Cessna 150

Cheap to buy and operate, the 150/152 series has proven to be a trainer for the ages.

To this day, when many people think of light aircraft, the venerable Piper Cub comes to mind. But most in the active ranks of pilots today have never flown one. What they have flown, however, is the Cessna 150 or 152, which long ago eclipsed the Piper Cub as the most-flown two-place GA aircraft.

Although we have no data to prove it, we wouldnt be at all surprised if the Cessna 150/152 still flies more training hours than any other model, despite the advent of newer trainers, such as Diamonds well-regarded Katana.

Although it hasnt been made for two decades, the 150/152 still plays a mainstay role in pilot training, chiefly because it still does what it always did, namely providing an affordable, easy-to-maintain platform that anyone can fly.

Model History
While Piper established itself with the Cub prior to and after World War II, Cessna joined the market later, first with the Cessna 120 and later the 140, which stayed in the model line until the early 1950s. Although only hardcore Cessna aficionados know it, the Cessna 172 actually predates the Cessna 150, which first appeared in 1959.

Unlike the 140, the 150 was created solely with the training market in mind to tap into what was then a booming market. By modern standards, the first 150s look a bit frumpy, with their squared- off tails and a turtledeck-style fuselage, with no rear window. But it was not to stay that way for long. In 1961, the first of many changes in the model began, starting with moving the gear struts aft two inches, curing the airplanes tail heaviness.Ten years later, tubular gear legs with a wider track were added.

In 1964, the rear window appeared and, of course; it needed a snappy marketing moniker, thus was born Omni Vision. The stodgy straight tail went away in 1964, replaced by the swept-back tail, giving the airplane a more rakish look.

The overall dimensions of the airplane havent changed much but its max gross weight has. The 150 began life as a 1500-pound airplane but by 1978, the gross weight had been bumped up to 1670 pounds for the 152. For a two-place airplane, thats a big hike but, as is usually the case, there wasnt much payload gain due to rising empty weight.

Anyone who learned to fly in a 150 will remember the cockpit as cramped and narrow and that never changed. But Cessna did bow the doors out slightly and trimmed the center console to provide more side-to-side legroom.

The baggage compartment was also enlarged several times and one option included a rear child seat. The baggage area could accommodate up to 120 pounds of kids and/or bags, so it was suitable for a toddler and a day bag, but little else. But for a small airplane, the baggage area is rather generous.

In 1975, a larger fin and rudder were added and before that, electric flaps were installed. Previously, the flaps had been manually operated and some pilots complained that electrics were a step backward. (We agree.)

Engine Changes
The Cessna 150 first appeared with a 100-HP Continental O-200, a reliable and easy-to-maintain engine that matched the airframe nicely. When 80/87 gas began to fade from the market in 1978, displaced by 100LL, Cessna switched to the 110-HP Lycoming O-235 that provided more power and boosted the TBO from 1800 hours to 2000 hours and eventually 2400 hours.

As the the 150 morphed into the 152, there were other changes, including a 28-volt electrical system, a one-piece cowling, a McCauley gull-wing prop, an oil cooler and redesigned fuel tanks. Sum total of changes? About 40 pounds more useful load than the original Cessna 150 had, but fully 60 pounds less than a 1948 Cessna 140 could heft. The airplanes performance was about equal to the 150 it replaced, but the engine was susceptible to severe lead fouling when burning 100LL and the 28-volt electrical system was a nuisance.

Also, the 152 turned out to have some significant warts. Early models were hard to start because of weak spark and lack of a priming plunger. Cessna added impulse coupling on both magnetos to improve this, plus direct priming for each cylinder. Mechanics complained about having to remove the prop to decowl the engine so Cessna added a split cowl. In 1981, the Lyc got a spin-on oil filter as standard, rather than the old rock screen. In 1983, Cessna and Lycoming tackled the lead fouling issue by replacing the O-235-L2C engine with the N2C variant, which the model had until it was discontinued in 1985.

Except for troublesome starter drives, the Continental O-200 used in the Cessna 150 was a reliable and robust engine that could be counted to make the 1800-hour TBO, if not beyond. The Lycoming O-235L2C was supposed to achieve three goals: Solve the O-200s lead problem, boost power a bit to increase the payload and offset the 15 percent gain in empty weight and last, reduce noise. The higher compression O-235 Lyc delivered its 110 HP at 2550 RPM rather than the O-200s 2750 RPM.

