Cessna 180 Guide and Specs : Is It The Perfect Aircraft For You?

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In 1953, Cessna ads leaned heavily on the 50th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight to proudly introduce their new offering to the market: the Cessna 180. Sleek, robust, and with roots that clearly traced back to the company’s commercially successful Cessna 170.

It would not be wrong to characterize the original 180 as a “Super 170”. It married the classic exterior lines with a modern spinner design and an all-new square vertical stabilizer top.

The campaigns of the time made no secret about their intended audience: Cessna had branded their new creation as “the businessman’s airplane,” owning up to its expanded and comfortable passenger cabin that made the trip a lot more enjoyable for those not sitting behind the controls.

What Cessna did not know at the time was that they had, in fact, introduced what would eventually become a staple of down and dirty, backcountry bush flying! In hindsight, its “Skywagon” moniker could not have been more perfect.

With the first units made in 1953, the Cessna 180 was produced all the way up to 1981, where it was fully superseded by its tricycle gear cousin, the Cessna 182 Skylane. In the 27 years it was built, there were officially 180 variants going from A to K, with only the letter I being skipped.

Unlike other Cessna products like the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, most models are virtually identical from the outside.

Improvements made between variants were usually limited to the engine and gross weight – some variants became heavier due to other modifications and thus required an updated engine, while others saw uprated engines installed, which then allowed for a higher useful payload.

Gross weights went from 2550 lbs to 2800 lbs over time, while the engine went from O-470-A 225 hp to 230 hp with the Continental O-470-R.

Cessna 180 Specs

Cessna 180 1953

After initially shipping out with the 225 hp O-470-A engine, the 230 hp O-470-K was installed in 1956. Gross weight grew to 2650 lbs, but top speeds now reached 170 mph with a new service ceiling of 21500 ft.

Over the years, the weight grew to 2850 lbs, and the ceiling was reduced to 19600 ft. Stall speed for late models is 55 mph, with a cruise speed of 163 mph. The aircraft’s range with regular fuel tanks is around 1020 miles, with a capacity of one pilot and five passengers.

Cessna 180 / Model Prices

In 1953, the price for initial Cessna 180 models with standard equipment was $12950. Additional equipment, inflation, and rising industry costs led the last 180 units produced to be sold for $41910 between 1978 and 1981.

Cessna 180 / Performance and Handling

At the beginning of the 1950s, Continental Motors Corporation had introduced a brand new horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine design called the O-470, offering 225 hp. During that time, the Hartzell Propeller Company offered an already established and reliable high-speed propeller.

With the right components available on the market, Cessna set out on an ambitious mission: to match the performance of heavier, costlier retractable-gear aircraft with a fixed-gear taildragger design. To match this goal, extensive work was done to keep the aircraft as clean as possible.

Flush rivets were used liberally on the engine cowling, cowl flaps, and leading-edge, an adjustable horizontal stabilizer was set up to diminish drag in cruise settings, the wheels had aerodynamic fairings, the carburetor air inlet was embedded into the fuselage, and the tailwheel spring had a sleek tubular shape.

Compared to the Cessna 170 with its 145 hp engine, the Cessna 180’s 225 hp felt like a monster in performance. The 55% change in horsepower brought a proportional change in P-factor, which the 170 vertical stabilizers and rudder were not able to handle safely or comfortably during take-offs and climbs.

This was counteracted with a large, high-aspect vertical stabilizer for better controllability, married to a small dorsal fin that prevented excessive yaw angles if the pilot deflected the rudder fully in low-speed situations.

During early studies, Cessna discovered that the pilot had to give the horizontal stabilizer trim wheel an excessive amount of turns to achieve the right attitude for a three-point landing at forward center of gravity. This was due to the larger engine and overall heavier aircraft.

To remedy this, the aircraft’s designers opted to install a larger and more effective elevator, which brought handling during landings more in line with the Cessna 170 pilots were already used to.

Forward visibility on the Cessna 180 is adequate. However, those coming from the 170 and 172 families may find it a little more restrictive than before.

