Step-by-Step Fuel Cell Replacement

Step-by-Step Fuel Cell Replacement

If you own a Cessna 182 Skylane, at some point you’ll need to replace the fuel cells (fuel bladders). It’s not a particularly difficult task, especially when you order an all-inclusive kit from a vendor like Eagle Fuel Cells. 

N4696K has been a fixture at Modesto City-County Airport (KMOD) for many years. It’s a 1975 Cessna 182P Skylane owned by Nine-Six Kilo LLC, which in turn is owned by five partners, who vary as time goes on. I’ve had the pleasure of being one of the partners for almost 10 years. With so many partners, the airplane flies a lot; more than 200 hours in an average year. That’s good because the engine doesn’t sit and rust. On the other hand, all that flying puts a lot of wear on the airframe, interior and paint.

For quite a while now, the partners have agreed that we ought to do a restoration—painting the airplane, redoing the interior and fixing a lot of minor problems that have built up over the years. Fortunately, everyone’s in a financial position to afford this. We kept putting the painting off, in part because of something Shane Cooper (a mechanic at Pacific Aircraft Service) told me. He noted that the bladder-type fuel cells in our airplane were due for replacement and “You don’t want to paint the airplane and then have to open it up to get the bladders out.”

An unwelcome Christmas gift

A few days after Christmas last year, one of our partners opened the hangar to find our Skylane’s right main tire flat and fuel all over the floor. Fuel had leaked out along the length of the wing, staining the aileron hinges blue. He contacted Pacific Aircraft, and we all thought at first that the right fuel bladder was cracked. It turned out to be due to a leak at the fuel filler neck on that side, but it was enough of a warning to get our attention. Next time it could be a bad fuel bladder and it might not be kind enough to fail at our home airport.

Now, decisions had to be made: where and when to have the replacement done, and where to get the parts? The first two questions had easy answers. Shane, Paul Kline and their boss Dick Braner at Pacific have been taking care of N4696K for the entire time it has been on the field at Modesto. They aren’t the least expensive place to get work done, but they are among the most thorough. After consulting with Dick, we decided to hold off until our annual inspection, when the airplane would be at Pacific for an extended period anyway.

As for where to get the new bladders and other parts, I took advantage of my membership in Cessna Flyer Association and called parts-locating guru Kent Dellenbusch. He gave us some options and we decided on Eagle Fuel Cells. Our mechanics had no previous experience with them but were happy to give them a try. 


Step-by-step installation

What follows is a journal based on notes I took at the time. Bear in mind that other work was being done as well; it didn’t take a full month’s worth of work to do the fuel cells!

Approximately July 1: Bladders (neatly folded in a surprisingly small box) and installation kit arrived at Pacific Aircraft Services.

July 23: N4696K was flown to warm the engine oil and delivered to Pacific, where the annual inspection began.

July 26: Bladders were unpacked, with a first reaction from an impressed Shane after looking at the large roll of cavity tape: “That’s worth hundreds of dollars by itself!” I did not fully appreciate this until later, when Paul pulled a huge ball of old duct tape out of each wing. The tape used at the Cessna factory was not available the last time the bladders were replaced, so duct tape was used to cover all rivets and overlapping metal joints in contact with the fuel bladders.

When the new bladders were unpacked, we found a clearly-printed set of helpful hints. These tips covered inspection (including how to find the area where a fuel cell may have leaked), removal, installation and maximizing fuel cell life.

While the full list of tips is too detailed to reproduce here, two points are worth noting. Ground the airplane whenever dealing with fuel cells or any other fuel system component. Per the tips, “When working with fuel, static is your enemy!” 

Also, warmth helps. Eagle does not recommend trying to remove tanks at temperatures below 70 F because the material will be stiff, and notes that a warm cloth can help when taking off tubing. That wasn’t a problem on a hot July day in Modesto!

July 27: I was present as Paul pulled out the right fuel cell. Fuel had been drained the day before, and by the time I arrived he had the snaps undone and the bladder rolled up in the wing. The whole plane shook a couple of times as he pulled. After getting the old bladder out, he told me we’d made a good decision. He saw signs of minor leakage that would only have gotten worse.

With both cells removed, Paul spent an extended period with a flashlight, reaching in through the inspection ports to pull out the old tape. He pulled out enough to make a very impressive (if ugly) ball.

July 28: New cavity tape was used to cover all exposed rivets, metal-to-metal joints and other areas that could damage the new cells in both tanks. 

Paul also showed me the new fuel drains/test ports and covers. These replaced ones that were installed years ago. The original factory fuel bladders were prone to developing wrinkles, which could trap water, preventing it from coming out of the original fuel drains. That issue resulted in a Cessna Service Bulletin (and an FAA Airworthiness Directive) requiring the so-called “rock-and-roll preflight,” in which you were supposed to hold the tail of the aircraft down and rock the wings to make sure any water got out of wrinkled areas and showed up in the test ports. A later Service Bulletin superseded that requirement but required installing new fuel bladders with the test ports moved a few inches to a location that was not affected by wrinkling. Eagle’s fuel bladders are designed not to wrinkle, and they move the port back to its original location.

