Cessna 172 - The Most Popular Light Aircraft in History

Written By: Jack Buscombe

The Cessna 172 has become a household name, particularly in the aviation community. Since it's inception in the mid-1950's, the 172 quickly earned it's stripes in becoming the most produced aircraft in history. These days, almost all qualified pilots started their flying career on the humble 172, and many continue to fly them. Paired with it's affordability and great training features, it's no wonder the Cessna 172 is such a popular airplane.

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History of the Cessna 172

The Cessna company which was founded in 1911 introduced the 172 to the world in 1956. It's design was derived from the Cessna 170, where the rear wheel was moved to the front, creating a tricycle landing gear. Additional modifications included larger elevators and a more angular tailfin. The 172 shot to success seemingly overnight, and at a retail price of $8,700US, 1,400 airplanes were produced in it's first year of production.

Early 172 Model
One of the earlier 172 models from the 1960's

Since then, the 172 has undergone a plethora of variants and special versions, including the 172 Hawk XP seaplane to the electric-powered airplane.

20 years after the initial production of the 172's, production was completely halted in 1986 due to rising costs. Parent company 'Textron' bought the Cessna Company from General Dynamics in 1992. Manufacturing resumed 4 years later in 1996 with the 160 horsepower 172R Skyhawk. This was the first 172 to have a fuel injected engine with a re-designed interior and ventilation system. Two years later, Cessna introduced the very popular 180 hp 172S Skyhawk SP, which was targeted primarily toward owner-operators.

The Cessna 170 and 172

172 and 170 in flight
A Cessna 172 (front) and 170 (back) flying side-by-side.

Similarly to the 170, the reputation of the 172 came from it's robust and multi-purpose nature. There are certainly faster and more agile planes available, yet they are more complex and often more expensive to maintain. There's planes that can take much larger loads, but are limited in many of their functional capabilities and performance constraints. It's the perfect 'jack-of-all trade's' blend that makes the 170 and 172 so appealing to a wide range of pilots and students.

As the 172 began production in 1956, production of the Cessna 170 was halted, and has not seen a return since. From the estimated 5,000 Cessna 170's which were built between 1948-1956, it's estimated there are 2,000 still in service today. Not a bad life-span for an aircraft that's at least 65 years old!

Developments from the Cessna 170

The Cessna 170 set the bar for the 172 to make waves in the private aviation industry. The initial development from the 170 taildragger was the triangle gear, which was aptly named the 'Land-O-Matic'. Unlike the 170, the early iterations of the 172 were marketed toward the instructional space for flight schools. The back wheel on the 170 moved to the front of the fuselage for an enhanced landing experience.

The 172 also had a more angular tailfin, which was implemented in the early iterations to further assist with landing experience. In 1960, Cessna revised the tailfin to be swept back, and this development is still in use today.

The panel of the 172 was far more erganomic, and the systems were simplified. This meant that the aircraft became more obedient and procedures simplified. Landing speeds were reduced and resilient airframes meant that the 172 became significantly easier to land than its predecessor. The approach to landings in the 170 was significantly more involved, whereas controlling airspeed and nailing angles was all that was neceesary in the 172.

Design Developments of the 172

Some of the major features which have been mainstays since the original 1950's models include gear movement and internal panel modifications.

  1. The shape of the 172 was modified regularly between years to get to what it is today. The original models of the Cessna started with the gear
  2. The main avionics panel upgrade occurred in 2005 when Textron Avition added the G1000 avionics suite. This included XM weather, terrain and traffic and early integrations of an optional autopilot. The placement of the yoke (control wheel) has also moved further down to allow for greater accessibility and visibility.

