Aircraft owners are a restless lot, forever casting about for the one upgrade, gadget or gizmo that will render their airplanes truly perfect.
Leading the list of upgradeable rides is the venerable Cessna 182. Although more dowager than doxy, what the Skylane lacks in sex appeal is more than offset among its devotes by its comfort, useful load, ease of maintenance and all but complete lack of pilot-humbling quirk.
Skylanes tend to be the defensive linemen of light singles; large, powerful and relatively slow. Consequently, its not surprising that theres something of a cottage industry aimed at souping up and cleaning up the Cessna 182. The typical Skylane is a poster child for parasitic drag. The most common structural speed mods are fairings of various flavors and flap gap seals.
Top prize for the cleverest name goes to Maple Leaf Aviations Fancy Pants. Maple Leaf asserts a 6 to 8 MPH gain from just its nose strut fairing. Other smoothers they offer include snugger wheel fairings, brake covers and a wrap for the exhaust pipe.
Theyve even got covers for the bolt heads on the landing gear. Fancy Pants for all three legs list for $599. Pricing and product information for a variety of other fairings is available on their Website.
After extensive experience with Pipers, Knots 2U is starting to nose under the Cessna tent. Currently, their high-wing offerings are limited to flap gap seals and vortex generators, but theyve acquired the Davids Aviation speed mods, which are currently being tweaked. Gear and cowl fairing kits are supposed to be available next winter.
Flap gap seals are one of the more cost- effective mods for the 182. Most owners report a couple of knots in cruise but a definite improvement in climb and low-speed handling. Knots 2Us 182 flap gap kit lists for $425, with an estimated 7 hours installation.
Horton, Inc. is in the flap gap business, too and will sell you a set for $220. For another $10, you get aileron seals as well. They estimate 8 to 10 hours installation time for both.
Horton also has speed mods, having acquired the late Charlie Siebels Flight Bonus STCs, which Horton has converted to fiberglass instead of the original plastic. One difference in the Horton approach to fairings is that they dont just cover the original nose gear torque link. Instead, the link is replaced completely for a smoother, more compatible fit and finish. Its not cheap, however, costing between $2500 and $2900, depending on model.
In older 182s, that clunky gear step can be replaced with one incorporated into a gear leg fairing. Owners report the full smoothing package from Horton gains them up to 20 knots more than pre-mod. A salad bar of options can be mixed and matched, with commensurately variable pricing. A complete catalog is available on request.
Obviously, the other way to make it go faster is to put more ponies under the cowl. For around $30,000, Air Plains Services will mate a Hartzell three-blade Scimitar propeller with a Gold Medallion or factory reman IO-520. The lower cost version is limited to the full 300 HP for five minutes but allows 285 HP full time. The second iteration permits a continuous 300 HP for about $5000 more.
One satisfied customer reported a TAS gain of 14 to 18 knots, routine climbs of 1500 FPM and a service ceiling increase to 24,000 feet. Perhaps just as important, he termed the folks at Air Plains a real delight to deal with-before, during and after the sale.
P. Ponk Aviations Super Eagle engine conversion (officially the P.Ponk O-470-50) modifies a stock Continental O-470 engine. Available for the Cessna 182H through 182R, they exchange the O-470 cylinders for 520 jugs housing tightly balanced low compression pistons. Engine displacement increases by 50 cubic inches and they claim an increase of up to 45 HP. Crank counterweights are reconfigured and the carburetor and case are modified. A plus for washed-in-the-blood O-470 fans is that theres no I inserted in front of the O when P. Ponk is finished and no significant change in operating procedure.
Recommended TBO is upped to 2000 hours. Each installation is different and the bottom line depends on a variety of factors, but P. Ponk advises that a ballpark for a basic overhaul and modification is around $18,000.
Texas Skyways wades in with a spectrum of engine alternatives for the 182 ranging from 250 to 285 HP. The base engine is a factory rebuilt O-470 (250 HP), O-520 (265 and 280 HP) or O-550 (285 HP). As with the P. Ponk product, Texas Skyways sticks with the carburetion the airframe was designed to accept.