Paul pointed out a major advantage of Eagle’s STC’d fuel drains/test ports. They use a cartridge design and can be easily serviced, unlike factory ports that must be completely removed. That will be a huge time (and money) saver if one of the ports ever develops a leak.

Aug. 1: Paul had new fuel bladders rolled up and ready for installation when I arrived. They went in much more easily than the old ones came out!

Aug. 11: After a delay for unrelated work, Paul was ready to finish the job, installing new fuel floats and transmitters (fuel senders). 


The annual (with other modifications) was completed about one week later. 

The partner who originally found fuel leaking did a thorough job of checking the new fuel senders to see how they matched up against the indication on the original fuel gauges, starting with empty fuel tanks and adding 5 gallons at a time on each side. 

The result was about what you’d expect. If the gauges say full, they are full. Half full, ditto. But don’t make any bets on them as you get close to empty. We have a digital engine monitor with a fuel totalizer, so I don’t rely on the old gauges all that much anyway.

Since then the airplane has flown over 20 hours with no evidence of any leaking or other problems. Pacific Aircraft Service owner Dick Braner was impressed by the high quality of Eagle’s product. He said, “They make really nice fuel cells and provide a complete install kit. The only thing they didn’t supply was vent hoses.”

Eagle’s website has a wealth of information that may be of interest to Cessna owners contemplating a fuel cell replacement. In addition to new cells, Eagle offers repair services on old fuel cells, guidance on which cells may or may not be repairable, background information on what bladder-type cells are made of, issues with fuel cells in particular aircraft, tips for inspecting cells when a leak is found (or suspected) and tips for removing old cells and installing new ones. 

The website also has tips for getting the longest life out of the fuel cells you have. Among other things, Eagle suggests keeping the fuel cells full, rocking the wings of parked aircraft to wet the upper half of the cells and removing/preserving cells when aircraft will be stored for extended periods. The company strongly recommends against using auto fuel: “It is not very stable and the high quantity of chemicals in the fuel is harsh on rubber... If auto fuel is used, do not let it stand for long periods of time and inspect all rubber fuel system components frequently.”

Eagle’s fuel cells carry a 5-year warranty. So far, we’re very happy with ours!


John D. Ruley is an instrument-rated private pilot and aircraft co-owner. Send questions or comments to .


Eagle Fuel Cells, Inc.

Destination: Miami

Destination: Miami

I thought I knew about Miami, I realize now, has all come from the television. “Miami Vice,” “The Golden Girls” and “Burn Notice”—these fictional portrayals all shaped my idea of the city’s surroundings, its residents and its culture. I think I was more wrong than I was right.

When I started looking deeper, I realized why Miami is portrayed so much in films and on TV: it’s a huge hub for this kind of thing. There are more than 2,000 motion picture, music and video companies based in Miami; dozens of recording studios and sound stages; hundreds of freelance production crews; dozens of cable television networks.  

Miami looks shiny and new, and it is, relatively speaking. Nothing here is much more than a century old, as this port city was incorporated in 1896 with, surprisingly, just 300 residents. It’s a city that has made its name known—so much so that the former Dade County was officially changed to “Miami-Dade County” in the 1990s. 

Today, Miami is considered one of the richest cities in the United States. With miles of picturesque boulevards and high-end shopping, hundreds of high-rise buildings and the most concentrated grouping of international banks in the country, this isn’t hard to believe. 

Set up for success

There is no shortage of information about Miami. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming how much is available. The 2017 Visitor’s Guide is a whopping 252 pages—and it’s one of a dozen free guides available on the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau website. 

With 22 regional visitor centers around Miami, this city was built for visitors. If you want to see the palm trees sway in real time, keep an eye on Miami through its seven live webcams. The information available online is abundant.

There are even mobile apps available for free (or nearly free; they cost a few dollars at most). With these apps you can get detailed information on the arts district, the parks, the airports and city transit, various historical sites and walking tours, locally recommended food, shopping and a lot more.

Local attractions

There are a few attractions that I think are musts when you’re visiting Miami. Here are a few of my picks.

Calle Ocho – By my count, there are at least eight cigar shops and factories on SW Eighth St. in the Little Havana section of the city. Even if you can’t tell a claro from a maduro, you can’t help but feel fascinated while watching a master cigar roller create an authentic Miami-rolled Cuban cigar. 

For a similar amount of immersion in Cuban culture with none of the nicotine, maybe order a cafecito (Cuban espresso, or Café Cubano) or stop in at El Rey de Los Fritas for a fast lunch (fritas, of course), and then walk down to Maximo Gomez Park to watch a game of dominoes—or maybe to enjoy that cigar. (I’m sure you won’t be alone.)

The Miami Circle – One highly unusual feature in the city is the Miami Circle, a prehistoric limestone building site that’s 38 feet across—in the middle of downtown, off Brickell Avenue. Though many at first doubted its age, the circle predates other East Coast settlements and is believed to have been used by the Tequesta Indians. Many Tequesta artifacts are viewable at the HistoryMiami Museum on West Flagler Street. The museum is several blocks northeast of the site, across the Miami River.

Biscayne National Park – This natural haven is within sight of Miami in nearby Homestead, Florida. This park is different than most: it’s mostly made of water. The National Park Service protects these shallow waters, coral reefs, marine wildlife and tropical hardwoods—there are no roads or bridges, and only one hiking trail.

