If it’s really true that buyers of four-seat airplanes often buy two seats more than they need, the same may not be true of purchasers in the six-place class. Buyers in this category tend to be older, more experienced and less likely to buy on a whim.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t make frivolous choices, but because the ante is so much higher for a six-seat airplane, the buying process is usually more deliberate. As with four-seaters, you do pay for all those seats, no matter how many you actually use, so it’s important to rationalize the need for enough room to accommodate a full hockey team.
There are only seven models in our six-seat buyer’s guide, not surprising, since prices start at well over a half million dollars.
Accompanying the higher price, however, is a better useful load, and that can be a major advantage for some pilots who may never aspire to transporting six souls but have occasional need for a real four-seater with essentially no weight limitations.
Typical useful loads of six-seat airplanes run 1, 300 to 1, 400 pounds, compared to 900 pounds for four-seaters. True, the big birds do use more powerful engines that burn more fuel and demand higher-capacity tanks, but six-seaters still wind up with a payload superior to any four-place airplane.
The market for fixed-gear six-seaters has contracted from a half dozen to only two models, variations on the same theme. By definition, the mission is mostly utility.
If the job is cargo hauling, and speed isn’t a major goal, the 206 Stationair is an airplane to consider. The 206 looks a little like a 210 with struts, but the fuselage is actually longer, and accommodations more comfortable for six folks. As with the Skylane, the Stationair seems to do its best work in places without names or long, paved runways, though it’s not a short-field airplane by any means. Like the old Cherokee Six, the 206 is at its best hauling cargo or anything else you can stuff inside. Like all piston Cessnas these days, the 206 flies with Garmin glass avionics. It’s a rugged machine, designed for a variety of missions, not confined to big airports with smooth asphalt. Base Price: $533, 400.
The turbocharged Stationair is the identical airplane with the benefit of a blower under the bonnet to maintain sea-level manifold pressure to 15, 000 feet. This allows the airplane to climb to 27, 000 feet, higher than its oxygen system will sustain passengers, and fly at nearly retractable speed. I recently ferried a fully tricked-out T206 (TKS, air, G1000, etc.) from St. Louis to the Isle of Man in winter, and the airplane did very well at typical altitudes of 15, 000 feet, most often flying above the ice over Canada, Greenland and Iceland. Base Price: 4, 000.
There are only three in the class, two turbocharged (variations on the same airplane) and one normally aspirated.
Beech G36 Bonanza
For some pilots, however, there will never be an airplane to match a Bonanza. The V-tailed airplanes are almost 30 years gone, and all modern Bonanzas have adopted conventional empennages and six seats. Like the Beech G58 below, the Garmin-equipped Bonanza maintains the type’s status as an icon. Beech has done an excellent job of perpetuating the airplane’s image as the ultimate, top-of-the-line, unpressurized single. Despite a low, 74-gallon fuel capacity that limits max cruise endurance to a little over three hours, plus reserve, the G36 is an excellent cross-country machine for small companies and big families. Base Price: $717, 700.
Piper Malibu Mirage
Piper designer Jim Griswold could not have imagined in 1984 that his futuristic, pressurized single, the Malibu, would become the company’s most popular airplane. (In fact, during the recession of the early 1990s, Piper shut down production of all models except the Malibu.) Born with a 310 hp Continental engine, the airplane was repowered in 1989 with a 350 hp Lycoming, and the subsequent model was renamed the Malibu Mirage. At 4, 340 pounds, the Mirage is the heaviest, piston single in the industry, but the combination of pressurization, big power and excellent stability produces one of the most comfortable rides in the class. Base Price: 7, 500.
Take away all the plumbing, electronics and hardware to support the Mirage’s pressurization system and you have a Matrix. Born in 2008, the Matrix was an instant success for pilots who didn’t feel the need for an inflatable cabin. In fact, the difference in empty weight is almost exactly one passenger’s worth, about 180 pounds less empty weight. This means a reasonably equipped Matrix can transport a pilot and four passengers rather than a pilot and three folks. The Matrix was designed specifically to compete head to head with the 36 Bonanza, and sales in the last two years, suggest it’s doing exactly that. Base Price: $848, 000.
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Gone are the days when six-/eight-seat piston twins were everywhere. Today, there are only two remaining. If it’s any consolation, both are well-proven designs that have been around for what seems like forever. They’re industry standards, in (almost) continuous production for 35 years or more and likely to continue, as long as their respective companies are still in business.
Beechcraft Baron G58
Beech G58 Baron
The Beech 58 Baron is one of the most iconic twins in general aviation, and it manifests an attraction that’s nearly as strong. Beech somehow succeeds in playing to a more affluent demographic, and that’s reflected in their airplane’s prices. The 58 Baron is descended from the B/E55 Baron, an equally popular multi in the ’70s and early ’80s. For many pilots, the Baron represents the peak of the piston pyramid. The fuselage is nearly identical to the Bonanza’s, with the same dimensions, and two of the G36’s 300 hp Continental engines. The “G” in the model designation is an acknowledgement of the Garmin G1000 flat-panel avionics suite, but the airplane is perhaps best known for its excellent control harmony, remarkable quality control and outstanding creature comfort. Base Price: $1, 245, 900.
Piper Seneca V
Piper Seneca V
As the model designation implies, the current Seneca is the fifth generation of PA-34, with a lineage stretching back to 1972. The 2011 version may look almost identical, but in fact, it’s a considerably upgraded and modernized version of the twin-engine Cherokee Six. Piper has always been expert at adapting existing models to new missions, in this case mix-and-matching a Cherokee Six with two Turbo Arrow Continental engines, creating an ultimate bush twin, a common application for the airplane...along with practically everything else. The Seneca V is now a sophisticated people pod, adaptable to the Part 135 charter route, but its quick-change interior also allows it to serve as a cargo carrier. Base Price: $849, 000.