Flight test: SIAIMarchetti S.205

...might look like a PA-28 but of­fers all the fine han­dling and per­for­mance that you would ex­pect from such a distin­guished Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words Dave Un­win Pho­tos Keith Wil­son

The mar­que’s fine her­itage shines through in the four-seater’s fine han­dling and ex­cel­lent per­for­mance

As we fly across The Wash to­wards the rusty ship­wreck, I nudge Fen­land Ae­ro­club’s CFI Steve Brown and boast, “I once dropped a bomb on that!” He’s not im­pressed.

I’m of­ten asked up at the glid­ing club if I’ve re­cently flown any­thing in­ter­est­ing for Pi­lot, and when I said “yes, a rather fine Siai-marchetti” they all went “Ooh, Sf.260−cool”, as one oc­ca­sion­ally vis­its Saltby. How­ever, while it’s true that the sleek, sexy SF.260 is the first type that comes to mind when you say ‘SIAIMarchetti’ in fact the Ital­ian com­pany built sev­eral suc­ces­ful GA air­craft in the 1960s and 1970s, in­clud­ing the sub­ject of this month’s flight test, the S.205-20/R.

The S.205 can trace its lin­eage as far back as 1915, when the orig­i­nal com­pany was founded as SIAI ('So­ci­età Idro­volanti Alta Italia' - Sea­plane Com­pany of North­ern Italy). Af­ter World War I it gained the name Savoia, when it ac­quired the So­ci­età Anon­ima Costruzioni Aero­nau­tiche Savoia, the name Marchetti be­ing added when chief de­signer Alessandro Marchetti joined the com­pany in 1922. Savoia-marchetti ini­tially spe­cialised in fly­ing boats and sea­planes, and was much favoured by famed Ital­ian Air Mar­shal Italo Balbo. It also built bombers, freighters and air­lin­ers, and was re­named Siai-marchetti in 1943.

In 1964, it be­gan work on a new fam­ily of all-metal GA four-seaters, the S.205. The brain­child of Siai-marchetti’s head de­signer, Alexan­der Brena, the ba­sic type was de­signed from the start to en­com­pass sev­eral vari­ants, with en­gine power rang­ing from 180 to 300hp, and with ei­ther a fixed, or re­tractable tri­cy­cle un­der­car­riage as stan­dard. The idea of course was to pro­vide a wide range of mod­els, from ba­sic trainer to so­phis­ti­cated tourer. The pro­to­type, (a 180hp, fixed un­der­car­riage S.205-18/F) made its de­but at the 1965 Paris Air Show, and SIAIMarchetti even­tu­ally pro­duced around 620 S.205s, spread over six dif­fer­ent ver­sions and pow­ered by three dif­fer­ent en­gines. The type was also mar­keted in the US as the Waco S.220, pow­ered by a 220hp Franklin air-cooled flat-six. The test air­craft is pos­si­bly the most numer­ous ver­sion, a S.205-20/R, and I meet it on a rather blus­tery July day at Fen­land Ae­ro­club in Lin­colnshire. My ini­tial im­pres­sions are that it’s not the pret­ti­est air­craft I’ve ever seen, pos­si­bly be­cause as the un­der­car­riage is quite short and the em­pen­nage rel­a­tively long, it doesn’t look quite right. How­ever, although it may look like a bit of an ‘ugly duck­ling’ on the ground, I soon learn that it trans­forms into a grace­ful swan in flight.

Dur­ing the pre­flight I’m struck by the high build qual­ity. Very well made and in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, it’s hard to be­lieve this aero­plane is fifty years old. Some­what sur­pris­ingly (bear­ing in mind the

im­por­tance of drag re­duc­tion) the nose is dis­tinctly blunt. Power is pro­vided by a four-cylin­der air-cooled Ly­coming IO-360A1A, which turns a Hartzell two-blade metal, con­stant-speed pro­pel­ler. Ac­cess to the en­gine is ex­cel­lent, as the cowl­ing hinges open on both sides. There’s a land­ing light mounted in the front of the cowl­ing, be­low the prop. The fuel (a use­ful 210 litres) is car­ried in the wings. How­ever, un­like most air­craft in this class, Steve claims it is pos­si­ble to put an adult on each of the four seats, fill both the tanks and the bag­gage bay, and re­main be­low the 1,300kg max­i­mum all-up weight. As very few four-seat air­craft can carry four adults and full fuel, let alone any bag­gage, I am slightly scep­ti­cal of this, but a quick cal­cu­la­tion re­veals that this is in­deed the case. A fur­ther cal­cu­la­tion con­firms an equally im­pres­sive still-air range of around 740 nau­ti­cal miles, mak­ing it an em­i­nently prac­ti­cal tourer.

