The restoration of the first Cessna 182 started out as an idealistic notion, as we held a romantic vision of N4966E restored with its original interior and paint scheme. The idea was explored with inquiries to aviation mechanics, ramp personnel and FBO owners at the local Glacier Park International Airport. Dave Cano and Reed Lamb were two names consistently recommended. Dave owns Cano's Custom Specialties and has been restoring airplanes for many years. Reed is the head mechanic for a local company operating a fleet of prop and jet powered airplanes. An interview affirmed they were the clear choice to lead our restoration team.
As we began outlining the scope of work, it quickly became apparent that the level of detailed planning and labor would be a challenge and would consume most of our weekends. As the work commenced and the old paint and interior were removed, the decision was made to completely restore N4966E as close to original as possible. From that moment on we never looked back and the restoration of N4966E took on a whole new meaning. In its infancy, we didn't fully comprehend that the restoration would take 33 months and some 4,662 hours of labor to complete.
One of the biggest project challenges was research. 165 hours were accrued in obtaining the original specifications and in finding original surplus parts. The internet became an invaluable resource, but even with this great tool it sometimes took months of searching to find a particular part. Then an order was followed with anxious anticipation, "was it in mint condition?". We were fortunate as our purchases arrived worthy of N4966E.
Even though N4966E was in good condition mechanically and from a distance appeared to be in good shape, the years had taken its toll. This meant we would totally disassemble, inspect, rebuild and refinish every single part of the airplane. This included all the electrical wiring, lights and control cabling pulleys. Dave Cano worked hand in hand with Reed Lamb who provided the certified mechanic inspections of every part. The original propeller was rebuilt and put back into service and the original nose strut gear was also rebuilt.
As the original skins were removed and the old struts were replaced, a clear coat of epoxy sealer was applied to the interior cavity to prevent any corrosion in the future. Penelope Aircraft Interiors facilitated the cabin's interior renovation. The dash was removed and restored to the original scheme. Carpet representative of the period was found and the foot rests are chromed to a mirror finish. Extensive research located original upholstery fabric for the seat covers. To meet current FAA regulations, the fabric had to be sprayed with a flame retardant, and then forwarded to the FAA for testing and approval. The team was unable to locate original turquoise headliner material that would not tear due to its age.
The more we worked on the airplane, the more driven we became that it had to be perfect. We spent 981 hours replacing the aluminum skin surfaces of the flaps, ailerons, horizontal stabilizer and elevator, along with metal work including rebuilding all of the cowling components, access panels and the doors. It took six months to complete the sanding and polishing of the aluminum fuselage. It was discovered that our sanding technique was producing a slight milky look that was only discernible in the right light. Upon this discovery, the decision was made to start this process over, six months of work in vain, but it had to be done to achieve the desired mirror finish. Our goal always was "back to original" but where possible, make it better. There were 598 hours of hand sanding and 1,037 hours of polishing. The rivets became a casualty of the extensive sanding and polishing, with nearly all of them being replaced.
I am making a bold and confident statement by saying this very first Cessna 182 truly flies and looks better than when it was new. 4966E retains features not found in today's Cessna's including float-operated fuel gauges in the wing roots, a key-operated ignition switch with a push-button starter; three individual ash trays; and flaps that are manually operated using a long handle situated on the floor between the pilot's seats.
It took 932 hours to reassemble 4966E and on August 2, 2007, which was the fifth year anniversary of receiving my private pilot's certification, she took her maiden flight. I was accompanied on that very special day by my instructor Bill Werner. That take off was a thrilling moment for this pilot and a proud accomplishment for everyone involved, some of whom were on the tarmac cheering us for takeoff and landing.
The restoration was a fun and exciting time in our lives. The head turning result is a tribute to the dedication of Dave and Reed, to family and friends for the hours of hard work they put in, as well as to the previous owners who took such good care of N4966E, the first Cessna 182 to roll off the assembly line and into our lives.
Dave Cano's career began at the age of sixteen at his Father's body shop, an excellent craftsman and teacher. Dave became proficient in all phases of collision repair; metal work, fiberglass and custom paint. He began working on airplanes while still in high school. With nearly 40 years of experience Dave has built a true one stop shop with experienced, skilled craftsmen and mechanics ready to tackle anything from airplanes, helicopters, jets, boats, cars, trucks, snow mobiles or any other kind of toys. The Flathead Valley has provided great opportunities for working on some unique airplanes, from a 1917 Jenny to P-40's, Corsairs, Beavers, Mustangs, corporate jets and even the first Cessna 182 ever built.