Cessna’s Magnificent Model 170 Turns 75 | Aviation

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The origins of the Cessna 170 can be traced to a need to convert from military production to civilian airplanes as World War II wound down. Cessna’s then-president, Dwane Wallace, knew the market needed affordable modern designs, not warmed-over, prewar models, with aluminum the preferred medium of construction. In March 1946, Cessna brought forth the model 140 two-seater. Roomier than a Luscombe, more up-to-date than a Piper Cub or Aeronca Champ. It was an instant hit.

Obviously, once they learned to fly in the 140, new pilots would be looking for a four-seat family airplane. The hulking, radial-engine Cessna 190/195, certified in 1947, was fine for the business-owner pilot and charter operator, but a more entry-level aircraft for personal flying was required. Accordingly, Cessna rushed an expanded 140 into production that was certificated on June 1, 1948, as the model 170.

Cessna rushed an expanded 140 into production that was certificated on June 1, 1948, as the model 170. [Photo: Leonardo Correa Luna]

Now referred to as the “straight 170,” it was a simple, scaled-up version of its predecessor, even retaining the 140’s fabric-covered, V-strutted wings. To feed the 145 hp 6-cylinder Continental, an extra fuel tank was slipped into the right wing and plumbed into its neighboring tank, giving 33.5 usable gallons. The 170 was received well enough, with 714 delivered in the last half of 1948. It offered good short-field performance and gentle, predictable handling, but it was obviously a placeholder needing improvements.

On December 15, 1948, Cessna gained CAA approval for the 170A, featuring the now-familiar, all-metal, single-strut, semi-tapered wing. It actually proved to be a bit slower and heavier than its forerunner. The triple-tank setup gave way to twin tanks but retained the small, plain flaps of the straight 170, with extra travel and area. The rounded vertical fin gained a dorsal addition, similar to the 195. A little more than 1,500…

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