Pipers and Cessnas

It is an age-old aeronautical debate, that of the low wing versus the high winged airplane. Both types have their advantages and each performs equally well, with almost the same performance statistics. So, which holds more positives than negatives? That depends on which you like best.

One great advantage the Pipers have over the Cessnas is the ease of servicing. The wing is about tabletop height, which facilitates fueling without difficulty. It does not get any easier than walking up to the airplane, attaching the ground wire, pulling out the hose, unscrewing the cap, and then filling up the tank.

 To accomplish the same with the Cessna will require either a semi-tall ladder, or a great balancing act on the “refueling steps.” Then you have to drape the refueling hose over your shoulder to control it as you fill the wing tank.

The Cessna 172 and the Piper Cherokee are similar in many ways, but servicing seems to be the greatest difference between the two. The other significant differences between the low wing and the high wing aircraft is traffic avoidance.

In a Cessna, a pilot has to raise the wing to clear traffic in the direction of the turn. In Pipers, it is very easy to make certain the airspace is clear before turning. Where the Cessna shines in traffic avoidance is the pilot being able to clear the airspace below. Without a wing to block traffic while looking down, it is easy to clear that way. When you have to clear upward is when you run into a problem.

Another problem you may have with a Piper on a very bright and sunny day is glare inside the airplane. On sunny days, when the sunlight bounces off the top surface of the wing, the cockpit can actually become quite bright and oppressive. The Cessna pilot on the other hand, can essentially acquire shade from the wing overhead. This will help eliminate some of the heat within.

When learning to fly, either airplane will do. However, the Cessna allows a student pilot to have a more unrestricted view of the runway as it rises to meet the aircraft. The student gains a better opportunity to adjust the flare altitude easier than the student who is learning to fly in a low wing airplane such as the Piper.

So, if you have been keeping count, which is the best to use in learning how to fly? Which is easier and better to own? It all depends…  This is truly one of those situations in which it is half a dozen of one, and six of the other.

And of course, whichever one you like the best.


© 2011 J. Clark

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5 Responses to Pipers and Cessnas

  1. midlifepilot says:

    Funny, I have a traditional liking for Cessna 172s as I took my first ever small aircraft flight on one as a teenager. Had I had my ‘druthers, I would have learned to fly on one.

    However, my club has only C152’s and they are way too small for my 6’4″, 105kg frame. Hence it was an easy decision for me to learn on our fleet of 8 or 9 Cherokees.

    I have heard it said often that the Cherokees and lower-wing aircraft are easier to handle in crosswind and gusty wind situations?

    • Joe Clark says:

      It is easier for the pilot of a low wing aircraft to keep the wind from getting up underneath the wing and “tipping” the airplane. However, it goes back to the six of one, half dozen of the other in that it is all about the pilot controlling the airplane.

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  3. I feel very strongly both ways. How’s that for making a persuasive argument? I do think that cockpit visibility is the major difference and I personally prefer to see more of what’s below me than above. I don’t see a big difference in handling characteristics. Both airplanes are rudder limited in a full forward slip (the rudder will reach full travel before the ailerons). Conversely, both airplanes are aileron limited in a full stall (even though the wingtips are washed out to a lower angle of incidence, the ailerons will eventually become ineffective in a full stall, but the rudder will continue to provide directional control throughout). I’ve found this to be true of most single engine airplanes, although I once flew an Aeronica Chief that defied all laws of Bernoulli. Good discussion topic Joe!

    • Joe Clark says:


      I agree with you 100 percent. I like being able to look down, and the high-wing also affords easier aerial photogrpahy for those so inclined.

      I can relate to your comment about both aircraft being rudder and aileron limited. One day I may have to design my own airplane while disregarding Part 23 so that I can tweak in all the rudder and aileron travel I could possibly desire.

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