The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 7 Winter 2001
Sywell Aircraft - Cessna 172 Series
by Chris Parker
John Shelton's Sywell-based G-BEIB together with other
Sywell Aero Club members' aircraft was used to give air
experience to handicapped young people from
Hinwick House near Wellingborough.
It may seem odd to feature what appears to be a 'modern' light aircraft in a series which has included largely historic types so far. However, the Cessna 172 series, and small cousins the 150 and 152 have been very familiar sights in UK skies since aircraft import restrictions were lifted in the end of the 1950s.
The origin of the 172 design can be found in the tail-wheel four seat Cessna 170 of 1946. This established the format of strut braced high wing and all metal construction. The 172 is basically a nose-wheel version of the 170 and appeared in 1955 as a competitor to Piper's PA22 Tri-Pacer. The nose-wheel configuration of these two types, essentially flying versions of the American family car, was intended to simplify flying (or at least make take-off and landing easier for the man in the street). Cessna grandly labelled their simple spring steel undercarriage system as 'Land-o-Matic' - probably a claim too far!
Examples of the Cessna 150 and 172 family began to appear in the UK from early 1960 onwards, handled by the two main distributors Rogers Aviation (the Bedfordshire Air Centre) at Cranfield, and Airwork Services at Bournemouth and Perth. A note of interest is that Brooklands Aviation (the operators at the time of aviation activities at Sywell) had been approached to take on the Cessna distributorship but decided that it did not fit with their main activity of the repair and overhaul of RAF aircraft.
Henry Deterding's very smart Model 182 Skylane G-ARAW.
The first of the Cessna 172 family to be based at Sywell in 1960 was Grantair's G-ARFG, a model 175 'Skylark' variant. The Skylark had a slightly more powerful geared version of the Continental 6 cylinder engine and 'de-luxe' paintwork and interior trim. In fact, I recall the paint scheme as being a rather alarming combination of cream, beige, silver and salmon pink! This aeroplane was perceived as a revelation in terms of ride, comfort, and 'chic' however, when compared with the staple diet of Austers and Tiger Moths available to the Club pilots of the time.
Soon after, in 1962, three more Cessna 172s took up Sywell residence. G-ARAV and G-ARZD for the Northamptonshire Aero Club and G-ARZE privately owned and operated by Mr and Mrs John Sudborough. 'RAV was another somewhat biliously painted example, being finished in green, silver, and a vivid orange scheme.
The Northamptonshire Aero Club's G-ARZD
visiting the National Air Races at Coventry in 1963.
The four seaters provided more capacity than the Aero Club needed in those days, and 'RAV was eventually sold. G-ARZD soldiered on for many years at Sywell, suffering several mishaps on the way, and was eventually written off after a crash in the Scilly Isles in 1977. A frequent visitor to Sywell in the early 1960s was Mr Henry Deterding (a well known pre war Sywell pilot) who based his newly acquired Cessna on his home airstrip at Newnham Grounds near Daventry. Mr Deterding's aircraft was a more powerful variant of the 172, a model 182 Skylane registered G-ARAW and was, like some others mentioned, also of similarly eye-catching hue. This time in a black, yellow, cream and silver trim, together with extra windows and very swish wheel pants - a truly dashing ensemble!
One peculiarity of the 182 which caught us out on first inspection was the apparent absence of any inflation valves on the tyres. These turned out to have been replaced by a needle which was inserted through a specially formed panel in the wall of each tyre - very American!
The Northamptonshire Aero Club's G-ARAV
visiting the National Air Races at Coventry in 1963.
Over the years many modifications have been made to the 172 design to keep it contemporary and competitive. Most noticeable externally was the substitution of the upright fin and rudder by a swept version, and installation of a wraparound rear window to the cabin (grandly titled 'omni vision' by Cessna's marketing men!). Under the cowlings the original 6-cylinder Continental engine was replaced by a 4-cylinder Lycoming of equivalent power. In the cockpit most significant was the replacement of the long, 4-position, manual flap lever by various arrangements of electric switches and indicators, presumably requiring less energy to operate but more prone to failure and confusion (that's progress!).
In the late 1960s Cessna contracted with Rheims Aviation in France to take over the manufacture of many of their single engined models for sale in Europe and North Africa. These models have the letter F prefixed in their type descriptions.
From the mid 1960s onwards, Cessnas became the standard equipment of the majority of flying schools in the UK and became very familiar sights indeed on a daily basis at Sywell. Several different 172s were operated in succession by the Aeroclub, and over a dozen examples have been based at Sywell by private operators over the years. At the time of writing it so happens that only one example, Fordaire's G-BAVB, is resident - back to the situation in 1960. Perhaps the wheel has gone full circle.
Postscript, May 2012: Fordaire's G-BAVB moved on but Brooklands Flying Club now operate a C172, G-ZACE.