By Stephanie Finnegan
Cory Rance’s 1980 Cessna 180K is the Perfect Off-Field Aircraft
There’s a certain personality that desires to take to the skies. Sure, people can travel from Point A to Point Z by bicycle, automobile, and even horse. But for individuals like Cory Rance, of Moody, Texas, there is only one mode of transportation that is both practical and exhilarating: “Texas is a big state. You’d waste a lot of your life driving around this place. Airplanes make much more sense.”
Additionally, airplanes — specifically, Cory’s Cessna 1980 180K Skywagon — feed into the 40-year-old’s sense of independence and spontaneity, combined with full-throttle fun. “When you love flying, it is all you want to do. And people who don’t want to fly would never understand that feeling. I am solely a recreational pilot; I am not a CFI. Still, I do like taking friends flying who have never been. I like to show them how flight makes sense, and how efficient it really is.”
Cory knows that for many land-bound folks, the impulse to hop into a Cessna 180 and take off for an impromptu adventure is not comprehensible. They view it as an extraordinary and potentially risky extravagance. Cory understands their hesitancy, and even admits: “Yes, you do have to be partly financially reckless to go spend a couple hundred grand to fly yourself and a friend to lunch or to go see the beach, but for many pilots, it is a lifelong passion. I love the freedom of being able to randomly fly up to Arkansas for an overnight in the mountains or to drop into Phoenix to visit friends and family. Getting my pilot’s license was, and remains, a great sense of accomplishment.”
Aiming for the Sky
Singer-songwriter Katy Perry scored a mammoth hit with “Teenage Dream,” but her litany of what makes a teen tick leaves out one very important quality: getting as far away from everyday problems and monotony as possible. As a 14-year-old, Cory realized without a doubt that leaving the ground was a goal he wanted to chase. His attraction to flight wasn’t inherited, but it was inherent. It just always resided within him.
“I did not come from an aviation background family. I was just drawn to wanting to be around aircraft at a young age. I loved air shows, static displays, really anything to be able to see them. I grew up in Belton, Texas, and the local airport was KTPL, Draughon- Miller Central Texas Regional. It’s always been a very small but busy local airport. There’s very often lots of corporate flying, so I was always excited to watch the jets come and go. I really have to thank my mom, Linda Rance, for dropping me off at the airport when I was 14 just so I could watch all the planes take off and land, and also to get to meet the people around the field,” Cory shared.
That experience was a pivotal one for the young man, who immediately began his quest to learn the ins and outs of aviation. “I started flying that year, at 14, back in 1998. I began washing airplanes and trading labor for flight time, and I actually took my first flight lesson out of the hangar I’m in now.”
Rugged Terrain Meets Rugged Individualism
One of the benefits of owning one’s own aircraft is that you can decide when and where to go at a moment’s notice. For Cory, that frequently includes a backcountry trek. “I have been a fanatic of backcountry flying since I was young and Levi Noguess took me in his Kitfox and landed on the side of a lake. He then did a 180 and took back off. It was then that I realized I was hooked! I had no desire to be a corporate or an airline guy. All I wanted to do was go flying, camping, and fishing,” Cory recalled.
Interestingly, just as Cory had his aerial epiphany, he simultaneously had an economic one. “I suddenly realized I needed to make money to do any of that.” This homegrown blending of pragmatism and escapism underscored his professional development, too. “I have been doing HVAC work since I was young. It would allow me to save up some extra cash so I could rent the local 150 or 172 and fly it to lunch. In 2009, I started the Quality Air Services business. We are based in Temple, Texas, and we are a 24/7 heating and air-conditioning service company. We run around 12 technicians at any given time. It keeps us extremely busy. Needless to say, it’s very demanding, but rewarding as well. It allows us and our employees to live great lives outside of work.”
Among the upsides of being a business owner is that it gives him the liberty of autonomy and mobility. “Being a pilot and being self-employed go hand-in-hand. If a job comes in, yes, it takes priority over any weekend getaway. But on the other hand, when I have free time, we can pack up last second and then just get away. We can fly to Florida from our front yard,” he explained.
There’s Something About a Cessna 180
On Nov. 17, 2018, 20 years after he started his teenage aviation hankering, Cory purchased his 1980 Cessna 180K, N180PG. He found it on a Facebook page that he followed, and immediately began to track the responses to it. “It was 9 p.m., and there was a ton of interest very quickly. I started really blowing up the seller’s phone, really just not wanting to miss out on it. Luckily, he chose me to be the buyer because I know there were plenty of potential purchasers in line,” he recollected.
“Before I bought N180PG, I owned N9024M, which was my first Cessna 180. It was a 1970 H model, and it really ‘ruined me’ into knowing that 180s are truly the best all-around aircraft to own. When N180PG came along, it was 10 years newer, had the upgraded P. Ponk 520 engine, and a nice IFR platform.”
Seeing the Cessna in person confirmed his positive reaction to its online photos and description. It lived up to its hype: “When I picked up the airplane, it had great paint, interior, and engine, so I really just wanted to upgrade to a glass Garmin panel with an autopilot. Temple Electronics Company, in Arcola, really worked their magic with a full custom panel, dual G3X screens, 750Xi, GFC 500, and the remote transponder. It’s very clean and very functional.”
