Flight test: Cessna 182C

The Cessna 182C in flight

The Cessna 182C can get in and out of short fields, lift a big load and will fly a family to the beach in great comfort - Credit: Keith Wilson

It can get in and out of short fields, lift a big load and will fly a family to the beach in great comfort. With more than 23,000 built and still counting, the Cessna 182 is a titan of GA’s golden era, says Dave Unwin in this Cessna flight test...

From 1,000ft the strip certainly did look quite small. “What do you think, Dave?” asked Andy Holmes. “Well,” I replied “it does look short but I know its 440m, because Black Spring Farm is my home strip. The wind is right across it, and it’s been getting hotter and hotter all day. I bet it’s probably about twenty-three degrees, which makes the density altitude somewhere around 1,100ft. So, it’s short, hot with no headwind, and we currently weigh−what? About a thousand kilos? I don’t see why we wouldn’t make it.”  

For sheer utility the 182 can take some beating, and its ability to go into some quite short strips (with forty degrees of flap down) is one of its most impressive facets. Furthermore−and unlike most piston-powered aeroplanes, which need a longer run to take off than to land−it will comfortably get back out. It may not be the prettiest or most charismatic aircraft, but it really is a hell of a performer. The one I’m flying today, G-ARAW, a 1960 ‘C’ model (which at the time of writing is the oldest 182 on the G-reg and the only C) is particularly sprightly. 

The oil hatch on a Cessna 182C

One C182 C-model oddity: whilst engine oil level is checked via a large door on the port side of the cowling, it is replenished through a separate, smaller hatch on top... - Credit: Keith Wilson

Close up of the the trim system on the Cessna 182C

... and another: unlike the later 182 (and similar 172 and 152 models) but just like a J3 or PA-18 Cub, the tailplane incidence is variable. This complex trim system gave way to conventional tabs on the elevator - Credit: Keith Wilson

A new Cessna model every year 
If old aeroplanes could talk they’d have a story to tell, and no more-so than Alpha Whisky. It flew with flying doctor service AMREF from Wilson airport, Nairobi, in the 1970s, and was ferried back to Fairoaks in the 80s. It has since done parachuting and towing, and has been at Rufforth with Bob McLean for the last twenty years. Despite being sixty-one years old and having had an active life, it is in fine condition. 
I read recently that US Navy tactical aircraft put on a pound in weight for every week of their service lives, and although I don’t think GA aircraft gain weight to quite the same extent, just like people, they do tend to get heavier as time goes by. For example, the original 182 (essentially a C180 Skywagon with a nosewheel) had a maximum weight of 1,156kg and a 230hp Continental O-470, whereas a 2021 C182 tops out ar 1,406kg but still has a 230hp engine. You don’t need a degree in aero-engineering to know which one performs better. 

Andy Holmes, who shares the aircraft with Bob McLean (of McLean Aviation, well-known for composite aircraft maintenance and repair), has generously flown down to Saltby, and as the aircraft appears in the morning sky it suddenly occurs to me just how clever Cessna were at retaining brand loyalty. It could easily be a 152, 172 or 182 as they’re all so similar at a distance, and its only when it’s taxying towards me that it becomes obvious which model it is.  

If you’d trained on a 150/152, a 172 is the logical stepping-stone to a 182 and, with a base price of $13,750 in 1956 it’s no wonder Cessna sold over eight hundred of these aircraft in the first year. The 1950s and 1960s were probably the Golden Age for GA, and between 1957 and 1970 Cessna brought out a new version of the 182 every year! The 182A debuted in 1957, and the 182N appeared in Cessna showrooms in 1970. Some of the differences between marks are what I’d call ‘sticker engineering’ (such as better upholstery or changing the control yokes from metal to plastic) while others were quite significant, including sweeping the tail, shortening the undercarriage legs, widening the fuselage, changing the engine and (as mentioned previously) increasing the weight. And while Cessna’s engineers were working overtime, the marketing department wasn’t taking things easy either as they came up with a number of interesting expressions over the years. It’s easy to understand that a ‘Powermatic’ Skylane would feature a ‘Nav-O-Matic’ autopilot and ‘Land-O-Matic’ undercarriage, but I wonder what the ‘Omni-Vision’ rear window was symptomatic of?

