One of the very best airplanes produced in the United States is the Cessna 170. Cessna manufactured more than 5000 copies of the model starting in 1948 until production ceased in mid-1956. The airplane came in three versions: the straight 170, the 170A, and the 170B.
The main differences between the three models include variations on the wing material, the wing itself, and the flap design. The first of the airplanes, the 170, had a wing consisting of a metal spar and ribs, but covered by fabric. In 1950, Cessna started building the airplane with an all-metal wing. The flap chord line on the 170 and the 170A was very small, making for an ineffectual flight control at best. Sometimes, pilots referred to the flaps as “procedural trainers only.” Starting in 1952 with the introduction of the Cessna 170B, wing dihedral increased to three degrees and Cessna installed their trademark “barn door flaps.”
The 170 is a great, well-rounded all purpose airplane. It has four seats, but as with many four-seat airplanes, it really is an airplane for three. Or a great family airplane for a mom and dad and a couple kids.
With a typical Continental C-145 or O-300 installed, the 170 is an economical aircraft. It delivers an honest 100 knots on 6.6 gph at altitude and in these days of high-priced fuel, this is a real benefit. The airplane carries 222 pounds of useable fuel (37 gallons) and squeezes out every bit of distance for each pound of “go-juice.” With no wind, and allowing for a one hour fuel reserve of 6.6 gallons, the remaining 30.4 gallons carries airplane and occupants a little more than 450 nautical miles.
In addition to the 222 pounds of fuel, the typical 170 can carry another 650 pounds or so of useful load. So, as stated above, it really is a three place airplane. There is room and allowance for baggage, but again, this depends on the personnel loading in the cabin.
Ground handling for the airplane is straight forward. Unlike other taildraggers, the engineers at Cessna did a wonderful job in designing their taildraggers. The 170 allows pilots to easily see over the nose while “three-pointed” on the ground. Other taildraggers must be S-turned in order to see straight ahead on a taxiway. Not the Cessna 120, 140, 170, 180, or 185 series. It is not until you step up to the 190 or 195 do you have problems seeing outside the cockpit.
As with all tailwheel airplanes, absolute and perfect alignment control of the longitudinal axis during takeoff and landings is critical. Let the airplane veer directionally, and you could be in for the surprise of your life. The 170, as with all taildraggers, is an airplane you fly from the moment you leave the chocks until you return.
For takeoffs, be cautious of a left to right crosswind. That wind, coupled with gyroscopic precession of the propeller when raising the tail can be a recipe for disaster. To help, don’t force the tail into the air; allow it to lift naturally on its own. When the airspeed reaches 55, go ahead and ease the plane from the ground and let her fly away.
For landings, the best way is three-point. What many pilots fail to understand about “three-pointing” an airplane on landing is this: when you come in and ease the stick or yoke all the way back for the landing, the moment the elevator hits the limit, the wing stalls. The engineers purposefully designed this characteristic into most taildraggers. As a consequence, when the wing stalls, the airplane will not fly anymore. If she starts bouncing a little, hold the stick back and she’ll stop. If the landing is so bad that it scares you or rattles your back teeth, apply power and go around.
If you have the chance to ever fly one of these magnificent airplanes, jump on it. If you get the opportunity to buy one, it will be the best thing you can ever do for your flying career.
© 2010 J. Clark