Cessna P210 Centurion

Much fanfare and a raft of early problems accompanied the introduction of Cessnas only pressurized single.

In 1978, the Cessna P210 was a real landmark. While not literally the first pressurized single (the Mooney Mustang was the first real attempt), it was the first one that was truly viable. It was (and is) remarkably inexpensive for a pressurized airplane. What that means is that its very expensive, just not as bad as the other choices a prospective purchaser is faced with.

What pressurization does, directly, is offer the ability to fly over much enroute weather in relative comfort. Indirectly, it offers somewhat lower noise levels and a more solid feel, the result of the reinforcement needed for pressurization.

There is a price to be paid for operating a pressurized airplane at flight-level altitudes. Part of it comes in the form of mechanical woes-the engines are short-lived, often dont make it to TBO, and cost a lot to overhaul; pressurization adds another complex system to maintain and operate. Part of it comes in mundane problems: separate, unpressurized baggage compartments and the need to fit everthing that goes into the cabin through the pilots door. Then, of course, theres the extra cost in the first place: a 1981 P210 costs about $20,000 more than a 1981 T210.

Rough start
Cessna said that the P210 was a daring technological leap when it came out in 1978, and sold nearly 400 in the first two years. In fact, though, the P210 was hardly a fresh, innovative design exercise. Instead, it was a derivative of nearly two decades of C-210 Centurions. The airframe was vintage 1960s, the engine was nothing new… even the pressurization system had been lifted from the pressurized Skymaster. No matter, though. It was still a unique airplane: the pressurized single.

In 1979, Cessna changed the gear. The main gear doors were removed (theyd been troublesome on the 210), which cost some of the original 196-knot cruise speed and a little climb rate. At the same time, however, the gear-extension speed was raised to the top of the green arc, making it a good speed brake (more about this later).

Like other Cessnas such as the first Cardinals, the early models had some real design flaws that had to be redressed after the fact. Severe problems started cropping up in 1980.

A pair of P210s crashed after engine failures caused by detonation. The FAA issued emergency ADs calling for extra-rich mixtures to cool the engines, along with other anti-detonation measures that reduced performance and, of course, boosted fuel burn significantly. The detonation apparently was caused by a poorly matched engine-turbocharger combination. High back pressure on the exhaust system and very hot induction air temperatures caused the engines to run hot and, sometimes, experience destructive detonation from the excessive heat.

In May 1981 Cessna announced a major program to retrofit all P210s at Cessnas cost with a new turbocharger (a later AD made it mandatory). This was supposed to eliminate the need for ultra-rich mixtures and provide improved range, performance and fuel economy. What the retrofit did, instead, was to lower performance, with P210 pilots finding they couldnt hold manifold pressure or cabin pressure above 16000 to 18000 feet. Said one owner: The new turbo has turned the airplane into a sick dog at altitude.

Late in 1981 Cessna came up with another solution to the problem: a new air induction system that would be retrofitted free by the company, to restore the lost performance. Consisting of a larger intake scoop and redesigned air plenum, it increased manifold pressure by up to seven inches at high altitude. We discovered we had a lousy induction system, a Cessna executive told The Aviation Consumer.

1982 brought a number of improvements that make these and later airplanes more desirable than earlier models. Among these were a new slope turbo controller that maintains deck pressure at a steady two inches above manifold pressure, in the process eliminating a lot of unnecessary load on the turbo. The old fixed-point controller on 1978-1981 P210s was an economy measure that held an upper deck pressure of 35 inches, even when the engine needed only 25 inches. This caused the turbo to work a lot harder than it had to, resulting in more exhaust back pressure and hotter induction air. (Upper deck pressure is the pressure between the turbo compressor and the throttle butterfly.) Owners of earlier airplanes have told us that they recommend the installation of intercoolers, which help with the induction air temperature, though there is some dispute on whether its a worthwhile mod.

The 1982 models also received a new fuel system with two significant features: proper vapor-return lines and a left-right-both fuel tank selector system that reduces chances of fuel mismanagement. Other upgrades included: valve, ring and valve guide improvements and a TBO hiked 200 hours to 1600 hours; dual vacuum pumps and alternators available as options; improved cowl flaps to reduce chances of overcooling on descent; a TIT (turbine inlet temp.) gauge, along with a restriction of 1650 TIT to limit leaning and keep exhaust temps down.