Performance Specs - Cessna 172 Skyhawk

The modern day Cessna 172's (commonly referred to as the 'Skyhawk') are powered by a piston engine:

  • Burn Rate: 8.5 Gallons (32.176 litres) per hour
  • Maximum Cruise Speed: 124 ktas (230 km/h)
  • Maximum Range: 640 nm (1,185 km)
  • Takeoff Distance: 1,630 ft (497 m)
  • Ground Roll: 960 ft (293 m)
  • Landing Distance: 1,335 ft (407 m)
  • Landing Ground Roll: 575 ft (175 m)
  • Service Ceiling: 14,000 ft (4,267 m)
  • Maximum Climb Rate: 730 fpm (223 mpm)
  • Maximum Limit Speed: 163 kias (302 km/h)
  • Stall Speed: 48 kcas (89 km/h)

Flying a Cessna 172

The Cessna 172 is a common training aircraft and most qualified pilots these days started in a 172. They make for perfect training vehicles due to their agility and easy-to-land features. AirShare has a number of flight lessons from around Australia which are conducted on 172's. You might be a seasoned pilot looking to jump back into a Cessna, or a total newbie with a dream of flying planes. In any case, I recommend checking out the videos below and trying your skills with a proper lesson or two!

Student in Airplane

How to fly a Cessna 172

The 172 is regularly cited as a 'ridiculously easy' plane to fly. Some instructors suggest that they will solo some students in as little as just 5 hours of training. In saying this, flying the plane is the easy part. The most challenging part of operating a 172 is dealing with contingencies and learning the aviation regulations of your region. As they differ between countries, this is usually the biggest hurdle in learning how to be a Cessna pilot.

The primary unique points of flying a 172 is familiarizing with the control panel and the yoke (steering wheel) position. The yoke on the modern 172's are quite low, which allows for improved visibility. Focusing on the sensitivity of the individual aircraft is important, and being able to maintain a safe angle during take-off. An unsafe angle can lead to a stall/spin situation, which can be quite dangerous.

The following video is of a student doing their first lesson in a 172. It should give you a good idea of what to expect on the first flight. Take note of the instructor and their relaxed approach, particularly during the critical parts of the flight.

There are several simulators to learn how to fly in a 172. This is generally a cheap way to learn to fly in an aircraft. As they are considered one of the easiest planes to fly, we recommend getting your footing in a Cessna.

How to land a Cessna 172

Landing a 172 is much like most other light aircraft, if you've had experience doing so before. The main thing to keep in mind when landing is to line the nose of the aircraft at the aiming point on the runway, and then to round off the angle of the plane at 15ft. When the wheels hit the tarmac, it's important for the nose to be slightly up, and to control the air speed so the tail doesn't hit the runway. If you have these two things in mind, you won't have any issues with an unbalanced grounding. A safe landing will require a minimum speed, full stall and low energy approach.

The following video provides with some simple basics on how to land a Cessna. It's a good starting point, however it doesn't compare to being in the cabin and having proper landing training! How awesome is the instructors voice too!

If you want the real experience of learning to fly, click here to look for flight lessons closest to your area.

Is the Cessna 172 Safe?

A question that gets asked often is 'how often does a Cessna 172 crash?'. Put simply, the Cessna 172 fatality rate is 0.56 per 100,000 flight hours. This gives it the lowest fatal accident rate in private aviation. The aggregated private aviation fatality rate sits at 1.3 per 100,000 flight hours; more than double the rate of the 172.

As with any single engine plane, there is a heightened risk if an engine were to fail. This risk is inevitable, and to counteract this, the company put great focus into building one of the most reliable engines in the private aircraft industry. Statistics show that very few 172 crashes have been attributed to engine failure, and most are correlated with extreme weather conditions.

The 172 was designed with the student in mind, and hence built a reliable aircraft with easy landing features. Cessna's marketing efforts shortly after the 172 was introduced promoted low landing speeds and agile performance. This qualities made it more flexible to unplanned landings with immediate notice. As many private aircraft fatalities occur during unexpected landings, it meant that the 172 was more reliable and adapt to contingencies than other aircraft.

Crash Statistics

The 172 accounts for as much as 16% of total flying hours in private aviation, yet only account for 6% of fatal accidents. This is indicative of it's fantastic safety rating. Recent studies suggest there are on average 1-2 fatal crashes worldwide in Cessna 172's.

