The Cessna 172 is the ultimate training aircraft and the most popular single-engine aircraft ever built. With forgiving flight characteristics, great visibility, slow landing speed and a forgiving stall. No wonder very few pilots, at all levels of flying, do not have a C172 on their licence.
The Cessna 172 started life as a tricycle landing gear variant of the taildragger Cessna 170, with a basic level of standard equipment. In January 1955, Cessna flew an improved variant of the Cessna 170, a Continental O-300-A-powered Cessna 170C with larger elevators and a more angular tailfin.
Although the variant was tested and certified, Cessna decided to modify it with a tricycle landing gear, and the modified Cessna 170C flew again on 12 June 1955. To reduce the time and cost of certification, the type was added to the Cessna 170 type certificate as the Model 172. Later, the 172 was given its own type certificate, 3A12. The 172 became an overnight sales success, and over 1,400 were built in 1956, its first full year of production.
Early 172s were similar in appearance to the 170s, with the same straight aft fuselage and tall landing gear legs, although the 172 had a straight tailfin while the 170 had a rounded fin and rudder. In 1960, the 172A incorporated revised landing gear and the swept-back tailfin, which is still in use today.
The final aesthetic development, found in the 1963 172D and all later 172 models, was a lowered rear deck allowing an aft window. Cessna advertised this added rear visibility as "Omni-Vision."
Production halted in the mid-1980s, but resumed in 1996 with the 160 hp Cessna 172R Skyhawk. Cessna supplemented this in 1998 with the 180 hp Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP.
The Cessna 172 may be modified via a wide array of supplemental type certificates (STCs), including increased engine power and higher gross weights. Available STC engine modifications increase power from 180 to 210 hp, add constant-speed propellers, or allow the use of automobile gasoline. Other modifications include additional fuel tank capacity in the wing tips, added baggage compartment tanks, added wheel pants to reduce drag, or enhanced landing and takeoff performance and safety with a STOL kit.
A Cessna 172 was used in 1958 to set the world record for flight endurance; the record still stands.On December 4, 1958, Robert Timm and John Cook took off from McCarran Airfield in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a used Cessna 172, registration number N9172B. They landed back at McCarran Airfield on February 4, 1959, after 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds in flight.
The flight was part of a fund-raising effort for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. Food and water were transferred by matching speeds with a chase car on a straight stretch of road in the desert and hoisting the supplies aboard with a rope and bucket. Fuel was taken on by hoisting a hose from a fuel truck up to the aircraft, filling an auxiliary belly tank installed for the flight, pumping that fuel into the aircraft's regular tanks and then filling the belly tank again. The drivers steered while a second person matched speeds with the aircraft with his foot on the vehicle's accelerator pedal.
Engine oil was added by means of a tube from the cabin that was fitted to pass through the firewall. Only the pilot's seat was installed. The remaining space was used for a pad on which the relief pilot slept. The right cabin door was replaced with an easy-opening, accordion-type door to allow supplies and fuel to be hoisted aboard. Early in the flight, the engine-driven electric generator failed. A Champion wind-driven generator (turned by a small propeller) was hoisted aboard, taped to the wing support strut, and plugged into the cigarette lighter socket; it served as the aircraft's source of electricity for the rest of the flight.
The pilots decided to end the marathon flight because with 1,558 hours of continuously running the engine during the record-setting flight, plus several hundred hours already on the engine beforehand (considerably in excess of its normal overhaul interval), the engine's power output had deteriorated to the point at which they were barely able to climb away after refueling. The aircraft is on display in the passenger terminal at McCarran International Airport. Photos and details of the record flight can be seen in a small museum on the upper level of the baggage claim area. After the flight, Cook said:
Next time I feel in the mood to fly endurance, I'm going to lock myself in our garbage can with the vacuum cleaner running. That is until my psychiatrist opens up for business in the morning.
In October a fully electric Cessna 172 had successfully flown multiple times powered by advanced lithium batteries. The aircraft, designed by Colorado-based Beyond Aviation had undergone ground testing and short hop flights for almost a year with increasing range and altitude testing “
The power profile of electric aircraft is more challenging than electric cars due to the extreme temperature variations as the aircraft climbs and the high power requirements during takeoff. The flight testing of the Cessna 172 demonstrates the ability to deliver the lightest high power battery systems in a production ready format for applications where weight is critical.
The Cessna 172 was arguably the most elegant compromise in the history of aviation. It might not have been the best airplane at doing any one thing, but it was clearly the best at giving its owners a satisfying taste of everything they wanted in a personal airplane. For many of those owners, the 172 was the airplane of a lifetime.
Why not? It was and is a great, fun flyer; a good-short-haul, modest-payload cross-country machine; a wonderful trainer and a solid IFR platform.
For other owners, the 172 served as a steppingstone. After getting their feet wet with what was often the first airplane of their own, buyers would often move up to something bigger, faster and more capable. For decades that natural step-up airplane was another Cessna product, the 182 Skylane. Others moved beyond that to higher-performance models; there was even a retractable version of the 172, which was a popular choice with flight schools to serve as a complex trainer.
Today, the Cessna 172 stands as the most popular airplane ever, with around 43,000 produced, according to Cessna's numbers, including variants. And 55 years down the line it’s still adding to that total.