35 min read

Date: 04/09/1979 – 09/17/2007

Aircraft Make & Model: Cessna P210N

Aircraft Ident.: N40RC

Route of Flight:

From: Here

To: 48 States and Canada

Duration of Flight: 8,963.44 hours

Actual Instrument: 795.2 Hours

Night: 273 Hours

Pilot-in-Command: 8,963.44 Hours

Yes, it was many more log entries than that and they spanned about half of the total calendar time that I flew as pilot-in-command and not far short of half of the hours that I flew as pilot-in command.

Richard Collins with N40RC

Man and machine – together for nearly 9000 hours.

In flying this one airplane so much I learned a lot of things about every element of light airplane operation. Weather, mechanical considerations, insurance, flying technique, malfunctions, the pitfalls of building a new type based on an old certification and having fun dealing with all of it were part of my trip in N40RC. It was also quite an education on the shortfalls of FAA approval and certification of airplanes and accessories. It did a poor job on this one.

Back in the 1970s I knew that Cessna was developing a pressurized version of the 210 and I was convinced that this would define an important new class of personal and business airplanes. It was my thought that piston-powered pressurized singles would be a big factor in the market for years to come. (For the record, I was wrong.) Mooney had built the pressurized Mustang M22 but it was a slug, few (32 as best as I could figure) were built, and not much was learned about this general class of airplanes from it.

I wanted a P210. The process started as I expanded my editorial travel budget at FLYING to wrap itself around such an airplane.

It was a logical and easy case to make. I had been based in Little Rock, covering the middle of the country for the magazine and flying a Cardinal RG. Then I became Editor-in-Chief and moved to the New York office. Little Rock had been in the middle of everything. New York was far removed from everything and I needed a more capable airplane in which to run the traps, which were still mostly in the middle of the country.

Because FLYING was a business, there were considerations like the identities of our best customers. I was the employee chosen to do business with Cessna, I liked the company and its products, and I had previously bought a new Skyhawk and that Cardinal RG. Russ Meyer, who was running Cessna at the time, was a good salesman. I made a deal for a P210 to be named N40RC.

I originally leased the P210 from Cessna Finance but later financed it through one of the organizations that specialized in aircraft financing and it became mine, so to speak.

N40RC being built at Cessna

Watching N40RC come together at Cessna

I followed the construction of 40RC, with the help of friends at Cessna. I already had experience with the P210 through evaluation flights, some of which were long. I also knew that the airplane had growing pains. After a nonstop from Wichita to Trenton, N. J. with a Cessna pilot we were greeted with an urgent phone call. The airplane we flew was supposed to have been grounded because of an exhaust system problem.

When we took the cowling off it was apparent the exhaust system was a basket case. It was a wonder the system had been able to maintain manifold and cabin pressure on the trip east but we decided that it must have started really coming unglued toward the end of the trip.

The quickest way to fix this was with a visit to a master mechanic, Jack Poage, at another airport. He was the only person in range who could weld an exhaust system.

Jack, who later became the FBO at Westminster, Maryland, where I based for a while, fixed the system and remarked that it looked pretty Mickey Mouse to him. Everything went back together and the Cessna pilot headed back to Wichita.

I filed this away and would revisit the exhaust system problem as time passed.

The P210 had a lot of what you might call design problems. You might not anticipate this because Cessna had built a lot of 210s and should have known what they were doing. That turned out to be true regarding the airframe, but the interaction between the pilot and engine and systems and the way the airplane was used turned out to be all-new and quite troublesome, to Cessna, to the FAA, and to the users of the airplane.

The turbocharged T210 had been around for a long while, and I am sure Cessna felt like they had learned much of what there was to know through their experience with this airplane. Little did they know that the pressurized airplane would be used in ways that would compromise what had been considered well-proven systems.

At that time, the rules allowed for the development of new airplanes based on existing type certificates. Most existing certificates had been issued based on CAR 3 (Civil Aviation Regulations Part 3) which dealt with certification standards. This had been upgraded to FAR Part 23 on the same subject but quite a bit of time elapsed before a new airplane was developed to the new standards.

A CAR 3 airplane was every bit as good as an FAR 23 airplane structurally but they were from a simpler time. You might say those requirements did an excellent job if setting the standards for a Cub. To be sure, there were special conditions and changes applied to subsequent airplanes built under an existing TC, and the P210 is listed as certified under both CAR 3 and FAR 23, but it still has the same basic certification basis as the original 1960 210 with which it has nothing in common. The date on that first 210 TC is April 20, 1959.

I don’t think anyone envisioned a pressurized airplane that was certified to 23,000 feet and had equipment approved for flight in icing as a CAR 3 airplane. Certainly in the P210 (and P337 which preceded it) many of the systems were pushed to (and sometimes beyond) the limits they had been exposed to even on the turbocharged but unpressurized versions of those airplanes. Neither CAR 3 nor Part 23 paid much attention to systems. As my use of the airplane unfolded, those systems got my undivided attention. A lot of other folks joined in and it was quite a learning experience.

Cessna P210N

Collins’s P210 was one of the first of a class – the pressurized, piston single.

I was a proud pilot when I took delivery of 40RC on April 9, 1979. I had a mission to fly that day, from Wichita to Houston. That flight, flown at a low Flight Level, went just fine. A day or so later, though, when headed home, things changed a bit. When I landed for fuel at Knoxville, Tennessee, the landing gear and belly of the airplane were awash with oil and a substantial discoloration on the cowling was external evidence of an exhaust leak.

I had to leave the airplane for repair and make my way home in a rented airplane. Ironically, it was a Cardinal RG.

A few days later I went back and fetched my P210. I vaulted up to Flight Level 190 for the trip to New Jersey and learned on the way up that the climb rate didn’t qualify as “vaulting” on a warm day. Climbing was not one of the airplane’s strong points. I got some ice at FL 190, the deice handled it okay, but the engine temperatures advanced almost to the redlines. That was probably caused by some loss of airspeed even while operating at high power, and ice on the cowling inlets causing a slight restriction to the cooling flow through the cowling.

When I put the airplane in the hangar it was with the thought that this would be an easy airplane in which to hurt myself. I was no longer the invincible young soldier that I once was and now had a family and the attendant responsibilities so I thought more about stuff like this than I once did. Everything about this new airplane needed to be watched.

