What is there left to say about the Cessna Skylane? You'd think not much. After all, it's an airplane that's been in production (with one decade-long break in production from the mid-80s to the mid-90s) since 1956. During that time Cessna has built more than 20,000 Skylanes, making it one of the most popular models ever, and arguably the most popular nontraining model period.
It's easy to see why. Cessna, then and now, has always been about providing buyers with great value, that is, a lot of performance and capability for the money, with an emphasis on airplanes that don't weigh much and that can carry a good payload. The 182, or Skylane (as it's been called since its second year on the market), isn't the fastest four-seater in the sky, it's not the sleekest, the most modern looking or the most technologically advanced. What it was, and remains today, is a solid, safe, good handling, decent-sized load hauler with good range and enough speed to get the job done, whether that job is hauling a load from one side of a rural county to the other or flying four friends to a vacation resort three states away. It's an extremely versatile airplane.
But even though it goes by the same name, today's Skylane is far removed from those straight-tailed, bare metal machines of yore. Today's Skylane is sleeker, more solid, much more comfortable, rangier, faster, and far, far more technologically advanced than anything its originators could have dreamt of. After all, who would have guessed back when they first bolted a nose gear on a 180 and tacked on a couple more digits to come up with an airplane, the 182 would still be flying strong in 2009? But it is.
So, to get back to the question, what is there left to say about the Skylane? Lots. In fact, unless you've flown it lately, I'm betting that there are sides to this airplane you just haven't seen yet.
Pair of "T"s
The airplane I flew for this report is the T182T, with the latter T being its model designation and the former T standing for its turbocharging. The upgraded model was added to the current product line in 2000.
Experience says that when a factory-turbocharged version of a popular airplane gets introduced it nearly always outsells the nonturbocharged version. It happened with the previous production 182, and it is the case with the new production Skylane; the turbo version outsells the nonturbo one by a good margin.
There are some sensible reasons for that.
First, you get a lot for the money. You could add all the elements of a turbocharged Skylane -- the turbocharger, the built-in oxygen system and the heated prop -- to a nonturbocharged model, but it would cost you more than Cessna charges for those upgrades (about $35,000) and you would miss out on some nice features of those systems you can't get on the aftermarket. And even if you live in the flatlands, when you go to sell your airplane, there's more of a market for the turbo version, as even Rockies dwellers will be interested in taking a look.
The airplane is faster, too, though it won't make you think you've somehow ended up in a high-wing version of Cessna's recently named Corvalis (née Columbia). The turbocharger gives you better takeoff, climb and hot and high performance, and it can maintain its mojo up to 20,000 feet, where it can make some really nice true airspeeds (up into the 170s) while stretching out the range.
The engine that powers the T182T is the Lycoming TSIO-540-AK1A, a factory turbocharged 235 engine that features an automatic wastegate and improved turbocharger cooling. The engine seems very smooth and quiet, but maybe that's because I've spent so much time in older Skylanes, where the soundproofing was very minimal.
The question "What's new?" in regards to the Cessna Skylane is best answered with another question: "Since when?"
The latest additions to the airplane are few but impressive, and the list of features added when the T model was launched a few years back are numerous.
The airplane that I flew was outfitted with what I see as three of the most noteworthy improvements to come down the pike in a long time: Garmin's Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT), Garmin's excellent GFC 700 autopilot and WAAS. Coupled with the G1000 system's host of other impressive capabilities, these features give the Skylane a suite of avionics utilities that are hard to beat in a single-engine airplane of any description.
The upgrades that came with the launch of the 182T in 2004 are all there, too. They include several small aerodynamic improvements -- more streamlined VOR antennas, slicker wheelpants, a smaller beacon -- that Cessna added in order to boost the cruise speed of the airplane by five knots or so, which does in fact seem to be the case.
The Skylane has had both WAAS and Garmin's GFC 700 autopilot for a little while now, but Garmin's SVT is brand new. In fact, the Skylane I flew in was the first production Skylane to have the system installed. It had not, however, been certified yet; hence, the "Experimental" markings on the airplane we flew. SVT should be ready to go and in new airplanes by the time you read this. Cessna hadn't yet determined a price for it, but it's likely to be just less than $10,000.
