The Turbo Sta­tion­air HD lived up to its rep­u­ta­tion for haul­ing cargo and peo­ple, and then some.


Flying - - Contents - By Rob Mark

The num­ber of sin­gle-en­gine air­planes ca­pa­ble of haul­ing a ton of cargo or six peo­ple around are pretty lim­ited these days. Cessna’s Car­a­van is a top choice, but that $2.2 mil­lion price tag of­ten puts it well out of reach for many pilots.

When I spent a day with a Cessna Turbo 206 in Wi­chita, Kansas, re­cently, I knew only of the six-place air­plane’s rep­u­ta­tion for haul­ing cargo and peo­ple. Not hav­ing flown one be­fore, I as­sumed it was just a big 182. Not even close, as it turns out.

The 182 uses a 230 hp Ly­coming to carry up to four peo­ple or fly just over 900 nm at just over 130 knots. At first glance, the Cessna Turbo 206H’s num­bers said it wouldn’t even fly 800 nm. But it did have six seats. Then I no­ticed that the T206, also called the Turbo Sta­tion­air, slices through the air at just over 160 knots thanks to a tur­bocharged 310 hp Ly­coming TIO-540 with a big three-bladed Mc­cauley prop hung on the front. Al­though pro­duc­tion rates for the Turbo 206 have slowed over the past decade, Cessna has built more than 1,200 of the Suv-like spe­cialty air­craft since 2000.

The 206 of­fers pilots plenty of flex­i­bil­ity, like adding fuse­lage hard­ware dur­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, mak­ing it easy to add floats or skis later. Cessna added a pair of op­tional eye hooks to the top of the wing to ease haul­ing a float­plane-equipped T206 out of the wa­ter to hose off the salt. The air­plane’s steel spring land­ing gear can be fit­ted with tun­dra tires to make back­coun­try fly­ing even more fun. Cessna even in­cluded mud flaps on the wheel fair­ings. As a bonus, Garmin’s new G1000 NXI avionics come stan­dard on a new T206.

A first-time 206 op­er­a­tor will do a dou­ble take when they re­al­ize the air­plane’s max load hov­ers just shy of 1,500 pounds, mea­sured against its 3,789-pound max take­off weight. Cessna re­cently in­creased the 206’s use­ful load by 180 pounds based on cus­tomer de­mands. That change trans­lates into an air­plane with room for six 200-pound peo­ple and more than two hours of fuel, per­fect for a VFR flight. If two of those pas­sen­gers hap­pen to be slightly less meaty, there’d be enough fuel for a two-and-a-half-hour IFR trip with re­serves based on a 20 gph fuel burn. A closer look at the weight and bal­ance doc­u­ments show it’s tough to push the cen­ter of grav­ity out­side the air­plane’s en­ve­lope. Sad­dling up six adults and toss­ing some weight in the rear cargo area could do it, but just barely. Sling­ing an op­tional cargo pod be­neath the belly opens the pos­si­bil­ity of load­ing 330 pounds of skis or golf clubs while keep­ing the CG in­tact.

Choos­ing the op­tional oxy­gen sys­tem pro­vides enough ca­pac­ity for six peo­ple to breathe as the T206 climbs to its 26,000-foot ser­vice ceil­ing. Cessna’s largest pis­ton-pow­ered air­plane also adds a door to the right rear of the fuse­lage to ease en­try to the rear cabin, al­though that ex­tra door comes at the loss of the tra­di­tional en­try­way on the right front of the fuse­lage. Pilots will be im­pressed with the air­plane’s short-field per­for­mance too, thanks to a pair of barn-door­like flaps that can ex­tend to 40 de­grees in the full-down po­si­tion. In­side the cabin, the seats come cov­ered in ei­ther real leather or Luxor syn­thetic ma­te­rial. Cessna says many buy­ers pre­fer the syn­thetic be­cause it’s eas­ier to main­tain.

I caught up with N254CS on the Cessna ramp at Wi­chita and be­gan the walk-around with my demo pi­lot, Chelsea Car­lin. The pre­flight be­gan in­side the cock­pit by turn­ing on the mas­ter switch to watch the new Garmin NXI avionics come alive in just five sec­onds. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the orig­i­nal G1000 and the new NXI is im­me­di­ately no­tice­able, not sim­ply be­cause of the faster boot-up speed, but thanks to the im­proved res­o­lu­tion and bril­liance of the dis­plays. Miss­ing on the NXI, how­ever, is an elec­tronic ver­sion of the pi­lot op­er­at­ing hand­book, as well as any elec­tronic method to cal­cu­late weight and bal­ance.

A typ­i­cally equipped T206 is de­liv­ered with an au­topi­lot and ADS-B In and Out stan­dard, as well as backup in­stru­ments to sup­port the NXI. The sys­tem in­cludes VFR charts and the op­tion for elec­tronic check­lists. Other T206 op­tions in­clude syn­thetic vi­sion, ter­rain aware­ness, air con­di­tion­ing, an L3 Storm­scope and a Safe­flight an­gle of at­tack in­di­ca­tor. Those real leather seats will set you back an ad­di­tional $4,500.

