Ask any Cessna Skylane owner about the airplanes attributes and youll eventually hear an observation something like this: If only it were 10 knots faster, it would be the perfect airplane.
In search of those 10 magical knots, Horton Industries of Wellington, Kansas, makes a package of modifications for the Cessna 182 called the Horton Flight Bonus. Since I acquired my 1969 Cessna 182 in 1998, I have slowly been inching toward the ultimate Skylane. For several years, I have been improving my panel and this year was the year for speed modifications, thus I installed the full Flight Bonus package on my Skylane last spring. Heres a report on my experience and the results.
What It Is
Horton has been in the modification business for years, making a range of products from STOL kits to drag reduction fairings and mods. I first contacted the company back in 1999 and Horton sent along a reprint of a 1991 Aviation Consumer article that reported a speed increase of 14 knots following the Flight Bonus installation on a 1968 Skylane. Not bad. But could I do as well?
The Flight Bonus packages includes five components, including streamlined nose gear, streamlined main gear, a cowling and propeller closure kit, low drag wing strut fairings and a contour kit, plus flap well and aileron gap seal kits. I already had the aileron gap seal kit, which was installed by Horton with my STOL kit in 1992, before I owned the airplane.
The streamlined nosegear includes a new streamlined nosewheel fairing, a new streamlined torque link, and various cowl fairings. The new nosewheel fairing replaces the original Cessna nosewheel fairing and its obvious that the new wheel fairing is more aerodynamic.
The new torque link replaces the original Cessna scissors torque link. Hortons link holds the front tire above the slipstream of the propeller, so that the nosegear doesnt drop down on takeoff and become a speed brake. The new cowl fairings are simply attached over the lower portion of the Cessna lower cowling, as shown in the photo at DIRECTION. These new fairings direct the slipstream around the nose gear and nose gear strut for a reduction in overall drag. Horton estimates that these modifications result in an increase in cruise speed of approximately 7 MPH or just shy of 6 knots.
The streamlined main gear includes new main wheel fairings and landing gear spring fairings. The new main wheel fairings replace the original Cessna wheel fairings and include brake fairings (something missing from early model Skylanes).
The landing gear spring fairings are completely new-although now available on the new 2001 T182T model Skylane. These fairings entirely cover the gear spring legs and create a sleek look. The landing gear springs even include a new (and streamlined, of course) step. Horton estimates that these items result in a cruise increase of approximately 7.5 mph or 6.4 knots.
The cowling and propeller closure kit includes a cowling cover which, according to Horton, inhibits the flow of excess air flowing through the airplane structure. The cowling cover fits around the exhaust pipe, preventing air from flowing out of the cowling through the space around the exhaust pipe.
The propeller closure kit includes Astroturf-like material that seals the propeller spinner to the cowling and the kit also includes spinner fairings that seal and streamline the connection of the spinner to the propeller. Horton estimates that these items add 1.5 to 3.5 MPH or 3 knots, tops, to cruise speed.
The low-drag wing strut fairings reduce drag where the Skylane strut connects with the wing and fuselage. The contour kit also includes contoured foam blocks that are inserted into the strut to improve airflow. Horton estimates that these items result in a cruise increase of approximately 2 MPH or 1.7 knots The flap well and aileron gap seal kit includes flap and aileron gap seals, adding another 1.5 MPH. Although not a part of the Flight Bonus package, Horton also offers an exhaust extension. Horton doesnt claim that the exhaust extension increases speed but notes that the extension all but eliminates the exhaust stain on the belly of the aircraft. (Texas Skyways offers a more attractive exhaust extension and claims that some owners report a moderate speed increase.)
According to Aviation Consumers previous report, Horton provided the option of factory installation or installation by a qualified shop. I later learned that Horton no longer provides on-site installations. Instead, you purchase the parts and have a local mechanic perform the installation. Hoping to avoid a learning curve for an installation that looks to be quite challenging-something Horton later confirmed-I called Horton and queried about experienced installers. But none of the mechanics I contacted were interested in doing another installation.
When I called Horton again, I was directed to one of the original installers-the same mechanic who had installed my Horton STOL at the factory in 1992. He no longer worked at Horton but having performed some 50 installations, hes the most experienced installer available.
He agreed to install the Flight Bonus on my Skylane but Id have to fly it to Wellington from my homebase near Washington, D.C. to have the work done. Horton later told me they soon hope to offer installation either on-site at the factory or off-site but still at the Wellington airport.
