The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is a widely flown, well-known aircraft. It’s used pretty extensively by flight schools to train student and prospective pilots and companies have even created flight simulators modeled on it. If you’ve spent time flying, chances are pretty good you’ve flown in one, or even flown one. And you’ve probably heard or know that the Cessna 172 has a reputation for being a solid all around aircraft.
However, here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
As of 2015, more than 43,000 Cessna 172’s have been built, making it the most produced and successful aircraft in history. Who’s in the number two slot? That would be the Ilyushin II-2, a two seat Russian combat aircraft produced during World War 2, with just over 36,000 made. The next closest aircraft that is still being produced, however, is the Piper PA-28, with a little under 33,000 at last count. With that kind of a lead, and 172s still rolling off the line, it seems like the Skyhawk might not be giving up the title anytime soon.
I mean, is there a groundhawk? Deep thoughts aside, where did “Skyhawk” come from, and what makes a Cessna 172 a Skyhawk? Well, the first 172 rolled off the line on 1956, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the term “Skyhawk” first entered the scene. For the new 1961 model of the 172, Cessna wanted to develop a deluxe version that they could offer alongside the basic model. So, they called the deluxe version the “Skyhawk.” Technically, “Skyhawk” still refers to the deluxe model, while the basic model is just the Cessna 172. However, this distinction isn’t usually recognized, and for most people, all 172s are the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
The Cessna 172 actually began life as a variant of the Cessna 170, a taildragger. As the story goes, a few Cessna engineers designed a nosewheel installation for the 170, and even went ahead and developed a mock-up. However, a manager happened to drop by the shop on the weekend, saw the mock-up and was not pleased. The following Monday, a memo went out from the vice president of engineering ordering that the nosewheel variant was to be destroyed. The brave engineers didn’t follow orders, however, and hid it.
In the mean time, the Piper Tri-Pacer with a tricycle configuration had been selling well, and Cessna started wondering if maybe there wasn’t something to that. They even rented a Tri-Pacer so they could do a first-hand evaluation of the airplane. Finally, they decided it was time to move forward with a tricycle-gear version of their 170. The engineers whipped out their mock-up, things moved forward, and what started as a variant became a new model. And guess what? They weren’t wrong. In the 172’s first year, Cessna built more than 1400 of the aircraft.
Being popular isn’t easy work. So in 1986, the Cessna 172 decided it was time to take a sabbatical, and figure out a new direction in life. It spent the next ten years reflecting … OK, OK, that’s not what happened. What actually happened was that towards the end of the 1970s, aircraft manufacturers were getting hit with more and more lawsuits, and it was costing them huge amounts of money. During the period from 1978 – 1988, aircraft manufacturing overall declined a devastating 95% and over 100,000 people in the industry lost jobs.
Cessna, Piper, and Beech, who at the time produced over 50% of all general aviation aircraft, were the hardest hit. Cessna, who’d been making aircraft since 1927, posted their first annual loss in 1983, and by 1986 was forced to shut down production on all single engine aircraft, including the 172. Finally, in 1996, after the General Aviation Revitalization Act went into effect, Cessna was able to restart single engine production, and they brought back three models, the 172 and 182 in 1996, and the 206 in 1998.
Yeah, that’s right, the Cessna 172 holds the world record for flight endurance.
A mere two years after the 172 hit the market, a Las Vegas businessman was approached by one of his slot machine mechanics (and WW2 bomber pilot) about funding a bid to break the flight endurance record as a promotional stunt to advertise his casino. The record had just been broken and re-set a few months previous, by a pair who flew for 50 days continuously, in a 172 dubbed The Old Scotchman. The businessman agreed, so the slot mechanic, Robert Timm, found a co-pilot, John Cook, and an aircraft, a modified Cessna 172. And on December 4th, 1958, at 3:52 PM, they lifted off.
64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes later, Timm and Cook landed. And their record still stands today. Some time after the flight, Cook was asked whether he would ever consider trying to beat the record, to which he replied “Next time I feel in the mood to fly endurance, I’m going to lock myself in a garbage can with the vacuum cleaner running, and have Bob serve me T-bone steaks chopped up in a thermos bottle. That is, until my psychiatrist opens for business in the morning.”
For the long version, check out this article.
And there you have it. Five things you may not have known about the seemingly unassuming, but actually quite amazing Cessna 172 Skyhawk.