The ‘E’ model is the one that introduced the most changes (twenty-six!) in 1962, although the most obvious alteration (giving the fin thirty-five degrees of sweepback) was introduced with today’s test aircraft, the ‘C’ version launched in 1960. Interestingly, this was almost certainly purely cosmetic (look at any American car of the late 1950s and you’ll see sweptback tailfins) and was quite possibly even counter-productive from an aerodynamic perspective, as I believe straight-tail 182s have better spin-recovery characteristics. 

Close up of the wheels on a Cessna 182C

So good and simple they've never changed it: Cessna’s combination of an oleo nose strut with the ultra simple, low-drag spring bow main undercarriage originated by 1930s air racer Steve Wittman - Credit: Keith Wilson

Is the Cessna 182 a Jack of all trades? 
Initially I think that Alpha Whiskey is just another classic strutted Cessna, well used and well-loved yes, but nothing unusual. However, as it approaches my eye spots a few anomalies. It appears to have gills in the sides of the cowling as well as cowl flaps, and is that a tow hook below the fin? And what’s that curious-looking device underneath the empennage? Andy soon explains the aircraft has done a lot of banner towing in its life, hence the Schweizer-type hook below the tail, while the secondary assembly is for releasing the grappling hook which snatches the banner off the ground. In addition, the gills are there to improve engine cooling at relatively high power settings and high alpha at low speed.  

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Access to the engine is interesting as there are two inspection panels: the dipstick is on the port side but the oil is replenished through the top. Also of interest is the variable incidence tailplane, which was replaced with a conventional trim tab from the E model onwards. The strut-braced constant-chord centre section and tapered outer wing panels changed very little, nor did the aerofoil section (NACA 2412) or the location of the fuel tanks, although they were progressively enlarged. The flap actuation system also went from being mechanical to electrical with the ‘E’ model. 

Having settled into my seat (which features a cable restraint to stop the seat slipping all the way back on its rails−a known Cessna design flaw), I regard the panel with considerable interest. Apart from the modern transceiver most of the instruments and avionics appear to be of the same vintage as the aircraft, except for the standby altimeter, which Andy tells me is from an English Electric Lightning.

The seats in the cabin of a Cessna 182C

More Chevvy pickup than Cadillac – the relatively spacious but distinctly utilitarian cabin - Credit: Keith Wilson

Other subtle clues that date the panel are that the Turn & Slip is a proper needle and ball type and not the less satisfactory turn coordinator fitted to later aircraft. In addition, the ASI’s outer scale is calibrated in miles an hour, with knots as the smaller, secondary indication. The primary power instruments of manifold pressure and rpm are big and centrally located and the yokes are of the fully enclosed type, which can make some of the instruments hard to see. What really catches my eye though is the plethora of plungers which control everything from the throttle to the master switch. Intrigued, I count them and there are no fewer than thirteen different plungers coloured either white or red with Verniers for the propeller and mixture. 

A small centre console that starts between the P1 and P2 rudder pedals and extends aft between the seats carries the rudder trim, elevator trim, a massive ‘Johnson bar’ flap lever (which I find a bit of a stretch when going from 0 to Flap 10) and the rotary fuel selector. No shortage of Bakelite here: the trim wheels for elevator and rudder are both orientated in the correct fashion, although I must admit that once I’ve got an hour or so in it I did find myself wondering if the rudder trim was perhaps superfluous, as I never felt the need to adjust it.

The elevator trim is particularly interesting. It ‘clicks’ very positively and is quite heavy in flight. Trimming nose-down is quite easy, because you can roll the trim wheel forward with the palm of your hand, but winding it backwards is much harder as you must nip it between thumb and forefinger. It’s quite low geared (remember it adjusts the incidence of the tailplane), and because of the big pitch trim changes with forty degrees of flap there’s a lot of winding to do. Pulling the cowl flap plunger also needs both hands. 

Differential toe-operated hydraulic disc brakes, positive nose wheel steering and a fine field of view make taxying easy. After that, the combination of being almost 200kg below max all-up weight, a cool wind on the nose and a concrete runway get us airborne after a ridiculously short ground roll. The best rate of climb speed is 90mph and as the needle of the ASI passed this with the VSI showing more than 1,000fpm I lowered the nose to improve the field of view and reduced power. It seemed a little noisier than the ‘T’ model I last flew, probably because its Continental O-470 develops its full 230hp some 200rpm faster than the T’s Lycoming O-540, and its two-blade propeller has a bigger diameter (and thus higher tip speeds) than the T’s three-blade unit. 

