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.
I’m surrounded by solid granite. To my left, Cerro Aconcagua, tallest mountain in the Americas, soars up into the cumulus nearly two miles above me. To my right, Cerro Tupungato also scales the sky to over 22,000 feet. Together, the two conspire to beat me up, but the trusty Cessna, loaded well over gross with spare parts, survival gear, miscellaneous stuff and ferry fuel, takes it all in stride.
The Skylane works hard to clear the big rocks, but I finally surmount the pass, and the view in all directions is incredible. East of the ridgeline, the terrain drops nearly vertical for 10,000 feet, solid rock in all directions. I advise Mendoza, Argentina, that I’m in their airspace and headed downhill toward a more reasonable altitude and, eventually, Buenos Aires. In typical South American style, they welcome me to Argentina and wish me a good flight.
In fact, most flights in Skylanes can be called “good.” Certainly, the Cessna 182 deserves its place near the peak of the pyramid. If you don’t count the new/old WACO, the Skylane (along with its little brother, the Skyhawk) is the world’s oldest production airplane. Produced since 1956, Cessna’s family workhorse is probably more generic to general aviation than any other model, certainly more than any current model. To date, some 23,000 Skylanes and Turbo Skylanes have flown away from their Kansas birthplace. That doesn’t count another few thousand retractable Skylane RGs and Turbo Skylane RGs.
Any pilot who’s flown the 182 acknowledges that it’s one of the best all-around airplanes in general aviation, blessed with more overall talent than virtually anything else in or out of its class. You’re tempted to take the airplane for granted, simply accepting its considerable midrange abilities as typical and representative. In fact, when you consider the number of people who have owned and flown the type in the last half-century, it becomes apparent that Cessna must be doing several things right with the 182. Okay, so the design doesn’t look as futuristic as a Diamond or Cirrus, but it still manages to sell very well, thank you. GAMA reported that Cessna sold some 380 Skylanes and another 300 Turbo Skylanes in 2005 and 2006, respectively. That’s about $200 million worth of 182s.
Tom Jacobson, owner of Tom’s Aircraft (www.tomsaircraft.com) in Long Beach, Calif., one of the largest piston Cessna dealers, loaned me a ferry-time-only 2008 Turbo Skylane for this evaluation. The airplane included virtually everything most people used to regard as options. Cessna determined long ago that the vast majority of customers in this class prefer to have a reasonably well-equipped Skylane. “We very rarely encounter customers who want a stripped airplane,” Jacobson explains.
|The glass-panel Garmin G1000 avionics system gives the classic 182, one of the world’s oldest production airplanes, a modern edge.|
All-up sticker price on the test airplane, a 182T NAV III, is $398,500. The Keith AC system runs another $32,500, and for those who operate in warm climates, it’s very efficient, capable of reducing cabin temperature to a comfortable level in a few minutes. GPS-based terrain mapping and TIS uplink are also part of the NAV III package.
Basic traffic- and terrain-monitoring equipment are included in the standard package, but the more exotic active TAWS-B (terrain) and King TAS (traffic) are available as options. If you elect to buy the active terrain and traffic options installed at the factory, they run $8,550 and $19,800, respectively. The standard airplane does include an introductory subscription to XM Aviator weather. After six months, you’ll need to pick up your own subscription.
Today’s new-generation Skylane is immediately recognizable as the great-grandfather of the older 182 that premiered in 1956, quickly evolving into the rear window and swept tail of 1962. It’s true that there have been literally hundreds of improvements, but the basic airframe, wing and horsepower package remains extremely similar to those of the original. With better paint and a dramatically improved interior, plus a fuel-injected Lycoming engine in place of the carbureted Continental, today’s Skylane flies as well or better than the old-generation 182s.
The post-millenium Skylane features roughly the same engine for both the normally aspirated and turbocharged models. The Lycoming IO-540 and TIO-540 are typically 300 hp powerplants, and in this case, they’ve been severely derated to 230 and 235 hp, respectively. The new deep-breathing Skylane is rated for what seems an inordinately high max continuous power, 88%. Keep in mind, however, that 88% of the derated 235 hp limit is equivalent to only 69% of the normal 300 hp rating, so don’t worry that you’re abusing the engine at full cruise.
The other big change, of course, and the one that garners most of the attention these days, is the avionics package, a suite of radios, most of which hadn’t even been invented in the 1950s. Considering that practically every aircraft manufacturer is embracing glass panels these days, it seems almost anticlimactic to tout the talents of the G1000 glass display, but the fact is, it’s a revelation in contrast to the aircraft electronics of even 10 years ago, much less those of the ’50s and ’60s.
