Ten years ago, I got a Pilot’s Certificate for one reason: to fly the backcountry. I’ve always loved the outdoors. It recharges me, and it’s a source of sanity and peace. I know a lot of you reading this feel the same.
These days most of us learn in a tricycle gear airplane such as a Cessna 172. And the main culture among bush pilots is that a tailwheel is what is required to land in these remote places and beautiful places. It gets frustrating to the non-tail wheel pilot that if you’re flying a nose wheel, then you’re some sort of pretender. The truth, of course, is that you can fly many types and sizes of airplanes into the backcountry and do so safely. Yes, even a “nose dragger”.
When I first started out I modified a Cessna 172 with 8″ tires on the mains and a 6″ on the nose and flew for a year into all kinds of airstrips. I’ve even taken a PA-28 into some carefully selected dirt strips with no trouble.
I’m not gonna spend too much time lingering on the culture of tailwheel vs nosewheel. I just want to dispel the assumption some readers will make that they must not fly a tailwheel or they would know that a tailwheel is better. I have been flying many different tailwheel aircraft into the wild now including but not limited to the quintessential C85 J3 Cub. I am a HUGE fan of tailwheel airplanes and I fly them into dirt strips regularly. This article just isn’t about them, it’s about Cessna 182s.
This last weekend I had the pleasure of comparing the capability and performance of two Cessna 182s in the Utah Backcountry. The first is a 1976 Cessna 182P with the heavy-duty nose fork (not Airglass) and 8″ mains with a 6″ tire on the nose. The abrasion boots on the elevator keep rocks from denting the metal, it has a stock Continental O-470S, stock prop, and no real backcountry mods.
The second Cessna 182 is a 1965H modified with a Sportsmens STOL cuff, Vortex Generators, an MT Composite prop, Challenger air filter, Knots2U cowling mod kit, Powerflow exhaust, 26″ Alaska Bushwheels on the mains with ABI double puck brakes, an Airglass lightweight nose fork with an 8.5″ nose wheel.
The airstrips we flew into were Mexican Mountain, Cedar Mountain, Hidden Splendor, Angel Point, Mineral Canyon, and back to Mexican Mountain where we were based. None of these airstrips are particularly short and that’s a good thing for a C182!
I was piloting the green 182 and a friend of mine, Alex, the red and black. My buddy was pretty new to Backcoutny and I am not.
The first thing you should know is that the big tires turned the airplane from a utility vehicle into a fun-machine. Yes, they did slow the airplane down quite a bit and anyone who tells you it’s only 5 mph is probably selling big tires for airplanes to pilots like us. Going from the 6s and a 5 to 26s and an 8.5 dropped a whopping 15 mph off the cruise speeds. It only makes sense, folks, if closing cowl flaps gives you 2-3 mph then imagine what dragging a couple of balloons through the air will do.
The STOL kit was a bit of a disappointment to me. Sure, it made slower flight possible, but with no authority to control the airplane and a disappointing reduction in take-off roll (10% improvement), I really was annoyed at the money spent for the benefit gained. I mean 60 hours of labor to put it on plus the cost of the parts… I don’t know… From all the hype I was expecting more.
The Vortex Generators were amazing. Suddenly I could control the airplane well past the stall. I do not think I will add a STOL cuff to the 182P but I will definitely install VG’s. They are well worth the money. My experience was so good with them that I got a set for my J3 Cub and I love them on that airplane too!
The MT prop was, like the STOL kit, kind of a disappointment. Performance wise I really saw no effect. They say it’s “smoother:” not really. They say it’s quieter: not that I can tell. They saw it takes 16 lbs of weight off the nose: yeah it did. Apparently, that is not enough to compensate for how nose-heavy 182s are. It helped. Did it help $17,000 worth? No. But, it looks cool and sounds cool at idle with that nickel edge whistling around.
Powerflow makes a good exhaust. I have used them on our smaller O-320’s, 360’s and even the LEES (which they acquired) on my C-210. I have been pleased with the purchase every time. So I got it for my 182H. I had this put on at the same time I got the big 26″ tires and the 8.5″ for the nose. So it’s difficult to say how much it helped me out against the drag of the larger tires (I previously had 8.5s on the mains with a 7″ on the nose). I will say I saw an easy 150 fpm increase in climb performance from my home airfield elevation of 4735′ MSL. It also reduced the CHT’s on the airplane across the board by about 10 degrees. Another benefit is that it makes the airplane sound deeper and more powerful when at low RPM taxiing around the airport. Everyone thinks I have the big 520 on the airplane from the sound. It’s pretty cool.