This is due to a future-proofing trade-off – all-weather operations were becoming increasingly more accessible to private pilots, airspace regulations were growing tighter with safety in mind, and IFR equipment requirements followed suit.

With these trends in mind, Cessna opted to expand the 170 panel in order to accommodate up to three rows of instruments, plus a fourth one for controls and switches.

Both Cessna and 180 owners grew to enjoy this foresight, as it allowed the panel to remain largely unchanged until 1959, and once the company transitioned to the new T arrangement basic standard, it left plenty of room for customization and aftermarket add-ons.

In comparison to most 170 and 172 variants, the Cessna 180 handles like a hot rod. The 225 hp engine married to a relatively light airframe gives it excellent climb performance and plenty of excess power for take-offs and go-arounds.

The uprated 230 hp version added later in the production helped keep this performance as gross weights increased. In its original variant with 2250 lbs gross weight, the Cessna 180 could reach a maximum speed of 165 mph, with cruise speeds hovering around 150 mph.

The rate of climb at sea level was 1100 ft/min, with a service ceiling of 19800 ft.

The Cessna 180 handling in the air is a familiar tale to most high-wing Cessna designs – docile, responsive, and very forgiving of pilots still learning the aircraft’s ways. The plane is not without flaw, though most pilot complaints pertain to problems inherent to the taildragger configuration.

The powerful engine makes ground-looping a real risk for inexperienced crews, and taxi turns need to be performed to ensure a safe trip around the field.

Cessna 180 / Model Maintenance Schedule

Cesna 180

Its simple construction and abundance of easily accessible mechanical components make the Cessna 180 an owner’s favorite for maintenance purposes. The aircraft’s intervals have been refined over time based on experience, and its popularity makes it easy to find qualified mechanics with type experience.

Another advantage of the Cessna 180 over many of its competitors is that owners can perform many of its maintenance tasks in a pinch. This comes particularly handy for backcountry flying since technical assistance can be hard to find in the Alaskan wilderness.

Cessna 180 / Modifications and Upgrades

There were some landmark upgrades to the Cessna 180 family, built between 1953 and 1981:

  • 1959, Cessna 180B: revised instrument panel
  • 1962, Cessna 180E: dual-outlet ports in the fuel tanks and option for 84-gallon long-range tanks
  • 1964, Cessna 180G: three-window fuselage, wings, landing gear, and option for up to six passengers, sharing components with the Cessna 185
  • 1970, Cessna 180H: external cargo pod option with a capacity of up to 300 lbs
  • 1973, Cessna 180J: revised wing with bonded leading-edge, cowl-mounted landing lights, and, starting in 1974, the option for bubble windows cabin doors
  • 1976, Cessna 180K: Continental O-470-U engine rated for up to 2400 RPM and basic-T standard instrument panel arrangement

If the list of basic Cessna 180 variants may seem relatively ‘boring’ due to the few changes implemented over the years, the family was found to be one of the most flexible in the market in terms of terrain-adapting modifications.

The 180 is the rightful owner of the most popular floatplane title, and work towards this had begun even before the first serial production model had left the assembly line.

The installation of Edo floats or amphibian kits in lieu of the regular landing gear fit the Cessna 180 like a glove due to its powerful engine, which made the performance penalty from the drag brought by the floatation devices an acceptable trade for the flexibility.

Famous aviation writer Bill Strohmeier, of “Flying Floats” fame, picked up his amphibian rating aboard a Cessna 180 with Edo 289-2700 quadricycle amphibious floats.

Like the floating 180, work on turning the Cessna 180 into a reliable snow flier began in 1952, before serial production started in earnest.

Prototype N41697 was fitted with skis and tested in Wichita without noteworthy incidents – the aircraft handled all experimental snow depths well, the tail ski provided effective steering, and the main skis did not encounter problems in the air during high-speed dives.

After proving its mettle with skis, the aircraft then aced testing results with the wheel and ski combination gear by Fluidyne, which are famously used to perform glacier landings in Alaska and New Zealand.

