemoths although they and everyone else know at least some of the reasons: they carry a lot, theyre versatile and their bulk lends a sense of security and invulnerability to the hazards of routine driving.
The same can be said of a certain category of airplane which is generally known as the utility segment. These are airplanes that can haul anything you can stuff into them, arent fussy about weight and balance and plod along at speeds in the 140 to 150-knot range.
Near the top of anyones short list of aircraft SUVs is the Cessna 206, a beefy, big single with a reputation for reliability and suitability for heavy hauling into and out of runways that would stop other airplanes cold. Through some four decades of existence, the 206 has remained a popular choice for pilots with large families or businesses that require heavy hauling. Theyre also a favorite for some bush operators and for skydiving operations.
Along with every other single Cessna made, the 206 went out of production in 1986. But shortly after it revived piston production with the 1997 Skyhawk, Cessna brought back the 206 for the 1998 model year. It has proven a strong seller and is probably the most profitable of any of the Cessna singles.
History of the Line
Cessnas biggest fixed-gear piston single is really three models, although 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. 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 a more capable airplane 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 pick-up truck, even the seats were optional. There was one door for the pilot and a big double door aft on the right side, a design carried through to later models.
In 1965, the 205 become the P206 Super Skylane, P representing (according to a reader who owns one) Personal. 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 new engine and a 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 TIO-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 the model was renamed Stationair, a designation it still carries today.
A stretch of the fuselage brought the 207 Skywagon into being in 1969. One more seat was added, bringing the number available to seven. Useful load went up by about 30 pounds. An additional bonus was the inclusion of a nose baggage compartment, easing the task of getting the CG in the proper place during loading. The turbo model of the 207 had a variant of the Continental TSIO-520, 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. An aerodynamic clean-up in 1975 boosted cruise speed by about six MPH. The clean-up 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 turbine 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 went out of production in 1986.
When Cessnas single-engine aspirations awoke from their long snooze in 1997, new Skyhawks and Skylanes were soon trickling out of the Independence, Kansas factory. In 1998, the 206 reappeared as the 206H. Although its under the same type certificate as the earlier models, the new 206 is a different airplane. No surprise that Cessna-a Textron company-dropped the Continental engines in favor of a Lycoming IO-540-AC1A of 300 HP. The turbocharged version, the T206H, has a 310-HP TIO-540-AJ1A.
The new 206s are built to withstand corrosion much more effectively than the older models were, with much of the airframe treated in tough epoxy finish. Further, the interior trim and seats are vastly improved, with better fitting carpet and upholstery and not so much as a speck of Royalite in sight. Although the 1998 206s had rather sparse avionics, later models will be getting the G1000 primary flight display from Garmin.
Enormous fixed-gear singles arent all that common in the marketplace. In terms of mainstream aircraft, the choices are limited to the Cessnas and the Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six/Saratoga. If youre willing to upscale to a retract, the Cessna 210 or Beechcraft A36 come into view.
Prices among these models are comparable and which makes the better choice depends on your needs. The Pipers have the 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 to be reasonably reliable over the years.
The Pipers do have an edge in TBO, at least for the earlier models. While the best one can hope for from any older 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.
Stationairs made since 1998, including the turbo model, enjoy the longer Lycoming TBOs. However, given the state of engine quality controls-or lack thereof-this may be a distinction without a difference. Owners of high-output powerplants-Continental or Lycoming-should expect to perform substantial engine work on the way to TBO and be grateful if they dont have to.
Stationairs exist to carry stuff. A lot of stuff and sometimes a lot of people, too. Few light aircraft can carry much with tanks full and fewer yet can carry all you can fit into them. The 206-especially the earlier models-come close, however. Full-fuel payloads of 1000 pounds or better are not at all uncommon, although this varies considerably with model year (see charts).
In fact, the 206s payload started out high and has been declining ever since, thanks to higher empty weights and more options. Depending on model, the 206s gross weights have been between 3300 and 3600 pounds. Consider the TU206A through D models. They have a gross weight of 3600 pounds and a listed empty weight of 1795 pounds. Even allowing for the fact that most airplanes arent that light in the real world, 1600 to 1700-pound useful loads arent unusual.
The comparably porcine 2004 T206H has a gross of 3617 pounds with a typical empty weight of 2279 pounds, yielding useful loads in the 1300-pound range. Not bad, of course, but nothing like the earlier models.
The big rear cargo doors-which create an opening more than 44 inches wide-make getting bulky cargoes inside less of a chore than in other aircraft. Indeed, in the U models, there are no seats, leaving a flat floor for cargo. Another nice touch is the lack of a lip at the doors, so cargo doesnt have to be maneuvered up and over to get it inside, as with the Piper airplanes. Specialty kits were available so the Stationair could take on such jobs as glider towing, parachute jumping and even aerial hearse service. There was also 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.