Cessna 172 Crash Statistics Attribtution:

  • 50% are due to continuing flights in time-proven trespasses (e.g. flying below a safe altitude and flying in bad weather).
  • 40% of fatal accidents happen at night.
  • 30% involve drugs or alcohol
  • 25% indicate suicide or possible suicide.
  • 20% of fatal incidents involve pilot incapacitation (health issues e.g. heart attack)
  • 20% are stall/spin crashes
  • Only 10% of crashes in a 172 are due to mechanical errors.

As little as 10% of the fatal crashes in a 172 have been attributed to aircraft mechanical errors, while more than 90% are attributed to pilot violations. It's evident that very few fatalities are a result of the aircraft itself, which is indicative of it's reliability. It's also worth noting that almost none of the fatal accidents have occurred during flight training procedures.

Given the fact that the 172 is more accessible to all pilots, it's no surprise that almost all of the accidents have been due to human involvement. It could be argued that the pilots of the 172's themselves are more likely to cause an accident, yet the fatality rates still sits well below the general aviation aggregated average.

Stall/Spin Fatalities

Those more invested in the aviation space who have an idea of a stall/spin could be suggesting that a stall/spin situation could be the fault of the aircraft or the pilot. Broadly speaking, stall/spin errors can occur from a faulty autopilot system or broken sensors. This is not entirely applicable as the basic 172 does not run on any automated flying systems, which means all stall/spin situations are pilot-provoked issues.

How Much does a Cessna 172 Cost?

Given that there are so many variations and features of the Cessna 172, the cost to buy one varies massively. You can expect to pay around $400,000US for a brand new Skyhawk, however prices sit at around $300,000 for a modern 172 on the pre-owned market. The best way to get a good idea of the used market for aircraft is to follow Facebook groups like this. There are several new listings for 172 sales each week.

Used Cessna 172
Housed 172 for Sale

Price of a Brand New 172 Skyhawk

As mentioned above, Textron does not advertise a retail price for a brand new 2020 Cessna 172. Our research suggests that a standard Skyhawk with no additional extras retails at $400,000US.

When they were first released in 1956, the introductory base price was retailing at $8,995. Over the course of the 60's, the price of a brand new 172 rose to $10,000. From the 70's onwards, prices were rising fairly consistently at about double each decade.

Used Aircraft

Buying a used aircraft is a much more feasible option for most pilots, particularly if you're starting out. A quick Google Search will pull up a number of listings and there's plenty of syndicate opportunities for shared aircraft ownership. Sites like trade-a-plane are usually a good place to start looking for used planes.

The cheapest pre-owned 172 we found was a 1965 172F for $25,000. Many of the cheaper used Cessna's are in good condition, however repair and running costs can get quite steep for planes over 50 years old. But on the flip side, they have such a beautiful charm about them!

If you want to run the gauntlet of having a go at shared ownership, there's opportunities for as low as $6,000. This would have you own one-tenth of the airplane. Usually, the plane will be stored in a hangar and the syndicate members will have access to it x days over the year, depending on the terms of the negotiation. Whether airplane syndicates are a good idea is debatable for obvious reasons, however it's a neat way to own a piece of your favourite aircraft. Although it's not fun having to subsidise repairs when another member mistreats the plane.

How Much Does it Cost to Run a Cessna 172

Pilot cleaning plane

In simple terms, an average flight hour in a Skyhawk will cost $60 per flight hour. This accounts for direct flight costs exclusively and doesn't factor in overheads which usually account for more than half of annual ownership costs.

Generally speaking, fixed wing aircraft are much easier and cheaper to keep than helicopters. Even compared to the economical Robinson R44 chopper, planes will cost far less to fly, maintain and repair. Further to this, the Cessna 172 is a super affordable plane to fly, repair and insure. The primary costs of running a fixed wing plane like a Cessna are:

  1. fuel costs
  2. repairs/maintenance
  3. housing
  4. registration and compliance audits, and
  5. insurance

Although annualised total costs depend heavily on how much flying is performed, we will use the average 200 flight hours as the basis of the following calculations. Note that the following figures are a hypothetical and can vary significantly. Please do your own independent research before considering the following figures for budgeting.

