Aero SUV 1999 Sweepstakes
Sporting a Ute for You
How to buy a used 206 search early and often
BY MARC E. COOK (From AOPA Pilot, February 1999.)
Sport-utility vehicles are all the rage. Every Monday, you'll see soccer moms herding 5,500-pound behemoths into shopping malls and over curbs at the middle school. You'll see affluent businessmen threading four-wheel-drive, V-8-powered rock-crunchers into perfectly paved parking spaces in covered garages.
Incongruous? Sure. Why, then, so popular? Sport-utes, or SUVs as the auto industry has taken to calling them have undeniable appeal to city slickers and rural residents alike, thanks to their tough-as-nails construction and large, family-friendly cabins. For the Eddie Bauer set, an SUV is the only rational replacement for the enthusiast-shunned minivan. The SUV will handle a modern family and their modern material needs without filling up to the roofline. m Cessna's 206 Stationair is very much the aerial equivalent of an SUV. It'll haul an enormous load, and the six-place cabin creates decent if not decadent room for four adults and two children. It is one of the most sought-after airplanes on the used market; and now, with Cessna resuming production of the Stationair (see "Return of the Workhorse" January Pilot), the 206 is likely to be a highly prized new offering as well. Until the recent reintroduction of the line, few 206s were equipped as well as the leather-lined, truck-based sport-utes of today.
It's this concept truck turned luxury tourer that we'll explore this year as we prepare the Aero SUV, AOPA's 1999 sweepstakes grand prize (as with previous sweepstakes airplanes, any new or renewing member is automatically entered to win). We're taking a garden-variety 206 and equipping it with the kinds of amenities and the level of fit and finish that today's sport-ute buyers expect. It'll be packed with new-think avionics, a larger engine, and an interior optimized for family travel and aerial camping.
We'll go into detail about the 206's transformation into the Aero SUV in future issues, but here's the thumbnail sketch. It'll first receive a comprehensive IRAN (inspect and replace as necessary) and thorough annual inspection at Aero West Specialties in Santa Maria, California. Aero West got the nod in part because the shop has a lot of experience with 206s and also because they're on the home field of the Cessna Pilots Association. CPA President John Frank has already made his staff and personal storehouse of knowledge on all things Cessna available to this program. CPA will provide the winner with a one-year membership, a full set of new maintenance manuals, and enrollment in the association's highly regarded systems and procedures courses.
Airframe work completed, the 206 will go to Airborne Avionics in Sacramento, California. The company will fabricate and install an entirely new instrument panel and a stack of new Garmin radios, including a pair of the stunning GNC 430s. The wonder boxes contain color moving maps, IFR-approved GPS, VOR/ILS receivers, and a com radio. Garmin is also supplying its new audio panel/intercom and solid-state transponder. We'll also install the new Sandel LCD HSI, which means that the airplane will have at least three moving maps aboard. (Get lost in this airplane and it's your fault.)
Following avionics work, the 206 will go to Ada, Oklahoma, for paint at Red's Aircraft Painting, then to Teledyne Continental's Fairhope, Alabama, factory service center for installation of a 300-horsepower IO-550 to replace the IO-520-F of the same power. The big advantages are lower noise, from the 550's 2,700-rpm redline 150-rpm less than the 520's and its ability to provide more cruise power. The 520 is rated for only 285 hp continuous while the 550 is good for 300 hp continuous, giving the new installation about 11 hp more for cruise. Every little bit helps. We'll use Atlantic Aero's supplemental type certificate for the IO-550 package, including its six-point engine mounts similar to those on the turbo 260s, which should make for an eminently smooth installation. Atlantic Aero's remote oil cooler will also be added; some 206s fitted with the 550 have had oil-temperature problems, so we'll chill that one right away.
Finally, we'll send the Aero SUV to Dennis Wolter's Air/Mod in Batavia, Ohio, for one of his superlative interiors. We try to use new vendors for each of our sweepstakes projects, but the reasons for returning to Wolter are compelling. He's done lots of Cessnas, so there's no learning curve there, and we want to try out some new ideas on this airplane something Wolter and his crew are more than capable of carrying out.
But before we could get started on the Aero SUV, we had to find the right airplane. Understanding the 206's history is essential to matching the model with your needs. CPA produces an excellent short report on major changes made during the Stationair's long run and by summer will have completed a full 206 buyer's guide.
Cessna developed the 206 series on the groundwork laid by the retractable-gear 210 in the early 1960s. Introduced as a 1960 model, the 210 initially sported a 260-horsepower Continental IO-470, a strut-braced wing, and a modestly sized cabin. At about the same time, Cessna saw a market emerging for a fixed-gear utility airplane larger and faster than the 182. The company merely locked down the 210's gear and called the airplane the 205, introduced as a 1963 model. Without the hump in the baggage compartment to house the retracted main gear, the 205 had a larger cabin than did the 210 of the same era and, thanks to lower empty weight, better payload too.
Although the 205 was a modest success, Cessna would render it obsolete the next year. Following the move to the IO-520 in the 210, Cessna created the 206 with the same 285-hp engine. Rather than hanging this new engine on the 205, Cessna created the 206 on a new type certificate. The 205's right-side forward passenger door and tall-but-narrow left-side aft door were traded for a large double cargo door on the right side of the fuselage. Incidentally, this is the configuration used on the 1999 Stationairs.
