The twilight of the aviation gods seemed at hand in the 1980s when single-engine manufacturers put themselves into an almost unrecoverable spin. On the way down, experts blamed everything from high fuel prices to product liability. But in the end, it was the product line that augured in, leaving buyers to mourn.
Today, the GA rebound seems real and Cessna again sits on aviation Olympus, with a comfortable lead in the single-engine piston market. Capitalizing on their success with the 172 and 182 rebirths, Cessna has re-introduced the heavy haulers, the 206 Stationair and TurboStationair. Well examine both and fly the Turbo.
No Glamour Here
Stationairs, new or old, dont turns heads the way a Cirrus might, but we have yet to spot many Cirri on the flight line. From across the ramp, the new Stationair looks like the same old model. Big nose, flat feet and wide butt; about as sexy as a tug boat.
Nonetheless, the 1999 Cessna Stationair is truly a new airplane, certified in late 1998 under FAR 23, not merely the old bird with new motor, avionics, leather and a better paint job, all of which it has.
The 206 is strong and reliable but slow. One look at the steel leaf gear legs and you know its built for abuse. Its a six-place airplane that fills the gap between the four-seat 182 and the many more seat Caravans. It hauls a good load but maybe not as much as youd like and, oddly, not as much as the last model Cessna built in 1986.
When it left production in 1986, a TU206G II cost $124,650. That model now commands $190,000 on the used market. As airplanes go, old 206s have been good investments.
A 1999 Stationair lists for $304,900 and the turbo model adds another $36,000 to the invoice. That gets you standard avionics including dual KX-155As; KLN 89 (VFR) GPS; KMA 26 audio panel, marker beacons and six-place intercom; KT 76C transponder and KAP 140 single-axis autopilot. Upgrade the GPS to IFR status and add a two-axis autopilot and youll pay $10,000 more.
The job prospects for the Stationair are too broad to predict, so the buyer has a choice of interiors to handle the potential wear. Leather, cloth or vinyl interiors are available. Leather has been, by far, the most popular. Surprisingly, theres no extra charge for leather even though it takes longer to install than cloth or vinyl.
One cow usually doesnt stretch to cover all the seats, so the factory upholstery staff makes certain the front two seats are at least made from the same hide to avoid drastic changes in grain between items in close proximity.
Under the Skin
At Cessnas Independence plant, one line is devoted to 172s and across the room the second line is shared between 182s and 206s. The assembly line uses many of the same jigs from the old days, but what goes into the jigs has changed in important ways. The 206 is the familiar, riveted semi-monocoque airframe with strut-braced all metal wings. Composites, the darling of the 90s, are limited to wing tips, fairings, and nose bowl. Mechanics who have scraped knuckles on old Cessnas will feel right at home with this airplane.
Flight controls are operated by stainless steel cable. Control surface trailing edges still retain the familiar diamond cookie-cutter design that gives away the new Cessna pilot whos walked into the back of an aileron.
But gone are the bare aluminum surfaces inside wings and fuselage. With the average age of the general aviation fleet in excess of 20 years, its encouraging to see the new airplanes built to handle corrosion better. Pre-assembled airframe parts are coated with epoxy primer, some yellow and some green but all of it an improvement over nothing at all, which is how some older Cessnas left the factory. White with swirling decals is the color of choice. Custom paint jobs are reserved for fleet purchases.
The engine marks the biggest departure for the new Stationair from its past. Cessna replaced the Continentals formerly used in the 206 with Lycoming 540s. Turning power into thrust is a three-bladed, McCauley constant speed propeller. Overhaul cost on a TIO-540 runs about $23,000; non-turbo about $20,000. TBO for the turbo is 1800 hours and 2000 hours for the normally aspirated. Its too soon to guess about service history on this engine but we suspect there are bound to be teething pains with it, as there certainly have been with the 172. Its also too soon to determine the new Stationairs safety stats, so well consider the past. The Stationairs relatively slow airframe has posted a reassuring safety record. New or old, its a tough design. In-flight break-ups were few but historically, pilots in 206s have displayed a penchant for running into hills and other scud-running tricks. Perhaps with a better instrument panel, pilots will be tempted to stick to real IFR. Naaaah. The 206 lives and works down low, where the weather meets the land. Running into the dirt goes with the job.
