Homage to the Skywagon (Cessna 180 / 185)


When I first got into aviation I called my company Skywagon Air Service.  That’s how nuts I was.  Nuts about the 180 / 185 that is.  In the basement, of this house, next to this 185, is where the company was born.  I got these photos the other day from Mike Ball of KRKD who reminded me of the day he “took the 185 home for lunch.”  The drive in his car would have been all of 4 min.  But why do that when you can land your 185 in your driveway and taxi it up to the front door… for lunch?:


The 185 is of interest to me for many reasons.

First, I like it.  I like it enough that I’ve owned two.  My first was a late model 1981 CE 180K and the second a 1976 CE 185F.  I’m airplane-less now and I like that too.  There’s a lot to be appreciated about hearing the wind howl and know that nothing that you own is being blown around and pelted outside.

I’ll stay airplane-less for awhile too.  But there is a 185 out there waiting for me I’m sure.

Despite the often cramped interior, rather simplistic IFR platform that it is, the fact is that it has qualities that surprise many.  It even has qualities that few other aircraft share.

  1. It can carry its own weight.  For that reason I’m considering using it as a benchmark for upcoming “aircraft reviews” on jetowner.com.  (We’ll be doing reviews of current production corporate aircraft)  But the old, tired, noisy and drafty 185 can show how much more it can carry of its own weight than most anything else is an interesting index.  I consider it a valuable benchmark for all other aircraft, since as aircraft get bigger, they have a lower and lower ratio of what they can carry vs. their own weight.  To the extent you manage and mitigate that weight gain (relative to your overall payload ability) the better design you are.
  2. It is efficient for an airplane.  Whilst carrying 1500 odd pounds of people, gear and fuel, it burns an average of 13 GPH.  That’s about 12.3 MPG at 160 mph.  Not too shabby for a Wichita product circa 1976.
  3. Amazing wheel landings:  Once you become proficient in how to get the mains on at at low speed in a “tail low” wheel landing, you’ll be amazed at how fast it stops and where you can go.  And equally impressive – with the larger engines – are the places you can get out of.  We operated out of ME41 (Witherspoons on North Haven, ME as well as other islands in Penobscot Bay) …  not with full loads, but we did it comfortably, daily and accident free, for years and years. (The original company is still doing that today, more on that here.)

If you’ve got an unhealthy fixation with an airplane type, by all means let me know.

I thought I’d post this since Mike sent the pictures.  It was also an excuse to remember the birth of the first 135 certificate, Mike’s generosity to an eager, young, overly ambitious entrepreneur and how he took the 185 home for lunch.

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3 thoughts on “Homage to the Skywagon (Cessna 180 / 185)”

  1. My cousin worked for the Colorado forestry fish and game. He flew Cessna 185 all the time. He told me he loaded it full of corn rosteing ears as full as he could get it and it flew out of a high alt. air field.

    1. That’s awesome Lew. Yes, the 185 (and 206 for that matter) do pretty incredible things when pushed to it. Not the most glamorous engineering or design, but man…. do they get the job done.

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