The rugged-look­ing un­der­car­riage is elec­tri­cally ac­tu­ated, the steer­able nose­wheel re­tract­ing back­wards into the fuse­lage and the main­wheels in­wards into the wings, giv­ing a rel­a­tively short wheel­base but wide track. When re­tracted, the nose­wheel re­mains com­pletely un­cov­ered, as do the main­wheels, although small doors cover the legs.

The can­tilever wings use an early lam­i­nar flow aero­foil, the NACA 63 se­ries, and fea­ture about five de­grees of di­he­dral and one de­gree of washout be­tween the root and the tip. Large hon­ey­comb pan­els are used in the wing’s con­struc­tion, pro­vid­ing strength and rigid­ity with­out too much weight. The big slot­ted flaps are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing, as they are built in

two sec­tions. Me­chan­i­cally ac­tu­ated, they of­fer four po­si­tions: 0, 15°, 30° and 43°. Aft of the cock­pit a dor­sal fil­let joins with the mildly swept fin, which car­ries a rel­a­tively nar­row chord rud­der. The two-piece el­e­va­tor is mass-balanced and car­ried by the can­tilever tailplane, there’s a large ca­ble-op­er­ated trim tab in the port el­e­va­tor half and ground-ad­justable trim tabs on the rud­der and star­board aileron.

A big bag­gage bay be­hind the cock­pit is ac­cessed via an equally large door on the star­board side. It can carry al­most sixty ki­los and is ac­ces­si­ble in flight. Ac­cess to the cock­pit is via a sin­gle door on the star­board side. It is a good step up onto the wide wing root walk­way, and I would say the aero­plane could do with a re­tractable step to help climb up onto the wing. I’d cer­tainly rec­om­mend putting the flaps fully down be­fore al­low­ing peo­ple to board, other­wise an er­rant heel could eas­ily dam­age the flap. The cabin has quite a spa­cious feel and the

large win­dows let in plenty of light, which adds to the sense of space. The cock­pit’s lay­out is typ­i­cal of a mid 1960s GA air­craft, a time when the sci­ence of er­gonomics wasn’t as well un­der­stood as it is to­day. Con­se­quently, while some as­pects are per­fectly sat­is­fac­tory, oth­ers are dis­tinctly less so! Although the pat­tern of the pri­mary fly­ing in­stru­ments does loosely fol­low the ‘Ba­sic Six’ ar­range­ment the ac­tual installation is more hap­haz­ard than usual. The ASI is on the far left of the panel and then there is a proper Turn & Slip and a large mod­ern HSI, with the at­ti­tude in­di­ca­tor di­rectly above. Then there’s an al­time­ter and VSI, plus a VOR/ ILS and ADF. Be­low the VSI is the tachome­ter, with a cu­ri­ously large com­bined man­i­fold pres­sure/fuel flow gauge to its right. The cen­tre of the panel is dom­i­nated by a Garmin GTN 750, and im­me­di­ately to its right is a block of six small square gauges that show the fuel quan­tity in each tank, oil tem­per­a­ture and pres­sure, amps and cylin­der head tem­per­a­ture. Half-hidden be­hind the P2’s yoke are the fuel pres­sure, EGT and suc­tion gauges plus the standby at­ti­tude in­di­ca­tor. I thought the lat­ter par­tic­u­larly poorly sited, and wouldn’t like to have to tran­si­tion on to it in se­ri­ous IMC. A real anom­aly (at least in my ex­pe­ri­ence) is the lo­ca­tion of the un­der­car­riage se­lec­tor, which is on the far left of the panel. This means that just af­ter take­off you must change hands on the yoke. There are two lights lo­cated next to it, one for un­der­car­riage ‘Up’, one for ‘Down’−and although I’d ob­vi­ously pre­fer lights for each wheel, there is also a me­chan­i­cal un­der­car­riage po­si­tion in­di­ca­tor. This is a red rod about 10cm long, with a white knob on top that makes it look a bit like a knit­ting nee­dle, and is lo­cated on the floor, at the base of the cen­tre con­sole. It is op­er­ated by the nose leg and goes up and down ver­ti­cally, which is why you can’t see it in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pic­tures (with the wheels down the white knob sits on the car­pet). If you’ve se­lected the un­der­car­riage down but the red rod shows it is still up, the emer­gency ex­ten­sion sys­tem is op­er­ated by a red crank han­dle next to the P1’s left knee.

