Cessna 172
14 min read

It appears to be personal…

I did a bunch of safety studies in FLYING 15 or 20 years ago in which I calculated accident rates for the airplanes studied. It was no surprise that the Cessna 172 came out well with a fatal accident rate of .56 per 100,000 flying hours. That gave the 172 the best accident rate in private aviation. (The airplane will always be a 172 to me. Think of it as a Skyhawk if you wish.) By comparison, the fatal accident rate for the total activity has been stuck in the 1.2-1.4 range for quite a while.

The 172 is the most built airplane in history at 43,000 copies. A lot of those airplanes are quite old, a lot were exported and a bunch have been damaged beyond repair. It is probably still safe to say there are more 172s flying in the U. S. than anything else and though production rates today are relatively low, that will remain true for a long time to come. That makes it a true benchmark airplane in a lot of ways, including that good safety record.

Calculating accident rates is fraught with peril and while I thought my methodology was pretty good, I am sure it had flaws. Rates that I calculated did, though, come out pretty close to rates calculated by others so I thought mine were and are as accurate as you could hope for.

Hours flown by piston airplanes

Piston airplanes just aren’t flying as many hours as they once did. (Source: FAA)

A lot has happened in and to private aviation in the time since I did those safety studies. Flying activity has dropped dramatically, airplane use has probably changed substantially, and the pilot population has changed. Maybe the biggest change in pilots is that the average age has increased almost hand-in-hand with the time that has passed. The same thing is true of the airplanes that we fly.

I think it is safe to say that any accident rate numbers developed today would be substantially more suspect than those of 15 or 20 years ago. Still, though, some numbers and information that I developed about the 172 then are probably still true today.

The 172 accounted for 17-percent of the active fleet and flew 16-percent of the hours flown while accounting for six-percent of the fatal accidents.

In a two-year period there was but one fatal 172 accident that was due to a mechanical failure. That was an engine failure related to a valve. There were no fatal accidents related to fuel exhaustion or starvation.

Despite the good record in that area, the 172 is probably involved in just as many forced landings as any like airplane. It just appears more adaptable to impromptu arrivals than some other airplanes. The low landing speed contributes to this. There is no available statistic on this, but I would bet that most 172 forced landings don’t result in what the NTSB classifies as an accident.

I looked at fatal 172 accidents that occurred during two more recent years (2012 and 2013) when virtually all the NTSB reports were final as opposed to preliminary. There were 25 such accidents in the 48 contiguous states. If the methodology I used years ago is applied to that number, the 172 safety record appears to have improved, maybe substantially.

As a matter of record, Diamond currently claims to have a better record than the 172. I have looked at their numbers and if everything is accurate they are probably right. The Diamond fleet is, however, much smaller so the inevitable yearly changes in the number of accidents would cause big changes in accident rates.

I was most curious about whether or not the changing patterns in private aviation resulted in any change in the nature of 172 accidents. The quick answer is yes, there seem to have been basic changes. Remember, this is for two years which in a fleet as large as the 172 could represent close to 10-million flight hours.

In that old study half the fatal accidents were related to time-proven trespasses: continuing VFR into bad weather, descending below a safe altitude while IFR, and intentional low flying (but not including stall/spin) were all there. About 20-percent of the fatal accidents were stall/spin.

If there was a particular phase of flight where the 172 was vulnerable, it was the go-around. Those big flaps, 40-degrees on older models and 30 later, make a go-around a demanding maneuver, especially if it is started late.

Cessna 172

It’s still one of the safest airplanes in the sky, but the accident picture is changing.

Over ten percent of the 172 accidents involved drugs or alcohol.

One accident actually followed a shoot-out. The pilot shot two people, killing one, and then exchanged gunfire with another person as he was taxiing out in a stolen airplane. He crashed into a wooded area 20 minutes after takeoff.

When looking at the accidents that occurred 15 or 20 years later, there’s a strong sense that you are looking at an entirely different pilot group.

Where darkness didn’t show up much before, more recently 40-percent of the 172 fatal accidents happened at night. Almost 20-percent reflected some form of pilot incapacitation ranging from a massive heart attack to cataracts screwing up night vision to the point that the pilot couldn’t function properly.

Almost 30-percent of the accidents in the later period were related to drugs or alcohol. Drug involvement is hard to pin down because the NTSB will often mention drug use but not include it in the probable cause. I guess that is because with alcohol there is a maximum level prescribed in the FARs where there is no such measure for drugs.

