In my Dad’s era, Cubs, Champs, and even a few Luscombes littered the ramps (in some cases literally) at the local airport. Everyone had flown one and many had learned to fly in one of these rag and tube airplanes. These days, these airplanes are sixty year old antiques – prized possessions of their owners. Without radios, starters, brakes, and with the little wheel in back, few people train in them anymore.
I actually bucked the norm a little. I’m in my mid thirties and learned to fly in the mid nineties (was that really almost 15 years ago?!). About midway through my flight training I switched to a 1946 Taylorcraft. I had a great instructor and together, he and the airplane, taught me to “keep it going straight” and to “use those feet.” Shortly after I got my Private License, I was flying a tailwheel Maule, so the Taylorcraft lessons were put to good use. I actually have a 65HP Taylorcraft living with me now. It is great fun to putter around the neighborhood on a summer evening. But, my first love was the airplane I first soloed – the training airplane of MY generation of pilots – the Cessna 152.
I travel for business in a Cirrus SR-22 that I rent from a local flight school. It had been a month or two since I had flown the Cirrus (one of the reasons I rent, not buy) and the flight school wanted me to come fly so that their computer system didn’t flag me as inactive. In looking through their fleet, I noticed that their single remaining Cessna 152 had recently returned from the paint shop where it had received an all around spruce up. “What the heck”, I thought. “Let’s go fly the little 152.” It had been more than 10 years since I had even stood next to one. What would a “real” pilot need with a 152?
Let me tell you. It’s a FUN little airplane. This is blasphemy, I know, but the Cessna 152 compares vary favorably with my T-craft and with other classics that have become collectors’ items. Granted, we’re talking about fun airplanes for Saturday morning pancake runs. I would not want to use it for a 500 mile round trip business meeting, but then again, I wouldn’t take a Cub on that trip, either.
In case you 30-50-something pilots have forgotten, the Cessna 152 was built between 1978 and 1986, replacing and improving upon the 150, a training staple since the advent of the nosegear. Its gross take-off weight is just less than 1680 pounds, just above the new Light Sport limit; which is unfortunate, because it makes a fantastic light sport airplane. With empty weights around 1,100 ponds, that leaves 580 for people, stuff and fuel – 2 FAA-sized adults and almost full fuel.
After I sat down in the pilot’s seat, I had to contort my legs to get them through the door and into the floorboard. Compared to my classic Taylorcraft or a Cub, it was a breeze to climb into, though. Once in, I realized that there were two individual seats, rather than a bench like the Taylorcraft or an Aeronca Chief. What’s more – the seats actually slide fore and aft! After running the checklist, I hollered “CLEAR” and then used a gizmo called a starter to get the little Lycoming running.
Taxi is effortless compared to the 40’s vintage airplanes. You can see straight ahead and out to the side, and the nosewheel steering is better than even the bigger Cessnas. Pre-takeoff checks are as dirt simple as anything. Gas –ON, Trim – SET, Flaps – Where you like them, Controls – FREE, Mags, Guages – and let’s go. The take off, obviously, would not be mistaken for a Cirrus, but the acceleration is good compared to the classics. I darted around on the roll just a little because you just don’t need that much rudder. The airplane levitated at about 55 knots and climbed out at about 500 feet per minute. Similar or better than the Taylorcraft in ground roll and climb rate, but at 70 – 80 knots, rather than 50.
What I really love about the Cessna 152 are the light controls. It is a pleasure to maneuver in flight. I think that you could almost do an entire flight in a 152 without the rudder control cables installed and never know it – try that in a Cub! The view outside is good through the side windows and over the nose – the cowling just a little higher in the field of view than in a172 with the seat cranked up high. In my Taylorcraft, the side window sits at shoulder level and you have to duck to see anything but wing-root. All the Cessna’s controls fall into hand – yoke, throttle, trim, flaps, and this box in the middle of the panel kept talking to me through the headsets!
Landings are easy as pie. It seemed to like 60 knots on final and full flaps. Wing down into the cross wind with two fingers on the yoke. Chirp, chirp, …chirp! – the tires touch down in the correct order. It rolls straight as an arrow. Turn off the runway in about 500 feet – same as a Cub, more or less.
I even shot a few landings at my 1800 foot grass strip and enjoyed the same good manners. I think it will land as short as the Taylorcraft or a Cub. With the strong brakes that you can actually reach with your toes and good flaps deployed, it comes right down and stops, easily making the midfield turn-off. It seems to taxi on grass better than other tricycle-gear airplanes that I’ve flown. The 152 is well balanced on its mains and that seems to help with the up and down nose bounce common in other types. With the good forward visibility, it was easier to steer around the dog, the golf cart, and my kid’s bike than it would have been with the Taylorcraft.
On take-off out of the short grass strip, the Cessna rolled a little longer than the feather-light Cubs do. I don’t think I would want to do it on a hot day with a passenger, a lot of fuel or a tailwind, nor would I in the Taylorcraft. Like any light, low powered airplane, watch the loads when hot and heavy. Cool and light – no problems.
Cubs will cruise about 85 MPH, the Taylorcraft, about 90 MPH or 100 if you really whip it. The Cessna 152 would run 100 knots flat out and about 90 knots (110 MPH) with the RPMs off the peg. Advantage – Cessna. After an hour and a half of playing around, I topped off the 152 with nine gallons of gasoline. Autofuel STC’s are also available, as well.
All and all the Cessna 152 would be a great little airplane for someone looking for a personal trainer or a $100 hamburger getter. It will out run, out climb and out haul the classics of the 1940’s and will be fine tied down outside, if a hangar isn’t available. With all the creature comforts of the 1980’s, it is certainly more comfortable and easier to fly than other light airplanes. It will also outperform Cessna’s new Light Sport Skycatcher and you can buy five 152’s for the price of one Skycatcher. The price of a nice 152 even beats the Cub by $10,000 – $20,000, now that the Cub has attained cult status (it’s $100,000 cheaper than a new LSA Cub).
If you haven’t flown a 152 since your student pilot days, go find one and take a look. It might very well become the new classic.