Close up of control panel on Cessna 182C

Panel design from another age, when pilots were expected to learn where all the gauges and taps were to be found and not operate the wrong ones in error - Credit: Keith Wilson

It’s been about ten years since I last flew a Skylane, so we do a quick touch and go to get my eye in and then we’re off across the Fens to the appositely-named Fenland. To my mind, this is what a ‘GB GA’ field should be. No airspace restriction, clear approaches, well-drained grass runways arranged at almost the cardinal points of the compass, friendly folks, a brilliant café, and not a hi-viz vest in sight. Photographer Keith, cameraship pilot Paul Brian and a 172 are waiting for us, and after the mandatory formation briefing we’re off to The Wash. 

The shoot goes very well. The air over the sea is smooth and both aircraft are broadly similar in handling and performance but I have more power, which expedites the re-joins. Formation flying will always show up any deficiencies in an aircraft’s handling characteristics, and maintaining a precise position off the cameraship’s wing soon confirmed what I already knew: to use an automobile analogy, this is a sedan, not a sports car. The ailerons are not that powerful, making lateral control no more than adequate while the elevator is heavy but effective and the rudder seems somewhat spongy, possibly because it’s linked to the nose wheel. That said, the ‘C’ does seem to handle a little better than the ‘T’, probably because it’s quite a lot lighter.  

A cheery wave from Keith confirms “it’s a wrap” and I move onto an examination of both sides of the speed scale. Slow flight is impressive. With full flap, a bit of power and slow deceleration the aircraft never stalls in the classic sense, it just mushes with a high sink rate and the ASI’s needle wavering pointlessly (and I suspect erroneously, due to position error at high alpha) below forty. A reed-type horn is mounted in the leading edge of the wing, and starts squealing at least five knots before the wing actually stalls. Recovery is effortless. Just release the back pressure and the wing is flying again. Full flap, part flap, no flap; power on or off: it’s all very benign, although a potential pitfall is a missed approach and go-around with full flap selected. More on this later.  

For a look at the cruise I level out at 3,000ft, close the cowl flaps, adjust throttle, prop and mixture to Andy’s preferred power setting of “22 squared” (2,200rpm and 22in manifold pressure) and then sit back. The ASI soon settles on 130mph for a TAS of 135 and a fuel flow of around 40 litres per hour: not bad for an aircraft designed in the 1950s. In still air, this gives about 15 air miles per gallon, or about 0.07 litre/seat/mile.  

Cessna 182C coming in to land

If you can get in, you will get out: unlike many other light aeroplanes, the Cessna 182 does not require much more room to takeoff than it needs to land - Credit: Keith Wilson

Short landings with flap forty 
Digging deeper into the control and stability confirms−unsurprisingly−that it is positive around all three axes, and reveals another reason for strong 182 sales over the decades. It handles very much like its smaller siblings, and anyone who has flown 152s and 172s would soon feel at home in the 182, with the only obvious differences (apart from the higher cruise speed) being the cowl flaps and constant-speed prop. 

Approaching Fenland I’m slightly fast and high, but know that if I need to add drag the first stage of flap can be lowered at a usefully high 100mph, while sagacious use of the cowl flaps controls the cylinder head temperatures. If you use full flap (a fulsome forty degrees) and push the prop to fully fine there’s a lot of drag. This is a very tractable machine. 

Fenland is fairly quiet, so Andy and I shoot multiple circuits for Keith’s camera. This also gives me the opportunity to go into the corners of the takeoff and landing performance. Going ‘over the hedge’ at 70mph feels about right for our weight and this 670m runway and, with those fantastic Fowler flaps (still the best ever fitted to a GA aircraft) adding plenty of lift and drag, precision landings are easy.

Also, although our forward C of G does require a bit of muscle in the flare, again it doesn’t seem as heavy as the T did. I think the variable incidence tailplane has a lot to do with it, but there is a note of caution here. If you approach with the full forty degrees of flap down and the C of G fairly forward, the elevator trimmer is on the back stop. Go around in the flare and you will be very busy adding power, pushing hard on the yoke to counter the strong pitch-up, retracting the flaps and frantically re-trimming with the low-geared trim wheel. 