Suicide or possible suicide was indicated in 25-percent of the fatal accidents.

Stall/spin showed up exactly the same as before at 20-percent.

There was no gun play in the latest tally.

Two of the accidents are interesting to me because of the particular human factors involved. Neither involved anything peculiar to the 172.

The pilot of a 172 was maneuvering around adverse weather in mountainous terrain when he lost control of the airplane. The pilot survived the crash and it was obvious that he had accessed on-board survival gear. He died of hypothermia before he was found two days later. The airplane had an STC-approved shoulder harness retrofit that failed on impact. That could have contributed to his injuries and made survival more difficult.

Another pilot was returning a just-bought 172 to his home base when he flew into the ground. It was night and the active airline pilot had been doing a lot of flying, including several trans-Atlantic flights, in recent days. The NTSB concluded that he simply went to sleep.

There’s always a question about the relationship of airplane age to accidents. I don’t think this proves anything but almost 40-percent of the recent 172 fatal accidents were in 172R and 172S models, built under a new Part 23 certification since Cessna resumed 172 production in 1996. The only other single models that stand out are 172M and N models. Those were built in relatively large numbers so that is logical.

Cessna once acquired what was thought to be the highest-time 172 in the fleet. This was some time ago and, as I remember, the airplane had about 15,000 hours on it, almost all in low-altitude patrol flying. They subjected the airframe to every available test and the only parts of the airframe that showed any appreciable wear were the front seat tracks. Those were replaced, the airplane was put back together, and it went back on patrol. It might still be flying, perhaps still none the worse for wear.

50s Cessna 172

Airplanes certified over 60 years ago are still flying safely – the FAA deserves some credit for that.

There is no way to calculate the hours flown by individual models of the 172 but it is a cinch that the newer ones fly more. I doubt that there would be a lot of difference in accident rates among the various models if the numbers were available to calculate those rates.

The 172 is thought of as a training airplane as much as it is a personal airplane but almost none of the fatal accidents and not a whole lot of the non-fatal accidents occur during instructional flying.

In the old two year period studied, there was one fatal 172 accident in instructional flying. In the later period there were two but one of those was a midair collision, one of two in a 172 in that period. The midair occurred in a training area. That is a risk that is not related to the type airplane flown. I know, some disciples of low-wing airplanes are locked and loaded to say that midairs are more related to high wing airplanes but I have never seen any factual basis for that claim.

The 172 record in non-fatal accidents is better than the record for the private aviation fleet but this has to be taken with a lot of grains of salt. An airplane has to be substantially damaged, or someone has to be hurt more than just a little, for an event to the classified as an accident. Just by their nature, simple airplanes are less likely to be involved in what is classified as an accident. And if there is an accident, it is likely less serious in the simple airplane.

The 172 is probably available to more pilots than any other type and that is likely the reason that the personal problems of pilots have come to figure into more accidents in this airplane.

Even though the 172 is about as simple as airplanes get, it demands a thorough check out that leads to a good understanding of the airplane. The basic good nature of the airplane has a lot to do with its safety record but it making nice might disappear if it is abused.

One of the 172 fatal accidents in the later time period involved a new private pilot, 19 years old, and a student at one of the finest college aviation programs. The pilot had just been accepted for admission to the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

He had flown the Cirrus SR-20 exclusively in training. No reason was given for him flying the 172. There were three passengers but the NTSB calculated that the airplane a few pounds below its maximum takeoff weight.

They were not able to substantiate any previous 172 flying and there was no apparent record of a check out. There was, however, some suggestion that he had flown a 172 in the past.

The takeoff was from an intersection at a controlled airport with over 5,000 feet of runway remaining.

The airplane got off the ground and climbed to about 100 feet. The pilot reported that he was a little overweight and needed to return and land. Witnesses stated that the airplane was wallowing and that the flaps were extended. The airplane crashed and burned just past the departure end of the runway.

The airplane was a 1976 172M with flaps that extended to 40-degrees. (The flaps were limited to 30-degrees travel effective with the 172P, in 1981.) The NTSB determined that the flaps were indeed down 40-degrees when the airplane crashed.

172 on landing flare

Those big flaps can sometimes be a weakness.

