Photos: Keith Wilson
You know the kind of woman who is the last word in elegance, but also goes hiking in Levi’s and a work shirt? The Stationair is a bit like that; it has dual personalities. It’s a glamorous mini-airliner, but it’s also a cargo-shifter that can cope with jungle airstrips.
The Cessna T206H Turbo Stationair provided for this flight test by Cessna’s dealer is the model first introduced in 2009. It has an all-glass panel, a turbocharged engine, on-board oxygen and leather seats for six. In 2009 Cessna introduced a number of detail improvements over earlier models, including
better position and landing
lights, and—for the first
I have two people accompanying me on this flight. Cessna’s chief pilot for piston engine flight operations, Kirby Ortega, and I enter by the crew door on the left, while our passenger, Cessna UK dealer Steve McKenna, climbs aboard through the double doors on the right. The double doors give access to the
passenger cabin, which seats four.
Ortega tells me that with the optional tiptanks, the Stationair can carry six 13-stone (approximately 180-pound) adults and enough fuel for three hours of flight. Without the tiptanks, a realistic load is four adults and two children, or five adults. Some owners remove the last row of seats to make even more luggage space, not that the Stationair really needs it.
A word about those double doors. The door opening and space inside are generous enough to load an aircraft engine strapped to a pallet. And you can leave the doors behind—the Stationair can fly without them—for dropping parachutists. Entry through the crew door is assisted by a step on the left wing strut.
After climbing in, my first impression is of an uncluttered panel with two G1000 screens that is rather on the deep side. This means that I can’t see over it very well.... until the winding handle under each seat is pointed out to me. Raising the seat as high as it will go gives me a much better view. Since the side windows are both deep and also extend forward right up to the panel, the view out is generous for such a large aircraft and gets even better when I pull the slide toggle and move my seat toward the front to give me full rudder travel.
The Stationair has a turbocharged engine, which has two advantages. In its mini-airliner mode, it enables the aircraft to fly high, out of turbulent weather. In its Levi’s-and-work-shirt character, a turbocharged engine makes it possible to fly from hot and high airstrips where a normally aspirated engine would be gasping to breathe.
Its ability to mimic an airliner has one limitation, though: the Stationair isn’t pressurised. At high altitude, crew and passengers must wear cannulas. These are discrete plastic nozzles you put in your nose that deliver oxygen from a pressure tank tucked out of sight. Ortega points out the small control panel in the roof that regulates the oxygen delivery.
The seats are hand-stitched leather, smell wonderful and add to the considerable feel of luxury you get in this aircraft. The diagonal seat straps (shoulder belts) have a bulge. This is the air bag that inflates in a crash, just like the one in your automobile. Each has an armoured hose—which I can see under the seats—connected to a compressed air supply. The bulge in the diagonal strap is too small to be intrusive.
The crew and rear doors aren’t slammed shut as they are in lesser aircraft, they are pulled closed and then secured with a lever. In the crew door, the lever folds neatly into the armrest.
Ortega runs through the preflight checklist and then directs me to start the 310 hp Lycoming with its three-blade, constant-speed propeller. Engine information (also, navigational data) is displayed on the right screen and the left provides flight data with an artificial horizon, airspeed indicator and altimeter, plus several additional refinements. Under Ortega’s direction, I taxi the Stationair, after
first releasing the handbrake under the instrument panel.
TAXI AND PREFLIGHT
As we are in a line of parked aircraft and the Stationair has a longer fuselage than the four-seaters I usually fly, I
need to check clearance behind.
This isn’t difficult, because
I can see the tailplane
through the passenger
windows just by turning my
head. I say something about the longer fuselage and Ortega chuckles. “Actually, the 172 has a longer fuselage,” he says. I’ve been fooled by the big passenger cabin and the extra two seats.
The Stationair feels firm to taxi and with such a good view over the nose and to the sides, is a pleasure to “drive.” The response to brake, throttle and pedal is immediate, giving a pleasant sensation of absolute control. There is one small difference from taxiing a more compact aircraft: I can feel the weight of the elevator pulling the yoke forward.
