Six Place Survey

You can carry a lot or go fast but not at the same time. Pipers venerable Saratoga may be the best-value compromise.

At some point, most people who own airplanes feel the need to pull more seats through the air. And that leads logically to this question: Twin or single?

You can buy into either market for about the same amount of money. But as we reported in the December issue, you can count on a twin costing not twice but three times as much to operate as a single.

Ignoring the gnarly issue of safety for a moment, operating cost alone rules out a twin for many owners. Why shell out $20,000 a year to pay for 100 hours or less of six-place twin time?

So full circle, back to a six-place single. There’s wide range of choice, particularly if you consider off beat foreign makes and antiques. But we’ll stick with a few of the more common models (and their variants) produced by the big three manufacturers: Cessna 206/207/210, the Piper Cherokee Six variants and the Beechcraft 36s.

Of the lot, owners tell us the 210 is a conditional six-seater. Some tell us it just wont do that job we’ll while others praise in the six-place role. It can carry six people-useful loads between 1200 and 1780 pounds-but its more of a fast, heavy-hauling four-seater with room for two kids crammed in the back. Also, unlike the Piper and Beech offerings, there’s no rear cabin door.

For that reason-and because of space limitations-were examining the 206/207 instead. Refer to our Centurion Used Aircraft Guide in the March, 1996 Aviation Consumer for more on the 210. We have, however, included the 210 in the cost and performance tables, in case the 210 fits your needs. The six placers reviewed here offer true space for six not four plus baby buckets. Some even stretch to seven or eight seats.

Cessna 206/207
Not always the fastest; never the sexiest, Cessna singles are the worker bees of GA. The company has stuck with the high-wing, tricycle gear, piston single concept and reworked it with ever larger engines and cabins, culminating in the Cessna 206/207.

The 206/207 is the closest you’ll get to a flying 3/4-ton pick-up truck. We even found one with mud flaps. As of this writing, the 1998 206 Stationair is poised to make its triumphant reemergence into a market starved for piston utility singles.

Except to the purists, the airplane is known for its lack of change over the years. The original 1963 Cessna 205, with a 260-HP Continental IO-470, was really a fixed-gear Cessna 210, complete with nose wheel well. Sensing that they were on the right track, Cessna introduced the Super Skywagon with a 285-HP Continental IO-520 in 1964 and designated it the U206. U stood for Utility.

The fuselage was redesigned to accommodate a large cargo door. It had a pilots-side only front door. Rear seats were an option. In 1965, the P206 Super Skylane with the same engine appeared. P stood for passenger. The name was a misnomer, however, since the P206 really sprang from the 210, not the Cessna 182.

Standard equipment included seats for six plus two front doors and a passenger door aft on the left side. Turbocharging was offered in 1966.

On a roll, the folks in Wichita upped the horsepower to 300 (Continental IO-520-F) in some of the U models, starting with the 1967 U206B. The U206 Stationair debuted in 1970. To further compete with themselves, Cessna stretched the cabin and offered the Skywagon 207 and dropped the designator P206.

In 1978, the Stationair 7 arrived with seven seats maximum and in 1980, the Stationair 8 appeared with room enough for the Brady Bunch. Nonetheless, even in the six-seat 206s, the last two seats are snug and probably suitable for short trips only.

Speed? No
Speed is not the selling point of the 206/207 line. Cessna claims a respectable cruise speed of 131 to 161 knots depending on model, mods and motor. Thats not bad for a draggy fixed-gear airplane with wing struts and a useful load that nudges toward a ton. But this aint no Bonanza.

Interestingly, the lowest useful load is found in the 1985-86 TU206G. With a 310 HP TSIO-520, it claims a 1610-pound useful load. By contrast, the older 285 HP non-turbo U206 lifts 1800 pounds. As is often found in airplane design, strapping on more horsepower doesnt equate to bigger payload.

Still, 1610 pounds is a respectable useful load, amounting to full fuel (80 gallons) plus six 170-pound humans and 50 pounds of baggage. As proud 206/207 owners like to say, …if the tails still off the ground when loaded, youre in the envelope. For comparison, a 300-HP fixed-gear Piper Saratoga lifts in the 1650-pound useful load range and has a recommended cruise speed of 150 knots. A 1979 Saratoga books out around $97,000 in average retail condition while that same year U206, also 300-HP, commands about $120,000.