Cessna continued the 205 through 1964, eventually replacing it with the P206 in 1965; the P denotes the passenger version. It shared the IO-520 with the "regular" 206 but retained the double front doors and smaller, left-side rear door. To better position the P206 in the grand marketing scheme, Cessna called it the Super Skylane, at a time when the utility version was called the Super Skywagon. The utility, or U206, version was vastly more popular than the P, which was discontinued after 1970.
Development continued on the U206, with a new turbo model in 1966 and an increase in power 300 hp at 2,850 rpm for takeoff with a five-minute limitation for the nonturbo U206 coming in 1967. The next year, a larger horizontal stabilizer and elevator were fitted largely to help improve longitudinal stability in the seaplane versions; and a max-power boost for the turbo model (to 300 hp) came in 1969. In 1970, Cessna chopped off the vestigial nosewheel hump, with the next year bringing the name Stationair to the 206 at last. Throughout the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, Cessna tweaked the U206 and introduced a stretched derivative called the 207 but otherwise left well enough alone.
Looking at the various 206 models available, we quickly discounted the 205 and the P206. The U's large cargo door makes loading the airplane a breeze compared to the smaller, opposite-side door, an important consideration when you're camping or hauling a brood of growing kids and their triple-redundant Play Stations. Also, the P206 never got the 300-hp engine, so the 550 upgrade isn't available. "As a utility vehicle, the U206 is far superior," says Mark Pilkington, a salesman for Stancil Aviation in Placerville, California; Pilkington ultimately found us our candidate.
Narrowing the field to U206s only amplifies how tight the used Stationair market has become. We had hoped to find a good, clean 1970 to 1973 airframe, mainly because of the better appearance of the lopped-off lower-cowling hump and a slight but useful reorganization of the instrument panel. Over the course of three months, we looked at no fewer than eight airplanes, many of which were obviously ex-freighters that had many hard hours behind them and more skin patches in evidence than at a stop-smoking convention. Moreover, a quick check of the classifieds will reveal a host of airframes with 7,000-plus hours. Although there's nothing inherently wrong with a high-time airframe if it's well maintained, we'd made the decision to look for a less-flown example to help minimize the kinds of major airframe repairs necessary to come up to our standards.
We were about to despair of finding the right airplane when Pilkington called one day with a hot lead: a 1976 U206F in Colorado that had been taken in on trade for a T210. I flew out to Grand Junction and met with Clyde and David Davis of Davis Aircraft Sales, who showed me the airplane. Although it looked great to me, spending a huge chunk of my employer's money suggested a conservative tack. So Steve Ells, technical advisor for the CPA (and A&P/IA) returned with me to Grand Junction to perform a prepurchase inspection. He came away saying, "This is one of the cleanest 206s I've seen in a long time." Credit life in a dry climate for part of that: N8323Q had spent nearly its whole life in Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana. (It was sold through Skyways, Inc., in Troutdale, Oregon, in February 1976, but was registered in June 1976 to Skymart Aviation, in Great Falls, Montana.) Owners L.D. Holt and Bobby Blair had kept it hangared in Colorado since 1995.
It was the perfect candidate for other reasons, too. Ordered with the optional 28-volt electrical system, our 206 would have plenty of electrical reserve, even if the configuration may bring wails of protest from back-country pilots who may need to jump-start the Cessna from a car battery and cannot. It had minimal avionics and an original interior. With a total time of just more than 4,000 hours and 550 hours SMOH, 23Q fit our profile closely.
Shoppers new to the 206 market might be taken aback by the values associated with what's essentially a Skylane on steroids. In many cases, a 206 will bring more than a same-year 210. I had budgeted $85,000 for a good 1970 airframe but elected to make the leap to this 1976 model which retails at $107,000, according to the Vref guide available on the AOPA Web site (www.aopa.org/members/vref/) partly for the 28-volt system and partly on the strength of its excellent, no-corrosion condition. We settled on a final price just below $100,000.
The title search completed and escrow begun through the AOPA Title and Escrow Service, Ells and I wrapped up the prebuy. With the assistance of the Weststar FBO on the field a heated hangar is the only place to work on a 5-degree morning and the indefatigable hospitality of the Davises in our favor, we were ready by midday to start the trek westward in the big Cessna.
Ells and I loaded up the 206 and pointed the nose toward Santa Maria. If you haven't flown a 206 for a while, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the handling qualities. For a large airplane, it's surprisingly light and responsive. Better yet, 23Q flew straight and true, with all control surfaces very close to where they should have been in cruise flight. We averaged better than 140 knots true between 8,500 and 10,500 feet, tapering to 135 knots true at 12,500. Tested with a Proptach portable electronic tachometer, we noted that the mechanical tach read more than 200 rpm low, and we suspect that the fuel flow gauge also was reading high; the total fuel added at the end of the trip was much less than we had calculated. Both fuel gauges appeared to read low, as well, and the DME died leaving the Grand Junction area. Cessna's much-maligned 300-series wing leveler was similarly deranged and will make someone a nice wheel chock.
All of these squawks will be exorcised once we're done with N8323Q, of course, leaving behind the ultimate sport-ute with a radio package, interior, and performance that working-dog 206s can only dream about. Maybe leather-lined Stationairs will be the next rage.