To celebrate 100 years of Flight International, we want to discover the "100 Greatest" in aviation; by determining the top twenty civil aircraft, military aircraft, engine, people & moments. Here the best civil aircraft is put forward!
In honor of Flight’s 100th year, which kicks off in 2009, the Airspace forums have opened up a discussion about the greatest civilian aircraft, greatest military aircraft, the greatest engine, most influential person and the most important moment of the last 100 years. I weigh in today on question number one.
I entertained a bunch of different options when deciding which civilian aircraft deserved the title of "greatest." The title is somewhat arbitrary and greatness can mean many things. My colleague Max Kingsley-Jones picked the A320 and its transformative effect on the European aviation industry. I wrestled between the easy choices, the DeHavilland Comet, Boeing 707 and 747 and Douglas DC-3. All are extraordinary aircraft that have transformed and shrunk the planet Earth, but those are easy choices.
I finally settled on a less conventional choice: The Cessna 172
First flown in 1955, there have been more than 43,000 Cessna 172s built for flight schools, private pilots, and special missions all over the planet. The first 172 sold for just under $9000, today the aircraft goes for just under $300,000, base price. Cessna has almost run through the alphabet with variants adapting and updating the original design to be safer and more technologically advanced with every passing year. The 1955 Cessna 172 wouldn’t recognize a 2008 Cessna 172 with a G1000 glass cockpit, yet the pedigree is the same.
Cessna created an aircraft that incorporated an unprecedented level of engine reliability and aircraft stability that made learning to fly a safer and cheaper goal. This aircraft arguably is the foundation upon which aviation has been built over the last fifty-three years. This aircraft has been the day-one aircraft for hundreds of thousands of pilots.
Just ask any pilot which plane hosted their first flight?
My answer: Cessna 172SP N26502, June 16, 2005.
Introduced in November 1955, the Model 172 is probably one of the easiest aircraft to fly in the world; it is regularly sold to people with no previous flying experience who, with the assistance of a certified instructor, qualify on the 172 after their first few days of ownership. Powered by a 145 h.p. flat-six engine, the 172 has two adjustable seats at the front and a bench for two at the rear, and the interior is lavishly furnished, soundproofed and very fully equipped with such items as coat hangers, a cigarette lighter, windshield de-frosting and cabin heating. Like all Cessnas, the 172 has an all-metal, flush-riveted airframe with exceptionally low drag. Wings are provided with high-lift slotted flaps and a stall-warning system, and the undercarriage comprises a "Land-O-Matic" main gear with spring-steel suspension and disc brakes, and a fully steerable nosewheel with which the aircraft can be turned round on a taxi-strip less than 30ft wide. Some thousands of Model 172s are at present in service, and production is in excess of 50 per week.
Do you agree with this choice?Why not nominate your own favourite of the following categores in our "100 Greatest" area:
Egad and gadzooks. An interesting choice indeed. In the good-natured spirit of the forum perhaps I could mention just a few of the 172's endearing attributes. I have flown them since the very first model and recall it had quite good over-the-nose visibility which gradually worsened as Cessna raised the coaming. A clever move as it greatly increased sales of seat cushions by the under six-footers. When Omni-Vision rear windows were introduced, I found it a real boon as no longer could my chums in their Tripacers rocket up from behind undetected and cruise past with an airy wave. The Land-O-Matic undercarriage was also a major leap forward as, as an instructor, I no longer had to bother teaching students any finesse. "Just aim the aircraft like a gun at that long black (or green) strip thingy" I would casually mutter and then ignore them. The Para-Lift flaps were also a great advance in that most Cessna 172 pilots fell into a state of "if a little is good, more must be better" syndrome so that after lift-off, the aircraft would give the impression that it would clear obstacles on a hot day thus providing pilot confidence right up to the actual impact with the trees, wires, hillside or, in one case I recall, an outhouse (fortunately not occupied). The high wing configuration is really handy for sheltering from the sun or rain. Certainly worth the minor penalty of reducing visibility in a busy traffic situation. Well, I could go on I guess and further offend 172 lovers, but that would be unkind. And anyway, I admit to being rather fond of the dear boring old bird. It has done us well but it is a pity that they did not put at least 180 bhp into it from the beginning. And may I beseech you 172 drivers to have a good read of what Mr. Cessna has to say about use of flaps. Less can be better you know!
In summary; a dear old machine, but hardly the World's Greatest methinks. Cheers from an old DC-3, Beaver and C-180/185 fan.