Cessna’s Big 185
The perfect machine for those moments when the amount of fun is as huge as the load you’re hauling
When Cessna makes single-engine airplanes, it makes them with wings on top. It’s a given—that’s just the way things are done at Cessna. There are many advantages of a high-mounted wing: Downward visibility is good, and it’s easy to get in and out of, not to mention the fact that cabin space isn’t taken up by messy spars and other protrusions. The interior volume is huge. To paraphrase the old Honda commercial, “You’d be surprised what you can fit in a Cessna.”
Oh, I forgot to mention that Cessna’s handling characteristics hold no surprises in the dark corners of the envelope. Virtually every single-engine aircraft that Cessna has made is a decent basic airplane. That isn’t surprising, given that they all started out from the same design and evolved from there. They’re solid trainers and fun to fly.
Bob Tullius bought his pristine example of the Cessna 185 Skywagon for fun and probably because he has a thing for taildraggers. The conventional-geared Skywagon is an anachronism in today’s tricycle world, but it has been one of the most enduring single-engine airplanes ever built. The Cessna 185 was first made in 1961 and ended its production run in 1985.
But its roots started with the Cessna 120 and 140 taildraggers, which were Clyde Cessna’s entry into the small-business airplane market. Ads from Cessna, Beech and others extolled the virtues of being able to fly to a meeting in one place and arrive fresh for another meeting hours away on the same day. Convenience and speed were the watchwords. Cessna perceived that the market wanted more, and it was ready to satisfy it. A four-seat 140 appeared—model number 170. More power and speed were satisfied in the model 180. When tricycle gear became the neatest thing since sliced bread, the 170/180 evolved into the 172 Skyhawk and 182 Skylane—arguably, the most successful general-aviation airplanes ever made.
Then in April 1964, Geraldine Mock became the first woman to fly around the world. Moreover, she did it in the Cessna Skywagon’s predecessor, a 1953 Cessna 180, with custom-made fuel tanks. She flew the Spirit Of Columbus 23,103 miles in just less than 29 days and 12 hours. Cessna was so proud of Mock’s accomplishment that it gave her a new C-180 and sent the Spirit Of Columbus to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The achievement of that particular airplane undoubtedly added to the passion in Wichita, Kan., to take that basic design and show the world what a Cessna single could do.
Enter the Skywagon. Cessna decided to refine an already good C-180 design and made an even better flier that can go in and out of any terrain that ranges from Tanzania to Alabama. The original Skywagons first flew with a 260-hp engine in July 1961 and boasted a 1,600-pound useful load. Then, Cessna added an IO-520D engine to its C-185E model to boost engine horsepower to 300 hp on takeoff. The resulting “new” engine gave the Skywagon 285 continuous horses and a cruise speed of 147 knots for 850 nm.