If you were shopping the new utility airplane market for a piston single that hauls six people and carries lots of stuff loaded through big cargo doors, the Cessna T206H is a no-brainer consideration.
As it’s been since it started life in 1963 as the model 205 (a fixed-gear version of the wing-strutted 210), the current HD T206H turbo Stationair is neither fast nor slow and it’s no looker on the airport lunch ramp. But what it lacks in sexy styling it more than makes up with in utility—lots of it. It works well on floats and on oversized tires and it easily carries a cargo pod on its belly. We know of more than one Stationair owner who loads motorcycles in the cabin.
The current Cessna Stationair is the most modern 206 to date and has a stylish but durable interior (think luxury pickup truck), is rock stable for instrument flying and has a simple fuel and flight control system. It can wear multiple hats, as much at home hauling supplies in the outback as it is sliding down an autopilot-coupled GPS approach to big-city airports.
To see just what buyers get when slapping almost $700,000 on the table for Textron’s biggest Cessna piston, we loaded in our stuff and lived with a spanking new 2018 Stationair for a day. Here’s a summary.
A Big, Beefy Cessna
In that sense, the new T206H turbo Stationair is the same as it ever was. While the airplane now carries the “HD” marketing nomenclature, Textron Aviation’s regional sales director Steve Kent told us HD doesn’t necessarily mean heavy duty. But the new Stationair is heavy as far as piston singles are concerned. With standard six-passenger seating it has a basic empty weight of 2336 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight of 3789 pounds.
The airplane we flew was fully loaded and had the optional Kelly Aerospace air conditioning system, which yielded a 1341.5-pound useful load and a full-fuel payload of 820 pounds. That means four 200-pound humans and some bags. For going places, the T206H carries 92 gallons of fuel and 87 gallons is usable. The fuel system is stone simple. If you’ve flown a Cessna 172 or 182, you’ll recognize the familiar fuel selector (off, left, right, both) located at the bottom of the center pedestal. Take off and land while drawing from both wet-wing tanks and you can switch to the left or right tank while in level flight.
But if you’re accustomed to a 172 or a 182, the T206H will be noticeably larger. The Stationair’s cabin is six inches wider than a 172 and four inches wider than a 182. From trim to trim, the cabin is 44 inches wide and 49.5 inches high. From the firewall to the aft baggage bulkhead is 145 inches. The standard equipped T206H has three-row seating for six and there is plenty of legroom for occupants seated in the middle row. We could easily and comfortably stretch the legs straight out across the cabin.
You enter the Stationair cockpit from the pilot’s door (there isn’t one on the copilot’s side) and passengers ingress and egress through the big aft cargo doors on the right side of the fuselage. Interestingly, the height of those double doors was predicated on the height of a 55-gallon drum, and the width is that of a standard pallet. Like we said—a working pilot’s airplane. The rear door opens aft and the front opens forward, which makes for easy loading. We folded down the third row of seats (they can be quickly removed) and easily loaded in a couple of full-size snowboards. Golf bags for six? No problem in the Stationair.
The latest HD model offers another 189 pounds of useful load because quite frankly many Stationair pilots would load more into the airplane anyway. Now they can add more legally, while accepting a slightly higher stall speed. At 3600 pounds and wings level with a most rearward CG, power off stalls come at 56 knots indicated (with the flaps up and also at 20 degrees) and at 47 knots indicated with full flaps deployed.
Once inside, the latest Stationair has reasonable amounts of modern styling, although don’t expect a new-Cirrus-like posh dwelling. Standard seating is synthetic leather, but there’s an option for two genuine leather crew seats with leather door trim for an additional $4645. The first two rows of seats have inflatable AmSafe airbag seatbelts and for $3605 they can be added to the aft bench seat. There’s vinyl-grip flooring in the crew area. Worth mentioning is the airplane can be configured with a single pilot seat (all other seats are removed), utility-grade carpeting, plus ruggedized interior panels and liners. That shaves 153 pounds. Save 116 pounds with pilot and copilot seats only.
