The C172 "Skyhawk" preflight is in progress.

This Skyhawk is the aircraft I did the majority of my primary training, except for the cross country work, which was done in the Musketeer. This particular model has the Lycoming O-320 H2AD engine, which produces 160 h.p. The engine is carburetted, and drives a fixed-pitch two blade Macaulay prop.

-- Flying the Skyhawk --

   Preflighting this aircraft is a relatively painless experience. The hinges are all fairly easily visible for checking, and checking the fuel sumps is an easy task due to the high wing. The disadvantage compared to a low-wing aircraft is checking the fuel quantity. The Skyhawk does not have tabs in the fuel tank for easy checking of the level. You have to climb up on the provided step and either stick your finger in the tank to feel for the fuel (I don't like doing this personally) or insert a calibrated dipstick (far preferable!)

Fuel check
Checking the fuel means climbing and using one of these...

The Fuelhawk is a calibrated dipstick for the standard 40-gal tanks.

   The usual caveats when using a dipstick apply as they do to the tabs in many low-wing aircraft - if you are parked on a slope, the reading will be inaccurate.

Control surfaces
   The Skyhawk, unlike the Musketeer has an elevator and trim tab (the Musketeer has a stabilator - the entire horizontal stabilizer moves to provide pitch control). It's important to check that the hinges and movement just like the other surfaces, and this includes a good look at the trim tab. My instructor knows somebody who had the tab break, and it caused a great deal of elevator flutter and control difficulty!

   As with any aircraft that has them, it's important to check the flaps. The Skyhawk has a Fowler design (although Cessna calls them 'slotted'). Although they are not as complex as an airliner's huge Fowler flaps, they nevertheless slide out aft giving the inboard portion of the wing a greater chord length, improving lift. On this year model of Skyhawk, the electrically operated flaps extend to 40 degrees, giving a very steep descent angle when they are all out (great for short fields!)

In flight.
   The Skyhawk is a nice aircraft to fly, no doubt about it. A little slow maybe, but once trimmed out it is very nice and stable and provides a very smooth ride. You can refold your charts hands-off easily in this aircraft. Of course, a lot of that depends on how well rigged the aircraft is (this particular one does exhibit a gentle left-turning tendency during cruise if you keep your hands and feet off the controls). The instrument panel is well laid out, and I get a good view over the nose. The pilot's seat is adjustable for height, and I like it cranked way up to the top to get the best possible view outside. Even with the seat cranked down I get a reasonable view, so I'm sure shorter people don't have too much difficulty. When I transitioned from the C152 with its rather low seating position, this was the thing that made me want to keep going with the 172 afterwards!

Instrument Panel
The Skyhawk panel. My passenger is about to board, so it's almost time to do the Before Engine Start checklist. Our 172 has two King navcom units with a DME and an ADF.

   The other thing about high wing aircraft is that they are excellent for doing pilotage because the view of the ground is so good. They also make great aircraft for flight photographs, and for taking passengers since the passengers get a good view below the aircraft. The C172 can take a reasonable load - 3 average passengers, full fuel and some luggage (ours has just under 600 lbs useful left once the tanks have been topped off). It's best to think of it as a 3-place aircraft if you want to go anywhere in it. There's a surprising amount of legroom in the back for that passenger - the pilot usually needs to pull the seat a bit forward so you would have to be very tall to be uncomfortable in the back seat.
Sunset over Galveston    There are some disadvantages in a high-winger like the Skyhawk though - the wings obscure the runway as you turn in the traffic pattern. I find low-wingers much easier to fly round the pattern at unfamiliar airports. This makes learning the traffic pattern as a primary student a bit harder, when you're not used to the surroundings.

   Landing the 172 requires precision in the flare. If you don't flare right, the fairly hard suspension from the spring steel gear will give you a jolt! However, it's satisfying to get a nice smooth landing. The Beech Musketeer makes it too easy to grease a landing to really gauge how well you're doing in comparison. If you touch down smoothly in the Skyhawk, you know you've got it just right. The C172 doesn't have too much of a bouncing tendency, but it can bounce pretty well if you don't get it right (I had quite a few bouncers when I started out - I'm sure I had my instructor's heart rate going pretty well from some of my landings!) As with all aircraft, it's important to touch down main wheels first since they are designed to take landing loads. If you wheelbarrow the C172 badly, you can actually bend the firewall, and that's expensive to replace.

-- Conclusion --

   I continue to enjoy flying the 172. It's a good all-rounder: you can do primary training in it, take a couple of friends on a trip, and it's not too expensive to fly. It might not be fast, but it's great value and it fits its mission profile well - no wonder the new 172 is selling well, even though the airframe is little changed. In retrospect (and being potentially controversial) I think Cessnas are actually more fun to fly than the fixed gear Pipers!

Fueling the 172
Fill 'er up!

Photographs by Justin Pearson.

[Back to Flying]  [Home Page]