The first “failure” was of the charging system. The alternator drive belt broke which disabled the system. The airplane was only a week or so old at the time.

I stopped at Savannah for mechanical service and didn’t realize how perceptive a remark made by the technician would turn out to be. After he removed the cowling and started looking for the alternator he said, “You have got to be kidding.” There was indeed a lot of stuff crammed in there and as I would slowly learn, this would mean more than busted knuckles and swear words for the technicians who worked on it. At the time, I (nor Cessna nor the FAA) realized what a profound role heat in the accessories section of the cowling would play in the life of this airplane.

The heat was pronounced both because of crowding and because the airplane was flown much higher more often that T210s had been flown and the higher you fly a turbocharged piston, the hotter it runs.

About a month after that belt failure, the alternator itself failed.

In total, there were seven charging system failures in the first few years of operation. Many involved a broken drive belt.

The alternator belt looked small for a 95 amp alternator and I started having it checked frequently. It would often be frayed and changing it would reset the clock on that problem. I made a discovery a few years later that resolved the belt question. Cessna used basically the same alternator as a second unit on the turboprop Caravan. A triple-V drive belt was used in that application. I finagled the triple-V pulley for both the engine and the alternator, got it all approved and installed, and never had one of the stouter belts break.

Some years later a small standby alternator became available and I got one of the first of those. Like so many things, buying one of the first meant the cost was much higher than it later became. The standby wouldn’t run everything but it would run enough to complete any trip where the electrical load could be minimized.

One alternator failure was rather memorable. I had left Fort Worth headed eastbound and was climbing in the vicinity of Dallas Love Field when I heard electrical arcing and could smell electrically-induced smoke. The alternator had failed in a rather grandiose manner. When it did go, it fried the big circuit breaker that was supposed to pop and protect everything else though nothing other than the alternator and breaker was damaged.

Love Field was closest so I landed there. Love was (and is) more of a heavy iron location and finding someone to work on a light airplane was a problem. I finally found a sympathetic shop foreman and they quickly came to the conclusion that something had to be done about the alternator.


Is that FAA approved – or Ford approved?

The shop had no quick way to get another alternator or to fix that one. In a rather conspiratorial voice, the shop man told me that my alternator was identical to ones on Ford trucks. He told me where there was a shop that repaired truck alternators, loaned me a car to go there, made a call to a person he knew at that shop, and they did a complete overhaul on the alternator in just an hour or so. The parts were interchangeable. I paid up, took the alternator back to Love Field where they put my airplane back together and sent me on my way.

Someone asked if I replaced that alternator with an FAA-approved one as soon as possible. What do you think? I think that one lasted longer than any other.

Concurrently, I was learning a lot about the other systems on the airplane, especially the vacuum system. Where a charging system failure usually had slow motion consequences because the battery was available for a while, vacuum was a different story. The instruments started giving false readings quite soon after a failure.

On December 15, 1981, I had my fifth vacuum pump failure. Some actual instrument flying was involved after three of the five failures. On one, a partial panel descent from the flight levels through a lot of clouds was required and following that, I started adding electric standby instruments to my panel.

I had long discussions with Cessna about the pump failures and had other failures after the one in December, 1981 but the subject was made totally pertinent by something that happened soon after that one, on January 21, 1982.

There were four people in a P210 when it departed from Boise, Idaho. The doctor who owned or operated the airplane was flying. He was apparently in clouds and climbing through 10,000 feet when the vacuum pump failed. He knew he was in trouble and declared an emergency.

The pilot was not able to maintain control without a full complement of instruments, the limits of the airplane were exceeded, the airframe failed and all four high-earners perished.

I don’t think the alarm bells have ever rung louder in the offices of lawyers dealing with general aviation litigation. The plaintiff’s lawyers knew a gold mine when they heard about one; the defense lawyers knew a requirement for a lot of money and damage control when they saw it.

My aircraft logbooks were going to be subpoenaed for this case but I saved them the trouble and sent copies of the pages in question to both sides.

Cessna and the pump manufacturer knew they had a serious and potentially expensive problem. Because I was flying my airplane more than any other in the fleet, and because I had a good working relationship with Cessna’s engineering folks, they asked if I would come to Wichita, allow them to instrument my airplane, and run tests on the operating temperature of the vacuum pump.

We flew at all altitudes and the flight test engineer made records of everything. Then they altered my airplane by adding a cooling shroud to the vacuum pump and we flew all the tests again. The vacuum pump temperatures were substantially lower so the shroud was left in place and a deviation to the type certificate was issued. It was interesting to me that Beech had been using a similar shroud on Barons and I didn’t really get an answer when I asked if my shroud was a Beech part.

After the shroud was installed, the pump manufacturer asked me to change the pump after every 500 hours of operation and return the old pump to them for examination. After that, 500 hours became the recommended (but not required) life limit for the large vacuum pumps that were used on airplanes with deice boots. The boot manufacturer was also involved in this because the boots used the pressure side of the vacuum pump for inflation.

At about the same time I finished the pump test Cessna removed a VGH (velocity, g-load, height) recorder that that been installed at the request of NASA. They wanted to develop a picture of the typical use of a pressurized single-engine airplane. I guess I wasn’t the only person who thought this concept would go farther than it did. I think the data from my year of flying around with the recorder was used by Piper as they developed the Malibu.

The bureaucrats soon started going ballistic about the vacuum pump problem. Even though they had certified the airplane as airworthy, and had been wrong, the FAA and NTSB both thought they had suddenly sprouted the intelligence to solve both a real problem and a perceived problem.

The FAA acted as if it had just realized that it had certified a single-engine airplane for flight in icing (the work “known” hadn’t crept into the vocabulary at that time), that this would push systems beyond where they had been pushed before and thus make things less reliable, and that there was no system redundancy.

An airworthiness directive is issued when they think an airplane needs to be modified to meet the requirements under which it was certified. In effect, the FAA issues ADs to cover its screw-ups. They are usually issued with some time allowed for compliance. If the issue is immediate, they issue an emergency airworthiness directive. This effectively grounds the airplane until remedial action is taken “before further flight.”

