Cessna 120 Guide and Specs : Is It Powerful Enough?


Let me introduce you to the design that spawned the ubiquitous Cessna 150, namely, the Cessna 120 and 140 series of aircraft. It was the Cessna 140 that first appeared in our skies in 1946, followed one month later by the economy version 120. Both aircraft had two seats, conventional landing gear, a monocoque fuselage, and steel sprung main gear legs with a steerable tailwheel.

Essentially the same, the main differences between both aircraft were the 120 lacked flaps, and if you wanted an electrical system and rear-cabin windows, you could add them as options. Aircraft manufacturers of the time believed that a post-war rush for flying training was imminent, and they all jockeyed for positions to fill the perceived need. While the need didn’t eventuate as rapidly as Cessna and others had hoped, Cessna produced 7,664 120 and 140 variants in the next five years

Check out the 15 Most Important Events in Air History Of All Time here.

The design was a departure for Cessna; until the 120/140 came along, strutless cantilever wings were standard on all their aircraft. As the race to capture new clients hinged in part on the most affordable aircraft, the addition of wing struts to the 120/140 series greatly simplified construction, lowering manufacturing costs. The use of aluminum cladding on all but the wings also reduced the cost of ownership by avoiding regular fabric replacement. In 1946 the Cessna 120 sold for US$2,695, and the 140 for US$3,495.

Powered by the 85 horsepower Continental C-85-12, and latterly the 12F, the aircraft was underpowered. Yet, it admirably acquitted its task of training thousands of pilots during its heyday.

In 1949 Cessna ceased manufacture of the 120 in favor of a new model 140, designated the 140A. This variant had the larger 90 horsepower Continental C-90-12F/14F as standard, aluminum covered wings, and single-wing struts rather than the V-struts of its siblings. Unfortunately, sales continued to drop steadily for the 140 series, and manufacture ceased in 1951, ultimately replaced by the Cessna 150 in 1956.

1946 Cessna 120 Specifications

Engines     Weights and Capacities  
Model: Continental C-85-12/F   T/O / Landing Weights Normal: 1450 lb
Cylinders: 4   Standard Empty Weight: 785 lb
Displacement: 188 cu in   Max. Useful Load: 665 lb
Horsepower: 85   Baggage Capacity: 80 lb
Aspirated Carburetor   Oil Capacity: 5 quarts
TBO: 1800   Passenger Configuration: 1
      Crew: 1
Propellers     Aircraft Dimensions  
Model: Sensenich 74FK49   Wing Span: 33 ft 4 in
Blades: 2   Length: 21 ft 6 in
      Height: 6 ft 3 in
Fuel:     Internal Baggage Volume:  N/A
Octane: 80/87      
Capacity: 25 gal      
Burn @ 75% Power: 5.4      

Cessna 120/140 Series Prices


When new in 1946, the Cessna 120 was US$2,695, and the 140 was US$3,495. Today, expect to buy a mid-1946 to 1947 Cessna 120 between US$24,000 to US$40,000 with a total time airframe (TTAF) around the 2,000 to 3,500 mark. A Cessna 140 from 1946/1947 era currently sells between US$27,000 to US$47,000, having a TTAF between 1,800 and 6,000.

Cessna 120/140 Series Performance & Handling

If you want a load lifting aircraft with an impressive climb and respectable cruise speed, the Cessna 120 and 140 are two aircraft to not place on your shopping list. The Continental engines are frugal on the fuel, sipping 5 gallons per hour, and equally thrifty in all other departments. With a useful load of around 650 pounds, you’ll not be carrying too much luggage as you cruise between 80 to 90 knots. At gross weight, the climb rate is leisurely; when light, it’s adequate.

Yet, the handling of the two aircraft is delightful, with good, crisp roll capability, light pitch control, and stability assisted by the slight wing dihedral. Visibility over the nose and to the sides is fine, although visibility to the rear of a 120 without the rear window mod is non-existent.

Owners report landings to be non-event. The large fin and rudder make the aircraft easy to handle in a crosswind, and although most taildraggers can be interesting to land, the 120 and 140 are certainly not known to be particularly onerous. On the ground, the brakes are effective, and many of the types have ended up on their back through over-zealous brake application.

1946 Cessna 120 Performance and Handling Specifications

Cessna Specs

Cruise Speed (Kts)     Stall Speed (kts) (Flaps up) 32
75% @ 4,000 ft 95      
      Service Ceiling (ft) 15,500
Fuel Consumption (GPH)     Best sea-level rate-of-climb (fpm) 640
75% 5.4      
      Take-off Ground Roll (ft) 650
Max Range (nm)        
75% @ 7,500 ft 395   Landing Ground Roll (ft) 460
Est. Endurance (hrs)     Do Not Exceed Speed (kts) 122
65% power 4.5      

Cessna 120/140 Series Maintenance Schedule

Here’s one aircraft where maintenance costs are not prohibitive, a testament to the 120s simple design. Similar to many taildraggers, the area to watch is around the main gearboxes. The gearbox is where the main gear attaches to the fuselage, and damage is not uncommon from hard landings or ground loops.

