When we talk about single-engine utility, the Cessna 185 really has it all. Whether on wheels, bush tires, floats or skis, the Cessna 185 can take you and your family or a whole bunch of gear pretty much anywhere, anytime. While the airplane may not be a racehorse, it is definitely a workhorse, with good range capabilities and an impressive payload. The airplane’s short-field capability and rugged tailwheel design allow you to fly the airplane into the roughest, shortest strips you can find.
With such versatility, the name Skywagon aptly suits the 185. Anyone who has ever flown a Cessna 185 may also feel that the wagon analogy applies to the airplane’s handling characteristics. Like ground-based automobile wagons, the 185 doesn’t say “sporty.” The controls are heavy to the feel. You really have to put some muscle into each control input. Having said that, the airplane will do what you ask it to. The only time you may be in for a surprise is on the ground, particularly in gusty conditions, because of the conventional gear.
While the Cessna 185 is configured with a tailwheel, there is no need for S-turns on the ground to see what’s ahead on the taxiway or to slip to see the runway during the final approach stage. The positioning of the seats is high enough that you can see what’s ahead of you, which makes taxiing, takeoffs and landings less of a challenge than in other tailwheel airplanes.
The Skywagon name was originally adopted for the Cessna 180, the older, slightly less versatile brother of the 185. Cessna beefed up the fuselage of the 180, enlarged the vertical fin and replaced the 230 hp Continental with the 260 hp IO-470 and later a 300 hp IO-520 engine, by far the most versatile configuration as far as performance and load capability.
The additional power allowed Cessna to increase the gross weight to 3,350 pounds. While every airplane is equipped differently, the useful load is generally right around 1,600 pounds, an exceptional number for a single-engine airplane. The 185 is one of those rare planes that can fill all its seats with full fuel tanks. Even with the later models’ 88-gallon fuel tanks, you can load six 180-pound people into the airplane and still be within the legal limits.
The seating arrangement in the Cessna 185 also screams utility. The rear seats are removable, and many owners take out some of the seats to create more room in the back for cargo. With the high load capacity, Cessna also added a cargo pod for the 185 that fits underneath the belly of the airplane. The 21½-cubic-foot cargo pod can accommodate up to 300 pounds of stuff.
To help make loading and unloading easier, some 185s are equipped with what is referred to as a stretcher door. The only drawback with the stretcher door is that it is not compatible with the float kit for the airplane. And many C-185s have quick-release hinge pins that allow the pilot to remove the door in less than a minute. The additional space with the door out of the way makes loading gear in and out of the airplane much easier.
With the ability to go pretty much anywhere at any time of the year by readily switching from wheels to skis to floats, the 185 is a popular platform in the northern part of the country. Of the nearly 1,700 Cessna 185s of various models that are registered with the FAA today, more than 500 are based in Alaska. From delivering climbers to the base camp at Mount McKinley to hauling people, mail or other cargo to remote villages, the Cessna 185 has proven its versatility. It is no wonder that, nearly 30 years after going out of production, the 185 is still commonly seen at backcountry strips around the world. — PIA BERGQVIST