Skylane seeking

Only a very special Cessna 182 will do for AOPA's 2011 sweepstakes

October 1, 2010

It’s that time of year again - time to ready one AOPA Sweepstakes airplane for its giveaway to a lucky winner, and time to gear up for the next sweepstakes. During the November 11 through 13 AOPA Summit in Long Beach, California, the keys to our 2010 Fun To Fly Sweepstakes Remos GX will be handed over to its new owner. But that doesn’t mean waiting until then to begin the search for the 2011 sweepstakes airplane. As this article goes to press, we’re in hot pursuit of next year’s prize.

And—drum roll, please—we’ve chosen a mid- to late-1970s Cessna 182, known to many by its “Skylane” marketing handle. In a departure from AOPA’s last two sweepstakes airplanes, which were new or recent-model airplanes, 2011’s Skylane will be a restoration project. That’s right, we’ve been scouring the nation for a good, used, only-slightly-tattered Skylane from the days when new piston singles darkened the skies to the tune of 17,000 airplanes per year. The whole idea is to take this aging classic and upgrade it to modern specifications—and then some.

The “Crossover Classic” idea

The concept behind the 2011 sweepstakes is simple: build on the already impressive capabilities of the Cessna 182. Docile handling, good flying manners, and healthy useful loads are the qualities that made the 182 so popular, but what it has in load-hauling it lacks in speed. To remedy that problem, we’re installing a Teledyne Continental Motors IO-550D engine. This Continental puts out 300 horsepower; that’s 70 more than the airplane’s stock engine—a 230-horsepower Continental O-470.

The engine will drive a new Hartzell three-blade propeller, and together our Sweeps 182 ought to be able to cruise at true airspeeds as high as 160 knots. That’s about 20 knots faster than a plain-Jane Skylane. To boost range, Flint tip tanks capable of carrying 30 additional gallons will be installed. This big-engine, auxiliary fuel combination will make this Skylane both fast and long-legged.

Air Plains of Wellington, Kansas, will be installing the new engine, prop, and tip tanks—under a couple of its very popular supplemental type certificates (STCs).

Not enough performance, you say? Then consider that we’ll be installing a Robertson STOL (short takeoff and landing) kit. This will give the airplane wing stall fences, a new flap design, and an aileron-rudder interconnect that will both lower stall speeds and dramatically shorten takeoff and landing distances. Sierra Industries of Uvalde, Texas—STC-holder of the Robertson STOL kit—will be handling that installation.

What about the panel, you say? Advantage Avionics of Chino, California, will be yanking out the original panel and replacing it with a suite based around Garmin’s two-screen G500 system, complete with synthetic terrain, XM WX datalink weather, and a traffic information system. Cobham Avionics’ System Fifty-Five X autopilot/flight control system will also be featured, as well as PS Engineering’s new Bluetooth-equipped PMA8000B-T audio panel and CO Guardian’s Aero 455 carbon monoxide detector with pulse oximeter. A J.P. Instruments EDM-930 will display and record engine data. And don’t forget L-3 Avionics Systems’ ESI-1000 Trilogy electronic standby instrument—complete with its own built-in battery power.

Interior rework will send us back to Air Mod, based at Batavia, Ohio, Clermont County Airport. Air Mod, which has participated in several previous sweepstakes refurbishment projects, will lend its legendary attention to detail, style, and safety (shoulder harnesses with AmSafe’s inflatable air bag protection system will be retrofit) to the project.

Finally, a paint scheme—selected through a vote by you, the members/winners-to-be—will be drawn up by Scheme Designers of Cresskill, New Jersey. Like Air Mod, Air Plains, Continental, Cobham, JPI, Garmin, and Hartzell, Scheme Designers has also participated in many prior AOPA sweepstakes restoration efforts. New to the mix will be Aircraft Painting of Salisbury, North Carolina.

Throw this batch of attributes together and what do you get? A classic airplane that takes huge steps beyond the original designers’ goals. An airplane that “crosses over” the compromises of standard-issue Skylanes and lets you cruise faster and longer, yet fly out of short grass strips in locales tucked away in rustic terrain. In other words, a “Crossover Classic.”

What’s for sale?

Only one thing is missing from the project. The airplane! Yours truly, the Crossover Classics project manager, has been pulling out what’s left of my hair, trying to find just the right candidate. It hasn’t been easy. A used market that saw prices tumble as much as 30 percent in the early years of the economic recession is now firming up.

As owners unloaded their airplanes in 2008, the cream of the crop was skimmed away in the buyers’ market. That left a glut of less-than-desirable airplanes, many of which have big-time damage histories, poorly documented logbooks, and other flaws. Today, buyers have to beware of paying too much for an airplane that’s been crashed, corroded, or suffered from neglect. The normal effects of aging have also taken their toll. As one broker put it when asked about the condition of a 1970s airplane, “It’s the same with older cars. Go ahead and try to find a really nice 1977 car or pickup truck. If you find one, you’d better jump on it.”

The last thing we want is to outsmart ourselves and be stampeded by deadline pressures into buying a lemon. Don’t get us wrong, our objective is to revive an older airplane—but not to bring it back from an ugly death!

That’s why we hired professional prepurchase inspector Don Sebastian of Aircraft Consulting Services Inc., based in Whispering Pines, North Carolina (that’s him in the opening photograph of this article). So far, Sebastian has scrutinized three candidate Skylanes. The first two flunked our standards. The first had a cracked main landing gear assembly. The crack had been stop-drilled, but another crack propagated from it. That made the airplane not airworthy—something the owner didn’t know. Finding a replacement part would be difficult, and the logbooks weren’t in order. So we walked away from that deal.

Ditto a 1977 Cessna 182 with a damage history. “It hit a deer,” was the seller’s first explanation. Then, he added, the airplane “hit trees during an instrument approach—but the damage was light.” Sebastian spent a night with that airplane’s logbooks and found an entry that said a wing was “bent up at a 50-degree angle.” Deer/trees? He found no mention of the cause and, even worse, no description of how the repairs were made or what parts were used. The shop that made the repairs had gone out of business, so verifying the work was out of the question. In other words, we knew what had happened to the airplane, but we didn’t know how it happened, or how it was repaired. Other than that, the airplane seemed OK. But with too many unanswered questions and lousy logbook signoffs, we turned our backs on that airplane as well.

Other airplanes were rejected out of hand. Several had sky-high (up to $120,000) asking prices that would have busted our budget. One was advertised as having been through three firewall repairs. Others had records of prop strikes, collapsed nosewheel assemblies, and other damage related to nosewheel-first hard landings. The Skylane is, in fact, a nose-heavy airplane, and the careless can be timid in the landing flare. The result shows up in logbooks as bent engine mounts, buckled firewalls, and cryptic log entries for propeller, engine, and nosegear replacements. Those log entries, by the way, seldom mention the reason for the repairs. And in advertisements you always see the same mantra: “Always hangared, no damage history, complete logbooks.” Caveat emptor!

Join the fun

The 2010 Fun to Fly Sweepstakes Remos GX will be awarded at AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach, California, November 11 through 13. The 2011 “Crossover Classic” Cessna 182 will also be unveiled during Summit. Visit the website.

Bearing all this in mind, our search continues for the right airplane. One with no serious corrosion or jaw-dropping damage. One with well-documented repairs, proper logbook entries, and a high-time engine (which keeps selling prices down). And one with comparatively low total time. Will we ever find this Grail-like 182? Stay tuned.

E-mail the author at tom.horne@aopa.org.