Avionics today are a huge improvement over earlier 172s too. Standard today is the Garmin G1000 suite, and the 172S has as standard the GFC 700 dual-digital autopilot. We’ve gotten jaded about flat-panel avionics in light airplanes, but it’s important to get some perspective on the 172, an airplane that started out as a bare-bones VFR flyer. Today, the stripped down model lacks only the three-axis digital autopilot, and standard features include moving map, TIS traffic, electronic engine gauges and much more. Options include synthetic vision, EVS and the Garmin GTS 800 ADS-B upgradable active traffic advisory system.
Flying the Skyhawk
I wonder how many Flying readers have flown a Cessna 172 of some variety. I’m guessing the percentage is very high. Many of our readers doubtless learned to fly in a 172. I had a few hours in one while doing my private pilot training, because the chief instructor, Si Campbell, a former Air Force instructor and L-19 Forward Air Controller in Vietnam, felt it was important for students like me who were training primarily in the Piper Warrior to get a few hours in a high-wing airplane. That way, he explained, when you got your ticket and chanced to fly a high-wing model once you had your certificate, you wouldn’t be surprised by the differences. I’m not sure how much benefit I got from the experience, but it was fun, which might have been Si’s intention all along.
My first impression of the 172 was not far from my current impression. The harmony of the flight controls is just about perfect. How Cessna created such a stable and light platform still astounds me. If you want to teach a student about how trim works, the 172 is a great platform. If you want to teach crosswind landings, the 172 is a great platform. If you want to teach ground reference maneuvers ... you get the idea.
The silky-smooth flying manners of the type help explain why the airplane, despite its rising price, remains such a popular trainer. It was thought that the Skycatcher or one of its LSA rivals might make the Skyhawk obsolete, but it hasn’t happened. Despite the cost, it remains in demand for flight training here and abroad. At a recent Cessna Pilot Center event at which I spoke, another speaker referred to the 172 as the best trainer in the world and got a huge ovation from the roughly 300 Cessna instructors in the crowd. They were almost evangelical about the Skyhawk, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s solid, reliable, durable and predictable. It can handle stiff winds, take a little abuse in the touch-and-go circuit, carry two considerable souls aboard with full fuel under almost any conditions and do it with style. And today’s Skyhawks have flat-panel avionics, luxurious interiors and pretty paint jobs. It’s hard to overestimate the value of that kind of platform to a flight school.