Did Cessna hit the mark? Not really, say operators familiar with both airplanes. In its favor, the Lyc had no starter problems, but if the engine/prop was quieter, youd hardly notice. Owners complained about high parts prices for the O-235-including pistons and valves, the latter being sodium filled for improved cooling.

And the lead problem? Still there, say owners. The O-235 accumulated lead deposits in every nook and cranny and lead fouling of plugs became such a problem that Champion developed a special extended-electrode spark plug for this engine, the REM37BY. Mechanics say even with careful leaning, the plugs must be removed and cleaned as often as every 25 hours. In Service Instruction 1418, Lycoming explains a procedure whereby cylinders can be blast-cleaned with walnut shells without removal for top-end overhaul. Prior to this, operators found that early tops were needed due to lead fouling of the cylinders.

One positive aspect of the Lycoming engine is its TBO-a whopping 2400 hours. If you can keep the thing from choking with lead, it may actually reach that impressive limit. Some owners use TCP additive to help control lead. Also, thanks to intense competition in the engine overhaul field, overhaul prices remain quite affordable, on the order of $10,000.

Unique to the mass-market trainer, Cessna offered two additional versions of both the 150 and 152. The Aerobat and a seaplane conversion, which appeared in 1968. There are still a few of these models running around, some even used on the water. The seaplane was, by most accounts, a decent little water taxi, although no one would mistake it for a Beaver. It couldnt haul much and with limited power, it took a while to unstick from the water.

The Aerobat version-which first appeared in the 150 in 1970-made a much bigger splash, although not in the water. In those days, aerobatic training was all but impossible so when the Cessna Aerobats, with their flashy checkerboard paint, showed up on the rental line, many renters responded enthusiastically. Some 5 percent of the 150/152 fleet is acrobatically capable, after a fashion.

Were not talking Extra 300 type performance, of course. Aerobatic purists sniff at the Aerobat because it has control wheels, not a stick. Any maneuvers that require climbing back to altitude will require a plodding climb to get back in the perch. Still, the Aerobat was and is an affordable gateway into the world of aerobatics. The Aerobat commanded a price premium when new-about $1500 to $2000-and thats still true on the used market.

Performance, Handling
The trainer market has evolved considerably since the 150 first appeared and although modern trainers such as the Diamond Katana have improved the breed, the 150/152 still has better than credible performance and handling traits. Interestingly, some flight schools report that although many students take intro rides in the sexy Katana, they transition to a 152 or 172.

Why? Probably because the 152s higher weight gives it a somewhat solider feel than the Katana has and pricewise, 152s remain competitive to buy and operate, so the hourly rental is less. But the Katana cruises faster than the 152 and uses a bit more fuel. Its a marginally better climber than the Katana A1, with its 80-HP Rotax engine, but the C1 Katana, with its Continental IO-240, outdoes both the 152 and the A1 Katana.

Top speed for the 152 is given as 109 knots, same as the Tomahawk and two knots faster than the plodding Skipper. In the real world, owners say they go slower. course, 152s go slower. Much slower. The airplane seems happiest at 90 to 95 knots, a realistic speed in our view.

Handling is what it is, which is predictable, with relatively light control forces and no nasty stall habits. The Cessna 150/152s slow flight characteristics are so utterly benign that they nearly qualify as STOL airplanes. The large flaps-even when limited to 30 degrees-are quite effective, although they do generate quite a nosedown trim moment. This is easily handled, although the control forces escalate somewhat. Students have to be taught to watch for abrupt noseups when applying full power for a go- around, training that prepares them nicely to transition into the Cessna 172, which has the same characteristic.

Landing a 150/152 is easy enough to teach and learn, to a point. And that point is often exceeded, since runway fender benders are the most common type of accident suffered by the 150/152 series and other trainers, for that matter. The model is an excellent crosswind trainer, since it has an effective rudder.

