Great Smokies: Aircraft for the Adventure

These turboprop-powered utility haulers will help you get your gear into the Smokies.

A Cessna Turbo Stationair with its prop turning on the tarmac.

The Cessna Model 206 Stationair has a useful load of about 1,400 pounds, making it the perfect utility aircraft for family trips. [Courtesy: Textron Aviation]

The broad range of the Great Smoky Mountains triggers the imagination to wonder what adventures lay in store within them. To a pilot, they trigger another thought: What can I pack into my airplane for those adventures, and do I have enough useful load to fit what I need? We give you three options here—including a couple of classics plus a modern turboprop—for your expanding mission that will all fit into your home hangar.

Packing Up the Family: Cessna 206

Cessna targeted its Model 206 Stationair as a utility upgrade to the popular 182—and it flies similarly though it can carry a whole lot more. The 206 has been in production since 1962 (originally as a 205 that was basically a 210 with fixed gear), so there are a lot of versions out there flying—with evolutions over the years that move along with the state of the art in engines and avionics.

The average 206 has six seats (including the pilot) and the base model has been in and out of production since 1964. In 1998, it went back into production as the 206H, powered by a 310 hp Lycoming IO-540-AC1A. The model has a rear clamshell door that allows for the loading of a wide range of recreational equipment, ideal for outdoor adventures.

With a useful load around 1,400 pounds, a takeoff distance of about 2,000 feet, and a landing distance of less than 1,500 feet (over a 50-foot obstacle, at maximum gross weight), the 206 can carry a lot in and out of relatively short strips.

The 206's service ceiling in turbocharged models runs to 26,000 feet msl, and it will cruise anywhere from 150 to 161 ktas.

A Truck-Full: Piper Cherokee Six

A popular six-seater, the Piper Cherokee Six has a large rear door that's ideal for loading gear and people. [Credit: Jason McDowell]

Another popular six-seater over the years is the Piper Cherokee Six. If you can find a good example, you’ll likely have to pry the control wheel from its owner’s hands—its solid performance as a reliable hauler is not just legend, but reality.

You’ll find two options to put into your home hangar based on the engine up front—the PA-32-260 with a 260 hp Lycoming O-540, and the PA-32-300 with the 300 hp fuel-injected Lycoming IO-540. The model has morphed into the Piper Saratoga. Between those options you still have the same large rear door in which to stuff your gear, people, and luggage—and the family pet. With a useful load of up to 1,600 pounds at maximum gross weight of 3,400 pounds, you run between 1,400 to 1,500 feet in takeoff distance, and about 1,000 feet on landing (over a 50-foot obstacle).

The Six ranges out to 700 nm with a 94-gallon capacity (somewhat less on older models), and at a typical 148 ktas cruise speed at 75 percent power, you have enough to come to the Southeast to play from a good distance away.

Speed & Efficiency: Epic E1000 GX

The E1000 GX from Epic Aircraft is fuel efficient and fast. [Courtesy: Epic Aircraft]

Not your parents’ six-seater, indeed: The E1000 GX from Epic Aircraft looks fast standing still—with the use of carbon fiber throughout its airframe, the single-engine turboprop plays the part well. And it delivers that speed (333 ktas or better) with astounding efficiency.

Once it’s cruising at altitude, the E1000’s Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67A sips as little as 40 gph and still hits up to 300 ktas. With 264 gallons of fuel on board, you can fly into the Smokies from far away, indeed.

With that speed and range flexibility, you also get significant useful load with the E1000 GX. It tops out at 2,860 pounds, with a full-fuel payload of 1,100 pounds. There’s room in the cabin too, with more than 31 inches of floor space lengthwise between the four club-configured seats in the rear.

You can get in and out of a lot of places with the E1000 GX as well. Its takeoff distance over a 50-foot obstacle is 2,254 feet, with a landing distance (also over the 50-foot obstacle) of 2,399 feet.

From that runway length, you can climb out at rates of up to 4,000 fpm to the Epic’s maximum altitude of 34,000 feet. With that kind of performance, it's a truly flexible flyer.

This article was first published in the 2022 Southeast Adventure Guide of FLYING Magazine.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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