Cessna Turbo 206 on Amphibious Floats
When trying to come up with a site for floatplane heaven, you’d go through a lot of places before you hit upon Texas, but this didn’t stop me from saying “yes” when Cessna’s chief pilot of propeller airplanes, Kirby Ortega, dropped me a note asking if I wanted to go float flying with Cessna’s resident float flying expert, Jeremy Schrag. We’d find water somewhere.
The bird of choice was the Turbo 206 on Wipaire Wipline 3450 amphibious floats, the CAD-designed, laser-drilled beauties that represent the current state of the art in things that float and fly. The Whips boast a number of latest-and-greatest features, and when combined with the Garmin G1000 panel (bearing in mind that most bush pilots — and private lodge commuters — have made a tentative peace with glass cockpits), they provide the kinds of safety warning systems that were previously unavailable.
Cessna’s latest Turbo Stationair — the bird we flew was the T206-H model — is outfitted with the Lycoming TIO-540 310 hp engine with completely automatic wastegate for ease of operation and built-in overboost protection. The combination of lots of power and lots of drag gives you about 125 knots true at just over 18 gph, plenty fast for crawling from lake to lake and plenty powerful to haul a big load in the process.
When it gets the float kit, the 206 also gets some airframe mods, perhaps the most popular of which is a right-side door. When it comes to docking, you can’t have enough doors. You also get, of course, the hardware in the cockpit to extend and retract the gear — which is pretty cool. (After all, how many 206 RGs do you know of?) There are the water rudders and an emergency lever to raise or lower the gear in case the electrics fail. There’s a tail kit that increases the vertical surface by adding a vertical fin aft of the rudder. There’s an added ventral fin, the three-blade prop is a few inches shorter, the flaps are limited to 30 degrees and there are hydraulics for the gear and rigging for the water rudders too. In all, the changes to the airplane to accommodate floats, especially amphibs, are many and beautifully executed.
The end result is, as you can see, a very pleasing package. The whole thing goes for right around $750,000, which seems like a lot, until you realize that six- or seven- year-old 206s on Wipaire floats are going for a very large percentage of that asking price. The value is there.
Jeremy met me at Austin-Bergstrom International on an unseasonably warm day, and neither one of us was complaining about it. There was a big event in Austin the next day, so there were more than a dozen bizjets, from CJs to Gulfstreams, on the ramp. Arguably, though, the 206 on floats was the prettiest bird around. It’s not very often that a 125-knot airplane turns the heads of guys flying in Challengers, but the 206 on Whips does just that.
Interestingly, the 206 was also nearly the tallest airplane on the ramp, with a cockpit height about that of a 737. It’s a multi-step job climbing up into the airplane, but surprisingly not a particularly tough one, though my days spent on big walls in Southern California have made me pretty blasé about climbing around on tall objects, much to my wife’s chagrin. The interior, also surprisingly, is simply that of a 206, though with a number of useful add-ons. There’s a real disconnect, sitting 12 feet in the air but in the cockpit of an airplane very much like all the hundreds of ground huggers I’d flown previously. It’s kind of fun, like a carnival ride.
In a like manner, taxiing is an unusual experience because it seems as though it should be a familiar activity and it’s anything but. For those of you who have never flown a good-sized amphibious float plane, the experience is a little like taxiing an airplane while it’s perched on a giant shopping cart. The feel is very different from taxiing a regular tricycle gear airplane; the bumps in the ramp feel more pronounced on the smaller wheels, and it can really turn on a dime. There are great things about it, including the visibility; it’s like driving an SUV among smart cars. That kind of stature also lets you go right over the top of lesser airplanes, including other “high-wing” Cessnas. The 206’s wing can pass right over the top of theirs with room to spare.
On takeoff, the big Lycoming kicked in and we had flying speed, 55 knots, in no time. You break ground by rotating and then immediately pushing forward, as once you break ground and the wing gets its angle of attack going, this bird is ready to fly. It’s an unusual technique; Jeremy gave me plenty of warning, and I was sure I’d be ready for it. And I was, but just barely. The effect is dramatic. Be ready to push.
One gripe about the Turbo 206 has always been that it tends to get hot going out on a warm summer day fully loaded, so pilots have had to pull back on the power on departure and early in the climb, sometimes when they really wish they didn’t have to. This, Jeremy told me, is no longer an issue, as the improved ducting and cooling on the Lycoming keeps the engine cool even in tough conditions.