Ortega directs me through the usual pre-takeoff checks: cycling the prop, correct fuel tank, and all the rest of it. Finally I set 20 degrees of flaps. Ortega informs me that the Stationair has two landing flap settings: 30 and 40 degrees.
FLYING THE T206
We won’t just be test flying the T206H today; we’ll be photographing it. The camera ship for this photo shoot is a Yak-52. We decided during the preflight briefing that we would to take off in formation rather than in stream, as the two aircraft are fairly evenly matched. I am prepared for the Yak to outperform the Stationair, but we lift off before it and I have to throttle back slightly to keep station. By my estimation the Stationair’s takeoff run is only around 150 yards.
The controls come alive as soon as we start moving. I take the weight off the nosewheel with some aft yoke, apply right rudder to counteract spiral airflow, and apply more backpressure to the yoke as we reach liftoff speed. Where some aircraft fly off by themselves, the Stationair does seem to require action on the pilot’s part to separate the airplane from therunway.
The photographer likes to shoot from the left side, so I have the Stationair positioned to the left of the Yak as we draw in closer. I approach cautiously, because the Stationair’s cabin is pretty wide and I’m sighting on the Yak from the left seat. This means positioning it in the right window, past Kirby Ortega, and requires some accurate flying. It becomes easier when I allow the Stationair to ease back, so that the Yak appears in the front windshield.
My positioning of the Stationair from now on isn’t up to me; it’s decided by the camera operator. (He uses hand signals, because his head is out in the open.) As he moves me into different positions I discover that by craning forward I can be almost directly underneath the Yak and still keep it view.
Gradually I become used to the Stationair’s control response and blind spots. In different airplanes, these, plus performance and handling, determine the difficulty of each photo shoot. The Stationair, I discover, is one of those aircraft where you absolutely must not draw ahead, because throttling back to slow down takes an unusually long time to take effect. Having to catch up with the camera plane, though, is never a problem, since the Stationair has plenty of power. The Stationair feels like the big aircraft it is, though its controls are not excessively heavy; it is the airplane’s weight and momentum that makes the controls heavy, not its gearing.
One photograph requires sideslipping the airplane and drawing up to the camera at full power for a head-on shot. This really is fighting the Stationair’s built-in stability and I am audibly grunting and gasping with the effort. However, I can sustain an impressive sideslip and the cameraman gets his photograph. Sideslipping during an approach would be a lot easier, of course, with a lower airspeed and without full throttle.
Once the camera ship peels away and radios that it is returning to base, we can fly on our own in order for me to assess the controls. Initially I try rolling from 40 degrees of bank one way to 40 degrees the other. It takes a bit of muscle, but I can manage it one-handed.
Response to the controls in all three axes is good. Move rudder or yoke, and the airplane does what you tell it to.
A MINIATURE AIRLINER
In cruise mode the Stationair really isn’t all that different from a Cessna 172. You can take your hands and feet off the controls and it just keeps steaming along. It feels bigger and more stable, though.
I say as much to Ortega and he says, “Actually, I don’t hand-fly the airplane that much, and I doubt whether our customers do, either.” With two G1000 screens and a sophisticated autopilot, this is an airplane that you program and leave the flying to the computers, he says.
Ortega proceeds to demonstrate. “First, turn on the autopilot,” he says, pointing to a button at the top of the right screen. “Now the airplane is flying itself. Next, you adjust the manifold pressure to 28 inches and the rpm to 2,350.” This I do with throttle and pitch controls in the usual way, monitoring the readings in the right-hand screen.
“Now press ‘lean’ and ‘assist,’ ” directs Ortega, pointing to buttons above the right-hand screen, “and lean the mixture until the turbine inlet temperature”—he points to where it’s shown in the right-hand screen—“peaks at 1,620 degrees Fahrenheit.”