I set the fuel on the to­tal­izer un­der the Nxi’s en­gine sys­tem page to full, or 87 gal­lons. Our ramp weight this June af­ter­noon worked out to 3,270 pounds with two peo­ple on board, mea­sured against a max­i­mum weight of 3,809 pounds. Like a Cessna 172, the T206’s pre­ferred fuel tank se­lec­tor po­si­tion is on “both,” ex­cept to cope with an im­bal­ance. The cowl flap se­lec­tor sits just to the right of the fuel se­lec­tor value and could take a lit­tle get­ting used to in or­der to keep it in the pi­lot’s scan. Our T206’s shoul­der har­nesses were equipped with airbags.

Out­side again, it’s im­pos­si­ble to miss the huge el­e­va­tor on the 206 that cre­ates solid pitch con­trol. The T206 uses mas­sive ailerons too, with gates at the in­board edge to im­prove air­flow at slow speeds. Since the back doors open near the trail­ing edge of the right wing, Cessna in­stalled a mi­cro switch to pre­vent open­ing the doors with the flaps down, or low­er­ing the flaps when the doors are open to pre­vent dam­age to ei­ther. In an emer­gency, how­ever, even with the flaps down, there’s a sim­ple method of open­ing one door to be­gin ex­it­ing the air­craft.

A nifty safety op­tion makes the LED land­ing and taxi lights flash au­to­mat­i­cally when­ever the NXI no­tices nearby air traf­fic. The walk-around un­cov­ered no less than five un­der each wing fuel drain and three un­der the nose. Eight


quarts of crank­case oil is per­fect to fly, al­though it can be as low as 6½ and still be air­wor­thy.

Cessna pilots say they feel com­fort­able op­er­at­ing the T206 out of a 2,000-foot or longer hard-sur­face run­way. A shorter run­way is pos­si­ble but de­mands a bit more plan­ning, a topic that led Chelsea and me to a dis­cus­sion of power set­tings. The T206 likes 39 inches of man­i­fold pres­sure for take­off and climb, pulled back to 30 inches for cruise. Cowl flaps are al­most al­ways open from take­off to level off for cruise. The T206 is tur­bocharged, mean­ing the sys­tem’s tur­bine es­sen­tially stuffs ad­di­tional air into the en­gine to make it per­form as though it were still at sea level, giv­ing the pi­lot ac­cess to all 310 hp up through about 17,000 feet, one rea­son for the 206’s im­pres­sive climb per­for­mance. But this per­for­mance comes with a price, the need to be a bit gin­gerly with the throt­tle to pre­vent over­boost­ing the en­gine. The pi­lot must also watch the tur­bine in­let tem­per­a­ture gauge to pre­vent cook­ing the en­gine in the climb, be­cause the in­ter­nal tur­bine cre­ates an enor­mous amount of heat.

Once the big Ly­coming was idling, it pro­duced a throaty sound I’m sure made peo­ple nearby turn their heads. On the ground, lean­ing of the mix­ture is a con­cern, but usu­ally only when the den­sity alti­tude ex­ceeds 3,000 feet. At Den­ver though, where den­sity al­ti­tudes can eas­ily ap­proach five fig­ures on a warm day, ground lean­ing is a must to pre­vent the en­gine from quit­ting when the throt­tle is pulled back to idle. In the air, the Nxi’s lean as­sist func­tion helps de­liver a more ef­fi­cient fuel flow.

Taxi­ing the T206 through the rud­der ped­als de­liv­ers the feel of a much larger air­plane. The air­plane likes 10 de­grees of flaps for take­off, but de­pend­ing on the run­way length, 20 de­grees is also a pos­si­bil­ity. At sea level and max­i­mum take­off weight, 20 de­grees of flaps yields a ground run of just 1,000 feet, even with an OAT hov­er­ing in the mid-80s.

On take­off roll, I brought the man­i­fold pres­sure to the full 39 inches. Chelsea told me to ro­tate at 56 knots and climb at 90 knots. By 40 knots, I could al­ready feel the big sin­gle was telling me it was ready to fly. Af­ter break­ing ground, the T206 quickly ac­cel­er­ated to 90 and I added back-pres­sure for the climb, re­tract­ing the flaps through 200 feet.

The ba­sic physics of fly­ing a pis­ton sin­gle came back to me very quickly in the T206, be­cause with 310 hp and that big three-bladed prop, the need for a sig­nif­i­cant amount of right rud­der was ap­par­ent as soon as the air­craft be­gan to roll. The T206 is not an air­plane for the faint of foot. In fact, rud­der move­ment was needed


through­out the flight, con­trary to the feet-flat-on-the-floor method of fly­ing that many pilots use these days. Luck­ily, the T206 comes stan­dard with an ad­justable rud­der trim.