Speedy has never been attached to the 206s name. One has to wonder about the name, Stationair. Sounds too much like, Stationary in Air; not a great marketing handle. The non-turbo Stationair has a service ceiling of 16,000 feet and at 6500 feet, cruises at 143 knots at 75 percent power, drinking about 16 GPH.
Its no surprise that the turbo model goes a little faster. At 20,000 feet, Cessna advertises 164 knots TAS at 75 percent power. While this isnt bad for a draggy, fixed-gear single, its 20 knots slower than the retractable Saratoga II TC. Service ceiling is 27,000 feet, where ATC will be less than thrilled to have you park as the Malibus and B36TCs pass at over 200 knots.
Both 206 models come from the factory with two integral fuel tanks, totaling 88 gallons useable. This might prove a bit skimpy for the turbo pilot who wants to take advantage of high-altitude winds and stretch a long trip, as some owners inevitably will.
Sea-level climb rate is 1050 FPM, although dont expect that all the way to 27,000 feet. Full power climb is 39 inches at 2500 RPM burning 34 GPH. Normal climb at 30 inches and 2400 RPM lowers the burn to 24 GPH. Once at cruise, burn rates drop to 18 GPH at 75 percent power.
On our test flight, we leveled the Turbo 206 at 3000 feet to stay out of the icy clouds. We set power for 65 percent and leaned. True airspeed was in the 135- knot range with a fuel flow of 15 GPH. No economy awards here but then this airplane was designed to haul paying pax and cargo.
The new Stationair comes from a long line of heavy lifters and while it can carry a bunch, the certified load numbers come up a little short. You cannot, as long-standing mythology claims, haul anything you can close the doors on, at least not and stay inside the envelope. Lets look at the numbers from the sales brochures.
A Turbo 206 has a maximum ramp weight of 3616 pounds and a standard empty weight (turbo) of 2227 pounds. Doing the numbers that leaves 1389 pounds for gas and stuff. Minus 88 gallons of 100LL, that leaves 861 pounds for people bags. Thats five FAA people and their cell phones or four FAA people and 180 pounds of gear. It wont hold six FAA adults and full fuel.
The non-turbo ramps in at 3612 pounds with a standard empty weight of 2146 pounds. That leaves a little more useful load at 1466 pounds and a full fuel payload of 938 pounds. The 1986 206 had a useful load 200 pounds higher.
Getting It Fixed
The new airplane is under warranty for 24 months, spinner to tail, including engine, prop and avionics. Cessna has set up 350 service stations worldwide, 80 of which are also sales affiliates called C-STARS for Cessna Sales Team Authorized Representatives.
Alan Goodnight, Cessnas piston marketing director, explained that CSTARS provide both the nuts-and- bolts fix-it know how and also keep a valuable marketing link to customer needs and satisfaction, a key to survival in the modern world of GA.
Cessna has been to the mountain with serious quality control issues on the 172, with numerous ADs and a flurry of service letters to pilots to correct deficiencies that never should have made it out of the factory.
Cessna seems to genuinely recognize that if it cant produce a good quality product, all the tort reform laws in the world wont attract and retain customers. Based on our visit to the factory for this article, they seem to be applying those lessons to the 206. Well see if they stick.
The potential Stationair pilot is most likely already an experienced pilot and training is not a big issue. For 20 years, Cessna has had a network of Cessna Pilot Centers to handle advanced training. Frankly, the 206 we flew was so docile and uncomplicated, we see no thrash for anyone whos flown anything bigger than a C-150 making the upgrade.
Which brings us to the flight trial. Everybody has an opinion about the 206, especially those who have never flown one. Despite the new leather and radios, they look a little too big to be anything close to graceful.
Pilots whove flown the older ones warned us about how heavy the 206 is in pitch, so it was with this expectation of a airborne goat rope that we went aloft with Rich Manor, Cessnas western sales director.
Walk around inspection revealed an annoying feature that appears in so many airplanes-the inaccessibility of the engine during preflight. The peek-a-boo oil door lets you know you have an engine but little more. The upper cowl is held in camlocs, which are easy to undo but uncowling is not practical for a preflight.