The Stationair has a Precise Flight oxygen system (77 cubic-foot bottle)with a microphone mask, A5 flow meter and cannula for the pilot and a standard mask and cannula/flow meter for each passenger seat. The optional Thermacool air conditioning system is from Kelly Aerospace. It adds 56 pounds and $39,255 to a stock T206H. When external power is applied to the APU port, a finger-tap of a sensor on the side of the cowling turns on the Air Conditioning.
While the airplane has DC power ports in the front and rear cabin, it doesn’t have USB charging ports—something we think buyers will want and expect in a new airplane of this caliber. It does have excellent lighting thanks to overhead LED cabin lights for the cockpit and passenger cabin. There’s also an LED backlighted panel for the cockpit main switches.
There are LEDs on the outside, too, including dual wing LED landing and taxi lights with integrated pulse recognition. These are connected to the onboard GPS so they automatically switch to pulse mode during the initial climb.
Avionics and Engine
The T206H has the Garmin G1000 NXi integrated avionics with the GTX345R ADS-B Out transponder, so it’s ready for the 2020 mandate. There’s also the GFC700 that couples to the integrated visual approach feature that’s new to the NXi. As we’ve reported in previous articles, the NXi has notably faster processors, brighter displays and the customizable HSI map feature. There’s also the Flight Stream 510 cockpit wireless system for tablet computer/smartphone interface. It’s compatible with both the ForeFlight and the Garmin Pilot apps and enables you to load the databases and flight plans directly to the G1000 from the tablet. Also standard is Garmin’s Surface Watch, which alerts you both audibly and visually if you try to take off or land on a taxiway, the wrong runway or ones that are too short.
The G1000 NXi in the airplane we flew had autopilot controls on both the MFD and on the PFD. That means if one of the displays were to fail, you will still have access to all of the autopilot modes.
Garmin’s SafeTaxi and FliteCharts are standard, but if you want Jeppesen Chartview electronic charting, it’s an additional $4345. This is an electronic, color version of the domestic Jeppesen terminal procedure charts.
There’s also the option for an Artex three-frequency ELT to replace the standard two-frequency, non-GPS-interfaced ELT. It’s a whopping $9940.
The engine is a 310-HP turbocharged Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A that has a 2000-hour TBO and a typical overhaul cost of around $52,000. The TBO is increased to 2200 hours when it is flown over 40 hours per month.
In general, pilot-friendly and big-block turbocharged engines aren’t often used in the same sentence, but that’s part of the sales pitch to prospective turbo Stationair buyers, given the airplane’s maximum ceiling of 27,000 feet.
“There’s little if any required leaning of the mixture until above 17,000 feet because the TIO-540-AJ1A thinks it’s at sea level until then,” Steve Kent told us. The sloped turbo controller allows for appropriate manifold pressure and overboost protection no matter how aggressively you advance the throttle. In theory should the controller fail, a mechanical relief valve opens to drop the engine just below boost, the controller catches up and “there’s no teardown inspection required,” Kent said.
By way of the engine cowling design, Cessna engineers worked hard to make the big Lycoming installation as thermodynamically stable as possible. Aside from the so-called shark gill vents on the lower side of the cowling, the main air intake has a gentle S-shape to it. At high climb angles, the air still flows in and over the top of the engine and then down and out of the shark gills and cowl flaps. In a descent with the cowl flaps closed, a molded hood in the cowling intake traps the downward ram air creating a high-pressure point and minimizing airflow.
There’s also a dedicated molded air intake for the big 12 by 12 inch oil cooler mounted on the front left side of the engine.
