So, how far can you go in a Cessna Skylane? In other words, how much distance can a C182 put between her starting point and her destination?
It’s not just a matter of a simple number in miles. As with any airplane, there are numerous factors that can affect the Skylane’s range, which we’re going to explore. Fuel load, payload, weather, cruising altitude and fuel tank modifications can all play a part.
As an avgeek and experienced pilot, who considers the Cessna 182 Skylane to be among my favorite aircraft ever built, it’s my pleasure to dive into the C182’s vital statistics and check out her potential.
The Cessna 182 Skylane
Second in popularity only to her close sibling the C172, the Cessna 182 has been in almost continuous production since 1956 and you can order a new one today. If range is a priority, the 182 is a wise choice over the C172 - you can fly over 300 miles further.
Conditions being equal, the C172 will take you almost 740 miles from base. Her big sister, the 182, can stay in the air for over 1050 miles, more than 40% more. What key design differences make those extra miles possible? From Cessna’s own website and other sources:
The first key range-enhancing feature to notice is the extra fuel capacity of the Skylane, 164% of the Skyhawk’s usable fuel load, although the wingspan and wing area of the two airplanes are the same. In the 182, more of the wing volume was given over to fuel storage.
It’s worth remembering that extra fuel is a mixed blessing, because fuel has weight, and weight impacts range. Put simply, you have to burn more fuel to haul more fuel up to cruise altitude. Of course, the payback is that you can cruise further once you’re up there.
Unsurprisingly, the 182’s extra horsepower, delivered via the 3-blade, variable pitch propeller, gives her a shorter takeoff roll and a higher maximum cruising altitude than the 172. The higher you can climb, the more efficiently you can fly, as thinner air at altitude offers less resistance.
The constant-speed propeller is highly efficient at transforming the 6-cylinder Lycoming piston engine’s 230 horsepower into the aircraft’s movement through the air, and hence over the ground. What are the advantages of a constant-speed propeller?
A variable-pitch, constant-speed propeller turns at the same rate, in all phases of flight. This contrasts with a simpler, fixed pitch propeller, which is less costly but also less efficient. A constant-speed propeller has the added advantage that there is no danger of the blade tips exceeding the speed of sound.
Blade tip speed is an important consideration in propeller design. In the case of a large diameter propeller turning at high speed, the blade tips may exceed the speed of sound, Mach one, causing a shock wave that reduces efficiency and has an impact on maximum range.
The Skylane’s propeller turns at a constant rate thanks to its variable-pitch blades. Add power, and the engine manifold pressure rises. The propeller tries to turn faster. The prop governor automatically tilts the blades to bite more deeply into the air, creating an opposing force that stops the propeller speeding up.
Thus, the energy from the fuel burning inside the engine is converted into work done by the propeller, driving the airplane through the air and getting it towards its destination. A constant speed propeller is a very effective device for converting fuel into miles flown.
The Skylane’s range and other performance figures are of course affected by the wind. As all pilots know, headwinds on takeoff are a good thing, reducing takeoff roll distance and providing extra lift to get us airborne. However, in cruise, headwinds are bad news for an airplane’s range.
Once off the ground, the aircraft only cares about the air mass it is flying through. Ground speed is of no importance to the airframe’s aerodynamic surfaces. Flying at 60 knots IAS into a 60-knot headwind, you are going nowhere in terms of distance covered on the ground.
As you can see, tailwinds are the pilot’s friend in the cruise, if going places is the priority. With that 60-knot wind directly behind you, the range of your aircraft increases by 60 nautical miles (69 miles) for every hour you spend in the air.
What if we take out everything that’s not essential - no passengers, no baggage, just a lightweight pilot who loves fruit juice and salads and the tanks brimmed with AVGas? That way, we can get every last possible mile out of the Skylane. How far can we go?
If we want to preserve cabin space and keep the rear seat, we can add an 18-gallon aluminum ferry fuel tank, in the aft baggage area. Assuming a fuel burn rate at cruise altitude of around 12 gallons per hour, that gives us an extra hour and a half in the air.
In those ninety minutes, with fair weather and no winds aloft, the 182 can cover 250 miles over the ground, boosting her total range to over 1300 miles, give or take. That said, most ferry pilots - like those delivering new aircraft to Europe - break up the long haul into shorter hops.
For example, in 2010, a ferry pilot delivered a new Skylane from the USA to a customer in Germany without using additional ferry tanks. Taking just under a week to complete the trip, he made en-route stops in northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.
That ferry pilot’s longest single leg on that trip was just under 600 miles, from BIEG Egilsstadir to EGPC Wick, easily within the 182’s range with ample reserves to spare. But what if a pilot wanted to take the Skylane even further? How about around the world?
Lapping the World in a Skylane
In May 2019, British pilot Ross Edmondson, based in Pittsburgh, PA, set out to fly around the globe in his 182. The trip took a great deal of organizing. There were mountains of paperwork involved, such as flight clearances for all the nations whose borders he planned to cross.
There was also safety to take into account. Ross had to be prepared for all contingencies, including survival after potential ditching in the ocean, or after a crash landing in a remote, isolated, inhospitable area, from which rescue might take days or weeks.
Before departure, he renewed parts that might wear out during hundreds of hours’ flying, such as the tires and battery, although the existing ones still had life remaining. As Ross puts it, the risk of them wearing out at a crucial stage of the trip was just not worth it.
The trip is still in progress. Ross regularly updates his website with his ongoing flight log. Between legs, he hangars his Skylane, hops onto a commercial flight and returns to his day job for a few weeks, before coming back to fly the next stage.
Check out this podcast to hear more of how Ross prepared himself and his Skylane for his adventure. You will hear him explain the range-enhancing fuel capacity modifications he made to his aircraft, including the wingtip tanks he installed.
Ross carries a professionally-fitted additional fuel bladder in the 182’s cabin, having removed the rear seat to accommodate it, giving him an additional 150 gallons of fuel for the longest legs of his trip, such as Hawaii to California.
To rehearse for that marathon leg, Ross loaded his airplane so that it would handle as if he were on the real trip, then flew a practice leg from Daytona Beach to Los Angeles. That’s a distance comparable with Hawaii to California.
Before he had left Florida on his practice run to LA, Ross’s autopilot developed a fault, so he had to fly the entire leg manually. Thanks to the Skylane’s aerodynamic stability and straightforwardness to fly, he was able to complete the leg as planned.
Preparing for the Pacific legs of his odyssey, Ross had to find a company who would ship Avgas to his stopover points, as that kind of fuel is not always available to buy there. Insurance was another headache - not many insurers are prepared to underwrite the risk of round-the-world general aviation.
By taking his time, and through his meticulous, thorough planning and preparation, Ross has every chance of success in his bold venture, which is set to prove that there really are no limits to how far a Cessna 182 can fly, within the atmospheric confines of planet Earth.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood