Cessna 172 - The Inside Track On Buying One

In 1955, the aircraft taxied down the runway at Wichita, Kansas for its maiden flight. Since taking off on that fine day, the 172 has flown its way into the annals of aviation history as the most successful single engine aircraft ever produced.

More than 35,000 172's were manufactured over the ensuing 50 years. Interestingly, Cessna themselves initially thought that the 172's demand would be short-lived.

As a result they placed an enormous amount of effort into designing the 177 Cardinal. Cessna thought it would quickly overtake the popularity of the Cessna 172, given that the 177 Cardinal combined Cessna's highly regarded reliability with modern good looks and a contemporary feel.

How wrong they were! The Cessna 172 continued to outsell the 177 Cardinal by a wide margin and finally ended up outliving the Cardinal too.

Over the years, the changes made to the 172 were minimal. Over and above some styling and cosmetics, which makes up the largest portions of the updates, there were only three engine changes.

Initially, the 172 was fitted with a 6-cylinder Continental O-300. This engine, which was first released in 1947, was used in several aircraft such as the Cessna 172's predecessor, the 170.

It was also used in the Maule M-4, the nearly forgotten Baumann Brigadier and the T-41 Mescalero (the US Army's name for the 172) amongst others.

Considering that the O-300 had some reliability problems and that the time between overhaul (TBO) was very short (1200hrs) compared to other engines (1800-2000hrs) of the day, it came as no surprise when the decision was made in 1967 to replace the Cessna 172's Continental O-300 with the 4-cylinder Lycoming O-320. Because it had two cylinders less than the Continental O-300, the Lycoming O-320 was much cheaper to overhaul.

It also offered a slightly increased time between overhauls (200h), greater fuel economy and a couple more horses to boot. Subsequently the Cessna 172J was the first model to sport the new O-320.

There were two more engine changes after that. The first change was necessitated due to the requirement that 100 Octane be used. As a result, the Cessna 172N was fitted with a Lycoming O-320-H, which increased the horsepower to 160. Unfortunately, the O-320-H also came with a variety of reliability problems in its wake.

As a result, a further engine change had to be undertaken a mere two models later. The Cessna 172P was fitted with the Lycoming O-320-D. Incidentally this was the final basic Cessna 172 model, and remained in production until 1985.

This four seat aircraft has stood the tests of time and technology. The high wing design offers fabulous sight seeing potential to pilot and passengers alike and in true Cessna tradition, the Cessna 172 remains forgiving in nature and an absolute breeze to fly.

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