Cessna 310

Still the Sky King?

May 1, 1994

Forty years in the life of a twin-engine legend

As with the Corvette in television's Route 66 or the doomed powerboat SS Minnow in Gilligan's Island, the Cessna 310 likely will always take us back to the days of Sky King. Spot a jaunty-tailed, tuna-tanked twin across the ramp, and into the mind flash the exploits of Sky, Penny, and Song Birds II and III, plying the blue western skies doing good deeds for society, the network, and show sponsor Nabisco.

A 310 wasn't Sky King's first on-screen accomplice; there was a T- 50 Bamboo Bomber before it, but the later twin Cessna is perhaps the most memorable. At the time of its 1954 introduction, the Cessna 310, a model unsullied by a marketing-commanded name, proved emblematic of the time. It was a big, bold twin of modern construction, from a country finding its technological feet in ever-grander, ever-improved products.

Cessna entered the light-twin market a clear overdog in late 1954. Piper's Apache had come onto the scene about a year earlier, but with 150 horsepower a side, the PA-23 proved no match for the 310 in performance. To say nothing of looks: Even the early, straight-tailed, blunt-nosed 310s struck a rakish pose next to the rotund Apache. It's easy to imagine the well-to-do entrepreneur rumbling up to the gas pumps in his tall, handsome 310, its pair of 240-hp Continentals barking through augmenter pipes. The sight must have created quite a stir on the ramp.

Not only did the 310 start out a strapping young twin, but it lived a long and fruitful life, finally surrendering to old age and declining market share in 1981. Through its 28-year production span, the 310 evolved from a five-seater with pressure-carbureted engines to a high- flying turbocharged six-placer with known-icing certification. Cessna's landmark twin also begat a larger turbocharged model, the 320, in 1963, and provided the basis for the pressurized 340.

Thanks to the long life of the airplane and the many changes made to it, an almost bewildering array of choices exist for the 310 buyer. For the budget-minded, an early 310 can be a (relatively) inexpensive entry to the world of twin engines. Maintenance concerns and the inexorable march of time — these first 310s are 40 years old now, after all — can make the purchase of the 1950s and 1960s models chancy. If you have a hankering for old and complex airplanes, the 310 might well fit the bill, so long as you know that the initial maintenance bills can be thrilling. Remember, also, that the cost of maintaining an airplane like the 310 is keyed more to its health and the price of parts than the purchase price.

At the other extreme of the line, the last models of the 310 can be counted on to perform transportation duties with the capability of newer models, and the prices reflect this ability. Where the first few models can be had for less than $25,000, the last in the line will set you back about $140,000, according to the Aircraft Bluebook-Price Digest.

Such a price span reflects the ongoing evolution wrought by Cessna. And although you certainly can pick out the family resemblance, under the skin a 1954 bird is a substantially different animal than a 1981 example.

One of the earmarks of the line's changes concerns horsepower. Starting with pressure-carbureted 240-hp O-470 Continentals, the 310 gained real fuel injection and an additional 20 hp per side with the C model, in 1959. Several variants of the IO-470 were used through the 1975 model year in the 310Q. General opinion of the IO-470 has always been good, and it seems the model has performed quite well in the 310. According to owners and mechanics, the 470s live a long and happy life under 310 cowls, and the number of service difficulty reports slated for the 470-powered airplanes is proportionally lower than for the IO-520 and TSIO-520 versions. The bigger Continental came aboard in the 1975 model, the R. It's interesting to note that through the life of the 310, engine power was increased only 45 hp a side. Compare this to the Beech light twins, which began with 180-hp Lycomings in the Travel Air and culminated (imploded, some say) with a pair of turbocharged 380-hp monsters in the 56TC.

Other variations on the 310 theme will tip you off to the airplane's age. Yes, we're talking tuna tanks, those slightly clunky vessels at the ends of the wings, slated to hold 50 gallons of fuel each. (Such nicknames come from the tank's fish-like profile.) The tip tanks became twin Cessna hallmark. So-called "Stabila Tips," with an upward cant, arrived with the 1963 G model. Presumably, the canted tanks were to improve lateral stability by imparting additional wing dihedral. And the 310 needed help in this department, what with 300 pounds of avgas way out there on the wing. You could say that it has substantial roll inertia.