Since the vast majority—90 percent—of the park’s half a million annual visitors enter the space by water, there is no entrance fee. There are, however, fees for special uses (overnight docking, camping at the two campgrounds in the park, etc.). 

The Deering Estate – Environmental enthusiasts can also check out The Deering Estate, a preserve in the village of Palmetto Bay, which offers hikes and science education for visitors. It’s a lot closer to the heart of the city (and a little easier to access than Biscayne National Park if you don’t have a boat with you). The estate runs a moonlight canoe tour, which takes paddlers across Biscayne Bay to a waiting campfire on Chicken Key. The tour costs $40 and is open to adults only.

Art Deco Historic District – Lastly, Art Deco architecture is a worthwhile sightseeing trip from downtown Miami across the causeway to the east end of Miami Beach’s South Beach neighborhood. Tours of all types—guided, private, self-guided—are available seven days a week through the Visitor Center. There are more than 800 buildings to see.

Other ways to spend your time in Miami might include beaching it—no explanation necessary—or window shopping at one of Miami’s many retail districts. For an indoor (read: totally air-conditioned) experience, look to the Brickell City Centre. 

If you want the full “I’m in Miami!” retail experience, the outdoor Bal Harbour Shops on Miami Beach are a fashion mecca. With an astounding number of luxury brands and an eponymous fashion magazine, I’d consider this a tourist destination in its own right. 

Upcoming events

Miami has several great events coming up in the first part of this new year. I’ve listed a few here, along with the dates. To find out more, see the Resources at the end of the article.

South Beach Jazz Festival – Latin, New Orleans-style and classic jazz music will be performed at various venues in South Beach January 5, 6 and 7. Branford Marsalis headlines this year’s event—it’s sure to be a big draw for a festival that’s just in its second year.

Miami Marathon/Half Marathon – This unique single-loop marathon has been running (sorry, I had to) since 2003. Since Miami is a Boston Marathon qualifier, it attracts 25,000 competitors from around the world—as well as 50,000 spectators. If you are in Miami on January 28 this year, you might want to be part of the cheering section.

Coconut Grove Arts Festival – A huge and highly anticipated arts festival occurs Feb. 15–17 in Coconut Grove. With fine art, food, music and performing arts all on showcase, it’s worth a trip to eat, walk and shop around. One-day passes are available for as little as $10 for this 55th annual event. 

Calle Ocho Festival – This event has the feel of a neighborhood block party, except it spans 24 blocks. The Calle Ocho Festival has 30 stages of music and its vibrant atmosphere makes it a true Pan American celebration. This year, the date is March 11. If you go, just know that it might be a little crowded: one million of your closest neighbors will also be at the party.

Flying in

Miami is a bustling place, and the Miami International Airport (KMIA) offers the largest quantity of commercial flights to the Caribbean and Latin America in the entire United States. It’s also first in international freight in the United States. There is a General Aviation Center at KMIA, and with customs there, it’s a must for international visitors. Many interstate flyers would probably look to land elsewhere, if possible.

There are a few other appealing options. The first is the Miami International reliever airport, Miami Executive Airport (KTMB). It’s located to the southwest of downtown, has 24-hour staff, three long runways and a helipad—and has about 500 operations per day. Fuel on the field averages around $6 per gallon at the time of this writing. 

Similarly, Miami Opa-Locka Executive (KOPF) to the north of the city is also a reliever for KMIA. It averages about 400 operations per day and lots of these are jets—which means the runways are nice and long. Fuel is about a dollar per gallon higher than at Miami Executive, though one of the three FBOs was comparable to KTMB’s prices. 

Miami Homestead General Aviation Airport (X51) is a little further south and west of the central city and is more set up for the DIY types, with self-serve fueling at a more reasonable cost (right around $5 per gallon) and no tower. X51 has two paved runways and a turf strip along with 24-hour restrooms and lounge. Unlike KTMB, gliders aren’t restricted here, so parachutists, RC aircraft and agricultural aircraft are all in the vicinity; something to keep in mind.

Finally, North Perry Airport (KHWO) is located about 14 miles north of downtown Miami and 6 miles north of KOPF. North Perry offers four runways, a control tower, cheap Avgas ($4.25/gal) and a GA-friendly atmosphere. There are several flight schools at North Perry, so the traffic pattern(s) can be quite busy. However, you won’t have to dodge many jets; the airport is closed to aircraft over 12,500 pounds MTOW. Wrap-up

If you’re looking for a winter escape and like to be in the middle of the action, Miami may just be your ticket. 

It’s not all shady smugglers, dotty retirees and former spies; it’s oceanside beauty, mingled cultures and exquisite architecture. There’s way more to see and do here than I’d ever known if I’d stayed in front of the television. Sources:,,,

Heather Skumatz is production coordinator for Cessna Flyer. Send questions or comments to .