The installer asked that I fly my Skylane to Wellington and leave it with him for three weeks. After I arrived in Wellington, we flew the Horton Skylane down to Oklahoma City so I could catch my flight back to Washington. While enroute, I noted an indicated airspeed of about 151 MPH, not the 182 MPH I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I definitely wanted similar results for my Skylane. Three weeks later, as promised, the airplane was ready and I eagerly returned to Kansas. The installer doesnt offer painting, so my Skylane definitely looked different. However, the Flight Bonus also looks much sleeker and more aerodynamic.
AirPlaines, a shop that offers painting, is also located on the field at the Wellington airport, but they were too busy to schedule my airplane for painting. If youre willing to leave your airplane for several additional weeks, you may be able to have the mods painted. Otherwise, plan to have it done by a local shop after the mod is done.
If your paint is in sound shape, theres really no need to repaint the entire airplane. The mods, although extensive, dont amount to much surface area, so any competent shop can easily do what amounts to only major touch-up and matching.
How It Performed
During the flight to Wellington, I conducted a pre-installation speed test. At 6500 feet and 8 degrees F at 75 percent power, my pokey Skylane clocked in at 126 knots IAS, for a TAS of 000. (See sidebar, below.)
After the installation, under the same conditions (except at 56 degrees F), my still slow- but now faster-Skylane clocked at 132 knots IAS, for a true of 000. Thus, I gained about 6 knots IAS, noticeably short of Hortons claim of 12 t0 18 knots.
Interestingly, Horton also did a pre-installation and post-installation speed test. They contend that the Flight Bonus added about 12 MPH (or 10.4 knots) but I didnt see this amount of gain. However, I do notice a definite higher indication on my airspeed indicator, especially in descent, where the needle routinely rises well into the yellow arc. (Id only seen that once before the Flight Bonus was installed. ) Horton told me that the speed gain is different for every Skylane. Some have seen gains of 12 to 18 knots-an owner in New York confirmed the 18-knot gain, although Im still skeptical. Significantly, others have seen zero gain. Generally, the older model Skylanes, presumably those with more drag, see the largest speed increase.
When I picked up the airplane after the Flight Bonus installation, I encountered some squawks worth reporting. First, during installation, the strut fairings require aggressive rearrangement of the brake lines and this work apparently broke one of the flexible brake lines at the master cylinder.
After the repair, my homebase mechanic in New Market, Virginia, found that one of the brake fairings actually inhibited one brake from working at all, which required some post-installation body work on the fairing. Horton admitted that this had happened once before and took quick action to fabricate and deliver a replacement fairing. Also worth mentioning is that once the strut fairing is installed, the flexible brake lines at the wheel cannot be replaced without removing and reinstalling the fairing, a significant design flaw, in my view.
Also, one of the wing strut fairings was not fitted properly and the tiedown ring couldnt be easily accessed. However, this was more of an installation issue than a shortcoming of the Flight Bonus and can be corrected easily enough. My view is that this should have been done at installation.A portion of the landing gear spring fairings that mate to the fuselage was rough and not in keeping with the fit and finish on the parts. Another minor issued that should have been corrected at installation.
Last, one item was not installed, because it doesnt seem to result in any speed increase. The foam blocks that are inserted into the strut with the contour kit were not installed because the installer said that it takes 12 hours to complete for no payoff in speed gain.
So, what did I end up paying for 6 to 10 knots of speed gain? About $8000, altogether, which is within the rule-of-thumb that speed mods usually cost about $1000 per knot of speed gain.
The parts came to about $6500 and the installation added another $1500. Youll also need to add the cost of painting the Flight Bonus mods-perhaps another $1000 to $1500, plus any airline transportation to deliver and retrieve the airplane.
I also paid my homebase mechanic another $541 to fix the problems with the brake fairing and the wing strut fairing and will pay him a bit more to work on the exhaust fairing and to study the foam blocks with the contour kit to determine if theyre worth installing.
Was it worth it? Id say probably, although its not exactly a homerun in overall value. In short, its a gamble with no recourse if it doesnt go your way. You may see an 18-knot speed gain-unlikely-or you may get nothing, also unlikely.
If my experience is typical, the outcome will be something between the two. So yes, I have a faster Skylane. Id just like it to be a little faster yet.
Wellington Muncipal Airport
Wellington, KS 67152
703 Airport Drive
Burlington, WI 53105
Maple Leaf Avation, Ltd.
Group 520, Box 16, RR#5
Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
-by Lionel Lavenue
Lionel Lavenue is a patent attorney and instrument pilot based in the Washington, D.C. area.