The Challenger air filter provided a noticeable brightening of the aircraft’s power and for the money: sure, get it. Why not? I will say we have seen the same boost in power from the Tempest air filters that also allow more airflow (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say less resistance) into the engine. If you are wondering which one is better, I’m sure it comes down to a smaller difference than I am capable of telling. I will say that you do not have to oil your Tempest filter, nor wonder if it’s cleaning the air when the oil inevitably drys up.
The Knots2U cowling speed mod kit was also put on at the same time as the monster tires (again, I was trying to gain back as much cruise speed as possible) so I cannot definitely say it delivered on its promise of 3-4 mph in cruise. However, I can say it looks cool. It gives the older 182 a thicker chin that I like and it wasn’t that expensive. Your mechanic will complain about having to take it off when working on the airplane. They may even go as far as to say it doesn’t work to keep you from getting it. Ignore that talk. You pay them by the hour so, in the end, the joke’s always on you.
Ultimately the airplane performs as follows: at 6500′ MSL, it cruises at 130 mph IAS, and at 11,500 MSL it cruises at 119 MPH IAS.
The 182H stalls at 35 MPH IAS (yes you can get it to stall, you just have to dive for it). I can comfortably approach at 45 mph IAS with 11″ manifold and 40 degrees of flaps (30 degrees reduces the decent speed at the same power setting but at a slightly high AOA).
I can touchdown and come to a complete stop in 400′ – 500′ realistically and consistently (again at 4735 MSL and a DA of 6200).
Useful load… it’s a 182 folks. I’m able to take plenty of food, water, people, fuel, and whatever with me. That’s one of the big advantages of the 180/182 platform for airplane camping. Lots of room and load for the cooler full of drinks and steaks.
The 1976 P model 182 has a different wing than the stock 182H. It’s cambered “a cuff” wing over the older 60’s wings. This significantly improved the slow flight handling of the 182s in the 70 and later, which really pissed me off. The damn thing performs nearly as well as my expensive STOL kit! If you have a 182 with the cuffed wing from Cessna, don’t bother with a STOL kit. Just add VG’s and you’ll be loving it (IMO).
The 182P in this story has the 8″ mains and I think they are okay for the backcountry. All the airstrips we went to were chosen to accommodate the 8″ tires of our beloved 182P. We could have done some rougher ones if it had the 8.5-inch tires and a 7″ or even an 8″ on the nose. The 8.5s are significantly bigger than 8s for some reason, and in most of the places you will want to take a C182, the 8.5-inch tires will be great. I think the 26″ looks amazing but I’d really only recommend them if you are trying to turn your Cessna into a more toy-like machine and land it probably where you shouldn’t be landing a 182 (See firewall damage on 182s for more details).
The 182P with the 8″ tires cruises about 5 kts faster than the 182H at the altitudes we were at 12,000 down to 8,000 MSL and takes off in only 200′ more than the STOL 182. It lands longer mainly because it comfortably approaches at 50 kts (57.5 mph). Now I know what you’re thinking. “Bryan, the mods on the other 182 made a meaningful difference,” and you’re not wrong. But do you know how much money it took? Let’s not add that all up, it’s painful to think about.
All that being said I love my 182H with all its STOL mods. And I have more plans to mod it further with a HP upgrade in the form of a PnP for the top-end which should bring it’s HP up to 280 ponies all in. Looking forward to that.
I suppose I just wanted the other pilots out there looking at modifying their 182s for STOL to know what to expect. It’s a lot of money for small improvements. I sometimes think that pilots who spend big $$ on mods have a hard time being honest about how little these things improve on our airplanes. Forums and even hangar talk tends to be “oh it changed EVERYTHING” and “You gotta get one of these…” whatever it is-is.
I don’t blame em. After all, what is a pilot if not a dreamer?
Bottom line is that the relatively stock 182P went to the Utah backcountry with the STOL 182 and did everything I did with ease. And it looked good doing it. I just looked and did a little gooder.