Miami International Airport (KMIA)


Miami Executive Airport (KTMB)

Miami Opa-Locka Executive (KOPF)


Miami Homestead General Aviation Airport (X51)


North Perry Aiport (KHWO)



Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau


Miami mobile apps


Miami webcams 



Biscayne National Park


Deering Estate


HistoryMiami Museum


Little Havana


The Miami Circle, Historical Museum of Southern Florida


Miami Design Preservation League (Art Deco Historic District)



Bal Harbour Shops


Brickell City Centre


Calle Ocho Festival


Coconut Grove Arts Festival


Miami Marathon


South Beach Jazz Festival

Jack Riley and the Skyrockets: The Cessna 337 Remade

Jack Riley and the Skyrockets: The Cessna 337 Remade

Cessna’s pressurized Skymaster has a number of STCs developed by Jack Riley, of Riley Rocket fame. Cessna Flyer recently talked to Skymaster authority Bill Crews to get a brief history of the various P337 conversions.

Entrepreneur, innovator and master salesman Jack M. Riley came to the airplane business only after retiring from his first career in blueprinting. By 1962, Riley had been assigned the patent for an Engine Supercharging Apparatus, and it would prove to be one of his most important contributions to General Aviation.

“Jack Riley called me around 1988, maybe ’89,” recalled Bill Crews, owner of Skymasters International. “He did conversions for all kinds of different aircraft, and he was looking for a Skymaster.”

The turbocharged engines on the P337s were known to run hot. “His first mod [for the 337] was an engine intercooler system, and he needed an aircraft to test it on,” Crews explained, “so he bought an airplane from me. It was a P337 with 225 hp.” 

Riley’s testing worked, and he was able to secure his intercooler STC for the P337. Riley soon began doing partial conversions to P337s at his California facility.

The Skyrocket is born

Never satisfied, Jack Riley was back on the phone to Crews. “He was getting tired of doing partial conversions installing his intercooler modification and a STOL kit and wanted a total conversion,” he explained. 

“I helped him with finding derelict aircraft—by derelict, I mean they had low total time, all logs, zero corrosion and no damage history—but he didn’t care about engine times, paint and interior, because he stripped them to the fuselage, starting over.”

For the P337 conversions Riley International was creating, Jack Riley added the same Horton STOL kit as he used on the Riley Rocket conversion for P210s, and also came up with a metal panel. “The original plastic overlay would vibrate because it never seemed to fasten on correctly,” Crews said. 

“A metal panel is so much nicer because the instruments are actually attached. Everybody hated that plastic panel, but Riley was the first one to do away with it. It was a great upgrade.”

“One very big thing he did was soundproofing all of his aircraft,” said Crews. He also upgraded the radios to state-of-the-art and put in an S-TEC 65 autopilot. “After a couple of years he came up with pressurized mags and [an] inflatable door seal,” Crews explained. 

Riley marketed his creation as the Skyrocket. The paint scheme for these 337s was the same as what Riley was doing on the P210 Riley Rockets. “But he still didn’t have the air conditioning that customers wanted,” Crews pointed out.

“One customer did come [to see Jack] and he had developed his own air conditioning system for his personal P337,” said Crews. “Jack and the customer worked out a deal: if Jack would do certain mods on the customer’s airplane, they could work out a deal on this owner’s air conditioning design.”

“Jack then went about getting the STC for the air conditioning system, which he added to his future Rocket conversions,” said Crews.

“So, I’d sell these P337s to Jack, and Jack was turning these things out. We sold about 20 to 25 over two or three years. Pricing started at $225,000 in 1989ish, then up to $250,000, then $275,000.” 

“The last one he sold with the 225 hp engines was in 1993 or 1994 I believe, and the cost was $425,000 or more,” Crews said.

The Super Skyrocket

“Then Jack Riley called me one day—he had himself a turbo 310 hp Skymaster, not pressurized, which he had bought at a government auction for $50,000. Only Jack Riley could get a deal like that,” Crews joked.

He then added, “I’m surprised he didn’t talk them in to giving it to him!”

“I can’t say what the previous owner was using it for, but it seems he was hauling something the U.S. government wasn’t happy with him hauling,” he said. This aircraft was Riley’s test bed for the 310 hp Riley Super Rocket. 

“Riley got that 310 hp conversion approved, and started doing the Super Skyrocket in about 1994, ’95,”said Crews. There were over 300 changes in the Super Skyrocket, according to Gene Smith in “The Faster Mixmaster,” published in US Aviator in April 1994. 

The Super Skyrocket was the sixth 300 mph aircraft in Riley’s Rocket series. These Cessna P337s were the fastest of them all, with an additional 85 hp per engine, three-blade props, a 2,500 fpm rate of climb—and higher fuel consumption to match. 

“He sold 10 or 12 of those, and they were doing pretty good,” Crews said. “Then Jack Riley had a stroke, and then another.” Riley was partially paralyzed and unable to continue working. 

“Now, you have to understand, Jack was Riley International; the company stayed open [after its founder became ill] but sales fell off.” 

The company declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California in 1996, and in 1997, SuperSkyrocket LLC bought all of the STCs. (These Riley STCs are now held by Tim Kasper of Kasper Industries. —Ed.) 

“Riley had a real good product, but by the mid- to late 1990s, it was all over,” Crews said.

“The Super Skyrockets are rare; I sold one this year—there are maybe 20 Skyrockets and maybe another 10 Super Skyrockets still flying in the United States. The value has come down quite a bit, as these are now older conversions.” 

