Is there anyway to carry two adults and three children (6-8 years old) in any of the type planes you talk about? Most of the time I fly by myself but would like to take my wife and kids on trips too. Any suggestions?
Any of the Supers (A23-24, fixed gear, Lycoming IO360-200 HP, some with constant-speed prop), or Sierras (A24R/B24R/C24R, retractable gear, Lycoming IO360-200 HP, all with constant-speed prop), that are factory-equipped with the third seat can do this. They are equipped to carry four adults and two smaller children, though you would have to pay attention to fuel load and max gross weight to do this. A typical load might be four hours of fuel + VFR reserves (40 gallons, running leaned), allowing 700-730 pounds in the cabin, in most of the planes. That works out to maybe two men averaging 190 pounds (FAA standard is 170 pounds), two women averaging 110 pounds, and two kids averaging 50 pounds, or thereabouts. You obviously have more latitude with a head count of 5 rather than 6, and with three of the five being children. The aircraft that are equipped with the third seat have special attachments for the seat bottom and back sections, and they have a recessed footwell for more legroom in front of the third seat. You cannot just add the third seat to a plane that came without it. The third-seat models do show up for sale from time to time.
The fixed-gear 200 HP planes, versus the retract 200 HP planes, are a catch-22. The fixed gear planes are simpler, are less expensive, and typically have better climb and payload. They are about 10-15 knots slower. They typically have fewer niceties, such as a more modern panel and radios, powered ground blower, the wider cabin, and the large third door. The retract models cost more and don’t have as much payload and climb rate, but they are newer, wider, faster, etc. Frankly, the fixed gear 200 HP planes are jewels hidden within a line of jewels. If they otherwise meet your needs, and you plan to keep one for quite a while, the comparatively low cost would allow someone to put in a nice avionics suite and fix up a really nice plane. Even with the straight-sided cabin they are larger than most of the planes in their class. It has always surprised me when in 1970 Beech chose to settle on the 150 HP (Model B19 Sport), 180 HP (Model C23 Sundowner) and 200 HP retract (Model A-B-C24R Sierra), and dropped the 200 HP fixed gear altogether. The Super is certainly is a cut above the 180 HP fixed-gear Piper Archer (but so is the 180 HP Sundowner, in my opinion).
If the children are small of build, any of the 23/24 aircraft that have a bench rear seat could have a third seat belt added in the center, using the same two inboard anchor points used by the left and right belts. Some people might debate the technical legalities of the center belt, but the fact is that three children cannot overstress the belt mounts, when they are designed for two adults. Since you can’t fit three adults in the rear bench seat, the center belt can be used only when the seat is occupied by children. If you get a 1970 model or later, the bench rear seat is certainly wide enough (typically 44″ wide) for three young children, even as they grow a bit larger. I have individual rear seats, and we often added a thick cushion in the center for a small child between two larger children, and had the third belt there. It has since been removed, as the kids are all grown now (nieces and nephews). The FAA has had some strange interpretations on this over the years. For example. “A child that is too young to require his own seat can share a seat and seatbelt with a similar child”. It always made more sense to me to have a third belt, rather than having two of the kids sharing one.