Cessna 172 Guide and Specs : Is It Worth It?

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Introduction

With over 44,000 units built since 1956 and an ongoing production line, it is hard to do justice to the Cessna 172 Skyhawk. The most produced aircraft in the entire history of aviation owes its longevity to a tried and tested evolutionary design rooted in the Cessna classic configuration. Most general aviation pilots have sat behind the Skyhawk’s controls at some point in their careers, and the type is universally loved for its pleasant handling and brilliant simplicity that made it a timeless classic.

Plane Year / Make / Model Specs

Cessna has worked to improve the 172 models incrementally, despite its appearance changing relatively little from the 1956 debut. Here is an overview of three of the most prominent members of the Cessna 172 family: the 172F, 172N, and 172R.

Powerplant

The Cessna 172 is powered by a radial engine. Early models, including the Cessna 172F, were fitted with a six-cylinder Continental O-300-C or O-300-D with a displacement of 300 cubic inches and 145 horsepower, but in 1968 this was replaced by the Lycoming O-320 series. This was a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 320 cu. in. Later models like the Cessna 172R came with another O-320 series engine, this time the IO-360-L2A with 360cu.in. of displacement and the same horsepower. This is the same engine fitted on the 172S model currently in production.

Fuel Capacity

For many years, owners had to contend with relatively small tanks, with long-range fliers requiring either factory-installed or aftermarket auxiliary tanks at an additional cost and loss of space.

A standard Cessna 172F can carry 39 gallons in its standard configuration plus an additional 18 if the auxiliary tanks are installed, for a total of 57. The Cessna 172N slightly expanded the baseline capacity at the expense of the auxiliary tank – it can carry 43 gallons by default, but only 54 with the new tank. Newer Cessna 172R models have done away with the auxiliary tank options, shipping instead with a 56-gallon capacity on all units. This has aided in standardizing the fleet, lowering maintenance costs, and providing all operators with the type’s maximum range.

Weight and Payload

The Cessna 172 has seen a steady decrease in useful loadout over the years due to increases in empty weight. 172F and 172N models have a take-off weight of 2,300 lbs. Compared to 2,450 lbs. on the 172R, however, when comparing empty weights, these are, respectively, 1,260 1,379 lbs. and 1,600 lbs. The Cessna 172R has a useful payload of 857 lbs. in its normal category, compared to the 921 lbs. of the 172N or the impressive 1,040 lbs. achieved by the 172F. However, as far as baggage capacity goes, all three models are limited by the luggage storage’s restrictions of up to 120 lbs.

Cessna 172 / Model Prices

The current price for a factory-fresh Skyhawk, in its Cessna 172S version, is between $369,000 and $438,000. This difference is due to options available to the pilot, as the avionics suite.

Cessna 172 / Performance and Handling

Performance

Despite being in production for over half a century, the Cessna 172 has not seen a revolution in terms of performance, but some changes have occurred because of structural redesigns or powerplant changes.

The “do not exceed” speed of 151 KCAS on the Cessna 172F has risen to 158 KCAS on the 172N and again to 160 KCAS on the 172R. The cruising speed of 122 KCAS was slightly boosted to 126 KCAS on all latter variants. Clean stall speeds are nearly identical across the three – 50 KCAS for both the Cessna 172F and 172N, but 51 KCAS on the 172R. This difference is more pronounced in landing configurations, where the 172F stalls at 43 knots, growing to 44 knots for the 172N and finally 47 knots on the 172R. A marginal increase, but enough to cause trouble to a pilot accustomed to older models.

The best climb rate of the Cessna 172F is 645 fpm. The new powerplant on the 172N increased it to a zippy 770 fpm, which was then decreased to 720 fpm with the 172R because of its heavier empty weight. The service ceiling for the Cessna 172F is 13,000 ft, compared with 14,200 ft on the 172N and 13,500 ft on the 172R.

Handling

The Cessna 172 was introduced and marketed as a trainer for the modern age, with its chief departure from previous Cessna designs being a tricycle gear configuration. This change made landings and ground handling much more comfortable experiences for both budding aviators and seasoned instructors, which motivated Cessna’s marketing department to dub it the “Land-O-Matic.” Steering on the ground is made possible via a steerable nosewheel.

Its high wing design incorporates the advantages inherent to this design choice, most of which make the Cessna 172 especially suited for the role of pilot training. The increased distance from the ground helps shorten the landing run as it is not as strongly affected by the ground effect. The Skyhawk is an inherently stable aircraft thanks to the high wing, as it places the center of mass below the center of lift.