Cessna 180 / Where to Find Replacement Parts

Due to the type’s popularity and numerous shared components with certain Cessna 185 and Cessna 182 aircraft, owners of the 180 have reported very good availability of spare parts across the world.

The aircraft receives good support from both the manufacturer and third-party companies that produce certified replacement components.

The abundance of Cessna 180 owners also gives Skywagon operators a great network for finding the right parts and service.

Cessna 180 / Model Common Problems

Cessna Skywagon 180

The Cessna 180 fuel tanks are rubberized bladders fitted inside the wings and kept in place by a series of fasteners.

While this decision brought it up to the latest design standards for both civilian and military aircraft at the time, the adoption of technology that was still in its infancy and had not withstood the trial of time eventually brought problems to owners.

Due to age-related wear, the fuel bladders tend to develop wrinkles that may stop the fuel flow from reaching the tank’s outlet.

This can be remedied with regular inspections, replacing ageing tanks, or upgrading them to newer, more matured models, but regardless of the course of action, owners and pilots must address the issue if they work with early-model Cessna 180.

The bladder wrinkles are not the only problem common to early 180 models. As customary for the 1950s, the fuel vent tube was forward-facing and mounted on top of the wing. As a safeguard in case of icing, Cessna added a small bleed hole in the low-pressure part of the wing.

While this was done with the best intentions, pilots soon found out that fuel would flow from the bleed hole at an alarming rate when the main vent was blocked. This phenomenon also repeated itself with an operational vent during the landing roll when braking.

In an effort to rectify this, Cessna added a ball check valve to the end of the main vent, but this made the icing problem worse and, as a consequence, aggravated the bleed hole leaks.

Early Cessna 180 aircraft put through heavy use may develop stabilizer slippage during high-speed dives. The cause of this is the loosening of the jack screws on the elevator, which leads it to try and quickly push the aircraft into a nose-up attitude.

The fast onset of the problem can induce G-loads in excess of what both airframe and pilot are ready for, potentially inducing serious problems such as structural damage and GLOC (G-induced Loss of Consciousness, or blackout).

After failed attempts to improve the screws through more precise tolerances, Cessna engineers and test pilots came together to create a friction device on the elevator trim wheel.

While it does increase the force needed from the pilot to make changes, it prevents the much more serious issue of stabilizer slippage, and thus the modification was installed on all new Cessna 180 and 185 models, as the latter also suffered from the same problem due to its shared components.

This friction device may be installed as an aftermarket piece to older 180 aircraft.

All of these problems were fixed in later production models. The early fuel bladders were eventually replaced by more reliable tanks that were less prone to wrinkling.

As for the fuel vent, after extensive flight testing, Cessna opted to relocate it behind the wing strut, which kept it safe from incoming airflow at all attitudes while still giving it enough elevation difference to guarantee a gravity-induced flow even during best-angle climbs when loaded light.

Owners who may require open-door operations, such as photographers, law enforcement, or jumping platforms, have found the aircraft to encounter serious buffeting when flying in that configuration. This can be rectified with a small spoiler plate kit, which is attached to the door post, which deflects airflow away from the cabin.

Cessna 180 / Insurance Options

Compared to tricycle gear alternatives, the Cessna 180 often gets quoted higher for insurance as a virtue of taildragger aircraft having higher ground accident rates due to handling quirks. According to the AOPA Insurance

Agency, pilots with over 250 total hours (of which at least 50 are in taildraggers and 25 in a Cessna 180) get offered substantially better quotes than less experienced ones.

Their greener counterparts combined with the powerful engine and tailwheel fall into the “special risk” tag, which can make prices shoot up by as much as 75% for the same aircraft.

In an experiment with hulls of equal value, a Cessna 172 can be insured for $1293 per year, while the 180 would cost $2200 for equally qualified pilots.

Cessna 180 / Model Resale Value

According to Skywagon experts at Stancil Aviation in California, who have bought and sold over 400 180 and 185 models over the years, a low-time Cessna 180 can usually go between $60000 and $110000.