The airplane is comfortable with an approach speed of 60 knots or slower, but it will easily tolerate higher speeds, because those draggy flaps bleed off excess airspeed in a heartbeat. Land it fast and it will bounce. (Any pre-buy should include a specific check of the logs for landing damage that included nosewheel work or firewall damage.)

Operators tell us the 152s runway performance is good, especially if the airplane is light. Its not as good when heavy on a hot day. With a portly CFI and student aboard, more than a few 152s have trimmed the trees off the end of runways.

Speaking of payload, the 150/152 essentially carries what other popular trainers do. At 528 pounds useful, it carries a bit more than the Katana but a bit less than the Skipper and Tomahawk. Before the model got fat, however, some E/F/G 150s topped 600 pounds in load carrying capability.

Where the 152 shines, however, is on load flexibility. With a fuel capacity of 39 gallons, it has better range with a single pilot than either the Tomahawk or the Skipper. Does this really matter? Maybe. These aircraft are, after all, trainers, and one of the skills student pilots learn early on is how to run out of gas. In our view, the more gas aboard, the less likelihood of a fuel exhaustion event.

Cabin, Ergonomics
Cabin comfort is not much of a consideration in two-place trainers. Lessons are short and theres no point in pretending theres enough room in the airplane for plush seats. The 150/152 is so narrow that even pilots of moderate size will bump shoulders. Two big guys will be miserable. Although the seat height is quite low, the legroom is excellent.

In 1979, thicker seat padding became standard, but it helps only a little.Many owners have had the seats re-padded or carry a pillow or two to make them more tolerable. Noise level is quite high, due to the proximity of the cabin to the engine compartment, but the advent of noise-canceling headsets and intercoms has rendered this moot. Ventilation in the 150/152 is via the standard Cessna pull vents in the wing roots, plus in most models the windows open for taxi and can also be opened in flight. During the winter, this can be a mixed blessing and some operators tape off the root vents to reduce drafts. If the heater is well-maintained, it will get the job done.

Owners who use the 150/152 for personal use-and many do-can count on literally years of service from the engine, if theyre operated enough to keep corrosion at bay and leaned to avoid lead build-up. In general, these are simple airframes that dont require much maintenance. However, any that have been used extensively as trainers-as most have-should be inspected carefully for hard landing damage, especially in the nosegear/firewall bulkhead area. Wrote owner Ed Park of Aliso Viejo, California, Unless the guy that you bought the airplane from spent a bunch of time and money fixing up that 20-year-old airplane and fixing/replacing/repairing a lot of things, you can expect that you will be that person if you are conscientious about your maintenance.

The 150/152 series has what we would call an average list of ADs, none of which are particularly onerous or expensive. The major safety-related item is the seat track AD, which prevents the seat from unlocking and sliding rearward. Most aircraft should have had this done long ago. Owners report that annuals are thrifty-in the $800 to $1200 range, depending on parts needed. Since the airplane is so simple, owner-assist annuals are a good bet.

Mods, Owner Groups
The 150 can be given a huge power boost and even turned into a taildragger, as quite a few have been. AvCon Conversions (800-872-0988) and Bush Conversions (800-752-0748) do both engine and tailwheel mods. AvCon also has flap gap seal kits and Bush offers flap and aileron seals. AvCon also has a STOL kit. Both the AvCon and Bushs kit puts a 150-HP or 160-HP Lycoming in place of the 100 HP Continental. No surprise that this jacks the cruise speed up 140 MPH and the climb rate to more than 1000 FPM.

Horton, Inc. (800-835-2051) sells STOL kits for the 150/152. In addition to Bushs tailwheel conversion, Aircraft Conversion Technologies (916-645-3264) supplies landing gear kits for a tailwheel conversion thats supposed to increase speed by 8 to 10 MPH by eliminating drag. Met-Co-Aire sells wingtips for the 150 series, reach them at 714-870-4610 or www.metcoaire.com. O&N sells aux fuel tanks for the Cessna 150/152. Contact www.onaircraft.com or 570-945-3769.

A company in Washington, Air Mods N.W., sells an engine conversion for 152s that includes a new prop that boosts climb and takeoff performance by allowing the Lycoming O-235 to spin up to 2800 RPM. It also has higher compression ratio so supposedly, this decreases lead fouling.

