Four Proven 6-Seat Single-Engine People Movers
- January 18, 2019
- Buying Aircraft, Flying, General Aviation Information
- Posted by Jeffrey Richmond
- Leave your thoughts
So, you have outgrown your 4-seat aircraft.
More kids, more friends, more stuff—the time has come to look at something larger with six seats. And you are still cost conscious or just have not upgraded to a multi-engine rating.
There are four practical candidates in the six-seat single engine market that may provide the solution you are looking for—each with enough individual features to give you real choices. The six-seat class includes the Cessna 206, Piper Six, Beechcraft A36, and the Piper Malibu.
All of the aircraft listed were originally equipped for night and basic instrument flying. Many have been upgraded to new instrumentation, even “glass” cockpits, so a thorough search of the market can score some very well-equipped aircraft for reasonable prices.
It is time to pull out—or make up—your list of must-haves and tradeoffs and look through the options you have. Three of these have production lineages that reach back to the 1960s and continued into the 2000s, or are still in production, giving you a wide range of age, equipment, and price options. Also, most were produced in large numbers—3000 to 8500—suggesting that engines, parts, and service technicians are still relatively easy to find. They are presented here in first-to-last order of initial production.
This aircraft first rolled off the Wichita production line in 1962 as the 205. The 205 was developed from the Cessna 210, but without the retractable gear. Production of the 205 only lasted two years and was replaced in 1964 with the 206. Production began in 1964 and the first deliveries were in 1965.
Several variants, or models, were produced.
Some “old timers” may
remember the aircraft name “Super Skywagon,” an earlier name for what became the “Stationair.”
The most common model was the U206, described as a“utility” aircraft. It had a pilot side door and rear clam-shell doors for access to the rear cabin. Another model, the P206—“P” indicating “people”—in production from 1965 to 1979, was marketed as a “Super Skylane,” although it had no link to the original Skylane lineage. The P206 had passenger doors rather than the clamshell doors.
More than 5,200 had been delivered by the time production ended in 1986. A total of at least 6,500 206s have been produced. The 206 line was restarted in 1998 as the H206. The 206H is powered by aLycoming engine producing 300 hp or a turbocharged engine producing 310 hp. Both the 206H and the T206H remain in production. By the end of 2004 Cessna had produced 221 206Hs and 505 T206Hs, for a total production of 726 “H” models.
Reasons to Select a Cessna 206
A large portion of the U.S. piloting community learned to fly in Cessna 150/152 trainers and moved up to the Cessna 172. Those pilots will feel at home in the 206. This is a solid aircraft that pretty much stays pointed where you want it to go. A quick search of the Internet shows a selection of aircraft available for a wide range of prices. For example, we spotted what appeared to be a clean 1966 model with good paint and IFR equipped for $129,000.
There was a similar year model for a mere $70,000, which brings up one caution: the high-winged Cessnas were popular aircraft for sky-diving and aerial survey operations. In which case, they have no seats in the back. This may be a good way to get into an aircraft at a good price, if you are prepared to spend the money to bring it back to a six-seat airplane.
If the 206 is not quite big enough for your crew, there was what you might call a 206-stretch, actually tagged as the Model 207 that was a seven, or later, an eight-seat version of the 206. The fuselage aft was extended 45 in. to allow more space for seats and one more window was added aft of the wing. A baggage compartment was added in a 16-in. extension behind the firewall, forward of the cockpit for added baggage. The same engine was used. Reportedly, 626 Cessna 207s were produced.
The PA-32 series began life in 1965 as the 260 horsepower PA32-260 Cherokee Six, a significantly modified six-seat development of the four-seat PA-28 Cherokee.
The Cherokee Six and its successors feature a baggage compartment in the nose between the cockpit and the engine compartment as well as a large double door in the back for easy loading of passengers and cargo.
Early Cherokee Six pilots thought that 260 hp was not enough, and in 1967, Piper began delivering a 300 hp version in 1967.
In 1979, a tapered wing replaced the original square wing, and the aircraft was renamed the Saratoga, but still carried the PA 32 model number. This, plus the retractable gear Piper Lance, introduced in 1975, formed the Saratoga family of Piper luxury aircraft.
Due to product liability concerns and economic conditions, the general aviation industry went into decline in the early 1980s and Saratoga production ceased in 1985.
Enter the Piper 6X
After the General Aviation Revitalization Actof 1994, production of the retractable-gear Saratoga resumed. A fixed-gear PA32 was re-introduced in 2003 as the Piper 6X and the turbocharged 6XT. Sales of the 6X and 6XT models did not meet expectations.
As Your Next Airplane
Pilots who have any four-place Piper Cherokee or Archer time will feel at home in the Six’s cockpit.
Seating for six was realistic, but smaller passengers might need to be placed in the rear cabin seats for best weight and balance. And like any airplane,
there will be a trade off between full fuel tanks and full passenger seats. The “Six” becomes a very roomy aircraft for four people with room for skis, camping gear, or suitcases for an extended trip.
A quick scan of Internet postings suggests that a 1970s Cherokee Six can be purchased for $100,000, plus or minus $25,000. Elsewhere, we spotted a 2007 Cherokee 6X for $429,900. Early 6XTs list for the low $200,000s and up.
The A36 was Beechcraft’s answer for the six-seat market in 1970. The A36 was a development of the very successful Beechcraft four-seat Bonanza that first went on the market in 1947. More than 17,000 Bonanzas of all variants have been built, including the iconic V-tail Bonanza.
The model A36 was produced between 1970 and 2005. It came with a deluxe interior, a higher takeoff weight, and from 1984 it was fitted with a Continental IO-550-BB 300 hp engine and redesigned instrument panel and controls. 2128 of this model were built.
