Cessna's latest revisions keep the 182 Skylane up with the best


FOR TENS OF THOUSANDS of flyers, the Cessna Skylane has always been the ideal family aeroplane: comfortable, economical, and with more than ample load-carrying ability for far-flung holiday trips. For thousands of others, its respectable cruise speed, long range and solid stability made the 182 the epitome of the entry-level business aircraft.

The 182 practically defined its own niche during its initial three-decade production run. Today, the Skylane seems an even-stronger entry in both the personal- and business-flying arenas. If pilots have the need to go far, fast and full, Cessna's 182S, the newest incarnation of its original 1956 Skylane, should keep most of them happy most of the time.

At altitude, the 182S cruises comfortably at 140kt (260km/h) true airspeed, in the same league as that of many retractable-gear aircraft - but with the maintenance advantages of fixed gear. With the maximum 335litres of fuel, the new Skylane has enough range to be flown from London to most of the capitals of the European Community. Its endurance aloft totals 5.8h at cruise. At this full-fuel range, the Skylane still delivers a payload of 315kg. Users can choose any combination of pilot, passengers and luggage: a family of four for a weekend away, or three business travellers with golf clubs and luggage enough for a conference weekend.

Cessna allowed Flight International to flight-test aircraft N282ES, a new 182S Skylane equipped with a three-bladed McCauley propeller which will be available from October as an option, replacing the standard two-blade, constant-speed propeller, also from McCauley.

Cessna has brought much of the look and feel of its business-turbine products to the aircraft, built at its Independence, Kansas, piston-single-manufacturing plant. The avionics, instruments and gauges are mostly easy to see and professional in appearance and function. As noted in the flight test of Cessna's new 172R Skyhawk (Flight International, 21-28 January), the sole avionics supplier for Cessna's single-engine line is AlliedSignal, with its Bendix/King Silver Crown radios. These are available only on the 172R and 182S. AlliedSignal plans to extend availability to the aftermarket.

Standard equipment includes:

- KX 155A 760-channel communication and 200-channel navigation receiver, with remote frequency switching;

- KT 76C transponder, with push-button code setting and a display which shows what the encoder is reporting;

- KMA 26 audio panel, with integral marker-beacon receiver, four-place intercom, and two music inputs;

- KLN 89 global-positioning-system (GPS) receiver with database, or optional approach-certified KLN 89B;

- KAP 140 autopilot, with navigation-and heading-hold functions, and optional altitude- hold function.

There are other items which pilots have come to expect in a professional panel: black-faced gauges, all with internal lighting; electronic fuel-capacity gauges with needles which do not bounce; a fuel-flow gauge instead of a fuel-pressure dial, paired with the manifold-pressure gauge; fluorescent floodlighting built into the glareshield; and even a map light and dimmer built into the pilot's yoke.

Most of the controls for flight, engine, electrical and avionics systems are placed within easy reach - except for two. The electric-flap switch and the mechanical cowl-flap control both require a reach to the right and a bit of stretch to manipulate. Both work easily enough, however, although my unfamiliarity with the flap switch led me to move the lever one notch too far on two separate occasions.

Cessna also has not neglected the creature comforts of the pilot - something which will be immediately obvious to anyone who has ever flown behind the old powerplant and beneath the roar of the old wing-root air-vent system. In comparison, even with a rush of air from the six-outlet cabin-ventilation system, the new Skylane seems hushed.

Cessna's decision to step up to the 225kW (300hp) Textron Lycoming IO-540 engine probably does the most to mute the aircraft. By limiting engine red-line speed to 2,400RPM, for a 170kW maximum output, Cessna lowered the sound output of the 182S by enough to meet even Germany's stringent noise standards.

Thanks to the lower stresses produced by limiting the engine to 65% of its potential, owners should experience little trouble flying behind these engines to 2,000h, the recommended time between overhauls. Cabin soundproofing allows normal conversation without headsets.

Cessna's new energy-absorbing seats are as comfortable as they need to be, even on maximum-range flights. You simply need to experiment with the front seats' three-way adjustments. Once inside the Skylane's 1.7m-wide cabin, there is ample headroom.