Hold­ing 90 knots, we were climb­ing at 1,000 fpm. For me, at least, that spec­tac­u­lar climb rate also made it nearly im­pos­si­ble to see over the nose. I low­ered the deck an­gle and ac­cel­er­ated to 125 knots and found I was still climb­ing at 600 fpm. Chelsea re­ally liked a slower speed, so I tried 110 knots and found the air­plane climb­ing at 1,400 fpm. When we left Wi­chita’s airspace a few min­utes later, I lev­eled at 4,500 feet and re­duced power to 30 inches and 2,400 rpm, which trans­lated into a 20 gph flow.

Vis­i­bil­ity out the T206 wind­shield is nice con­sid­er­ing it’s a high-wing air­plane and much above and be­hind is hid­den. The air­plane is a bit heavy on the con­trols, but not overly so. Just enough, I thought, to of­fer the solid feel I’d like on an air­plane in the clouds. I pulled the throt­tle back to 20 inches to get closer to the 125-knot ma­neu­ver­ing speed to pre­pare for some 45-de­gree bank turns. Be ready to use those rud­der ped­als in the turns.

For traf­fic pat­tern prac­tice, Chelsea sug­gested 18 inches of man­i­fold pres­sure. The first notch of flaps can go down at 140 knots, mak­ing this a sweet ma­chine to fly where jets

might be nip­ping at your tail feath­ers. The 206 likes 90 to 100 knots in the VFR pat­tern. Just be ready for a bit of a pitch up when those flaps start to ex­tend. In a typ­i­cal VFR ap­proach end­ing in full flaps, we planned to cross the thresh­old at 70 to 75 knots. I tried a few con­fig­u­ra­tion changes be­fore we tried a land­ing, and I’m glad I did. While the air­plane is easy to fly, drop­ping that last notch of flaps (40 de­grees) feels as if some­one has thrown out an an­chor. Be­ing low and slow near the ground be­fore drop­ping that last notch could de­liver a face full of trees to an un­sus­pect­ing pi­lot.

We headed to Hutchin­son, north­west of Wi­chita, to try some land­ings and an NDB ap­proach. The land­ings went well af­ter the first one when I con­firmed Chelsea’s re­minder about that last notch of flaps, mak­ing me re­al­ize I’d prob­a­bly not add full flaps af­ter break­ing out at IFR min­i­mums. With just 20 de­grees, the T206 can eas­ily pass over a 50-foot ob­sta­cle and stop in un­der 1,500 feet, so there’s no need to as­sume ev­ery land­ing de­mands all the drag. While the nose re­mained lower on fi­nal dur­ing a zero-flap ap­proach, the air­plane didn’t float all that much be­fore touch­down.

The NDB ap­proach, some­thing I haven’t flown in years, took a bit more plan­ning us­ing the elec­tron­ics. To legally fly an NDB, this air­plane was equipped with an NDB re­ceiver. While it might seem easy to as­sume a GPS over­lay will mark the lo­ca­tor outer marker to Run­way 13 at HUT, that NDB re­ceiver is still re­quired. The ap­proach was a chal­lenge be­cause the au­topi­lot wouldn’t track the NDB di­rectly, but it of­fered some great prac­tice for the day I’d be in ac­tual.

As we headed back to ICT, I planned for a full-flap land­ing when we ran into the only hic­cup of the day, al­though it had noth­ing to do with the air­plane. The dis­tance from HUT to ICT is about 40 miles, but it took us nearly 35 min­utes to fly due to the ar­rival con­troller’s vec­tor­ing tech­niques that put us on a wide down­wind 20 miles west and south­west of the air­port be­fore we per­suaded him to let us turn to­ward the field. Not a ter­ri­ble in­con­ve­nience, of course, but I’ve cer­tainly seen the ICT con­trollers do a whole lot bet­ter.

Once we shut down back at the Cessna ramp, it was easy to see why peo­ple love this air­plane. It’s both fast and ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a lot of peo­ple and cargo and in­cludes just about ev­ery mod­ern con­ve­nience. De­spite the price dif­fer­ence be­tween a new typ­i­cally equipped T206, about $665,000, and the 182 I’d first com­pared it to that runs about $180,000 less with the same equip­ment, I couldn’t for the life of me un­der­stand why any­one wouldn’t choose a T206 over the 182. But of course, I’m not the guy writ­ing the check.


5. Garmin’s new NXI of­fers crisp graphics and bril­liant col­ors that are im­me­di­ately no­tice­able by any­one step­ping up from the orig­i­nal G1000.

6. Pilots not used to op­er­at­ing a big en­gine will need to add the cowl flap han­dle to their scan to pre­vent over­heat­ing, es­pe­cially dur­ing ex­tended climbs.

Oxy­gen for six peo­ple is op­tional on the C206 (left). The dou­ble doors at the right rear of the cabin make load­ing cargo a snap, as well as ease en­try and exit for the four peo­ple us­ing the rear seats.

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