Keeping up with the Joneses
The biggest change in the the P210 was due to the arrival of competition in the form of the Piper Malibu. Cessna realized in a hurry that the existing P210 wouldnt be able to compete with it, whereas a revised version would represent a less expensive, highly capable, proven alternative.

The result was the P210R. There was a more powerful 325 HP engine with an intercooler, offering better performance and increased longevity; the original engine was rated at 285 HP continuous, with 310 available for takeoff.

Along with engine compartment improvements came significant airframe upgrades like longer wings and a three-foot-longer horizontal stabilizer. The extra wing span (over two feet longer with some 10 feet of new wing area) allowed an extra 30 gallons of fuel in the tips and helped climb performance. Fuel capacity rose to a generous 120 gallons, eliminating the complaint by many P210 pilots that earlier models were a bit short-legged on range. Since the tips feed by gravity into the mains, there is no pumping or switching required, so from the pilots standpoint the aircraft seems to have one big tank.

The new tail allowed elimination of the downsprings and bobweights required in the control systems to achieve proper stability in the old 210s. This made pitch forces much lighter, so takeoff rotation, steep turns and the landing flare could finally be managed with one hand.

On top of all that, the new P210R flies much faster than older P210s. Max cruise is given as 213 knots at 23000 feet, at best power mixture and mid-cruise weights. That is more than 20 knots faster than the earlier model. Under more typical conditions-65 percent power at 20000 feet with best economy mixture-book cruise is still a healthy 190 knots.

The marketplace
The preferred airplane is the P210R model, though it commands a hefty price commensurate with its value, and its rare (only 40 built). And here were talking about $290,000 or so retail for an average-equipped 85 model, according to the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest. Next in rank is the Mark II model built in 1982 and 1983 (none were delivered in 1984). The 82 model was going for about $225,000 at last glance at the Digest. And finally, the last choice would be the Mark I models built between 1978 and 1981. The former lists at around $178,000.

The prices quoted are for average airplanes in average condition. Many P210s have mods, however, making it tricky to find an average airplane.

For those who desire pressurization, there really arent too many other choices. The cheapest Malibu costs the same as the most expensive P210, and there just arent any other viable pressurized singles. The pressurized Skymaster can be had for about the same price as the P210, but it adds its own set of problems along with the extra maintenance of an additional engine.

Pressurization, however, is rarely the only consideration. Buyers are more likely to compare the P210 to a high-performance turbocharged single, such as the Beech B36TC. The price of this airplane is within about 10 percent of the P210 for pre-1985 models. For the P210R, the Cessna is as much as $40,000 more epensive. For comparison purposes, the 1983 Piper Turbo Saratoga SP retails for $195,500, more than $50,000 less than a same-year P210N. A 1983 T210N goes for $250,000.

Big singles like the 210 have heavy control forces as a rule, but the P210 is heavier still due to th routing of control cables through tight-fitting air seals where they pass through the pressure vessel. As with most Centurions, aileron forces are lighter than pitch forces by a large degree, though elevator response is much improved in the P210R model thanks to the new elevator.

Of course, heavy forces also mean an airplane that likes to stay where its put, and that means a solid IFR platform. Since this is the design mission for the P210, thats a desirable trait. But good use of the trim system is necessary, and electric trim is a must-have item.

Part of the reason for the heavy pitch forces is the huge loading envelope permitted by the aircraft. Load more in the rear, and bicep power required is reduced on the landing flare.

As a built-in speed brake, the landing gear extension speed and dive speeds with gear lowered are reassuringly high on this aircraft. On the 78 P210, gear lowering speed is 140 knots/161 MPH indicated, but with the 79 models it was raised to 165 knots/195 MPH, thanks to elimination of the gear doors.

With both aircraft, however, the pilot can dive right to redline Vne speed of 200 knots/230 MPH with the gear already extended. Needless to say, this might come in handy on a speedy descent if pressurization were lost. Its also nice to have the capability to slow down without shock-cooling the engine.