For the same reason, the lower door posts can crack in the vicinity of the strut attachment. If you have the fabric wing coverings, maintenance costs can be a bit higher when the need to recover comes around, although modern fabrics can extend that time out by many years. Annual inspections are straightforward and inexpensive, as are the 100-hour maintenance inspections.

Cessna 120/140 Series Modifications and Upgrades

Cessna Aircraft

Some owners upgrade their aircraft by removing the fabric from the wings and having them sheeted in aluminum. While making the aircraft more durable and removing the expense of replacing the fabric, it does add a weight and performance penalty. Other owners choose to upgrade to newer, more durable fabrics, allowing more extended periods between replacements.

Others are modifying their aircraft with more powerful engines. However, this adds weight, further limiting range due to requiring a lighter total fuel load.

Upgrades of older systems are standard, brakes being one area. Also, for those concerned about nose-overs, landing gear extenders are popular.

Cessna 120/140 Series Where To Find Replacement Parts

The quantities of Cessna 120 and 140 aircraft produced have also guaranteed a large spares pool. According to owners, considering this fact and the simple systems in the aircraft, locating spares from reputable aviation suppliers is not a problem.

Cessna 120/140 Series Common Problems

Cessna in Air

The 120/140 series are known for weakness in the tail area, and aft fuselage, particularly around the tailwheel attach point. Look for cracks in the structure and broken leaves in the tailwheel spring. Experienced owners ensure these areas receive a regular and thorough inspection.

The carry-through spar is known to corrode if skylight leaks exist, as the water will pool in and around the spar. A good inspection, particularly after a flight through inclement weather, might be prudent.

Cessna 120/140 Series Insurance Options

Cessna jet

Liability coverage is the standard aviation insurance all aircraft owners take, while hull coverage is considered optional. Liability coverage will cover the damage caused by the aircraft, including passengers; hull coverage will cover damage done to the aircraft itself. The more experience that the owner/pilot has, the lower the premiums

For private pilots with 500 hours total time, 100 hours on tailwheel aircraft, and 25 hours on the model, in 2020, the annual cost for US$1,000,000 liability coverage ranged between US$225 to US$275 per year. Pilots with less experience can expect this to rise from US$325 to US$530 per year.

If the insurance includes additional hull cover for US$25,000, the annual premium for the experienced pilot was between US$765 to US$975 per year, while the lesser experienced pilot can expect US$1,150 to US$1,900 per year.

Cessna 120/140 Series Model Resale Value

Popular as a low-cost trainer and great fun if you want an afternoon pottering around the neighborhood or nipping to the next town for a hamburger, the Cessna 120/140 series retains its value. With average prices of US$25,000 to US$35,000, this great little aircraft offers people a low entry to aircraft ownership and, therefore, can be expected to retain a great resale value if well-maintained.

Cessna 120/140 Series Owner Reviews

Owners say that they don’t own a Cessna 120/140 series for startling performance or excellent lifting capability, but all agree that they can’t be beat as a simple, rugged, low-cost, fun machine.

Cessna 120/140 Series Similar Aircraft

Taylorcraft B

If you’re looking for aircraft of comparable year and similar performance, there are a few. Consider the Taylorcraft B with a similar cruise but better load capacity, the Aeronca Chief with lower load capacity and speeds, or the Luscombe 8 with similar figures all around. The Piper Vagabond carries less horsepower, flies slower, and lifts less, the Fleet Canuck has similar specifications at similar horsepower, and the ERCO Ercoupe with lower horsepower and slightly lower specifications as a result.

Cessna 120/140 Series Clubs You Can Join

There’s only one to consider. Contact the Cessna 120-140 Association at https://cessna120140.com/.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What does service ceiling mean?

Answer: An aircraft’s service ceiling is defined as the height at which the aircraft cannot climb at a rate greater than 100 feet per minute.

Question: What is the meaning of the term TBO?

Answer: TBO means Time Between Overhaul, which is the manufacturer’s recommended running time, in hours or calendar time, before overhaul.

Question: To what does TTAF refer?

Answer: TTAF stands for Total Time Airframe, which refers to the number of flying hours the airframe has accumulated since new. Thus, it is an indication of age and use.

Question: Aircraft Gross Weight refers to what?

Answer: Gross Weight is the total aircraft weight, including pilots, passengers, fuel, oil, and cargo.

Question: What does max structural cruise mean?

Answer: Maximum structural cruise, or Vno, refers to the airspeed above which the aircraft should be flown only in smooth air. Above this speed, turbulence or rapid control deflections increase the chance of structural damage.

Question: What are FAA-PMA Approved Parts?

Answer: FAA refers to the Federal Aviation Administration, and PMA means Parts Manufacturer Approval. It is an approval granted to a parts manufacturer to manufacture specific aircraft components.

Question: What is a ground loop?

Answer: A ground loop is a loss of directional stability, where the tail of the aircraft tries to rotate around the aircraft’s nose in a horizontal plane. Such a loss of control can cause the faster wing to rise due to aerodynamic forces, potentially causing the other wing to strike the ground. Extremely high sideways forces are placed on undercarriage components, sometimes causing structural damage.

Further Read:









Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top