His confidence was also bolstered by the plane’s meticulous pre-purchase inspection, which he encourages all potential Cessna owners to commission. “Always, always, have a good pre-buy done. The tails have stress-cracking issues that can easily be done in an annual. Aircraft are expensive. But if you buy a bad one, they can get extremely expensive.”
1980 CESSNA 180K SPECS
These are the specs for a 1980 Cessna 180K. Every vintage airplane is now different; do not use these specs to plan a flight. All data taken from the Standard Catalog of Cessna Single-Engine Aircraft (JP Media LLC).
|Top Speed||170 mph (148 kts)|
|Cruise Speed||127 mph (110 kts)|
|Fuel Capacity||88 gal|
|Range||1010 nm (@ Economy Cruise)|
|Gross Weight||2,800 lbs|
|Empty Weight||1,644 lbs|
|Avg. Useful Load||1,166 lbs|
|Takeoff Ground Roll||625 feet|
|Takeoff Over 50 ft Obstacle||1,205 feet|
|Landing Ground Roll||480 feet|
|Landing Over 50 ft Obstacle||1,365 feet|
|Rate of Climb||1,100 fpm|
|Service Ceiling||17,700 feet|
|Cabin Width (at shoulder)||40-1/4 inches|
|Length||25 feet, 7- 1/2 inches|
|Height||7 feet, 9 inches|
Cory’s Vision Launches Big Time
Cory and N180PG were beautifully suited for one another, but as often happens, the longer he spent inside the plane, the more he thought about altering and improving it. “I really had no plans on ‘fixing it up.’ It was the nicest one I had ever owned. But after a few months of flying it, I wasn’t any less excited about it. I just wanted to add more to it. I wanted the Alaskan bush wheels, the baby bush tail wheel setup, and, of course, the Beringer aero wheel and brake STC,” Cory admitted. “All of these have been great additions to how well the airplane has performed on- and off-field flying.”
With patience and willingness to reach into his pocket for the renovations, Cory has made the Cessna 180 his very own. “I really wanted to put together the perfect backcountry setup. That is, minimal interior for plenty of room to carry whatever I need and big tires to handle whatever terrain I decide to land it on. Although I like working on things, I love flying way more, so I have not done any of the work myself on the aircraft. I am not an A&P. Every year I have made it a point to fix everything if anything is needed, and to upgrade perhaps one or two things. This has made an incredible difference overall.”
The pilot cannot say enough complimentary things about his preferred mode of transportation. “Cessna 180/185s are great flying airplanes. I wouldn’t say they are harder to fly, but they do keep you on your toes literally. If it’s gusting crosswinds, they can be sporty — but I wouldn’t change a thing. They are also very respectable. Not many airplanes can haul 1,000 pounds and fuel in and out of your front yard or an off-field strip.”
Home Is Where the Hangar Is
Today, Cory is living his very best life. He has a “lovely and much better-looking better half” named Nicole. “We have been together for almost 10 years and married for four.” They have no children, but they do have two dogs that keep them busy and involved. The Rances also have a “small hangar home with a charted 1,800-foot grass strip.” He gets to live up close and personal near his beloved pastime each and every day, and he acknowledges that his wife isn’t as smitten as he is.
“Nicole is my biggest supporter, even though she doesn’t have the love of flying like I do. I’m sure she just ‘loves’ me following barnstormers or looking for the next new listing. And I’m sure she just ‘loves’ when I drag her to Reklaw, Texas, to freeze in a sleeping bag so we can be around other airplanes. She’s a very good sport.”
In addition to his trusty, faithful Cessna 180, Cory also owns a B55 Baron. This plane has proven to be a money magnet: “I didn’t plan on buying an airplane that required a full restoration, but that is what it has turned into. I’ve done full paint, interior, avionics, and engines. It is now a great cross-country machine.”
B&G Aviation, Georgetown, Texas (bandgaviation.com)
Life Is What You Make It
Cory knows for sure that his life would have been quite different if he hadn’t let his mother know about his interest in airplanes and aviation. He spoke up and as a result his teen years veered into the direction that he coveted and envisioned. Cory knows that you can make your dreams come true. It just takes hard work and ingenuity.
He’s also savvy enough to admit that he was not meant to be a full-time, career-oriented pilot. “I have never really had any desire to fly as work. I never thought I’d be a pilot for my living. I know many people who grew up loving it, but when they got that dream job, flying became work to them. When they get off from work, the last thing they want to do is go flying. That is, except for Southwest pilots. They want to fly 24/7 and also go to every fly-in around the country,” he observed with a laugh.
When he’s not busy helping Texans beat the heat — “As I’m answering these questions, it’s 108 degrees outside! It’s one of the hottest recorded summers in Texas history” — he can be found piloting N180PG for last-minute jaunts to the beach for lunch or dinner. His social media spotlights these happy, joyful interludes. “I am no influencer, but I do have Facebook and Instagram accounts. I post pictures for fun, and to show the enjoyable time that I spend traveling with my wife and our friends.”
If Cory could influence people, he would urge them to check out the website for the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF). Founded by Montana pilots, the RAF’s mission is to “preserve, improve, and create airstrips for recreational access.” It is a pastime that is near and dear to Cory Rance’s heart. “Backcountry flying is where the real joy of flying began for me, and the RAF is bringing back off-field strips all over the country. I support this group.”
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