The almost hysterical emergency AD on the T210s and P210s with boot systems came less than 60 days after that P210 was lost in Idaho.

All the AD did was “remove approval of these airplanes for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operation unless they are modified in accordance with the provisions specified in this AD.”

The immediate requirement was to alter the placards that approved IFR and icing flight. Then the airplane could be flown VFR. They gave two choices on returning the IFR approval. You could install an attitude indicator powered by an independent power source or you could change vacuum pumps and disable the deice system, thus ending the icing approval.

I already had an electrically-powered attitude indicator so was covered and by virtue of this kept both the IFR and icing approval.

Cessna made available a dual vacuum system that would satisfy the AD. They and the pump manufacturer wanted users to install that. They did not approve of the separately-powered attitude indicator because with it you would not retain the services of the autopilot. I was one-up on this because I had only a wing-leveler autopilot that didn’t use the attitude indicator.

All the while, there was skullduggery behind the scenes. Many in the FAA and NTSB had become convinced that the approval of the airplanes for flight in icing was a mistake and that the approval should be rescinded.

I thought that would set a bad precedent and, among other things, had a rather testy exchange about it with Lynn Helms, who was FAA Administrator. I knew Lynn well enough to know that he was as stubborn as I. I also knew that he might well have been right, but that I would win the argument.

P210 boots with ice

Should single engine airplanes be approved for flight into icing conditions?

The reason I think they quietly dropped the idea to rescind the approval is that it would have been admitting a big mistake on their part. By approving the equipment they signed on to doing this in an airplane that lacked one item of redundancy that every other icing-approved airplane had: two engines.

A single-engine airplane has no secrets. Ask any layperson what happens if that engine fails and they will get it right every time. The FAA had gone down the slippery slope of approving a single in icing for the first time and there is no graceful way to go back up a slippery slope.

They were not going to go down that particular slope again and no other airplane has ever been approved for icing flight without full dual systems. That is called learning from your mistakes.

At the same time they were doing all these other things to and with my P210, Cessna replaced the magnetos with pressurized mags. I had not had any trouble with my old mags but the new and improved units were supposed to address some problems that other P210 operators had been having. More on this later after a little time had passed.

As I bring up more bumps in the road for the airplane, you will no doubt wonder how much more could happen. Rest assured, I, and a lot of other people wondered the same thing in the early 1980s.

The P210 had vapor return issues from the start. On my airplane, vapor problems would appear when cruising above 10,000 feet, from 15 to 35 minutes after I did the routine switching of tanks after one hour of flight. After the first few of many occurrences I was ready to pounce on this before there was a substantial loss of power.

When the engine would go rough enough to get my immediate attention, I would turn the aux fuel pump on low and switch tanks. I later learned that just switching tanks back to the one that had been used for the first hour would solve the problem. Then after a while you could go back to the tank that had the vapor problem and, for me at least, it never reappeared for an encore on a flight.

The fuel injection system on these Continental engines fed more fuel to the system than was fully used. This resulted in some vapor that needed to be returned to the fuel tank that was in use. Cessna had always used the fuel feed line for vapor return. This line ran from the tank down the side of the fuselage and into a small reservoir tank under the floor, one for each wing tank. The fuel would run down and the vapor would bubble back up.

The vapor problem had occurred on some T210s but it really came to the fore with the P210.

At one point, Cessna stripped most of the interior out of an airplane and put in transparent fuel lines so they could see what was happening in those lines. Seeing what was going on made you wonder why the engine was running at all. It was not a pretty sight as the engine-bound fuel seemed to fight its way through the returning vapor.

Again, Cessna wanted to use my airplane for a field trial of a fix that they developed for this. I had kept and provided Cessna with detailed records of each vapor event and the idea was to compare the “fixed” system with the old system. I think it basically added some check valves to the old system.

The “fix” didn’t work. Nothing changed. After a little interval they said they had another fix, one that was logical to me. Separate lines for vapor return would be added to the fuel system to leave the delivery lines alone and let them do their job properly.

It was back to the Cessna shop for my airplane for an installation of the new system. We were literally wearing out a relatively new airplane by working on it but I was determined to be part of the solution.

It took a while to install the new plumbing and Cessna let me have another P210, from their fleet, to use.

I have to report on something amusing that happened while this was going on. In every activity there are folks who look under stones in search of an “aha” moment. In this case it was alleged that I was so in bed with Cessna that they were doing all the maintenance on my airplane at no charge. It had certainly been frequently seen in both the experimental and regular shop but it was there to help understand all the problems that developed, it was not there for routine maintenance though I probably did get a few free oil changes.

Cessna engineers were not the only ones interested in my airplane. Piper was developing the Malibu in the early 1980s and I visited Piper’s Vero Beach facility frequently. More than once Piper engineers asked if they could move 40RC into their experimental hangar to look at some things. “Certainly,” I said, “just don’t copy the mistakes.”

Before I tell you about any more problems from that time, I want to fast forward to now and offer an illustration of how things from the distant past can bite you on the butt if you change anything about the way you operate an airplane.

Mike Busch, one of the smartest and savviest people on piston airplane issues, writes for the Cessna Pilots Association magazine and he recently did a story on a normally aspirated 210 that was having vapor problems that seemed almost identical to the ones I had over 30 years ago and that everyone thought had been put to rest or at least were fully understood.

Richard Collins' Cessna P210

The P210 was flying trips that no other piston single had ever flown before – and it showed.

When I asked Mike about it, he came up with an excellent explanation. The reason normally aspirated airplanes are having the problem now where they didn’t in the past relates to the technique of operating on the lean side of peak (EGT) for better efficiency. When operating lean of peak, the system returns more vapor and the old problem resurfaces. Years ago, Cessna modified the fuel system at the request of the owner but I doubt that they will do so today after a change in the method of operation causes the problem to return. Actually, not many took advantage of the old offer because retrofitting the new system took a lot of time.

As an aside, Mike Busch wrote his first magazine article for AIR FACTS, in the May, 1970 issue. Also, Mike will help you take care of your airplane and if you are interested go to savvyaviator.com to get the scoop. As these airplanes get older, more expert help is needed.

