Cessna P210 Centurion

Cessnas high-flying pressurized single is fast and efficient, but demands pilot proficiency and careful engine operation.Competition from Piper, Market Comparison, Handling and PerformanceLoading, Cabin, Maintenance, Mods, ClubsOwner Feedback


To gain sizable amounts of speed and efficiency, you’ll generally have to fly in the mid to upper teens and higher. And to do that, you’ll have to make a choice: stick an oxygen hose (or mask) in your nose or pay for the convenience of pressurization. Due to market demand and high production costs, the choices for single-engine models are limited to Cessnas P210 and the Piper Malibu.

Pressurizing anything, let alone a single, is fraught with difficulty. Part of it comes in the form of mechanical woes-the engines are short-lived, often don’t make it to TBO and they 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 everything that goes into the cabin through the pilots door. Then, of course, there’s the extra premium in first place: as of winter 2015, a 1981 P210 costs about $25,000 more than a 1981 T210.

Model History
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. Still, 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 and the engine was nothing new.Even the pressurization system had been lifted from the P-Skymaster. No matter. 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. Like other Cessnas, such as the first Cardinals, the early models had design flaws that had to be redressed after the fact.

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 overly hot induction air temperatures caused the engines to run hot and 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 and 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 16,000 to 18,000 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.

The 1982 model year 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 to 1981 P210s was an economy measure that held an upper deck pressure of 35 inches, even when the engine needed only 25 inches. Upper deck pressure is the pressure between the turbo compressor and the throttle butterfly.

This caused the turbo to work a lot harder than it had to, resulting in more exhaust back pressure and hotter induction air. Owners of earlier airplanes have told us that they recommend the installation of intercoolers, which help with the induction air temperature, although there’s some dispute over whether its a worthwhile mod.

Essentially a radiator that cools the induction air, an intercooler can typically raise the actual MP from one to as much as four inches, but only if the engine fuel flow is set up properly. Thats because the increase in manifold pressure also requires increases in fuel flow. Push more MP without increasing fuel flow and you’ll risk overtemping the engine.

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 degrees TIT to limit leaning and keep exhaust temps down.


Competition From Piper
The biggest change in the P210 was due to the arrival of competition in the form of the Piper Malibu. Cessna could plainly see that the existing P210 wouldnt be able to compete with it, whereas a revised version would represent a less expensive, highly capable alternative.

The result was the P210R. There was a more powerful 325-HP engine with an intercooler as standard, 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 such as longer wings and a three-foot-wider horizontal stabilizer.

The extra wing span (more than two feet longer with some 10 feet of new wing area) allowed an extra 30 gallons of fuel in the wings and helped climb performance. Fuel capacity rose to a generous 120 gallons (useable), eliminating the complaint by many P210 pilots that earlier models were a bit short-legged on range. Since the fuel is fed by gravity into the mains, there’s 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 lighter, so takeoff rotation, steep turns and the landing flare could 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 23,000 feet, at best power mixture and mid-cruise weights. Thats more than 20 knots faster than the earlier model. Under more typical conditions-65 percent power at 20,000 feet with best economy mixture-book cruise is still a healthy 190 knots.

Market Comparison
The preferred airplane is the P210R model, although it commands a hefty price commensurate with its value, and its rare (only 40 built). And here were talking about $300,000 or so retail for an average-equipped 1985 model, according to the Aircraft Bluebook. Next in rank is the Mark II model built in 1982 and 1983 (none were delivered in 1984). The 1982 model was going for about $175,000 at last glance of the Bluebook. And finally, the last choice would be the Mark I models built between 1978 and 1981. The former lists at around $175,000.

The prices quoted are for average airplanes with older avionics-likely to include the finicky 400-series autopilot. Many P210s have mods and upgraded avionics, however, making it tricky to find an average airplane.

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 shouting range of the P210 for pre-1985 models. For the P210R, Aircraft Bluebook shows it is as much as $125,000 more expensive than a $175,000 turbo Bonanza, although Centurion experts note that rare P210 R-models can easily sell for $400,000 or more when equipped with new avionics, interior, paint and engine. For comparison purposes, the 1983 Piper Turbo Saratoga SP retails for $140,000, some $45,000 less than a same-year P210N.

Handling, Performance
Big singles like the 210 have heavy control forces as a rule, but the P210 is heavier still due to the 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, although elevator response is improved in the P210R model thanks to the new elevator.

