Military Aviation

US military pilots tell why an experienced fighter jock can’t fly a Cessna 172 without training

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk piston is the most popular single-engine aircraft ever built and has achieved a reputation for being the ultimate training aircraft.

With simplistic flight characteristics, great visibility and a sophisticated glass cockpit outfitted with GARMIN G1000 avionics, the Cessna Skyhawk piston boasts a slow landing speed and a lenient stall. These characteristics make it a flight training favorite ideally suited for student pilots and it’s perfectly designed to help you soar.

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

Fighter pilots and Cessna 172

‘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.’

Chesire concludes;

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-7E Corsair II VA-86 Sidewinders, AJ400 / 159292 / 1977

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

Extremely dangerous

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.

‘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.’

A Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 aircraft.

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 Air 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.

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  • Years ago, the AOPA safety group gave a lecture at the Toledo 180ANG which was flying F-16s at that time. They shared videos of near misses on general aviation aircraft flying in military routes. With a few of the videos, I doubt the ga pilot never knew how close of an encounter the had with military fighters.A great lecture and a subject most CFI's will never bring up, those tiny grey lines on your sectional maps.
    Afterwards, we were given tours of the base and had a chance to fly the F-16 sim with an ANG tech trying to help the ga pilots land.
    I brought my 10 year old son, who had a huge interest in flying and was a computer guru with flight sim and Falcon 3.0 a great F-16 sim. GA pilot after ga pilot failed their landings, the sim tech giving way too many pointers and instructions to pilots not familiar with the F-16. Then came my 10 year old son who nailed the landing and myself. The only two to do so for that night.
    The secret? The F-16 is a fly by wire system, point the nose and pay attention to airspeed. General aviation pilots have to fly with a huge mix of rudder pedal adjustments, altitude, power and wind gust adjustments. And it differs if you are flying a landing with a crab or slideslip. Fly by wire pilots have a difficult time with rudder adjustments in an aircraft that gets pushed by wind gust.
    The pc Falcon flight sim was so good, it became the software used by the USAF for f-16 flight sims because it was so accurate.

  • Slight correction. Image credit should be given to Civil Air Patrol. There is no such thing as the "Civil Aviation Patrol"

  • My hat is off to the Women and Men who fly the ultra sophisticated and unbelievably fast aircraft in our military and civilian stables! And I appreciate even more, the humility and professionalism of those same people who recognize the specific skills required for the safe operation of each class of aircraft. It's no wonder to me why these individuals were the ones selected to fly these high performance aircraft. As a flight instructor, I had the opportunity to check out quite a few military pilots on GA aircraft and was always impressed at the professionalism and character of each and every one of them. The pleasure was all mine!

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