Fuel and Oil Costs

The burn rate of the 172 is 8.5 gallons of fuel (32.176 litres) per hour. The price of AvGas currently sits around $2.25 per litre and therefore the hourly fuel burn costs are $72. Additionally, the Cessna consumes around $3 of oil per flight hour, bringing the total hourly running costs to $75.

Given that the average active private aircraft flies 200 hours in a given year, annual fuel & oil costs will sit around $15,000. For simplicity, we can include landing fees into this cost.

Repairs and Maintenance

Based on data collected from 50 Skyhawk owners in 2019, the average budgeted cost of repairs equates to approximately $2,000 per year. This too, can vary significantly depending on whether you're able to perform basic maintenance work yourself. External engineer assistance can quickly increase the costs of aircraft maintenance.


Similar to any property, the value (and hence lease cost) of an aircraft hanger depends on a number of factors. The location of the hangar is a good start, and aircraft hangars situated on relatively popular general aviation airports start from $70,000 to buy. For the purpose of the calculation we will be leasing a hangar, and monthly rent prices usually sit between $400-$900 per month for a small hangar. The average price of hangars in Australia is $600 per month to house light aircraft. This means the annual lease price of the hangar will cost $7,200.

Housed Aircraft

Registration and Compliance

Similar to a car, planes must be registered with the regulatory body to be permitted to fly. The cost of this is also determined by the regulatory body of your housed plane, and can vary significantly. Learning this information and comprehending how it relates to your situation is a mission in itself. So for full details, visit the CASA Civil Aviation Fees document for an idea of how this looks. The registration costs for a light aircraft such as a Cessna 172 in this situation will cost $500 per year.

Regular inspections are also important to insure the plane is safe to fly, and the rate charged by the inspector is $100-$190 per hour, depending on the seniority of the inspector required. In this case, the annual cost for compliance checks totals to $400.


Airplane insurance varies depending on the hangar conditions, housing location, flying hours etc. However, a reasonable quote for insurance on a modern Cessna 172 comes in at around $300 per month. Therefore, annual insurance costs for a housed 172 are $3,600.

Total Operating Costs

Based on the calculations, the average annual operting costs of owning a Cessna 172 Skyhawk equates to $28,700. This figure is just as an example and can vary widely depending on the age/condition of the plane, location, aircraft variant and flight hours.


How many Cessna 172s have been built?

Since the first production model in 1956, there have been 43,000 Cessna 172's manufactured around the world, and counting. This makes them the most produced aircraft in history.

How far can the Cessna 172 fly?

The modern day 172 Skyhawk's have a 696 nautical mile range with the standard 45 minute reserve running on 55% power at 12,000 ft. This equates to a ground distance of 1,289km's.

How fast does the Cessna fly?

The cruising speed of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk is 122 knots with a maximum speed of 163 knots. This equates to a 226 km/h cruising ground speed with a maximum of 302km/h.

How high can you fly in a Cessna 172?

Modern Cessna 172's have a maximum altitude of 13,000ft - 15,000ft. Anything over 10,000ft is known as the transition layer, and pilots should not cruise above this altitude. For long haul flights, it's recommended to cruise at 9,500ft and 4,500ft for short flights.

How safe is the Cessna 172?

There is one fatality for every 178,571 flight hours flown in Cessna 172's.

Is the Cessna 172 safe?

The Cessna 172 is more the twice as safe as the average private aircraft. This is likely due to it's slow landing speed and ability to easily make impromptu landings.

How much does a Cessna 172 cost?

The recent Cessna 172's are retailing at $400,000US. There are old 172's from the 80's and 90's selling for as low as $40,000US.

How many seats does a Cessna 172 have?

A standard 172 has capacity for 1 pilot and 3 passengers.

Is it hard to fly a Cessna 172?

No, the Cessna 172 is a very easy aircraft to fly in comparison to most of it's alternatives. It's a very obedient plane featuring a simple build with simple systems, straightforward procedures and accessible training.

What type of fuel does it use?

The Cessna 172 uses AvGas to power it's piston engine.

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