Basically, the Garmin G1000 is a full-service package, capable of displaying everything from the inevitable VOR/GPS/ILS and NEXRAD to TCAS and TAWS. For those of us educated on round instruments, the Garmin system is anything but intuitive; still, it becomes friendly fast. [See the “Garmin G1000 Tips” sidebar for expert G1000 advice.]
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.”
|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.
Unfortunately, gross-weight increases haven’t kept pace with the airplane’s increasing weight gain. Since 1981, the Skylane has flown with a gross weight of 3,100 pounds. Pump a full 87 gallons into the tanks of a new Turbo Skylane, and you’ll typically be left with only 508 pounds for people and stuff. That’s two folks plus piles of luggage, or three lightweights and toothbrushes. You don’t always have to fly with full tanks, but because most owners tend to top off after a flight, and you can’t necessarily know what your load will be on the next trip, the current gross weight can represent a significant limitation.
Perhaps the Skylane’s best qualification is quite simply how easily it flies. Stalls are almost total nonevents, handling is simple and unchallenging and the airplane is operationally simple to manage. It’s almost in the speed class of a light retractable, but it’s far easier to operate.
The Skylane’s Jack-of-most-trades personality makes it a comfortable package, readily adaptable to low-time pilots. During my evaluation, student-pilot Herrera flew the airplane for perhaps a half-hour, including cruise, descent, full pattern and landing. She was amazed at how simply the airplane flew. “I expected to be intimidated by the extra weight [650 pounds],” said Herrera, “but the higher gross seemed to improve, rather than degrade, stability. You can use most of the same numbers as in the Skyhawk without feeling as if you’re pushing the limits, and the flare and actual landing seem easier rather than harder. It’s generally an easy airplane to fly. I want one.”
|Garmin G1000 Tips
By Joe Shelton
You’ve mastered the basics, but here are some additional hints for utilizing more of what the system has to offer.
|1) Create “Template” flight plans for departures. If you fly from your home airport to a variety of destinations, rather than making a complete flight plan each time, create “template” flight plans that include any obstacle or normal departure procedures, as well as the complete routing to a waypoint where, depending upon the destination, the flight might diverge onto different routings. When you want to create a new flight plan, simply copy the template flight plan, change the name, complete the routing to the destination and save it.|
|2) Use the track vector for more precise navigation. The track vector line is designed to show where the aircraft will be after a specified time. The default is 60 seconds; that’s too short, so change it to five minutes or greater. When given a waypoint, point the track vector at it until the GPS has been reprogrammed. You can use the line’s length to calculate a relatively accurate reference of time to a waypoint. For example, two lengths of a five-minute line would be 10 minutes. When the airplane is heading slightly away from the course line, the track vector warns that the aircraft is diverging from the flight plan or approach course long before the course deviation indicator (CDI) will.|
|3) Create user waypoints to simplify the VFR approaches. The navigation status bar at the top of the MFD can be configured to include vertical speed required (VSR), which provides the required descent rate to reach the user-selected altitude at the next waypoint. To keep pilots from making up custom IFR approaches, it won’t display a descent rate to the destination airport, and that makes descent planning more difficult. Create a user waypoint at, for example, the lead-in to the 45-degree traffic pattern arrival and include it in your VFR flight plan. Watch the VSR field until it reaches the desired descent rate (e.g., 500 fpm), and begin the descent. To make the arrival even more precise, select FLC (flight level change) and the desired arrival airspeed (using the nose-up or -down buttons), and when the descent rate is at the desired value, initiate the descent by reducing power or adding drag using speed brakes or flaps.|
|4) Set the “track” field as the left value in the MFD's navigation status bar. Track is the aircraft’s course over the ground. If you’re using the autopilot in GPS/NAV mode, the autopilot uses track to stay on course. When you’re hand-flying or using heading mode, once established on course, match the track (TRK) value to the bearing (BRG) value as displayed in the farthest right field in the PFD, and the aircraft will remain exactly on course. Flying TRK makes everything, including terminal, en route and, especially, instrument approaches, an absolute snap. If the TRK value is greater than the BRG value, turn left; if the TRK value is smaller, turn right. If the TRK changes even one degree from the BRG, it will immediately become obvious and can be corrected long before it ever shows on the CDI.|
|5) Configure the PFD inset and MFD maps. Although the MFD’s map size allows a much better view of almost everything, it can’t display weather and terrain simultaneously. Use the PFD’s inset map set to a closer range (e.g., 5 to 10 nm) to display tactical information like traffic, terrain and the approach course, i.e., information that’s best viewed directly in front of the pilot. Use the MFD map set at a larger range for a broader view and for traffic that’s farther away. When weather conditions warrant, use the MFD to display weather.|
SPECS: 2008 Cessna Turbo Skylane