Monday, February 22, 2010

In Praise of Skyhawks

I was stimulated to blathering by a couple comments on my 2-part post on Santa Monica Flyer's Charles Thomson the other day.
Thanks always for all comments: very helpful and thought-provoking.

Comment from Anonymous:

Bad rap for the 172 in general. It's one of the safest airplanes to fly, and it has the track record to prove it.
I like the Piper, but let's give it a few years in the air and then compare it to a 172.
Sounds a little like the arrogance of youth. You might want to be careful with that while you're in the air.

AnotherAnonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome looking plane! I want to come fly it. Good luck to you!!

Thanks to both of you. Starting off, I never meant to give the impression Charles Thomson was bad-rapping the C-172. He was justifiably critical of the Skyhawk that broke in flight and delivered him directly to the scene of a nasty crash afterward.
Fortunately there were no major injuries.
But imagine losing power at 1,000 over dense suburban thanks.
Obviously Charlie was knocking that particular airplane, and old trainers in general, not the C-172 in particular.
It's no secret our economically-challenged GA training industry has increasingly been forced to use often-dilapidated airplanes just to stay in business.
And of course many fresh versions of the 172 abound since Cessna, as a quick trip to Wikipedia confirms, reintroduced the design in 1996. (Yikes. It's been that long already?)
More than 43,000 Skyhawks in total have been built! There's no bad-rapping such an incredible success story: it's the most-produced civilian airplane in history.
I share the universal high regard for the C-172 and C-150/152 designs. Got many hours in both types myself. They've done their job magnificently!
Still, let's do some straight talking. Of the scores of Cessna 172 photoships I've rented for P&P shoots over the years, the majority were, well, kinda ratty.
Most were flight training airplanes. Often they smelled bad, looked worse, parts were falling off, paint was turning to powder, screws inside and out were missing, and while they weren't unsafe (I'm still here), they sure were way past their prime, (or midlife...or even seniorhood.)
That's not a rap against the airplane.
It is a rap against the extended service life too many schools are forced to put on those airplanes.
Of course, why would a flight school spend $200,000 or more on a new 172 when so many used Skyhawks and 150/152s are available for far less?
That rationale extends to LSA too: If schools can pick up three or four decent C-152s or 172s on the used market for every new $100,000 LSA, why wouldn't they continue to do so? The economics here are a no brainer.
Still, we're talking about perceptions here.
If you're 16, or 18, or 21, do you want to learn to fly in an airplane twice as old as you are? Or if a young newbie's school has newer 172s, but he/she can save $25 or more per hour of instruction by learning in an LSA, which choice do you think they're likely to make, at least for primary instruction?
The notion of students, young and old, being turned on by shiny new airplanes is a human one. We can be excited about that, because God knows GA needs fresh juice.
As the commenter above points out, we don't know how LSAs will hold up.
That's not really at issue though. Sure, the stellar training longevity of Wichita Tin may never be equalled by any LSA. Right now, the job is to keep GA alive, and growing again.
So let's get down with the idea of turning students on to flight again.
I submit that Light Sport can, and already is, doing exactly that.

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