If all you've flown are old-production Skylanes -- the last of the former airplanes were delivered in 1986 -- then let me say that the new generation Skylane is a better airplane in just about every regard, the exception being weight -- new production 182s are a little heavier than old models. What Cessna did with that weight was in my estimation exactly what they needed to do. They did a much better job corrosion-proofing the airplane. They made the seats safer, stronger, more durable and a lot more comfortable. They greatly improved the fit and finish of the interior. They added state of the art avionics. (And they've continued to upgrade those avionics.) They've made the airplane quieter, smoother and more versatile, with longer range tanks and improved aerodynamics. The new generation Cessna piston singles are extensively re-engineered airplanes that are thoroughly modern versions of the bestselling airplanes ever. So if you think that Cessna is still building the same old airplanes it did 50-odd years ago, think again.
Not Flying and Then Flying the Turbo Skylane
I'd planned to go fly a brand-new Turbo Skylane with Cessna Regional Sales Manager Chris Lee out of Austin one Monday in mid-March. Then the weather set in, with widespread low IFR and ice in the clouds, including predictions of large supercooled droplets. And the widespread low was in no hurry to go anywhere. Through Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday we sat watching the weather, each day hoping for better and each day being disappointed.
By Sunday, the front had mostly gone through the area, and we were looking at a forecast of clear skies a few hundred miles west of Austin, which is where we wanted to go to get to some high country to test out the SVT and see the turbocharger earn its keep.
The plan was to fly out to West Texas, Marfa (MRF) specifically, where the terrain rises rapidly and turbocharging makes a lot of sense. There were sigmets for moderate turbulence along our route of flight, and there were reports of icing at between 15,000 and 20,000 feet for the first half hour of our flight as the storm moved east. And we weren't planning to go out that high anyway. Other than that, the weather looked pretty benign.
Getting Reacquainted With the Skylane
One of the first things you notice about the 182 is its impressive interior. The seats are large, comfortable and strong, reminiscent of something you'd find in the back of a bizjet. Unlike four-point systems on many new airplanes, the seat belts on the Skylane are automotive shoulder belts with AmSafe built-in airbags. The belts retract into the roof behind and between the seats. Even after hours of flying you don't get that fatigued strapped-in feeling you can get with four-place belt systems. I think they're the best in the business.
The airplane we were flying was brand new, fewer than 10 hours on it, so starting it took a little fiddling. But after a few tries, I managed, with some helpful advice from Chris, to get it going. I really like the sound of the turbocharged Lyc in the 182. It's very throaty and smooth. There's no lever for the gear, but other than that, the Skylane retains all of the panel controls you'll remember from the old days. Still, engine management is dirt simple. For takeoff you simply push the throttle full forward -- there's an automatic wastegate, so you don't have to worry about overboosting the engine too much. If the manifold pressure goes into the red, which it never did on either of my takeoffs even with full throttle, you can simply dial it back a little, but that's about all there is to it. It's the same with the prop. It might sometimes slightly exceed 2400 rpm, but if it does, all you need to do is twist it back a hair and you're good again. Unlike most new-design airplanes, you've also got cowl flaps to deal with in the 182. Again, nothing is particularly complicated or critical, but there are systems, however rudimentary, to manage.
The electrical system features a high degree of redundancy, with a 28 volt 95 amp alternator with two primary buses and a standby battery for powering the essential bus for around 45 minutes of flight time. There is still a vacuum pump on the airplane, to power the backup attitude indicator. Most other new airplanes have gone to electrically powered backups.
We'd filed to Marfa direct at 8,000, an altitude that would keep us well out of any ice and hopefully above any turbulence. It worked on both counts.
The Turbo develops cruise power all the way up to its ceiling of 20,000 feet, and we were cruise climbing with the knobs full forward, showing 120 knots and around 700 fpm all the way up to 8,000 feet. At slower speeds, the airplane will climb at better than 1,000 fpm initially at max weight. With full fuel and the two of us, we still had enough capacity for another passenger and enough 100LL in the tanks for a round trip to MRF without fueling up there. We could have also fueled to the tabs -- 64 gallons -- and taken four and bags and still had better than four hours of endurance. That's utility.
At 8,000 feet we were seeing true airspeeds of slightly better than 150 knots, and at that altitude our headwinds were manageable, around 20 knots or so. In my book, 130 knots over the ground with a 20-knot headwind is workable for even long cross-country flying, and longtime Skylane owners seem to agree.
