100 Greatest, Part One of Five

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 172First 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.

From the Flight Archives on October 11, 1957 (Same as the Sputnik issue):
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.

tn_Cessna-172.jpgMore pictures below the fold.tn_c172.jpgtn_G1000%20Panel.jpgClick for larger.

Do you agree with this choice?Why not nominate your own favourite of the following categores in our "100 Greatest" area:

5 Responses to 100 Greatest, Part One of Five

  1. Pierce April 28, 2008 at 12:12 pm #

    Just for reference, the 2008 Cessna 172 does not list for “just under $300,000, base price.”

    The Cessna 172R (Skyhawk) base price is $234,500. See:


    Sadly, even at $234k, the price of a Skyhawk is substantially beyond reach of most of us, and shockingly higher than the $129k list price from 12 years ago when the plane was first reintroduced.

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