My trip included stops in Nashville, Tennessee, for lunch with entertainer Nick Hoffman; Bentonville, Arkansas, to talk safety and check out the local aviation buzz; Fort Worth, Texas, to tape In the Hangar with Dan Millican; Shade Tree, Mississippi, for a Navion fly-in; lunch with my mom in Georgia on her birthday; and then back home to Frederick. Some 2,343 miles. This kind of trip and schedule are hard to accomplish through any means other than GA. I was excited to be out and looking for adventure.
For such a long distance with hard-and-fast dates I wanted speed, comfort, and a good IFR panel. I wanted N4GA, AOPA’s Beechcraft Bonanza. This kind of mission was exactly what Murray Patkin had in mind when he donated it to AOPA a couple of years ago to support GA operations and advance safety. As a bonus, I love flying around in the N4GA tail number. People recognize it as AOPA’s flagship, and it’s a great conversation starter. N4GA is superbly equipped for IFR with a Garmin G500TXi PFD, a Garmin GTN 750, 650, and a G500 autopilot. A couple of days before the trip, I got the bad news: Delays in the annual inspection meant N4GA wouldn’t be ready. I called my colleague John Hamilton, but his handsome Mooney was down for a prop seal. Mike McCutcheon then reported his Navion was down for a tip tank issue. The AOPA Cessna 182 was my only remaining option.
The afternoon prior to departure I preflighted, packed, and topped off the Skylane. This 182 is in good shape with a Garmin GTN 750, dual radios, an HSI, and an autopilot. “Uh, well, not a working autopilot,” Carlo Cilliers, our local A&P/IA, corrected me. “I had to placard it inoperative and seal the circuit breaker.”
I wanted to use the trip to shore up my IFR skills after all the VFR flying in my Super Cub, but I hadn’t flown the 182 in a while, so I decided to fly the first leg VFR to reacquaint myself with the airplane. Good decision. I flew with the precision of a butterfly on a windy day. Subconscious cues weren’t what I was used to. I kept edging up in my seat to see more of the nose over the large dash on the 182. I’m used to seeing more ground in a level flight picture, so I was frequently in an unintentional descent. This 182 has a slight tendency to roll right, so if I didn’t watch it, I’d be in a slight right turn. The Lycoming IO-540 is a beast, and sounded like one, so I intuitively retarded the throttle to unintentionally low settings. I was forced to rely more on my instrument cross scan. The 182’s panel is a six-pack some 18 inches wide, with a Garmin 750 center dash. Since I hadn’t flown the 182 in a while, my instrument scan was sloppy. A good instrument scan is methodical, almost entirely with the eyes, landing exactly on the intended instrument, with little head movement. My head was moving like someone watching a kid play whack-a-mole. There was no rhythm. I frequently landed on the wrong instrument. It was rough going for the first leg into Gallatin, Tennessee, with me ham-fisting the 182 and pouting about missing the glass in N4GA. The 182 responded with dignity, like a parent working a petulant child. I’m certain I heard a faint, “You’re the guy that admonishes pilots not to embarrass their airplane?”
On subsequent legs, my proficiency returned and I appreciated why Skylanes are one of the most popular platforms in GA. Eighty-seven usable gallons of fuel, cruising at 140 knots true, and burning under 14 gallons an hour give it five hours of flight time ranging 700 nautical miles, with IFR fuel reserves and room for passengers and baggage. It handled the strong Texas crosswinds with ease and was perfectly at home on the grass at Shade Tree. Slow approach speed with full control authority through touchdown make it a capable platform for unpaved strips. Good short-field capability, power, and a high useful load are why 182s with oversize tires are popular in the backcountry.
We bonded on the last two legs, skirting around and above weather systems, penetrating hard IFR for long periods, and flying through moderate turbulence that occasionally rocked us to 60 degrees of bank. Through it all, the 182 persevered undaunted, maintaining a comforting pose: “It’s all good…I got you.”
I returned to Frederick on schedule with the pride that pilots feel in their airplane at the end of an odyssey. I cleaned up the Skylane, patted the cowl, and complimented it on its remarkable versatility. Lights out, hangar door closing, I’m certain I heard the Skylane, sounding uncharacteristically vulnerable, whisper, “Still your last pick?”
Email [email protected]