We also try several short takeoffs, some with Andy milking the flaps down from 10 to 20 as I call “airspeed alive” at 40mph. To be honest, I suspect this “popping the flaps down” is an old wives’ tale, because neither of us can really discern any difference in the ground roll, and certainly not enough to justify letting go of the throttle to monkey with the flap lever. You’d be much better off just leaving the flaps at 20.

On the way back to Saltby we also pass over my home strip, and despite having practically everything against us (hot day, slight 90° crosswind) my experiments at Fenland indicated that ‘Alpha Whiskey’ would comfortably go in and out of Black Spring Farm, and this indeed proves to be the case. By using 40° of flap and balancing the phenomenal drag with power we cross the hedge with the speed bleeding back from 60 to 55.

A ‘firm but fair’ touchdown where I was aiming follows, and only gentle braking is required to stop, having used just under 275m−I know this because I measured it later. After an agreeable stroll around the strip in the sunshine we prepare to depart. As mentioned, this is one of the few aeroplanes in which, if you can get in, you will get out−and by using 20° of flap this time we clear the fence with plenty to spare and head over to Saltby for a review of the day. 

The Cessna 182C in flight

Safe 182 handling is never going to set the world on fire – but nor will it send the pulse racing for all the wrong reasons... - Credit: Keith Wilson

Cessna 182 aerotowing abilities 
We’d gone high and low, fast and slow. Taken off from long concrete runways and landed on short grass strips. We’d even done some close formation work, so I felt we’d probed round most corners of the envelope and pretty well wrung ‘Alpha Whiskey’ out. I’m about to wrap the day up when Andy reminds me that ’AW has a tow hook. Of course! To set up a banner would take too long, but luckily two friends are lurking around the launch point and not averse to a free tow, so while Andy attaches the mirror I find a tow rope. As the Duo Discus is quite a large and heavy sailplane this would be an excellent test of the 182’s towing capabilities: the aircraft does not disappoint us, clearing the hay bales by the biggest margin I’d enjoyed for some time.  

As I’m a rated instructor for sailplane towing, I let Andy fly the rest of the tow once we’re over the bales, and he does well. The Buckminster Gliding Club is hosting the RAF GSA for a ‘Joint Services’ course (incredibly, the RAF doesn’t have a single airfield available) and consequently Saltby is busier than usual. Of course, all the gliders expect the tug to give way, and for the first time I really notice the perennial Cessna blind spot, an almost unavoidable consequence of the high-wing configuration. 

But what an impressive machine! I can’t think of many aircraft that can carry four adults and their baggage several hundred miles in reasonable comfort, drop them off at a short farm strip and then tow a glider on the way home, or spend a productive and profitable week towing banners and at the weekend take the family (and dog) to the beach.  

The useful load is over 430kg, and even with full fuel there is still nearly 286kg available for passengers and cargo, and remember endurance with full fuel is over five hours. But keep in mind that this aeroplane is comfy, but not that comfy! A more realistic allowance would be three hours’ fuel plus thirty minutes’ reserve (say 140 litres/100kg), which leaves 330kg load available. ’AW really is an amazingly useful aeroplane, and being much lighter than later 182s it has an excellent power-to-weight ratio.  

An old Huey pilot once told me that when the last Blackhawk goes to the scrapyard, it will be as an underslung load carried by a Huey, and he was only half-joking. Well, I view the Skylane in the same light: when I think about it, the only aircraft that could replace ‘Alpha Whiskey’ is another 182.  

The rear view mirror on a Cessna 182C

Rear-view mirrors to check the glider position or banner streaming - Credit: Keith Wilson

CESSNA 182C 
Dimensions 
Length            8.83m    
Height             2.80m   
Wingspan     10.90m  
Wing area     16.16 sq m         

Weights & loadings  
Empty weight          771kg           
Max auw        1202kg                 
Useful load            431kg    
Power loading       6.99kg/kW (11.52 lb/hp) 
Wing loading         74.38kg/sq m (15.22 lb/sq ft)   
Fuel capacity        208 lit                        

Performance
Vne        160kt     
Cruise  (TAS)          145kt  
Stall                45kt       
Rate of climb               1025ft/min          
Takeoff over 15m             415m   
Landing over 15m        395m    

Engine  
Continental O-470L air-cooled flat-six, producing 230hp (172kW) at 2,600rpm and driving a McCauley metal two-blade constant-speed propeller 

Manufacturer  
Cessna Aircraft Ltd