Although usually thought of as a bushplane, the Cessna 180 has the kind of versatility that makes it anything but an anachronism, despite its tail-dragger configuration.
It might be classified as a Skylane without a tricycle gear, since the Cessna 180 Skywagon has the same engine and nearly equal weight and performance. Most buyers select this airplane, which enjoyed a production run that lasted from 1953 through 1981, because they have a specialized use in mind, such as skydiving or flying from floats or skis or wheels out of short, rough fields.
Vast numbers of these airplanes were built: Over 6,000 in all. The earliest years were the heyday, with 600 to 800 180s a year rolling out the factory doors.
The first 180s listed with average equipment for $15,928 and are now worth over $59,000. The last ones, the 180 KII, cost $66,000 equipped when new and now go for more than $110,000.
In fact, the 180 traditionally is worth more than its sibling 182 for same-year models. Example: although you can probably find a used 1965 model Skylane for about $54,000, a comparable 180 would most likely go for $67,000, even though they have the same powerplant.
Although the taildragger does not handle quite as well as the Skylane from paved runways, it is, in general, considered a fairly benign example of the species, not given to great treachery or unusual groundlooping tendencies. However, it can be a bit of a handful in a strong gusty crosswind. An optional crosswind landing gear was offered in 1967.
The strut-braced four-placer is powered either by a 225-hp Continental O470-A in its earliest configuration, or a 230-hp O470-K, -L, -R or -U engine in later models. All but the -U version are supposed to use 80 octane, incidentally, consuming this at a rate of about 11 GPH when the throttle is set to 65 percent power.
There were no dramatic changes in the Cessna 180 model since its introduction in 1953. The gross weight went up twice, however; it went up 100 pounds with the 180A in 1957 and went up mother 150 pounds in the 1964 G model as an optional six-seat configuration was offered along with an extra side window. Then with the 1973 J model a cambered leading edge was added to the wing, which improved low-speed handling characteristics. The 74 model introduced optional skylights and lower door windows.
Standard fuel capacity for the 180 was 55 gallons to begin with: then this was raised to 65 in 1964 along with the upped gross weight. At the same time, optional fuel of 84 gallons was offered. The 180 models have simple, easy-to-manage fuel systems with left, right and both tank selection positions.
The main justification for the 180 naturally centers around its ability to operate from rough or unfinished fields. Like most Cessna singles it has a sturdy set of spring gear struts that can take a lot of abuse. The tailwheel configuration also creates less drag in high grass or sand or snow for takeoff, and in the three-point attitude the prop arc is given a bit more ground clearance.
Just about the only competitors to the 180 of a fairly contemporary design are the Helio Courier and the Maule. The Helio is the most exotic STOL aircraft of the bunch, with its special low-speed control devices. The Maule, of course, is fabric covered.
While the Cessna 180 is no slouch at getting in and out of rough fields, it offers STOL performance only a mite better than its sister ship, the tricycle-gear Skylane Though it would appear the taildragger would have a bit of an edge in other performance categories since it has one less drag-producing gear strut hanging out in the breeze, the Skylane enjoys a small margin in cruise speed and in useful load.
Since loading flexibility is supposed to be the Cessna 180s forte, it has easily removable seats and yard-wide doors on either side of the cabin, though it lacks the extra convenience of a double rear-door arrangement like the Cessna Stationair.
There also is an extended rear compartment, added in 1967. It is big enough to hold the center passenger seats when folded up, along with the rear passenger seats-or 50 pounds of cargo, provided the weight and balance limits haven’t been exceeded.
Like its stablemate, the Skylane, the Model 180, later called the Skywagon, is a good load carrier. With full standard fuel, it can be counted on to haul four 170-pounders and still have enough useful load left over to take on 100 pounds or more of baggage, depending on the amount of accessory equipment installed on board.
It will then offer a range of about 470 NM, including taxi, takeoff and a 45-minute reserve.
The Model 180 has had a fairly peaceful AD career through the years. Relatively few were issued, and none of these was too painful. Probably the most energetic one was issued in 1973 and affected several braced-wing Cessna models. It required replacement of defective wing-spar attachment fittings, and the full cost was borne by the company.
The 180 is, unfortunately, also subject to the infamous AD 84-10-1 of 182 fame, which involves inspection for wrinkles in the fuel tank bladders. Recent ADs are of the shotgun variety. They include 97-21-1, inspection of certain cylinder installations; 97-18-2, prop inspection; 97-15-1, replace specified cylinders; 96-12-22, recurrent inspection of the oil filter adapter; and 91-15-4, inspect the prop for cracks. The most recent type-specific AD is 90-21-8, calling for modification of the fuel system on 53-56 models.
Despite the presumably higher exposure to mischief that any taildragger used for bush operations might have, the Cessna 180 has an excellent safety record. In fact, it was credited with the best (lowest) fatal accident rate of 33 different makes and models of aircraft in a special accident study conducted by the NTSB. It ranked about in the middle in terms of its overall accident rate.
When compared with the other 32 aircraft in the one area where it might be expected to have a problem-ground loops-the Cessna 180 was ranked eighth worst. It also showed up better than half the other aircraft in the hard-landing category. And despite the natural tendency of pilots to try to get 180s in and out of short fields, the aircraft was rated among the two least likely to be involved in an undershoot accident, and among a handful least likely to crack up in an overshoot.
Given the 180s purpose in life, its no surprise that STOL mods are popular. They’re available from Bush and Sierra Industries. Bonaire can install a 300-HP IO-550 engine and prop upgrade, and there are several other aerodynamic mods available such as speed brakes.
