Cessna 182

It was a beautiful spring day for an airplane ride, which I was asked to give to a very important and even famous client (and his two friends) over our Ozark Mountains in my Cessna 182S. As an instrument pilot having flown for years, I knew the importance of getting the exact weight of my client and his two adult friends, whom I was yet to meet before the flight. So following FAA safety guidelines, I got their weights over the phone. These would easily fit within the weight and balance envelope with my tanks only half full, as indicated by my ForeFlight app. I never realized that a hidden trap was awaiting me until I first saw all three of them at the airport.

Cessna 182

The Cessna 182 is famous for hauling big loads, but there is a limit.

When they drove up to the airport and walked up to my airplane, they were obviously very excited to have a bird’s-eye perspective, and were armed with their cameras. They indicated they wanted to take pictures over our beautiful Ozark Mountains, and specifically asked to fly over Bull Shoals Lake and its dam, circle back over the White River, follow the North Fork River to the Norfork Lake and dam, and then fly back to Gaston’s Resort where we might land on the resort’s grass airstrip and enjoy a nice leisurely steak dinner while overlooking the White River.

On my past trips to Alaska, I had noticed that many smaller Alaskan families owned Cessna 182s, which were usually on floats. Since there are so few roads in Alaska, the “family car” was their Cessna 182—it was the only means of transportation to get anywhere beyond their local area. Seeing so many Cessna 182 airplanes on floats and/or amphibian landing gear, I asked these Alaskans why they favored the Cessna 182 in their area. Their answers universally highlighted their belief that the Cessna 182 was a very forgiving airplane. As a result of that and the high expense of a retractable gear, I bought a Cessna 182S, changing the panel to a glass cockpit and later replacing the engine with a new 260-horsepower Lycoming. At that time, I really didn’t fully appreciate the forgiving nature of my airplane that would ultimately save me from my stupidity on this flight.

When they got out of their car and boarded my Cessna, I knew that the weights given me were well below their actual weights. Both of the passengers and friends of my client in the back seat could not even buckle their seat belt until my almost “huffing and puffing” help added to their efforts to get them belted in. And I was certain that they should be uncomfortable with their lap belts so tight. Yet their anticipation and excitement for the flight still reigned supreme.

When I finally taxied over for takeoff to our 5,001-foot, hard-surfaced runway, I could sense our total weight was probably beyond limits. Yet that normally tragic scenario that all pilots have to fight of “get- there-itis” prevailed. Still, I reasoned that we had a long runway. And with 20 degrees of flaps with a short field takeoff procedure waiting for over 65 knots or so before liftoff, I felt everything would work out. So I  lined up at the very end of the runway and gave my plane full throttle while holding the brakes. When I released the brakes, I was surprised at how slow my airplane initially started its roll. In hindsight, I should have stopped my takeoff at this point and ejected one of my important client’s friends. But that ever-evil get-there-itis feeling prevailed, and I kept my roll going to the end of the runway, clearing the fence at the end of the runway by about 200 feet.

Although my passengers never knew my takeoff fears that I might not get my 182 off the runway, once airborne, to their mutual satisfaction, I told them that I was going to fly longer than planned—and left off the fact that I needed to burn off more gas before landing. Obviously, the planned grass strip landing at Gaston’s Resort was canned. I told them that we would need to land back at my airport after our flight, park my plane in my hangar, and then I’d drive them to Gaston’s for that steak dinner.

Overhead shot of runway

If it takes almost all 5000 feet to lift off, you’re probably over max gross weight.

I’m sharing this story so that other pilots won’t make my mistake. My stupidity and desire to please my important client combined with get-there-itis could have easily resulted in yet another terrible statistic. But from that experience arose a lesson well-learned, and I resolved that it will never happen again. I now have a medically precise scale in my hangar which gives me actual weights of my passengers, so I can make a correct weight and balance determination before I even get in my airplane. Importantly, so there are not any embarrassments or misunderstandings, when I know the weights may be even close to the maximum takeoff weight, I always tell new passengers before the flight that they should expect to be weighed before the flight.

