By Norm Goyer
There is a good reason why the Cessna 172 Skyhawk is named year after year as one of the best aircraft ever designed. It is! I believe that a huge percentage of pilots around the world have flown a 172 some time during their flying career; many also soloed in this versatile aircraft. I have always preferred low wings, but I have owned 172s as part of my fleet of flying school airplanes. You have to admire Cessna marketing for their “step up” plan for pilots who learned to fly in a Cessna 150/152. Cessna figured that they would first rent and they even possibly buy a four passenger 172 for family trips or occasions when they needed just a bit more speed or room for the mission. One of our flight schools used only Cessnas. We found that we needed one Cessna 172 for every 3 to 4 two-place 150s in our school. Our chief pilot was a grizzled Vietnam pilot vet and a retired Colonel who insisted that the 150 was the best primary trainer ever designed. He liked the way the flaps worked and particularly loved its spin ability. None of our students in our flight schools either soloed or obtained their Private Certificate without learning how to get out of an accidental spin or how not to get into an accidental spin. The FAA didn’t require spin training but if you flew at our schools you learned about spinning. The Cessna 150 had an extra flap position and for some reason the 150 handled spins better than the 152s. I believe that a few degrees of up elevator had been removed between the 150 and the 152. Anyway our retired Colonel said so so it became law by executive order. Sound familiar. I happen to believe that he was correct and what he wanted, he got. Our safety record was outstanding at our four schools.
The first clone of the 172 was the Cessna 175 which used a very controversial 175 hp Continental six-cylinder geared engine. Cessna knew they had better have a model with more performance than the 172. The extra horsepower of the 175 was their answer, but a geared engine was not popular and the model was dropped due to slow sales.
The stock 172 went through a series of fuselage changes including a wrap around window, larger fuselage fairings blended into the vertical stabiliser, different shaped tail feathers and new gear legs to replace the Wittman style sheet steel landing gear struts.
I never thought that Cessna would put their Mickey Mouse retractable landing gear on the 172 but they did and the C-172RG was born. I always thought that Cessna did that to make up for dropping the Cardinal RG. The Cessna 172 RG and the C-177RG in my opinion were weird airplanes, although the Cardinal does have a following. Of course the 177RG was the poor man’s Cessna 210 Centurian.
But Cessna did have a great idea with their Cessna 172XP. I do understand that this started as an military airplane. They bought a batch of 172s but wanted a controllable pitch prop and more power. Pilots who flew this Air Force primary trainer loved it so I guess Cessna polished it up made if look pretty with interiors and paint and the XP was born. Cessna was right on with this airplane, I had one and it was a great airplane. It has now been almost 40 years and that XP is still in the area and the pilot I sold it to still owns it.
The Cessna 172 still lives on with the latest version still being built by Cessna. Of course it has changed but not that much. The latest Skyhawk has a 180-hp Lycoming, one of the most bullet proof engines ever built by Lycoming. The instrument panel has the latest in glass cockpit displays. The new 172 has 10 hp less than the XP and 20 more that previous late model 172s. The King lives on, and it should, it is an outstanding airplane. If you are looking for a good used family plane for any reason make the Cessna 172 first on your shopping list.