The Cessna 172 is now in 2007 entering its 51st year since series production commenced in 1956. Probably more thousands of Cessna 172s have been constructed than any other general aviation light aircraft in the world. Many pilots can recount experiences in a C-172, either as an upgrade to four place from a Cessna 150 or Cessna 152 trainer , or as initial flight training in a four place aircraft if desired. Thousands of pilots have owned one or have flown a C-172. I checked out in a C-172 Skyhawk after gaining my private pilot certificate in a low wing Piper Cherokee, and rented N1693F for several upper midwest flights in the mid 1960s.
The C-172 tri-gear aircraft was a natural extension of the Cessna 170B four place taildragger design. But, Cessna did not do it first. Just as a Cessna 140 two place taildragger was converted with the addition of a 40 pound nose gear and relocating the main gear aftward to form the so-called C-145 by an independent Supplemental Type Certificate holder Met-Co-Aire in California; so did the Cessna 170 become a Tri-Cessna 170 nose gear aircraft first by other than Cessna design. Met-Co-Aire in Fullerton, California first converted a Cessna 170 to have a tricycle landing gear configuration by moving the main gear aft and adding a nose gear, then getting an approved STC for the Tri-Cessna conversion. Cessna then tried it with a prototype installation of their own design and thus the Cessna 172 was born. Parenthetically, most taildragger-trained pilots of the time were not impressed, asking why one needed the extra 40+ pounds to haul around? Conversion can work the other way also-some Cessna 150s have been converted to taildraggers, known as the Texas Taildragger, under another approved STC. Nevertheless, production of the C-172 started in 1956 with the first delivered Cessna 172 from the Cessna factory. Newer and later generation pilots have made the design a resounding market success. According to Cessna, they have built some 43,000 C-172s since 1956.
Later, licensed production by Reims Aviation in Reims, France of the C-172K as the FP.172D with Rolls-Royce/Continental O-300-C 145 horsepower engine led to their further development of a 180 horsepower version, and the FR.172 Reims Rocket with Continental IO-360-D of 210 horsepower with a variable-pitch prop. Another derivative was the R-172 Hawk XP with 195 horsepower Continental IO-360-K, also assembled by Reims Aviation in France. The US Air Force first used a stripped version of the C-172F as the T-41A Mescalero ab initio trainer with Continental O-300-D 145 horsepower six cylinder engines. In time, T-41Bs with 180 horsepower six cylinder fuel-injected Continental IOs were supplied to the US Army and T-41Cs were built under USAF contracts. Most of the USAF T-41Cs were subsequently upgraded to T-41D versions with 210 horsepower and constant speed props. Some T-41s are now civilian owned.
But, I digress from the chronology. The first C-172 used a Continental O-300A six cylinder air-cooled flat opposed 145 horsepower engine. This was a 1,500 hour TBO engine. The first C-172 had a 'straight' tail like the C-170. In 1960 Cessna introduced the swept-tail model 172A, with an IFR version called the Skyhawk. Aesthetics aside, no performance change was noted with the swept-tail model. An engine change again came in 1968 with the Lycoming O-320-E2D four cylinder air-cooled flat opposed 150 horsepower engine, rated at 2,000 hours TBO. The year 1977 brought another engine change to the Lycoming O-320-H2AD of 160 horsepower designed for 100 octane low-lead aviation gasoline. In 1979 the Cutlass RG was introduced as a 172 Skyhawk with retractible landing gear. The C-172 design spawned the nearly identical Cessna 175 and Skylark IFR versions with a high-revving geared-down 175 horsepower Continental GO-300-E engine. These models had an enlarged deeper engine cowl, more prop clearance and more expensive maintenance costs. The 175 became the Skyhawk Powermatic for the 1963 model year, with the cut down fuselage rear window 'Omnivision' feature introduced in the C-172D model. Production of the Cessna 172 and Skyhawk (and in fact all their piston-powered aircraft models) was suspended by Cessna in 1986 due to industry-wide product liability lawsuits.
Production resumed in 1996 of the new Cessna 172R Skyhawk in a new plant after prototype first flight in April, 1995. The production C-172R used yet another 160 horsepower Lycoming IO-360-L2A fuel-injected 100LL engine. A Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP version was announced in March of 1998, with the same engine but rated at 180 horsepower driving a higher-performance McCauley constant speed 6' 4" two blade prop.
Over long production of successive versions, airplane models gain weight with improvements, engine changes and avionics additions. The Cessna 172 is no exception. Its C-170A predecessor had a gross weight of 2,200 pounds. The 2006 Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP grosses at 2,558 pounds, normal class. Utility class rated weights are less.
I cannot end this article without telling my own Cessna 172 story. (Most every pilot who has flown a 172 will have one). N1693F was a near new 1966 aircraft with just 16 operating hours when I had a dual checkout in it with a CFI. On a later rental flight with a non-pilot friend in the right seat, I was climbing through 5,000 feet AGL over Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota heading westward. I decided to lean the engine mixture. Reaching over with my right hand, the mixture knob on its shaft was held by a simple folded, dual-hole metal friction lock the shaft fitted through. It was stiff and my hand suddenly overcame the friction and I inadvertently pulled it to idle cutoff! The silence of the engine was 'deafening' and I had never seen my friend's eyes pop so big! I immediately slammed the mixture control rich forward and the engine caught without much of a stumble. He not knowing what happened, I apologized for his unintended fright. I had him take the control wheel while I quickly used both hands to reset the stiff mixture control, leaning the engine.
As a followup story, at my 35th High School Reunion in 1985 in Minnesota, a non-pilot classmate told me she had done exactly the same thing in her and her husband's aircraft one day in flight, thinking the mixture control was a cigarette lighter for her smoke! (She did push it in, unnoticed by her husband; then pulled it out-that got his full attention!). Fortunately, each incident was at altitude and caused no lasting harm; just being real attention-getters.
N4667L pictured above recently on final approach to Santa Paula's Runway 22 is a 1966 Cessna 172G in beautiful appearance representative of the one I first flew. Please click on the top lead-in photo to see the N4667L Aircraft Profile page with more photos.
N4177F illustrated just below is a 1958 Cessna 172 representative of the earliest 1956 C-172 appearance with Continental O-300 engine, straight tail and before the 'Omnivision' rear window feature was incorporated. Also note the two venturis used then to drive some of the panel instruments. N1107G illustrated at lowest right is a 2006 Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP for comparison to a latest model of the long Cessna 172 line of fine aircraft.
Some C-172 comparative specifications and performance figures are of interest.
First C-172 1956 model, price new FAF about $8,700
Engine: one 145 Hp Continental O-300A
Fuel capacity: 37 gal. usable
Wing area: 174.0 sq. ft.
Length: 26' 6"
Height: 8' 11"
Empty weight: 1,376 lbs.
Max weight: 2,200 lbs.
Vne: 138 KIAS
Vso: 50 KIAS
Cruise: 108 kts
Rate of climb, sea level: 660 ft/min.
Service ceiling: 15,500 ft
2006 Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP, Spring 2006 new price with NAV III package about $241,000
Engine: one 180 Hp Lycoming IO-360-L2A
Fuel capacity: 53 gal. usable
Wingspan: 36' 1"
Wing area: 174.0 sq ft.
Length: 27' 2"
Height: 8' 11"
Empty weight: 1,642 lbs.
Max weight: 2,450 lbs.
Max level speed at sea level: 123 kts
Vso: 47 kts
Cruise: 122 kts
Rate of climb, sea level: 730 ft/min
Service ceiling: 14,000 ft