Two organizations of note are the Cessna Pilots Association and the Cessna 150-152 Club. CPAs Santa Maria, California HQ is the fount of all things Cessna and members rave about its technical services. Contact CPA at 805-922-2580 or on the Web at www.cessna.org.

The Cessna 150-152 Club has a monthly newsletter thats an excellent clearing house for information, parts, mods, maintenance and service tips. Contact the club at 805-461-1958 or www.cessna150-152club.com. For a detailed book on flying and operating Cessna 150s, contact Arman Publishing at www.Cessna150book.com.

Owner Feedback
I was 38 when I got my private pilot license and Im now 40. I started my training in 152s at a local flight school at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. During training, I purchased my first airplane, a 1975 172M that was in very good condition, an all-original low-hour plane. I enjoyed this airplane but realized that flying it compared to flight school 152s was like flying a bus.

Granted, there was more space inside, larger payload and four seats, but it just wasnt as fun as flying a 152 for the type of flying I was doing: VFR, usually single pilot.

I got rid of the 172 in favor of a Grumman AA5B Tiger, but like the 172M, it was low hours, in very good condition, all original and very expensive relative to the 172M. I sold this airplane (at a handsome profit) and bought a 152.

Ultimately, I settled on the 152 for a few reasons: Like the other airplanes, it was very economical from a maintenance standpoint. Unlike the other airplanes, it was very economical from a gas and insurance standpoint.It fit my mission, but unlike the 172, it was fun to fly, light on the controls and very responsive, especially with a single pilot on board.

To sum it up, I bought the 152 after trying the other airplanes because it was easily affordable, although I would not go as far as to say painlessly affordable. It handles well, its light on the controls and is fun to fly and looks good, as long as it has its pants on. It provides reasonable range, speed and climb.

I would not expect to pay more than $600 to $1000 on maintenance/annual outside of oil changes and waxing/washing products. Insurance runs $695 for $30,000 of coverage. My airplane uses an average of 5 to 5.75 gallons of fuel per hour of flight so its pretty economical on the gas.

Ed Park
Aliso Viejo, California

Nancy and I have owned N5793E for the last year and a half. In that time, Ive flown the airplane 138 hours, totally renovated it and had a blast while doing it. Cost of maintenance is relative to your own ability to work on the aircraft.

An annual can be substantially reduced by an owner-assisted open- up.Additionally, a lot of people think they cant work on their aircraft and this could not be further from the truth. The fact is, if an AP/IA oversees your work and logs it accordingly, its perfectly legal and airworthy.

As for insurance, for a new pilot like myself, the first year was around $750 and the second year came down to $685, with $25,000 in hull value. We compare the cost somewhat to that of our 2003 Chevy S10 for the yearly cost.

The Cessna 150 is the best simple and economical airplane one could ask to own. Very rugged, durable and dependable. With a fuel burn at cruise of around 5 GPH, she does better than my Chevy S10. On average, I can see 100 MPH while spinning the prop at just around 2300 RPM.

For us, weve invested, to date, around $27,000 and we have an airplane wed think nothing of flying across the country. The neat thing here is if and when Im ready to trade up to that four-seater, most of the value of my airplane will still be there.

Our airplane is a 1959 Cessna 150. First year they built them, number 293. How many 1959 Fords or Chevys are still on the road?

Herb and Nancy Rose
Via e-mail

I have owned two Cessna 150s, an F model that I purchased new in late 1965 and an M model that I purchased 39 years later in the fall of 2004. I put about 1500 hours on the F model until I traded it around 1970. The M model that I got last year has the Texas Taildragger conversion.

The F model was essentially trouble-free during the time that I had it, except for the Cessna radio, an ARC 516A, which was a piece of crap, in my view. It was supplemented by a Narco Mark 11 when I decided to get my instrument rating.

I flew the airplane all over the eastern seaboard and as far as the Mississippi and sometimes in weather that I had no business in. In those days, I was a lot younger and getting there was most of the fun! It was not a user-friendly instrument airplane. Having no autopilot, it required your undivided attention in the clouds. Also, its limited range meant that you had to really pay attention to alternates.