The Staionair handles about like youd expect it to, which is to say its somewhat truck-like. A blindfolded pilot would never mistake it for a Bonanza. Pilots who get into the Stationair after climbing the Cessna model ladder may find the aircraft is just more of the same, only heavier. But then snappy handling isnt why people buy the 206.
This is not without its benefits, obviously. Its stiff handling makes the Stationair an excellent IFR platform-stable and rock-solid. It also makes for a relatively smooth ride in turbulence, despite only moderate wing loading. If upset in turbulence, the 206 is draggy enough that speed build-up isnt an immediate worry.
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, a skill pilots transitioning from lighter singles will have to learn. Thus, the Stationairs are no strangers to hard, nose-first landings that sometimes damage the aircraft. In the 207 version, the nose baggage compartment can simply add to the nose heaviness. However, using less than full flaps for landing (say 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 well in short/soft/rough field operations, a big factor in the purchase decision for many owners. Early models had 40 degrees of flap, which helped for short arrivals. However, the airplane just wont climb with that much drag hanging out so Cessna later limited flap travel to 30 degrees.
The 206 was never a Bendix Trophy contender but it is fast enough to do the job cut out for it. In the normally aspirated versions, top cruise speeds will run in the 145-knot range 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. The turbo versions are a bit faster, say the low 150-knot range. But the real advantage of turbocharging is operating at heavier weights from high density altitudes without worrying about ending the takeoff in the trees.
While the Stationairs have large cabins, theyre 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 Cessnas best efforts, it doesnt quite match the capabilities of the passenger compartment. As a result, passengers may find themselves sharing space with their bags. The newer 206s-post 1998-have more comfortable seats and are substantially quieter and tighter than the older models. They also tend to leak less-air and rainwater-according to owners.
As working airplanes go, the 206 can probably be said to be typical of the breed, which is to say it has no particular weak spots that potentially could cost an owner a bundle of cash in unexpected maintenance costs. Weve 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.
Some of the brackets in the tail can crack. There have also been some instances of cracking door posts, although 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, theres the perennial favorite: soft cylinders on the Continental large-displacement engines. At one time, crankcase cracking was an issue with these aircraft but not anymore, since most have long since been equipped with engines with heavier cases.
On the AD front, the 206 breaks into two groups, the pre-1986 models and the post 1998 models. The pre-1986 models are all but AD free. Some of the ADs against the airplane are shotgun type warnings aimed at all Cessna 100 and 200 series airplanes. The data summary on page 25 lists a smattering of ADs, none of them onerous. For the post 1998 models, check AD 2003-24-13 for the KAP 140 autopilot, AD 2001-09006 for horizontal stabilizer brackets, AD 2000-04-01, for the proper oil pressure switch and AD 99-14-04 for aileron bellcrank bolts. Oddly, some of the older ADs still apply to the newer models, including 84-10-01, the fuel bladder AD plus five other applicable to other parts of the airplane.
Mods, Support, Clubs
Theres probably a modification available for the 206/207 to allow it to do most anything someone might want to do. This includes skis, floats, long-range tanks, STOL kits and various speed mods. Wipaire, Inc. has a complete line of mods, including floats, larger engines, STOL kits and a door mod for the left side of the airplane. Contact 651-451-1205 or www.wipaire.com. Aero Twin, Inc. has folding passenger seats for the new models and floor mods for cargo. Contact 907-274-6166 or www.aerotwin.com.
Atlantic Aero has a range of mods, including IO-550 conversions, props and other hardware. This shop also knows the airplane well for annuals and maintenance. Contact 800-334-2001 or www.atlantic-aero.com. Aero Mods has a firebreathing 350-HP Lycoming conversion, check out www.aeromods.com. Soloy does a turbine conversion for the 206; contact www.soloy.com or 360-754-7000. Finally, check out Hartzell for approved prop mods for the Cessna 206 at www.hartzellprop.com or 937-778-4200.
As far as owner organizations, the Cessna Pilots Association www.cessna.org/ or 805-922-2580) comes highly recommended for its wealth of knowledge on anything to do with Cessnas.
I first flew a Stationair in mid-2001 as a demo flight prior to purchasing a 2001 normally aspirated airplane. Nine months later, I started managing a 2002 model. The owner purchased the aircraft to expand his business capabilities by allowing him to fly directly to the client in a matter of hours.
The rear seats, which are a bench seat, were removed early on to allow us to haul large amounts of gear. This seems to be the best configuration, making it a true four-place-plus-bags aircraft.
