Pilot report - Cessna P-210

[Reprinted from Fliteguide / Imperial Aviation]

Africa is big 210 country. It's not without good reason that Cessna's top of the range single piston has achieved such favouritism over the years; respectable cruise, decent endurance, six-seat cabin and vast luggage capacity. It's the ideal family cruiser and during the eighties in particular charter operators loved it when Lanseria was the tourist gateway to the Okovango swamps in Botswana.

Although the 210's most significant redesign came about with the introduction of the laminar flow wing in 1967, it was after Cessna launched the 'long rear window' model in 1970 that its popularity soared. The company managed to find an extra 25% cabin space and installed two extra adult seats right at the back. The 210's evolution has been remarkable considering the first one was nothing more than a modified 182. Other than name, the first 210s shared no commonality with there eighties counterparts.

When the P210 was launched, it became the only new pressurised single on the market. With the successful launch of the Pressurised 337 Skymaster in 1972, Cessna began planning for a 'P' version of there 210 in 1976, flying the first one in October of that year. The aircraft enjoyed a successful development period that perhaps lulled the company into overconfidence.

Major tasks facing project engineer Phillip Hedrick were providing tight cabin sealing around the doors and shoehorning a larger capacity turbocharger into an already crowded engine bay so that bleed air could be drawn to pump up the cabin. Problems were also experienced with turbocharger induction air capacity, which wasn't truly sorted out until after first customer deliveries.

To seal the cabin the left-hand door was made with heavy duty multiple pins. Doors, never a single-engined Cessna strong point, the company did a reasonable job in securing this large aperture. However, they were obliged to remove the right hand door and replace it with a swing-up half door and smaller cabin windows were then chosen to remove the possibility of passenger ejection in the event of a window breakage at altitude. An airtight bulkhead was then installed behind the rear seats. With so many big holes to close off, Cessna never really achieved an impressive cabin pressure differential that remained at 3.35 psi throughout its production life. The structural changes were nevertheless a happy compromise and led to a manifold decrease in cabin noise, although at the P210's ceiling, the cabin pressure was a somewhat highish 11,000 feet plus.

Cessna made a number of changes to the aircraft after it was launched in 1978, the first of which was the early removal of the gear doors. A couple of crashes during 1980 led to an FAA Airworthiness Directive forcing pilots to use much richer mixtures. The outcome was a modified intake and in 1982 a flush and much larger induction air intake was added. This fairly simple improvement had a huge effect on performance and gave an astonishing extra six inches of manifold pressure as well as bringing down temperatures. Moreover, in the wake of commonly heard 210 fuel vapour-lock problems, Cessna installed a left-right-both system with improved vapour return lines in '82.

Like later 210's, the engine is a Continental IO-520, in this case turbocharged. Unlike it's unpressurised sisters, the P210's 310hp TSIO-520-P has to work somewhat harder and thus operate at higher temperatures. Cylinder distress is therefore not uncommon on these engines, though cooling improvements have pushed up its TBO from 1,400 to 1,600 hours over the years. In 1985, Cessna introduced the P210 'R' and with it installed a 325hp TSIO-520-CE which enjoyed the benefit of twin intercoolers (This engine is available for retrofitting into earlier models).

Our test aircraft, ZS-MXR is in fact a 1981 model and has been subsequently fitted with the 'R' engine and its improved cooling and fuel system (MXR has also been fitted with long range tanks).Pressurised 210s, by their very nature tend to be operated in an IFR environment in the high teens and low twenties flight levels. Along with optional de-icing, Cessna offered dual vacuum pumps and dual alternators, the latter two being desirable extras for regular IFR flight.

Whilst many P210's were fitted new with Cessna-branded ARC avionics during the late seventies and early eighties, most aircraft will have been upgraded with King digital radios by now. Cessna came in for some criticism for offering a meagre engine instrument panel. Most got by with single EGT, the company only offering a Turbocharger Inlet Temperature gauge as an optional extra. A six-probe cylinder head gauge is a glaring omission, especially considering the aircraft's operating environment and history of cylinder cracking. However, ZS-MXR is typically well equipped for IFR flight with dual King radios, RNAV, HSI and flight director, RCA colour radar, KFC 400 autopilot, radar altimeter, DME, panel-mount GPS, intercom and a Hoskens fuel totaliser. It all works too.

Lesser-210 pilots will feel instantly at home having clambered into the P210's front seat. Immediately noticeable though is the somewhat confined feeling caused by smaller windows and a thick windscreen centre-post. Otherwise, everything is vintage 210, especially the deep panel, centre pedestal and substantial control columns. The pressurisation system is straightforward and comprises a prominent emergency dump lever, on-off switch and a rotary dial below and to the left of the column where the pilot can enter his chosen takeoff and landing cabin altitude. Above this is a gauge that repeats the actual cabin altitude.

After a normal start, throwing the avionics master brings the panel alive. The view out is somewhat restricted due to the smaller windows and to the right, because of the prominent radar pod which almost hides the right wing tip. Steering is typically heavy and it helps to keep forward movement up when making tight turns as considerable throttle is needed when attempting to manoever from the stopped position on full lock.