Of course, heavy forces also mean the airplane 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 or you’ll need hefty tug to flare the airplane without a nose-first arrival.

On a side note, the P210 doesnt exactly jump off the runway, and the extra weight of the pressurization components, air conditioning, deice and weather radar systems make for slower climb rates than you might experience in a T-model Centurion. That means you’ll need to be on your game-and obey weight and balance figures-when it comes to short-field takeoffs and terrain clearance.

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 1978 P210, gear-lowering speed is 140 knots indicated, but with the 1979 models, it was raised to 165 knots, 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, if you subscribe to that theory.

Flight checks in the P210R showed a moderate pitch-up when 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 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 to 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 who responded to our earlier surveys 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 limited in terms of range, however. The P210R had an 85-gallon system as standard, with 115 gallons as optional; we don’t 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 1979 P210N. I now flight plan to use no more than 70 gallons, he warned.


Loading, Cabin
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 1000 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.

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.

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 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 PSI, 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 max differential.

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 1400-hour TBO on the earlier engines is nothing to boast about. But even that figures not etched in stone. The 1400-hour engines will make TBO, said one owner, but usually with one top overhaul. 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 we’ll 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 known icing.

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 significant maintenance costs commensurate with operating a complicated aircraft. A purchaser needs to consider the P210 as a large airplane in keeping with the traditions of 400-series Cessnas, etc., advised one owner.

Mods, Clubs
Intercoolers can be provided by several organizations. Among them are Riley Superskyrocket and Turboplus. Riley also can turn a P210 into a Riley Rocket by installing a new engine and intercoolers. Riley also offers doors seals and magneto kits. Contact Riley at www.rocketengineering.com or 509-535-4401. 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. Contact www.onaircraft.com or 570-945-3769.

Speedbrake kits are available from Precise Flight. (See www.preciseflight.com or 800-547-2558.) 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 at www.flintaero.com or 619-448-1551. The R/STOL Hi-Lift Systems kit is offered by Sierra Industries. This firm also can eliminate gear doors on early P210s. Contact Sierra at www.sijet.com or 888-835-9377. As for clubs, there is the Cessna Pilots Association (805-922-2580, www.cessna.org) which supports the P210 and all other Cessnas. They publish a monthly color magazine and offer good support and advice.

On a side note, we offer our thanks to Chuck McGill for his guidance while preparing this report. We think his book, Flying the Cessna 210: The Secrets Unlocked, is a valuable resource for flying any Cessna Centurion model. McGill also offers initial and recurrent type training for the 210. Visit www.safeflightintl.com.

Owner Feedback
I owned and flew a P210 for eight years and 1500 hours. The allure of the P210 is to attain high-altitude, pressurized flight profiles and climb above weather for smooth, sunny flights-spending time in the clouds or precipitation only on climbout and descent. I did this many times and while the ability to climb an additional 20,000 feet would be better, the P210 is the minimum ante aircraft to cross the divide into this type of flying. I discount inflight oxygen as unpleasant for pilots, unacceptable for passengers and a nuisance overall.

Unfortunately, the P210 engine and systems are not up to the task. Even with a Riley intercooler, the engine needs constant attention to avoid overheating. The one time I went to FL230, I had the mixture full rich, the cowl flaps open, cabin heat on full and I still had to reduce the power. I endured multiple exhaust cracks, alternator failures, starter failures (including a starter failing to disengage after the start) landing gear problems, spalled lifters occasioning a major overhaul at 1200 engine hours, a broken door mechanism and multiple vacuum pump failures. The latter is a double blow because losing the primary vacuum pump also takes out the deice boots.

Whenever I activated the boots to remove ice, I wondered if the result would be either wings clear of ice or a blown vacuum pump. My conclusion is that the objective flight profile is simply too much to ask of an IO-520 and associated systems of the size and weight that will fit into the 210.

I have recently stepped up to a Piper Meridian, and this it seems up to the task. If I were to go back to the piston world, I would take a normally aspirated G-36 Bonanza or if that is too much money, an A36 with a glass panel. These are honest aircraft that do not pretend to be something that they are not. I have much hope for a diesel revolution, however. Maybe a diesel engine-equipped aircraft could move in the direction of turbine durability and reliability, all the while burning Jet A at $3.20 per gallon, a price I recently paid. My 1999 Mercedes turbocharged diesel seems to run as we’ll after 250,000 miles and 16 years as it did when I bought it.

