Thursday, December 30, 2004


A Bit of Cardinal History

Cessna's Cardinal (model 177) was introduced in 1968 and was supposed to supplant the venerable model 172 Skyhawk, production of which began in the mid 1950's. The Skyhawk is considered to be one of the most popular light aircraft ever produced. It is easy to fly and relatively inexpensive to operate and maintain. Its simple design and construction have seen only a few changes over the last half-century, testimony to a sound design, but the Skyhawk is still essentially a 1940's airplane. The cabin is cramped, access is limited by the small doors, and visibility suffers due to the position of the wing and the presence of wing struts.

The Cardinal was intended to improve on these characteristics and reflected many of the advances made in aircraft design up to the mid 1960's. Construction was more refined, with flush-headed rivets on the wing and more attention paid to aerodynamic efficiency. The cabin was much roomier, and the two very large doors provided easy access. The instrument panel was designed to place all instruments in clear view of the pilot, and the position of the strutless cantilever wing provided a level of in-flight visibility that was unmatched by any other single-engine high-wing aircraft of that time. Overall, the Cardinal presented a sleek, streamlined appearance, and it is still considered by many to be one of the most attractive single-engine general aviation aircraft ever produced.

Yellowbird is a 177B, meaning that she represents the third major variation of Cardinal development. The original 1968 model 177 had a Lycoming O-320 engine of 150 horsepower turning a fixed-pitch propeller. The wing was a new design descended from the Cessna 210, and featured a high-performance laminar flow airfoil. The 1968 models were found to be underpowered, so in 1969 the 177A model was introduced, powered by a more capable engine (Lycoming O-360) providing 180 horsepower. Concerns about the low-speed handling of the original 177 wing led to a further modification in 1970, when the airfoil shape was changed to give better performance at low airspeeds. This, plus a constant-speed propeller, defined the model 177B. In 1971, the Cardinal RG was introduced, featuring a still more powerful fuel-injected engine (Lycoming IO-360, 200 hp) and retractable landing gear. Many other minor changes took place during the 10 years of Cardinal production, ranging from assorted aerodynamic enhancements to a wider instrument panel.

Sadly, the Cardinal suffered from a poor reputation earned by the underpowered 1968 models. Sales and production of subsequent year models never exceeded that of the 68's, despite the refinements that cured most of it's shortcomings. By 1976 the Cardinal had essentially reached the pinnacle of its development, but lagging sales and the high cost of construction were to spell the end of the line two years later. Meanwhile, Cessna had resumed production of the Skyhawk, which continues to fly out of the Cessna factory to this day.

Despite its relatively limited production run, the Cardinal's many virtues have made it something of a cult favorite. Cardinal owners tend to cherish their birds, and have established an unofficial owners' association in the form of the Cardinal Flyers Online. The CFO website is a treasure trove of information on the Cardinal, and a daily e-mail digest keeps past, present and future Cardinal owners in touch with one another while providing an exhaustive clearing house of ideas on every aspect of Cardinal ownership.


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1:05 AM, January 05, 2005  

Hey Yellowbird, beautiful job on a great topic! It saddens me, however, that you are continuing to rehash that bad rep on the original 150HP 1968 model. I'll try to be brief here.

There are many satisfied O-320 Cardinal owners out there, including myself, flying the '68 for the last ten years and owning one for five. That the '68 has a lower rate of climb than the later models is a given. But that performance is, or can be adequate, at a more restricted envelope of performance. To people with 200HP airplanes, your 177B is hopelessly underpowered. And for those with 300HP airplanes, the 200HP models are completely gutless and worthless. It goes on and can become a never ending and frustrating pursuit.

So: you get to fly into Rock Springs but not Leadville, I would just normally avoid both!

Also, please note that most '68 models are not stock anymore anyway. An accessory lower cowl fairing made by Maple Leaf makes a tremendous improvement in climb rates and cruise speeds. The Powerflow exhaust works great for fixed pitch O-320's and many have had engine work to increase output to levels seen by your O-360. And of course, quite a number of '68's have had an O-360 transplant.

However, I completely agree with all the mean things you've said about the Skyhawk! I love my '68!

Posted by Blogger Yellowbird at 8:55 AM, January 05, 2005  

Rest easy, I wasn't putting down the 68's. I was just stating (as historical fact, not personal opinion) the reasoning for the power increase in the 69's, as well as the unfortunate effect that the 68 model's initial poor reputation had on Cardinal sales.

A future bloggin idea would be to review in depth each model, comparing features and performance and addressing any misconceptions. Since I only know my 177B, I'll need to enlist the aid, perhaps as guest bloggers, of some 68, 69, and RG owners. We have some of the finest bird in the sky, they all should have their day in the sun!

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