In terms of pilot comfort, unlike low-wing aircraft, ground visibility is unobstructed. Upwards line of sight to the sides is slightly restricted, but this comes with increased sun protection from some angles. This visibility issue is not generally a problem outside the base to the final turn. The Skyhawk is also easier to chock and unchock as the pilot does not need to crouch to access the landing gear.

Plane Make / Model Maintenance Schedule

Its status as the most produced airplane is no coincidence. The Cessna 172 owes its popularity, among other factors, to a simplicity in design that brings affordable maintenance and high availability rates. Due to its ubiquitous status, it is also incredibly easy to find A&P mechanics who have the first-hand experience servicing the 172 series.

Maintenance has remained largely identical across the Skyhawk family range, with the main changes affecting seat comforts and avionics. The latter used to only affect communication and navigation gear, but Cessna’s latest 172S brought about a full shift to a glass cockpit with the Garmin 1000 suite.

Over the years, Cessna 172 operators have grown to use between $15 and $30 in maintenance per flight hour as an estimate, distributed between regular maintenance, inspections, and overhauls.

Cessna 172 / Modifications and Upgrades

The list of Skyhawk modifications available feels almost endless, and because of how long many have been about, supplemental type certificates have been issued to most of them.

A popular Cessna 172 upgrade is the powerplant. Engine and propeller combinations here are many, with trade-offs that fit different needs. Many early models received 180 hp engines that increased consumption by 25% but also severely improved high-altitude and short take-off performance, a non-negotiable gain for pilots operating in such environments.

The downside of engine upgrades is their very high cost, which is why most operators who need the extra performance prefer to purchase aircraft that have already had the conversion completed. Even in cases where they require significant work to be airworthy again, the costs usually fall under those of conducting an engine change first-hand today.

If the Skyhawk is a timeless classic, its seatbelts are hard as loved. The initial models have lap belts that are hardly as safe as you need them to be, while from the 1970s onwards, the shoulder harness installed is famously uncomfortable. The most common solution to these is inertial reel shoulder harnesses, which bring the Cessna 172 to modern safety standards without compromising on crew comfort.

The original cowling fasteners on the 172 are a hassle to actuate and cause vibration issues that cascade into lights failures, as described below. Parts manufacturer Skybolt offers a kit that replaces them with cam locks which are easier to operate, more secure, and reduce vibration issues.

Bush pilots or other operators who do not always enjoy the comforts of 9,000 ft concrete strips have access to larger tires which improve rough field performance, but these are relatively uncommon due to the required gear modifications and field approval paperwork associated.

One of the most common upgrades for the Cessna 172 family in recent years has been an avionics overhaul to replace the original panel partially or fully with digital instruments. The latest Cessna 172 in production, the 172S, already comes with a Garmin 1000 suite installed.

Cessna 172 / Where to Find Replacement Parts

The Cessna 172’s popularity makes it one of the most accessible planes to own in terms of parts availability. Shops all over the US and the world are stocked with almost everything an owner will need to maintain a Skyhawk airworthy. This also applies to many of the modifications outlined above, as they grow increasingly common in the global 172 fleet.

In the case of Continental-equipped Skyhawks, the supply of engines and spares has been a growing problem due to their age, which is why many have been re-engined over the years.

Cessna 172/ Model Common Problems

Two issues common to the entire Cessna 172 family are excessive nosewheel shimmy and cowl vibrations. The former can make ground handling uncomfortable, particularly for untrained pilots, and can be addressed with aftermarket dampers. Cowl vibrations are known to damage the landing lights, which have borne a series of modifications such as wing-mounted lights or LED ones.

Owners of early Cessna 172 models still equipped with Continental engines must contend with significantly pricier maintenance and overhaul costs.

Reasons for this lie largely in the cylinder configuration: as a six-cylinder engine, the Continental O-300 has two extra cylinders and associated drivetrains to work on and replace.

Technicians have also reported that the cylinders on the Continental models are more prone to leaks, particularly over the 1000-hour mark, and usually need replacement before their target useful life.

Lycoming’s O-320 was not without flaw – the H2AD series introduced in 1977 with the Cessna 172F offered a massive jump in performance, but it also brought along plenty of growing pains along.

The O-320-H2AD had problems with its camshaft and lifter, which on a good day affected performance; and on a bad one, led to metal chips finding their way into the aircraft’s oil system. This led to exponentially higher engine wear and caused several accidents due to engine failures.