The 250 HP version is an improvement and upgrade of an O-470 engine. The 520 and 550s are 300 HP factory engines modified and de-rated as indicated. TBO on a Texas Skyways engine goes to an impressive 2500 hours. Officially, Continental doesnt accept this value but the FAA does, according to the vendor. Since Texas Skyways prorates its own warranty to the full 2500 hours, as a practical matter it probably doesnt matter what Continental says.
All but the O-470 upgrade will require replacement of an older prop in favor of a three-blade. Their O-520 is marketed as producing an airspeed which matches the model number and the manufacturers performance charts show rate of climb and service ceiling rising commensurately. Basic engine prices (with exchange) run around $24,000 for the O-470, $25,850 for the O-520s and $30,980 for the O-550. If you need a new prop, add $6700 to these figures.
Petersons Performance Plus combines a 260 HP IO-470-F engine with extensive STOL alterations, including whats for all intents and purposes a small horizontal stabilizer mounted on the cowling. According to Peterson, cruise rises to 153 knots and stall diminishes to 35 knots. Climb, takeoff and landing values change significantly as well.
The full conversion package rings in at a breathtaking $68,670, available only for 1970 through 1980 models. A lesser version which includes the engine change and a speed kit yields what Peterson calls its Super Skylane. Cost is $49,170 and all Skylanes from 1962 through 1986 are eligible.
At 65 knots over the fence and with 40 degrees of Fowler flap hanging out, the Skylane is a good short field airplane out of the box. Nevertheless, the folks who want to all but hover on short final can look to the various STOL kits. In general, STOL alterations will be more noticeable in pre-1972 aircraft which did not have a cuffed leading edge.
A venerable name among the manufacturers of STOL modifications is Horton. For $949, you get leading edge cuffs (wing lights are accommodated), stall fences, aileron seals and new fiberglass droop wingtips. Installation requires 32 to 38 hours, not including paint.
Owner Don Elton added the Horton STOL and flap gap seals at the same time. Airspeed was a wash afterwards, he advised. I suspect the flap gap seals gave back whatever airspeed was possibly taken away by the STOL kit. The total effect did make a noticeable improvement in landings, however. Flare too high and no one but you will know as the STOL kit makes the arrival smooth and soft.
Robertson STOL is another well known name in the market, now owned by Sierra Industries. Instead of the stationary tweaks found in the Horton products, Robertson STOL boasts drooped ailerons and a spring interconnect with the flaps which, according to Robertson, operates as automatic trim.
We nudged a little on this issue, but the Sierra rep insisted this capability works across the board, from go around to flare. They claim 15 to 25 MPH slower approaches and as much as 40 percent less runway needed.
Go to the Sierra Website and youll find a page touting post-STOL reduced power takeoffs as being a good thing which helps preserve the engine and avoids the engine failures supposedly most likely during the first power reduction. When we raised an eyebrow at that claim, the rep agreed that this erroneous advice needs to be pulled.
Obviously, this is a more significant modification than merely adding swoops and swirls to the airframe and is commensurately more expensive. The hardware for later model 182s is $5000. Earlier models without the cuffed leading edge run $500 more. Installation time is a whopping 150 and 170 hours respectively, which will more than double the cost.
Frankly, we always thought of the gear on a 182 as speed brakes-permanent ones. So we were surprised that someone had gone to the trouble of obtaining an STC for speed brakes for the Skylane. Nevertheless, if you fly jumpers or routinely fly Big City slam dunks, you might be interested in Precise Flight, Inc.s electric speed brakes. The kit for a 182 is $3295. Expect 35 to 40 hours installation time, according to the manufacturers.
Micro Aerodynamics makes vortex generators for the 182. Kit cost is $1450. For that, you receive 80 wing VGs, 40 on the vertical stabilizer and another 40 on the underside of the horizontal stab. They claim an 8 percent reduction in stall speed (around 4 knots at Vso). Installation time is estimated as a day.