The fuel burn was higher than you'd get with a normally aspirated 540, but only by a gallon or two per hour. We were looking at right around 17.5 gph at our high power cruise of 28 inches and 2400 rpm, which gave us around 85 percent power. Pulling back the throttle a little, to 25 inches, will cut fuel by a gallon or so per hour while still yielding around 145 knots true at that altitude. Because the airplane was brand new, we kept the power at the higher setting, as per Cessna's break-in procedures.
As we got within a hundred miles of Marfa, the desert terrain had already begun to rise beneath us, and to the south we could see near-10,000-foot peaks in the distance in Mexico. Marfa itself lies at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet msl, and there were a few substantially higher ridgelines running north and south as we approached the area.
Albuquerque Center gave us a climb to 9,000 feet for terrain, but we chose instead to cancel and descend so we could try out the synthetic vision utility.
As you can see from the accompanying photograph on page 2 of this article, the utility is amazing.
This isn't the first time I've flown with SVT, but it is the first time I've had the chance to fly with it in and around some serious terrain. Overall, SVT is very nicely implemented, the symbology is big and easy to interpret, and the colors are bright and vibrant. It's also remarkably intuitive to work with. While there is a lot of capability built into the system, you don't need to know every little feature in order to be able to use it.
Take our flight as a case in point. While Chris hand-flew the airplane, I took some photographs of the PFD as we approached the ridgelines, always leaving ourselves several easy and unambiguous outs. As we flew nearer the ridge and the terrain came closer to our altitude, the rendering of that high terrain on the synthetic vision display began to change color, at first to yellow, when it was a threat but still below us. Seconds later, as we approached terrain that was higher than us, the terrain on the SVT changed to red, and visual warnings were displayed on both screens and an additional warning was made over the airplane's audio system. It would have been very difficult indeed to have missed the message.
Even though it seems to do everything that a Class B TAWS system does and then some, SVT doesn't qualify as a Class B system in the Skylane. Even so, with SVT there really isn't any need for TAWS B, which is an $8,500 option.
In this case, of course, we were VFR, in the clear, aware of exactly where we were and where we were going, so the SVT demonstration was just that, a demonstration. But under conditions where the chips were down and you needed all the help you could get to keep from flying into that ridgeline, SVT is the best avoidance technology that I've seen. There's just no ambiguity. What you see on the screen is what you would see out the windscreen. It goes without saying that synthetic vision is not intended for use as a primary reference; it's purely advisory in nature.
But it's not hard to imagine the multiple scenarios in which the utility could save the day: losing reference to the horizon; accidental VFR into IMC; getting lost at low altitude in areas of high terrain. I don't have to name them: You can probably think of a few recent tragic mishaps that fit these descriptions pretty closely.
What's even easier to imagine is a scenario whereby SVT simply helps you stay on top of more typical situations: any night flight at all, but especially those in areas with high terrain; extended flights over water; flights into airports in very nondescript geographic locales. You might not need SVT to save your life in these situations, but it's an invaluable tool to help things go more smoothly. And "more smoothly," we've all come to learn, translates fairly directly into "more safely."
Same Old Skylane
After passing the ridges and descending slightly, I loaded the GPS overlay approach for Runway 30 at Marfa into the navigator and headed in. WAAS wasn't any help here, but in more and more cases, you can find approaches with vertical guidance to remote airports just like this.
The wind was blowing strong at Marfa, 10 gusting to 20, conditions that I'm guessing are common there. I hadn't been in a Skylane for a few years, but despite the gusty conditions, it felt like second nature. The 182 is an airplane you fly with trim, and if you trim it right, it's a pussy cat. With the gusty conditions and a good deal of wind shear on final, I kept a few extra knots in on final, a sentiment that Chris seconded, and we touched down well past the numbers but still using up relatively little runway in the process, even with the faster-than-standard approach speed and the use of just one notch of flaps.
This much hasn't changed, at least. The manners of the Skylane are great, predictable, harmonious and comfortable. It's an airplane that many thousands of pilots have fallen in love with, and it's easy to see why.
