If An Annual Says A 1956 Cessna 172 Is Safe Is It?

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I am a new student training to get my Private Pilot's license. My
Flight Instructor just bought a 1956 Cessna 172. I was given the
privledge of being present during the aircraft's Annual and the
mechanic, a seasoned vet who has been doing aircraft for over 40
years, says the bird is in "excellent condition given its age."
This Cessna 172 is Gas powered and has 800 hours left on the
original engine and despite the cosmetic stuff (the aircraft needs a
new seat track and VOR for the electronics)the aircraft does appear
to be in great shape.
My question is, If an older aircraft such as the plane above passes
its Annual like in my example, is it as safe as a 5 or 10 year old
plane of the same make? When is an older airplane that passes an
Annual still unsafe even if it passes?
I'm the father of an 19-month-old boy and my wife is freaked out
that I am flying in an aircraft that is older than myself (I'm 34).
I want to reassure her, as I believe that when my flight instructor
says the aircraft is safe, I'm willing to take his word for it
however that is not very comforting for my spouse and I'd love to
present her with a 3rd party opinion that tips one way or another on
the issue.

-- Roger B, January 7, 2008


A low performance plane like the C172 is not subject to much in the way of metal fatigue. As Mark notes (below), an engine needs to be overhauled at least every 12 years (Lycoming and Continental recommendation) to be safe.

-- Philip Greenspun, January 7, 2008

Hello Roger,

WARNING: You may not want to show this post to your wife.

I'd be slightly concerned that I was flying a fifty plus year-old aircraft that still had time remaining on what you call the orginal engine. If you're saying the engine has never received an overhaul and that it's still within it's orginal time limits as far as an overhaul goes, I have to admit I would be a little worried. That's a long, long calendar time for the engine to still be running on the original bearings and rings (if that is indeed the case). Surely the engine has been at least torn down a bit for a check-up in the last fifty years?? It obviously hasn't been flown much and I do know one of the worst things you can do to an engine is never run it. Regards, Mark

-- Mark Dalton, January 7, 2008