Flight checks in the P210R showed a moderate pitch-up with 20 or 30 degrees of flap were suddenly extended, and a pitch down with flap retraction after takeoff. The stall was preceded by a good horn warning and light buffet, with excellent aileron control down through stall recovery.

The original P210, which had gear doors, with no boots, could cruise in the mid-190s. Add boots, lots of antennas, and even radar pods, and the cruise drops quite a bit. Compared to a T210, the performance is generally inferior, since the pressurization system steals bleed air from the induction, thus robbing some power.

Real-world cruise speeds for the P210N reported in our latest survey range from 165 to 185 knots, depending on power setting and altitude. The P210R, with its more potent engine, can break 200 knots quite easily. Fuel burns are substantial, however: 15-20 gph for early models and up to 23 GPH at 75 percent on the P210R. Because of time-to-climb limitations and cabin pressurization levels, most P210 pilots told us they prefer cruising below 20,000 feet-at 14,000 to 19,000 feet on average. All reported occasionally moving up to as high as FL 230 to get over weather, however.

Most of those who responded to our survey had installed extended-range tip tanks, reporting good endurance with them (as much as six hours). As is often the case, however, pilots prefer to break long trips into three-hour legs, since the endurance of the human bladder is typically less than that of the fuel system.

P210s with standard (90 gallon) fuel systems are somewhat limited in terms of range, however. The P210R had an 85-gallon system as standard, with 115 optional; we dont know how many of the few P210Rs that exist have the smaller tanks.

Speaking of the fuel system, our sister publication, Aviation Safety, found some years ago that under certain circumstances the full fuel load could not be put on board, especially if the airplane is not perfectly level during fueling. This also applies if the nose strut is not properly inflated.

This corroborates past pilot comments weve received from owners. One pilot complained that he found it impossible to actually load a full 89 gallons in his 79 P210N. I now flight plan to use no more than 70 gallons, he warned.

All the Centurions are renowned for their load-hauling, and the P210 is no exception. Owners typically report payloads after full fuel of 900 to 1,000 pounds. The earlier models carry more, and payload varies considerably depending on equipment. Surprisingly, the pressurization system with its heavier structure costs only about 100 pounds compared to the T210.

On top of that, the loading envelope is so broad and forgiving that its extremely difficult to louse up CG calculations. In fact, the P210 flier is more likely to find himself loaded out the front end of the center-of-gravity envelope rather than the rear, particularly on well-equipped airplanes. One owner removed the center row of seats to give passengers more legroom in the rear. Thats a relatively unusual practice.

The P210 has only one door, so whatever goes in has to go through it. Airplanes like the Beech B36TC win hands-down in this regard. Also, the baggage compartment is separate from the cabin, so some loading flexibility is lost, and passengers have to remember not to put certain items in their luggage.

Cabin comfort
The P210, on the whole, is quite comfortable. As noted above, the combination of heavier structure, thicker windows, sealing of the pressure vessel and muffling effect of the turbocharger add up to less noise.

In winter, the extra heat kicked out by the pressurization system further enhances snugness. But in summer, the airplane can be an oven if its not equipped with air conditioning. Even though Cessna has designed a fairly efficient bleed air intercooler for the cabin air, one owner told us, the air still enters the cabin piping hot.

But the most important comfort factor by far is the fact of pressurization. No masks or cannulas, no popping ears. However, this is about as rudimentary as pressurization gets. The pressure differential is a rather anemic 3.35 pounds, the lowest of any current pressurized airplane. On top of that, the system has no rate controller. It simply starts to pressurize at the altitude selected by the pilot, maintains that cabin altitude as long as it can, and then maintains the max differential as the climb continues.

All owners who responded to our survey told us of the need for continuous and careful maintenance. As a result, all noted that their costs were high, but none complained that they were out of hand. It seems that those who buy P210s take a deep breath and prepare for the bills before buying the airplane. (Interestingly, just about everyone said that my costs are probably above average, since Im so particular about maintenance, indicating that the owners as a group are a careful bunch.)

Naturally, the 1,400-hour TBO on the earlier engines is nothing to boast about. But even that figures not etched in stone. The 1,400-hour engines will make TBO, said one owner, but usually with one top overhaul. Mine was topped at 700 hours. Judging from Service Difficulty Reports, cylinder cracking is a matter to be reckoned with. Another owner said Suffice to say that most operators will have changed a couple of jugs by 800 to 1000 hours, so you might as well plan for it.