The Cirrus he had been flying called for 50-percent flaps for takeoff and there was a pre-select switch for the flaps. The 172 had a spring loaded flaps switch and a gauge to show flaps deflection. Flaps are not normally used for takeoffs in a 172.

Whatever caused him to do so was not determined but he did attempt the takeoff in a fully-loaded 172 with full flaps. Anyone who has flown one of the airplanes will tell you that is a bad idea. Apparently the pilot never realized his mistake.

The moral to that story might be that the simplest airplane can have complicated moments if flown by a pilot who is unfamiliar with it.

I had a long history with the 172 and always found it to be a trustworthy airplane.

I taught people how to fly in the 172 and I only had one reservation about the airplane when flown by a new pilot. The 172s I used the most had the 40-degree flaps deflection and I thought that was too much.

When I taught Hugh Downs to fly on the TODAY show in 1963, the 172 we used had an advantage when it came to the flaps. That airplane still had the big lever between the front seats and it was easy to be aware of how far the lever should be pulled for a reduced flaps setting. The flaps could also be retracted almost instantaneously.

I thought the airplane was more pleasant to land with the flaps set to 20-degrees. That meant it was also easier to teach people to land with this setting. That did not mean I didn’t have to teach students how to use 40-degrees flaps including go-arounds. That was the rub.

The pilot who crashed after attempting a departure with full flaps learned the hard way that the airplane won’t really climb with the flaps down 40-degrees. It might surprise you that the certification rules allowed this but they did and still do. The balked landing climb requirement with landing flaps is waived if the flaps can be retracted in two seconds. There’s no question that this was the case with the lever–operated flaps.

I never timed the time required to retract the electric flaps but the balked landing procedure in the POH for these airplanes calls for retracting the flaps to 20-degrees immediately and then to 10-degrees ASAP and then to up after all obstacles are cleared. That tells you what you need to know about climb performance as related to the flaps. Apparently the electric flaps will retract to 20-degrees in two seconds and at that setting the airplane will meet the required 3.3 degree climb gradient for a balked landing. That is not exactly a spirited climb.

Maybe that is a wart on the 172 and in my mind it is the only one. Most airplanes have a much longer list of peculiarities that you want to be sure to cover in training.

I owned a 172 that was decked out for serious IFR flying. I bought the airplane with no avionics and put in a complete King Silver Crown package, including an HSI and area navigation. I flew that airplane for about two years and 1,000 hours and was pretty fond of it. It would, in fact, do everything that a TBM 930 will do except fly high and fast and far.

Flying instruments in a simple airplane is more about the instruments and IFR procedures than it is about the airplane and it was actually fun to fly around probing and learning about the weather without any distraction related to flying and operating the airplane. Life is indeed simpler when you are flying a simple airplane. I did this without an autopilot, too.

Someone asked me once which model of the 172 is my favorite. They thought it would be the 172M because that was the model I bought and fixed up with all those avionics.

Not so, my favorite would be the 1967 172H, the last one built with the 0-300 Continental engine of 145 horsepower. For some reason Cessna paid extra attention to making it a nice airplane and the interior quality seemed much better than usual for the airplane. I had one to use for a number of months, on flight training projects we were doing at AIR FACTS, and I got so attached to it that I contemplated a purchase.

I have owned both Continental and Lycoming engines, too, and feel they are equally reliable if not equally smooth. The Continental produced horsepower where it always felt to me like the Lycoming was banging out horsepower. I thought that 0-300 was one of the nicest engines ever.

When it comes to risk management and safety, the 172 appears to work well for pilots of pretty diverse skill levels. What it won’t do is help a pilot who does not want to be helped. No airplane will do that.

To read more of Richard Collins’s analysis of aircraft safety records, read his articles on Mooney pilots, Cirrus pilots and V-tail Bonanza pilots.

Richard Collins
37 replies
  1. Doyle Frost
    Doyle Frost says:

    Thank you,Mr. Collins. Of course, I’m prejudiced toward that fine aircraft. With the quantity of them made, and so many still available, it’s a wonder there aren’t even more people paying attention to this as a primary trainer. I remember a friend’s 172 being flown all the way from Long Island to very farthest reaches of NE NY State, minus one of its wing tips. Pilot doing some IFR training flew down there, heavy crosswinds during landing and a ground loop. Pilot called the pwner of the plane, rode the bus home, and another pilot went down and recovered the plane, (after duct taping the opening at the end of the wing.) He got down there by the use of an escort pilot, who flew back with him in a chase plane. I flew that aircraft for many hours after it was repaired, and it few fabulously.