A sub-panel be­low the in­stru­ment panel car­ries the park­ing brake, a row of rugged-look­ing tum­bler switches, starter and mag­ne­tos and al­ter­nate air in front of the P1. The cir­cuit break­ers are ar­ranged in front of P2. In the cen­tre are plungers for the throt­tle, pro­pel­ler and mix­ture, prop and mix­ture be­ing of the Vernier type. There’s a big ‘John­son Bar’ be­tween

the seats for the flaps, shar­ing this lo­ca­tion with the fuel se­lec­tor, el­e­va­tor trim wheel and trim in­di­ca­tor. These last two items look like they’ve been bor­rowed from a boat. Like the rest of the air­craft, the non-ad­justable rud­der ped­als are big, beefy and built to last. The tops pivot to op­er­ate the hy­draulic disc brakes, but only on the P1’s side. I’ve seen bet­ter de­signed cock­pits, but I’ve also def­i­nitely seen worse! As I in­ti­mated ear­lier, it’s pretty well par for the course for a ma­chine of this class and vin­tage.

The seats ad­just and are very com­fort­able, but un­sur­pris­ingly are only fit­ted with a three-point in­er­tia reel har­ness. On the plus side there’s a large, per­fectly sited DV panel and ex­cel­lent Rosen sun vi­sors. There’s no primer, so hav­ing used the elec­tric fuel pump to pres­surise the fuel line you sim­ply close the mix­ture, en­gage the starter and re­set the mix­ture to ‘rich’ as soon as it fires. Slightly sur­pris­ingly, cowl flaps aren’t fit­ted.

Ex­cel­lent ground han­dling

Taxy­ing out re­veals the 205 to have ex­cel­lent ground-han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics. The nose­wheel steers through the rud­der ped­als and is pos­i­tive with­out be­ing twitchy, the disc brakes are pow­er­ful but not ‘grabby’ and the field of view is good.

While chang­ing fuel tanks prior to the run-up I re­alise that, un­like mod­ern fuel se­lec­tors, there is no de­tent to stop you in­ad­ver­tently se­lect­ing ‘Off’−the 205 is from an era when pi­lots were ex­pected not to make such ba­sic mis­takes.

Pre-take­off checks com­plete, I line up the with the cen­tre­line of Fen­land’s 600 me­tre Run­way 18 and ease open the throt­tle. I’m ex­pect­ing to need a fair bit of right rud­der at the start of the take­off roll, and am sur­prised at how lit­tle is re­quired. As men­tioned ear­lier, the wing uses an early lam­i­nar flow sec­tion, and dur­ing the pre­flight brief­ing Steve had em­pha­sised that I must not pull the air­craft off the

The over­all ‘feel’ pro­duces a very favourable im­pres­sion

ground but sim­ply raise the nose at sixty knots, then let it fly when it’s ready. The ac­cel­er­a­tion is ex­cel­lent, although with just Steve and me−and only half fuel−on board, we are about 270kg be­low MAUW. As the nee­dle of the ASI sweeps rapidly past sixty, I ease back on the yoke to lift the nose­wheel off the ground, the main­wheels soon fol­low and we’re air­borne af­ter a ground roll of about 300 me­tres. A quick dab of the toe brakes be­fore swap­ping hands on the yoke and se­lect­ing un­der­car­riage ‘up’, then change hands again, re­tract the flaps, just nudge the trim­mer (which is very nicely geared) and set off in pur­suit of Fen­land’s C172, cam­era­ship for the day, with the VSI in­di­cat­ing a strong 1,000fpm at 75kt. Al­most im­me­di­ately the over­all ‘feel’ of the air­craft pro­duces a very favourable im­pres­sion. The pri­mary con­trols are pow­er­ful, pre­cise, and also agree­ably light, well balanced and nicely har­monised, with low break­out force and min­i­mal ‘stic­tion’. The field of view is ex­cel­lent as the wrap­around wind­screen is large and curves up­wards to­wards the roof, while the wind­screen’s cen­tre­post is not ob­tru­sive. As we cross over the coast and go ‘feet wet’ the Cessna’s win­dow opens and cam­era­man Keith beck­ons me into close for­ma­tion. The abil­ity to hold for­ma­tion, cross-con­trolled and within a wing­span, was prob­a­bly not high on de­signer Brena’s wish list, but in fact the 205 copes eas­ily and Keith soon gets his pic­tures. The han­dling re­ally is very good in­deed, and ex­cel­lent for an air­craft de­signed as a tourer. As we move into close for­ma­tion I urge Steve to “give Keith your bright­est smile−we might make the cover”. “I don’t do smiles” he re­torts, “just var­i­ous lev­els of glum­ness.”