Bonanzas still have the best cowlings. Cessna, however makes up for it with enough fuel drains in the 206 (five under each wing plus one under the cowl) to make an EPA inspector nervous.
The 206 has a large double cargo door on the right side aft of the front seats for easy loading. Unfortunately, when the flaps are lowered this door can be blocked. The co-pilots seat has no door. This combination could limit escape in an accident, although we know of no case where this has been a factor.
The pilots side front door was awkward to close once the pilot has moved the seat forward, a minor complaint and common to other Cessnas. Its single-handle latch, however, gave a secure feel and good seal. (No whistling wind through the door gaps on this model.)
Both pilot windows open, which will come in handy in August. Six adjustable eyeball vents around the cabin promised additional needle-point cooling relief. The inertial reel seat belts and shoulder harnesses were placed between the two pilots and latch to the pilots left and co-pilots right. This keeps pilots from knocking heads. Seats are comfortable and adjust easily.
Surprisingly, cabin length is 145 inches, only three inches longer than the interior of a 172. Cabin width is 44 inches; the 172 is 39.5 inches. A Piper Saratoga cabin is 48.75 inches and a B36TC offers only 42 inches across the fuselage. All Cessna seats face forward and rear bench seat passengers-if load allows them-will be cramped.
With vertically adjustable front seats, visibility over the nose and glareshield is good. Side visibility is restricted by the door posts. This required a constant neck craning in maneuvers. Side visibility is also restricted by the wing so overall, we rate cockpit visibility as fair.
Gone is the old crappy plastic panel. The layout is pilot friendly with all switches accessible from the left seat, although the radio master was hidden beneath the control post. Circuit breakers are divided into two groups-one on the pilots side; one on the co-pilots; both accessible by feel if not by sight. Instruments are back lit, plus theres an assortment of pedestal map lights and overhead lights. Night reading of charts shouldnt be a problem.
Flight instruments are logical but engine instruments might take a little hunting for a former Piper pilot. The manifold pressure gauge seemed too small to our 40-something eyes. Minor gripe. Engine gauges are easily read by the leftseat pilot with little head movement off the flight instruments.
The center stack radios with the basic Bendix/King package are nicely laid out. Overall panel layout wed rate as good with plenty of empty space in front of the co-pilot for more stuff.
Controls are indeed heavy when sitting on the ramp. The yokes are meaty to befit the intended task. They feel like newer Bonanza yokes. The cowl flap handle is a slight stretch to reach but easy to operate. Both elevator and rudder trim wheels are located beneath the throttle and easy to reach. And most controls would be accessible to pilots wearing winter gloves. This is a blue collar airplane, after all.
The fuel selector is on the floor beneath the trim wheels; easy to read and accessible to either pilot. LEFT, RIGHT, BOTH and OFF are the choices-stone simple. Run it all day on BOTH if youre so inclined; a Cessna trademark feature and a good one.
Fuel gauges are similarly simple and we wouldnt trust any airplane fuel gauge. Overall, control feel is solid and comfortable. This gives the pilot new to the airplane a feeling of being at home in a very short time with no unpleasant surprises.
Starting the Turbo Stationair took us three tries to get the mixture and throttle setting correct. The 28-volt system had no trouble spinning the prop through each of our fumblings. Once running, the engine idles a little awkwardly for several seconds before settling in.
Anyone biased by the four-cylinder Lycoming knee-knocking idle will be pleasantly surprised, although some say its not quite as smooth as the Continental. Still, we found the combination of six cylinders with the three-bladed prop was smooth enough through all power settings. We dont miss the Continental.
At a weight of around 3200 pounds, we found the taxi to be stiff but with a little brake, tight spots werent difficult. A 20-knot crosswind hardly budged the beast. But on the takeoff roll and rotation, a stab at the right rudder is a must, more so than in the lighter Cessna singles.
While there was barely time to consider it, the elevator came alive and the 206 floated off the runway. At short-field deck angle, forward visibility drops but lowering the nose slightly for a normal climb and provides plenty of visibility forward.
According to the book, the Turbo Stationair should take 1740 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle (at gross weight, standard day), while the normally aspirated version will need 120 feet more. Both require about 1400 feet to land over that same obstacle. We easily met those on a gusty, cool day with a neophyte at the controls. Heavy or not, the 206 is an easy airplane to fly.