CG problems
A common complaint in six-seaters (except the Bonanza) is the propensity to load a forward CG particularly with the nose baggage compartment full. When flown solo, this makes for nose-first landings. Hauling that yoke back to flare takes more muscle than most Mooney pilots can muster. Seasoned 206 jump pilot, Rob Foster told us about importance of understanding this when five skydivers leave the aircraft, thus sending the CG roaring forward for landing.

For more normal operations, the passengers stay seated and the Cessna 206/207 load remains balanced. Even then, it takes lots of trim. Often, the size of the payload exceeds the generous cabin size before the max gross weight is reached. A cargo pod can be added to the belly to hold the overflow. Owners seem to agree that the 206/207 is a rugged bird thats proven itself on the roughest fields from South America to the Arctic Circle.

Its climb performance and stability in rough air make it a favorite for mountain flyers. One Alaska operator we interviewed compared the piston 207 to the turbine Caravan when encountering icing conditions.

Testimony from another 206 pilot: …coming back from Canada in mid July with four people and a load of fish, I picked up two-and-half inches of ice…before I couldnt hold altitude anymore. This same pilot later regretted replacing the 206 with a faster 210, due to the Centurions higher maintenance costs.

The huge instrument panel allows for any arrangement of IFR equipment, although the height of the glareshield can block forward visibility. Vertically adjusting seats help. Cessna 206/207s have been a macabre leader in mid-air collisions, which underscores the need to lift a wing before banking.

Fuel capacity varies from 61 to 84 gallons depending on models and options. Longer range tanks are available from Flint Aero (619-448-1551), a mod that increases fuel capacity by 28 to 30 gallons and adds three feet to the wingspan, improving cruise and climb.

Most pilots we interviewed reported fuel burns in the 15 GPH range. Eighty-four gallons consumed at 15 GPH gives a range of almost 5.6 hours.

Overall, the 206/207 clan fares we’ll from owner comments about maintenance costs. Frankly, all the six seaters are expensive to operate. Get over that and the 206/207 isn’t any worse than the others and is cheaper than the Beech A36.

Support from Cessna has varied over the years and has lately been very good, owners say. The 206/207 invites mods. You can put it on floats, skis or add a STOL kit. You can strip the interior to haul sheep or gussy it up for the carriage trade.

Prices to overhaul the engine runs the gamut from $16,000 to $24,000. A factory reman from Air Power, Inc. ( 1-800-AIRPOWER) runs about $17,000 with core exchange. The turbo version (TSIO-520) costs $3000 to $4000 more. Thats the good news. The bad news is that Continentals generally run shorter TBOs than Lycoming.

Cylinder head and crankcase cracking was a frequent complaint on all Continental 520s but has somewhat abated due to a beefier crankcase. One Part 135 operator we interviewed expressed dismay with the poor quality of Continental cylinders. He opted for Millennium cylinders at overhaul, but the jury is still out on their long term performance.

In the airframe itself, cracks have been found in the forward door post bulkhead. Corrosion appears in the elevator and trim tab where water can get trapped. The 206/207 is tough but even the toughest wear out. All tricycles get their nose wheels slammed so carefully inspect torque links and bolts and get used to nose shimmy no matter what you do.

ADs are no stranger to Cessna and the 206/207 has a slug of them. So spend time with the mechanic going over the logs. Of particular interest for 206/207 and 210 buyers is AD 85-2-7, which requires an inspection of the fuel selector.

Radio gear has never been a strong point at Cessna. Almost unanimously, owners report Cessna avionics as junk with most airplanes having been upgraded to more respectable brands.

The newest Cessna off the line comes equipped with Bendix/King radios and business-like panels; no more Royalite overlays that shook, faded and cracked and made retrofits a chore. Owners quietly grumble about cheap Cessna interiors-crappy seats and seat rails and leaky doors and the aforemetioned Royalite.

One great advantage the strutted Cessnas have over the low wingers is safety. In flight break-ups are rare. Stall spin accidents are also relatively low, thanks, in part, to the forward CG.