The Cessna 210's growth over the years, mainly in length, has been matched by continual changes to its flight control surfaces in an effort to harness its expanding C of G envelope. Cessna has put considerable effort into finding a balance between light control forces and a long cabin and luggage bay which is the 210's raison d'Ítre. Accordingly, the control runs have been tweaked with the addition of bobweights, rudder-aileron interconnect springs, elevator downsprings and even upsprings until, in 1985, the whole lot was thrown away with the last of the line R model. The R model benefited from a three foot increase in wing and horizontal tail span as well as new wing tips and modified airfoil sections. It is considered the nicest flying 210 of all.

However, earlier models have attracted a reputation for a truck-like elevator feel, especially at the flare at forward C of G, i.e. when only the front seats are occupied. The Pressurised 210 is no exception, and although its control cables have to pass through tighter grommets and seals, it still feels the same as other models.

Those familiar with the aircraft have become used to adding a whiskerof nose-up trim on final approach whichgoes a long way to removing the heavy nose-up movement necessary at the flare. Whilst most 210s will be flown on the autopilot in cruise, its nice to report that the aircraft has particularly sharp aileron response and remains a solid, stable aeroplane to fly manually, especially under IMC conditions.

Depending on power settings and altitude, the P210 will cruise happily in the 170-190 knot range and at light weights will even charge along close to 200 knots. Range with standard tanks is about 700 nautical miles with an IFR reserve.

This gets you a little nervously from Johannesburg to Cape Town in one go and easily to Maun or Harare from Johannesburg. According to the book, this can be stretched to nearer 800 nautical miles, but to do so requires leaning the mixture to a higher exhaust gas temperature. However, prudent P210 pilots will probably choose a richer setting to avoid the consequences of hotter engine temperatures and the possibility of big cylinder-related maintenance expenses. A conservative rule of thumb for fuel flow would be about 21 gallons per hour. With endurance therefore of three to three and a half-hours of cruise, it's easy to see why tip tanks are a popular and valuable modification. Normal capacity is 90 gallons - a Flint fuel tank addition adds a further 16 gallons each side.

Original 1960 210s had a gross weight of 2900 lbs. The last 210Rs went to 4100 lbs. Factory empty weight was a shade less than 2,500 lbs for the P210. With full standard fuel, this gives a cabin payload of just under a 1000 lbs which are four people and their baggage. If the aircraft has the extra tanks and they are brimmed, then according to the book, the 210 will carry three occupants plus their luggage. However, if you happen to be a perfectionist, it might be worth looking at the individual aircraft's empty weight as many Pressurised 210's are loaded with fancy avionics which will eat into the available payload.

Where the P210 really scores is in cabin comfort. There is nothing quite like a pressurised light aircraft for getting above atmospheric chop. In the summer months this can often extend to 14,000 feet and turn a potentially agreeable trip into a journey of misery, especially when travelling with children. Whilst a P210 will not climb above the majority of our thunderstorm activity, a pumped up cabin translates into a more relaxed and leisurely flight at higher speeds. Furthermore, this level of luxury is in addition to the 210's legendary ability to handle bush strips with up to six passengers and their baggage.

Although Cessna had a huge lead in being the sole manufacturer of a single engined pressurised aeroplane (notwithstanding Mooney's unpopular M22 Mustang which was made between 1967 and 1970), it was knocked off this spot by the 1983 launch of Piper's low wing Malibu and subsequent turbine-powered singles like the hugely more expensive Socata TBM700 and Pilatus PC12. The 210 remains almost unique in its ability to operate into narrow dirt strips as well as comfortably mixing it in the lower rarified flight levels.

An Owners View:

Bill Olmstead, CEO of Lanseria-based Executive Helicopters has owned ZS-MXR for some four years and considers the P210 "the nicest private aircraft I've owned". "I've had a few aeroplanes including a pressurised Mooney Mustang, which I liked, a pressurised Baron, a Baron 55 and normal 210. Most of my trips are with family into Botswana and Mozambique. My family isn't keen on the bumpy territory of the unpressurised so I have chosen pressurised aircraft to make the flights as pleasant as possible for them. The P210 is relatively quick, has a good short field performance, high wing, which is better for the bush, and is reasonably inexpensive to run. My P210 is fitted with a 325hp 'R' model engine with dual intercoolers, an updated fuel system and long range tanks. I also have a Cessna 421 that is used for charter purposes. I don't fly the 210 much and it's under used, hence the reason for selling it."

Specifications Cessna P210N

- Engine: Continental TSIO-520-P 310hp TBO 1600 hrs
- Seats 6
- Max speed 201 knots
- Rcmd cruise 190 knots
- Stall 58 knots
- Fuel capacity stnd 90 gallons
- Ceiling 23,000 feet
- Takeoff grnd run 1300yds
- Gross weight 4,000 lbs
- Empty weight 2,481 lbs
- Length 28'2"
- Height 9'8"
- Wing span 36'9"
- Range nm 661nm


Note: PlaneCheck often has some nice Cessna P-210's for sale