All of this produces the economy setting. (There’s also one for “best power,” which gives maximum cruise). At the end of it, the fuel consumption settles at 15.4 gph and the airspeed (on the left G1000 screen) at 147 knots true. However, we are at a low altitude for cruising in an aircraft like the Stationair; add another 10,000 feet, and Ortega says we’d be cruising at 155 to 160 knots.
“That’s the joy of this airplane,” says Ortega. “Once you’ve taken off, you can hand over to the autopilot, tweak the engine, set your waypoints and headings—assuming you didn’t do that before takeoff—and sit back and enjoy the view and talk to your passengers. Most importantly, you can give your attention to monitoring traffic, the radio and the weather.” It does sound like a nice way to fly and also, I imagine, reassuring for the passengers. It’s a style of flying that is truly like being in a miniature airliner.
However, this wouldn’t be much of a flight test if I left everything to the autopilot, so I press the red button on the yoke that disconnects it and take back manual control.
THE REAL TESTS
Stability, as you would expect in such a relatively large aircraft, is good, though not quite rock-steady. The controls don’t feel heavy when you are making the small adjustments of cruise flight. If you do bank by more than 20 degrees, you need to wake up your feet, because there is some adverse yaw to correct. The rudder becomes even more essential when I try flying a figure-of-eight at a bank angle of 40 degrees. Maintaining a steady bank angle, turn rate and neither climbing nor descending present quite a challenge in a big, fast aeroplane like this, but it can be done.
Next I sample the level stall. The stall warner sounds a good five knots before the nose drops, which is accompanied by a moderate wing-drop, though this is correctable with aileron. The stall without flaps seems to come at around 65 knots. Stalling with full flaps (40 degrees) is an even gentler affair and the break arrives at the lower speed of around 60 knots.
Achieving a stall break in a steep turn has me grunting and straining at the controls again. When the break comes, the rotation is in the safe direction (away from the turn), so that the aircraft levels its wings. This part of the flight test requires so much muscle that it’s difficult to imagine anyone imitating it in real life.
When, instead of recovering, I hold the aircraft stalled, it adopts an impressive descent rate. I also notice in the approach to the wings-level stall that the Stationair can descend rapidly while in something like an approach attitude. This behaviour implies that it’s the possibility of mushing down into a heavy landing that you would need to bear
in mind—say, when approaching a short airstrip—rather than a stall followed
by an incipient spin.
After this we fly back to the airport we started from and join the pattern. I slow the airplane to the limit speed for first stage flaps (there are separate limit speeds for each stage) and throttle back until the speeds settles at 70 knots, which Ortega says is a good approach speed. Once we’re on the approach, I lower second stage flaps. I am aware of having to re-trim to take out the elevator load, which can become uncomfortable otherwise. I have a choice of a knurled wheel under the panel or an electronic trim switch on the yoke.
A touch of sideslip on final approach gets us on the right descent path. The airplane is steady and I have a good view of the runway. The controls are noticeably lighter at these speeds, but still firm. A moderate pull on the yoke has us rounding out as the runway flashes by underneath. We float a while, losing energy and with the nose coming up.
Just when I’m having to strain to see over the nose, the main wheels touch
down in a gentle landing.
I estimate a touchdown just a hundred yards from the threshold. Within another 30 yards the nosewheel descends and we’re on all three wheels. I open the throttle—this is a touch-and-go—and lift the nosewheel again. There is the classic turbocharged-engine slight delay between throttling up and full power kicking in.
We run a short distance and this time the Stationair lifts off by itself (whereas with first stage flaps I had to pull back on the yoke to get it to lift off). Ortega notices how this surprises me and says, “It’ll do that with second or third stage flaps.” I hold the airplane down in ground effect to let it accelerate to climb speed then climb away. We ascend at 1,000 fpm indicated.
Since this comfortable cruiser is also used on jungle airstrips, I want to try a slower approach speed and so I come in for my second landing at 65 knots with second stage flaps. The view over the nose isn’t as good, but the airplane feels just as smooth at the lower speed. This is to be another touch-and-go, but I am distracted by the flap switch and fumble my performance. In a way, it’s good when things don’t go altogether smoothly in a flight test, because it’s then that you can really assess an aircraft’s pedigree.