Riley Rockets today

Bill Crews, along with Hank and Matt Kozub at Aircraft Sales, Inc., have developed a newer P337 conversion product called the Rocket II. “We’re continuing what Riley did,” Crews explained. “We just do the 225 hp engines, and the concept has been 25 years in the making.”

The Rocket II conversion includes two remanufactured Continental TSIO-360-CB engines with a factory warranty plus new engine mounts and engine hose kits as well as overhauled turbochargers, wastegates and turbocharger controllers. The aircraft uses Riley’s intercooler system on both engines and includes pressurized magnetos. 

Two freshly overhauled props and governors are installed along with polished spinners. The aircraft has a four-color paint scheme and new stainless steel hardware is used all external fasteners. 

Inside, the aircraft offers leather seats, integrated headsets—and the best soundproofing available, the same level of noise reduction that Jack Riley was so fond of. 

The avionics package includes a Garmin GMA 340 audio panel with four-place stereo intercom and music input; one Garmin GTN 750 WAAS Nav/Com/GPS and one Garmin GTN 650 WAAS Nav/Com/GPS; as well as a Garmin 345 transponder. It also includes an S-TEC 55X autopilot and an engine monitor in its custom aluminum panel. 

“One T337 has been completed with a glass panel, and will probably be the way most new Rocket II conversions will be outfitted,” Crews explained. 

It took a lot of hard work by Jack Riley and his associates in order to transform stock Cessna aircraft into customized, high performance personal air transportation. 

Today, as far as remade Cessna 337s are concerned, Bill Crews, Hank Kozub, Matt Kozub and others are picking up where Riley left off. But they know they owe a debt to their predecessor. 

“Jack Riley was one of those guys in life,” Crews said. “One of those guys you are just glad to have had the privilege of knowing and working with.”


Special thanks to Bill Crews for his wealth of information and ready assistance, and to Herb R. Harney for posting the following helpful articles on the SOAPA forum: “What’s in a Name?” by Chuck Stewart. Air Progress, January 1996. “Riley Super Skyrocket” by Geza Szurovy. Private Pilot, November 1998. “The Faster Mixmaster” by Gene Smith. US Aviator, April 1994.

Heather Skumatz is production coordinator for Cessna Flyer. Send questions or comments to .




Skymaster International LLC


Aircraft Sales, Inc.



Cessna Flyer Association


Skymaster Owners and Pilots Association (SOAPA) 


Full Circle: Wind Dilemmas

Lessons learned about wind and mountain waves. 

As I sit to write this, the major theme in my life these past few weeks has been wind. I say that because, first and foremost, we are right now involved in cleaning up our Florida horse ranch from the effects of Hurricane Irma—which, thankfully, amounted to only a half-dozen fallen trees and, literally, an infinite number of tree limbs scattered across our acreage. 

The second reason these past few weeks have involved wind is that I was concurrently producing an audiobook version of Harrison Jones’ nonfiction book “Miracle on Buffalo Pass: Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217.” Reading for the audio version got me to thinking about experiences with wind-induced dilemmas from my own aviation past.

The book itself is an in-depth analysis and interview with nearly all the survivors of the Rocky Mountain Airways Twin Otter turboprop that crashed in a blinding blizzard at the very top of one of the most inaccessible spots between Denver and Steamboat Springs, Colorado on Dec. 4, 1978. 

We follow the passengers and crew through their experience, and then the bands of rescue personnel who mobilized immediately to attempt to locate the wreckage and any potential survivors before they would invariably freeze to death on that desolate mountaintop.

As the NTSB later concluded, the Rocky Mountain Twin Otter encountered an unforeseen severe mountain wave which, when combined with some airframe icing, prevented the commuter airliner from climbing above 13,000 feet (the MEA in that area was 16,000 feet) and the airliner was then gradually forced down into the terrain, just barely clipping the top of the mountain at Buffalo Pass. 

The first miracle was that everyone survived the initial impact with the crest of the mountain, but if rescue folks didn’t locate them quickly (no one knew for sure where they had gone down, and it was the middle of the night in a driving blizzard), none of them would survive.

As the NTSB pointed out in the accident report, one of the things that disguised what was happening was that the mountain wave the flight was involved with was quite smooth. With no wind-induced turbulence to tip the crew off, the initial symptoms of decreasing climb performance seemed to be more related to either engine power output or airframe icing. When the pilot in command is not understanding why something is happening, it’s far more difficult to come up with a reasonable plan to correct the problem. 

My own experiences with mountain waves were certainly nowhere near as dramatic, but they were personally attention-getting. Being more of a flatland pilot, my initial exposure to the effects of wind across undulating terrain came from those small bumps in the earth around Kentucky and West Virginia that we Easterners call mountains.

About 50 years ago I was skittering around Eastern Kentucky in, if my memory serves me correctly, a Cessna 140 with a 90 hp engine. It was a breezy day—nothing too outlandish—and I was giving a student some dual in the art of crosswind landings at an outlying grass field we often used. 

After a half-dozen acceptable takeoffs and landings in the quartering wind that was 20, with maybe gusts to 25, we left the airport for a little local flying up higher to get away from the bumps. 

After a few steep turns and whatever else I thought the student could use, I figured that we’d top off our day with a simulated engine failure, then head back to the barn. I chopped the power and announced: “Engine failure.”