  2. John in Texas
    John in Texas says:

    Could it be that our generation had fewer distractions and, thus, airplanes and flying were more visible and desirable to us than today? And, at the same time, the planes, for the most part, seemed more approachable, as many of them seemed affordable and gave the impression “You can fly me”. I could easily see myself flying a Piper Cub when I was 10.

    About the most exotic, desirable and expensive planes in my memory as a pre-teen were the Beech Bonanza (I knew it was the “Cadillac”) and Beech 18.

    Today, new planes are like exotic Italian super cars, only more expensive and less visible. Jets are what the youth see in movies and TV…and they come with pilots. Today’s youth think anything more than three years old is an antique and useless and, therefore, are not going to relate to a Piper Cub or even a 172. Sad.

  3. Duane
    Duane says:

    A writer by the name of Ron Wanttaja has published a statistical review of comparative accident stats for C-172s compared to Piper Cherokees that has some interesting insight into “what’s wrong with Cessna 172 pilots”. A pdf slideshow is available at http://www.wanttaja.com/pa28.pdf.

    Mr. Wanttaja doesn’t bother attempting to determine accident rates in terms of accidents per 100,000 hours flown, which always seems a precise way of describing something that in real life is nearly impossible to derive … which is, to estimate the actual number of flight hours each year, which is not and cannot be tracked accurately by the FAA or NTSB with any kind of reliability .. these data end up being manufactured out of estimates. Instead, Wanttaja compares accident rates based upon the relative size of the aircraft fleet in the USA which can be substantiated directly through FAA records each year. He looked at a 10-year data set – 2001 through 2010. It is a fairly safe assumption that 172s are flown very similarly and with similar frequency to Cherokees as they are very similar types.

    Wanttaja’s conclusions are interesting in comparing C-172 accident rates to PA-28 rates:

    1) the overall accident rate for C-172 fleet is 50% HIGHER than for the PA-28 fleet

    2) the fatal accident rate for C-172 is 40% LOWER than that for the PA-28 (hmm …)

    3) the rate of accidents due to “mis-control” of the aircraft (any kind of pilot error involving manipulation of the flight and power controls) for THE C-172 is 60% HIGHER than it is for PA-28. “Mis-control” can include complete loss of control (stall/spin) as well as landing long or short or otherwise departing the runway unintentionally during ground runs. C-172 pilots suffer an incredibly high 63% of their accidents as “mis-control” vs. only 39% by PA-28 pilots.

    4) C-172 pilots suffer considerably fewer accidents due to fuel mismanagement and fuel exhaustion than do PA-28 drivers.

    Does this data set mean that C-172 pilots are worse pilots than PA-28 drivers? It’s not possible to prove that just with these data alone. But the difference in mis-control accidents between the two aircraft types is certainly striking. Maybe this is where those oversized electric Cessna flaps that Dick writes about here make a difference compared to the relatively smaller, johnson-bar-operated Cherokee flaps.

    As for the total size of the data set, interestingly the two fleet sizes are very similar – with a total of 25,870 C-172s vs. 21,417 PA-28s (or, if the Arrows and the higher hp Pathfinders are excluded, a total of 18,783 Cherokees, Warriors, and Archers).

    • Pete Hodges
      Pete Hodges says:

      I read the reference slideshow and i liked it. My only question is about noralizing the data to correct for unequal fleet size. The slide show stated the cherokee fleet was multiplied by 1.75 to make them equal to the 172, but 25870 / 21417 = 1.2079 not 1.75. Is that a type-o or am I missing something here?

  4. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    I owned a 1966 C-172 and flew most of my hours in it. The O-300 was subject to lead fouling, but my friend who now owns it put in EGT, leans aggressively, and has no lead problems. I used to tell people the Skyhawk was the best first airplane for anyone, and best for the long haul for many. As Richard said, it does everything, just not quickly. That said, I used the old bird for business and personal trips as long as Rochester, MN to San Antonio, TX; I still treasure every flight hour. I also agree that the Skyhawk is a forgiving airplane with the capability to be almost absolutely safe when properly maintained and flown. But that’s true of most light aircraft, isn’t it?

