Cessna 182--star safety performer

August 1, 1993

From a safety perspective, the Cessna 182 may be one of the best general aviation aircraft ever built. The aircraft structure is stout and simple. The systems are about as straightforward as they come. Its ease of handling and docile manners made it a sure winner in the marketplace, and a winner in the safety annals. The 182 was the subject of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's second aircraft-specific safety review. (The prototype report, on the Cessna P210, was completed late last year.) Were there any surprises with the 182? Perhaps a few, but the accident record of this aircraft is remarkable only in a few areas.

The 182 is difficult to compare exactly with other aircraft types because it offers a unique combination of power, speed, and payload. We matched it up against what we thought would be essentially comparable equipment and reviewed accidents during a seven-year period, 1982 through 1988. This included the fixed-gear Cessna Cardinal; the Cessna 205, 206, and 207; the American Tiger AA-5; and the Piper Cherokee PA-28-180 and -235.

The review is divided into four parts: an analysis of accidents, a listing of selected major accidents including the National Transportation Safety Board report brief and narrative, a detailed training syllabus and suggested profile for pilots and instructors, and selected articles on the 182 from AOPA Pilot.

In most aircraft, pilots cause far more accidents than the airplanes themselves, and the 182 is no exception. Nearly 80 percent of the accidents identified the pilot as the probable cause. The 182 has slightly more accidents per 100,000 hours (9.23) than the comparison group (7.66) but comes out far better in accidents involving weather (8.89 versus 12.65).

Two conventional bits of wisdom were validated in this study, and the 182 did fare slightly better than the comparable aircraft. Instrument pilots on an IFR flight plan had the lowest accident rate per instrument flight plan hours, at 1.9 per 100,000 instrument meteorological condition hours. That's about one fourth of the overall 182 accident rate and, for this aircraft at least, points to the benefits of IFR discipline and procedure in safely completing flights.

Night flying was shown to have a significantly higher risk factor, weighing in at 10.66 accidents per 100,000 night hours. A notable number of these were VFR pilots attempting flights in marginal weather. It's definitely more dangerous after dark and, according to these statistics, is the most dangerous type of flying you can do in a 182. (Nearly three- quarters of the night accidents involved VFR pilots. Once again, the message needs to be heeded that marginal VFR at night is even more lethal than during daylight hours.)

For example, a 500-hour VFR pilot discounted the weather briefing of low ceilings and snowshowers. Flying into mountainous terrain, he encountered a valley and circled for an hour while talking to the flight service station and the sheriff's department. The sheriff set up a makeshift landing strip and illuminated it with car headlights. On the third landing attempt, the airplane touched down but started to swerve. The pilot attempted to abort the landing but crashed into a large tree off the end of the runway. The NTSB probable cause statement was: inadequate preflight planning, continued flight into known adverse weather, and improper judgment. This crash has nothing to do with inherent flaws in a Cessna 182 but rather the pilot who flew it.

Continued VFR into instrument weather was the leading cause of serious accidents. No surprise here — it's the number-one killer in many aircraft types. As a rule of thumb, only one accident in four in general aviation is serious, but weather-related encounters generally reverse the relationship to three out of four being serious. The reason also is not surprising. The pilot either loses control and hits the ground in a spiral/spin or flies into a solid object. In both cases, the speed is high, and the aircraft attitude is not optimum for ground contact or survival.

Here's a typical example of a weather accident: A 1,500-hour non- instrument-rated private pilot received two weather briefings advising that VFR flight was not recommended due to thunderstorms, low ceilings and visibilities, high surface winds, turbulence, icing, and mountain obscuration. Numerous other pilots had canceled flights due to the severe weather, yet the pilot took off into a nearby thunderstorm that flight service had warned would be on his intended flight path. The flight lasted about five minutes and ended abruptly on a mountain ridge.

The second leading area of serious accidents in 182s involved low- level maneuvering. Youthful exuberance sometimes knows no age. The 57- year-old pilot began a low-altitude, high-speed pass over the runway as he had done on several previous occasions. The descent to the runway was not arrested, and the aircraft "pancaked" near the threshold. It bounced back into the air and flew just above the runway, beginning a gradual right turn. After traveling about 1,200 feet, it crashed into a plowed field adjacent to the runway. There was no evidence of preexisting mechanical failure.

Carburetor icing is given as the cause of 17 accidents in 182s during the period, and only one of these involved an aircraft on an IFR flight plan. High ambient temperature and humidities were prevalent. If it's warm and wet, the engine may very well ice up at reduced power without the proper precautions.

Density-altitude-related problems captured a fair number of pilots in the 182. At sea level and lightly loaded, the 182 gives an impression of being big and brawny, especially when compared to its lighter Cessna and Piper siblings. But take it to the high country where the engine is putting out much less power, and load up some friends with camping gear. The climb performance is underwhelming.

One final area worth noting is the high number of landing accidents in the 182. Most aircraft have a higher incidence of landing accidents than any other phase of flight. It is the leading cause of pilot-related causal factors by a large margin and is higher in the 182 than the comparable aircraft. Fortunately, most of these accidents cause more damage to the airplane than to the occupants, but it relates to proficiency and understanding the landing dynamics of a heavier aircraft. The 182 is known to be heavy on the controls, and pilots apparently expect more float and lighter pitch forces on touchdown. Nearly half the landing accidents are due to hard landings, which generally result in collapsed nose gears and bent firewalls.

It's hard to imagine overshooting a runway with the huge 182 flaps, but perhaps there is an overreliance on them to save the bacon on a bad approach if the aircraft is high. More than 25 percent of the landing accidents are overshoots, followed in near succession by crosswind incidents.

For flight instructors and pilots alike, time could well be spent on extra training in this important area. We suggest going out when there is a significant crosswind to polish up the skills that may get rusty from flying only on the best of days.

See also the index of "Safety Pilot" articles, organized by subject. Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.