• An very early C172 Skyhawk. (Textron Aviation)
    An very early C172 Skyhawk. (Textron Aviation)

Textron Aviation is marking 65 years in service of the venerable Cessna Skyhawk, a milestone the model passed on 12 June this year.

The C172 is recognised today as one of the enduring symbols of general aviation around the world, and was one of the first designs to embrace two post-war trends that would revolutionise the GA market: metal construction and a nose-wheel.

It's simplicity and reliability struck a chord with buyers and even today after six decade of evolution, the Skyhawk platform soldiers as a popular trainer and private aircraft.

"On June 12, 1955, the Cessna Skyhawk took to the skies for the first time, paving the way for more than six decades of piston innovation and leadership,” said Chris Crow, vice president of Textron Aviation Piston Sales.

“The aircraft quickly established its place as the ultimate training tool, with more than 1100 built and delivered to customers during its first year of production. We are incredibly proud of the role the Skyhawk plays for many pilots as they successfully take their first solo flight and continue to grow as aviators.”

More than 45,000 Skyhawks have been built since 1955, but the aircraft is a very different machine today than the first examples that rolled out of the Wichita factory.

Cessna fitted the first C172s with a six-cylinder, 145-hp Continental O-300 engine, which carried the model through to 1967 before it was replaced with a four-cylinder O-320 turning out 150 hp.The higher-powered model was the most successful of the variants to date.

The original models also had a sloped rear fuselage and a small rear window, a very different look to the cut-down fuselage and wrap-around window that has characterised the Skyhawk since the C172D of 1963. The early models also had Piper-style mechanical flaps, which were phased out with the C172F and replaced with electric flaps.

The aviation liability crises that broke in the USA in 1985 forced Skyhawk production into retirement, before it returned in 1996 as the C172R, with updated systems and a more luxurious interior than its predecessors.

Today, the platform is still available as the C172SP with a 180-hp, fuel-injected IO-360 engine that has lifted the C172 into a position to challenge the performance of Piper's PA-28 Archer III. The current model also boasts G1000 NXi avionics to appeal the flying schools training for airline careers.

Over the decades there have been several variants of the C172, including the C175 Skylark with a 175-h geared engine, the Reims FR172 and the C172RG Cutlass retractable. There was also an attempt to supersede the model in 1968 with the C177 Cardinal.

But above all, the C172 has survived this long by delivering to customers the basics: good handling, reasonable performance, simplicity and reliability.

What the future brings for the Skyhawk is known only to a crystal ball, but as long a people keep buying it, the C172 is likely to celebrate a few more milestones yet.

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