What is the maximum altitude at which a Cessna 172 can fly?
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.
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.
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.
This is an addendum to my earlier post setting the 18,003 ft. GPS altitude record for my 1959 Cessna O360 172 in September 2007.
How could it be " impossible "? I was there. My GPS was pretty accurate. In fact, I held my holding pattern for a couple of minutes to get the average GPS altitude. I was carrying a carbon fiber Pulse Ox O2 tank but didn't feel the need to turn it on. I have experience with high altitude hiking and mountaineering, so sitting in a little airplane, pressure breathing was an easy task. It was the wobbly or sloppy control surfaces I was concerned about. There was little to no wind that afternoon, but even so, the Downwind Leg added to slop. My take off airport 19AZ elevation was 3,370ft and the ambient surface temperature was about 90°F. I was in constant radio contact with my wife and a neighbor who were way down below. Early on in my flight training I mastered an Unusual Attitudes and Emergency Maneuvers course. Subsequently I was offered the Extra 300 that was available on the school's flight line for rental. So with a little calculated planning and careful preparation I felt confident that day. Lawrence Allen PP L&S [email protected]
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.