Featured Bush Planes


In the spirit of Springtime, here are four accounts of loving owners who took their Cessnas from long-in-the-tooth and outdated to refreshed and modernized; at least in some regard, rejuvenated.

By | April 26, 2014 12:00 am
As if birthed anew in the Spring, 4 Cessnas get rejuvenating makeovers. As if birthed anew in the Spring, 4 Cessnas get rejuvenating makeovers. Zane Jacobson

Few would argue that some of the best backcountry birds are those that rolled off the manufacturing line between 30 and 50 years ago, but economics and marketing had other plans for the direction of the general aviation fleet. The Cessna Skywagon-- arguably the aircraft by which all other bushplanes would be measured in the second half of the 20th century-- saw its last serial numbers roll off the line in the early 1980's, so a finite number remain. The best models-- the lightest weight models as rumor has it-- were the early Skywagons from the late 1950's, and many have lived a storied life, some cared for better than others.

What does a guy do if he finds a dated but otherwise good specimen for a good price? As we've seen in the forums in the last year, owing in no small part to the infectious innovation of Big Renna, the answer to that question is: He guts the interior, yanks the panel, strips the paint, and takes otherwise extremely severe measures in the hope that he'll end up with a better than new aircraft. Not actually new, but reborn. In the spirit of Springtime, rejuvenated.

MountainMatt's 1958 Cessna 180A

by Matt Schantz

Where to start?!

The Cessna 180 is an excellent aircraft no matter how many modifications and perks it has. I like keeping things simple, as simple usually works well for my needs. But, I also have the problem of personalizing anything I buy to meet my specific mission. I didn't expect to go this far this fast when I bought the stock 57 year old 180A, but I won’t complain.

The excavation begins.

I have upgraded a few things during 2013 including 31" bush wheels, brakes, 88" prop, and B.A.S. shoulder harnesses. I wanted to get through the first year of ownership in the "stock" configuration before I started adding mods. That year came and went quickly, and I wanted to make a good thing even better, so the project phase began. The main goal for the project was to remove the unnecessary weight, simplify the panel and add family features and comfort.

This might as well be the tailings of an archeological dig.

My budget is fairly limited, so I went for the low hanging fruit. The panel was packed full of heavy, old and unneeded avionics (this is where the madness actually started). The interior was in good shape, but old, uncomfortable and heavy. And for family flights, an extended baggage and new seats were in order. I shopped for deals for months leading up to this project, as well as asked for discounts from manufactures. Saving a little here and there adds up and has helped a lot.

Interior of the skins stripped and cleaned. A fresh coat of interior paint-- this will be the new finished interior.

At this point in the game, I have the interior gutted, stripped and painted. The stock front and rear seats have been completely overhauled. F.Atlee Dodge firewall battery, SBS-J16 lightweight battery, AirGlas carbon fiber extended baggage, Selkirk foam, Aerofloor DOT flooring and ACK 406mHz ELT have all been installed. The panel has been upgraded to a simple, yet useful modern VFR panel including a Garmin SL40, Garmin 696 GPS, Garmin GDL-39, Electronics International UBG-16 engine analyzer, Electronics International FP-5 fuel flow computer, and 4 place intercom. First flight is just around the corner!

In keeping with the minimalist/utility interior, Aerofloor was used instead of carpet.

As with most projects, the unexpected and miscellaneous repairs come into play. I didn’t expect it to take this long, or cost this much, but things are still on track and reasonable. The attention to detail and amount of work stripping the old black "goo" and glue from the interior is labor intensive (but worth it!). As with most projects, the devil is in the details, so the focus is on doing it right. In the end I will have a plane built for my mission, one that I will enjoy for many years to come. I hope to remove over 125 lbs of weight and have a simple, yet more functional and comfortable plane in the end. I also realize that this isn’t the end. A Sportsman STOL kit, a CGR-30, alternator conversion and polished exterior are on the list, but I have to be realistic with time and budget and get to a satisfactory stopping point.

This plane was made to fly and enjoy the backcountry after all.

BCP janitor Matt Schantz and his beloved Skywagon.

Enjoy Matt's entire rejuvenation photo gallery:

Bart's 1958 Cessna 180A

by Aaron Bartels

When I bought my 1958 Cessna 180A a few months ago, I knew it wasn't a perfect airplane but it looked great and was set up pretty well for backcountry type missions so I pulled the trigger and bought it. It has a VFR panel with the 3 standard gyros that will get me out of trouble if needed, along with an 88" Macauley "seaplane" propeller for a little better performance, and a nice sling style rear seat for the rare occasion that I will be carrying people instead of my dog back there; a very light seating option that's easy to stow in the plane until necessary. The single com radio, transponder and intercom that it came with also compliments the majority of my mission, with the added benefit of keeping it light and simple.