Hard landings, ground and other non-fatal accidents are common, but given the airplanes mission into rough fields, thats not surprising.

That ever-popular VFR-into-IMC has claimed its share of 206/207 pilots over the decades. No aftermarket mod seems to cure that one. Overall, its a solid, predictable airplane that burns a lot of gas but hauls a lot of stuff at a decent speed.

As of fall 1998, the world awaits the reemergence of the 206. To date, the non-turbo 206 Stationair has been certified and the turbo, according to Cessna, will be certified momentarily. The big change is from the Continental engine to Lycoming.

The new Stationair will sport the 300-HP Lycoming IO-540 and the Turbo Stationair will have the 310-HP TIO-540. Standard equipped price is $304,900 for the normally aspirated model and $340,900 for the turbo. That includes a respectable Bendix/King IFR package.

Pipers Entries
Jealous of Cessnas runaway success with the tricycle gear 172, Piper taught the dope-and-fabric staff how to rivet and launched the Cherokee, beginning in 1962. In 1965, the six-seat 260 HP Cherokee Six appeared (PA-32-260). The following year, power was increased to 300 HP and a star was born.

From 1966 to 1978, Cherokee Six shoppers could choose between the Lycoming O-540, 260-HP or the IO-540 300 HP. Between 1976 and 1979 those who wanted the wheels to go up and down could choose a fat wing 300 HP Lance, the PA-32R-300 or PA-32RT-300T for the turbo version with T-tail. In 1980, Piper Sixes shed the T-tail and constant chord Hershey Bar wing in favor of the semi-tapered wing. Theyd already switched to semi-tapered on smaller models. The Cherokee Six changed to PA32-301 Saratoga. A Turbo Saratoga was also offered, too, the PA-32-301T.

To further cloud the waters, a retractable Saratoga SP (Special Purpose) was offered-PA-32R-301 and if that wasnt enough, a turbo retract Saratoga was on the showroom floor (PA-32R-301T). Whereas Cessna started with a retractable 210 and turned it into a fixed-gear 205, Piper took the reverse course.

The newest Saratogas are all retractable with a choice of the normally aspirated Saratoga II HP (High Performance) or the Saratoga II TC (Turbocharged). TBO on all but the turbo models is 2000 hours. The older Lycomings with the small valves ran a worthless 1200 hours. Changing to 1/2-inch valves upped the TBO again and its rare to find the smaller valve stems in the field today. A pre-buy on an older Piper should expose this.

Piper had something for everyone who wanted to lift weights and carry them long distances. Whatever the model, a pilot who learned in a smaller Cherokee would feel at home when stepping up. Piper retained the stabilator and Manual flaps (great feature) were around until 1985; now replaced with pre-select electric.

The company made a vast improvement in moving the fuel selector from the pilots left knee to an accessible position on the center console between the pilot and co-pilot. Cherokee Sixes with four tanks had four switch positions plus OFF. Newer models have a simple: OFF, LEFT, RIGHT. The newest models also have improved fuel gauges.

The newer Lances, Saratogas and the 1979 Cherokee Six had two integrated fuel tanks (94 to 102 gallons). Once the level slipped below full, visual inspection was impossible, so a crude but reasonably accurate mechanical gauge is located in each wing for preflight.

The fuel draining procedure is annoying, however. It requires six hands, a bucket and an EPA permit. Each tank has a quick drain but in addition, the pilot pulls a lever under the right seat to drain the fuel strainer while selecting each of the up to four tanks-takes a while.

The Cherokee Six interior is roomy even with all six seats in place. Technically, a seventh seat is available but not widely used. Later models with club seating allows a foursome for Bridge and looks good in brochures. Take out two seats and you have a fantastic four seater with oodles of leg room.

Take out all the back seats and there’s enough room to load motorcycles, a snowmobile, huskies or anything else thats under four-feet high. Makes a passable hearse if the passenger isn’t too stiff to load, although, the combination passenger/baggage door on the left side gives better access and serves as an emergency exit in the event the front door jams.

The Cherokee cabin is relatively quiet considering the size of the engine. The baggage compartment between the engine and the cabin helps muffle noise. The only discomfort is inadequate ventilation aft of the pilot seats. Air conditioning apparently alleviates that but adds weight and maintenance woes.

