Civil Aviation

Former US military aviators explain why an experienced fighter pilot can’t fly a Cessna 172 without training

‘It’s a very different aircraft from the jets I flew, and despite being much lower performance, the Cessna 172 is perfectly capable of killing you when it impacts the ground,’ David Tussey, former US Navy A-7 Corsair II pilot.

The Cessna 172 is an all metal, four seat, high wing, single engine airplane equipped with tricycle landing gear, having a steerable nose wheel and two main wheels.

According to, pilots dubbed the Cessna 172 with colorful names like “Chicken Hawk,” or “Fryhawk” for those in warmer climates.

Despite the name-calling and sometimes love-hate relationship with the 172, pilots and owners always regale the 172 for its remarkably unremarkable traits. It’s not fast, but at least it’s simple and doesn’t burn a lot of fuel. It’s not sexy, but it’s utilitarian, it’s easy to fly, and it makes a great airplane for getting into and out of short, rough fields. It’s very inexpensive to operate and that, combined with its legendary dispatch reliability, makes it the trainer of choice at many flight schools.

A Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 aircraft. Top Image: USAF F-16 intercepts a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182. Introduced in 1956, the 182 is the second-most popular Cessna model still in production, after the 172.

Given its simplicity, can a fighter pilot fly a Cessna 172 without training?

‘After two tours in the Navy flying both F-4 and F-14s among other aircraft, and over 3,000 flight hours with an ATP, I decided one day to get checked out in a Cessna 172 which I had never flown,’ former US Navy fighter pilot John Chesire says on Quora.

‘It was totally foreign to me. However, after turns, stalls, and touch and goes, my instructor said he would “sign me off” but that I really “needed a lot more practice and training.”

‘I could not have agreed more! I was way out of my element. That was the first and last time I ever tried learning how to fly a 172.’

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Chesire concludes;

‘TL;DR – So yes, I could fly it without any training, but not very well and not near to standards I was accustomed to.’

David Tussey, former US Navy A-7 Corsair II pilot, recalls on Quora;

‘Possibly, but it would be extremely dangerous and very poor judgment.

‘Military pilots know that the key to safe flying is proficiency, knowledge of your aircraft’s systems, and training…lots of training, lots of practice.

A Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 aircraft.

‘I have ~4000 hrs, all jet, but I would not step inside a Cessna 172 without a training curriculum and an instructor pilot to teach me how to fly that airplane. It’s a very different aircraft from the jets I flew, and despite being much lower performance, the 172 is perfectly capable of killing you when it impacts the ground.’

William Vaughn, Cessna 172 instructor, explains on Quora;

‘Well, as an instructor pilot at Boeing Field in Seattle I was scheduled with a “student “who was due for a two-year biennial flight review in a Cessna 172. Some student. He was an USAF Captain who flew F-16s in Asia, but had been grounded for a few years (sort of) “flying” Predator drones in Afghanistan. Though he should have been a bit rusty, not this dude. Since the slowest airplane he’d ever actually flown was the supersonic T-38 Talon, he tended at first to roar down short final approach flying at the T-38’s 170 knots approach speed. (Note: The Cessna redline never exceed airspeed is 158 knots and normal approach airspeed with full flaps is ~75–85 knots.) So, the answer is yes, some initial or recurrent training is prudent.’

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Civil Aviation Patrol

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • lol, As a GA pilot who has had the luck to get a couple courtesy flights, it's fun to see general aviation pilots sit in a F-16 simulator versus a fighter pilot in a Cessna.
    For the general aviation small plane pilot, in a jet fighter simulator, they want to make a lot of unneeded inputs, with the sim operator trying to instruct them, they almost always will crash. They get a huge amount of instructions along with trying to fly a jet like a small ga aircraft that normally needs constant adjustments in most conditions. If I could advise a ga pilot in a fighter sim, I would say point the aircraft where you want it to go and watch the angle and don't adjust the thrust until you have to. That's it to land a fighter sim, don't listen to the sim operator next to you giving constant multiple instructions so much. Fly the plane, listen to the trainer secondary only to pointing a fighter where you want it to go.
    For the fighter pilot, it is not being use to using the flight controls so much, especially rudder control. As well, the general aviation pilot will play with the throttle a bit more on landing. Stick inputs are difficult for a fighter pilot who has not flown a general aviation aircraft for quite some time, especially in windy conditions. More over, each general aviation aircraft has a different feel along with instrumentation that changes with each type of aircraft. An experienced ga pilot will be somewhat use to flying multiple types of aircraft than a military pilot, for the most part.

  • Seriously? Like actual fighter pilots with combat experience and kills, are afraid of a little cessna? I heard a rumor sometimes they like steal a foreign aircraft and fly it, and that sorta thing, the combat pilots specifically, not like the military test pilots or that sorta thing.

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