We leveled off at 5,500 feet, I set the power, and we watched the Texas Hill Country slide by below us. The three of us, Tom Canavera and Gary Buchanan from Sierra Industries and I, were heading over to Gillespie County Airport in Fredericksburg to grab a bite to eat at the regionally famous and ubiquitously named Airport Diner. It was a relatively short jaunt from Sierra Industries' headquarters in Uvalde, Texas, but it was long enough to let us get up to altitude and see the old 210 do what it does best: cruise in high style.
Except this felt more like a new 210 than an old one, if new 210s existed. With Sierra's modification, which it calls the Super Centurion, you get to enjoy that style with many of the safety features and amenities that pilots today have come to expect, as well as some improvements to the original design that Cessna either never offered or never got quite right.
The Super Centurion features Garmin glass, a host of aerodynamic modifications, a modern autoflight system and better paint and interior than when it came out the factory door back when Cessna built its singles in Wichita, Kansas.
It built a lot of them too. There's no denying that the Centurion, which was produced for more than 25 years and which has now been out of production for more than 25 years, holds a special place in the hearts of many pilots, and for good reason.
When it was introduced in 1957, the 210 was the flagship of the Cessna piston single lineup, which over the years has included some of the most popular airplanes ever built. At first, the Centurion was little more than a 182 with retractable landing gear — which isn't much of a knock — but it soon got its own identity, with its signature cantilevered wing, six-seat interior and more-powerful engine that made it a hot seller for Cessna for many years. There was, it goes without saying, a turbocharged version of the model that came along in the mid-1960s, and it, just like every turbocharged model the company has introduced, sold better than the original. A pressurized version, the P210, arrived in the late 1970s. Overall, Cessna built just fewer than 10,000 210s, an average of more than 350 a year. There are still a lot of these airplanes around, and they were mostly used as personal transportation airplanes, unlike 172s and even 182s, which were often used as training, rental or working airplanes. Consequently, most 210s have many fewer hours on them than other fixed-gear Cessna singles of the same vintage do.
More than in just about any other piston single, the difference in 210s from the start of its production life until the end of the line is very dramatic. The first airplanes were not particularly fast, and the later airplanes were pretty darn fast. And the difference between performance down low and at altitude is dramatic. So, it's impossible to generalize about performance other than to say that the 210 is a good transportation airplane that carries a good load.
When Cessna restarted production in the early 1990s, there was talk of it restarting 210 production, but I'd be surprised if that restart ever got very far. Compared with the 182 and 206 models, which feature strut-braced wings and fixed gear, the 210 would have been a great deal more expensive for Cessna to certify and to build.
A used Centurion, however, is a great value. These airplanes feature a mix of appealing capabilities, including good speed, impressive hauling ability, a comfortable cabin for four with the possibility of taking a couple of more people along in the two back seats, and the predictable flying manners that Cessna was and is famous for.
Scanning the aircraft sales sheets — it's a great time to buy used piston singles — sellers seem to be asking between $125,000 and $150,000 (and sometimes a bit less) for a late '70s to early '80s Centurion with a fairly low airframe time and a midtime engine. And those are asking prices. Earlier airplanes are available for even less, but do your research first to find out what you're getting and what the potential pitfalls are.
The Sierra Treatment
Sierra Industries owns dozens of supplemental type certificates for Cessna aircraft, from 150s to Citations. When it decided to update the low-time (2,500 hours total time) 1977 M-Model Turbo Centurion it already owned, it soon became clear that it could transform the airplane.
It started with an engine upgrade, a Continental Motors TSIO-520-R Black Edition from Victor Aviation. The engine runs smooth and strong — it's a 310 hp model — and burns an amount of fuel comparable to what the original TSIO-520 burned.
It's hard to say just what constitutes the "heart" of the upgrade, but the Garmin G500 flat-panel installation has to be high on the list. The more I fly the G600/500 system, the more I like it. It is compact, simple to operate and remarkably capable. Moreover, it's a terrific value. For the cost of the system, around $25,000 in the Sierra Super Centurion, you can taxi in with an airplane that has a panel that is, let's face it, pretty dated and taxi out with one that has most of the latest capabilities.
To refresh your memory, that includes, in addition to the glass displays, built-in solid-state ADAHRS (which in my book is one of the best safety investments you can make) and HSI/ADI with airspeed, altitude and VSI tapes, true airspeed, wind direction and velocity vector. Plus, you have available synthetic vision, Garmin's remarkable computerized display of the outside world put right on the PFD. There's also built-in terrain awareness, which displays both on the MFD and the PFD with synthetic vision shown.
You also get as part of the package an excellent MFD, with moving map, XM Weather, Garmin instrument charts, autopilot altitude preselect interface and display of traffic — and it displays on the synthetic vision of the PFD.