The student picked a field below in a reasonably wide valley between two rows of hills, and set up an approach to a large pasture. Down to about 300 feet everything looked fine, so I announced, “The engine is working again; just go around and head back to the airport.” The student complied.

Sort of. 

He did everything right. So did the airplane. But Mother Nature did not. The student pushed the power up to max; 90 horses surged into the prop, and he turned us toward the airport that was on the far side of the next ridgeline. But we were, I figured out later, on the leeward side!

At max power and max climb speed, we were barely holding altitude—and the ridgeline in front of us was getting nearer! I was getting less comfortable with every passing moment, until I finally said, “I’ve got it.” 

Suspecting there was something now wrong with our engine, I did a snappy one-eighty to head back for our simulated emergency landing field—one that I figured we might need for real. Partway back—and, it turns out, away from the effect of the downward wash of wind over the ridgeline—we began climbing normally again. We climbed to a higher altitude, then crossed that ridgeline far above the mini-mountain wave effect beneath us.

Many years later I was in a light twin flying between northern Colorado and Montana, where there are some real mountains by anyone’s standards. It was a breezy, clear day and I was flying at the MEA, enjoying the view of the ridgelines and canyons that passed below. 

What I noticed first was the airspeed slowly trickling away as the autopilot kept pitching us up a little more as it tried to hold our altitude. Again, my first thought was that something was wrong with the power output from the engines, or at least one of them.

Yet all the engine gauges were middle of the green. They sounded fine, too. So what could be happening? It took me a few moments to see the obvious: the line of higher mountains to the northwest of my location were at a right angle to the prevailing wind. We were apparently in a downwash of wind from them. 

I requested a higher altitude from ATC, pushed up climb power and while the rate of climb was a little lower to begin with, a few thousand feet of climb later, the performance numbers went back to normal as we got above the downward effect of the distant mountain wave.

But don’t think that only smaller airplanes are susceptible to this sort of wind-induced dilemma. About 30 years ago I was the captain of a Boeing 737-400 headed westbound to San Francisco over the middle of the biggest rocks in the Rockies. We were at FL310 on a windy day, with our ground speed being clobbered by the constant westward flow. Still, the sky was smooth—so all was well, right?

First clue: the sense of the airliner trying to climb, the autopilot rolling in nose-down trim and pulling off engine power to keep us at altitude. I commented to the copilot something insightful, like, “What the hell?” 

I disconnected the autopilot, reduced the power on both engines until they were back at idle—and we were still being propelled upward at over 2,000 feet per minute! It was hard to believe what the gauges were saying. I pulled out full speed brakes, and still we were climbing! 

The copilot told ATC that we couldn’t hold altitude; that we were being pushed up. We got to 35,000 feet and I began to seriously worry because, even thought the sky was still smooth, if we went much higher the air would be (in a manner of speaking) too thin to keep the wings from stalling—“coffin corner,” it’s called.

Then we hit the turbulence, which started at severe and quickly got worse. Our big Boeing airliner was simultaneously being pushed upward and churned all around the sky! We needed to get down—quickly—before the wings decided to do the job for us. 

I was just about to call for gear down (at this airspeed, it would have probably done some gear damage) to get more drag to stop us from climbing when, in the blink of an eye, the washing-machine sky we were in went dead calm.

We had popped out of this mountain wave-induced wind machine at 35,400 feet. We stopped climbing, the airspeed began to drop, and I then pushed engine power to a low cruise setting. After coordinating with ATC, we turned off our route that had us headed toward the highest mountains and eventually drifted back down to our assigned altitude of FL310.

So that’s what I spent Hurricane Irma doing: narrating the book “Miracle on Buffalo Pass,” which is about the results of a wind-induced accident, while listening to the winds howl around my own home. 

Like an old captain once told me nearly 60 years ago, “Son, don’t fool too much with Mother Nature. She can win anytime she wants to.”



Q&A: Selecting the most suitable backcountry tire for a 182’s nosewheel, slow gear door retraction on a 210 


I own a 1965 Cessna 182 Skylane. I would like to take the plane into Utah and Idaho backcountry strips. I would restrict the 182 to 8.50 tires, not larger. I would appreciate any comments on this. I know 8.50s will work on the mains. What do you recommend on the nosegear? Do you need to reinforce the nosegear or is it possible to just install the tire as-is? 


John Patton

Mancos, Colorado 


Hi John,

Here’s what I’ve found. You can install an 8.00-6, 6-ply rating tire on your existing main landing gear wheels without any additional approval since this change is listed in the “models” section in the General section in the front of the 100-series service manual. 

This same approval permits the installation of a 6.00-6, 4-ply rating tire in the nose position. However, you’ll have to get a 6-inch wheel assembly for the nose tire change since the normal nosegear wheel is a 5-inch for a 5.00-5 tire.

A larger nosewheel fork assembly is available for installation on your 182 from Airglas in Anchorage, Alaska. It is STC’d for installation and will permit a tire of up to 8.50-6 on the nose when 8.50-6 mains are installed. 

The Airglas fork and approval paperwork costs $2,625.

Airglas cites a loss of 8 mph true airspeed following the installation of its fork and larger tires. 

In both above nosegear “up-sizes” you will have to buy a 6-inch wheel (Cleveland 40-76A is recommended). The new price for that wheel assembly is just under $700. You may be able find a good used one.

