I have heard a number of folks tell me that one needs a certain amount of physical strength to be able to control the Cessna 172. Is that true? I'm flying sims now, just wanted to know.

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    The way you asked it is very hard to answer. It's way easier to answer if you you ask "how much lbs of force each input requires". For example, will you say one needs strength to operate the parking brake on a car? About half the people say yes while the other half say no! – user3528438 Aug 13 at 8:28
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    Ok, noted, thanks. – lpydawa Aug 13 at 15:36
  • I feel as if there is a dupe somewhere on this site but I can't seem find it at the moment. – dalearn Aug 13 at 16:50
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    FWIW, I never had a student, male or female that hard trouble with the elevator forces of a 172. I did observe smaller females who had a little trouble with the elevator forces of a 182, and I had some of both sexes (myself included) that found the elevators forces of a 206 a bit much. – Terry Aug 13 at 19:22
up vote 32 down vote accepted

I will take this from a more general perspective.

A Cessna 172 is part of the CS-23 category (in EASA land, see the equivalent Part 23 for FAA land).

In the relevant document, point CS 23.143, we find the maximum forces a pilot might be required to exert on the control columns so that the aircraft can be certified.

As the Cessna 172 is certified, we then know that it respects these requirements, so the maximum forces required to pilot a Cessna 172 (and any other CS-23 aircraft) are:

\begin{array}{l|c|c|c|} \textrm{Values in Newton applied} & & & \\ \textrm{to the relevant control} & \textrm{Pitch} & \textrm{Roll} & \textrm{Yaw}\\ \hline \ \ \ \ \textrm{For temporary application –} & & & \\ \textrm{Stick} & 267 \textrm{ N} & 133 \textrm{ N} & \\ \textrm{Wheel (two hands on rim)} & 334 \textrm{ N} & 222 \textrm{ N} & \\ \textrm{Wheel (one hand on rim)} & 222 \textrm{ N} & 111 \textrm{ N} & \\ \textrm{Rudder pedal} & & & 667 \textrm{ N} \\ \hline \ \ \ \ \textrm{For prolonged application –} & 44.5\textrm{ N} & 22\textrm{ N} & 89\textrm{ N} \\ \end{array}

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  • IIRC there is also a variant with manual flaps that are actuated with a bar in the cockpit, that might also require a bit of strength. – Simon Richter Aug 13 at 13:30
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    Might be useful to add some comparisons as context to this answer - 267 N max force (for pitch+stick) is the equivelent of the force exerted by gravity on a 27Kg object. This sounds like an awful lot to be exerting with your arms... – stripybadger Aug 13 at 13:32
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    @stripybadger that's for a temporary application. I'm sure you would be able to pull/push 27kgs for a brief amount of time. You can see that the prolonged case has much lower limits (about a fifth, or 5kgs) – Federico Aug 13 at 13:38
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    I'd also like to see that put into perspective (for example, is 27kg like a car steering wheel in pre-servo times? Or how does it compare to a modern car with servo?). There are also angles for the rotating pieces to take into account. I'm pretty sure there are people who cannot, even momentarily, lift a 27kg item, or at least intuition tells me so. Considering the final fact that these are absolute maximums of the class of plane in question, the actual Cessna could be anywhere else on the spectrum... – AnoE Aug 13 at 17:18
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    @AnoE I'm sorry, but not having data means I am not going to compare it to anything, I am not going to invent data for the sake of internet points. Also, it is not lift, but push/pull. As for the Cessna being somwhere below that limit, yes, but I do not work for the manufacturer, and I do not have the manuals needed to have the actual numbers for that model. If you can find them feel free to answer. – Federico Aug 13 at 17:36

It depends on what you mean by "strength". In general, it is "not much".

I've flown a lot of sims and also flown a real Cessna 172. It is true that most sim controllers (especially joysticks) require almost no effort to move at all. In that perspective, then yes, flying a real airplane takes some strength, especially if you compare the force required to achieve max deflection (not recommend in flight!!!).