With all the pho­tos in the can, I break down­wards and away from the 172 in a long sweep­ing curve and we race back across The Wash. I point out to Steve the semi-sub­merged wreck of one of the rust­ing

hulks that the RAF use for tar­get prac­tice, and ca­su­ally men­tion that the last time I saw it I was look­ing through the gun­sight of a Jaguar T.4. He’s not im­pressed, and I re­turn to the eval­u­a­tion pro­gramme.

Although it han­dles like a sports plane the 205 was de­signed as a tourer, so the first thing to do is have a look at the cruise per­for­mance. Steve rec­om­mends a power set­ting of 24/24 (24 inches of man­i­fold pres­sure with the prop set for 2,400rpm), and the nee­dle of the ASI soon set­tles on 135kt, at 6,000ft giv­ing a true air speed of 147kt. This is achieved with a fuel burn of around 36 litres per hour, which I think is pretty good for a fifty-year old four-seater. Ad­just­ing throt­tle and prop to a more eco­nom­i­cal 21/21 still gives 125kt TAS at 28 litres per hour, while pulling the power right back to a thrifty 20/20 drops the fuel flow down to 24, the TAS still up at 120kt. These are good num­bers−but then, the 205 was de­signed to be an ef­fi­cient tourer and is in its el­e­ment in the cruise. The ‘ride qual­ity’ is also very good−not quite like a light twin’s but not far off.

Mov­ing on to a look at sta­bil­ity re­veals it to be strongly pos­i­tive lon­gi­tu­di­nally, neu­tral lat­er­ally and very pos­i­tive di­rec­tion­ally, hands off. I think the 205 wouldn’t be too oner­ous to fly on in­stru­ments, although the dis­tinctly for­ward C of G to­day is help­ing us.

The low-speed han­dling and stall char­ac­ter­is­tics will prove in­ter­est­ing, but first we have to slow down. One of the prob­lems with han­dling aero­dy­nam­i­cally clean, high-speed air­craft pow­ered by air-cooled en­gines is how to slow down and/or come down quickly, with­out shock-cool­ing the en­gine. Some air­craft (such as the Cessna TTX, see Pi­lot, Oc­to­ber 2017) man­age this perennial prob­lem with wing-mounted speed­brakes, while for one of the 205’s con­tem­po­raries, the Bo­nanza, Beech’s en­gi­neers came up with the very el­e­gant so­lu­tion of de­sign­ing the un­der­car­riage with a very high lim­it­ing speed of 140kt (in­creased to 154 on later mod­els). Both ar­range­ments al­low the pi­lot to de­scend at a rea­son­able rate

while keep­ing some power on and can be very use­ful, par­tic­u­larly when fly­ing into busy air­fields or when given a ‘slam-dunk’ clear­ance. As the 205 does not have cowl flaps and the un­der­car­riage and flap lim­it­ing speeds are both rel­a­tively low (95kt and 89kt re­spec­tively) you need to plan ahead. With the flaps and un­der­car­riage up it stalls around 55 knots, and this drops to 48-49 with flap 30. The pre-stall buf­fet is quite sub­tle, but the ac­tual stall is very be­nign, with no ten­dency to drop a wing. In fact, if the air­craft is slowed at 1kt/sec it never truly stalls, but just sort of ‘mushes’ down­wards with a high sink rate.