That’s all you will need to install bigger tires. However, you should be aware that your 182—in fact all 182s built between 1962 and mid-1970—have a semi-fragile firewall. These models do not have the two firewall and tunnel reinforcements that Cessna began to install in mid-1970.

I would suggest you consider installing the firewall reinforcements if you plan to do a lot of backcountry flying. It’s possible that some time in the past the service kit (SK182-44C) that includes those reinforcements was installed in the field.

It’s easy to determine if the firewall and tunnel stiffener kit has been installed. If it has, you’ll see what is called a “hat” section of metal on the forward side of the firewall. The hat section reinforcement is installed diagonally between the upper engine mount bolt on the firewall and a spot near the center of the lower firewall. Each side will have the hat section reinforcement.

If you do not have the firewall service kit installed, and you want to install it prior to flying out to unimproved strips, you will have to call a Cessna parts authority to see what the lead time and price will be. (CFA members can call the Association at 626-844-0125 for parts locating assistance. It’s a membership benefit, and we’re happy to help. —Ed.)

Due to the “weakness” of the firewall prior to the reinforcement, I also recommend that you carry 60 pounds in the baggage compartment, especially if your preflight planning shows that you’ll land with the CG in the forward portion of the envelope. 

I always carried my toolbox in the baggage compartment of my 1966 182. If there is baggage there or if one of the back seats is occupied, it’s not needed. The point is to take steps to move the center of load aft to lighten the load on the nosegear and lessen the amount of up elevator needed to pitch up to the best touchdown attitude.

I also recommend that you take a mountain flying course prior to venturing too far into the “bush.” 

Good luck and happy flying,



Hi Steve,

I’m new to Cessna 210 ownership. I’m a tractor mechanic so I understand hydraulics pretty well. My problem is that my 1966 T210F’s landing gear works great, but the gear doors are slow to retract when in flight (gear up), which tells me that the system is low on hydraulic fluid and that it takes more fluid to retract than extend.

I have filled the system according to the manual, but I think there is some stupid detail that is escaping me. Please help.

Thanks in advance,


Hi Bill, 

The T210F is a good airplane. The landing gear extension and retraction system in your 210 is the same system (with a few tiny changes) used in 210s built from 1965 through 1971.

A question for you: Do you know if the doors also open slowly?

If so, there may be air in the system. The service manual suggests actuating the gear up/gear down cycle a few times while the airplane is on jacks and hooked to a hydraulic mule. If you don’t have a mule, you can probably bleed the system by actuating the gear up and down a few times while in flight.

According to the manual, the gear up time—including doors closed—should be 10.5 seconds (+5 seconds, -0 seconds), while gear down time—including doors closed—should be 7.5 seconds (+9 seconds, -2 seconds). These times do not include the time for the gear handle to return to neutral; only the times for the gear to travel up/down and the doors to completely close.

Please let me know how many seconds it takes for the doors to close during the gear up cycle.





Thanks for the reply. The gear works normally, except when retracted the doors will stay open for a while. The amount of time varies. Sometimes it’s just a few seconds; sometimes a few minutes.


Follow-up A:

So, if everything works well except the doors don’t always close, or the closing sequence is erratic, I would first look at each of the gear up switches on the landing gear. You should find a sticky switch, or a switch that isn’t tight on its mount, or a loose wire on one of the switches.

You can double-check this supposition by checking to see if the door control solenoid (it’s located on the forward side of the power pack) is being actuated the moment all three gear are fully up in the wells. When the gears are fully up, a switch on each gear will close completing the circuit to energize the door control solenoid. You can listen for movement or feel for the movement.

Let me know what you find,



Second follow-up:


I looked at all the switches and found them to be secure and the wires good also, so I took my multimeter and found that the right main switch was intermittent and a little dirty.
I cleaned it with some contact cleaner and hit it with some WD-40 and the problem went away. I also cleaned all the switches (up and down) the same way after I came back from doing some touch and goes and everything working as it should.

As they say, “Always do the cheap stuff first.”

Thanks for your help. Do you know a place that has those switches? At some point they will need to be replaced with new parts. 50 years is pretty good service.

Thanks again,


Second follow-up A:

Hi Bill,

Glad the problem was easy and inexpensive to solve.

The part number for those switches (they’re all the same) is S1377-1. If you go to a few Cessna parts suppliers, they will advise that the new Cessna number is P6-340005. List price is $618.27. 

You can buy new old stock (NOS) switches from any one of several companies that will be listed when you do a Google search of the old part number. The search will also show vendors in used parts. Every reputable used parts dealer I know of offers a money back or exchange guarantee.

Cessna Flyer Association members can take a shortcut. Members have access to a complimentary parts locating service; which is a great help for hard-to-find parts like these switches. 

Wouldn’t hurt to have one on the shelf.



Know your FAR/AIM and check with your mechanic before starting any work.



Airglas, Inc.


Yingling Aircraft 


Cessna Flyer Association


The High and Writey: Nightflight

Night Flight: An experienced night flyer shares his thoughts on aviating in the dark. 