While I’m fiddling with the flap switch, I allow the Stationair to lift off prematurely. This time we’re definitely short of speed. Not only that: I’ve made the flaps retract past the takeoff position to fully retracted—just at the worst possible moment. All that the Stationair does in response is to gently descend back to the runway, bounce once, but in gentle slow motion, meanwhile picking up speed (we’re at full throttle) so that after the bounce we stay airborne. I climb away without flaps, mentally giving thanks for an airplane that covers up my clumsiness.
By now I feel completely at home in the Stationair and have started to think of it as a utility airplane that you can take liberties with. So much so that when our next landing risks being held up by another aircraft backtracking on the runway, rather than opening the throttle and going round the pattern again, I do what I’d do in a utility plane.
Decades ago I flew aerobatic contests in a Laser. To save weight we took off with just 20 minutes of fuel, and quite often returned with only five minutes to go before running dry. The airplane was terrifically manoeuvrable and if someone was obstructing the runway we used
to stay in position on the approach by
flying a series of steep-banked ‘S’-shaped manoeuvres. That way, if the engine
did run dry, we could still get down
on the runway.
I adopt a tamer version of this now in the Stationair, with 35 degrees of bank at 75 knots, not staying in one position exactly, but greatly slowing our approach to give the backtracking airplane plenty of time to clear the runway.
Bearing in mind that we are at 650
feet while this is going on, it’s hardly
surprising that Ortega begins to feel uncomfortable and asks me to please stop. Fortunately the runway is now clear, so we are able to land without
having to go around.
“Sorry, Kirby,” I tell him, as we cruise down a more conventional approach,
“I didn’t mean to alarm you.” He says I’m forgiven.
I’m a little embarrassed, but nevertheless decide to really see what Miss Versatility will do when she isn’t being decorous.
I say this to Ortega while we make a last touch-and-go and he agrees that I can make my final circuit a tight one, within the airfield’s boundary and end it with a short-field landing. The tight, low circuit is great fun, and the Stationair’s controls don’t feel heavy now that I’m used to them. At this level and turning fairly steeply, I appreciate the generous windows and high seating position
which gives me a confidence-boosting view throughout.
My final approach is at 65 knots with full flaps and a touch of sideslip to increase the final descent so that the wheels just clear the boundary fence. We cross the threshold with only a trickle of power and I have time—though not much—to get the nose up to ensure a touchdown on the main wheels.
We round out and land with very little float and the nosewheel comes down shortly after the mains. Two seconds later I go for the brakes and have to back off a touch because of nosewheel shimmy, but the backing off kills the
juddering and I can continue braking with increasing firmness until we come to a stop.
Turning to backtrack, I ask Ortega to estimate our landing distance. “I’d say that was 150 yards,” he says, and is too polite to add, “... though I’ve seen better.”
The Stationair is a wonderful airplane, combining comfortable, fast cruising
for six with utility capability. It’s the
last word in versatility. No wonder Cessna has sold so many, and you can find them flying in so many different parts of the world.
CESSNA T206 SPECIFICATIONS
Wingspan: 36 feet
Length: 28 feet, 3 inches
Height: 9 feet, 3 inches
Cabin width: 3 feet, 8 inches
Cabin height: 4 feet, 2 inches
Cabin length: 12 feet, 1inch
MTOW: 3,600 pounds
Empty: 2,349 pounds
Load: 1,251 pounds
Max cruise speed: 178 knots
Stall: 54 knots
Vne: 182 knots
Initial climb: 1,051 fpm
Takeoff ground roll: 915 feet
Landing ground roll: 735 feet
Max range: 630 nm
Service ceiling: 27,000 feet
Textron Lycoming turbocharged TIO-540-AJ1A, developing 310hp at 2,500rpm, driving a three-blade, heated constant-speed McCauley propeller