The airplane was the Commuter model, with vacuum pump and old surplus AN gyros. The gyros never gave me any trouble, unlike those in subsequent airplanes that I have owned. Aside from a couple of service bulletins, the airframe was trouble-free, as was the engine.

I attribute this to two factors: The airplane was new when I bought it and it really should have lasted 1500 hours without falling apart. And in those days, 80/87 fuel was readily available. I believe that most of the problems that people have with the O-200 these days are due to 100LL fuel. This is why I use TCP in my present airplane.

I bought my present 150M last fall. For a long time, Ive been to the point where I no longer do any busi ness travel, so the airplane is no longer a business tool. I had a couple of experimentals for many years, in addition to certified airplanes, but got tired of open cockpits. I really just wanted a toy and a tailwheel 150, combining reasonable acquisition and maintenance costs, seemed like just the ticket. I have not been disappointed.

The airplane has about 3800 hours and 500 hours SMOH. It was converted to conventional gear in 1981 following a training accident. Its days as a trainer ended at that time, which is why it has fairly low time. The conversion was the ACT Texas Taildragger STC, using flat spring gear legs rather than tubular. While I have no personal experience with the tubular gear, I have been told that the flat spring gear handles on the ground much better than the tubular.

I am frequently asked if the airplane handles like a 140 or 120. I have some time in those airplanes and I can say that the airplane does not handle anything like either one. Not better or worse, just different. I have been questioned about rudder authority, since the airplane was intended to be tricycle gear. I have never had any problems with cross winds, although I am not as brave as I used to be.

My airplane has decent radios, a Cessna RT328, a MK12 D and a Cessna Mode-C transponder. I supplement this with a Garmin 96C. While I think the airplane is still IFR legal, I am not.

I just got out of an annual which cost me about $1100. This included installing a new ELT and a BAS tail handle, plus filters and oil and replacing some cowl fasteners. I highly recommend the BAS tail handle for tailwheel airplanes. It makes the airplane much easier to move around on the ground, avoiding pushing on the fin or stab.

Parts seem to be available from many sources, but are pricey. Interior plastic is available from Plane Plastics www.planeplastics.com and Texas Aero Plastics, contact through www.airsport.com. Fiberglass wing, rudder and stab tips are available from Texas Aero Plastics. Manuals for the 150 are available from McCurtain (www.mccurtaintg.com) and from Cessna. I understand there is a copyright issue with the 152 manuals.

On the 150/152 Club forum, mentioned below, there seem to be reports of a lot of grief with the Continental O-200 in Cessna 150s. Valves sticking and plugs fouling. I believe this is due to 100LL fuel and maybe because the engines are so old. I use 100LL, but always add TCP and have had no troubles so far.

Insurance this year is $1159 for $25,000 hull and $1 million liability. I know this is high compared to other 150s, but I know I am paying for the tailwheel, even though I have over 1000 hours of tailwheel time. I am also paying for being old; I will 78 next month. Still, beats the alternative.

The Cessna 150 and 152 is very much of a compromise airplane. It evolved from the 120 and 140, which was designed 60 years ago, and it continues in that basic configuration. It has a very cozy cabin, some might even say cramped; two people who were not intimate before the flight will be after.

Apparently the airplane designers took the FAA fiction of the average 175-pound adult seriously. With two real, present-day people up front and full tanks, the airplane will be over gross. The short-field landing capability is impressive, particularly if aided with an aggressive forward slip. You can get into a much smaller field than you can get out of.

There is no question that the airplane needs more power. There are STCs for 125- (the Sparrow Hawk), 150- and even 180HP, although the fuel limitation becomes even more severe with these mods. Also, theyre quite expensive these days.

Anyone contemplating getting a 150 or 152 should sign up with the Cessna 150/152 Club, www.cessna150-152.com. This is a very active organization with an active online forum having a number of quite knowledgeable people participating. The Club also maintains a listing of all ADs, STCs, specifications, model year changes and so on.One should also go to Chuck Hannas web site; http://150cessna.tripod.com. Chuck is a veritable storehouse of information on 150s. The Cessna Owners Association is OK, but not much stuff on 150/152s there.

George Abbott
Via e-mail

Also With This Article
“Cessna 150/152 Series Charts and Specs”
“Accident Scan: Runway Chaos”