As Cessna did to virtually all its models in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the 310 received a swept vertical fin in place of the upright tail used through the 1959 model. At the other end of the airplane, the 310 nose grew, Pinocchio-like, through the decades, making a big leap with the 1975 R model. In the midst of all this, the cabin was enlarged, and the model became a six-seater with the 1963 310H. Windows were added and lengthened through the 310's gestation as well.

Another significant change came with the 1964 I model: The overwing augmenter tubes gave way to conventional exhaust plumbing. Pulsing exhaust gases in the augmenters were supposed to create a suction of cooling air through the cowling, on the premise that at high power, more suction would be created and therefore cooling would be improved. And although the system worked, exhaust gases, being quite corrosive, wreaked havoc on the wing structure. Many early 310s suffer substantial corrosion at the aft spar and wing skins, and such trouble unnoticed during the prepurchase inspection can leave the new 310 owner feeling a bit blue.

Flying the Cessna 310 is, on the other hand, a pleasure. One of Cessna's great triumphs through the decades has been the success in making transitions up through the line relatively painless for pilots. That means the 310 flies like other Cessnas, with the caveats about its greater weight and speed taken into account. Pitch response is heaviest, roll the lightest, with generally good stick force per G and longitudinal stability. Pilots coming from other light twins will recognize the 310's as a large step up; it feels like a much larger, more substantial airplane than, say, an Apache or Travel Air. As for those moving up through the Cessna line, a 210 pilot will most definitely notice the 310's heavier controls, higher wing loading, and greater approach and landing speeds. It is a bigger jump from the complex single into the 310 than it is for, say, a pilot moving from a Bonanza to a Baron.

In the single-engine category, the 310 also performs reasonably well, however few light twins are truly spectacular with one engine inoperative. Early 310s could manage 415 feet per minute on one engine at maximum gross weight (4,700 pounds in the 310B). As the maximum weights increased, the single-engine climb rate decreased; the T310R, at its 5,500-pound maximum, is supposed to ascend at 390 fpm at sea level with one feathered. Single-engine service ceiling went up with the turbo models, to 17,200 feet in the T310R; a 310B could hold 7,700 feet on one engine.

If there's an aspect of the 310's handling qualities likely to catch a novice pilot out, it is single-engine procedures near the runway. For one thing, the all-electric gear is not particularly quick to stow. This coupled with the natural rolling tendencies caused by the tip-mounted fuel tanks, can make for a busy few moments immediately following engine failure. Experienced 310 pilots say that minimizing aileron inputs is the only way to prevent the 310 from rocking around the pattern like a rowboat in high seas. In general terms, the 310's a sweetheart, a veritable immovable object on instruments and a good, if somewhat stiff, rider in turbulence. Another tip from the 310 experts: To offset the nose-up pitching moment upon deploying the split flaps, select gear-down simultaneously. Drop the wheels and 15 degrees of flap, and the pitch changes will cancel each other out.

Speed has always been a strong 310 selling point, for good reason. With the 240-hp engines, the 310 will turn in cruise speeds of 183 knots (70-percent power at 7,500 feet, burning 25 gallons per hour total) and climb with both engines at better than 1,600 fpm from sea level. More weight in later models about makes up for the extra power: A 260-hp-a-side Q model turns in 186 knots (71 percent at 7,500 feet, on 26.5 gph) and climbs at 1,495 fpm; not bad considering the Q's 600-pound higher maximum gross weight. Finally, the 285-hp versions will do just over 190 knots on 29 gph.

Naturally, the turbocharged 310s are the quickest, showing 198 knots at 10,000 feet (on 74 percent and 31 gph) and 220 knots at 20,000 feet with the same settings. All the T310s come with Garrett turbochargers and automatic wastegates and are conservatively boosted. Where some versions of the TSIO-520 have been pushed to 325 hp, the 310's engines are practically loafing at 285 hp. Maximum boost for a sea-level takeoff is a moderate 32 inches. However, the turbos are relatively small, and power is down to 55 percent by 25,000 feet at the maximum recommended cruise rpm of 2,350. Operators say the T310s work best in the high teens.

