Cessna Aircraft Company has delivered more than 43,000 Cessna 172 airplanes to date. This makes it the best-selling, most widely flown airplane ever built. It also has a reputation for being the safest general aviation aircraft available.
Over the years, its been called many things. Affordable, both for the cost of the plane and cost of flying. Utilitarian, for decent short haul and payload capabilities. Versatile, for its ability to fulfill a variety of roles. The perfect training and instructional plane, for it’s reliable flight characteristics. And just plain fun to fly. In fact, Flying Magazine went so far as to say:
“The Cessna 172 was arguably the most elegant compromise in the history of aviation.”
So where did this golden child of general aviation come from? And how did it become more successful than other aircraft in its class, such as the Beechcraft Musketeer or Piper Cherokee? And what does the future hold for the 172? As with many aircraft, the Cessna 172 has a long and interesting history. Over the past 58 years, the 172 has worked hard to win the trust and admiration of pilots. And along the way, it picked up the name ‘Skyhawk’. The Cessna 172 even played a key part in setting an unbelievable world record.
The Cessna 172 Arrives on the Scene
It’s 1955, late on a summer night. Four of Cessna’s chief engineers are gathered around a set of airplane plans. They are excitedly discussing the new design they’ve just finalized. They’re assigning it the number 172, and calling it the ‘Skyhawk‘. The engineers congratulate each other on their brilliant, inspired design. The next day, the design is approved by the board. Production is to begin as soon as possible.
In January 1955, Cessna started test flying an improved variant of the 1701, called the 170C. It was powered by a 145 hp Continental O-300-A engine. And it had larger elevators and a more angular tail-fin. Although the variant was certified with these changes, Cessna still felt like it wasn’t quite there.
So they modified it again, changing from a conventional landing gear to a tricycle landing gear configuration. With this new modification, Cessna decided it was different enough to have its own model number. And so the 170C became the 172. The 172 went through test flights and certifications in June 1955.
Cessna quickly started building 172s. They delivered the first production models in 1956, with a price tag of $8,995. It was popular almost immediately. To keep up with demand, Cessna built 4,195 172 aircraft over the next five years. They built over 1400 in 1956 alone. The Cessna 172 debuted with the following specs:
Original Model Cessna 172 Specs
Maximum Speed: 131 MPH
Cruise Speed: 125 MPH / 491 SM / 3.9 HRS
Vne (Never Exceed Speed): 160 MPH
Rate of Climb at Sea Level: 660 FPM
Service Ceiling: 15,100 Feet
Ground Roll: 725 Feet
Total Distance over 50-FT Obstacle: 1650 Feet
Ground Roll: 680 Feet
Total Distance over 50-FT Obstacle: 1115 Feet
Stall Speed (KCAS)
Flaps Up, Power Off: 58 MPH
Flaps Down, Power Off: 52 MPH
Gross Weight: 2200 Pounds
Standard Empty Weight: 1290 Pounds
Useful Load: 910 Pounds
Baggage Allowance: 120 Pounds
Wing Loading: 12.6 Pounds/Sq.Ft.
Power Loading:15.1 Pounds/HP
Fuel Capacity (Total): 39 Gallons
Oil Capacity: 8 Quarts
Engine: Continental O-300 / 145hp
Propeller: 76 Inch (diameter) / Fixed Pitch
Electrical System: 14-volt with Generator
Wingspan: 36 Feet