Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Skyhawk For Everyone

Cessna’s hit airplane keeps getting better with age

One strength of Cessna's high-wing design is visibility. Marc Lee and Rich Manor, President of Pacific Air Center, fly over Los Angeles International Airport while transitioning through its Class Bravo airspace.
Going Flying
Holding his hot coffee to ease the bite of an unusually cold Southern California morning, Manor threw me the keys to the dew-covered Skyhawk waiting on the ramp. The design of the airplane hasn't changed in 56 years, and I realize the paint schemes are what give these birds their date stamp. I'm relieved we're out of that horrible period in the mid-'70s when Skyhawks came off the line in that hideous bile-brown. The year 2012 brings three fresh exterior paint schemes to the handsome Cessna.

A quick preflight reveals more of the thoughtful details that make the Skyhawk so successful. For example, the Skyhawk has well-situated handholds and steps that make checking fuel in the wing tanks a snap. Everything on the airplane is easily accessible—from oil dipstick to fuel drains. We disconnected the hinge on the pilot's side window for photos, reminding me that the Skyhawk also has a reputation as a good photo ship. Like WD-40 and Windex, the Skyhawk has a thousand uses.

As in all the newer Skyhawks, Manor shows me that you have to attach your seat belt before closing the door. The Amsafe restraints are thicker-than-normal belts, and the receiver latch is low and against the door. Manor also familiarizes me with the real star of the new Skyhawk—the Garmin G1000. The glass panel system has given the Skyhawk a new heart and melds with the airplane beautifully.

New for the Skyhawk this year is the Garmin GTS 800 traffic system, which integrates with the G1000. The big thing about the GTS 800 is that it's ADS-B/NextGen compatible, so it will have the ability to display flight identification, position, altitude, velocity and heading information broadcast from other NextGen-enabled transponders.

The unit integrates with the G1000's Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT) using standard TCAS symbology, and uses more precise voice alerts such as, "Traffic, 11 o'clock, high." According to Cessna, the GTS 800 will be available during the spring of 2012.

Another option for the Skyhawk is the EVS (Enhanced Vision System) for seeing in low-light or obscured-visibility conditions. The camera, which mounts on the right wing just outboard of the strut, displays hazards not visible to the naked eye such as wildlife on a runway. It really enhances situational awareness in mountainous areas.

On this cold morning, we used the Synthetic Vision feature to find the taxiway while the front windshield was still obscured by dew. The huge Garmin display is beautiful to look at, and we also had the GFC 700 autopilot on our Skyhawk, which I would appreciate later.

The 172 is still an airplane, and all the avionics in the world won't make up for a lousy-flying aircraft. Even though I hadn't touched a Skyhawk in over five years, the airplane felt immediately familiar, and I managed taxi, takeoff and cruise without a problem. The Skyhawk's "secret" became obvious: It's unequivocally an easy airplane to fly.

Labels: Piston Engines


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