Then there was yet another emergency AD, this one prompted by engine failures that were caused by detonation. I felt like I was really part of this one because I had flown the very airplane that had the engine failure that led to the issuance of the AD. It wasn’t just a short hop, either. I used the airplane while Cessna was installing that NASA flight recorder in my airplane, it took a while, and I flew P210 N4967K for 36 hours and 30 minutes.

I always kept records on all engine operating indications on my airplane and did the same in 67K so when it hit the fan I basically knew why.

The engine instrumentation on these airplanes was approximate at best and what they called the fuel flow gauge was really a pressure gauge. Because an EGT was optional ($180) and not required equipment, the Pilot’s Operating Handbook had to tell the pilot how to do it based only on manifold pressure, rpm and fuel flow.

As the airplane was originally built, word was to use 38 inches, 2,700 rpm and 186 pounds per hour for takeoff. For climb, it was 33 inches, 2500 rpm and 125 pph. Cruise was per the power chart. As it turned out, setting power using only the approximate engine indications could result in serious damage to the engine. In the amplified procedures section of the POH they addressed use of the EGT, ranging from 75 degrees rich of peak at 80-percent power down to peak EGT at 55-percent or less. Using EGT was, at the time, far from as well understood as it is today.

There had been detonation-related failures before the one in 67K. That one just happened to involve someone who was politically connected. I know that at least one of the previous failures had happened as the airplane was being flown away from the factory after delivery. I heard that there had been more like that but never verified it.

As emergency ADs tend to be, this one was pretty Draconian about what had to be done before further flight. Some testing of the engine to determine it hadn’t been damaged was required, the timing had to be changed, and leaning was restricted. No leaning was permitted above 60-percent unless an EGT was installed. Under the provisions of the AD, in most normal operations, the fuel flow would be a lot higher and the endurance would suffer.

Of course the first thing that I did was look back at my records on 67K. From this I learned that the engine instrumentation in that particular airplane would result in excessively lean operation unless the EGT was installed (it was), was understood, and was used properly. I don’t think the last two requirements were met. Certainly, the way the readings went, the airplane was faster on less fuel than was my 40RC if the power was set per the POH and without regard to the EGT. There is no free lunch in airplanes and in the case of 67K, blowing the engine was a certainty unless the EGT was considered the primary judge of correct mixture settings.

FYI, I never embraced or used lean of peak operation and will let someone who does address why it doesn’t cause detonation, which it doesn’t seem to do.

Cessna was busy trying to make the P210 engine a bit less fragile and in the process they developed a new turbocharger with a larger turbine section. This was included in all new airplanes built after mid-1981 and was made available free for retrofit to existing airplanes. It was not made mandatory with an AD but Cessna insisted that everyone have it and touted a bunch of performance improvements with the new system

With the new turbocharger, most of the restrictions on leaning were lifted and Cessna made much of the fact that all performance parameters were improved by this mod. The improvements, though, were as compared to the old system operated under the AD restrictions, not the old system if operated properly.

My first few trips with the new turbocharger were disappointing. High cruise speed was lower and where I had occasionally been getting a true airspeed of 195 knots at FL210, with the new system I was running five to ten knots less. The critical altitudes were lower, too. To me, the main benefit of the new system was found in making the airplane a bit less vulnerable to pilots who didn’t care enough to study the old system and operate it properly.

Another engine-related item prompted yet another AD. Earlier I related a tale of a problem with the exhaust system on one of the first P210s. That devil jumped up and bit the airplane hard after some had a little time on them.

The shop called me one day, somewhat breathless. They were doing a routine oil change and “discovered” something that didn’t look right. In one of the bends in the exhaust system a bulge had appeared. The technician said it looked like a growth. Did my airplane have gout? (Too?)

I was in my office in New York and my airplane was at the airport in Trenton, New Jersey, so I couldn’t rush right out and look at this. I told them I’d be there the next day and then called one of my new best friends in Cessna’s engineering department.

I didn’t get far into a description of what the technician had said when the person at Cessna interrupted me. He knew what was happening and didn’t need to hear the details. He said he would call the shop, find out exactly where the bulge was, and would send a new piece.

After that, they again wanted to experiment using my airplanes. I went to Wichita and they installed a new exhaust system on my engine. The problems had been limited to sections where there were bends and the experiment used Inconel for those sections where the rest remained stainless steel. Cessna had long since gone to Inconel for the exhaust on their turbocharged twins but these airplanes, and their engineering department, were located on the other side of town and there apparently wasn’t a lot of back and forth on things like this.

The exhaust parts were joined with slip-joints. Each piece fitted snugly into the next piece. The first question that came to my mind was how dissimilar metals would work in such a system.

Richard Collins with N40RC

N40RC went on to star in many Sporty’s flight training videos

They didn’t. I hadn’t gone much above 5,000 on the climb out of Wichita, headed home, when I could see that this exhaust system was leaking like a sieve. My airplane got to spend yet more time in the shop and this time was fitted with a complete Inconel system that was apparently fabricated in the experimental shop.

If I ever had a cracked exhaust part, I honestly wondered how a factory-built part would fit into my system and some years later I found out that it would work just fine. I think in the many years and hours with the new system, I only replaced that one piece plus one exhaust pipe.

I mentioned earlier that Cessna had put pressurized magnetos on my airplane for me to test out. That turned out to be a disaster.

The pressurized mags started failing not too long after they were installed. The engine has two mags so it can continue running if one fails but nobody said they would run smoothly on one mag. The P210 literally demanded that you land immediately after one mag failed.

This happened to me in a particularly inconvenient place. I had been to Calgary, in Canada, to fly off to the Arctic and land on a gravel strip at Resolute in a Pacific Western 727. After that excitement I was headed home when 40RC decided to provide more excitement. It was the most spectacular mag failure I had and there was absolutely no choice but to land at the closest airport, which was at Regina, also in Canada.

I would have even been tempted to try to get back to the U. S. if had known what was going to happen next. The friendly technician didn’t take long to verify that a magneto had failed. He also didn’t take long to tell me that getting a replacement magneto into Canada was simply not a service they could render. His suggestion was that I go home on the airline, get another mag, bring it back, and he would put it on.

