Why The Cessna 182 Skylane Is A Top Used Plane

No Comments
Why The Cessna 182 Skylane Is A Top Used Plane

At sports awards banquets, we used to bestow a trophy for “Best All-Around Performance,” signifying an individual who excelled in nothing but always finished near the top in many disciplines. If there were such a prize handed out for aircraft design, Cessna’s 182 would certainly be a contender.

Notwithstanding a 10-year hiatus during the late ’80s and early ’90s, the old 182 has been in production since 1956; with 55 years to pad its numbers, it’s the third-most-popular GA airplane, right after two siblings, the 172 and 150/152. It’s earned its popularity; it is arguably the most sought-after used plane in the marketplace. It seems like everybody is looking for a good 182. 

The Skylane stands alone as a simple-to-fly, high-performance, four-seat answer for pilots wanting to step up from a Cessna Skyhawk or Piper Warrior and Archer. To compete, Piper tried to market a 235-hp big-engine version of the Cherokee from 1964 to 1994, but it never caught on, mostly because the Cherokee Six was only a little further up the ladder, leaving the Cherokee 235/Pathfinder/Dakota to be always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

What the Skylane offers is a no-compromises version of the Skyhawk. Its only additions to a 172 pilot’s skillset are managing the constant-speed propeller and cowl flaps. While its heavier wing-loading demands more attention to managing sink rate on final, and the nosegear needs to be carefully protected due to the 500-pound engine sitting atop it, about five hours of transition training will probably suffice to turn a diligent Skyhawk or Cherokee pilot loose in a Skylane.

What makes the 182 Skylane so versatile is its abundant power; the constant-speed prop means its full 230-hp is on tap for takeoff versus the 90 or 100 hp available with the fixed-pitch propeller on lesser planes. After a Skyhawk lifts off, it has to pause and catch its breath before deciding to climb. The Skylane, on the other hand, accelerates past Vy without reluctance. Lightly loaded, it’ll deliver an initial 1000-fpm climb rate and readily move up to 10,000 feet MSL or higher, an altitude where Skyhawks fear to tread.

Advertisement

Settled into cruise, the average Skylane produces 130 knots and burns about 12 gph; with 84 gallons on board, you can stay there for five hours or more with beaucoup reserves, and the large cabin and stable ride keep everyone comfortable. If you want to land on a short grass airstrip, there’s no tender retractable gear to worry about, and the Skylane’s docile 50-knot stalling speed is only five knots or so greater than a Skyhawk’s.

Cessna 182 skylane underneath
With big Fowler flaps and docile handling at slow speeds, the Skylane, when in capable hands, doesn’t need much runway. But unlike its smaller, lighter sibling, the 172, the 182 can develop a sinking spell if care isn’t taken. Photo by Aleksandr Markin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Power

For 31 years, the O-470 Continental six-cylinder engine was particularly well-suited to the 182 airframe. It was just big enough to satisfy a 172 driver’s lust without requiring a huge cowling, could econo-cruise at 9-10 gph if desired and had no fuel-injection maintenance and starting issues. It’s this happy marriage of engine and airframe that makes the mid-1960s to late 1970s Skylanes the most sought-after airplanes in the used-aircraft market.

After shutting down piston-plane production in 1986 over the triple threats of product liability exposure, slow sales and excess used-plane inventory, Cessna began building Skylanes again in 1997 but recertified with a 230-hp version of the Lycoming O-540 engine. Therefore, one divides Skylanes into 1956-1986 Continental-powered airplanes and the 1997 and onward Lycoming-engined “restart” models, with the latter series further sub-divided by the glass-panel Skylanes introduced in 2006.

Cessna 182 cockpit
Earlier 182s, like this one, had an odd arrangement of instruments, no thanks to the yoke tube’s placement high on the panel. This made the instrument scan an idiosyncratic affair. Photo by Olga Ernst, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Skylane’s Development

The history of the Cessna 182 actually begins with the 1953 “Golden Year” Cessna 180, introduced during the 50th anniversary of the birth of powered flight, the last new airplane company founder Clyde Cessna got to see before his death. Conceived as a businessman’s airplane to replace the still-extant 195, the sleek 180 took the light four-seat 170’s concept into high-performance territory with its 225-hp O-470 engine and constant-speed propeller. As with the 170B, it had huge semi-slotted flaps borrowed from the L-19 military liaison plane and a pair of 3-foot-wide doors. The 180 differed, however, in such details as a squared-off vertical fin, trimming with an adjustable stabilizer instead of an elevator tab, relocating the battery to the tail cone and using rubber fuel bladders instead of aluminum tanks.

