The first-ever Cessna 210, flown about 50 years ago, was a 182 with retractable landing gear – a straight vertical tail and all. The first production 210 had a swept tail and a substantially different cowling from a 182’s, but the cabin section was still the same as a 182’s and, for that matter, as a 172’s. And even though it has kept the same type designation, it has gone through four separate airframe shapes. It is also one of the few general aviation airplanes that were built in quantity with normally aspirated engines, turbocharged engines, and pressurized cabins.
The 210 has been a trailblazer in a lot of areas. It was the first single with factory-installed deicing and later the first single approved for flight in icing conditions. It was also the first single offered with factory-installed weather radar, with the receiver/transmitter and antenna mounted in a pod slung beneath the right wing.
One thing the 210 is not renowned for is its handling qualities. Some maintain that flying the airplane is like driving a truck, and even the most devoted 210 fan will agree that it is a touch heavy on the controls. The reason for this is an incredibly wide allowable center of gravity range. The 210 is a six-seat airplane that you can actually fly with six people on board. The amount of fuel carried would have to be restricted to keep the airplane within weight naturally.
There is a difference in the way the 210 flies with an aft CG. Forward, the elevator forces are quite high. Aft, the elevator forces become quite light. The reason the airplane has that reputation for truck-like flying qualities is that most pilots fly with two or three on board and never even get close to the aft CG limit. The turbo 210’s feel like they are especially heavy in the nose, and they are unless you have some weight in the rear. This can be a disadvantage on a grass field.
Its strongest point though, is instrument flying. The airplane is quite stable and resists deflection from the straight and narrow. Once it is established, whether during climb, cruise, or approach, it wants to stay put.
The turbocharged 210 is a hot rod at altitude, turning in substantially better climb and cruise performance than the pressurized airplane. The reasons for this are simple: It takes horsepower to pump up that cabin, and some weight is added to the structure for pressurization.
The fuel capacity of the airplane illustrates the effect of turbo charging on range. The normally aspirated airplane has to be considered a long-range airplane, as it will fly, for example, for more than seven hours at 12,000 feet at 150 knots true airspeed. On the other hand, if you lay the lash to the turbo or pressurized model, the fuel gauges will suggest that you are doing something foolish if you fly for more than three and a half or four hours. It’s all a matter of maintaining horsepower in the climb and at cruising altitude. Few people would ever find a reason to add auxiliary fuel tanks to a regular 210, but a brisk business is done adding auxiliary fuel to the turbocharged airplanes. It is also an airplane on which you need to check the fuel level visually before a maximum-range trip. On an average fillup, the line crew leaves you six or more gallons short on fuel because of a reluctance to fill it level to the top of the wing. It’s a big long tank, and an inch down is a lot of gas.
The marketing people at Cessna hung the Centurion name on the 210 one year, and it more or less stuck. That is too many syllables for an airplane name, but some people like it. Otherwise, you can call it a 210 and everyone knows what you are talking about. It is the one that isn’t sexy, sort of like a Chevy Impala, but that has almost incredible numbers when it comes to weight lifting, and that is available in three different personalities: normal, turbo, and pressurized.
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Richard Collins, AOPA Pilot, June 1988