Anyone who ever has flown a Skylane - or a Skyhawk - should have little trouble adapting to the new 182S. It does demand learning a few different habits, but nothing unusual - just changes which match alterations in the aircraft itself. Pre-flight inspections, for example, require five stops per wing and two more stops at the cowling - just to sump the fuel tanks, system low point and strainer. The new Cessna singles have "wet-wing" fuel tanks between spars and ribs which create bays where water can settle, so each low point gets its own drain.

Cessna used to install tank inserts into vacant wing bays. These presented problems with leaks from vibration wear, filler necks cracking, venting problems and water leakage. The new tanks eliminate those snags - at the relatively low cost of the extra steps in pre-flight. Beyond the extra measures of fuel sampling, checking the airframe before flight is traditionally as simple as ever.


Cockpit and take-off

Inside the cockpit, the systems changes require a few minor changes in habit. For example, the electrically driven fuel boost-pump is used only long enough to raise the fuel-flow needle off zero. The mixture control is left at the cut-off position, as well. Turn the key, engage the starter and, when it whirls the Lycoming to life, ease the mixture control to full rich. When the engine is hot, skip the boost-pump step.

Once at the departure threshold, pick flaps - 0 degrees, 10 degrees or 20 degrees - move on to the runway, set the directional gyroscope and throttle up. At throttle advance, the Lycoming spooled smoothly and swiftly up to 2,400RPM, sending the aircraft surging ahead eagerly toward rotation not quite 275m (900ft) up runway 35 at Independence Municipal Airport. That was a bit over the book figure of 240m for ground roll to rotation, and we were about 135kg below the 1,400kg maximum take-off weight. Still, at our density altitude of about 1,800ft (550m), it seemed as though we should have used more than just under 275m of runway. The McCauley propeller gave a climb rate near to 1,200ft/min (6.96m/s) - the book maximum is 924ft/min.

With a quick spin of the blue propeller control, RPM dropped from the 2,400 red line to 2,200; setting the throttle reduced manifold pressure to 635mm, delivering 76% power. Leaning the engine toward peak exhaust-gas temperature dropped fuel flow to just under 50litres/h. The Lycoming hauled the Skylane along at about 115kt (210km/h) and upward at 500ft/min.Visibility was outstanding over the nose at this solid cruise-climb setting.

Resetting power to 2,200rpm on reaching 4,500ft, our cruising altitude for the 130km (70nm) flight to Augusta, Kansas, delivered 130kt and 45litres/h. The AlliedSignal KAP 140 autopilot worked perfectly, in heading and navigation modes, during 65km of use en route.

The autopilot locked on to the gyro heading and turned smoothly to any new heading once the heading bug was set. Unlike the prototype unit in the 172R which Flight International tested in January, the production unit did not hunt when a navigation input was selected. Instead, the KAP 140 locked equally solidly on to courses set with either the KLN 89B or the KX 155A, depending on which unit was selected.

On a day as smooth and ripple-free as the date of our test, nothing compares with a little hand-flying. The Skylane is not a nimble aircraft, but it is responsive, with strong roll-yaw coupling at bank angles up to 25 degrees or so. At 30 degrees and beyond the aircraft grows progressively heavier in pitch. Turns sustained at angles of 45 degrees or more become nearly effortless only after adding more trim.

At 8,000ft we tried a maximum-speed run for about 40km, using Cessna's production flight-test guidelines, and got nearly perfect book numbers: 138kt at 46.2litres/h, leaned for best economy. Leaning the mixture for minimum fuel consumption deprived us of the Skylane's fullest speed potential. To extract the last gramme of power and the absolute best speed requires enriching the mixture to 50 degrees C below peak. There is a price to pay for the 3kt of extra speed - an 8% rise in fuel consumption which cuts full-tanks range by 120km, to 1,400km.

The Skylane flies with equal ease and predictability at the opposite end of the operating envelope, which accounts for the 182S' long-standing reputation as an outstanding instrument platform. Two of our approaches and landings were to Independence and Augusta. Whether slowing for the downwind leg, flying the standard box patterns or slipping down to touchdown, the chores were handled with aplomb and predictability.

Slowing the Skylane is not difficult. Progressively reducing power works well if you blend in requisite changes in pitch trim to maintain desired altitude or descent rate. Beware those flaps, however. With each 10 degrees, the Skylane ballooned skyward by as much as 25-30ft. Later, the aircraft revealed that aggressive use of pitch trim will counter some of that ballooning.