Advertisement

As good as the 180 turned out to be, it was obvious after its first couple of years that the market, driven by Piper’s Tri-Pacer, had a growing preference for tricycle landing gear. Plans were already underway to make a trike out of the 170, so the 180 was a logical co-candidate. The 172 was certified on Nov. 4, 1955, and the 182 followed on March 2, 1956. Hedging its bets, Cessna kept the 170 and 180 tailwheel models in production, but the 170 lasted only one more year; the 180 quietly settled into a utility bushplane role.

The Cessna nosegear was a masterpiece; attached to the firewall rather than the engine mount, it could withstand abuse without transferring shock to the engine’s frame. It was steerable through springs, tailgear style, preventing interference with crosswind landings and lessening feedback to the rudder pedals on rough ground. Because it carried relatively little weight, a smaller 5.00 x 5 nosewheel was sufficient. On the 182, however, the extra moment of the larger engine carried a risk of wrinkling the firewall in a hard landing, an expensive repair best avoided by proper flying technique. The early 182 nosegear forks required replacement with a beefier version, dictated by an Airworthiness Directive back in the 1960s.

Like most first-year airplanes, the rushed-to-production 1956 Cessna 182 wasn’t all it should have been. It was perched too high on the 180’s maingear legs, so the 1957 182A had its gear widened 5.4 inches and lowered by 4 inches, changing the level ground attitude to 7 degrees nose-up to improve landing handling vastly in a crosswind. The steel spring’s thickness was also increased from 11/16 to 3/4 of an inch. The now-familiar Cessna parking brake handle under the dash was introduced, the direct-reading fuel gauges in the wingroot became electric panel gauges, an extra 5 gallons of gas were found (although usable fuel remained at 55 gallons) and 100 pounds were added to the gross weight. The old prop-open window frame was changed to today’s spring-open method, and the baggage door acquired its own external handle. The cabin door’s latch was given an over-center deadbolt to reduce wind noise, and a confirmation ratchet-click was added to the stabilizer trim wheel. Despite its funky one-year-only engine instruments cluster, the 182A was a vast improvement over the straight 182.

Cessna 182A model
It’s easy to spot the oldest 182s, thanks to their distinctive straight-up tails and sloped, windowless rear deck. This 182A model is from between 1956 and 1958. Photo by Jack Fleetwood

To finish out the straight-tail 182s, the 1958 182A added a rudder trim bungee to relieve leg pressure in long climbs, and the 1959 182B introduced cowl flaps, which the 180 had always had. It was in 1958 that the first “Skylane” deluxe version of the 182 was offered, featuring all-over paint, a full-gyro panel and spiffy new wheel pants; the standard partially painted 182 was still available until 1975, but hardly any were sold.

Advertisement

For 1960, swept tails came into vogue; at Cessna, only the 150 and 180 retained their straight-up fins. For two years, Cessna built the 182C and D, which carried a swept fin and a third side window but kept the straight-back fuselage. For 1961, a twist-key starter replaced the earlier push button. However, it was time for a major makeover.

In 1962, the Skylane as most of us know it was introduced. The cabin was widened by 4 inches, an electric flap switch and fuel valve/trim pedestal replaced the old manual flap handle and floor tunnel, and a back window was fitted into a cut-away aft fuselage. The new flat-floor interior was so spacious I could slide my teenage body between the front seats in flight to reach the back seats. To restore stability with the enlarged cabin, an elevator downspring was needed, and a conventional elevator trim tab replaced the adjustable stabilizer. Optional 84-gallon fuel tanks were made available, quickly supplanting the old 65-gallon tanks. For 1962 and 1963, the 182E and F had a two-piece rear window; from 1964 and on, today’s single-pane rear window and teardrop side windows were used.

With the Skylane’s interior and exterior styling now firmly established, gradual improvements were made to the airplane through the 1960s and 1970s; 1965 brought a 10-inch wider tail, 1966 introduced a rams-horn control wheel, 1967 Skylanes had a shorter nosegear strut and smaller flashing beacon, 1968 introduced a preselect flap switch and standard-T flight instruments, and 1969 had optional electroluminescent panel lighting.

In 1970, stylish drooped wingtips reduced wingspan by 4 inches, and takeoff weight was raised to 2,950 pounds. However, the maximum landing weight remained 2,800 pounds, so it was necessary to burn off 25 gallons of fuel before attempting a touchdown. For 1971, an enlarged 200-pound baggage area was created, and in 1972, the landing lights were moved to the nose, a lower and wider tubular-strut maingear was used, allowing the landing weight to be raised to 2,950 pounds, and a cambered leading edge was added to the wings. The 1973 Skylane had a slightly longer dorsal fin, and in 1975, an aft shelf was added to the baggage compartment, and 5 mph more cruise speed was achieved by adding brake fairings and other clean-ups. For 1976, the primary airspeed indications and limitations were changed from mph to knots.

