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Alaska bush planes: Super Cub vs. Cessna 185 (+Video)

  • Author: Matt Keller
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published May 27, 2013

I don't post many pictures of my Cessna 185 because I simply don't fly it as much as the Cub. I took this picture in June last summer when I was out with a friend testing the effectivness of the 29-inch bushwheels on soft and lumpy gravel bars. Every time I see this photo, it makes me wish it was summer again.

For those of you that don't know the difference between my two planes, the Super Cub weighs about 1,240 pounds and grosses a ton, has a 160-horsepower Lycoming engine, cruises at 90 mph, is made of metal tubing covered with fabric, is certified to seat three people, and operates comfortably at gross weight off of 500-foot runways. My Cessna 185 (pictured) weighs 1,800 pounds and grosses at 3,200 pounds, has a 260 horsepower Continental engine, cruises at 140 mph, is made of sheet aluminum, certified to seat six people, and operates comfortably at gross weight off of 1,100-foot runways.

There are only a few airstrips that can handle the Cessna 185 in the mountainous terrain that we normally operate. If the 185 is light, it will easily handle a 500-foot airstrip. If there is a steady 15 mph wind blowing it can work a 500-foot airstrip with ease and even haul quite a load.

People often ask why we don't use the larger Cessna 185s for some of these jobs. The answer is that while the 185 can handle more than we give them credit for, there is little or no room for error in sub-ideal conditions on these marginal airstrips. The flexibility of the Super Cub in a variety of winds, lighting, and loading conditions makes it the most sensible tool for most of our jobs, and it offers the most margin.

Margin makes me happy.

Here is a video of the 185:

Matthew Keller is the owner and operator of Blue Ice Aviation. He was born and raised in Alaska and his office is the cockpit of his Super Cub. His goal is to transport everyone into Alaska's vast wilderness. See more of his videos and writing here.