T-Tail Truths
Two things were going on in 1978-Disco and the introduction of the T-Tail on the Piper Lance and Turbo Lance II. Both were embarrassing flops and even though John Travolta came out okay, the rest of us would rather forget that period.

Those with T-Tails, however, are constantly reminded on takeoff roll. Nothing happens pitch-wise, until about 80 knots when, whoop, the stabilator suddenly comes alive. Downright squirrelly, a charter pilot described it. After two years, Piper put away their leisure suits and returned the tail to its normal configuration. Laughing all the way to the bank, meanwhile, are the buyers willing to put up with weird pitch control, a longer takeoff roll and jibes from those of us too cool to admit we once danced to the Bee Gees.

All the straight-tail Piper Six seaters fly about the same, although aficionados argue the merits of fat wing versus semi-tapered. The most noticeable differences are in climb performance and service ceiling where more horsepower meant better performance.

The 260 HP Cherokees tend to fly the slowest but burn less gas. With smaller engines, they have larger useful load capabilities (up to 1700 pounds) although some owners warn us to disregard the book and watch your weight with higher density altitudes. Still, the 260 HP variant is a good hauler but doggy near gross weight.

None of the Sixes are sporty to fly. So, if youre not a sporty pilot and are more concerned about comfort and load, the Cherokee Six series is a good if docile value.

Parts, Maintenance
Despite the old Pipers financial woes, our inside New Piper Parts mole tells us that parts for all the models are readily available since most parts are interchangeable. Some of the older plastic interior parts are unavailable from New Piper but a complete line is available from Kinzie Plastics 580-327-1565.

Lots of mods are available, too. Sierra Industries (830-278-4381) still sells parts for the Robertson STOL kit, although they no longer sell the conversion itself. To trade dollars for knots, call Roy LoPresti at 800-859-4757. Then you can brag to your Bonanza friends about how fast you go, even if they wont believe you.

One factor to be considered in the value equation is the safety record. Overall, not bad, except a noticeably higher number of in-flight break-ups in the Lance than the bulkier strutted Cessnas or non-strutted Beechs. As might be expected, this deadly trend was more pronounced in and around thunderstorms.

The older fat-winged models had a not too surprising rash of hard landings by pilots unfamiliar with the wings propensity to quit flying at slow speeds. A few pilots had trouble seeing past the end of the long nose and managed to taxi into things. With vertically adjusting seats the visibility isn’t bad; without that you feel like youre sitting on the floor.

Who says you cant be beautiful and carry a bit of weight? Certainly not Beechcraft. The six-seat, Bonanza A-36 is an easy to fly, quality airplane that can lift six classy, albeit light, people in style.

Needless to say-but were paid to say the needless-all this class comes at a high price. Anything with the Beech emblem is pricey, although, to their credit the quality is there. Once over the sticker shock, the Bonanza 36 series may round out all the edges that kept you from falling in love with Pipers or Cessnas.

With love, however, comes a few faults. The Bonanza, while close to perfect, is not for everyone. Given that a 1998 B36TC leaves the showroom in the half million dollar range, true love may once again be reserved for the truly romantic.

Anyone whos ever flown a V-tail Bonanza knows what quality feels like. The old light-weight V-tails were as close to a flying sport sedan as you can find. Those willing to trust funny looking tails with beef-up mods can pick up an old BE35 for less than a Cessna 172. Theyre fast, fun, good on a short field, but often uncomfortable and suffer from poor range and nasty CG problems.

With the short fuselage, the CG tended to slide aft, inspiring some owners to plant lead bricks in the engine compartment. Its possible to load an old Bonanza properly then as fuel burns off find yourself landing with a CG out the aft end of the envelope. The V-tail had a reputation for dancing in turbulence.

Beechcraft knew they needed to compete with the six-seat crowd so in 1968 they stretched a straight-tail BE33 Debonair 10 inches and added a back door for easier loading. This was the BE36. With the Continental IO-520, 285 HP engine, the 36 was a stable, less exciting Bonanza-but still delightful to fly and capable of hauling a decent load at a good speed.

