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What is the maximum altitude at which a Cessna 172 can fly?

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The absolute ceiling, or the maximum height an aircraft can fly to, is usually not published; manufacturers usually use service ceiling as the benchmark. Service ceiling is the maximum altitude which the aircraft can attain flying in air at Standard Temperature and Pressure (29.92" Hg and 15° C at MSL) and still be able to climb at a rate of at least 100 feet/min.

Depending on the model 172, this is between 13,000-15,000 feet ASL. A Cessna 172SP has a published service ceiling of 14,000 feet ASL.

Extract from Cessna 172SP service specifications

Again whether an airplane can attain these altitudes on any given day is dependent on the condition of the air. The aircraft may be able to ascend higher than this on days when the air is very cold and there is a high local barometric pressure or lower on days when the air is warm and/or at a low barometric pressure in the region.

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    $\begingroup$ 18,300 feet in a Cessna 150 $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 27 '16 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ Well again, the pilot of that 150 never hit an absolute altitude as the story states that he was still able to climb at 100 feet/min at that altitude. In addition you have to have data on the ambient atmospherics on that flight in order to draw any data from it. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Oct 27 '16 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ Absolutely, I just posted the story to back up your claim that it is the service ceiling, not maximum altitude. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 27 '16 at 14:04
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In September of 2007 in my 0-360 1959 172 I attained 18,003 ft GPS above 19AZ. I checked with Cessna customer service. The fella called me back a couple of days later. As far as he could find I did set a record. The plane was still climbing slowly and rather wobbly. I was happy to roll out and level off at 15 000 ft where I could catch my breath. I took off with a little less than half gas.

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    $\begingroup$ Based upon my first hand experience in a C-172M, which got to 17,500 (what a chore!), I would believe you could have a record. Remember that a lighter aircraft will likely get higher. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jun 4 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ I've been above 17,000 in a C-152 but there may have been some mild wave lift present. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Jun 4 at 14:42
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According to this, the 172's absolute ceiling (the altitude above which it is impossible to fly under standard meteorological conditions) is 15,000 feet.

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According to the C172M manual, the service ceiling is 13,100ft:

Performance specifications for C172M

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