A major change occurred in 1977 with the introduction of a high-compression, low-rpm O-470-U engine, using 100-octane fuel. To maintain the 230-hp rating, maximum rpm was reduced from 2,600 rpm to 2,400, rendering the propeller control rather superfluous. For 1978, a 28-volt electrical system was introduced, and in 1979, a 92-gallon wet wing integral fuel tank system replaced the 84-gallon bladder tanks. The 1981 182R saw gross weight increase again, to 3,100 pounds, with landing weight restricted to 2,950 pounds, and an upper latch pin was added to the doors. In 1983, the recommended TBO of the O-470-U engine was raised from 1,500 hours to 2,000 hours to better compete with the competition’s robust Lycoming engines. The 1985 Skylane had a standard rear-seat shoulder harness (front-seat harness had been standard since 1971) and a standby vacuum system was required for IFR certification. The 1986 Skylane, of which only a few were built before a 10-year pause in production, carried a base price of $80,950, which we thought was scandalous at the time.

Late-model 182-T
In stark contrast, this late-model 182-T features all the digital bells and whistles, along with far more modern styling and lines than its earliest ancestors. Photo by Cory W. Watts from Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Other Skylanes

Having foreseen the demise of the Cardinal RG, Cessna introduced the retractable-gear Skylane RG in 1978 as an alternative to the six-seat Centurion. The Skylane RG used an electrically driven hydraulic power-pack like the Centurion and Cardinal RG, with small-diameter 15-6.00 x 6 tires nestling into open maingear wheel wells. 

It had been determined that any future Cessna single-engine designs would use Lycoming engines, which had found a happy home in the Skyhawk and Cardinal 10 years earlier. The only alternative for the new limber-leg Skylane was a derated parallel-valve Lycoming O-540 of 235 horsepower, which required a beefier cowl to enclose the big Lyc’s front-mounted starter. My visit to Wichita in late 1977 to fly the Skylane RG prototype was delayed at first because Cessna Chairman Dwane Wallace had objected to the plane’s vibration level, necessitating some redesign work.

In 1979, a follow-on Turbo Skylane RG, the TR182, was introduced, using a manually controlled wastegate for the turbo attached to the carbureted O-540. This system was also used on the fixed-gear Turbo Skylane built from 1981 to 1985. These T182Rs should not be confused with the 2001 reintroduction of a T182T, which used the fuel-injected TIO-540-AK1A engine with an automatic wastegate.

Cessna sold its own avionics packages in the 1960s and 1970s, supplied by its Aircraft Radio Corporation division; while workable units, the captive “Cessna” radios weren’t terribly innovative. By 1985, ARC was sold off to Sperry Corporation. The Cessna Nav-Pak suites were obviously never popular with independent radio shops, so most used Skylanes have been retrofitted with Bendix/King and Garmin gear.

After production peaked at over 1,000 units in 1973, Skylane’s numbers dropped off in the 1980s; there were 826 182s sold in 1977, 425 in 1980 and 101 in 1983, ending up with 39 in 1986. The rose’s bloom was clearly dropping its petals. After the 1986 model year, Cessna threw in the towel, citing unsustainable product liability insurance costs attached to too-few units. 

In the meanwhile, Textron Corporation purchased Cessna in 1992. Having owned Lycoming since 1985, Textron further cemented the relationship between Cessna airplanes and Lycoming engines with the acquisition. 

The durable Cessna 182
As generations of pilots know, 182s are capable grass or gravel-strip performers, even in their stock configuration. Photo by Rob_Newby, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Restarting The Skylane

After passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 that granted some relief from never-ending liability, Cessna management kept its promise to restart piston-engine production. Because the Wichita Skylane plant had been converted to other purposes during the interim, a new factory was built in Independence, Kansas, where production resumed in 1997. Not surprisingly, the retail price of a new Skylane had essentially doubled by then.

These 182S and 182T Skylanes are not your father’s 182. Their hulking Lycoming IO-540 engines maintain the 230-hp certification limit and feature fuel injection to remove the carburetor icing risk. A three-blade propeller, while listed as optional, was essentially standard, and there were more substantial crashworthy seats, extra ventilation and dual vacuum pumps. The landing lights were moved back to the leading edge of the left wing, and the fuel tanks were peppered with five quick-drains each (plus three under the belly).

