Section I: Equipment and Environment
Part III, Chapter 10: The Cessna 206
All pilots have their favorite airplanes; mine are the PA-18-150 Super Cub and the turbocharged Cessna TU206G. I prefer the Super Cub for the low and the slow, the contour flying and serious off-airport landings; I like the Cessna 206 for carrying loads, traveling distances, and flying on instruments.
However, there is a small difference of opinion regarding the Cessna 206, one that has considerable validity on both sides: which model is best for the bush operator -- the turbo or the non-turbo? As with all questions of this nature, the answer is: it depends.
The non-turbo Cessna 206. Ordinary air taxi work -- whether on wheels, skis, or floats -- involves intense competitive pressures, and these pressures force you to make your aircraft and equipment selections with your eyes focused firmly on the bottom line. Acquisition cost, fuel burn, maintenance load, TBO, and avionics all come under close scrutiny. You must also consider simplicity of operation, for experienced and knowledgeable pilots are expensive to hire and hard to keep, and an engine that requires a delicate and knowing touch to operate properly (the penalty for aggressive throttle use, over-leaning, shock-cooling, or ham-handed over-boosting may well involve a visit to the loan department of your bank) is not a wise business investment. Let's take a look at the specs, for both models, and see how they stack up on paper:
The Cessna 206
Takeoff Run (ft) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 900 Takeoff Run over 50 ft Barrier (ft) . . . . . 1,780 Rate of Climb (ft per min) . . . . . . . . . 920 Service Ceiling, wheels (ft) . . . . . . . . 14,800 Service Ceiling, floats (ft) . . . . . . . . 13,900 Top Speed (knots) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155 Cruising Speed (75% power; knots) . . . . . . 147 Cruising Range, wheels (75% power; nautical) 680 Cruising Range, floats (75% power; nautical) 615 Cruising Range, wheels (maximum; nautical) . 900 Cruising Range, floats (maximum; nautical) . 770 Stalling Speed, wheels (knots) . . . . . . . 54 Stalling Speed, floats (knots) . . . . . . . 52 Landing Roll (ft) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 735 Gross Weight (lbs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,600 Empty Weight (standard) . . . . . . . . . . . 1,882 Useful Load (lbs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,718 Engine TBO (hrs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,700
The Turbo Cessna 206
Takeoff Run (ft) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 835 Takeoff Run over 50 ft Barrier (ft) . . . . . 1,640 Rate of Climb (ft per min) . . . . . . . . . 1,010 Service Ceiling, wheels (ft) . . . . . . . . 27,000 Service Ceiling, floats (ft) . . . . . . . . 25,600 Top Speed (knots) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174 Cruising Speed (80% power; knots) . . . . . . 167 Cruising Range, wheels (80% power; nautical) 640 Cruising Range, floats (80% power; nautical) 550 Cruising Range, wheels (maximum; nautical) . 805 Cruising Range, floats (maximum; nautical) . 690 Stalling Speed, wheels (knots) . . . . . . . 54 Stalling Speed, floats (knots) . . . . . . . 52 Landing Roll (ft) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 735 Gross Weight (lbs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,600 Empty Weight (standard) . . . . . . . . . . . 2,000 Useful Load (lbs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,600 Engine TBO (hrs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,400
As the numbers show, the basic differences are service ceiling, range, and TBO. Therefore, for the VFR-only operator who does not require high-altitude capability, the standard Cessna 206 is the best choice. Inexpensive, simple, and easy to fly for even low-time commercial pilots, it is a money-making machine par excellence for the air taxi operator.
The Turbo Cessna 206. With the Turbo Cessna 206 you move into a different league entirely. Here is a machine that can operate comfortably out of a 900 foot gravel bar if not too heavily loaded, climb rapidly into the flight levels to top weather, then make an instrument approach to RVR 1800. But all this capability costs, and so you have higher fuel burn, an expensive, delicate engine that must be handled with kid gloves, and a TBO of 1400 hours which only the best operators reach. To that, if you expect to get full value out of its IFR capabilities, must be added the cost of sophisticated avionics, and a pilot who knows how to operate them. Obviously not the type of equipment seen on the usual bush ramp or gravel bar, it is reserved for the small specialty operator who has a quality-conscious clientele that demands the best in pilots and equipment and is willing to pay the premium necessary to obtain them. Here, you are operating the way a top corporate flight department would, where the emphasis is on passenger safety, schedule reliability, and quality equipment, not the bottom line. (See illustrations 24 and 25.)