John Godfrey
Beverly, Massachusetts

I have owned a 1982 P210 since 2000. Before that I owned a 1980 model for three years. Overall I have around 3500 hours in the P210. These airplanes have proven to be fine traveling machines, particularly when the trip legs are long. The pressurization has made it easy to carry passengers who would not wear an oxygen mask, plus I arrive at the destination less tired. Cruising in the upper teens or low flight levels often means more direct routings and flying above the weather.

My P210 has known ice, weather radar and the O&N auxiliary tank. Being based in New England, the known ice capability enables flights that would not be legal without it. The pitot, prop and windshield heat all work great, but the boots shed ice and leave a fragmented residue. The aux tank makes the airplane a useful long-range machine and I recommend it for range, more realistic alternate airport choices and the ability to tanker fuel from less expensive FBOs.

Until about three years ago, every high-altitude flight was as much about managing the heat in the engine as flying the airplane. My engine at that time was past TBO (I top-overhauled somewhat beyond mid-time), so I elected to replace it with the Vitatoe TN550 turbonormaized IO-550 conversion.

Heat management is now only a minor issue on hot summer days. The airplane normally is 200 knots plus in the flight levels and in cruise flight it burns about 16 GPH, LOP-at least three GPH less than the TSIO-520 that I had to run ROP. As an example, on a recent winter flight at FL210, the airplane had a TAS of 207 knots at 16 GPH, with the cowl flaps fully closed. So I am getting at least 15 knots more on 3 GPH less burn and much less engine management. It also climbs better.

I have nearly 500 hours on the new engine and have had no problems. Larry Vitatoe has been very supportive before, during and after the conversion. He is a pleasure to do business with.

But the P210 is expensive. My direct operating costs including maintenance-but not an engine reserve-is about $150 per hour. Annuals have been around $7000, and insurance for $225,000 hull, plus $1,000,000 smooth has been around $4500 annually.

But for this I have a most-weather, 200-knot traveling machine that makes 600-NM or longer trips easy.

Donald Fraser
Boston, Massachusetts

The 1979 P210N I owned for three years and 450 hours of flying was the third of five airplanes Ive owned over the last 30 years. Id flown turbocharged and pressurized piston aircraft prior to owning the P210, but had never owned and operated one.

Like many pilots, once spoiled by the pressurization, I found it tough to go back. Since owning the P210 Ive owned a BE-58 Baron (normally aspirated and I missed the pressurization), a Piper Malibu and now a Cessna 421.

The P210 is an economical avenue to a pressurized airplane, but there are some significant compromises, mostly driven by the design. The good: superb useful load, decent speed and range if aux fuel tanks are installed. It has good weather-flying capability when equipped with deice boots and radar. The bad: anemic climb performance (this is a heavy airplane), rapid performance degradation with ice on the wing and a hot-running engine.

Max pressurization differential is only 3.35 PSI, but this proved to be adequate, given the airplanes limited climb performance. The service ceiling may be FL230, but a realistic maximum altitude is FL190, or even lower if temperatures are significantly above ISA. I operated the engine at 65-70 percent power and planned on as little as 155 KIAS down low, and as much as 190 KIAS at FL 190.
My airplane had boots, Flint tip tanks and a radar pod, so it was likely a bit slower than most. Block-to-block fuel burns were 18 GPH on longer trips when the climb fuel could be amortized and 19.5 GPH on longer trips.

The engine is tightly cowled and tough for mechanics to work on. Even with properly maintained baffling, it is not a well-cooled engine. Warmer weather required high airspeed climbs (and accompanying poor climb rates) to keep the CHTs reasonable. My engine was not intercooled. I owned this airplane before the LOP craze and never experimented with LOP operation, which may have resulted in higher EGT values.

My overall maintenance experience was positive. The engine did not require unusual care despite its poor cooling. Vacuum pump life was poor, which I think was due to poor cooling and the fact that these are small pumps that are being asked to also run the deice boots. The pressurization system itself was trouble-free after an initial overhaul of the outflow valves accomplished shortly after I purchased the airplane.

For pilots considering a Piper Malibu over the Cessna P210, Ill offer my experience that the Malibu is a much better design, has a 5.5 PSI max differential cabin and performs better on almost all counts, in addition to having a much more comfortable cabin. It is also demands more from the pilot: its more expensive to maintain (fuel cost would be very similar) and of course to purchase and insure.
If the cabin size is not an issue for you, the P210 can provide very similar utility with a bit less performance and for significantly less money.

Kevin Malone
Traverse City, Michigan

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