With a gross weight of 3600 pounds, the aircraft flies like a heavy Skyhawk and must be flown to the runway much like a Cherokee Six. Useful load is about 1350 pounds. The aircraft averages 13.5 GPH and we flight plan 142 KTAS between 5000 and 10,000 feet. This gives us the ability to fly four-hour legs with plenty of reserve.
With the 300-HP engine, the aircraft almost leaps off the ground when light. When fully loaded, the ground roll is longer, but not significantly. Short-field performance is outstanding. The large span flaps, high-power engine and high-wing configuration make the aircraft a perfect aerial photo platform. Maintenance is simple. Annuals and oil changes are rather straightforward as well. Annuals run about $1000 and insurance is about $4500.
In mid-2003, I also started managing a 2003 Turbo Stationair. Major differences are that the useful load is almost 130 pounds less due to the turbo and O2 system but the aircraft has outstanding climb performance. While the normally aspirated 206 likes to climb at 700 FPM at 110 KIAS, the turbo will climb closer to 1200 FPM at the same airspeed. The turbo makes the same speeds as the normally aspirated 206 in the lower altitudes but will true closer to 160 to 165 knots in the low teens.
There are only a few minuses about the turbo. The decreased useful load makes it hard to put four people plus bags in the airplane. Maintenance is more difficult because of all the extra plumbing under the cowl. The 310-HP engine also likes to run hot, requiring the cowl flaps to stay open, or at least partially open during warm weather. Overall, the Stationair is a very versatile airplane. Choosing between the two variants, I think the normally aspirated 206 comes out on top.
-Michael D. Perdaris
For my wife and me, the T206H is an excellent airplane. Three years ago, we upgraded from a 1969 turbo 182 to a 1999 T206H. We had planned to buy a new 206, but the shipping lag was eight months. So we found a great used T206H. Along with avionics upgrades, we also added the Knots-2-U flap gap seals and, most recently, the full TKS de-ice package.
As for costs, our new T206H is cheaper to operate than the previous turbo 182. Weve had three annuals so far and each was less than $3000-and Im a spare-no-expense owner when it comes to maintenance. Insurance on the $430,000 hull value runs about $4500 for $1 million smooth.
As with most aircraft, parts arent cheap. When my Cessna amp gauge stopped working, my shop installed a new one, which came to $1000 plus installation. Another expensive part issue is the nosewheel fairing. FBOs seem to love to ding, dent and scratch the fairing during towing and I have either replaced or repaired my fairing at least seven times in three years. Sometimes, its just not worth it to keep your airplane perfect condition.
As for operation, the T206H is as simple as pie. Throttle in to go, throttle out to land. I plan on 145 knots. To nail 206 system operations, every 206 pilot should attend two seminars: the 206 Systems and Procedures Course, by the Cessna Pilots Association, will teach you all of the 206 stuff and the Advanced Pilot Seminar, by the APS folks, will teach you how to operate the turbo Lycoming engine.
In our view, the T206H is a nice looking airplane. On the ramp, it looks better to us than a C210 (the C210 looks like a bug with skinny legs). For room, Im 6-foot 3 inches and the T206H fits me great. I have about four inches of headroom left and I have tons of legroom. I have been looking at a step-up aircraft and cannot find any new airplane that gives me the same amount of legroom as the T206H.
Desired areas of improvement in the next model T206 include speed, de-ice, engine and fuel, some of which can already be done by STC. Most important, Cessna should improve the speed of the 206 as they did with the 182 in the new T182T. Also, the TKS de-ice system should be a factory option.
Finally, Cessna should increase the total fuel capacity with the 30 gallon tip tanks from www.flintaero.com and the 52 gallons additional wing tanks from www.soloy.com. Pressurization and retractable gear would also be nice, but so would a new T210. Cessna says there no chance of that.
The decision to look for a Cessna 206 was easy; our family had outgrown our Cessna 182. I eventually found a 2002 T206H model at Lincoln Park Aviation in New Jersey. The plane had been grounded for about six months during the Lycoming crankshaft recall and only had 95 hours TT. The owner had already installed Flint-Aero tip tanks and it had the standard Nav II package.
The airplane is easy to fly. Rotate at 60 knots, climb out at 90 knots and you will see climb rates greater than 1000 FPM when lightly loaded. In cruise, its very stable. I typically cruise at 30 inches MP at 2300 RPM at 12,000 feet TAS with a TAS of 150 of knots. On final, 75 knots works well; slowing to 65 to 70 knots over the fence. Landing with full nose-up trim will help keep the prop straight as the beast is a tad nose heavy, but manageable with use of trim. The airplane is so easy to fly my wife, who has about 110 hours, had no trouble at all handling the airplane.
