Plane & Pilot
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Cessna Turbo Stationair: Escalade For The Jeep Trail

An acknowledged workhorse for nearly 40 years, the Cessna Stationair adds major avionics sophistication and uncommon comfort to its credentials

Cessna Turbo Stationair: Escalade For the Jeep TrailSomehow, the very idea of motoring along a mile above the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states in a Cessna Stationair seems almost a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron (a moron on oxygen). Most pilots simply don’t associate the tough 206 with operation in the flight levels. The airplane’s image is more utility station wagon than high-performance, turbocharged SUV.

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Power on the Cessna Turbo Stationair is provided by a Lycoming TIO-540-AJ1A, rated for 310 hp and recommended for overhaul at 2,000 hours. All six of Cessna’s post-1996 models now feature injected Lycoming engines with power ranging from 160 to 310 hp. At a gross weight of 3,600 pounds, the big Lycoming provides a power loading under 12 pounds per horsepower, an important consideration for a bush plane.

Cessna’s 206 has long been regarded as among the very best of the piston, heavy haulers. Fly to any of the world’s hinterlands—e.g. the tundra of Canada and Alaska, the African veldt, the jungles of Borneo—and 206s are among the most popular weapons of choice. While it’s true the old 180/185 easily wins the rough-/short-field competition, the Stationair’s large, double, aft cargo doors and huge cabin make it easy to load with bulky people or cargo. When the 206 is fitted with the big 8.00 x 6 tires, it can sneak into places where lesser machines would fear to roll a tread. (As if to verify the airplane’s appeal, the California Highway Patrol replaced its entire fleet of 185s a few years back with 17 new Turbo Stationairs.)

When the original line of Stationairs went out of production in 1986, after two decades of winning friends and influencing pilots, the existing fleet became some of the most in-demand airplanes on the planet. If someone wrecked a 206 after 1986, the airplane was nearly always rebuilt, as there were no replacements available, and few other models could do the Stationair’s job. Piper’s Saratoga, the modern version of the Cherokee Six, was capable competition, but it also went out of production in 1990, so switching to the low-wing Piper wasn’t an option. (The Saratogas were revived in 2004 as the Piper 6X and 6XT.)

Both the Stationair and the new Piper 6X are probably more popular outside the United States than here at home. Fly to the Far North or overseas on a regular basis, and you’ll see both types doing jobs that practically nothing else can, flying into short or unimproved strips or even operating totally off airport. The Stationair may have a slight edge over the Piper because of the former’s high wing, a feature that eases loading and makes the airplane more adaptable to nonairports in high brush. That’s one reason the value of Stationairs has remained strong. Nowadays, many early 206s, even those that have been flown hard and put away wet, demand as much as three times their new list prices.

Today’s test airplane is a fairly representative example of the new Turbo Stationairs coming off Cessna’s production line in Independence, Kans. The $514,500 base price includes all the goodies listed, plus terrain and obstacle mapping, Traffic Information Service, XM Weather provisions and Stormscope—virtually everything you’d need for pretty much year-round IFR operation. This airplane also includes floatplane provisions and the aforementioned oversized tires and wheel fairings, adding about $7,500 to the total.

Garmin’s revolutionary AHRS-based (Attitude Heading Reference System) GFC 700 autopilot is standard on the 2007 Stationair and Skylane, and it’s a major step forward for a general aviation autopilot. Garmin has incorporated a variety of features normally found only in high-end corporate jets and airliners. Autopilots have offered rate of climb and altitude preselect for decades, but the new Garmin features airspeed hold, an important benefit in the airline world where airplanes must maintain precise separation. Airspeed hold means you can lock in best- rate-of-climb speed or a predetermined cruise climb velocity.

The 700 also offers overspeed protection, pitch hold and coupled VNAV, so the pilot can now control every aspect of descent as well as climb and straight-and-level flight. When preloaded with the appropriate approach, the GFC 700 incorporates the ability to make automatic approaches and fly the published miss-and-accept vectors for another attempt. It can perform holding patterns, procedure turns and DME arcs. The autopilot is WAAS-enabled for vertical guidance, providing ILS-like cues on GPS approaches.


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