The biggest shortcoming of this airplane was the mess of wiring behind the instrument panel. Of course most airplanes of this vintage have seen many changes to radios and instruments over their lives...this one was no exception. The method that which previous owners and mechanics dealt with these changes was less than satisfactory in my eyes. Besides the tangled mess, there was about 3 pounds worth of wiring and components that no longer had any reason to be there. To be honest, I could have lived with a little mess under there, but there was a safety factor to be considered as well. Hot wires terminated with a pair of cutters just waiting to find a ground, and circuit breakers that I had no idea the circuits to which they belonged, were the main hazards here. These are the problem areas that prompted me one day to start ripping everything out and start fresh.

Aaron, like so many before him, contorting himself to work on the interior of a Cessna.

This little wiring project, however, morphed into a bigger beast than I had originally intended, but given my penchant for this kind of work, I can't say I was surprised. Next was removal of the carpet, headliner, and pretty much everything else in the cabin that wasn't riveted in place...and the cleaning, stripping, painting, gluing, fabricating, and installing follows. All this work, and I haven't even started the wiring which was the whole reason for this project in the first place!! In the middle of all this are the "while I'm at its", and "might as wells". You know... while I'm doing all the re-wiring, might as well get a new alternator and buy new circuit breakers and switches too....and why not make a new instrument panel and replace tired instruments with a couple new and more modern type instruments. While I'm cleaning up the interior, I might as well install a new windshield, have the front seats re-done, and add new flooring along with an extended baggage compartment. Oh, and safety first...I might as well put in some inertia reel shoulder harnesses and add a 406 MHz ELT since I'm knee deep in projects anyways.

All kidding aside, I really do love this kind of work, but I also love to fly, so this project more closely resembles a "rejuvenation" rather than an "overhaul". Getting back in the air in a timely manner is what keeps me motivated to finish up and have a nice looking, clean, safe and functional backcountry airplane. Hopefully I'll even have some gas money left after it's all done!

Brand new... after sweat, blood, and tears.

Enjoy Bart's entire gallery:

Barnstormer's 1973 Cessna A185

by Phil Whittemore

When I purchased my Wagon I had a choice of buying her with a "runout" engine, or having a Lycon rebuild installed for an additional $25k. I chose the latter.

The A185's with original black plastic bezel removed from the panel and the interior gutted.

The first mod I did was to replace the Cessna fixed shoulder harness/seat belts with BAS Inertia Reel Shoulder Harness systems so I could reach the Johnson Bar.

The second mod was an AirWolf Remote Oil Filter kit so I could get the longest life possible from the new engine. And then a Tanis Heater.

Next a set of GAMIjectors and a JPI EDM 711 so I could run the engine Lean Of Peak, not so much to save on fuel, but to keep the engine cleaner inside to get the longest life. Installing the EDM necessitated removing the black plastic instrument panel overlays, and it looked so much better with just the metal panels - I tossed the plastic.

A recent photo of the A185 with completed panel and interior. In accordance with BCP guidelines, a utility interior.

Now I saw how bad the yokes looked with nearly all the paint missing from the pilot side, and one of the emblems missing, so I pulled them and shipped them off to be restored. With those gone it was more obvious the seats needed to be recovered so out they came. Then I saw how badly the door panels looked, then the plastic panels throughout the cockpit, then the carpet, then the headliner. With all these out I installed Door Stewards. By now I was completely out of control.

The Cessna fuel gauges worked - like Cessna fuel gauges. Now they're full, now they're empty, now they're full, now they're partial full, etc. Decided to replace those and the sending units. If I'm doing them then I have to replace the oil pressure, oil temp, cylinder head temp, and amp meter as they are all part of the six pack. Now I have to do a new panel so let's add a CO gauge and a vertical card compass, and relocate all the gauges and dials so their location actually makes sense. While we are at it let's replace all the switches and breakers, and add a Maxpulse so we can flash our landing and taxi lights, which now only last about 20 minutes before the filaments burn out, so lets replace them with LEDs. Let's replace the old air flow cans with Precise Air Flow Vents.

