Whether it was a 1960 or a 2004 , almost every pilot flying today has had their hands on the control yoke of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Arguably the most versatile and dependable general aviation training aircraft in the world. This is my experience in flying the Cessna 172.
C-FMQO, was the registration I was signing my initials beside on the training sheet the first time I would go flying as a student pilot. Walking out on the flightline, with my instructor explaining different phases of flight we would be exercising that day, I stared in awe at the dilapidated plane in front of me.
For children’s sake we'll call this plane "Outhouse" brown on white, with paint chips in different locations all over the plane. As I was instructed on my first walkaround I noticed all the little stress cracks in plastic fairings which had been drilled to stop them from continuing.
I wondered if this was a good idea, as much as I had a love for aviation, I still did wish to live to see another day.
Going through the walkaround for the first time seemed like a lot of information, from straining fuel from all the right locations, three on the old 172's and if I remember correctly six or even seven on the new Fuel injected models, of which I have only flown twice, almost a year and a half ago.
Starting a 172 largely depends on weather, as with any old carbureted engine. Once pre-takeoff checklists have been taken care of, you begin priming the plane, with the old FMQO which is not common, it was required even on a warm day to prime five to six times to ensure a start. Priming complete, a quick look around and a yelling of 'Clear' out the window to ensure you're aircraft doesn't get a new paintjob from wandering apron walkers, and you turn the key to start. Once the aircraft fires up the key is released.
Upon doing you're run-up up to 1700RPM, checking mixture, carb heat, magnetos, pressure and temps, then you're ready to go flying.
Taxiing the 172 is about as simple as it gets, controls into the wind, throttle at about 1000RPM or a little less to ensure you don't need to ride the brakes and you're set. A steerable nosegear and differential brakes provide steering control on the ground, and is quite responsive, and once rolling requires small changes to maintain yourself on the yellow.
On the runway final checks are completed, full power is applied, brakes released, within 3-5 seconds power is at full rotating at about 2600 RPM depending on the prop that is installed. Depending on the weight, and the weather, about 1500 feet down the runway you hit 65MPH and rotate, when flying solo by the time you hit 65MPH the wheels are almost bouncing down the runway because she just wants to fly that bad.
Airborne now and climbing out gives a steady climb rate of about 700-800 Feet per minute, climb power in an aircraft such as this is always full power, not a reduced setting like some advanced aircraft. Once at altitude the Skyhawk performs as a trainer should, with strong positive stability from its well balanced over-wing design.
Cessna 150/152 pilots will find the 172 sluggish in its
roll authority, the normal sacrifice for having an extremely stable aircraft
usually means that it is not quite as nimble. Steep turns are a dream in this
plane, perhaps almost too good for the pilots who will later go on to pilot
aircraft which are not quite as stable to control.
Speaking of range and endurance with the mixture leaned, the 172 has a long endurance, but in my mind falls short on useful load, four seating places are almost useless, with three adults and light backpacks, and full fuel of course, you are almost always close if not over your gross weight, which is something you never sacrifice, especially on these aircraft.
A standard light wind approach sees the aircraft with around ten degrees of flaps and an airspeed of 80 MPH. during cold Canadian winters, rather than ten degrees and low power settings, you would normally increase flaps to 30 degrees or 40 depending on the model and leave a high power setting. This avoids having to do engine warms which makes for an unstable approach, with 40 degrees and carb heat on, to maintain an approach at 80 MPH you're usually running close to 2000RPM which keeps the engine nice and warm. The reason we do this of course is in case of overshoot, old carbureted engines do not take kindly to rapid throttle responses in extreme cold, in some cases if the engine is left to run at a low power setting for too long, 1200-1500 RPM, and full power is required, rapid onset of throttle will actually stall the engine, leaving little time for a re-start 50 feet from the ground.
Over the runway, if required flaps are moved from ten,
to full flaps so long as the wind is light, and the 172 will float gracefully
down the runway, with just a slight constant pullback on the yoke, while flying
about two to three feet above the ground the plane slowly decelerates and if
piloted properly will sink just slightly and the main gear almost just seem to
start rolling, and you're on the ground. You want to hold the nose gear off as
long as possible, setting it down at too high of a speed will cause a shimmy in
some cases, which can sometimes, if the shimmy dampener is not functioning up to
snuff, jar your fillings right out of your teeth.
Overall the Cessna 172 Skyhawk has and always will be a staple of aviation training, and personal enjoyment. My only complaint would be the poor useful load of the aircraft, especially for someone my size of 220 pounds.
Now with the advent of the NAV III packages being installed in the new Cessna 182's which feature moving maps and a full graphical flight data screen replacing the need for vacuum driven instruments, I would expect to see new 172's coming out with cockpits resembling modern airliners, hopefully always retaining her same lines so many in the aviation world have come to know and love.