Although the engine-compartment systems of the various 310s are fairly straightforward, the same cannot be said for the fuel system. It all started innocently enough, with those 50-gallon tip tanks as the only containers of fuel. Designed to shear off in the event of a crash, the tips were the only tanks until the 1958 B model. Then Cessna installed auxiliary tanks in the wings, good for an extra 40 total gallons. Wing locker tanks, each with 20 gallons total capacity, became options with the 1967 models. You could order one or both of the locker tanks. Finally, the auxiliary tanks were enlarged once more, in 1973, to 63 gallons total. Together, this means that 310s came with total capacities of 100, 140, 163, 183, or 203 gallons. A long-range airplane has six tanks and 10 fuel pumps.

Confused? Wait until you have to manage the tanks. Two main traps await the unwary 310 driver. First, all 310s suck more fuel from the tanks than the engines will use; both the pressure carburetor and fuel injection models have a return line from the engine compartments. However, this connection returns fuel only to the main tank on the same side as the engine. This means that using fuel from either the auxiliary tank on the same side, or the main tank on the opposite side, about half the fuel flow will be moving to the same-side main. When the main reaches capacity from the return fuel, any excess is sent overboard, and you can't cross-feed auxiliary fuel. Second, is the locker-tank scheme. Most airplanes have just one of these, and its contents cannot be consumed directly by the engines. Instead, locker fuel must be pumped to the corresponding main tank. So if you have a right-side locker, you will have to draw down the right main by at least 20 gallons to make room for the locker fuel and then crossfeed the left engine to minimize lateral imbalance from those extra 120 pounds now out on the right wing tip.

Three-ten shoppers (and pilots) would do well to sit down with a jug of coffee and a good reading lamp and bone up on this airplane's fuel system.

We also sat down with a warm stack of service difficulty reports and discovered that the 310's gear system is, quite literally, its Achilles' heel. Out of 225 SDRs (for about 150 different airplanes), we counted more than 40 regarding the gear alone. Maladies include broken or cracked mounts, support structures, actuator rods, door hinges and actuators, shock struts, and bellcranks. We noted several cases of full or partial gear collapse thanks to parts failures. More than half of the reports target the main gear. This lesson ought to be clear: Carefully and thoroughly inspect the gear system on any 310 considered for purchase. Also, consider it a bonus if the airplane is fitted with retrofit Cleveland brakes; the original Goodyears are known to be somewhat troublesome and expensive to maintain.

Next on the SDR hit parade comes engine troubles. We counted five in-flight cylinder/barrel separations, three on the IO-520-powered R model. In addition, cylinder cracks that had not yet proceeded toward jug failure were noted in five other cases, all but one on a 520. Case cracks showed up three times, one of those on an IO-470. Continental 520s also broke crankshafts in two cases (both turbocharged airplanes), and there were two failures of connecting rods noted. If the SDRs are any indication, the R models, turbos in particular, are more prone to expensive engine problems than the 310s with O-470s.

According to owners and 310 support groups, parts are readily available for the airplane, although, as is true with any model these days, the costs can be dear. Fortunately, aside from the gear troubles noted earlier, there doesn't seem to be any one recurring trouble spot with the 310s. That's actually a bit amazing, considering the overall age of the fleet and the complexity of the machines.

Owners will not be left short of support, either. They can turn to the Cessna Pilots Association (800/852-2272), Cessna Owners Organization (800/331-0038), and the Twin Cessna Flyer (800/825-5310).

And, of course, there's always the opportunity to flip through the 500-odd cable channels we're supposed to have any day now and come across a handsome 310 setting down on the ranch strip. Not many twins offer transportation — and a connection to a minor bit of television history, too. Penny and Sky would be proud.