  5. Dan Farmer
    Dan Farmer says:

    Most of my early flying and learning was in a 1963 172D. My Dad bought it in 1969 with 600 hours on it with a Narco Mark IV super homer for $7,000. I have several type ratings today, my last B777 and 23,000 hours. I still have the old “Skyhawk”. Two owners since new. I’ve thought about selling it, but how do you sell a family member?

  6. Doyle Frost
    Doyle Frost says:

    John, your comment about “…throwing the checklist over your shoulder…during an in-flight emergency.” seems appropriate to me. By the time one reaches an operational level where they are flying alone, they should know every aspect of those “Emergency Procedures” section of their P.O.H. for that aircraft. My nstructors, (all four I had over the years,) insisted I memorize everything in that section, and actually had the audacity to really quiz and test me on them. Perhaps we need to insist the C.F.I.’s get back into that, if they aren’t. (My D.F.E. actually had me prove my knowledge of that section for the aircraft I was tested in before actually completing my flight test and landing at home base.)

    • Duane
      Duane says:

      Doyle – you’re making an assumption that has proven to be incorrect in many GA accidents over the decades … i.e., that memorizing a checklist in a non-emergency environment means you don’t need the checklist during an actual emergency because, human being the perfect error-free automatons that we are (I’m being facetious here), we’ll remember all that stuff exactly and perfectly when we need to.

      It is true that in a dire emergency, the first order of business in single pilot aviating is always to fly the aircraft .. and not stick your head in a book. But once the aircraft is under control and flying, pull out the checklist and verify that you’ve actually done everything needed, because in the “heat of battle” all plans tend to evaporate, and checklist items are easily bypassed or forgotten altogether. That’s how we humans actually work in the real world.

      Fortunately for simple aircraft like the C-172 and similar birds, the checklists for most emergencies are very short (a handful of steps), reducible to a two-sided laminated card inserted in your kneeboard … or easily recalled from a touch on the screen of a tablet computer or yolk-mounted navigator, and not somewhere inside a 300-page book piled somewhere in the back.

      • Stjepan
        Stjepan says:

        CFMS (carby on, fuel both, mixture rich, switches on), then look where’s wind coming from and find the field, configure aircraft for best gliding speed 65, do FMOST (cycle fuel tank left-right, cycle mixture, check oils T&P, cycle switches left, right mags, cycle throttle), do emergency radio calls, do passenger brief, high key, low key, engine off, fuel closed, power off (make sure it’s on if electric flaps), door unlatched, land into the wind (if possible)…

        Low 77 hours pilot here who recently got PPL and practiced procedures above many times..

  7. Kenny Phillips
    Kenny Phillips says:

    In the “olden days” we called the plain-Jane versions of this aircraft the “172”, and the dressed up versions (like my 172F) the “Skyhawk”.

  8. Jim Conn
    Jim Conn says:

    In 1979 I was a 200 hour private pilot selling farm machinery in the Fargo, ND area and just knew I could fly anything with wings. I saw an ad in the Fargo Forum for a 1/2 share ownership in a 1977 Hawk XP II. Seeing an opportunity to use OPM (Other People’s Money) to feed my flying addiction – I scheduled a “test” flight with the owner who was a professional photographer who had purchased the plane new to take inflight photos but was unable to generate enough revenue to afford the plane on his own.

    All of my prior time had been logged in a Citabria (sans flaps!) but knowing the expert pilot that I was – I jumped at the chance to fly the XP on a photo mission with Allen, the photographer. He landed on a grass strip to pickup the farmer whose farm we were to photograph, I moved into the pilot’s seat and we were off using the 195 hp Continental and barn door flaps to easily extricate us from the short, narrow tree-lined strip.

    We completed the photo mission but in that time the wind had picked up considerably and now, full of confidence and bravado, I set up to replant the plane on that little 1500′ grass strip surrounded by tall trees so we could deposit the client farmer close to the fields that he tilled.

    It was a real “gulp” when I setup on short final and viewed the swirling trees surrounding the postage stamp sized landing zone. I told Allen that he’d better take it but he declined with big eyes. Never having landed an airplane with flaps – I selected full flaps in an effort to squeeze the plane into what now seemed an impossible task over tall obstacles. It was in fact impossible so at about 25′ off the ground I asked that big Continental for full power to extricate us from the mess that I had created.