Lycoming and the FAA worked in tandem and, through a series of modifications mandated by airworthiness directives, solved the issues on the H2AD model and turned it into a safe and reliable engine. Still, after the ‘shock’ experienced, Lycoming reverted most of the design choices found in the H2AD when making its successor.

Cessna 172 / Insurance Options

Due to its longevity, reliability, and popularity, the Cessna 172 is as close to an insurer’s favorite as you can get. AOPA’s operating cost calculator lists an insurance price of around $1,200 per year for standard coverage. This value was based on a 1975 Cessna 172M with a Lycoming O-320-E2D with several upgrades, fit for both VFR and IFR operations.

Depending on the coverage needed and specifics related to the model and operational demands, costs for a Cessna 172 can go as low as $250 per year but also reach $1400 on the high end.

Cessna 172/ Model Resale Value

A well-maintained Cessna 172 has great resale value. A high-hour flight school unit made in the 1980s and without avionics upgrades goes for as low as $58,000, but low-time or overhauled airframes can fetch up to $280,000. Most Cessna 172 listings orbit around the $80,000-$120,000 range.

Cessna 172 / Owner Reviews

Glen Chiappe of the Cessna Owner Organization describes it as a plane that “took good care of many of us when mishandled by our inexperience.” 172 owners adore the longevity of their Cessnas, and with good reason: half a century on, most Skyhawks in operation give their pilots the same performance they did right off the factory. It has been described as the “airplane of a lifetime” by Isabel Goyer of Flying magazine.

Instructors in particular highlight the aircraft’s stability and control responsiveness, and enjoy its great availability rates that allow CFIs to raise the next generation of pilots without having to splurge on more airframes than needed. The landing gear’s ruggedness allows students to improve their touchdowns without damaging the airplane in both short and long runs.

The low maintenance costs and fantastic parts availability reduces the logistics burden, making the Cessna 172 a great ‘turn the key and go’ option for owners who want a reliable and affordable plane that is ready to fly when they need it.

Cessna 172 / Similar Aircraft

Aircraft with similar performance, handling, and operating costs as the Cessna 172 exist both within and outside the Cessna portfolio. The Cessna 150, 152, 170, 175, and 177 have shared origins with the 172 and have many of its advantages, with the first two being particularly common in the general aviation market to this day.

Classic competitors to the Skyhawk include the Beechcraft Musketeer, the Piper Cherokee, the Grumman AA-5, and, for those who love an eastern flavor, the Yakovlev Yak-12. Recent noteworthy entries making a break in this segment include the Diamond DA40 and Vulcanair V1.0.

Cessna 172 / Clubs You can Join

Skyhawk owners enjoy some of the largest and most loved type clubs in the market. These include the Cessna 172 Club, the Cessna Flyer Association, and the Cessna Owner Association, on top of many smaller types of clubs, forums, and Facebook groups.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: When was the Cessna 172 introduced?

Answer: The first Cessna 172 rolled out of the production line in 1956.

Question: Is the Cessna 172 still in production?

Answer: Yes, in the Cessna 172S version. Since 1956, 172 productions were only interrupted briefly, between 1986 and 1994.

Question: Which engine does the Cessna 172 use?

Answer: Early models used the Continental O-300, but most are equipped with the Lycoming O-320 or IO-360 series.

Question: How much does a new Cessna 172 cost today?

Answer: Factory-fresh models cost between $369,000 and $438,000.

Question: What is the Cessna 172 cruise speed?

Answer: Cruise speeds range between 122 and 126 knots, depending on the variant.

Question: What is the main difference between the Cessna 172 and the Cessna 170?

Answer: Initially, this was limited to the landing gear, with the 172 using a tricycle configuration as opposed to the taildragger 170.

Question: Is the Cessna 172 expensive to maintain?

Answer: If properly maintained, the Cessna 172 has a maintenance cost between $15 and $30 per hour, which is relatively low.

Question: Can you customize a Cessna 172?

Answer: Yes. The Skyhawk family has a high amount of certified modifications that are often easy to purchase and implement and solve some gripes operators have found over the years.

Sources

https://www.flyingmag.com/aircraft/pistons/evolution-cessna-172/

https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/aircraft-and-ownership/aircraft-fact-sheets/cessna-172

https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/aircraft-and-ownership/buying-an-aircraft/tips-on-buying-used-aircraft/hypothetical-operating-cost-calculation

https://disciplesofflight.com/cessna-172-skyhawk/

https://bwifly.com/cessna-172-operating-cost/

https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/aircraft-and-ownership/buying-an-aircraft/tips-on-buying-used-aircraft/hypothetical-operating-cost-calculation

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