Plane & Pilot
Thursday, November 1, 2007

The "New" Old Centurion

Now out of production for 20 years, Cessna’s top piston single offers good range, excellent stability and reasonable, six-seat comfort for pilots with a yen for a high-wing speedster

The step-up market has always been critically important to the major aircraft companies. There may not be much profit in building trainers, but manufacturers are well aware that pilots tend to buy the same brand in which they learn. A pilot who earns his license in a Warrior, 152 or Musketeer is likely to consider an Arrow, Skylane or Bonanza, respectively, as a first step-up airplane. " />

Whatever the cruise height, the power setting is always the same. The partners have drawn up a full set of operating practices that all four owners subscribe to religiously. The universal cruise setting is at 62% at roughly 100 degrees rich of peak. That yields a fairly consistent 165 knots true on just under 16 gph. The four partners have agreed to keep the turbine inlet temperature (TIT) at or below 1,500 degrees in hopes of reaching the recommended 1,400-hour TBO.

For those who like to fly at higher power, the T210L will turn in speeds around 180 knots at 14,500 feet on about 18 gph. Book spec at high cruise is for 200 knots at 22,000 feet. Full fuel is 89 gallons, so either setting allows for four-hour trips at medium altitude, covering 650 to 700 nm in the process. Conversely, fans of lower settings can pull back to 50% power and expect more like 1,000 nm between fuel stops.

Like most of the other four- to six-seat Cessnas, the T210L is a highly tractable design. In-flight handling is typical big Cessna, about what you’d expect for the airplane’s weight. Roll and pitch response is heavy without being ponderous, though it’s unlikely many pilots will brand the Centurion as fun to fly. It’s a traveling machine, designed more for how much it can carry and how quickly it can fly than for light controls and ultra-maneuverability.

The Centurion is also as talented at the bottom of its flight envelope as at the top. Stall characteristics are generally unexciting with little tendency to tuck under the bottom unless you have unusually sloppy footwork. With those huge, half-span flaps fully deployed to 40 degrees, power-off dirty stall is a mere 57 knots, an impressive number for a 3,800-pound airplane.

Accordingly, Cessna suggests a short-field approach speed of only 71 knots. This means the big Centurion can use abbreviated, 2,000-foot strips if necessary, though as with many retractables, it’s happier on paved strips than dirt or grass. Like most non-STOL designs, however, the T210L needs more room for takeoff than landing, so don’t mistake it for a bush bird.

Aircraft Bluebook suggests the T-Centurion may be one of the better turbocharged buys on the six-seat market. The Meng partnership airplane sold new in 1973 for an average-equipped $53,215, and today, the same machine is valued at a typical $96,000. No chance you’ll find one at that price in the test airplane’s condition, but even at $125,000, a similar T210L would be a steal.

Mark Matheson says there currently are no plans to step up to something bigger and faster. “We’re very happy with the Centurion,” says Matheson. “It’s practically the perfect airplane for our current missions. Sometime down the road, we might consider moving to a used Citation, but for now, the T-Centurion does the job better than anything else we can imagine—and afford.”

SPECS: 1973 Cessna Trubo Centurion T210L


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