This plain wrapper almost six-seater had a useful load of 1620 pounds, a recommended cruise speed of 170 knots but a skimpy fuel capacity of 50 gallons. It was a six seater that couldnt go far.

An 80-gallon optional capacity made it far more attractive, although that extra fuel ate into the six-seat capability. The original BE36 was marketed as a utility aircraft-you can even fly with the back doors off-with fancy upgrades available. The cabin is comfortable but little different than a Cherokee Six.

While Cessna and Piper dithered about retractable versions of their six-seaters, all the Beechcraft sixes have wheels that go up and down. Perhaps the BE36 should really be compared to a Cessna 210. Your choice.

In 1970, Beech went after the business crowd and introduced the A36 Bonanza with club seating as an option. Fuel capacity was 74 gallons. A36 gross weights remained the same as the 36 but with all those eye-catching knickknacks, the empty weight crept up and useful load sank.

Typically an early A36 has a useful load around 1405 pounds. That works to five 180-pound persons, full fuel and a smidgen of baggage. Speed also dropped slightly to 168 knots on the A36. Still, these arent bad numbers and the A36 has proven to be a popular model.

Today, a 1970 A36 in average condition sells for about $112,00 with prices leaping forward with each succeeding model year. With current economic turmoil, we may see a few shake out at lower prices, but don’t hold your breath.

In 1980, Beech offered the 300 HP Continental IO-550 (longer stroke, same bore as 520) which besides more power and a higher service ceiling, brought with it a better reputation than the head-cracking, case splitting 520.

Time for the Aviation Consumer grain of salt (ACGOS). We checked with a longtime Beech service center and the American Bonanza Society and Continental themselves. All told us that …the 520s get a bad rep….plenty of owners go to 2000 hours without problems…

A36s had a reputation for being marginally cooled to begin with and it was suggested that improper baffling or old baffling (mainly hardened rubber) combined with operator error caused most premature failures. Infrequent use can lead to rusting cylinders and that can exacerbate the problem.

This may sound a little too much like blaming the customer for poor design. Case cracking has been alleviated somewhat by changing from the older light case to the newer TCM heavy cases. Luckily, Continental does not deduct for a light case when swapping the engine. The 520s have three types of cases: series 1,2 and 3. Favored is the series 3, 7-stud case. Not many light cases are in the field these days.

Cruise speed lingers around 169 knots with the 300 HP. Gross weight was increased 50 pounds to 3650 pounds, but empty weight crept upward and useful loads are in the 1400 pound neighborhood. Again, think of either the 285 HP or the 300 HP A36 as a five-seater with a little baggage, even though the cabin is a comfortable fit for six adults. It just wont lift them.

Older Bonanzas can be retrofitted to the IO-550s with an STC available from Beryl D Shannon Aviation Specialties (1-800-328-4629) or Colemill Enterprises (615-226-4256). The Colemill Starfire STC casts $49,500 with new engine; $39,500 for reman. It comes with a Hartzell four-blade Q-tip prop. Both DShannon and Colemill offer redesigned baffling for cooling the extra horses.

1980 saw the redesign of the instrument panel and the infamous Beech throwover, here-you-fly, Ollie, yoke was replaced by standard dual yokes. Watch out for Beechcrafts backwards flap and gear lever arrangement in earlier models.

Beech put the gear lever on the right and the flaps on the left, which is fine if thats how you learned it, but for those non-Bonanaza pilots making the upgrade, the number of accidental gear retractions after landing is embarrassing. The newest Bonanzas conform to the Peoples Committee on Control Positioning-flaps right, gear left.

And speaking of safety, its hard to beat the straight-tail, long fuselage Bonanza. As bad a reputation as the V-tails have for break-ups, the 36s are flying brick houses by comparison. In-flight break-ups are rare, although not unknown.

The longer fuselage actually moved the cabin forward giving it a broad CG range and reducing-but not entirely eliminating-the aft-loading phenomenon of earlier shorter models.

Bonanzas are we’ll built. No Spam-cans here, the fuselage is semi-monocoque with a keel structure. Picture a tough aluminum boat as the front of the airplane, thats the keel that houses the engine and people. Extremely stout, one Beech mechanic called it.