    Upon application of full power the stall warning began to blare continuously – but the Hawk was NOT climbing. Instinctively, I was afraid to use any aileron or rudder input for directional control because I knew we were a breath away from a stall. The swirling winds began to rapidly convey us towards plowed earth and towering trees. With my eyes, I implored Allen to take the controls again but he declined. Just I was mentally committing myself to an imminent uncontrolled impact with ground and trees, Allen reached over and raised the flaps a notch. Almost instantaneously I regained control authority and the Hawk began to climb up and away from danger.

    We flew to an airport close by to drop the farmer off – who now, instead fearful for his life, was enraged and justifiably so. Mentally, both potential partners survived the incident and I purchased 1/2 ownership in the Hawk. A year later I purchased Allen’s share and went on to fly the Hawk XP to TBO before I went broke in the farm equipment business in 1983 and had to sell N736KB. But I never ever forgot about the detrimental effects of those big flaps on a balked landing.

  9. Michael Cowan
    Michael Cowan says:

    I’m also involved in classic cars, boats, and play several musical instruments. I have noticed the same lack of newcomer trends with each of these activities as well as flying.

    Drive down any highway and notice who is poking along and weaving all over the driving lane/s. 80% or more of the time that person is on the phone either talking or texting.
    Flying and all those other activities I mentioned take away from “face time” on the smartphone.

    Now we’re seeing people fall off of cliffs at the Grand Canyon, walk into traffic, bump into trees and street signs, wreck autos etc. while playing Pokemon!! And we recently have had fatalities involving Tesla drivers who were watching movies on a laptop and doing other things while “driving” their car which was running on “autopilot!!”

    Perhaps it’s just as well they don’t try to fly!! I just wish to hell they’d stay off the highways as well!

  10. John
    John says:


    Great article, thanks. Regarding Ron W’s analysis of Cherokee vs 172 accident rates, I think a factor in the high survivability of 172 accidents is having TWO exists from the cockpit. Clambering over the right seat to exit a crashed airplane through that single double latched door takes forever when seconds and spit seconds count. I’ve owned a Johnson Bar equipped Cessna 172 for about 25 years. I’ve worn out one O-360 engine and am about half way to TBO on the second. While I also have 300-400 hours in Cherokees I’ve found the C172 to be a more versatile aircraft, and likely safer. I really prefer the Johnson Bar for operating flaps. i know where they are, can add or subtract flaps without delay, and can dump a full 40 degrees if and when I needed it.

    Thanks agin for an interesting article.

  11. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    My primary training was in a Musketeer with two doors, so I had a bias toward that configuration. I shopped Cherokees and a Mooney, but ended up with a C-172 for these reasons, among others: (1) Two doors, for easier entrance and exit, including emergencies; (2) No need to climb up on a wing to enter/leave cockpit; (3) Less chance of catching a wingtip in a Minnesota snowbank; much easier to check fuel sumps; and (4) SHADE in the summer! I have always been baffled that such a high-zoot airplane as the Bonanza had only one door for all passengers. I agree with John on the emergency exit issue. My C-172 actually had three ways out, because if the doors were jammed, I was lean and agile enough then that I could wriggle to the baggage compartment and go out the baggage door (did it once just to prove it could be done).

  12. Neil
    Neil says:

    As the other comments I have a serious soft spot for the 172. I was trained in one here in Australia and I progressed through all of my private license training in a Skyhawk and progressed onto retractable undercarriage the variable pitch prop, then onto night VFR, and completed my commercial training in a 172. They are a stable platform to learn in, they are forgiving which makes them a safe plane. I have found that a 172 can also pull stupid pilots out of stupid stunts when it brought back a student in my flying school who tried to loop one in our training area solo with no aerobatics training because he saw it in a movie. That plane did not fly for a while as it underwent checks and repairs. I am not an absorb attics pilots and never will be but what I saw recorded by another pilot watching this idiot frightened my into the middle of next week but the old girl brought the idiot back. On a cross country flight in Australia I was on I had to fly over hills and contrary to weather reports the cloud was really low and the ground became a problem. While the pilot was not IFR trained the 172 was such a stable platform it allowed them to collect their wits and steady themselves to arrange their path out of this sticky situation. nothing beats training but I think we would all have stories when a 172 helped a pilot reach their goals or bring them home safely when situations become dire. I will never forget the 172’s I have flown and the flights I have had. There might be better, faster, more luxurious planes but the 172’s are mighty.

