Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Origin Of The Skyhawk

The straight-tailed C-172 marks the birth of the world’s most popular general-aviation airplane

Can it really be almost 50 years since Cessna introduced the first C-172? In a word, yes. Next year, the Wichita, Kan., company will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the C-172’s introduction, and the rest, as no one should ever say again, is history." />

The airplane levitates with the stability of an elevator, and you can plan on reaching typical cruise heights of 6,000 to 7,000 feet in 15 to 20 minutes. Unless there’s another fuel crisis, there’s little reason not to leave the left knob full forward for 75% cruise, and Cessna claims that should deliver about 108 knots. That’s probably a little optimistic for most airplanes with wheels hanging in the wind, but 100 to 105 knots should be reasonable at high cruise. If you need to stretch the range to reach the next self-serve fuel pit, economy cruise at 55% power should deliver more like 90 knots on only 5.8 gph. That will increase endurance to six hours, worth probably 550 nm.

From this, it’s apparent speed isn’t the C-172’s trump card. By far, the Skyhawk’s best quality is its forgiving nature. The type’s flight characteristics are benign to a fault. It seems almost impossible to get the airplane mad at you. Stalls with those big flaps fully extended don’t happen until 45 knots, and if you have the ball anywhere near centered, the ’hawk will merely mush up and down before its gentle, straight-ahead break. Fly sloppy-footed with the ball significantly out of its cage, and the C-172 will drop a wing and might even spin if you fail to apply counter controls.

The obvious benefit of the Skyhawk’s easy flying characteristics comes in the pattern. With big flaps, a low stall speed and highly predictable handling, landings can be as you like them. Need to drop in to a super-short strip? No problem. Reduce the knots to 55, cushion the touchdown with a shot of power, and the C-172 can fit into 1,000 horizontal feet. Just remember that sneaking in is usually easier than launching back out.

A Skyhawk could even conceivably maintain 110 knots down the ILS to stay ahead of the Citation at the outer marker. Be cautious, however, about full-flap slips to decelerate, as they can blank airflow across the tail and seriously reduce elevator response.

Such ills don’t afflict the Popp airplane. “We operate our C-172 pretty conservatively,” says Tim Popp, “rarely leaving long, paved runways. For us, the airplane is strictly a kind of flying RV. It allows us the opportunity to get away from the Kalamazoo area [in Michigan] on weekends. It’s a wonderful escape machine.”

When I asked Tim and Liz Popp what they’d buy if they ever sold their Cessna 172, they said, “Why, another Skyhawk, of course.”

SPECS: 1958 Cessna 172 Skyhawk

Labels: Piston Singles


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