The flight controls of a light aircraft are still light enough that a healthy adult can manipulate them very easily. In fact, the correct technique is to use two or three fingers on the yoke. Most first-time students grab the yoke firmly in their hands, this is wrong because you cannot feel the airplane. If one has the strength to drive a modern-day road car, one can certainly fly a light airplane.

I have also spent some time in a B737 training simulator (not PC simulators - I mean the real sims used for training). I was surprised to find the controls much heavier. I would describe the feeling as solid and fluid. They are still easy enough to manipulate such that my mind can focus on elsewhere instead of the physical movements of the control.

  • My primary flight instructor always told me: if you're using more than two fingers, you're not flying the airplane correctly. – dethmagnetic Aug 15 at 16:10

I've never flown a 172, but I fly a Piper Warrior which is in the same ballpark. You definitely need to apply a lot more force than with a flight sim yoke and provide positive pressure (Remember, you're fighting the airflow ultimately), but you don't need to be "strong".

I'd imagine anyone who can drive a car would have the strength to fly a plane. Remember, most flying is one handed and most pilots will use their less-dominant hand (Left hand) so it can't be that bad! I do find the Warrior needs a lot of backpressure to rotate and flare.

I've struggled to find any mathematics to add to this, but I've found a few quotes which imply you need approximately 1lb of backpressure to hold the plane level for every 6kts without trim (The whole point of trim is to avoid this and make life easier)

So, at 100kts that's 16lbs / 7kgs.

  • Thanks for the answer, do you thinknits the same for the 737NG? – lpydawa Aug 13 at 8:39
  • Wouldn't have a clue I'm afraid - those aircraft have hydraulic assist and all sorts of fun little things to help. The 172 and Warrior are simply Yoke -> Cable -> Control Surface – Dan Aug 13 at 8:40
  • I see, thank you. – lpydawa Aug 13 at 8:41
  • So, lets say Im cruising in a Cessna 172, at 122 knots, that means I need to wrestle 9kg. That must be unpleasent. – lpydawa Aug 13 at 9:24
  • @lpydawa Only if you don't trim - I have no idea how accurate it is because I've got no way of measuring or even estimating what an amount of back pressure is. But yes, flying a wildly out of trim aircraft can be very hard work and a bit wrestle-like – Dan Aug 13 at 9:25

I taught people of all sizes to fly for about 30 years. I taught my commercial students how to take off and land without even touching the yoke. So it is possible to control a c- 172 with no yoke force whatsoever. Just rudder, throttle and trim. So by the use of proper trim use, one can control the aircraft using the yoke with only ounces of force. Don't let people discourage you.

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    I really wouldn't encourage flying with just the trim. As an exercise, yes; it's a good backup, since in many airplanes elevator trim is separate from much else. As SOP, not really; the trim responds too slowly for that. What happens if you need to execute a go-around and don't have your hands on the control column? Sure, it might be quick to move them there, but why should you need to? Even when coming in at near touchdown speed, a second is a long time... – a CVn Aug 15 at 13:55

I have several hundred hours in a 172, while it's a bit heavier on the controls than a 152 it isn't much. If you have normal movement then you can likely fly a 172. A benefit to control force in real aircraft vs Sims is the feedback you get through the controls with renders Sims largely ineffective in many cases. OK for some stuff mostly instrument related but it will never replace actual flying. The 172 was a lot easier to fly than the turbine modified Grumman Goose I flew, that thing was like trying to fly a dump truck with manual steering.

The amount of physical exertion required while flying a 172 depends largely on what you're trying to accomplish; for example, cruising in a trimmed attitude requires almost no effort whatsoever. However, purposely inducing an aggravated stall/spin action then recovering requires considerably more effort. Since recovering from all situations is important while flying as a PIC, one should give it a try before pursuing training in earnest. Personally, the most exertion required is climbing up to manually check the fuel levels in the wing tanks. But once I got the hang of it, it became quite easy.

I fly both Cessna and piper aircraft. The flight controls on a 172 require a lot less force. The flight controls on a piper feel much heaver..you feel like your flying a much bigger airplane. So to answer your question it does not take a lot of strength to fly one.

protected by Federico Aug 14 at 7:41

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