I know that if I’d have owned some other model of aircraft that takeoff would have been much less forgiving, and perhaps disastrous. Unfortunately, some passengers think “I may be fat, but I’m thin inside!” Yes, there’s a thin man inside every fat man. But if they tell you their ideal weight, that has nothing to do with their actual weight. And when you assume they are giving you their actual weight, assuming can make an “ass” out of “u” and “me” to our destruction.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

Rick Spencer
15 replies
  1. Fred F.
    Fred F. says:

    I recall once in a similar situation using standard weights for W&B, but when the passengers arrived they were obviously over standard weights. The C172 was slow to take off and slow to climb. I definitely added a few knots to the approach speeds before landing since I knew my stall speed would be higher. Never again. Always ask for weights and if in doubt, use a scale.

    Reply
  2. Mike T
    Mike T says:

    Had a very similar situation a few years ago where I couldn’t get better than 250 fpm climb in my Archer. Scary stuff in a hilly and fairly densely populated area. Was set up the same way more recently and this time I was smart enough to scrub the flight when the passengers showed up. Instead we took a lovely drive through the eastern townships of Quebec. Passengers were initially disappointed but when I explained the risk they were fully understanding and we still had a great day sightseeing.

    Reply
  3. Carson Wagner
    Carson Wagner says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. It’s important that we’re not afraid to abort the takeoff and shove someone out the window last minute.

    Reply
  4. Dobie
    Dobie says:

    I recruited three students from the San Jose State Aero Dept to ferry three planes from San Jose to Sacramento. 90% of my flying was solo and W&B was never given a thought. Four of us loaded up for the return trip to San Jose in my 172 and as soon as we began rolling down the runway I knew we were over gross. Did I abort? Nah, too stupid for that. Too stupid to even be fearful. We mushed into the air and made our destination without incident. That was forty years ago but the lesson has stuck with me. Thanks, Clyde, for your forgiving airplanes.

    Reply
    • Bill P
      Bill P says:

      I picked up a buddy and two girls (you can see where this is going) and did a mid field takeoff. We cleared the trees at the end and had a great flight.

      Not a over gross situation but a stupid pilot situation.

      Reply
  5. MICHAEL KLEIN
    MICHAEL KLEIN says:

    Thank you for sharing this experience. W & B was heavily stressed during initial training while on active duty with the USAF. This has always stayed with me for the past 35 years. I was pleasantly impressed while vacationing in Hawaii when we decided to take a helicopter tour of Maui. After entering the office to make payment and before being taken to the helicopter, we were each asked to step on the scale next to the counter. After returning home, I spent $19.95 on a scale at Costco and placed it under the workbench in our hangar. We all “fib” about our weight. When taking passengers for a Bay Area tour of the Golden Gate, everyone is asked to step on the scale. On only two occasions did I have to make two separate trips in my Cesnna 182P in order stay within the envelope. That is why it is called “pre-flight” planning and not “pre-accident” planning.

    Reply
  6. John Opalko
    John Opalko says:

    Been there; done that; never again.

    People, especially non-pilots who can’t be expected to understand the implications, will, if not lie, be overly optimistic about their weight. A scale is your best friend. If someone doesn’t want to be weighed, they stay on the ground. It’s really tough to do, but it will help everyone stay alive.

    Reply
  7. RALPH M HALL
    RALPH M HALL says:

    My brother-in-law and I were flying to an 140 mile distant Air Show in his Ercoupe. We should have taken my Piper Cherokee 160. Our cooler with food & cold drinks, sleeping bags, etc. were loaded, but nothing got weighed, & no Wt. & Bal. was done. At noon on a clear, very warm summer day, we revved up the Ercoupe’s little engine and slowly rolled away down the concrete runway. Midway we were doing only 40mph! The only smart part of this story is we aborted at that moment! After returning to the ramp & unloading everything thing but the two of us, we took off with no problem and flew back home before duskinstead of our plan to “sleeping outdoors” that night! Being smart beats having fun!