The mag manufacturer actually sent me a set of mags, complete with harnesses. I usually travel light but it took my biggest suitcase to hold all the hardware plus clean underwear. This was well before 9/11 but they were X-raying luggage and that suitcase with two mags and all those wires passed X-ray muster at LaGuardia and Toronto as I made my way back to Regina. I never did think anybody looked at those X-ray machines and I must have been right.

That was the last straw on the mags. They said the problem was with the pressurized air being contaminated. My thought was that it increased the already high temperature in the mags and made their service life quite short.

Spare mags went onto my list of parts that I always had in the baggage compartment. From previous experience I already had a spare alternator, voltage regulator (alternator control unit), spare belts and a vacuum pump back there and I flew with this array of spare parts for over 20 years. Several times I landed with a broken something and surprised the technician when I told him I had a spare, all he had to do was install it.

Richard Collins with Cessna P210

A comfortable ride.

Over the years, 40RC needed care in the field a lot of times, in all parts of the country. I can honestly say that each and every time it got prompt attention from the shop wherever I landed. My thanks to all those good people.

The bulk of the problems came when 40RC was relatively new and after a few years the airplane actually became reasonably reliable. Sure, stuff broke and cylinders cracked and only a couple of engines made it to TBO but the airplane had finally reached the state you would expect of an FAA-approved and certified airplane. It had been lacking, it was expensive for the manufacturer and should have been embarrassing for the FAA (which is not capable of being embarrassed) and was inconvenient at best for the user.

So for most of the life of the airplane it worked well and I got to enjoy all the plus factors without having to spend so much time on the problems, of which there were still a few.

When I got the airplane it had those basic Cessna avionics that everyone disliked so much. It wasn’t long before I had switched to King equipment and when I retired the airplane it had a Garmin 530 and a full Bendix/King IHAS 8000 package which included a vertical profile radar, traffic and ground prox.

It had one of the first IFR-approved GPS units (Garmin) and 40RC actually flew the first fully legal and approved GPS approach ever, by any airplane. The FAA Administrator and AOPA president claimed to be first, the same day, but a little birdie who knew told me that their database was out of date so their approach wasn’t legal. My database was current. I had gotten it from that same little birdie who also had one for the other airplane but it wasn’t yet installed.

When I first got the airplane, insurance wasn’t a problem. I was using it on the business of large companies and corporations and they naturally had liability concerns. I carried high limits ($10-million) on my airplane and bought (from the same company) a bigger $100-million umbrella policy for my employer.

As time ran, insurance became an ever bigger problem for two reasons.

The poor accident history of the P210 caused insurance folks to become leery of the airplane. In fact, the P210 had the highest fatal accident rate of any certified airplane and all the underwriters knew this. One insurance executive told me that his company would not insure a P210 for anybody, at any cost.

The second reason was my personal relationship with the calendar. They started getting sticky about insurance when I turned 65, they got worse when I was 70, and when I retired the airplane just before my 74th birthday I was operating with lower liability limits.

When I made the decision to retire (scrap) the airplane, it was based on a lot of things.

Good old 40RC was, to me, just about worn out. Even though I wasn’t flying it much, the cost of maintenance was sky high and going higher. There was a time limit of 13,000 hours on the windshield and windows but no time was specified for anything else.

I once asked a Cessna engineer how long he would fly one of the airplanes based on the testing they had done. He pulled 10,000 hours out of thin air and said that was not really supported by any testing that they had done except maybe on the pressure vessel. N40RC was just under 9,000 hours when I threw in the towel.

The lack of reliability on so-called overhauled accessories was becoming big trouble, too. Things like alternators and vacuum pumps and starters and fuel control units could either be junk in a box or, at best, serviceable for a while. I understand that some order has been restored to the accessories business and that is excellent news for anyone attempting to keep an old and complicated airplane viable.

Finally, I guess I just decided that the airplane was about worn out. I had always said that I was going to make me and 40RC come out even, but not in the same place. I guess that sort of worked because while I am still here, like the airplane I am no longer flying. I flew a little after it was gone but not much and it was never the same.

Despite all that initial trouble, there was a lot more good than bad about the airplane. I still think it is a viable concept but for it to really work well it needed an on-purpose from-scratch airframe and a turbine engine. That is called a TBM 900, is available today, and costs a bunch of money.

The P210 was probably the most comfortable and useful piston single ever and even with twins included it was close to the top of the list on comfort. My wife, Ann, who flew with me in everything from a Piper Pacer to Concorde said that of all the seats and chairs in her life, on the ground or in the air, hers (right front) in 40RC was the most comfortable of all. She loved that airplane.

Pressurization, modest as it was, made possible comfortable trips that would otherwise have been bumpy ordeals. The airplane was not air-conditioned and didn’t climb strongly but in hot weather it was almost always possible to cruise in cool and smooth air.

With standard fuel, the P210 was not a long-range airplane though it would go a good distance at low power with a tailwind. After I added a 30 (29.4) gallon aux tank in the baggage compartment the range stretched out and I don’t think I ever failed to go non-stop from Maryland to and from Florida. Eastbound, it would easily get home non-stop from Dallas or Wichita, or, one stop from Las Vegas.

The airplane was not particularly fast unless there was a tailwind. My record groundspeed was 324.7 knots during a three hour and five minute flight from Kansas City to Hagerstown, Maryland. I won’t detail the flights with groundspeed below 100 (actually as low as 80) but there were a few of those. The airplane actually averaged a takeoff to touchdown groundspeed of 156 knots, as recorded by my Garmin GPS, against an average true airspeed of 175-180 knots. The average is lower because of climbs lasting longer than descents, maneuvering, and headwinds lasting longer than tailwinds.

I still have the pilot’s control wheel in my man-cave and every time I look at it I get a little wistful but I always tell myself I have been there and done that. And when a friend pointed out how rich I would be if I had spent that $1.4 million on Wal-Mart stock, I replied, “Yes, but you can’t fly Wal-Mart stock.”

I close like I started, with a log entry:

Date: September 17, 2007

Aircraft Make and Model: Cessna P210N

Aircraft Ident: N40RC

Route of Flight:

From: HGR

To: 6A2

Duration of Flight: 3:00

Remarks: 40RC’s final flight. A much loved airplane!

