Crash history C182 vs Bonanza
Fifteen years ago I did a safety study on both the Cessna 182 and the Bonanza A36 and because those legacy transportation airplanes remain in limited production, I thought I would look at them then and now and then stir in some Cirrus.
Iowned a Cessna 182 for a couple of years and 1 000 hours in it, whilst I have flown every model of the Bonanza ever built, except the current G36. With that in mind I have always considered these two airplanes to be brave, courageous and true in the finest sense of those words. The picture presented 15 years ago was based on accidents that happened in preceding years. The same is true of the accident picture presented for the current time. An airplane’s accident history is directly related to what people do with that airplane.The Cessna 182 and Bonanza 36 have been staples in the private aviation travel fleet since they were introduced in 1956 and 1968 respectively. Sure, people just ride around in these airplanes, but most of the time they are going somewhere and history has proven that the longer the trip, the greater chance of weather trouble.
The Bonanza 36 is faster so it has been used over longer distances and in more IFR operations. The Cessna 182 is simpler and a good step-up from the ubiquitous Cessna 172 so it is used over somewhat shorter distances and more VFR than IFR flying. The Bonanza 36 cruises at 160-175 knots where the Cessna 182 does 135-145 knots and while that difference does not seem like a lot, it really is if you are flying a substantial distance. I think it is safe to say that the Cessna 182 and Bonanza 36 fleets are about the same size or a little smaller now than in the previous period. The production numbers have not been large and accidents and retirements have probably outnumbered production.
With either airplane though, you can restore the oldest one and have the basic capability of a new one for a fraction of the price. I calculated that the Cessna 182 had a fatal accident rate of 0.74 per 100,000 hours in the earlier period. That was better than the average for the private airplane fleet and only the 172 was better at 0.56.
I used accidents from two years, to get a meaningful sample. In this period, the Cessna 182 had 17 fatal accidents. Fifteen years later a two-year period found 14 fatal accidents. Because the fleet hours flown would likely only be slightly lower that suggests that the accident rate has not changed much and is still quite good. In the first sample, about half the events came as a pilot continued VFR into adverse weather.
Two were IFR. Several low-speed loss of control accidents (stall / spin) occurred on go-arounds. There was but one power-related accident and it was related to carburettor icing during an IFR flight over rough terrain. New Cessna 182s have fuel injected engines to address this problem.
Fast forward and there were no fatal accidents on go-arounds but there were three stall / spins at other times. One airplane was lost on an IFR flight after a significant icing encounter.
There were two fatal accidents after the mechanical failure of the engine which was something that did not show up in the previous period. If one thing stands out in the latest accident picture, it would be mountains. Several of the Cessna 182s lost were operating in quite high terrain and hit mountains. One did report an engine problem before the accident in a mountainous area but a reason for the problem was not established. The differing accident patterns over time suggest that Cessna 182s are being used a bit differently now. Pilots do not appear to be pushing weather as much when flying VFR and that one IFR icing accident suggests that most of those operating the airplane IFR are doing so with good care.
In undertaking safety studies over the years, as a dedicated single-engine advocate, have always been encouraged by the almost complete lack of engine-failure related fatal accidents in singles. That appears to be changing, by at least a bit and I fear that the trend will continue as the airplanes age and the price of overhaul or replacement goes up as the value of the airframe goes down. Pilots are free to buy and fly older models, but it needs to be understood that the risk goes up if plenty of TLC money is not spent.
I had one significant icing encounter in my C182 in 1970. We lived in Little Rock and were going to Fayetteville to watch the Razorbacks play SMU. The possibility of icing was mentioned in the telephone weather briefing but to me it was clearly okay to have a look. A cold front had passed and while there can be icing behind a cold front, it usually is not severe because the clouds have had time to get cold and try to freeze those pesky super-cooled water droplets. I changed altitudes several times and finally found an ice-free level after accumulating what I estimated to be between a half inch and an inch of ice. The airplane was flying fine and had lost only about 10 knots of indicated airspeed.
The weather at FYV was overcast and I remember the surface wind as being from 300 at 20 to 30 knots. I was quite familiar with the area and the rough terrain around the airport so was not at all surprised at the rather wild turbulence during the circling approach, the only one available at the time. I got some more ice on the first part of the descent but it started to melt off at about 2,000 feet agl. I left the flaps up and the gusty crosswind landing was okay. It was just another day at the office except for a little last-minute drama.
Another airplane, a Southern Airways DC-9 charter, came up on the frequency, destination Fayetteville, as I was flying the turbulent approach. I remember thinking that a circling approach with a ceiling that close to the surrounding hills in a DC-9, with a strong tailwind on base leg and crosswind on Runway 34 would be a lot more challenging than the same thing in a Cessna182. I do not remember the exact conversation but the controller, who was obviously a pilot and familiar with the area, asked the airline crew if they were familiar with the airport. The answer was that they had never been there, which was completely legal for that operation at that time. The controller started describing the runway and the terrain and the turbulence and the ice and the circling approach and the crew opted to divert to Fort Smith and let the team take a bus to Fayetteville.