“The villages were lighting up, constellations that greeted each other across the dusk. And, at the touch of his finger, his flying-lights flashed back a greeting to them. The earth grew spangled with light signals as each house lit its star, searching the vastness of the night as a lighthouse sweeps the sea. Now every place that sheltered human life was sparkling. And it rejoiced him to enter into this one night with a measured slowness, as into an anchorage.” 

  —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Night Flight”

I have often said that if the creator had wanted people to fly at night, she never would have invented happy hour. Humans are daytime creatures. We tend to get sleepy at night, and the more mature and sensible ones—like myself—hit the rack fairly early in the evening.

However, there is no real reason to avoid flying in the nighttime hours. There are quite a few advantages of slipping your surlies when the rest of the flying world slumbers. For example, it is impossible to get a sun-glare headache at night. The darkness found at night is not half as frightening as the darkness you run into if you enter a large thunderstorm during the day.

As I have mentioned around 10,000 times now, I used to be an airline pilot. Because I was an airline pilot, I flew an enormous amount of time late at night all over the world. When I was a very junior airline pilot, it seemed that all I ever did was fly very late at night. My first years’ trips were mostly all-nighters from one coast to another.

Later, when I got some seniority and was a captain of a very large subsonic people-mover, I flew a lot late at night because I was flying hundreds of people over oceans to various international destinations. You simply cannot fly international routes and not spend at least half of your time in the dark.

Even before my airline years, I spent quite a bit of time aviating in the evening. I flew an all-night canceled check run (kids, ask your parents about paper checks!) and flew most of my instrument students late at night.

The difference between night and day is it is generally darker at night. That is really the only difference. 

Your airplane does not care if it is flying at night or in the noontime bright. Aircraft performance does change because of variances in temperature, pressure altitude and the like, but they don’t fly through darkness any differently than they fly through bright daylight. 

We human pilots do operate differently at night than we do during the day. Our eyes and diurnal cycles have been designed and calibrated for use during the day. Our ancient forebears sought a cave or high tree limb at night because they knew that when it came to their eyesight, they had no chance against a nocturnal predator. 

The Federal Aviation Regulations recognize that flying at night is a different thing than daytime aviating. If you grab a copy of the regs, you will see that there are specific rules governing nighttime currency for pilots, but absolutely no specific daytime rules. I find that odd, but if I stopped and complained every time I thought that the FAA rules were weird, I’d never get anything done.

In the airline world that I just recently left, we never accounted for nighttime, or, for that matter, instrument time when it came to currency. We only had to follow the normal 90-day landing requirements. It was assumed that because we were flying transports all over the world that we were getting far more night time and actual instrument time than any of us wanted.


Reasons for and against flying at night

I can only think of two reasons you might think it is less safe to fly at night. One reason for non-instrument pilots is that at night it is hard—sometimes impossible—to see the horizon, making VFR flight a no-go. 

The second reason would be if you lost your only engine and had to do an emergency landing. It is very hard to find a safe place to land if you can’t see the ground or trees.

These are valid fears. It is true that the horizon is very hard to see on dark, moonless nights; open fields where you might set down a crippled airplane are also very hard to pick out. 

You certainly should never go flying if you think you would get disoriented, but if you consider all of the hazy and low-visibility daytimes you have flown, I think you’ll agree that the risk is about equal. The rule should be: never fly in any low-visibility situation—day or night—if you think you might lose the horizon.

It is true that if it is very dark and you lose your engine, you will have a difficult time picking your way between power lines and trees to make a successful engine-out landing. 

It is also true that there is often enough ambient light available at night because of the moon and other factors and you will probably do just fine. Know your route, know your limitations and plan accordingly.

Now that we have gotten the doom and gloom out of the way, let me tell you some of the ways that night flying is a lot better than sweating out a daytime flight:

• It is usually cooler and more comfortable at night. If you live in a part of the country that gets hot during the day, you will really enjoy the comfort of night flying. Your airplane will appreciate the lower temps and lower density altitude, too.

• Weather is usually nicer, and it is easier to spot. This is especially true during the time of year when there is a lot of afternoon convective activity. Also, thunderstorms are much easier to see at night than during the day because they have their very own internal strobes!

• Air Traffic Control can be more of a friend to you at night. The skies are less crowded, especially in congested areas, meaning you can get more “directs” and other favors out of your friendly controller. Warning areas, MOAs and the like are most likely “cold” during the night, meaning you can fly though them. 

• It is smoother at night. Well, it isn’t always smoother, but if you find bumpy air en route, it is much easier to get an altitude change to a smoother altitude. It is also true that your passengers are most likely asleep and are less apt to be whining and complaining if it gets bumpy.

• This is for you flight instructors out there: flight instruction is more efficient at night. You should consider advertising that you will do instrument flight instruction at night. Most of your potential students have jobs, and there are only so many available hours for instruction during a weekend. Why not fly your instrument students at night? During nighttime IFR training flights it is easier to get actual instrument time, and it is much easier to get the approach you want from your local approach controller because they have almost no other traffic to deal with. Trust me, CFIIs—this is a big moneymaker.

I hope you will try doing your next flight at night. Take along your instructor if it has been a while since you aviated in the dark, but don’t fear the darkness! 

If you have a couple of good flashlights, a good airplane and do a little prior planning, I guarantee that you will not only have a great flight, you will also unleash the potential of your aircraft to have almost twice the available hours to fly than you had before.