Tak­ing gusty winds in its stride

Back at Fen­land, the fine han­dling con­tin­ues to im­press. Changes in pitch trim when low­er­ing the un­der­car­riage and ex­tend­ing the flaps are neg­li­gi­ble and eas­ily trimmed out, while the ex­cel­lent field of view is−as al­ways−much ap­pre­ci­ated.

The wind has picked up since we left and is now re­ally quite strong and gusty, but the 205 takes it all in its stride. In­ter­est­ingly, although it re­ally is a fine han­dling ma­chine and is em­i­nently con­trol­lable the 205 also pos­sesses ex­cel­lent sta­bil­ity, and is ex­tremely speed-sta­ble. Steve rec­om­mends seventy knots on fi­nal, bleed­ing back to a ‘last­look’ speed of sixty over the fence, and I have no dif­fi­culty main­tain­ing the briefed speeds, de­spite the tur­bu­lent con­di­tions. All the way down fi­nal it feels very solid.

For the first land­ing I use the rec­om­mended set­ting of flap 30 and this works per­fectly well, so for the sec­ond

It’s a lovely ma­chine, with fine han­dling and ex­cel­lent per­for­mance

ap­proach I use full flap. You’d think that with those big flaps dan­gling down at 43° the aero­plane would re­ally bleed en­ergy in the flare, and I’m ready to catch a high sink rate with a sug­ges­tion of power. How­ever, much to my sur­prise as it en­ters ground ef­fect it starts to float, and seems quite re­luc­tant to sit down. I can only sur­mise that with full flap the air gets trapped un­der the wing and cre­ates a cush­ion, as we float fur­ther and land longer. Any­way, flap 30 is clearly the way to go.

While de­brief­ing over a cof­fee in Fen­land’s com­fort­able club­house it was ob­vi­ous that both Steve and and cam­era­ship pi­lot Paul Brian are en­am­oured with the 205 and I can see why−it’s a lovely ma­chine, with fine han­dling and ex­cel­lent per­for­mance.

The most ob­vi­ous bench­mark, both in the 1960s and to­day, would be Piper’s pop­u­lar Chero­kee Ar­row, which is also an all-metal low-wing re­tractable four-seater pow­ered by a 200hp IO-360. The air­craft share sim­i­lar di­men­sions and masses (the MAUWS are within three ki­los of each other), although the S.205 has a slightly greater use­ful load. The Ar­row is marginally faster and has a greater Vne, but the S.205 has a bet­ter rate of climb and slower stall speed. An as­sess­ment of the han­dling qual­i­ties can typ­i­cally be di­vided into quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive, but in both re­spects I’d have to give the hon­ours to the Ital­ian. If you’ve ever jumped straight from a Chevro­let into an Alfa Romeo you’ll know what I mean.

Un­like many of its con­tem­po­raries, the S.205 is also quite com­fort­able on grass, and Steve has flown it into and out of the farm strip where my Jodel D.9 Buzz lives!

And here’s an ad­di­tional bonus for ev­ery­one else: un­like most of the air­craft I test for Pi­lot this S.205-20/R is avail­able for rent, so if you want to sam­ple this very rare Ital­ian thor­ough­bred give the very friendly Fen­land Ae­ro­club a call.

The re­tractable-un­der­car­riage S.205 is a slip­pery ship, speed man­age­ment re­quir­ing some care

Seat­ing is com­fort­able and the trim is nicely done in at­trac­tive colours

The S.205 copes with gusty con­di­tions with ease and can be op­er­ated with­out prob­lem from rel­a­tively short grass strips

'Echo Ho­tel’s ‘steam gauge’ panel has been neatly up­dated with 21st cen­tury nav/comms. The dif­fer­ently-shaped en­gine and prop con­trols reflect good orig­i­nal de­sign prac­tice

From left: el­e­va­tor trim­mer and fuel se­lec­tor, tucked rather out of sight be­tween the seats; the emer­gency un­der­car­riage ex­ten­sion crank han­dle; and, sprout­ing from the floor, the neat rud­der/brake ped­als

Clock­wise from above: As with the fa­mil­iar Piper PA-28 se­ries, cabin ac­cess is via a sin­gle door on the star­board side; the sixty-kilo ca­pac­ity luggage bay has its own door and can be reached from in­side the cabin in flight; un­like the PA-28, the S.205...

Cu­ri­ously, U/C doors cover the legs but not the wheels

‘Echo Ho­tel’s paint job makes the best of the S.205’s lines

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