There was plenty of time for them to arrive in time for the game. A bit later, early the evening of the same day a Southern DC-9 was flying a non-precision approach to an airport in rough terrain, Huntington, WV, an airport the crew had not visited before. For reasons never fully established, they descended below the MDA, hit a hillside and the Marshall University football team and a lot of other folks died.
The C182 with the much more recent ice problem was at 8,000 feet when the pilot reported rime ice and asked for 10,000.Then he asked for 8,000 and then 6,000 and then 4,000, reporting ice all the while and finally saying that he could not maintain 4,000. At 2,500 feet the flight was in VMC.
The airplane was quite obviously crippled by the ice and a decision was made to land on a road where some trees alongside the road intervened. Of the three on board, one died.
When I read this, I could only come to the conclusion that they encountered a much more severe icing condition than I had encountered years ago and that had prompted me to decide that a Cessna 182 would carry one big load of ice without being overwhelmed. Another lesson learned: There will always be bigger ice than what you have seen.
The Cessna 182 had a relatively high total accident rate and it probably still does.The simpler accidents come mostly on landing. The problem there is with pilots using more flaps than they really need for landing.
At forward centre of gravity with full flaps a Cessna 182 will slow rapidly when flared and if just a tad high the airplanes can pitch nose down right before it touches and that can because all manner of craziness. I seldom used more than 20-degree flaps on my Cessna 182.
The Bonanza 36 had a fatal accident rate of 1.81 per 100,000 hours which was substantially above the 182 and somewhat above average. Where the Cessna 182 had a lot of VFR weather accidents, the Bonanza 36 had about the same number of IFR accidents, usually caused by poor airmanship or deviations from the procedure.There were no fatal accidents related to a mechanical failure of the engine but there were three caused by fuel starvation.The pilot of a Bonanza 36 does have to choose either the left or right tank and for the engine to run the tank selected must have fuel.
The Bonanza 36 had about the same involvement in stall / spin accidents as the Cessna 182 and there were three cases of pilot impairment caused by prescription drugs in the Bonanza 36 and none like that in the Cessna 182. Bonanzas have a long accident history related to an improperly latched cabin door coming open right after take-off followed by a rush to return and land and ending in a stall / spin accident.
I looked at three years of 36 accidents in both periods because it is a smaller fleet and I felt that gave a more complete picture. Of the 36 accidents, 19 were fatal in the first period and 18 in the second so I think it is accurate to say that the rate did not change much if at all. There was one engine failure related fatal accident in the Bonanza 36 in the later period. The flight was IFR and the pilot was preparing for the approach with 800 overcast and 10 miles visibility when the engine quit. He hit a house during the forced landing.
The engine had pretty well dismantled itself and available information indicates that the pilot might have stalled the airplane as he maneuverered for the forced landing. The NTSB also mention induction icing as a possibility in one IFR accident in icing conditions over the mountains but I seriously doubt if that was the case. The Bonanza 36 had a big share of IFR accidents in the later period but it also had a few VFR weather accidents which it had not had earlier.
Where there had been drug problems with pilots previously, there were none in the later period. However, one pilot died while taxiing out for take-off. So, the accident picture changed a little for the Cessna 182 and Bonanza 36 over 15 years, whilst the flight activity probably remained about the same. I would bet the average age of the owners of these aircraft increased substantially though probably not by 15 years.
Cirrus has fundamentally changed the equation for a new breed of pilots
While this was going on something new was afoot in transportation airplanes, something that resulted in an important increase in the activity as well as a new and younger group of pilots, relatively far removed from the older pilots flying Cessna 182s and Bonanza 36s.
I will start by saying that I do not think a majority of the pilots now flying Cirrus SR-22 airplanes for serious transportation would be doing so had the parachute not been part of the package. That feature attracted a new breed of user.The Cirrus accident rate was terrible to begin but it improved rapidly in recent years and now appears to be at or better than the average for the fleet. One major reason for this was that in the early years Cirrus pilots appeared reluctant to use the parachute. However, an aggressive education campaign changed this and where there were a lot more fatal accidents than parachute saves, this has reversed.
Because the Cirrus is closer in performance to the Bonanza 36 than the Cessna 182, I looked at the number of fatal accidents in the Cirrus SR-22 during the same recent time used for the Bonanza 36. The SR-22 had 13 compared with 18 for the Bonanza.
What about activity? Both these airplanes are often flown IFR and a perusal of what is up on the FlightAware website usually shows a lot more SR-22s than Bonanza 36s. It is encouraging that transportation flying in these private airplanes actually seems to be increasing. This was the real backbone of the activity in the heyday and if an increasing number of people discover that there is still no better way to travel around the country than in your own airplane, private air transportation could start growing again. A jet or turboprop would be nice but high-performance singles will get the job done for a lot less money.