  13. David Keasal
    David Keasal says:

    I once flew a 172 from Ohio to Jaipur, India, 85+ hours, and I often said that there is no light airplane that I would trust more for such a trip. It only used about a quart of oil the whole trip and never gave me any trouble. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I used to joke that it only had one moving part, so had to be the most reliable airplane in the world. It was one of the 80 octane 172’s, so no trouble with lifter spalling. Somewhere I read that the 80 octane 172 engines had a mechanically-induced failure rate which was vanishingly small, a real comfort over the North Atlantic.

  14. JimH.
    JimH. says:

    I fly a variant of the C172….a ’61, C175 with the geared O-300, [ GO-300]. The 175 hp at 3200 rpm let’s it fly almost like an XP. Cruise is 140 mph at 3100 rpm, and climb is 1,100 fpm, turning an 84 in , 67 pitch prop, which only turns at 2,400 max.
    The POH allows short field TO with 10 deg or 20 deg of flaps. The only issue that I’ve noted is the forward CG at 37.7 inches, so to fly 2 folks in the front, it needs 50 lb of ballast in the baggage compartment to get the CG in from the forward limit. It has to be the 40 lb of gearbox and the 84 in prop hanging on the nose.
    With 52 gal of fuel, the endurance is almost 6 hrs.!

  15. Cary ALBURN
    Cary ALBURN says:

    I also fly a variant, a 63 P172D modified with an Avcon conversion, a 180hp Lycoming driving a CS prop. Wonderful little airplane, the last I’ll own after flying for almost 44 years and being part owner of 3 other airplanes in the past, a 182, a TR182, and a T210. Mine is extremely well equipped, so light to moderate IFR is plenty doable.

    It’s one of only 3 172s I’ve flown with the Johnson bar flaps, which frankly I like much more than any of the electric versions. I have had to make go arounds with all 40 hanging out, but it’s not difficult as long as one reacts properly–full power, then quickly to 20, then milk them up as the airplane gains speed.

    Mine has a full page of modifications, most of which are unnecessary to describe here. Flap gap seals and droopy wingtips have had the most impact on slow flight characteristics, and an AOA indicator has allowed me to take advantage of that lower possible airspeed. A seat modification by Oregon Aero has added immeasurably to long range comfort.

    I truly love my little airplane. It meets my mission most of the time–sight seeing, occasional flights with friends or family, occasional flights into the Rockies, airplane camping at remote strips, annual trips to OSH. By not carrying full fuel, I can carry 3 passengers with me. Once in awhile, like pulling out of a very high density mountain airstrip, a little more power would be nice, and once in awhile a little more baggage room would be nice. But most of the time, it’s great!

  16. W. H. Frank
    W. H. Frank says:

    I was 10 years old when the first Cessna 172 committed aviation. Prior to and for some years after that I flew with my father in his Cessna 170B based at a farmer’s field near Chadwick, IL. The final approach was frequently over the power lines standing guard uncomfortably close to the west end of the disconcertingly short runway. Dad used to grab the Johnson bar, hold the detent button down, and vary the flap angle over a continuous range (as opposed to four discrete settings) to adjust the glide path. He would select a flap setting (usually 40 deg) and release the detent button while clearing the power lines.

    It works like a charm. Drag changes more than lift for flap angles between 20 deg and 40 deg, especially in the discontinued range between 30 deg and 40 deg. Give it a whirl if you have an airplane with flaps controlled by a Johnson bar. (Nota bene: A learning curve is involved, so do your early experimentation on calm days and well away from obstructions.)

    Sadly, all the 150s and 172s I trained and built up hours in had electrically controlled flaps, which I considered a nuisance.

  17. Alan Carr
    Alan Carr says:

    I personally don’t believe that there is a problem with the Cessna 172. Excellent aircraft, more Cessna 172’s flying than any other, so that should tell you something about the plane. What I see as the real issue is how the pilot is trained. The millenniums seem to be very impatient both from the instructor side and the pilot being trained this relates to the decision making process. I’m not bashing the millenniums it is just how our society operates. I want it now! When you go back to the NDB reports I think you will find that most are pilot error and the decision of go, no go was pushed into a bad decision.