The Skylane always made me feel secure in its stability and predictable handling response. The 182S, however, like its predecessors, is a relatively heavy aircraft, and that weight shows up most in pitch-control pressures at slow speed. Quick, judicious, use of pitch trim is required to extract the stable, smooth, pattern and approach flying desired, the sort for which the 182 is famous and highly capable of delivering.

With its proven ability to handle rough, unpaved and unimproved runways, it is given that not all 182S flights will start or finish on pavement. To sample how the 182S handles unconventional approaches to unusual runways, we took the aircraft to Beaumont in Kansas.

Even here, the new Skylane comfortably met the challenge. The southern approach is my favourite, demanding a steep descent and then an energetic flare to a grass threshold which slopes uphill for the first 250m. A horse trailer blocked the southern approach, however, but the approach from the north was clear, save for Highway 96, just a few steps away from the threshold to runway 17. From the north, the runway starts mostly level until the midpoint, where, for about 120m, the field slopes gently downhill before reaching the steepest part.

A long, ovoid, 180 degree turn brought the Skylane back in line with the prairie strip. First 10 degrees, then 20 degrees of flap helped me stabilise the approach; 30 degrees let me keep the right descent rate and angle for a soft-field landing. A touch of power, trimmed for 60kt on the indicator, and we crossed the highway with clearance to spare. If 60kt seems slow, consider that the posted stall speed of a Skylane at gross weight is 46kt, power off.

There is plenty of margin for manoeuvring, because of its powerful ailerons and strong low-speed-handling traits. Even at 60kt - and slowing - the Skylane showed little lag in roll and no adverse yaw to speak of, making me comfortable about making any corrections needed to keep my line on the runway. Scant feet off the earth, the power came off, a long deep flare came on, and the Skylane arrived with a plunk on its sturdy main gear. Propeller clearance was hardly a concern: the aircraft enjoys more clearance than with the two-bladed McCauley propeller which is standard on the 182S, thanks to its smaller diameter.

The take-off was a short-field-style performance. Cessna limits take-off flaps to 20 degrees, so we took all of that. Throttle and mix were advanced to full, my toes strained on the brakes for the few seconds before the engine reached 2,400RPM, and away we went. Yoke back, toe steering mostly, the Skylane quickly took to the air in less than 300m, despite a density altitude which, by then, had climbed above 2,500ft.

The powerful Skylane climbed away strongly, showing about 1,300 ft/min in climb at just over 50kt, then accelerated past 60kt - and on to my biggest bungle of the day: retracting those big flaps all at once. Just as adding flaps caused the Skylane to balloon, stowing the flaps brought on sink - just as the trees ahead rose towards the main gear. The sink - of the aircraft and my stomach - was quite pronounced. With familiarity, this trait can be handled. Stowing flaps 10 degrees at a time and simultaneously re-trimming minimised the effect without altogether eliminating the sink.


The listening company

Cessna did not just leap back into production of its 172 and 182 designs, but spent time learning what pilots wanted most in a piston-powered aircraft. The results are seen throughout both aircraft, and will show up when the 206 Stationair returns to production early in 1998.

The annunciator warnings and redundancy in the vacuum-instrument system tackle problems which, by accident statistics, lead to a large share of small-aircraft accidents. For example, loss of vacuum in most aircraft cripples both the attitude- and directional-gyro instruments, leaving only the electrically powered turn indicator for horizon reference.

In the new Skylane, as in the new Skyhawk, failure of one vacuum pump triggers the requisite annunciator warning - even as the full vacuum load shifts to the remaining suction pump. Running out of fuel should be harder than in the old Cessnas because of more-accurate fuel gauges and the two low-fuel warning lights which illuminate when fuel level falls to 19 litres in a tank. These lights continue to blink, as long as the condition of which they warn continues.

During its first 30 years in production, little on the market matched the Skylane's combination of size, load, speed, versatility and durability. Today, with improved systems and more standard features than ever, nothing else quite matches the Skylane standard. In its price range, steep though $200,000 may be, not even a 1986 Skylane refurbished to 1997 standards will quite compare for the money. The newest 182 succeeds in keeping the Skylane's singular spot in general aviation as one of flying's most versatile, desirable aircraft. With the optional three-bladed propeller, many pilots will find the aircraft even more suitable and comfortable.

Source: Flight International