The A36 features four side windows. A large two-piece utility door on the right side provide entry to the aft passenger cabin. Through 1983, the standard control was a throw-over control yoke. In 1984 Beechcraft added dual flight controls and quadrant-style engine controls. There was a 70-pound aft baggage bin. Options included engine upgrades, club seating, other interior upgrades, and wingtip tanks.
The A36 the airframe benefitted for 20 years of earlier Bonanza experience. Using conventional construction resulted in a durable and generally easier to repair airframe. In addition, with production of the A36 model lasting so long, and the G36 featuring the same basic construction as the A36, parts are widely available. This helps simplify any maintenance and repairs.
The cockpit area is roomy for larger pilots, and the windshields wraps up overhead for excellent visibility and light. The Bonanzas also tend to have a lower ambient noise level in the cabin, adding to the comfort of flight.
As Your Next Airplane
The Beech A36 is something of an upgrade in appointments from the Cessna U206 and the Piper Six. Leather seats, a relatively wide cabin, and inflatable lumbar support for the pilot and copilot seats make for a very comfortable ride.
Standard seating is six seats, especially with optional club seating, provides excellent legroom, especially when flying with only four people. Also, the aft seats are easily removable for more cargo space with four passengers.
For cruise speed, the A36 is out front of the U206 and Piper Six, cruising at a comfortable 176 kt, at a relatively thrifty 15 gph.
The A36 may also be among the easiest to fly. Pitch control is precise and predictable, helping to make approaches and landings smooth and predictable.
As with the other aircraft, the production numbers mean that parts and maintenance should be readily available, speeding up the turn-around time when some widget gives up and has to be replaced.
Beech aircraft tend to hold their value, but browsing the internet revealed 1970s A36s available for $124,000 and another for $129,000. More typical asking prices for mid 1980s models were in the $225,000 to $250,000 and up. The online listing agencies seem to have reasonable inventories with a range of ages, equipment, and prices.
In the late 1990s, the A36 was replaced with the Bonanza G36 that starts at roughly $780,000 new. The good news is that the G36 retains many of the parts and assemblies of the earlier A36.
The Piper Malibu family is a latecomer to this group—the first Malibu was delivered in 1983. While the Malibu line is not anchored in the 1960s like Cessna’s and Piper’s offerings, it still dates back 20-plus years and is a six-seat single engine aircraft which dumps it clearly in our group’s description. The Malibu had a hard “childhood.” Its TSIO-46-310P 310hp experienced several engine failures resulting in several crashes, including one high-profile accident that resulted in $32-million-plus settlement to the pilot injured in the crash. Early Malibu aircraft had some other reliability issues and it had a reputation as being a “problem airplane.”
In 1989, Piper launched the Malibu Mirage, which, among other changes, included a more powerful TIO-540-AE2A 350hp engine. Other changes include a newly designed wing.
The Mirage is a dependable aircraft and slowly overcame the earlier reputation of the “problem airplane.” In 2005, Piper dropped the Malibu Mirage name, simply referring to it as the M350. The aircraft has continued to evolve, with new and upgraded cockpit displays and systems. The original acrylic windshield was replaced with glass, and the stronger wing of the turboprop Meridian was adopted for the Mirage and later M350s.
The M350 is the only marque of the group to survive to current production.
The Cessna U206 or the Piper Six were designed with one eye on the on-demand charter or feeder aircraft markets. Interiors were functional and basic—not luxurious. There were upgrades for the discriminating individual. The Malibu line, culminating in the M350, were designed for the well-heeled owner/operator or small business, requiring a certain level of refinement, even luxury in the interior appointments, as well as performance. There are aesthetic, ergonomic, and tactile aspects of the airplane that are not found in the other aircraft.
Its handling qualities are highly regarded, with control forces in all axes being light and responsive.
In the early years, the Malibu was hailed, reviled, then resurrected — all against the backdrop of a faltering parent company tainted by bankruptcy. The Mirage’s strengths bolstered the marque. In 1995, the production of 41 Mirages helped to put Piper back on track as a healthy aircraft manufacturer. Mirage was expected to account for 40 percent of Piper’s total anticipated sales of 173 airplanes and outsell every other model that the company was producing. It was Piper’s strongest player in its successful effort to recover from bankruptcy.
The good news is that there are good inventory of pre-owned Malibu/Mirage/M350s on the market. Although pre-owned Mirages may higher resale prices, aircraft provides a level of comfort and speed found in some twin-engine aircraft without the cost of maintaining a second engine—and other associated costs. Listings for a mid-1990s Mirages begin around $320,000 and work up to $800,000 for later models.
In summary, there are enough single-engine, six-seat aircraft available on the market to keep prices competitive. Additionally, based on the numbers, there is also likely to be reasonably priced supply of common parts and A&P mechanics familiar with the aircraft. Aircraft that have been in production for as long as those discussed here have been around long enough for quirks and issues to have been resolved and you should be able to keep any one of these aircraft airworthy and running with routine maintenance.
Of course, secure the service of a reputable A&P to inspect the aircraft and its records to check for general condition appropriate for age, total hours on the aircraft, and any history you can find. Cessna U206s that have been used as jump planes, or Piper Six aircraft that were used for forwarding cargo may be sound aircraft, but may need a lot of work to bring them up to the standard of a weekend getaway machine.
About The Author
Jeffrey Lawrence Richmond
Jeff has been flying and writing for more than thirty-five years. He flew in the Air Force and later taught college-level aeronautics. He has worked as a flight instructor, commuter airline pilot, a professional photographer, and was a business and technical writer for both Pratt and Whitney and Lockheed Martin. Now retired, Jeff, in addition to continuing his writing activities, is on a mission to visit, photograph and write about aerospace museums—especially the smaller, lesser-known museums.