The introduction of the 182T in 2001 saw few changes over the 182S, but it did mark the arrival of a turbocharged sibling in that year. Painted trim stripes replaced the vinyl appliqués used previously. A more significant milestone was the 2006 introduction of the Garmin G1000 avionics suite for the Skylane, followed by the G1000 Skyhawk a year later. The competition from the flashy Cirrus airplanes required major shifts in the equipage of the staid old Cessna singles. Cessna attempted to compete with Cirrus with the Columbia/Corvalis/TTx airplane, leaving the Skylane in its all-around step-up role.

“A major change occurred in 1977 with the introduction of a high-compression, low-rpm O-470-U engine, using 100-octane fuel. To maintain the 230-hp rating, maximum rpm was reduced from 2,600 rpm to 2,400, rendering the propeller control rather superfluous.”

Weight Versus Performance

Over the years, the Skylane’s empty weight and takeoff weight rose, reflecting demand for more fuel and equipment. From a 2,550-pound gross in 1956, the 182 went to 2,650 pounds in 1957, then 2,800 pounds with the 1962 widebody model. The 1970 182N grossed at 2,950 pounds, while the 1981 182Q went to 3,100 pounds (maximum landing weight was the former 2,950-pound gross weight). The standard empty weight of the 182S was nearly 400 pounds heavier than the first-model 182.

The Skylane was always known for being able to take off out of any place you could land it; the stopping distance was greater than the distance required for a short-field departure. 

As the gross weights were raised, parity was eventually achieved, and with the 3,100-pound takeoff weight, the Skylane required 200 feet more ground roll to lift off than its rollout room. 

My most-favorite Skylane would probably be the 1976 182P, which has the 2,950-pound takeoff weight but retains the low-compression O-470-S 80-octane engine. The tubular maingear struts of 1972 and the 24-volt battery introduced in 1978 are desirable benchmarks as well. But all 182s are good, hard-working airplanes, just better with the late ’70s improvements.

2 people jumping out of a Cessna 182
The Skylane, dirty belly and all, has long been a favorite jump plane for small clubs and mom-and-pop operators. Photo by Dregcla, CC BY-SA 3.0, vai Wikimedia Commons

Flying The Skylane

The Skylane is best approached with a bit of seasoning time spent in a Skyhawk. That said, 172 pilots need to be aware that the 182 is a lot more airplane. Preflight and boarding procedures are similar, with a lot of shared details. The O-470 engine has an oil filler cap, separate from the dipstick, that needs to be checked for security during the walkaround. It holds 12 quarts but is happy with nine or 10 on the dipstick; readings can be biased by nose strut extension and ramp slope. 

Sampling of the fuel quick-drains should not be taken lightly. Few pilots are likely to regularly use all of the drains in the “restart” fuel system, but it is important to get a generous sample from the lowest point of each tank (the rear inboard one) and the strainer bowl at the firewall. The fuel selector may have a drain as well as it sits slightly lower than the gascolator.

Skylanes have a crouching ground attitude and a tall glareshield, so if
you’re vertically challenged, you’ll
want to crank up the adjustable seat height to maximize forward visibility, best done before putting your weight in the saddle. Move your seat forward enough to assure full rudder control; you’ll learn the true meaning of P-factor in a Skylane.

Cowl flaps are usually open for ground operations. Put the fuel selector on “both” if it’s not already there. There’s no need for a fuel boost pump with the Continental engine; the never-failing force of gravity suffices for a backup. Whatever engine you have, follow the handbook’s priming instructions.

With the aft-mounted battery, you’ll want to get the big motor started with minimal cranking. It’s a long way from the tail cone to the starter, so you want to maintain good cable connections and keep a strong battery, particularly with the 12-volt models. It’s not uncommon to see the starter struggle to turn the engine over. Be patient; all you need is to crank it through one compression stroke. There’s nothing sweeter than the sound of an O-470 loping seductively at idle (other than a radial).

There are no surprises in taxi, steering with light pedal pressures. Skylanes can be a little hard on brakes with their heavier weight, so pull the throttle back and let the six-cylinder engine loaf smoothly rather than having to ride the brake pedals. The pre-takeoff check is standard Cessna, adding only a confirmation of the cowl flap control and exercising the prop pitch knob. Takeoff does not require using wing flaps, although many Skylane pilots habitually use 10 degrees for takeoff.