Also, buyers should check to see if aircraft have Inconel exhaust systems. Without them, the P210 system is regarded as quite troublesome and carries a 50-hour AD inspection for cracks.

Owners report that the two big trouble areas are alternators and vacuum pumps. Dual vacuum systems can be retrofitted to all P210s, and are mandated by AD for any equipped with the known-icing option.

By the same token, dual 60-amp alternators were available on 1982 P210s, and some 1980 and 1981 models were retrofitted at the factory. Some earlier P210s have a small emergency standby generator, which is not as good, but certainly better than nothing.

One owner went so far as to build his own emergency avionics bus that can run for an hour on battery power alone in the event of total electrical failure. We think this is an excellent idea.

In summary, buyers should be prepared to assume some not insignificant maintenance costs commensurate with operating a complicated aircraft. A purchaser needs to consider the P210 as a large general aviation airplane in keeping with the traditions of 400 series Cessnas, etc., advised one owner. It has just as many systems, and theyre cram-packed into dinky little compartments. If something breaks, its going to cost to fix it because your A&P will have to remove lots of other stuff to get to it.

Intercoolers can be provided by several organizations. Among them are Riley International Corp. and Turboplus.

Riley also can turn a P210 into a Riley Rocket by installing a new engine and intercoolers. A more interesting engine swap is offered by O&N Aircraft Modifications, who will put an Allison turboprop on the airplane. This company also can provide baggage compartment fuel tanks. Rudder, elevator and ailerons can be stiffened and mass balanced to improve the flutter margin by O&N as well.

Speedbrake kits are available from Precise Flight. Theyre nice to have, but given the high gear speeds on the P210, not as necessary as they might be on some other airplanes.

Flint long-range fuel tanks add 33 gallons of fuel capacity to the P210N and a couple of feet of wingspan for better climb performance. Its available from Flint Aero.

The R/STOL Hi-Lift Systems kit is offered by Sierra Industries. This firm also can eliminate gear doors on early P210s.

The Cessna Pilots Assn. ((805) 922-2580, www.cessna.org) supports the P210 and all other Cessnas. They publish a slick monthly color magazine, and offer the best support and advice anywhere.

Owner comments
I purchased a 1981 P210N in August 1991. I flew twins for nearly 30 years. Without the need to fly at night any more, I sold my Seneca III to get the pressurization, long range tanks and air conditioning that you cant get on the Seneca. Id hate to go back to a non-pressurized airplane.

The P210 had 1350 hours, original leather and paint, plus King autopilot and full avionic suite. It is air conditioned and has full deice although I had the hot plane refinished and usually leave it off (I winter in Mexico and seldom really need it).

Aside from the King avionics suite, it has a GEM, ARNav fuel computer, and a Strikefinder (replacement for a WX7A Stormscope). I also upgraded the loran to a King GPS90B. Other additions include a digital tach and standby DG

The weak links are the alternator and vacuum pump systems. Ive had at least three pumps (two in one year), two alternators and several breakages.

For safety, I split the avionics bus so that I can run one navcom, the GPS, transponder and electric HSI. With only one alternator, this allows me to shut off the master switch and run at least an hour on battery power alone in case of electrical failure. Before making this mod, I had three belt failures and since it, an outright alternator failure. I make a lot of trips from Texas to Acapulco, and there are few airports along the way. (To make these trips, I had a used set of Flint tip tanks installed to give 6-1/2 hour endurance.)

Over the last four years Ive had the airplanes interior and exterior completely redone, with a custom-designed interior by Bravo Three of Austin, Texas, and paint by A&A Airplane Refinishers in Big Springs, Texas. I recommend both shops highly.

Ive put about 500 hours on the P210 and it will true out about 178 to 185 knots at 16 to 19000 feet with from 25 to 27 inches MP and 24-2450 RPM, depending on OAT. I keep the TIT at 1580 maximum, and burn 125 to 130 pounds the first hours, and 100 to 104 thereafter. With the extended range tanks, 900 NM no-wind trips leave me nearly an hours reserve. FL190 is very comfortable and Ive flown it at FL220, non-stop from Austin to Winter Haven, Florida with a good tailwind.