Part of what makes the Stationair a good short-field airplane (and lends to a slow stall speed given the weight) are the flaps, which are five feet longer (total) than the ones on a smaller high-wing Cessna. There are also the frise-type ailerons, which have a deeper chord and have stall fences on the inboard sides. As the wing stalls from the inboard to the outboard area of the wing, contaminated airflow cannot reach the aileron. As we found, the Stationair’s ailerons remain extremely effective during slow flight.
What makes the Stationair a good soft-field airplane is the solid leaf-spring landing gear. It’s not drilled to accommodate brake lines, but instead the lines run on the aft outside area of the spring. Plus, the nosewheel has more travel and cushioning than other Cessna singles.
For takeoff, the performance specs show a 1060-foot ground roll for a 3789-pound airplane on a hard-surfaced and dry runway. Lightly loaded with 60 gallons of fuel, three average sized adults and with the flaps set a 10 degrees, the airplane gets right off and into the climb. You can reduce the ground roll and the total distance to clear an obstacle by roughly 10 percent by deploying 20 degrees of flaps, but flap deflection greater than 20 degrees isn’t approved for takeoff.
Feed in the power and once rolling the drill is to unload some weight from the nosewheel and the airplane flies at around 55 knots with some back pressure. With 310 horsepower, you need healthy amounts of right rudder, of course, but the large rudder is the right proportion for handling the torque.
The setting for best climb rate using max continuous power is limited to 39 inches of manifold pressure, 2500 RPM and a 34-GPH fuel flow. Normal enroute climbs in the T206H are made at 95 to 105 knots indicated, which makes for a comfortable deck angle over the glareshield.
At 2400 RPM and 30 inches MP we saw roughly 900 FPM in the initial climb. With a rich mixture and open cowl flaps, cylinder head temps hovered in the 365-degree range throughout the climb, while exhaust gas temps were around 1340 degrees.
You lean the TIO-540 engine using TIT (turbine inlet temperature) and the engine page on the G1000 has a horizontal scale with an inverted triangle for reference while leaning. There’s a lean assist mode for best power or best economy. Best power is achieved at 150 degrees rich of peak TIT and best economy is at peak TIT. Operating on the lean side of peak TIT is officially not approved.
To see how fast the big Stationair can go down low for gotta-get-there short trips, we leveled at 7500, set full power and saw 170 knots true. That burns a whole lot of fuel, of course—almost 34 GPH.
For contrast at the airplane’s high-altitude sweet spot, at 17,000 feet making maximum power the T206H can do 180 knots true. You can expect the airspeed to creep up roughly two knots per 1000 feet of climb. Worth noting is that all of Cessna’s book performance figures are calculated for an airplane that’s loaded at gross weight and at a most unfavorable CG.
Pulling the engine back to a more typical 75 percent power setting (30 inches MP and 2400 RPM) yielded 19 GPH and 155 knots true at 7500 feet. No, the load-hauling turbo Stationair is not an economy cruiser.
Officially, the specs say the HD Stationair’s maximum no-wind range and endurance is 676 NM and 6.3 hours and like all flying turbos, it’s at its best up high.
Advertised cruise speed at 20,000 feet is 176 knots at 75 percent power, but we didn’t fly that high on our demo. With the cowl flaps closed, the cylinder head temps were around 385 degrees.
For slowing the Stationair down for landing, the first 10 degrees of flaps can be deployed at 140 knots or lower, the 20-degree setting is used below 120 knots and full flaps come in below 100 knots. Roughly 80 knots works for typical short-field landings and you want to come into the flare at 67 knots indicated.
Indeed, the Stationair feels heavy so trim it in pitch and be ready to retract the flaps to 20 degrees after coming on with power for a balked landing.
Textron Aviation sells the HD Stationair (and the Skyhawk and normally aspirated Skylane) direct to customers and we were told sales of the HD T206H, which has a base price of $680,000, are strong. Its nearest new competitor might be the parent company’s own Bonanza G36. But it has less useful load, retractable landing gear and a price that’s north of $850,000, leaving the HD T206H in a class of its own. Contact www.textronaviation.com.