In a move that should help allay fears that the new leadership at Cessna isn’t behind the piston lineup, the company has unveiled the 2012 edition of its seminal four-seat single, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
The newest model adds some nice standard and optional touches, including available enhanced vision and ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast) upgradable traffic, along with new styling and lighting options. Cessna is holding the line on pricing, but the new models still aren’t cheap. The 180 hp 172S, referred to by Cessna as the 172-SP, goes for $307,500; the 160 hp 172R sells for $274,900. Then again, these airplanes, despite their rivets shining in the sun, are thoroughly modern, highly evolved examples of the four-seat, entry-level general aviation airplane.
Thirty-five years ago the running joke about the Cessna 172 was that pilot reports on the latest model could be cribbed from the previous year’s article with updated references to the new paint scheme and fabric options. For many years, it wasn’t far from the truth. It wasn’t that Cessna was resting on its laurels, though it could be excused if it were — even back in the 1960s, the 172 was the undisputed king of light aircraft. It achieved its popularity through an unbeatable formula. It was an affordable, economical, utilitarian, safe and easy-flying airplane that could fill a variety of roles.
The Cessna 172 was arguably the most elegant compromise in the history of aviation. It might not have been the best airplane at doing any one thing, but it was clearly the best at giving its owners a satisfying taste of everything they wanted in a personal airplane. For many of those owners, the 172 was the airplane of a lifetime.
Why not? It was and is a great, fun flyer; a good-short-haul, modest-payload cross-country machine; a wonderful trainer and a solid IFR platform.
For other owners, the 172 served as a steppingstone. After getting their feet wet with what was often the first airplane of their own, buyers would often move up to something bigger, faster and more capable. For decades that natural step-up airplane was another Cessna product, the 182 Skylane. Others moved beyond that to higher-performance models; there was even a retractable version of the 172, which was a popular choice with flight schools to serve as a complex trainer.
Today, the Cessna 172 stands as the most popular airplane ever, with around 43,000 produced, according to Cessna's numbers, including variants. And 55 years down the line it’s still adding to that total.
While the price tag of a new 172 puts it in a different league than its early predecessors’, the things that made the 172 an attractive model to begin with are all still there, and then some.
When one thinks of an archetypal product, one that captures the essence of its market and demonstrates that with unprecedented sales success, it’s natural to assume that the product was the result of a flash of inspiration.
The opposite is true for the Skyhawk.
The airplane is the very essence of derivation. It sprang from the taildragger four-seat 170, which was developed from the two-seat 140, which, as far as I know, was a new design — a new design that came about in 1946, that is.