They recommend a rule of thumb for bidding: add $10000 to the last two digits of the model year. A 1980 model, for example, usually goes for $90000.

Cessna 180 / Owner Reviews

Owners of the Cessna 180 are known to love their rides more than many communities. The simplicity and reliability of the model are such a success among pilots that during consultations with Cessna engineers and test pilots, owners adamantly refused most of the modifications proposed to them by the company’s employees.

Their main argument, allegedly, was “don’t screw it up.” This kept the trim and flap actuators fully mechanical instead of electrical, which gave them faster response times and finer control during bush, snow, and water operations.

Performance fits a wide range of operators, from businessmen going on work trips to backcountry pilots delivering special cargo to remote areas. The aircraft strikes a great balance of climb speed and STOL performance.

Taller pilots and passengers have enjoyed the roomy cockpit, sized for its chief test pilot and the company’s president, who both clocked above 6 feet.

Shorter pilots like aviation legend Jerry Mock, who set numerous world records for distance aboard her Cessna 180, have found the standard arrangement to be uncomfortable during landings. Cessna and other companies do offer control extensions that make it a very pleasant aircraft again.

The aircraft is also enjoyed for being extremely customizable, with a grand total of 94 supplemental type certificates available in the market.

Cessna 180 / Similar Aircraft

V-tail Beech Bonanza

The main competitors of the Cessna 180 are other aviation classics such as the V-tail Beech Bonanza and the Piper Cherokee. Newer offerings have, however, been breaking into this market, most notably the Cirrus SR20 and Diamond DA40.

The latter two, when bought new, come with a full glass cockpit, making them fully compliant with current and predicted future aviation regulations.

Cessna 180 / Clubs You can Join

Besides the massive owner’s clubs common to Cessna aircraft as a whole, the Cessna 180 enjoys special love from the Skywagons, a club dedicated specifically to the 180 and 185 models.

Officially called the International 180/185 Club, it was founded in 1977 as the spiritual successor to the defunct 180’s International, fronted by pilot Arnold Senterfitt of Baha Bush Pilots fame.

Initially founded as a small-time club for friends to arrange outings such as fishing or camping trips, it has skyrocketed in popularity, recently exceeding the 1100 member mark, with Skywagon owners hailing from 24 different countries.

The International 180/185 Club offers three membership tiers depending on the level of commitment you desire. The most common option, Regular Membership, offers the full benefits of the club: website content, membership roster, newsletters, voting rights for club decisions and, most notably, access to the club’s annual fly-in convention.

Pilots or spouses who previously enjoyed full membership but became ineligible (for example, if they no longer own a Cessna 180 or 185) can continue to participate via Sustained Membership, which includes all the rights they previously enjoyed except for voting.

Last but not least, there is the option for Associate Membership, which does not give access to the fly-ins, voting, and printed versions of the newsletter but still comes with full access to the club’s extensive resources and discussions.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: When Was the Cessna 180 Introduced?

Answer: Cessna 180 deliveries began in 1953 and ran until 1981.

Question: Which Engine Does the Cessna 180 Use?

Answer: Most Cessna 180 were built with versions of the Continental O-470 engine, though some have been upgraded to more powerful powerplants by their owners.

Question: Is the Cessna 180 Cheap to Own?

Answer: The Cessna 180 has low maintenance and fuel consumption costs. However, these are partially offset by increased insurance costs by virtue of being a taildragger airplane.

Question: How Fast is the Cessna 180?

Answer: Late models can reach up to 170 mph, with a cruise speed of 163 mph.

Question: Is the Cessna 180 Customizable?

Answer: Yes. There are 94 supplemental type certificates available to choose from.

Research Citations

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2009/april/01/budget-buys-cessna-180-mr-in-between

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2014/february/pilot/cessna-180-skywagon

https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/aircraft-and-ownership/aircraft-fact-sheets/cessna-180

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessna_180

https://skywagons.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=669928&module_id=160323

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