Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cessna 170A: Rebuild Of A Lifetime, Literally

Jacobson passed his checkride in this cessna 170A in 1962, and look at it now

The rebuild project was initiated at Porterville, Calif. One of the biggest issues encountered was corrosion, due to the aircraft having been parked outside near the Florida coast for more than three years. Another challenge was locating cabin-interior fabric details and specifications.
Actually, Cessna first created the 170C with a slightly larger elevator and a more rakish vertical stabilizer; then decided to add tricycle gear and call the improved version the 172. The company’s original plan was to offer both versions of the compact four-seater, but sales of the tricycle version took off so spectacularly, selling 1,600 units in the first year of production, that the 170 was summarily discontinued. Practically every pilot who has flown both types has his or her own take on the value of tailwheel over nosewheel (or vice versa), so we won’t attempt to revive that debate here. It’s enough to note there’s still a significant contingent of pilots who feel the Cessna 170 was the superior airplane and trainer.

In those days, however, Cessna’s two-seat 140 was the resident trainer in the company’s model lineup. The 170 was rarely used for flight training, so the advantages of learning to fly with the third wheel trailing behind were probably lost.

The primary differences between the two airplanes were only apparent on the ground where the 172 offered a definite advantage during taxi and takeoff, especially in a crosswind. The 170 pilot had to contend with a more nose-up attitude on the ramp and taxiway, though the cowling sloped downhill enough to allow a reasonable view straight ahead, negating the need to S-turn during taxi. A steerable tailwheel eased directional control, and if you needed to maneuver with more gusto, you could fall back on differential braking.

In the air, the two Cessnas handled almost identically, and performance numbers were similar, with the logical edge to the 170. The chart below shows a quick comparison of the performance numbers between the last 170B and the first 172, as researched in Jane’s All-The-World’s Aircraft. Keep in mind both models flew with the same engine, wing and gross weight. (The first 172 added the drag of a nosegear, lost climb and service ceiling, yet somehow gained three knots of cruise speed. Hmmm.)

Jacobson’s 170 was deliberately restored to all-original configuration, and he has no complaints about performance. Many owners are happy with the 170 just as it is. A number of popular conversions are available to improve climb and cruise, however, most notably a 180 hp Lycoming with a constant-speed prop. The extra 35 doesn’t do much for cruise, but it makes a dramatic difference in climb performance. It might also improve the CG situation and payload, as the small, four-cylinder Lycoming is significantly lighter than the stock six-cylinder Continental.
Cessna 170s have developed a cult following in the last 30 years, despite the preference of most pilots for the nosewheel variant, the 172. For pilots such as Jake Jacobson, however, the love of his 170 is in the family.


Cruise speed (kts.)



Vso (kts.)



Best rate of climb, SL (fpm)



Service ceiling (ft.)



Max takeoff weight (lbs.)



Empty weight, std. (lbs.)



Useful load, std. (lbs.):



Takeoff over 50 ft. (ft.)



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