And let's try 26 inch tires, great. Now let's go to 29's. Since we have the interior out let's add a PPonk Gear Beef-up Kit. Since we are in Texas let's install Cowl Louvers.

Sometimes considered the most valuable upgrade: 29" Alaskan Bushwheels.

The Wagon was 40 years old and for every one thing we upgraded we'd find three or fours things that were wrong, broken, about to break, worn out, or petrified. I guess what surprised me the most was the wrong stuff, and there was a lot of it.

I'm completely happy with the outcome and would do it again. Everything now works, and most of it works better then new.

There is only one mod left that I will definitely do, and that's adding altitude hold to the auto pilot. Other mods that I've considered are RSTOL drooping ailerons and a 3-blade propellor, but at this point I'm still unsure if I'll do them.

The proud owner with his Skywagon.

Enjoy Barnstormer's entire rejuvenation gallery:

RobW56's 1953 Cessna 170B

by Rob Farland

The Cessna 170 makes a great light duty bushplane. Equipped and flown properly, it will get you in and out of many places in the backcountry, even some of the most challenging airstrips. I have owned my 170 for nearly 4 years and have flown it to many true backcountry destinations, and over that time I have continually modified it to better suit my mission.

Rob's 170 with its former paint scheme. This aircraft has particular sentimental value to the editor.

The first major change I made was installing an 80" McCauley 1A175DM8042 "seaplane" prop to help make use of all 145hp of my Continental C-145. I lost 12mph in cruise over the standard prop, but I gained a much needed increase in takeoff and climb performance for flying in and out of higher altitude airstrips.

The next major improvement I added was a Sportsman STOL kit. This leading edge cuff lowered the stall speed significantly, and greatly improved the low speed maneuverability. It easily lowered my approach speeds by at least 10mph. For shortfield landings I can comfortably approach at 45mph resulting in much shorter landings. The new Vx is 48mph allowing steeper climbouts.

Gone is the patchwork of zinc chromate and glue, replaced by a beautiful grey enamel with thin foam insulation; that's it. That's the interior.

I also added a set of 26" Alaskan Bushwheels along with double puck Cleveland brakes and baby bushwheel tailwheel. These are a must have in my opinion for any off-airport flying or landing on rough terrain or gravel bars with larger rocks.

To further improve the versatility of my 170, in December of 2013 I decided to start a major refurbishment project on the aircraft. The major focus for this project was removing things that I don't need in an effort to decrease the empty weight of the aircraft as much as possible, which in turn will increase my useful load and increase performance.

The new paint scheme: Lighter weight and a nod to the original look as it exited the factory.

I started by gutting the interior and the panel. I removed 66 lbs of interior panels, carpet, headliner, old gyros, old antennas and wiring, and various other items that will no longer be needed. The original gyros, venturis, vacuum lines, regulator, and suction guage saved me 15 lbs alone. The interior was then completely stripped of the old paint and a fresh coat of gray PPG was applied. The panel will be very basic and light weight. With all the extra space I have by removing the gyros I have mounted an iPad Mini running foreflight in a flush AirGizmos panel dock.

The new minimal panel featuring an iPad Mini running Foreflight.

Another way I'm saving weight is by stripping the paint off the fuselage, tail, and wings. A paint job can weigh as much as 40 lbs on a plane the size of a Cessna 170. I won't be completely without paint though. After stripping the entire airplane the original paint scheme from 1953 was clearly visible. I've always loved the original paint schemes on these airplanes and the old lines would be easy to replicate since they were still visible. The original red paint scheme was reapplied with the only deviation being a red leading edge.

The front seats will be redone utilizing "bladders" and light weight foam, 5lbs can be knocked off of each seat by doing this. Some of the other things I will be doing on this project are installing a Selkirk extended baggage area, 1/4 inch black Selkirk foam throughout the cabin, new McFarlane seat rails and rollers, Atlee Dodge folding jump seats, new tinted side windows and windshield, and numerous other small items. I started with an empty weight of 1400lbs on bushwheels and with the rear seat in. When it's all done I hope to have an empty weight of 1300 lbs on bushwheels and 1275 lbs or less on 8.00s, giving me a full fuel payload of just over 700 lbs.

Enjoy RobW56's entire rejuvenation gallery:


Zane Jacobson

Zane Jacobson is the founder/editor of Backcountry Pilot and currently flies a variety of rental aircraft around his home area of Portland, Oregon while continuing construction of his Bearhawk.

Website: www.backcountrypilot.org

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