    Aircraft sales are almost the exact same way. Whatever the hot new aircraft is, that is what is bought. Look at this link https://www.globalair.com/aircraft-for-sale/Cessna-172 if you look at the ask prices in relationship to the year manufactured it will clearly show the Cessna is of less value than a Cirrus SR22 GT. Why because the new era of pilots want to see more of a fast sleek Cirrus that is all plastic instead of a rock solid Cessna 172 with comparable avionics.

    This is just my 2 cents worth and it’s value is going down everday!

  18. ArnoldoSmall
    ArnoldoSmall says:

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  19. Steve
    Steve says:

    I just have to comment, even though this is old.

    You dwelled on the safety record, but it was excellent. The plane is a winner. BUT only if you can put up with limited payload and going really slow.

    I loved my 1964 172 and flew it 400 hours a year. I didn’t need an excuse to fly. Would get off work at 5 and think of flying 900 nm between Chicago and Tampa, arriving in the wee morning hours.

    Dispatch reliability was great, maintenance was easy, ownership was cheap. However it was NOT fast. And it was really not an all weather machine. It would not handle ice at all. Mine didn’t have any weather avoidance as they had not been invented at that time. But one could set down wherever and wait out the weather. Ice was a problem, at times.

    Had the 172 RG been available when I sold the 172, I would have never bought the Bonanza. But once you have a Bo, you just don’t go back. I found the Bo, WAY faster on less fuel. I could make it to Florida on one stop and perhaps non stop with winds. And could get there by midnight instead of 5 in the morning. HUGE difference.

    I have NO regrets with the 172 and flew it all over the US. It just took a long time, but a great plane.

  20. Robert
    Robert says:

    Such an honest aircraft, have been lucky to have flown it in four continents including in the mountains with a 150HP Lycoming. If a friend or relative was planning to fly with a private pilot, flying in a Cessna 172, especially now with airbags, would be a source of risk reduction.

    With respect to the Warrior/Archer, is it correct that the taper wing PA28 Warrior/Archer have never suffered a stall/spin fatality? Their accident ate tends to suffer from pilots approaching too fast, driving them on, and suffering from loss of control/over run in the subsequent landing run.

  21. David
    David says:

    1957 straight tail here. VFR Valparaiso IN to Gulf Shores AL Palm Sunday afternoon. 7 tach hrs, 2 stops, as I did not want to arrive at night, a strange field with any fuel concern. Returned Good Friday, from 8 that evening to 3:30 AM Saturday. Both trips about 9 hrs door to door, with stops and ground transport.The plane and pilot are in their early 60s, the plane still makes book figures as new. Slow? I never pretend a practical advantage to my flying, it is desire and adventure. Other family members drove, 18 hrs each way in spring break traffic.

  22. AeroNav
    AeroNav says:

    RIP sir, I am a PPL student with 36 hours, only 1.6 hours solo, did most of the initial training in a 150L and soloed twice in that aircraft, then I switched to 172S and 172R (did not want to fly the 172 before soloing in the 150 first), compared to the 150, the 172 is much more stable, climbs faster and have bigger load, as a non-experienced student the only thing I am having issues with is landing her right, i practiced most of my landings in the 150 and thus I find the 150 much more easier to land, still having issues landing 172 correctly as opposed to the 150 especially the final moments just before touch down, she have more tendency to roll right of left at this critical time than the 150, with more training I think I can do it as well as I do in the 150.

  23. Dennis Martens
    Dennis Martens says:

    I have owned my 1956 172 for 58 years, I am the second owner. It has 8500hrs. still like new, been all over US and Alaska. No problems.

  24. Jens
    Jens says:

    Younger people are more involved in accidents.
    The older pilots have more experience.
    Flying is a skill you gain with experience.
    If you have more experience you avoid problems and you know the limits of you and your aircraft.

  25. Lance
    Lance says:

    I suspect that the low-wing configuration of the Pipers (and the tendency to therefore float more, and eat up more runway if you’re not paying attention) has much to do with this, as does the need for fuel pump management. Low-wing aircraft will also smack their fuel tanks (wings) into the ground more readily than high-wing… is there data that specifies whether fire was a factor in fatalities for the two aircraft types?

    I’d be interested in seeing if the Pipers have a faster landing speed in accidents than 172s. That alone could account for increased fatalities.

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  2. […] Over 43000 copies of the Cessna 172 have made it onto the market. And this makes it the most build aeroplane in history. […]

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