Richard Collins
54 replies
  1. Low Wings
    Low Wings says:

    A colorful and entertaining tale about a man and his flying machine, illustrating quite well a number of cognitive biases. I can’t help observing, however, that you could have saved yourself countless moments of grief and anxiety if you had simply purchased a 1979 P-Baron instead of the Cessna — better systems all around, much faster and more comfortable to say nothing of much better engineering throughout. A little more fuel for the second engine but far greater reliability and your friends at Ronson Aviation in Trenton would have provided all the support needed.

    Since you were flying for business, expenses were reimbursed and written off making Uncle Sam your silent partner (and he never wanted to fly the airplane) unlike the twits at Cessna who, as you so eloquently pointed out, had no good idea of what they were doing and used your airplane as a test bed for experimentation that should have been wrapped up before the first production plane was released.

    Cessna advertising revenues for Flying Magazine must have played a very strong hand in keeping you on the reservation and so tolerant and apologetic of their engineering and design failures. In retrospect, you’re lucky to have survived (a testament to your skills as a pilot) but it seems that, at the end, you realized it would be a mistake to transfer ownership to anyone other than a salvage yard — a wise decision.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      I did investigate stretching the budget around a 58P but the dollars were almost twice as high. I did lease a new one for a while and found that it too had problems. Had to leave it at HTS after landing with a caged engine. The left engine fuel pump came apart internally and when I noticed a fuel imbalance I looked back and was leaving quite a vapor trail of fuel. I didn’t want to light that up. You mentioned my friends at Ronson and one of them once told me that if they had a few based 58Ps and Dukes they could turn away all other shop work. Any pressurized piston airplane is actually more complex than a light jet because of less reliable engines and when you cram all that complexity into a small package it can create problems. Also, Low Wings, I like high wings better because they give you a place to stand in the rain, they offer shade, they ride better in turbulence and there is no better handling light airplane in strong surface and cross winds than a 210.

  2. Jim Frankenfield
    Jim Frankenfield says:

    Richard: A pen (or a computer keyboard) in your hand is like a baton in the hand of Toscanini. Amazing. jim

  3. John Zimmerman
    John Zimmerman says:

    I logged a few hundred hours in an un-pressurized Cessna 210, and I completely agree on the crosswind landings. 10 degrees of flaps and drive the beast on–it did great.

    With the benefit of hindsight, the pressurized piston single (and piston twin for that matter) seem like a stepping stone on the way to personal turbine airplanes. Both have mostly disappeared, eclipsed by turboprops and even some light jets. As you say, the modern version of the P210 is a TBM. Much better performance, but much more money too. Sums up a lot of the last 30 years of general aviation.

  4. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    With all the testing and test parts that Cessna was putting on your airplane, did you have to put the airplane in the “Experimental” category? Seems like a lot of function and reliability testing was going on with your plane.

    Great history; thanks.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      The mods to my airplane were covered by a “Deviation,” issued by Cessna engineering, that described what was done and how it was done. It was an official looking form but I couldn’t find an FAA number on it. When we hooked up all the apparatus to check the vacuum pump temperatures I do recall putting an experimental sign in the window and I do remember getting the blessing of my insurance company for a whole day of this.

  5. Luc Beauchamp
    Luc Beauchamp says:

    Thanks for another great blog, Mr. Collins!

    And I thought I already knew 40RC well after watching Sporty’s videos numerous times! Your articles, books and videos have inspired me to strive to be a better pilot for years.

    p.s. Where is Mike Rosing now?

  6. Jimmy Kingsborough
    Jimmy Kingsborough says:

    Thank-you Mr Collins for a great article. I bought a damaged 1979 P210N almost 20 years ago. We spent 2.5 ( 2 evenings a week and Saturdays) years doing the repairs. I have been flying this great aircraft for 17 years and it has been basically maintenance free, especially for a pressurized aircraft. I soloed a 1963 210C when I was 16. I have owned a T210 and now the P.

    Like you said, a turbine engine would be a great improvement. Maybe when I win the lottery I’ll do the O&N turbine conversion. I agree about a high wing. I always argue with my bonanza friends…..have you ever seen a real bird with low wings? Not.

  7. Duane
    Duane says:

    Dick & Jimmy – high wing/low wing will always be a matter of both debate and personal preference, I suppose. As one who learned to fly in Cessnas and then sensibly switched over to Pipers when I had an opportunity to buy an airplane, I’m clearly a low-winger.

    It was always annoying to me that the high wing interfered with the pilot’s view of the runway in pattern turns (at least Piper had the good sense to install a window above the cabin in its high wing Cubs to address that problem), and those narrow, long and gawky landing gear on Cessna’s makes them “tippy” on the ground (as one of my flight instructors put it) – I sure like my wide-track Cherokee gear, especially on strong crosswind days when most high wing owners and taildraggers are sensibly grounded.

    Then there’s the ever-present debates on tri-gear vs. taildraggers, and experimental vs. certified aircraft.

    Aside from all that, however, what is striking is how poorly designed the P210 was, by your own admission, Dick. It never should have been certified in its initial configuration, which was clearly experimental as Dick has documented here for us.

    Aside from the P210’s obvious design flaws, there are several other design decisions that Cessna made that just don’t make sense to me – from the aforementioned high wings and (necessarily) narrow landing gear, to using electric flaps instead of a sensible Johnson bar.

    But the one constant in all this is, whatever airplane an airplane owner owns, that type is always the best airplane as far as that owner is concerned .. that is, until he or she buys a different one. Whether it’s a Cessna or Beech or Piper or Mooney, or Vans or Husky or whatever. Just like Ford truck owners are convinced that all Dodge, Chevy and GMC owners are hopelessly deluded, etc. etc.

  8. Sam
    Sam says:

    Now I understand. I have often wondered over the years why Mac was unable to talk you into moving into a twin. But why would anyone in their right mind eschew the adventure 40RC provided? I have also often wondered about the end of 40RC. I would often hear that number over the airways as I listened to ATC on my travels (on the ground) between NorVA, Annapolis and Williamsport, PA. Thanks for the sum up. As always an enjoyable read.

  9. JacquesT
    JacquesT says:

    Wow, an amazing story and almost reads like a romance novel, except here it’s pretty real. I even got a bit emotional towards the end. Thanks RC!