    Reply
  8. Bob Yarmey
    Bob Yarmey says:

    I don’t mind rubbing egg on my face as your honest and well articulated article flashed me back to a very similar near tragedy in a C-182 from 50 years ago. Being a rookie CFI anxious to build my time, I was summoned by the FBO manager to fly a cargo flight (spools of heavy cable) to the cargo facility at BDL. The manufacturer’s delivery reps packed the airplane from which all but my seat had been removed. Like yourself, the greatly extended takeoff roll shocked me.
    My intended cruise altitude (7,500 MSL) was futile and skimming the Berkshire Hills at 3,000 was the best I could coax her to finally get to. The FBO manager assured I would be provided a weight manifest – as I recall appx 1,100 lbs.
    Trusting THEIR paperwork, off this eagerly can do rookie CFI launched for the 45 minute VFR flight. By the grace of God – and considerable extra power on approach I made it to the cargo ramp. I insisted a weight check be conducted to learn I was actually 800 pounds over what they misrepresented! I vowed to not trust everything; trust your intuition; don’t hesitate to do a RTO if things don’t seem right early and learn to temper my eagerness to get er done.
    Still actively instructing as an old BUT NOT BOLD aviator. PTL.

    Reply
  9. Bob Yarmey
    Bob Yarmey says:

    Bob Yarmey
    July 31, 2022 at 10:00 pm
    I don’t mind rubbing egg on my face as your honest and well articulated article flashed me back to a very similar near tragedy in a C-182 from 50 years ago. Being a rookie CFI anxious to build my time, I was summoned by the FBO manager to fly a cargo flight (spools of heavy cable) to the cargo facility at BDL. The manufacturer’s delivery reps packed the airplane from which all but my seat had been removed. Like yourself, the greatly extended takeoff roll shocked me.
    My intended cruise altitude (7,500 MSL) was futile and skimming the Berkshire Hills at 3,000 was the best I could coax her to finally get to. The FBO manager assured I would be provided a weight manifest – as I recall appx 1,100 lbs.
    Trusting THEIR paperwork, off this eagerly can do rookie CFI launched for the 45 minute VFR flight. By the grace of God – and considerable extra power on approach I made it to the cargo ramp. I insisted a weight check be conducted to learn I was actually 800 pounds over what they misrepresented! I vowed to not trust everything; trust your intuition; don’t hesitate to do a RTO if things don’t seem right early and learn to temper my eagerness to get er done.
    Still actively instructing as an old BUT NOT BOLD aviator. PTL.

    Reply
  10. Bob W
    Bob W says:

    Just wanted to quickly point out that C182 short-field takeoff procedure calls for rotation at something like 49 KIAS and a 20-degree flap Vx of something like 58 KIAS. With half fuel, and assuming 1000 pounds of passengers, the gross weight would have been around 3200 pounds, only about 100 pounds over gross. So performance shouldn’t have been too much worse than the book numbers for 3100 pounds. Assuming a warm Arkansas day (1000 feet and 30C), the ground roll using short field technique is about 1000 feet and the distance over a 50-foot obstacle is about 2000 feet. That leaves 3000 more feet to climb by the end of the runway. If you pitch over at 50 feet, clean up the flaps, and climb at Vy, around 79 KIAS, you should get about 700 feet per minute at gross weight, which gives you another 300 feet or so by the end of the 5000 foot runway, for a total climb of 350 feet. So by accelerating to over 65 KIAS on the takeoff roll, I think you actually cost yourself about 150 feet of clearance over that fence. By my estimate you actually weren’t too much over gross (only 100 pounds or so) and you appear to have been just inside the aft CG limit. The take-away from this story for me is more about the benefits of correct short field procedure than it is about weight and balance.

    Reply
    • Bob W
      Bob W says:

      Also, assuming a 1000 foot field elevation and a 30C temp, the DA would have been pretty close to 3000 feet. The article doesn’t mention leaning prior to takeoff, so I’m not sure if it was a factor, but leaning prior to takeoff may have helped both the ground roll and the climb rate in this case.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.