As always, we recommend the Cessna Pilots Association to anyone considering purchase of a Cessna. On the web at www.cessna.org or (805) 922-2580.
Some of the early ones had solid tailwheels, which were just wretched. They were real vibrating horrors. When I flew them down in Mexico we had a wonderful brake modification. Our mechanic would cut pucks out of old truck brake shoes, and believe me, GMC made a far better brake puck than Goodyear did.
On short-field landings, the best technique is to come in real tail-low, touch it down, dump the flaps and stand on the brakes and shove the yoke full forward. You sort of hop, skip and jump for about 200 feet, the tail comes down with a resounding bang, and there you are. You couldn’t possibly take off in the same distance, even with a JATO bottle.
We regularly flew way over gross. Forty-eight gallons of fuel, 200 pounds for me, plus five passengers at 150 each, plus 100 kilos of other stuff. The tires looked underinflated and the gear was bowed, but it always got off all right, even at our field elevation of 6,000 feet. But the takeoff was definitely a prolonged and dream-like affair.
You want to check them closely for ground-loop damage. All the old ones have been around once or twice. Look for loose rivets where the gear goes into the fuselage. You may have a gear thats been improperly replaced and is out of line. That’s quite common.
Anybody who consistently tries to three-point a 180 is either a fool or a genius. People who try that usually end up riding bucking horses. It skips and hops and bounces all over the place.
A 180 spins beautifully, loops nicely and rolls reasonably well.
Never had any fuel cell trouble, never had any engine trouble or prop problems, either Hartzell or McCauley
Mine was a 1953 model. The A models, 53 through 55, had big problems with the oil coolers. The temperature gauges went right up to the red line after takeoff and just sat there. A mechanic told me that Continentals fix was a blast tube out of the temperature bulb. In the old ones with the oil cooler that lies on its side, you had to be darned careful about long hot climbouts because you got severe oil temperature problems, which could lead to shortened overhaul life and catastrophic failures, although nothing ever happened to me.
I have quite a few hours with the 225, and its a good engine. It’s definitely more economical than the 230. In normal cruise you can run it at 11 or 11.5 gallons per hour. I could have run it even leaner, but there was that cooling problem.
When we got em really clean, with normal loads-say two or three people and full tanks-I flight-planned at 145 mph. Anybody who claims they cruise around at 160 is full of it. The 2305 dont go any faster, and they burn 121/2 to 13.
The 180 has cowl flaps and they were forever breaking, coming off, and cracking. Theres no such thing as a Cessna cowl flap that works reliably for a long period of time. They just vibrate too much, and then the linkage tears out. Overall, though, they were very low maintenance airplanes. I had no complaints at all.
The old 225 engine had a different timing than the 230, and sometimes wed get one timed wrong at an annual, and it would run rough as hell. It’s a fairly common mistake that mechanics make in the older models.
It’s very demanding to land. I consider it harder to land than my Staggerwing. For one thing, it has lousy ailerons, especially at low speeds. With the 180 in a gusty crosswind, I get the feeling Im about three twists of the wheel behind the airplane. I dont like that at all in a tailwheel airplane.
They are definitely rugged. A friend of mine hit a tree on takeoff once, bent one gear back and broke the main spar on the right side. He was 100 miles from the nearest mechanic, so he spliced the spar with a coconut log, lashed a piece of corrugated tin roofing over the broken leading edge, tied the gear on with baling wire and flew home.
I had a 64 model, and a lot of those airplanes were pretty doggy around the engine compartment. Things were very tight in there, and the exhaust system, being very complicated, gave us a lot of headaches. The single exhaust systems were apparently a lot better. My mechanic charges me a flat rate of 16 hours labor for an annual, plus discrepancies.
Watch out you don’t get one that’s been used for hauling parachute jumpers. So many are used that way, and they tend to break a lot of cylinders because of the constant full-power climbing followed by power-off glides. Those jump pilots really beat hell out of the airplanes.
If youre looking to buy one, you have to watch out for the worm gear arrangement in the horizontal stabilizer trim. It was always working loose. One of the first things to do on any used 180 is give the stabilizer a hefty shake. It was a pretty expensive job to tighten it up.
One thing to look for is corrosion or damage to the floats. If they need bottoms on them, its real easy to spend $5,000 to $7,000. That’s normal for rebuilding a set of floats. Corroded fuselage skins are another big problem. Look around the rivets and the seams.
One thing you should be very careful about buying a used 180 floatplane: when it comes out of the factory, it has a special factory corrosion-proofing package, but some people will take a standard 180 and put it on floats, and theyre not corrosion-proofed. They dont have the stainless steel cables, zinc-chromated interiors and so forth. You should be very sure its a factory seaplane. There’s really no satisfactory way of corrosion-proofing except to do it at the factory.
Be careful about previous submersion. If its been submerged and restored correctly, then youre okay, but not more than one out of 10 is done right. And very often theres no record of submersion. A guy will flip it over, hose it off and try to sell it real quick. Weve run into that problem a lot down in Louisiana. Inspect for silt up inside the headliner, behind the panel and places like that, since those places are hard to wash out quickly.
There will sometimes be wrinkles in the skin up around the firewall if the airplane has been landed hard.
You can count on a float-equipped 180 for about 120 miles per hour. The newer ones are a little faster, and some people will pull more power, but for a normal 65 percent cruise, 120 is the best you’ll get with a float-equipped airplane. Fuel flow at that speed runs right around 12 gallons per hour.