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Instrumentation (IFR). The Cessna 206 is a great instrument platform, stable and sure, and when properly equipped it can handle many weather problems with ease. My 1985 Turbo 206, used for serious instrument flying, is currently outfitted as follows (see illustration 26):
- Dual Nav/Comms with VOR/LOC/GS reception (King KX 155)
- DME (King KN 64)
- Loran (King KLN 88)
- Flight Control System (King KFC-150)
- Altitude Preselect (King KAS 297B)
- Transponder/Encoding Altimeter (King KT 76A/KEA 130A)
- ADF (King KR 87)
- HSI (King KCS 55A)
- RMI (King KI 229)
- WX-1000+ Weather Mapping System (BFG/Foster)
- CFS 1000A Fuel Management Computer (SDI/Hoskins)
- Graphic Engine Monitor (6 cylinder EGT, CHT; TIT)(Insight GEM)
- Digital Density Altitude, Outside Air Temperature (F & C), Pressure Altitude, and Aircraft Voltage (Davtron)
- AltAlert altitude alert and fuel-burn timer (Icarus)
- Electronic Carbon Monoxide Detector (Paragon)
- Bose headsets (2) (front seats)
- David Clark headsets (2) (rear seats)
- ISOCOM intercomm (David Clark)
As you can see, I believe in just the bare necessities...
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Tires (main gear). As with the Cessna 180/185, the 8:50x6 6-ply tires are best for the main gear. If a proposed landing area is too soft or rough for them, use a Cub or Cessna 180/185 instead; it is no place to take a Cessna 206.
Tires (nose gear). Here, there's a choice of three tire sizes. The 6:00x6 tire is a factory option with the Cessna oversized nose-gear fork, and many operators find it to be adequate. However, since this fork will also accommodate the larger 7:00x6 tire, those who operate regularly out of villages or camps where strips are soft, rough, and poorly maintained often specify it instead.
If your job demands that you operate on beaches or other soft, sandy areas, it sometimes helps to go to the 8:00x6 tire. This will require a special, modified Piper nose fork; Airglas Engineering, of Anchorage, Alaska, converts forks for this purpose. (The disadvantage here, of course, is the way the 8:00x6 tire handles on paved runways.)
Long-range fuel tanks. For certain trips into the more interesting areas of Canada's Northwest Territories, where fuel is difficult to come by and the chance for unforecast IMC high, long-range tanks are a necessity. These tanks are also required for many instrument flights, where viable alternates often demand truly creative -- some would say heroic -- flight plans. Fortunately, the Cessna 206 has a nice choice of long-range tanks available. Here are two (of quite different capacity and design philosophy) that work well:
Flint Aero. The old boy on the block, these wingtip tanks have been around for years. Depending on the model Cessna 206 you have, they add either 27, or 29.8, usable gallons, and, in the process, an additional three feet to your wingspan. Also included, for the F and G models, is a STC for a 200 lb increase in gross weight.
This system requires two electric transfer fuel pumps, each with its own on/off switch and fuel gauge, and the pilot must manually transfer fuel from the tip tanks to the main tanks when needed.
I have these tanks installed on my '85 Turbo 206, and like the extended range I get with them, as well as the additional stability the tip tanks provide in turbulence when they are full. However, three factors should be noted:
The tanks are quite difficult to install properly in the time frame Flint claims (it takes most good shops that are interested in quality work about 80 hours).(1)
The caps have a poorly-designed vent hole on the top that leaks fuel when taxiing, making turns, or flying in rough air; fuel loss stops at about .6 gallon per tank, so this must be taken into consideration during flight planning. Flint has promised to redesign these caps, but it has been a number of years now since he said he would do this, and, as with the check in the mail, I am still waiting.(2)
The added wing span provides a slight increase in STOL capabilities, at the expense of making some hangars unusable for the airplane. Also, of course, after installing the tanks, the airplane's wing covers must be modified because of the increased span.