  10. Charles Beliveau
    Charles Beliveau says:

    Excellent Richard, as usual. I wonder if you could guess your mission success rate and comfort if you had purchased a normally aspirated 210 or A36 and given up a lot of “excitement”. In other words, was it worth it? Best wishes.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      In that I am still around, and lasted for a long time before 40RC, I would hope that my mission success rate with an A36 or 210 would have been the same. I valued 40RC more for comfort than anything else.

  11. Dave Braun
    Dave Braun says:

    Mr. Collins,

    As a long time former reader of Flying Magazine I remember your many mentions of 40RC’s issues in your articles. Having them all tied up into one package was entertaining and made for a nice break in my day. I too would have gone the distance with Cessna in trying to make the product better for all involved.

    On the day you picked up 40RC I was starting my second week at Beech Aircraft, across town. I am currently a consultant engine and powerplant DER with major alteration and major repair delegations, so I see a variety of field repairs that often make much more sense than what the factory built in the first place.

    As always, my hat is off to you and my appreciation for your contributions to aviation is boundless.

    Many Thanks,

  12. JV77
    JV77 says:

    @D Collins. Do you think the O&N is the answer to these original problems? From everything I read the turboprob is better than piston especially at altitude. HIHO & other extremes. Truth? or trying to sell aircrafts.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      Actually the Silver Eagle starts to lose its edge at 15,000 feet. By the time you get to FL210 the piston airplane is faster.

      • JV77
        JV77 says:

        Thank you. That is interesting. Amazing article about a interesting plane. Anyway of a book just based on your logs?

  13. David Reinhart
    David Reinhart says:

    I always have felt that N40RC belonged in a museum, rather than being parted out. I don’t know if what drove the decision to part it out, but the airplane was the ultimate expression of the pressurized piston single used as a business travel tool. I always feel sad about its final end.

  14. Joe Fields
    Joe Fields says:

    Mr. Collins, enjoyed this article very much. Always looked forward to your column when you were writing for Flying. Any possibility of guest column articles in the future?

  15. Greg Ellis
    Greg Ellis says:

    Thanks for a great article. I really enjoyed reading about the history of 40RC. I have watched you and that airplane in many a Sporty’s video.

    I did not completely read every comment but I am curious. To me and many other pilots, 40RC is an iconic and well recognized airplane. Curious as to why a museum somewhere did not get the opportunity to display 40RC? Especially now in light of this wonderful history that could be provided along with the airplane. I am not a Cessna pilot but I am sure Cessna has a museum that 40RC could have found a home or even at Sporty’s itself.

    Thanks again for a wonderful story.

  16. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    What a fascinating story! It must be uncommon, if not rare, for a light airplane to be owned and flown to 9,000 hours by one airman. Its rarity gives your tale of many woes a special flavor.
    Please allow me to “pile on” with my warmest gratitude for your many years of service to American general aviation. My dad read you, I read you, and now we are fellow writers, which is a great honor, sir. Salud!

  17. Bill Bedell
    Bill Bedell says:

    I was privileged to make a few flights in 40RC. It was far and away the quietest propeller driven airplane I’ve ever flown in. With Richard flying, I have to agree with Ann, the right front was the most comfortable seat anywhere!
    Another fact: 40RC sported most of her original paint to the end. That’s TLC!
    Thanks for the tale.

  18. Sam
    Sam says:

    Bill Bedell certainly expresses a point of view experienced by a unique few. I read a story once in Flying where Richard made a flight and sought others to fly with him but got no takers. I always have regretted not contacting Richard with the offering of Wild Turkey for the privilege to fly with him. I would still make the same offer for the privilege. 40RC should well have been hanging in the Smithsonian.

  19. James Cole
    James Cole says:

    What a fun memoir. After getting my private pilot’s license 11 years ago I immediately got my instrument rating. I began reading and watching all I could about flying and found Richard Collins’ materials pure gold since they focused on real world flying and its problems, rather than regulations. His shared experiences and concerns helped save my bacon more than once, I’m sure. 1500 hours later and after 2 trips across the Rockies and back on successive Summers with different sons, I was really amused to read this article because the basic themes of unreliability inexplicably mixed with genuine affection for the airframe exactly parallels my experience in my SR20. I’ve had problems with almost every electronic box in the plane at least once and fly with a spare alternator in the baggage compartment as well. And I wouldn’t trade my plane for any other model because it just feels like putting on a pair of gloves that are just the right size. I’ll bet other pilots feel that way about their planes, too.

    Richard, if you could pick any nonturbine aircraft from any year to fly around the country, what would it be?

  20. Ken Spencer
    Ken Spencer says:

    Thank you for compiling this amazing history of N40 RC. I have been reading your flying articles longer than I can remember. I remember when you bought the Skyhawk and called it, for some reason a “Silver Hawk,” I think. Can’t remember why, however. So I have followed your adventures and your airplanes for a long time, and have enjoyed the stories and the wisdom. Especially the wisdom. So this piece was the icing on the cake, to recount all of the P210N’s history. Thank you for that!

    What year did you first come to Flying magazine?

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      I started at Air Facts in 1958 and moved to Flying in 1968. My Skyhawk, also 40RC, had a full King Silver Crown package so it became a Silver Hawk. I might have been poking fun at the Golden Eagle (421) as well.

      • wade m. russell
        wade m. russell says:

        Dick- you & I met at Decatur,AL. N40RC was 1 serial # different from my N79NL. Your pilot-side door, for some reason, had MY serial# written in crayon inside. I sold N79NL and bought a `85 PA46 Malibu, and never looked back. But- N79NL was shortly thereafter lost with loss of control at altitude. Pilot stated loss of Vacuum. But- N79NL had already been fitted with dual pumps. I have never quite understood how BOTH pumps failed at same time on this hapless fellow birdman. Thank you so much for sharing your life, and wisdom with us!

  21. Steve Meyer
    Steve Meyer says:

    Thanks Dick!
    I have always wondered why? After the many years of flying 40RC that you made the decision to scrap her. Now it makes total sense. Some 10 years ago you wrote a multi-part segment on instrument (Precision) flying. Your writings prompted me to spend countless hours in study and Foggle Flying to finally achieve one of the hardest ratings that I have ever sought.
    Many Thanks for sharing your experiences in aviation.

