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What Are Some of The Most Important Things I Need To Know About The Cessna 172?

Just about any pilot can tell you about the time they’ve had their first taste of flying. In all likelihood, that first flight might have been in a Cessna 172

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is a steady workhorse, a top choice for many flight schools, and an amazingly reliable aircraft. It doesn’t use up a lot of fuel, it’s relatively inexpensive to operate, and it’s surprisingly easy to fly.

Given all these, on top of its longevity and storied history, many consider the Cessna 172 to be the king of light aircraft. Today, this highly utilitarian plane fills a number of roles even beyond instruction and training. That includes aerial surveillance by the U.S. Border Patrol, or even military service in countries like Austria, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Iraq, Ireland, and Singapore.

(The Cessna 172 is so ubiquitous that you can even pick one up today for just under $30,000.)

Does Cessna Still Make The 172?

First flown in 1955, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk is widely regarded as the most successful aircraft in history, as more 172s have been built than any other aircraft.

The Cessna 172 continues to be in production today. Since 1956, more than 44,000 units have been manufactured by the Cessna Aircraft Company and its partners (such as Textron Aviation, among others). 

The Skyhawk is a four-seat, single-engine, high-wing, fixed-wing aircraft. The Cessna 172’s main rivals in the space include the Beechcraft Musketeer, the Grumman AA-5, the Piper Cherokee, the Diamond DA40, and the Cirrus SR20. (The Musketeer and the AA-5 series are no longer in production today.) 

How Much Is A Cessna 172 Today?

A brand new Skyhawk might range anywhere from $369,000 to $438,000, depending on what sort of additional options you’d want to take home with you. (Like the Garmin G1000 NXi avionics package, the digital autopilot package, satellite-based weather graphics and comms package, interior configuration for training crews, and so forth)

A 2012 model Cessna 172R cost about $274,900. This particular model had some nice standard inclusions, as well as a good selection of additional customization options– enhanced vision and ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) upgradable traffic, along with new styling and lighting options.

In comparison, with the first run of the Cessna 172 back in 1956, a brand new Skyhawk cost $8700. Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be roughly equivalent to $82,000 in 2019.

What Engine Is In A Cessna 172?

The original 172 used the six-cylinder, 145-horsepower Continental O-300 engine. These air-cooled piston engines were built by Teledyne Continental Motors as early as 1947, with various iterations in production as of 2004. 

Newer Cessna 172’s– particularly, the 172R and the 172S, which rolled out of the assembly lines in the late ‘90s– made use of different engines. 

  • The 172R had a 120kW (160hp) Textron Lycoming IO-360-L2A fuel-injected flat four-piston engine driving a two-blade fixed-pitch McCauley propeller.
  • Meanwhile, the 172S is fitted with a 180 hp (134 kW) fuel-injected Superior Air Parts Vantage engine.

The O-300 was developed from the C-145 engine (which came from a C-125). The O-300 has pretty much the same weight, dimension, bore, stroke, compression ratio, displacement, and output power of the earlier engine of the C-145, only more modernized while retaining its edge of an additional 20 hp (15kW) over the C-125. 

The time-between-overhaul (TBO) figures for the O-300 is about 1800 hours. 

Other than the Cessna 172, the O-300 engine is also used with Cessna’s Mescalero and Skylark aircraft, as well as with the Maule M-4.

(The Continental O-300 engine being installed in a Cessna 172. Photo by Ahunt.)

How Far Can A Cessna 172 Fly?

A Cessna 172 Skyhawk has a range of about 800 miles on a full tank of fuel; that’s about the same distance from New York City to Detroit (in Michigan), Columbus (in Ohio), or Windsor (in Ontario, Canada).

In comparison, a 747 jumbo jet has a range of more than 6,000 miles, with a top speed of about 600 mph (versus the 172’s max velocity of 150 mph).

Interestingly, Robert Timm and John Cook set an endurance record in a Cessna 172, staying airborne for an incredible 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds. The highly-publicized flight in clocked in 1,558 hours of continuous flight, taking off at McCarran Airfield in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 4, 1958, and landed back on the same airfield on February 7, 1959.

How Safe Is A Cessna 172?

Impressively, the Cessna 172 has a fairly solid track record when it comes to safety. As a top choice for many trainers and aspiring pilots, the Cessna 172 is relatively easy to fly and land.

Statistically, the Cessna 172’s fatal accident rate is .56 per 100,000 hours. This is about half of the industry average rate of 1.2-1.4.

How Much Weight Can A Cessna 172 Carry?

A Cessna 172S has a maximum gross weight capacity of 2,550 pounds. Exactly how much passenger weight you can carry aboard will depend on:

  • The empty weight of your Cessna 172, taking into account additional installed equipment
  • And how much fuel you’ll be carrying.

Tim Morgan, a commercial pilot, used a specific example: if your Cessna 172S has an empty weight of 1,685 pounds, and you have a full tank of fuel (about 37 gallons, which weighs some 222 pounds), you then have 643 pounds left for passengers and bags. That’s usually enough weight for three adults (or one adult and three kids).

A Final Word About The Cessna 172

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, F-35 pilot Justin Lee shares what he almost always gives out as advice for aspiring aviators looking to pilot the most advanced fighters on the planet: the path to flying fighters often starts behind the single-prop of a 172.

“The advice I give to people who want to become a fighter pilot is to build time in a Cessna,” Lee says. “It’ll let you know if you have the aptitude and desire to pursue a career in aviation.”

The Cessna 172 is a real classic, a solid brand, and an aircraft that has helped shape the lives (and careers) of hundreds of thousands of pilots.

With newly available technology, so too have variants of the Cessna 172 emerged to incorporate these into their design. Without a doubt, the Cessna 172 will continue to be popular among aviators (both young and old) in the years to come.

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