  1969 Cessna 310N 1981 Cessna T310R
Base price $99,312 $259,915
Current market value $48,000 $140,000
Powerplants Continental IO-470-VO, 260 hp Continental TSIO-520B, 285 hp
Recommended TBO 1,500 hr 1,400 hr
Wingspan 36 ft 11 in 36 ft 11 in
Wing area 203 sq ft 203 sq ft
Wing loading 29.1 lb/sq ft 30.7 lb/sq ft
Power loading 10 lb/hp 9.7 lb/hp
Seats 6 6
Empty weight, typical 3,150 lb 3,530 lb
Max gross weight 5,200 lb 5,500 lb
Useful load 2,050 lb 1,970 lb
Payload w/full fuel (maximum available) 946 lb 728 lb
Max takeoff weight 5,200 lb 5,500 lb
Max landing weight 5,200 lb 5,400 lb
Fuel capacity, std 102 gal (100 gal usable)
612 lb(600 lb usable)
102 gal (100 gal usable)
612 lb (600 lb usable)
Fuel capacity, w/auxiliary wing tanks 143 gal (140 gal usable)
858 lb (840 lb usable)
143/166 gal (140/163 gal usable)
858/996 lb (840/978 lb usable)
Fuel capacity, w/auxiliary wing tanks and locker tanks 184 gal (180 gal usable)
1,104 lb (1,080 lb usable)
207 gal (203 gal usable)
1,242 lb (1,218 lb usable)
Oil capacity, ea engine 12 qt 13 qt
Takeoff distance, ground roll 1,680 ft 1,660 ft
Takeoff distance over 50-ft obstacle 2,100 ft 2,000 ft
Accelerate-stop distance 3,300 ft 3,250 ft
Rate of climb, sea level 1,542 fpm 1,700 fpm
Single-engine ROC, sea level 330 fpm 390 fpm
Cruise speed/endurance w/45-min rsv, std plus maximum wing auxiliary fuel (fuel consumption, ea engine)
@ 75% power, best economy, 5,000 ft 188 kt/4.1 hr (28.5 gph/171 pph) 189 kt/4.5 hr (31.1 gph/188 pph)
@ 65% power, best economy, 10,000 ft 183 kt/5 hr (24.4 gph/146 pph) 190 kt/4.9 hr (29 gph/174 pph)
@ 55% power, best economy, 15,000 ft 169 kt/6.3 hr (20 gph/120 pph) 183 kt/5.8 hr (25 gph/150 pph)
Service ceiling NA 25,000 ft
Single-engine service ceiling 9,100 ft 17,480 ft
Landing distance over 50-ft obstacle 1,582 ft 1,790 ft
Landing distance, ground roll 1,002 ft 640 ft
Limiting and recommended airspeeds
VMC (min control w/critical engine inoperative) 76 KIAS 81 KIAS
VY (best rate of climb) 109 KIAS 105 KIAS
VYSE (best single-engine rate of climb) 98 KIAS 107 KIAS
VA (design maneuvering) 148 KIAS 150 KIAS
VFE (max flap extended) 139 KIAS 140 KIAS
VLE (max gear extended) 139 KIAS 140 KIAS
VNO (max structural cruising) 182 KIAS 183 KIAS
VNE (never exceed) 223 KIAS 227 KIAS
VS1 (stall, clean) 63 KIAS 68 KIAS
VSO (stall, in landing configuration) 72 KIAS 77 KIAS
All specifications are based on manufacturer's calculations. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.

Safety Survey

According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's General Aviation Accident Analysis Book — For the Years 1982-1988, the Cessna 310 series accumulated a total of 177 accidents involving a total of 46 fatal accidents with 91 fatalities. (This compares to a total of 130 accidents for the Beech 55/56-series aircraft; there are about 1,600 of those currently registered with the FAA, next to more than 2,900 Cessna 310s on the books.)

Where the probable cause has been laid at the pilot's feet, Cessna 310s were involved in 17 accidents in the takeoff and climb segment; these included six accidents stemming from power loss. Three of those power-loss accidents were due to the pilot's mismanagement of the Cessna 310's fuel system, and this was a root cause in another four cruise accidents, six VFR approach accidents, and two IFR approach accidents; pilots either ran out of gas or did not use fuel remaining in other tanks. Yet another two accidents, classified in the taxi phase of flight, resulted from pilots trying to take off with the selectors not on the main tanks, as is called for in the 310 manual.

Weather was a factor in eight accidents, the majority of which were VFR-into-IMC encounters. Botched VFR approaches counted for 18 accidents, and six airplanes crashed on IFR approaches gone wrong (including those listed under fuel exhaustion above.)

Seven accidents resulted from the pilots not ensuring the landing gear was down. A whopping 24 accidents stemmed from either the gear not coming down or its collapse on the ground. — MEC