Plane & Pilot
Monday, September 1, 2008

The Ageless Skylane

“Age and experience trump youth and enthusiasm every time.” Well, almost every time.

As I look down—and up—at the Andes Mountains ahead, I can’t help feeling some comfort that I’m flying one of the oldest, toughest airplanes above the planet. Santiago, Chile, is in the Skylane’s rear window as I climb higher above the famous Pan-American Highway, reaching for 13,000 feet to clear the tall ridgeline into Argentina.

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During my flights, I let student-pilot Peggy Herrera, a 20-hour aviator, play with the G1000, and her observations were illuminating. She had never seen a glass-panel display before, so her reactions were right out of the box. “I loved the large PFD, especially the big aircraft attitude display, and I felt it was almost easier to fly than by reference to the real horizon,” said Herrera. “The rolling tapes don’t seem that tough to use, but I did refer more to the three round backup gauges.

“The SafeTaxi charts are great on the ground to keep you from getting lost before the flight even starts, and Garmin’s TIS is a real benefit in the air,” Herrera continued. “Learning to fly in the Los Angeles Basin can be pretty challenging because there’s so much traffic. The TIS uplink on the G1000 is like a second set of eyes, making it a lot easier to spot other airplanes.”

ageless skylane

The Skylane’s features include an oxygen system for flight in higher altitudes and seat belts equipped with air bags.

If your flying is mostly on-demand in the Mountain West, turbocharging becomes more mandatory than optional. My trip across the Andes verified that even the standard-breathing Skylane will top the garden-variety 11,000- to 13,000-foot mountains—if you wait long enough—but if you plan to operate IFR above the tall rocks on a regular basis, a turbocharger becomes an essential tool. Climb performance holds 900 fpm or better through 10,000 feet, so the medium-high altitudes present no special challenge for the 182T.

In a region where many airports reside at or above 5,000 feet and may be subject to summer density altitudes of 10,000 feet or more, turbocharging becomes more than a mere convenience. It’s a safety benefit, allowing operation at times when a takeoff might otherwise be ill-advised. A few years ago, I flew another Turbo Skylane out of Telluride, Colo., (elevation 9,078 feet MSL) on a late-July afternoon, and it was pretty much a nonevent. The turbo provided plenty of power for the departure. I wouldn’t have considered such a takeoff in most normally aspirated airplanes.

The Turbo Skylane can maintain full power all the way to its maximum operating altitude of 20,000 feet, and 88% at FL200 is worth about 176 knots. (Once again, keep in mind that the 88% power is based on the derated 235 hp, not the engine’s more normal 300 hp.) Plan on more like 155 knots at breathable altitudes. Cessna suggests a max range at high cruise of better than 600 nm, 900 nm at economy settings.

Cessna used to hang its hat on a full fuel payload nearly equal to four passengers in the Skylane, but sadly, that’s now little more than a memory. One inevitable price of larger fuel tanks and all the sophisticated avionics is a compromised payload. Back in the early 1960s, a standard Skylane perched on the ramp naked of fuel with an empty weight of less than 1,600 pounds and a gross weight of 2,650 pounds. Today, the base airplane weighs in closer to 2,100 pounds.

Why Buy A Skylane?
By Bill Cox

When Cessna reentered the light single market a decade ago, many of us who had been writing about little airplanes for a few years were disappointed that there had been few changes to the piston product line. Aside from the engine swap to injected Lycoming powerplants, the Skyhawk, Skylane and Stationaire were extremely similar to their mid-’80s counterparts. We all wondered if Cessna would continue to dominate the market as it did in the ’80s, and it didn’t take long to find out. Within a few years, the three revived Cessna models were selling as well as ever.

In the last decade, however, at least three aircraft companies—including Cirrus, Diamond and Columbia (now incorporated into the Cessna product line)—have introduced composite products that are directly competitive with the Skyhawk and Skylane, if not the 206. Cessna’s piston products were pretty well entrenched as perhaps the oldest product line in general aviation before the 1986 shutdown; yet, after the revival, they continue to sell very well.

The obvious question is why? One of the most common complaints of the pilot public regards the lack of innovation in general aviation. Cessna’s sales record would seem to suggest that the Wichita, Kans., company is relatively impervious to such criticism.

It’s true that the Skylane emphasizes old technology, basically all-aluminum construction and airfoils that haven’t changed much in decades. That very characteristic may be as much of a plus as a minus, however. Tried and true may be regarded as superior to new and innovative. Right or wrong, older pilots tend to be suspicious of composite technology.

It’s also true that the Skylane’s huge, high-lift wing offers flying characteristics as docile as the less-powerful Skyhawk; indeed, it has the best short-field performance in the class. The 182 is only one model above the Skyhawk, still one of America’s most popular trainers, and that serves it well in the step-up market. Aircraft manufacturers have known for decades that pilots who train in a particular brand of airplane are very likely to buy the same brand.

Whatever the reason, it’s apparent that many pilots still choose the Skylane over more modern competition. Such strong financial staying power is its own excuse for being.


Labels: Piston Singles


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