The subjective assessment by one owner we talked to was that the wing units significantly improved aileron response at slow speed but he noted no improvement in low-end rudder control.
Knots2Us VGs are also $1450, with an estimate of 5 to 7 hours of install time. Depending on the model, the kit includes from 108 (straight-tail model) to 160 VGs (swept tail). Knots2U includes painting in the base price, Micro Aerodynamics charges $50 extra.
Odds and Ends
One of the few type-specific mods for the 182 that isnt related to speed-at least not directly-is replacement fuel tanks. Of course, if the bladders trap a slug of water that dislodges into the engine at an inopportune moment, speed should be reduced quickly to best glide.
Monarch makes rigid, engineered plastic replacements which eliminate the water trapping wrinkles. Because they dont expand, the replacement tanks hold a bit less gas. Standard tanks are $2495 while long-range cells are $200 more. The Website has installation manuals available and it would be a good idea to discuss that end of the cost with your mechanic before ordering.
Monarch also has replacement fuel caps which can address practically any year 182. These caps have an anti-siphon flapper valve which is designed to prevent massive fuel loss in the event that the cap is not secured properly. They cost $350 a pair for the hardware, plus $27 for the special sealant, should you need it.
Last but not least, any 182 driver who hasnt replaced those horrible juice can wing root vents needs to take a long look at the alternatives. Soros Ventubes look a lot like the original plastic jobs but owners report that they close off tightly and greatly improve ventilation in summer. At just $75 a pair, even the most parsimonious owner should be interested.
The Cadillac of replacement vents is the Precise Flow iteration available from Sportys. At $395 a pair, theyre not cheap, but the machined metal units look great, operate beautifully and the fit and finish would do a Learjet proud. The adjustable nozzles close tightly and serve up a veritable gale which can be directed practically anywhere when fully open.
Before ordering, think through what youre going to do about the OAT. You can drill the Soros vent and insert the old probe but it wont read correctly when the vent is closed, which is likely the very time youd need an accurate OAT most. Owners who cringe at the thought of drilling a hole in the windscreen to accept the probe will need to devise Plan B, such as a remote OAT probe feeding a panel display unit.
In the Wings
After many years of watching the upstarts and casualties, we tend to be leery of the bleeding edge of GA technology. Occasionally, we see real home runs, such as GAMIjectors or 550 engine conversions.
One of the more prominent entrants in the current gee-whiz category is the Power Flow exhaust system, which we reviewed in the May 1999 issue of Aviation Consumer. We noted measurable if not spectacular performance and economy improvements.
If core claims are true, a Power Flow exhaust on the Skylane should mean a notable improvement in all flight regimes, but it looks like you better not be in a hurry to sign up.
The 182 certification date has crept back several times and has not vanished from the Web site. Power Flow for the Lycoming four-banger is just under $3000. Presumably, the big bore Continental will be around five grand. When its finally STCd for the Skylane, well let you know. (Contact Power Flow at Phone: 877-693-7356 or www.powerflowsystems.com.
And last but not least, one ambitious company (Aerospace Systems & Technologies Inc., 888-865-5511 or www.weepingwings.com) wants to equip the Skylane (and others) for known ice with the TKS system, which weeps glycol-based fluid through porous titanium panels on the leading edges of the wings and horizontal and vertical stabilizers.
The added weight is relatively small at 40 pounds for the dry hardware and 100 fully charged, a minor hit for a Skylane. According to the companys Website, the system will be available for the 182 in 2001. No price is listed as of this writing but TKS systems are typically in the $25,000 range.
In summary, weve pointed out primp, polish and power for Skylanes in the cost ranges from pocket change-at least as aviation goes-to more than many birds cost new.
The ultimate value of modifications, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If its worth it to you, by all means go for it. Just dont hyperventilate if you dont get a dollar for dollar return at resale.
by Jane Garvey
Jane Garvey is an Aviation Consumer contributing editor and a Skylane owner.