The rear door allows easy escape for backseaters and the rear windows open both for emergency egress and-get this-cooling on the ground. Hard landings are absorbed by the same tough gear legs found on the much heavier Baron and military T-34.

The gear retraction system is electromechanical (electric motors running mechanical linkage). The point of maintaining a good battery cannot be overemphasized. Emergency gear extension is accomplished through a simple, but awkward-to-reach hand crank.

Safety conscious design continues with what we think is one of the best cowls in the field. All Bonanzas have giant cowl doors that swing up to expose the entire engine for preflight. That should be the industry standard instead of those peek-a-boo oil only access doors found on cheaper brands.

What price quality? An expensive airplane to buy, the A36 is even scarier to maintain. A knowledgeable Bonanza mechanic is a must. The good news is the airplane holds up we’ll when maintained properly, but when you step up to that parts window, bring several credit cards or a note from the IMF.

On the positive side, parts are readily available. ADs are no more difficult than the other brands weve covered. Two potentially expensive recurring ADs of note: AD 93-24-3 which requires the inspection (and replacement if needed) of the rudder forward spar assembly for cracks. The other, AD 95-04-03, requires inspection of the wing forward spar carry through web. The inspection takes up to five hours.

Not many cracks are found, but if found, the repair is brutal. Fuel bladders drew another red flag. With age, they dry out and fail. One item to watch on all Bonanzas is the door prop open bar. Passengers love to break this so check for damage on a pre-purchase. Repair to the arm and roll pin is relatively simple but annoying.

When it comes to mods, the Bonanzas got em: gap seals, turbos, speed brakes, tip tanks, everything but floats (they keep getting stuck in the gear wells. Beryl D Shannon also carries a slug of other mods including vortex generators.

Both DShannon and J.L. Osborne, Inc. (800-963-8477) have wing tip tanks. D Shannon tanks hold 34 gallons total and Osbornes hold 40 gallons. Osbornes list for $7299 and include lights. Both mods increase lift and gross weight.

To slow this modified mass down, you might want Precise Flight (800-547-2558) speed brakes for $3995 plus installation that takes about 45 hours. For a balanced perspective on all these mods, the American Bonanza Society has been sponsoring Bonanza clinics for years and should be your first stop for shopping (316-945-6913. These guys get high marks for pre-purchase help and, later, for maintenance and training.

Finally, if the normally aspirated 36/A36 doesnt do the job, you might consider the monstrously expensive A36TC or B36TC. Unfortunately, these are really four-seaters with the remaining full-sized seats reserved for very light people. Useful load for the A36TC runs from 1100 to 1300 pounds. The B36TC, with its longer wing, carries a bit more with useful load that reaches 1468 pounds. Speeds are in the 200-knot range and with 102 gallons of fuel in the B model, range is respectable. Fuel burns are horribly high in the climb (31 to 32 GPH) because the engine runs full rich for cooling.

Climb rate is good so getting to altitude is quick-assuming ATC cooperates. Once there, fuel burn drops to a more reasonable 17 to 18 GPH. Both models use the 300 HP Continental TSIO-520 engine which, because its a 520, carries many of the faults-real or imagined-of all 520s. TBO is a weak 1600 hours and reports suggest few of the turbos actually reach TBO without at least a top overhaul.

Picking the right airplane out of this group is a little like choosing socks. You want over-the-calf black ones or white gym socks?

With that in mind, its a close race among the three groups. Of the three Cessna 206/207, Cherokee Six, Beech 36 series-we liked the Beech for its overriding quality plus passenger comfort and speed.

If neither budget nor absolute load carrying arent factors, Beech six-placers are a delight to fly, fast and comfortable. But if you need maximum weight hauling and you arent in a hurry, the Cessna 206/207 are the payload champs, especially the U206.

Overall though, the biggest bang for the buck comes from the Saratoga series. These sell for less than the Beechcraft and tend to be we’ll equipped, in the middle-of-the -road sort of way. Although not quite as fast as the Beech models, they carry more and have better range with full payload.

Personally, we find the Piper pilot seats the most comfortable, plus the Lycoming engines run longer if not as smooth as the Continentals.

Also With This Article
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by Paul Berge

Paul Berge is a freelance writer and flight instructor. Hes a former Bonanza owner.