Cessna 182 Takeoff
This 182 is leaving little runway behind it as its pilot milks the flare just right. Photo by Joaofsgoncalves, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Up, Up And Away…

The Skylane was STOL before there was such a term. Stock out of the box, it delivered abundant takeoff performance and was the basis for many add-on mods to embolden 182 pilots to push the envelope, things like leading-edge cuffs, curved wingtips, stall fences and drooping ailerons to match the flap extension. Unless you’re into extreme flying, they aren’t needed. If you really want a Boss Skylane, find one with a Peterson forward-wing conversion.

Line up, ease the throttle open and hang on; the Skylane moves out with aplomb. Have your right leg ready to help track the centerline and be ready to initiate liftoff at 50-60 knots. Don’t waste a Skylane’s energy on an 80-knot wheelbarrowing takeoff roll. Keep the nose up and try to catch 90 knots for a Vy climbout. As part of a Skylane checkout, I always include a maximum performance takeoff, per the POH, using a 20-degree flap setting and a 60-knot obstacle-clearing climb-out. At low-elevation airports, this will put you at traffic pattern altitude before reaching the departure end of the runway. “Oh, yeah!” is the typical response. Don’t do it with first-time passengers.

You’ll probably want to dial in two or three swipes of right rudder trim for the climb, using 100 to 110 knots to improve forward visibility. Most high-performance transition courses establish a cruise-climb after leaving the pattern, perhaps reducing manifold pressure and bringing rpm back to a quieter setting. The Skylane will be tolerant if you just leave it wide open for the climb; from 1977 on, the prop governor is set to 2,400 rpm max, and if your takeoff airport is above 3,000 feet or so, the manifold pressure will already be reduced naturally. If flying a 1976 or earlier Skylane, you can climb sedately at 23 inches and 2,450 rpm, which is 75% power. If you need to grab some altitude to clear mountains, the older Skylanes will happily take you to 12,000 feet at 500 fpm. The heavy 3,100-pound airplanes can’t do quite as well until they burn off some fuel.

“With its heavier controls, a Skylane is not an airplane you’d choose for throwing around in training maneuvers. However, if you want to practice slow flight, stalls and steep turns, you’ll find it doesn’t have a mean bone in its body.”

Settling In For The Long Haul

Long-distance cruise is the Skylane’s forte; with 79 usable gallons and burning 12 gph at 65% power, it can cover 500 to 700 miles in still air. Skylanes like to be flown at 7,000 feet or so, picking up an extra 6 to 10 knots over lower altitudes. Forgetting to close the cowl flaps at top-of-climb will cost 5 knots of speed. I like to pull the prop back to 2,300 rpm in the early Skylanes, and with the O-470-U, I’ll cruise at 2,200 rpm. I find that a Skylane will tend to “hunt” up and down 100 feet or so during cruise, even in smooth air; just expect it and ignore it. The carbureted O-470 engine has notoriously poor mixture distribution, so don’t waste your money and time on a six-cylinder EGT for cruise control. Just tune your single-probe EGT to 100 degrees rich of peak or smooth operation.

With its heavier controls, a Skylane is not an airplane you’d choose for throwing around in training maneuvers. However, if you want to practice slow flight, stalls and steep turns, you’ll find it doesn’t have a mean bone in its body. The indicated airspeed will drop off the scale before the nose finally breaks in a stall shudder, recovering promptly. Otherwise, just keep it trimmed appropriately and use it as designed.

Starting down, 15 to 17 inches of manifold pressure can generate a comfortable rate of descent or, if the air’s smooth, you can knock a couple of inches off the cruise power setting and let the airspeed build up, adding some left rudder trim. If you’re new to the game, don’t forget to take off an inch of MP every thousand feet as you descend.

If you leave the power at its descent setting as you enter the traffic pattern, the Skylane will fit right into the trainer traffic; most 182s have a 140-knot callout for the first 10 degrees of flaps, with 95 knots the limit for further extension. Retain 10 to 12 inches of manifold pressure as you enter the approach glide, adding half-flap and slowing to 80 knots for base leg. Then use full flaps and 70 knots on final. 

Unlike a Skyhawk, the Skylane should be landed with 40 degrees of flap because it needs the drag for stopping. Don’t carry extra speed into the landing; 65 knots across the fence is plenty, and be prepared to get the yoke way back into your lap for the touchdown at 50-55 knots. You don’t want to let the nosewheel touch until the mains are solidly down. Avoid bringing the throttle to idle until you’re about ready to flare out of the glide; a Skylane is heavy and will develop a high rate of sink out there on final with power off, causing a hard landing if you’re not careful.

As we said at the beginning, Skylanes are great all-around performers. That’s the reason everyone is trying to find a good used one. 

Used Cessna 182 Skylanes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.