  22. Tom Ibach
    Tom Ibach says:

    Awesome writing, very interesting to read..read it over many times to be double sure I didn’t miss anything..Thanks for sharing that Mr Collins!

  23. Howard Benz
    Howard Benz says:

    Mr. Collins, Thank you for sharing this story. As always, your writings are a joy to read. I am quite sure the reason I fly a 210 is, in part, due to reading your columns and books over the years. This post has to be one of my favorites! More, please.

  24. Robert Sigman
    Robert Sigman says:

    Mr. Collins

    I have read your articles and have learned much about flying in the 40+ years I have been a pilot.

    However, I just read your article on the P-210. My only thought is this: Are you not ashamed that you did not come out and say–this plane is a killer on many accounts, let me count the ways? Did you inadvertantly, along with Cessna and the FAA, have a part in the deaths of pilots emulating a hero such as Richard Collins?

    You could make a case that the pilots accepted their fate, but what about the unsuspecting passengers, the spouses?

    I am saddened to read this story.

    I thought more of you.

    Robert Sigman

    • James Cole
      James Cole says:

      Jeez. Lighten up, Dude. You are so far off base I hope Richard Collins doesn’t dignify your ridiculous comments with a response.

      • Robert Sigman
        Robert Sigman says:

        Mr. Cole

        Mr. Collins did jump on the bandwagon to ground another aircraft that was an ummitigated killer–the Cessna 411 twin.

        I am just aking a simple question after reading for the first time all of the defects of the P210.

        Simple question.

      • Dick Collins
        Dick Collins says:

        I will dignify his comments with a response because I think I owe him one. I did point out every flaw in the P210 when it appeared and Cessna grew weary of me exploring all the things that went wrong. I also pointed out, more than once, that the P210 had the worst fatal accident rate in the fleet. Pilots who flew the P210 had plenty of warning about the pitfalls, from me, from Cessna, and from the FAA/NTSB. Robert was apparently locked and loaded and just could’t wait to fire even though he was obviously not completely familiar with the subject. That is his right and we appreciate all comments whether they are positive or negative.

  25. Robert Sigman
    Robert Sigman says:

    Mr. Collins

    I have read your articles and have learned much about flying in the 40+ years I have been a pilot.

    However, I just read your article on the P-210. My only thought is this: Are you not ashamed that you did not come out and say–this plane is a killer on many accounts, let me count the ways? Did you inadvertantly, along with Cessna and the FAA, have a part in the deaths of pilots emulating a hero such as Richard Collins?

    You could make a case that the pilots accepted their fate, but what about the unsuspecting passengers, the spouses?

    I am saddened to read this story.

    I thought more of you.

    Robert Sigman

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  27. David Springer
    David Springer says:

    Mr. Collins

    it is a great pleasure to read through the quite impressive amount of experience you accumulated over 30 years. It’s interesting to read about the improvements that have been introduced to the P210 over the years. For one, like me, with practically no experience on such airplane like the complex P210 but eager interest in stepping up to that class there is a lot of information you give in an enjoyable text. Thank you!

    And cheers Germany :)

  28. David Heberling
    David Heberling says:

    Thanks for an entertaining read. Did Piper get it right with the Malibu? Or were there growing pains there too. I always thought that if I really wanted to fly in the flight levels, I would want a pressurized airplane. Not a turbine mind you, too damn expensive. I hate wearing a mask even though I have to everytime my First Officer has to use the john. Did Intercoolers solve the heat problem up high?

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      Yes, Piper had a lot of the same problems with the Malibu though they did learn from the P210 and avoid some. Intercoolers were marginally effective on the P210. I had one but would not have done it again.

  29. David Reinhart
    David Reinhart says:

    I was very sorry when I heard decided to scrap N40RC. I always felt it should go to a museum somewhere. It was a perfect example of a GA single used well for business. Besides, Dick would have gotten a good tax break!

    • Charles Micheal
      Charles Micheal says:

      Mr. Collins;

      Over the past 40 years I have read most of your articles and books and learned much. Your down- to-earth logic and matter of fact attitude about the risks of flying always makes me think before I takeoff. I own a 2004 Skylane (normal aspirated) and have enjoyed traveling in it greatly. It has been a very reliable airplane. Your experience in 40RC makes me a little apprehensive about stepping up to a turbo version. Thanks again for all you have done for GA. I miss your articles every month.

  30. JeffPayne
    JeffPayne says:

    You flew that airplane my entire lifetime of reading Flying magazine the retirement of 40RC (I was 6 when you bought it). I learned so much from your Air Facts videos and from your writing at Flying. Thank you for your contributions to safety and aviation in general. You along with the other contributors to Flying during the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s gave me a solid basis in aviation and aviation safety.

    I now fly an A36 Bonanza and your stories about 40RC make me grateful for the general reliability I have experienced with my airplane.

  31. Joseph DiCiolla
    Joseph DiCiolla says:

    Mr. Collins,

    A great article as I’ve been accustomed to reading in all those years you spent at Flying..

    Is there any chance you and Peter Garrison may collaborate on a joint article/book? He too another aviation Icon I greatly admire. I’m sure you both must have experienced some memorable moments together.

    Here’s hoping and thanks for all you insight.

    Joe DiCiolla

  32. Karl W
    Karl W says:

    In terms of time spent on Earth, a person could do a lot worse than fly a lot and write about it. People will be reading Mr. Collins’ stuff for a long time to come, I am sure. It has the authenticity of direct experience, of life lived. I am certainly going to look up his other work after reading this.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] So when a friend recently asked what I thought of the Cessna 210 Centurion, I hesitated. I felt qualified to offer an opinion since I flew one for about five years in the early 2000s, but I also felt obligated to go beyond cliches. I have very fond memories of the 210, but it is a love it/hate it type of airplane – its strengths are unique, and its weaknesses are maddening. (Note that I’m excluding the pressurized P210 model, which is an entirely different animal, and exhaustively analyzed by Richard Collins here.) […]

  2. […] a few gems in the collection, and there’s a constant flow of new material. Start with this Logbooks post, where Collins details the incredible teething pains of his famous […]

  3. […] space and useful load to make that a reality) to a turbocharged and a pressurized airplane. See the post about my P210, N40RC, for more information on the […]

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