I am paying $3500 per year for hull coverage through Global Air. The last annual cost the first owner $1800. I would estimate hourly costs at $125 per hour, but the airplane is still under warranty. I expect hourly costs to total $165 per hour after the warranty period.
I love the T206H but it is not without problems and prospective owner should be prepared to remove a few warts even from a new model. The aircraft now has 180 hours total. The Astro-tech clock failed at 90 hours; leaking fuel sending unit replaced at 180 hours; pilot-side gear leg replaced at 100 hours. This was secondary to a noticeable lean of five inches to the pilots side. According to the dealer, he has replaced about five to seven 206 gear legs since the 206 line ramped up.
To me, Cessna gives you the most bang for the buck in a new aircraft but it tends to show. The fit and finish of the airplane leaves a bit to be desired. Several of the 206s I looked at had some paint adhesion problems on the strut, as does my aircraft. Some of the panels, particularly the wing root and wheel fairings, did not line up properly so they were made to fit by the installer. I am in the process now of having these items corrected.
Dont buy this aircraft with the expectation of filling all of the seats with adult passengers. This really is not a six seater. The aft seat has a quick-release feature that Cessna claims makes it removable in a few minutes by pulling a couple of pins. The problem is that the tolerances are so tight and the room to work is so small figure on two to three hours to put it back together. Compared to the club seating of the Piper 6X with a built in cooler, its enough to make you cry.
A hot prop has been standard on the T206H since 2002. Who cares? A turbocharged engine without full de-ice really limits the altitude capabilities of this aircraft. We live in the Great Lakes area where ice is always a winter and spring threat. I have complained to every Cessna rep I meet about this to no avail. They continue site legal issues.
Aerospace Industries and Technologies (www.weepingwings.com) has an STC for a TKS system for the 206H. Cost is $28,000 installed but it is not certified for known ice. If you get this system, the hot prop is replaced with a slinger ring. You can keep the hot prop boots and wiring harness in a box in your garage and let your kids try to figure out what dad used this for after you depart to the after life. My guess is that they would not believe they are holding $5000 in Cessna parts.
I like the airplane but still think the 207 provided a bit more room for a family of five. My darkest fear is outgrowing the 206. I can only speculate what Cessna will do now that they have some competition in the fixed gear six-seat market. With avgas flirting with $4 a gallon, you realize quickly the Lycoming TIO-540 is a thirsty beast. SMA has a 300-HP diesel powerplant in the works, slated for a 2005 release. This powerplant would result in a 30 to 35 percent reduction in fuel consumption, not to mention the concomitant increase in range.
In summary, I think the 206 is a great airplane. Easy to fly with short takeoff and landing capability, despite a few blemishes. I would probably buy another 206 but I would take a serious look at the Piper 6XT.
If I wanted to improve the airplane, I would have Cessna do the following: dust off the 207 jigs, improve quality control, add a factory TKS known-ice certified system, provide for optional cabin seating configurations and take a close look at the SMA technology. Now that would be an airplane.
I purchased the Stationair new in 1975. Since I am based in Idaho with its many high-altitude back-country strips, I had a Robinson STOL kit installed before I ever saw the airplane. The 285-HP engine ran smooth and consumed 15.4 GPH at 65 percent power. At 900 hours, I had a prop governor failure when approaching a back country strip. I was able to stop the prop by stalling the airplane, then glided to a safe landing.The FAA required that the engine be replaced. RAM Aircraft installed a 315-HP engine and a Q-tip three-blade prop. The engine ran rough right from the start and consumed about 2 GPH more fuel at the same power settings.
RAM flew it back to Texas and balanced the prop. It still vibrated so much that various components started to break. A crack developed in the exhaust stack.
On another flight to Alaska, the pillow block in cylinder #1 broke off, necessitating an emergency landing. RAM replaced the cylinder at a pro-rated price but blamed the problem on my engine management. Two other cylinders had to be replaced due to cracking and the engine began using excessive oil.
Several of my friends had Millennium engine overhauls from Western Aircraft in Colorado and they raved about them. The overhaul was pricey but I wanted the best. I now have 20 hours on their overhaul and the engine is unbelievably smooth and does not use any oil. Fuel consumption is back to 15.4 GPH at 65 percent power and with GAMIjectors, I have been able to run at 11 GPH lean of peak. However, my mechanic has spent many hours troubleshooting several annoying oil leaks which required wiping down the undersurface of the airplane after each flight.
Slow flight, especially with the Robertson conversion, is remarkable and stalls are the gentlest I have experienced in any airplane.
The airplane seems to refuse to spin even in an extended stall.The airplane lifts off at 45 MPH and routine STOL landings at 55 to 60 MPH are possible.Overall, the 206 is a great back country airplane with excellent load capacity and a stable IFR platform.
-George H. Miller
Twin Falls, Idaho