Pilot report - Cessna 207

[Reprinted from Fliteguide / Imperial Aviation]

It's remarkable what can be squeezed out of an airframe. More than once have eyebrows been raised at the aircraft manufacturers endless talent at chopping up a pretty fuselage and plugging the gap with an additional tube of duraluminium. Want more seats sir? Of course just look over here will you. And the maker would point at a draughting table and reveal his latest stretch-cum-dash number, guaranteed to please even the most skeptical airline accountant. There's nothing new to this. Lockheed were past masters beginning with the World War II era Hudson bomber and ending with the enlarged and visually similar PV-2 Harpoon. The Constellation began life at a mere 95 feet and 2 inches. It's last iteration, the serene but temperamental Starliner was 116 feet long. More was to come. Douglas added nearly 40 feet to its DC-8 airliner during the aeroplane's 14-year manufacturing period.

Few major manufacturers haven't dabbled with such mods, all of them in pursuit of greater payload volume and sometimes range. Light aircraft makers also joined in, especially during the sixties and seventies. Such was the industry growth rate, general aviation manufacturers spied a fresh need every time a customer said; 'yeah well if only it had a couple of extra seats, somewhere to load my fishing tackle and maybe a bit more power'. Salesman would shoot off a memo to management and design would be called in to plug the gap.

Cessna's 207 was a brilliant example of this ethos and the company was not modest in chopping their jack-of-all-trades bushmobile 206 and adding an ungainly forty-eight inches to the airframe. It was not a thing of beauty but it allowed an extra 200 lbs of payload and a seventh seat. During the sixties, Cessna's engineers were so busy with flight testing new models it was decided to hand over the 207's design to an outside contractor. This was an unprecedented decision at the time and one that may have caused murmurs of discontent amongst design staff, especially as it went to a company headed by well respected former Beechcraft engineer Gomer Jones. Cessna however, recognized that the 207 would have a fairly limited market and wanted to avoid big development costs. They ordered Jones to stretch the 206 without re-profiling the fuselage. Thus a thirty inch stretch was added aft of rear doorpost and an eighteen inch draw at the front, forward of the firewall. The result was not pretty but it enabled Cessna to add another seat row and a separate baggage bay in the nose. The extra payload, modest as it was, dictated a beefier structure. The wings, struts, fuselage and tail section were strengthened and the 206's four bolt wing attachment was changed to a six bolt design. In addition, a tubular steel main wheel gear leg was fitted and the nosewheel steering was all new. The 207 was the only strut-braced model never to get the 'camber-lift' wing and the only utility model not approved or tested by the factory for float installation.

Unchanged was the engine. Originally designed in the slide-rule era late fifties, Continental's ubiquitous 300hp IO-520 was taken straight from the '67 year model 206 and hung onto the 207. The IO-520 is basically a modified IO-470 crankcase with bigger bore cylinders. They are somewhat loosely described as 'sand cast crankcase' or 'rear alternator' 520s - different to their 'permold' brothers that power Bonanzas, Barons and 210s. It has been said that the 206's engine is more durable than the 210's example though in practice the sand cast model Fs and Ls are just as prone to crankcase and cylinder cracking. The Conti' installation on the 207, like the 206, was given a 1700 hour TBO - perhaps a little optimistic. Cessna also offered a turbocharged version using an automatic controller regulated AiResearch turbo. Again, this sand cast engine, with its rear mounted alternator, differs from the Turbo Centurion's TSIO-520 but shares the same 1400 hour TBO.

The first 207 flew in May 1968 and was launched a year later with a sticker price of US$28,000 for a normally aspirated version and US$33,000 for a turbo model. 149 airframes were built during the first year's production. The following year Cessna included its 'padded slab' control yoke, various instrument panel and trim improvements and bonded, rather than riveted, doors. Whilst the company continually tweaked the 207's interior fittings and panel switchgear, it wasn't until 1978 that they decided it was time to add their generic naming process to the type. Thus it became the Stationair-7. Along with the new name it got a 28 volt electrical system and a quieter exhaust to satisfy the FAA's Part 36 standards. The most dramatic cabin change occurred in 1980 when the manufacturer offered an eight place seating arrangement and an optional club layout with a booze cabinet and writing table. These versions are extremely rare. In 1983 the turbocharged 207 benefited from a TBO increase to 1600 hours. Unfortunately only four 207s were made in 1983 and twenty in 1984, forcing Cessna to close the line having built a total of 785 airframes.

The 207 is therefore a fairly rare bird by Cessna standards. The new price in 1984 was US$135,000.

Considering its elongated and lumpy shape, the 207 has the most incredible aft C of G limits - 42 percent of mean aerodynamic chord - unequalled by any other light aircraft. This was helped by the 207's extremely long tail arm. Indeed, pilots boasting about how they could tell if the aft C of G is out of limits by loading it until the tail touched the ground is a true story straight from Cessna's project pilot Paul Leckman. During his preflight inspections he would gently push the tail tie-down ring onto the concrete. With no pilot on board, he would make sure the tail would rise. If it didn't, the C of G was too far aft.

