Better-Than-New Skywagon — Texas Cessna 180

By Eric Medsger, EAA 1079073

This story first ran in the September 2019 issue of EAA Sport Aviation.

I purchased N9177C, my 1955 Cessna 180, in November 2012 in San Diego, California. It was out of annual and had extensive corrosion but was otherwise a complete and mostly original aircraft with logbooks showing about 5,700 hours’ total time. My father and I drove out, disassembled the airplane, and drove it home on a car dolly.

The airplane was completely disassembled including every nut, bolt, screw, pulley, cable, control, gasket, bearing, window, and wire. Over the next four and a half years, I began restoring every component and developed a plan to set the airplane up for backcountry operations. I did all of the work myself as an A&P/IA mechanic, including the paint, sheet metal work, modifications, avionics wiring, and engine overhaul and assembly. I had to contract out the upholstery because that’s one area where I don’t have any expertise.

More than 40 STCs were integrated during the restoration. Major ones included a P.Ponk O-470-50 engine, three-bladed McCauley C401 propeller, Wing-X wing extensions, Sportsman leading edge cuff, vortex generators, Alaskan Bushwheel 29-inch tires, a Baby Bushwheel tail wheel, Monarch extended range fuel tanks (91 gallons usable), Selkirk extended baggage compartment, and a full glass instrument panel.

Due to the corrosion, the wings ended up requiring more work than I was willing to invest. I replaced them with a serviceable set rather than repair them. The replacement wings required extensive modification to incorporate the Wing-X extension and reinforcements, allowing a 400-pound gross weight increase to 2,950 pounds. Additionally, there was extensive cleanup, repair, and treatment to prevent future corrosion on the rest of the airframe. The entire structure was acid etched, Alodined, epoxy primed inside and out, and then painted with Jet Glo polyurethane.

Every electrical wire, switch, circuit breaker, relay, and connector was replaced and upgraded. The battery was moved to the firewall, and the old wet-cell Gill was replaced with an Odyssey battery, saving about 12 pounds. The avionics allowed for complete removal of the vacuum system. A new instrument panel was cut from aluminum, powder-coated, and silk-screened for new placards and switch and circuit breaker labels. All-new LED lights were installed, and the airplane does not have any incandescent bulbs remaining.

Avionics included an Aspen PFD 1000 Pro EFIS, Garmin GTN 650 GPS/nav/comm, Garmin G5 backup EFIS, JPI EDM 930 primary engine data display and monitor that allowed removal of all factory-installed instrumentation, a PS Engineering PMA8000G Bluetooth audio panel, and Garmin GTR 225 comm and GTX 345 ADS-B In/Out transponder. A Mid-Continent MD93 digital clock and USB charger was also installed. It took significant planning to spread out the avionics so the panel didn’t look bare without all of the massive original instrumentation.

The paint scheme evolved over time, I wanted to do something other than base white and eventually settled on aviation gray with gloss black. The bright lime green was chosen for contrast and to modernize the scheme while also complementing the classic design. The paint is single-stage Jet Glo polyurethane. I built a 9-by-14-foot paint booth in my workshop, and the larger pieces were painted in a pull-through garage.

The interior is a mix of Selkirk fiberglass aft of the doors and Airtex side and door panels, carpet, and headliner. We chose to install LakeVue fold-up rear seats that are easily removable. That, combined with the flat floor extended baggage, allows plenty of room to sleep in the back. I installed fully articulating seats and covered them with temper foam. The Cessna logo was embroidered into the seatbacks and then sewed up with lime green seat stitching and black and gray leather.

The engine had previously been converted from an O-470-J to an -R via field approval in the 1970s. I choose to further upgrade it with the P.Ponk O-520 (technically an O-470-50) STC. It’s advertised as having 275 hp, and I then had the new Millennium cylinders flow balanced, installed a Leading Edge tuned exhaust, added new Airforms baffling, and overhauled or replaced all of the engine accessories. It should produce pretty close to 300 hp. The climb rate, takeoff, and landing distances are simply amazing, and the airplane is incredibly fun to fly!

All of the work was completed at my home workshop. When it came time for final assembly the fuselage, wings, and major components were trailered to Kickapoo Downtown Airport (KCWC). It took about a week to get all of the parts put back together, rigged, tested, and ready for the first flight, while the paperwork — logbook entries, annual, AD research, and 44 FAA Form 337s —took almost a month. The first flight on June 25, 2017, went well. The airplane only required a few minor rigging tweaks. Since then we have flown it more than 200 hours and just recently completed an 8,000-nm trip to Alaska and back, culminating at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 where the N9177C won runner-up for best Customized Classic. In the future, we look forward to another trip to Alaska, installing an autopilot, and installing the new SureFly electronic magneto as soon as it’s certified.

I was lucky enough to have a super supportive wife. She’s a pilot who also flies the airplane and encouraged me through the estimated 4,000 hours of work that went into this project. I can also attest to the fact that “empty shop syndrome” is, in fact, a real disease that set in for me about six months after 77C was done and flying. Next up are a ’77 Cardinal RG and ’74 Piper Warrior.

Share your craftsmanship with EAA Sport Aviation readers worldwide! Send us a photo and description of your project and we’ll consider using it in the What Our Members are Building/Restoring section of the magazine. Please include your name, address, and EAA number. 

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