Except for the wind, which was raising a chorus of creaks around the old T-hangars, things were very quiet in Marfa as we taxied in. Rudy, the attendant at the lone FBO, Howard Petroleum, gave us the keys to a loaner car and we trundled into town for a fantastic Mexican lunch at Conchita's.
After we got back from lunch and an impromptu self-guided tour of downtown Marfa in our '80s-vintage Pontiac, we had the Skylane topped off, though we didn't actually need to. With 87 gallons of fuel, the Skylane has huge range.
During our lunch the scattered cloud layer had been doing what it normally does in the high country on an active afternoon, getting higher. The layer that a few hours ago was just above us at 8,000 feet now looked a lot higher. We decided to go back VFR, so we picked 11,500 feet, hoping that would put us on top. When we were still below the layer, we tried 13,500, which, as it turned out, would have put us in the middle of the layer (not recommended for VFR). We finally climbed to 15,500 and were on top, in smooth air and seeing a 40-knot push.
The built-in oxygen system in the Turbo Skylane, like just about everything else on the airplane, is very nicely done. The entire system is housed in a panel overhead. Plug in, move the lever to "on," and you're good to go.
At that altitude with the power set at the high cruise of 28 inches and 2400 rpm, we were seeing 168 knots true and a groundspeed of right around 200 knots at just over around 17 gph. At 20,000 feet we would have gained a few knots, to around 175 knots true, and the fuel flow would have been similar.
The flight gave us great insight into just why the Turbo version of the Skylane has become so popular. On the way up to Marfa, we stayed low and acted like a normally aspirated airplane. On the way back we flew high, using the turbocharger to take advantage of a great tailwind and the smooth air above the cloud layer. It was the best of both worlds.
Long History, Bright Future
Versatility and utility have been the dual messages of the Skylane from the get-go. And with today's 182, you get all of that along with the quality of life and safety improvements that modern engineering and technology have brought along for the ride.
Today's Skylane is a fitting continuation of one of the most storied models in aviation history, a robust airplane that simply gets done whatever job you throw at it while giving its pilots all the modern advantages. No wonder it remains such a popular personal airplane.
To learn more about the Turbo Skylane, visit cessna.com.
Used Skylanes. Challenges and Opportunities.
There's something that most owners looking to sell their high-performance singles haven't quite figured out yet: It's a buyer's market.
They'd better get used to it, though. The market for used Skylanes is very good for buyers right now and very challenging for sellers, and that has been the case for some time. It is, in fact, a situation that predated by years the economic downturn, though the current financial crisis has exacerbated the situation, to be sure.
In terms of the Skylane, the drop in value for the airplane has been dramatic, both in the short- and in the long-term. This is not, I should point out, unique to the 182: All high-performance singles, both late and not-so-late model examples, have suffered similar large drops in value, with the newest models getting hit the hardest.
The online aircraft value reference, Vref Online, shows that decline graphically. Just in the first quarter of the year the value of a couple years' old Turbo Skylane plummeted by nearly 10 percent overall -- that's in just three months' time! -- and its value dropped by nearly a quarter over the previous year.
Slighter older Skylanes fared slightly better but still saw their value drop by around 15 percent over that same one-year time frame. Both turbocharged and naturally aspirated models experienced similar drops in retail and wholesale prices.
For even older Skylanes, those produced before Cessna restarted production in the '90s, the trend is the same -- down, down, down -- though the percentages and the actual dollar value decreases are, of course, smaller. A good condition 1982 Skylane, which might have been selling for as much as $150,000 a few years ago, is selling for around $90,000 today. And airplanes in this class are taking much longer to sell than before, too.
This creates a challenge for Cessna in selling its new airplanes, as it competes against a used market replete with nicely equipped late model used Skylanes going for great prices. According to Vref, a 2006 Turbo Skylane in average condition (that is, nice, and with 400 hours or fewer on it) and typically equipped sells for an average of around $240,000, or around $115,000 less than when it was bought just a few years earlier and just a little more than half the price of a new Turbo Skylane, which currently goes for around $420,000.
Two of the important things Cessna has going for it with its new airplanes are new equipment (including the excellent Garmin GFC 700 autopilot and Synthetic Vision), which you can't get on older airplanes, and the new-airplane warranty, which substantially reduces the cost of ownership those first couple of years. --Robert Goyer