Uvalde. Manufactured to Part 23 standards, these internal bladder tanks -- there are three for each wing, and they fit just outboard of the main tanks -- add 54 gallons to your fuel capacity. A passive system, there are no switches to flip or fuel management techniques to learn. Unfortunately, the Uvalde tanks do not come with a gross weight increase, so the weight of the additional fuel (324 lbs) must come directly out of your payload.
Engine analyzers and fuel computers. For all serious, maximum-range operations, I recommend that an engine analyzer, such as the Insight GEM, and a fuel computer, such as the SDI/Hoskins or Shadin Miniflow, be used. Only in this way can you manage your fuel burn, and keep up to date on the progress of your flight, with the precision required.
Deicing/anti-icing equipment. You do your best to stay out of icing conditions, but sometimes, no matter what the forecasts or PIREPS had to say, your best efforts fail and ice finds you anyway. Therefore, deicing/anti-icing equipment is high on the priority list, even though at this time the FAA will not certify the Cessna 206 for flight into known icing conditions. However, you do have a bit of help available for those times when the icing conditions are mild -- stratus with low tops; a layer of steam fog, etc. -- and your accidental exposure brief.
Propeller. Most experts agree that if you had to make a choice between wing or prop deicing/anti-icing equipment, prop it would be, for with the prop clean, as Bob Buck observes in his fine book Weather Flying, "you can pull a lot of ice-covered airplane around the sky."
Since a propeller anti-ice system is a factory option, serious instrument pilots always make a point of having one installed on their airplane.
Windshield. Anti-icing for the windshield is useful when you fly from a deep bush location that is "severe clear" but very cold into a coastal area where an approach has to be made to minimums through a layer of steam fog. This steam fog will just frost the windshield but that is enough, and while the airplane's defroster (if placed on high 20 minutes or so prior to the approach) is usually adequate to keep at least a small area directly above the heat vent clear, sometimes it isn't. On such occasions, the alternatives are to land by looking through an opened side window, or to use a windshield anti-icing system. The latter is far more elegant, and since a detachable electrically-heated glass panel is a factory option, it should be given serious consideration if you need this type of equipment.
Combined wing, tail, struts, prop, and windshield anti-icing. Kohlman Aviation offers the British TKS ice protection system for the Cessna 206, which uses a glycol-based fluid to prevent or remove ice buildup. This well-proven system, whose lineage can be traced back to the mid-1930s (currently it is being used on airplanes as diverse as the BAe 125 and Short Skyvan), is certified on several light airplanes for known-icing conditions in Europe. Unfortunately, the FAA, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that additional backups, primarily a second electrical system, be required if you wish United States certification for your "small Cessnas, Mooneys, and Bonanzas."
So, though it is a proven system that is highly effective and can be installed under a STC, it is not at the present time legal for known icing in this country. Nonetheless, since real-time icing reports are rare and hard to come by in the remote north, and icing by its very nature is difficult to forecast accurately, the protection that the TKS system offers can be of value to some bush operators.
(News Flash: Mooney has just received known-icing certification from the FAA for their TLS and Ovation models equipped with the TKS anti-icing system. And while the Mooney isn't much good for bush work, perhaps Cessna might take a leaf from the Mooney book and offer it on their new C-206 once they resume production.)
Dual vacuum systems. Factory options, they are a must for IFR.
Cargo tiedowns. These tiedown blocks -- they bolt to the seat rails -- are an important Cessna option for aircraft used in cargo operations. I generally use 12 of them, and always secure my cargo well -- using a custom-made heavy-duty cargo-restraint system manufactured out of 2" nylon webbing by Cargo Systems Company of Dallas, Texas -- even though it adds a little extra time to the loading and unloading process.
(1)Regarding the time it takes to install the Flint tanks, on July 10, 2002 I received an email from the current President of Flint Aero, Charles LaGreca, telling me that there are three shops on his home field that can install the Flint tanks in about 40 hours and are charging at this time between $2200 to $2450. Might be worth checking out, and certainly worth it if the workmanship is top notch in all its details.
(2) Also in his email, Mr. LaGreca mentioned that my wait is now over -- in fact, has been over for a number of years -- because Flint finally got around to redesigning his tanks and they are no longer vented through the caps on the top of the wings, but through the bottom of the wing. This of course doesn't help those of us who bought the earlier versions, but it is a good thing for those who need new LR tanks.