By: Norm Goyer
I am going to state up front that I am slightly prejudiced for low wings. But I am also very aware of the excellent safety record of the Cessna 172. I feel that I am in a rather good position to evaluate these aircraft because I owned many of each, had dealerships for both and had flying schools and repair stations for Cessnas and for Pipers.
To fuel the fire I believe that part of the huge popularity of the Cessna 172 is the fact that the Cessna 150/152 taught more civilians to fly than any other aircraft. It is natural for a student who learned to fly in a high wing Cessna to want to own a high wing Cessna. Our flying school had two flight school divisions. Both had new aircraft and ex military instructors who loved to fly and to teach and were not building time to fly for the airlines. The Piper flight school used new Piper Cruisers then new Warriors while the Cessna flight used new 172s and new 152s. Students were given rides in both aircraft and then allowed to choose which airplane they wanted to learn in. In fairness to the Cessna 152 it was considered by our professional instructors to be a better trainer than the Cherokees. Why? The instructors absolutely believed that a good trainer should be able to be spun and recovery from accidental spins should be taught before solo. Piper Cruisers and Warriors didn’t spin very well and would not stall very deeply either. But, these aircraft were not considered by Piper to be optimal primary trainers. Their function was more of small family or sport use aircraft whereas the Cessna 152 were primary trainers. Their cabin was quite small and two normal size males would stuff it to the sidewalls. Not the most comfortable training environment. The Warriors were much larger in all directions and had a back seat for “stuff” or for two small passengers. This larger cabin and more seats also demanded more horses to be harnessed for getting off the ground and climbing out. The Cessna 152 had 112-hp Lycomings while the Warriors had 150/160 Lycomings, a big difference in hp and fuel usage. For a flying school this added expense had to be recovered.
And now for the differences. The Pipers had a real landing gear with shocks and sturdy gear legs attached to the wing spar widely spaced. Cessna’s have Whitman spring steel or steel tube legs with no shock absorbers as the spring steel flexes. The flexing of the legs can distort the profile of the wheel as it contacts the runway, sometimes it helps other times it adds to the problem. None is very serious. The more serious problem with the Cessna 152 was the vibration of the nose gear. If not set up properly or if it had any wear in the bushings or the small addition shock absorber was worn, the nose wheel could shake it itself apart. Most Cessna pilots learned to keep the weight off the nose gear until up elevator could no longer keep it in the air. Our shop was kept busy rebuilding nose gears for our Cessna fleet. Pipers had no gear problems.
The Pipers had a good old Johnson Bar to operate the flaps. You needed flaps grab the handle and yank and you had instant flaps. In a Cessna you had to move a little toggle switch and an electric motor would slowly lower the flaps. Sometimes the need for flaps was long gone before the flaps ever made their trip down the track. Sand mixed with grease could also slow the trip down the chute. When working properly, the Cessna flaps were far more sophisticated than the Piper flap system. The Cessna 150 had even better flaps than the 152. The FAA thought they were too good so Cessna reduced the travel on the 152. I also loved the throttle quadrant on the panel of the Cherokees versus the knobs you had to push in the Cessnas. I will have to admit that the Pipers with their minimum parts numbers were much more dependable than the Cessnas.
But an airplane should be judged on its flight characteristics and not on what it looks like or what it takes to keep it in top flying condition. An average family who owns an airplane for short trips or for sport flying usually prefer the sightseeing advantage from a Cessna compared to the Piper whose lower wings block the view, in some directions, of the ground. The flight controls of a Cessna 152 are almost perfect for flight training and the engine has less hp for more economical flying hours. I would have to recommend the Cessna 172 for an almost perfect small family aircraft. The speeds of the two are within a few knots. The wing on the Warrior is now almost an exact copy of the Cessna except for the flaps.
I was very excited when Piper brought out the Tomahawk which was touted as the perfect primary trainer. I went to Florida and flew one home. What a great little airplane, huge cockpit, great bubble canopy visibility and it would spin like a real airplane. I didn’t like the “T” tail but I soon learned to rotate a bit later so as not to scrape the tail on the ground. Again our professional AF instructors loved the plane but the aviation press did not and the negative reporting on the spin characteristics scared people away. The tail did shake a bit but that was corrected immediately. But, it still spun and recovered like a real airplane. What the press forgot was that the Cessna 150 also did exactly the same thing. You could enter a spin and recover just like a real airplane flown by a real pilot. Guess those days are gone forever. Welcome airplane drivers to our world.