For many of us, the first exposure we had to Cessna's 172 was the first step-up in size and performance from a two-seat trainer, most likely the Cessna 150/152 series. Back then the Skyhawk seemed huge and powerful compared to the 150/152. Many of us spent hours in 172s giving first rides to friends and family, collecting certificates and ratings, and eventually moving on to bigger and higher-performance rides. Some, on the other hand, continued flying 172s, passing on their knowledge as CFIs or landing jobs as traffic or fish spotters. Over time, people started calling them colorful names like "Chicken Hawk," or "Fryhawk" for those in warmer climates.
Despite the name-calling and sometimes love-hate relationship with the 172, pilots and owners always regale the 172 for its remarkably unremarkable traits. It's not fast, but at least it's simple and doesn't burn a lot of fuel. It's not sexy, but it's utilitarian, it's easy to fly, and it makes a great airplane for getting into and out of short, rough fields. It's very inexpensive to operate and that, combined with its legendary dispatch reliability, makes it the trainer of choice at many flight schools. Any mechanic in the world can work on one in a farmer's field or at the jet FBO at the international airport. The list of pros far outweighs the cons and is the main reason why it remains the world's most produced airplane.
- Peter A. Bedell, AOPA Pilot
Source of information: The International Directory of Civil Aircraft, 1997. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd.
By themselves, a few Cessna engineers came up with a nosewheel installation for the C-170 and even went so far as to make a mock-up. Unfortunately, a manager's weekend stroll through the shop put a swift, if temporary, end to the nosewheel experimentation. A Monday-morning memo from the vice president of engineering ordered that the mock-up be destroyed. It wasn't. Instead, the conspirators hid it. By spring of 1955, the Tri-Pacer once again became the subject of debate. Its brisk sales persisted. At one point, Cessna even rented a Tri- Pacer to evaluate the airplane firsthand. Finally, with some regret, Cessna management gave a secret authorization to develop a tricycle-gear version of the C-170C. Out came the hidden, once-forbidden mock-up. Cessna started production on the 172 in 1956, manufacturing more than 1,400 aircraft in the first year of production.
The 172 evolved as Cessna responded to the flying public's desire for a more modern, comfortable, and safer airplane. As more avionics, larger fuel capacities, and better accommodations were incorporated, the airplanes got heavier, necessitating maximum gross weight increases. When first introduced in 1956, the 172 had a maximum gross weight of 2,200 pounds. Gross weights were increased to 2,250 pounds in the 172C (1962), and bumped up another 50 pounds with the introduction of the 172D in 1963. Gross weights stabilized at 2,300 pounds for 16 years until the introduction of the 172P in 1980, when Cessna upped the maximum gross weight to 2,400 pounds — where it stayed until the end of production in 1986. When production resumed, the maximum gross weight was again upped to 2,450 pounds for the 172R and 2,550 for the 172S Skyhawk SP.
The aircraft saw many design changes over the years, which resulted in 21 distinctive models when you include the higher performance variations. Earlier models were powered by the six-cylinder continental O-300 series and were rated at 145 hp. The 172I model saw an increase of 5 HP with the installment of a four cylinder Lycoming O-320 series, making the aircraft rated at 150 hp. Top speeds only varied by a couple of miles-per-hour even with the engine change. The N model was the first 172 with a 160 hp engine. Higher performance aircraft also emerged. 1977 saw the release of the R172K (Hawk XP) model, rated at 195 hp. In 1980 Cessna introduced the 172 Cutlass RG with a 180 hp engine and retractable gear. Three years later the 172Q Cutlass model came out, also with a 180 hp engine, but no retractable gear. It had a significant speed reduction over the RG model. The 80’s were a hard time for the company with rising costs from product liability suits. In 1986, Cessna ceased production on single-engine piston aircraft. Eight years later, with the passage of the 1994 General Aviation Revitalization Act, Cessna announced they would resume production. They started with production of the R model, which was finally introduced in 1996. In 1998 the 172S Skyhawk SP hit the market sporting a 180 hp engine. As of June 2007, 36,815 Skyhawks had been produced.