A 206 driver or even a 210 pilot will have no problems mastering the 207. The aeroplane continued Cessna's traditional philosophy of commonality from the 150 to the 210. In other words, the panel layout is a familiar combination of throttle-propellor-mixture plungers, centre avionics, left lower engine switches and lower electrical circuitry with fuel gauges and engine instruments on the right hand panel. The pilots position is pure 206 but with slightly reduced visibility over the nose. Like all big Cessna piston singles, the panel is deep and imposing. However, seat adjustment is generous so that those preferring a high-chair position can crank up the cushion in exchange for bringing the wing root to eye level. Rear accommodation is somewhat more utilitarian the further back you go so that the seventh occupant is perched on a thin-looking frame with a floor cutout to provide at least some, if marginal, legroom. For some reason the seventh seat was a bone of contention for insurance companies in the product liability-mad seventies. Cessna found that owners were required to pay a hefty third party premium for the extra passenger which had the effect of suppressing sales at one stage. Behind the last row of seating is a small area for baggage.

Starting the IO-520 is straightforward from cool and it rumbles into life like any other big bore Continental. Nosewheel steering is heavyish at forward C of G loads but no more so than a 206. Although the wing is a little stronger than a 206's it shares the same dimensions and flap and aileron area. When the 206 was designed, Cessna had to increase the 205's (Super Skylane) flap area to give their new aircraft a better short field performance. The increase in flap width meant a reduction in aileron width so Cessna increased aileron chord to retain roll response. The 207 also shares the 206's tail dimensions so takeoff performance and handling are close. Indeed, book figures show that the 207 only requires an extra 100 feet or so of runway despite its extra 200 lbs gross weight.

Takeoff is entirely conventional and if the weight is taken off the nosewheel early during the roll, the aircraft flies itself off with a minimal input on the column. The 206 Skywagon isn't exactly nimble but it's not supposed to be. At sea level and gross weight, Cessna say the 207 will climb at a modest 810 feet per minute and 885 for the turbo'd version.

In the air the 207 loses about four knots to its smaller and lighter 206 parent. In turbocharged form, Cessna claim 165 knots at 6500 feet. This is considered extremely optimistic by most owners. Set up in the cruise at 5000 feet with 36 inches of manifold pressure and 2400 rpm, the aircraft will return 140 mph using 13.9 gallons per hour, or for those preferring metric numbers - 56 litres per hour. This represents a 65 percent power setting. Pushing the throttle further to 75 percent will significantly increase fuel consumption for a minimal speed increase to 145 mph. A new Continental TSIO-520-G will maintain 35 inches of manifold pressure all the way to 18,000 feet. This represents a heady 85 percent power setting. Higher and the altitude begins to take effect. The engine has to be throttled back from 100 percent after three minutes - the maximum allowable according to the pilot's operating handbook.

In cruise the 207 is utterly stable - more so than the already very stable 206. This is again because of its greater fuselage length. While control input during banking maneuvers requires a tad more muscle, the 207 has high levels of controllability, trim stability and excellent transitional stick forces. Looking back at the elevator during cruise and with only three people on board, the aircraft carries a noticeable amount of down elevator so that the mass balance on the elevator tips protrudes into the airflow. Load the aircraft and this reduces. In flight the big Cessna requires little trim input throughout its speed range including flap deployment in the circuit. Load seems to have little effect on cruise speed. Stalling is a benign experience and the nose drops gently with a slight wing drop at 67 mph with full flap. Clean, the aircraft will stop flying at 75 mph.

Noise levels are predictably low, mainly due to the insulating qualities of the capacious baggage compartment between the firewall and instrument panel bulkhead. Standard fuel capacity is 61 gallons useable which is fairly restrictive. However, it does just about allow a 442 nautical mile trip between Johannesburg and Maun to be completed in a shade over three hours. Unless it's cabin volume that's needed, this is not the sort of aeroplane to buy if Johannesburg - Cape Town is a regular requirement. However, a 570 nautical mile fishing weekend to Kariba from Johannesburg would require a fuel stop at Bulawayo. For a sector like this, it does not really matter about trading cabin weight for range as a fuel stop is needed anyway. With 61 gallons on board the 207 has a whopping 1,234 lbs of available cabin payload - enough for seven 170 lb occupants and a little luggage. Thus carrying enough fuel for a safe sector to Bulawayo would allow an extra 60 lbs of baggage.

To get around this inflexibility, Cessna offered optional 80 gallon long range tanks, which if fitted, reduced payload by the weight of about one child. The aeroplane's roll therefore is best suited to shortish trips under 300 miles - ideal for connecting outlying bush strips with regional airports.

Whilst longer routes need some careful flight planning, the other limiting factor is rear seat comfort.

There are no big surprises in returning a 207 to earth. Both the 210 and 206 have heavy elevator control forces at the flare at forward C of Gs. The 210 requires somewhat more skill if everything goes wrong as the nose has a habit dropping sharply if speed is allowed to decay too much. The 206 is somewhat more ponderous to place on the runway - especially if aileron is needed under crosswind conditions. The 207 is more 206 than 210 and also requires a firm hand to flare evenly, allowing the big aeroplane to settle gently onto the tarmac. As with all these high performance Cessna piston singles, a good approach is the best bet for a well controlled arrival. There's nothing skittish about the 207 and the extra wide tubular main undercarriage is extremely pliant.

If you have a large family or need top fly up to eight people and large pieces of equipment over relatively short sectors, the 207 could be a natural choice without having to go to the expense of turbine power or a larger twin. Unfortunately there are not many 207s around which is curious considering Africa's special conditions. However, like the ubiquitous 206 Skywagon, the 207 Stationair is somewhat short on long range cruise speeds which goes some way to explaining why the 210 is so suited to African flying conditions.


Note: PlaneCheck often has some nice Cessna 207's for sale