The Wichita Wonder

Over the years I've gotten a lot of comments in Cessna 150s.  One commenter sat down and wrote a few lines about his thoughts on Cessna 150s and asked me if I'd publish them.  I rather agree with his thoughts so here are his comments.

THE WICHITA WONDER

By Michael Higgins

It has been described as ubiquitous, venerable, free spirited, and by some haughty cfi’s (wannabe atp’s), as “Spam cans.” Each of us remembers that first airplane, the one we learned to fly in. Most of us hold a special  reverence for the machine, which  transformed us from the surly bonds of earth to that euphoric place, our little slice of heaven.  Some are of the generation where that machine had the smell of leather, dope, and spruce. The control surfaces were manipulated with a “stick” and the engine was started by a technique known as “hand propping.” The sound might have been a throaty rumble, if you had one of those round motors; otherwise, the conventional “pop”, “pop”, “pop” would do. Still, a few may recall that singing and sighing of the flying wires.  The plane I remember, however, was of a different era, a more modern age.  Its’ characteristics were different too. The smell was of vinyl and some concoction known as “Royalite.” The controls? Well, they just took a steering wheel, squared it off a little and called it a yoke. As for the engine start procedure; you would turn clockwise that stubby plastic-clad key. Of course, you preceded this step by switching on the master switch to energize the battery contactor, but then that goes without saying, doesn’t it? The sound? Well, some things don’t change too much. It is plenty loud, and the only singing and sighing you’ll hear in this bird would be that of the stall warning horn.

The machine, of course, is the Cessna 150/152 series aircraft. The airplane which has been sold in greater numbers than any piston single, the only exception being its’ big brother 172 model. Hence, this is where the venerable and ubiquitous part plays in. Yet, some would mock this little wonder saying it is ugly, it ain’t a real airplane, you don’t “S” turn it when you taxi, and it sure is underpowered. To all this I would say “HOGWASH!” Real airplanes fly and this one sure has the flight hours to prove it. No, it does not have a huge Pratt & Whitney up front, or the fuel burn rate either. I think where people miss the point is by making unfair comparisons.

The 150/152 series was designed primarily for training purposes. So, if you were going to make a fair “apples to apples’ comparison; you would need to compare the plane to a similar trainer of yesteryear or the present. I suppose there may be some who resent such items as a nose wheel, electric starter, or for that matter, an electrical system. But if you stop and think about it, these “improvements” were initiated not only for the sake of convenience, but also out of necessity and the need for safety. With the steerable tricycle gear, Cessna’s are a breeze to taxi and rarely ground loop. The electrical system is now required equipment, necessary to provide electrical power to the communications radio and mode C transponder, allowing the pilot access through today’s complex airspace environment.  While hand propping has been safely practiced for many years, the present liability crisis simply cannot afford the risk of student pilots starting their engines in this manner. The starter motor is the obvious fix. Don’t get me wrong, however, with all these “improvements” I love the older airplanes just as much as their modern counterparts, some even more. All I am really trying to say is don’t knock that little Cessna. As Luke Swann might say of the 150/152, “It did its’ job and it did it well.”  Every airplane is designed with compromises in mind. Sure, we all would like a little more horsepower, but what about the fuel bill? Or, how about more avionics? Now the price tag really goes through the roof. The 150/152 probably could not have had a better blend of design compromises. The end result is an economical sport-trainer that is a sheer delight to command.

I reminisce about that that first intro flight, the curious sounds of the turn and bank indicator spinning up and those barn door flaps running down for the pre-flight inspection. This was all so new and exciting and I was not even airborne yet. Then there were those first few training flights with my trusty instructor. I recall the tower calling for a “Go Around” to maintain separation from the coyote crossing the runway and the flight along the foothills where we encountered snowflakes gently patting against the windscreen. That was one of the most simple, yet spectacular experiences of my life and that little Cessna made it all happen for me!

That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? That refreshing feeling we get every time we take to the air. Yes, I am very sentimental toward the little airplane that made all this possible.  I love to walk around airports just to look at all the airplanes and especially check out the Cessna’s that may be for sale. “Look at this one, new paint job and still has the wheel pants. Over there, there’s one with a nice set of radios and skylights to boot! Wow! I’m sure the owner is a proud of that airplane as his firstborn.”

Well, I guess one could go on and on, but let’s face it; we who love flying first love our airplanes. I’m sure each of us will always cherish the airplane that gave to us our first impressions of flight. To do otherwise would be sacrilege. Maybe your airplane was made of wood and fabric or of raw muscle built for the rigors of military training. Perhaps you were brought up in the same league as I. Your airplane had “Paralift Flaps, Omnivision, Land-O-Matic Gear”, which all add up to what Cessna labeled a “Sassy Sport Trainer.” Well, with all the copyrighted advertising adjectives aside, Cessna did produce a wonderfully designed airplane that was a docile and forgiving training platform for those newly acquainted to flight. Ubiquitous, venerable, free spirited? All these accurately describe the role of the Cessna 150/152 series airplane. Spam cans? That derogatory slur is not befitting of further comment.

Which model do I like best of the series? I suppose I would purchase a later model 150. The features I like are the electric flaps with the detent selection, circuit breakers versus fuses, modern gyros, rear window visibility, and the aesthetics of the swept tail.  Although the 152 was a better equipped airplane, having the 28 volt electrical system and the 110 horsepower “Bluestreak” Lycoming, I cannot see paying the necessary twenty-eight grand and up for one. Simply put, the 150 is a better value. Some of the things I don’t like about the series? For starters, the rear view mirror is absolutely ridiculous. Speaking of starters, the well known Sprague clutch problems were a real nightmare for some poor souls. But along came a fix for the problem accomplished by drilling a hole in the engine case providing lubrication to the clutch. I may be a little biased, but cigarette lighters do not belong in airplanes. My biggest complaint would be resoundingly, or should I say resonatingly, “ALL THE NOISE!” 

Still, the good points far outweigh the bad. The airplane is fun to fly in two hour hops and can go as long as four. Let’s keep in mind that although one can fly long cross-county flights in this airplane, the creature comforts are a little lacking, as the airplane was not specifically designed for this purpose. The ever popular 172 would come in handy here.

The personality of the 150/152 series airplanes reflect an attitude of always willing to deliver, as if welcoming the pilot back for another flight. Have you ever noticed what happens when you shut down the engine on one of these little birds? The whole airplane utters a kind of shuddering sound as if to say to his master, “C’mon, can’t we go up just once more around the patch?”

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For comments, suggestions, or questions please e-mail me at ken@cessna150.net.