Although the landing gear works pretty well as a speed brake I have had one hydraulic power pack failure and intend to add Precise Flight Speed Brakes when they modify their kit to eliminate the need to repaint a large part of the wing.

I wish it had a better climb rate and another 20 knots or so of cruise speed, but with 1339 pounds of useful load I dont know of anything else that will do better.

My costs are probably a bit high, since I spare no expense. Annuals have run from $1350 to $4200. Avionics consume about $1350/year and non-annual related mechanical repairs about $3000. I fly less than 100 hours per year, so my cost per hour with hangar, fuel and the maintenance outlined above ranges from $250 to $300. Obviously, this would be less with more use.

Name witheld

We have operated a 1979 P210 for eight years. It performs as advertised: an IFR machine, built for travel. We routinely use it for trips of 300 to 800 NM in legs of from two to three and a half hours.. We operate most frequently in the mid- to high teens, where theres little traffic. The P210 gives us the capability of a twin without the additional expense, but the expenses are in proportion to the complex nature of the aircraft.

We have a few mods that we consider mandatory. Dual vacuum pumps should be standard, even if you dont have the full ice package. We do not have boots, and I do not consider that a major drawback. We do have a hot prop, and that is a necessary item.

Our airplane has a Riley intercooler, and the engine needs it. Inflatable door seals (Redhill Aviation, California) will solve most pressurization leaks, and are another must-have item.

We also have a GEM. Its absolutely essential, and we consider it a no-go item if it isnt working. This is because the engine is pushed to the maximum during normal operations.

This airplane must be maintained on a continuous basis. Failure to do so can result in some nasty financial events. Our first annual had to recover from the neglect of the previous owner, and we found ourselves out of pocket by $5000 in short order. Since then the annual expenses have been more predictable and usuall fall in the $2- to 3000 range. It is imperative that you fine a shop experienced with P210s or you will suffer severely. We perfomed hangar annuals for three years with an old salt who knew his business. This was the most cost-effective approach, but I recommend going to a large shop every second or third year. This will always result in the discovery of a few missed items, and is well worth the additional expense.

We highly recommend joining the Cessna Pilots Association. John Frank, Mike Busch and the rest will dazzle you with their knowledge of Cessna products. I definitely recommend their P210 systems courses for the technical information they offer which will help you evaluate the capabilities of your mechanic and the shop that you use.

Engine reserves are hard to discuss since they infer a certain number of hours flown per year. Its simpler to say that most owners seem to replace this engine at 750 to 1300 hours, though some will probably claim to have made it to TBO. Suffice to say that most operators will have replaced a couple of cylinders by 800 to 1000 hours, so plan for it. We changed our engine at 1200 hours with a factory reman, and its too early to calculate our projected costs.

The term truck like has become commonplace when describing this aircraft. I prefer to call it a stable, rock-solid instrument platform. It is respectably fast, and we plan our cruise for 170 knots at about 65 to 75 percent power. It loves the high teens, but we will occasionally go up as high as FL 230 eastbound to catch the jetstream in winter.

Approaches are very pleasant. We usually hand-fly them just to stay in practice. I recommend doing this since one can become quite complacent in this airplane.

Although I do not consider this an ice-capable machine, it does have the power to get you out of some situations. Ice is easy to see on the plane and it will pick up rather quickly.

Most P210s are adequately equipped by now. Youll want the mods outlined above, plus a stormscope and GPS.

Check carefully for corrosion, ADs, SDRs, and get help from the Cessna Pilots Association Technical Center. If youre able to find a decent specimen, equip it correctly, learn to fly it correctly (like most complex machines it doesnt like inconsistent operating techniques) and keep it maintained, you will probably be in bed with it for a long time. Its not the cheapest aircraft in this category to operate, nor is it the most expensive. If you are tight for funds, however, dont even consider the P210.

Joel E. Colley
Scottsdale,. Ariz.

Also With This Article
Click here to view charts for Resale Values, Payload Compared and Prices Compared.
Click here to view the Cessna P210N Centurion features guide.