At climb power, control response was positive and firm; not too heavy. Turns were easy to coordinate, although, right turns under power with the nose up took heavy right rudder. This was more noticeable, not surprisingly, in slow flight.
Controls are effective right up to the mushy stall. At full flaps in slow flight, a slight rumbling in the floorboard felt like a rough engine, but this proved to be the flaps chattering. The Stationair becomes practically stationary in this configuration.
Noise levels are not painful at cruise but headsets are a must. A six-way intercom comes standard for masochistic pilots who want to listen to five passengers. A six-port oxygen system is also standard on the Turbo only. To make up for it, a winterization kit is standard on the non-turbo model and an option on the turbocharged version.
Flying the Stationair takes a little more muscle that youd exert flying a 172, for example. But not much. The airplane is well balanced, in our view, but, as the ramp rats warned, slightly heavy in pitch. Electric trim is standard, but we prefer the manual wheel, which is close at hand and gives better feel. Ailerons are lighter than we expected and rudder is effective and absolutely needed in slow flight maneuvers to keep the ball centered. It was also very effective in the cross wind on landing.
Eighty knots on final with 20 degrees of flaps and the airplane seemed to walk itself onto the pavement during landing. Full flaps at 65 knots are used for shorter efforts. Holding the nose off took some effort, but it trimmed nicely.
Visibility throughout the approach was good, except for the blind spot by the door post previously mentioned. This may prove a significant issue when taxiing at night with lots of other airplanes on the ramp or when negotiating a pattern with lots of other traffic. Heads up.
In cruise, the airplane flies itself, hands-off, even in the occasional light turbulence we encountered. Its a solid instrument airplane thats fast enough to turn in a good performance with a busy approach control yet not so slick that youd get behind it when trying to slow for final approach. (No gear to worry about, either.)
As far cruise and en route utility, the 206 is so-so for an airplane in this price range. The model we flew had electric prop anti-ice (a $4750 option) only and was not certified for known ice, nor is that an available option, making us question the electric prop.
Dual vacuum pumps are standard and both are in constant operation. Should one fail, an annunciator light alerts the pilot without-theoretically-an interruption in vacuum, a good design in our view. We would like to see a back-up alternator for IFR operations.
When our rich Aunt Eudrice finally dies and leaves us $350,000 with the proviso that we must buy a new airplane, the Stationair will surely be considered. It, like Auntie, does have its quirks, however. The lack of a co-pilot side door is annoying as are the flaps that block the cargo doors. Pre-flighting an engine through an oil access door is not a preflight, in our view. Its needs a larger access door, as older 172s have.
On the cool winter day we flew, we couldnt evaluate the cabin ventilation but we can attest that the heater worked just fine at low altitudes. Cant speak for the rear passengers all the way back in row 3, who are likely to be kids anyway. Toss em a blanket.
Overall, the panel is good, but an airplane in this price range needs an HSI, Stormscope, two-axis auto pilot and either a KLN90B or a Garmin GNS 430. A swap of the KX 155 for a 165 might be asking too much, but at this level of investment, a minimal panel wont cut it.
Whats most interesting about the new Stationair is that its in a class by itself and even if you stretch that class to include other six placers, its much cheaper than the competition. It has six seats but think of it as a four seater with lots of baggage space and the unique ability to remove those seats and haul lots of large things.
We definitely would let Aunt Eudrice spring for the Turbo model. It is a tough bird built by an airplane company thats been around a few years, and, by all appearances, seems dedicated to quality and after sale service. Cessna 172 and 182 owners tell us the company is responsive to complaints.
The network of CSTAR service centers and the good supply of parts from Textrons Lycoming and Cessna divisions along with the reliable Bendix/King radios makes for a good long term outlook. Before plunking down a deposit, we would highly recommend the prospective buyer travel to Independence to tour the plant and meet the people building these things.
But if youre really on the market for a new 206, act fast if you want it soon. Currently, because orders are brisk and production is not completely up to speed, the next delivery date is December, 1999. Some CSTARs have Stationairs on the ramp, so you may be able to get one through them sooner.
Cessna Aircraft Company
P.O. Box 1996
Independence, KS 67301
-by Paul Berge
Paul Berge is a CFII and regular Aviation Consumer contributor.