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1977 Cessna 177B Cardinal (N20124, s/n 17702631) at the 2009 Cable Air Show, Cable Airport, Upland, CA (Photos by John Shupek)
The Cessna 177 Cardinal is a light, high-wing general aviation aircraft that was intended to replace Cessna's 172 Skyhawk. First announced in 1967, it was produced from 1968 to 1978.
Cessna 177 Development
The Cessna 177 was designed in the mid-1960s when the engineers at Cessna were asked to create a "futuristic 1970s successor to the Cessna 172". The resulting aircraft featured newer technology such as a cantilever wing with a laminar flow airfoil. The Cessna 177 is the only production high-wing single-engined Cessna since the Cessna 190/195 series to have both fixed landing gear and a cantilever wing without strut bracing.
The 1968 Cessna Model 177 was introduced in late 1967 with a 150-hp (112 kW) engine. One of the design goals of this Cessna 172 replacement was to allow the pilot an unobstructed view when making a turn. In the Cessna 172 the pilot sits under the wing and when the wing is lowered to begin a turn that wing blocks the pilot's view of where the turn will lead to. The engineers resolved this problem by placing the pilot forward of the wing's leading edge, but that led to a too-far-forward center of gravity.
This problem was partially counteracted by the decision to use the significantly lighter Lycoming O-320 four-cylinder engine in place of the six-cylinder O-300 Continental used on the 172. The forward CG situation still existed even with the lighter engine, so a stabilator was chosen, to provide sufficient elevator control authority at low airspeeds.
The Cessna 177 design was intended to be a replacement for the Cessna 172, which was to be discontinued after introduction of the new aircraft. The new design was originally to be called the Cessna 172J (to follow the 1968 model 172I). However, as the time came to make the transition, there was considerable resistance to the replacement of the Cessna 172 from the company's Marketing Division. The 1969 Cessna 172 jumped to the designator Cessna 172K -- there is no Cessna 172J.
Performance and Handling Problems
The stabilator of the Cessna 177 was not fully counterbalanced (only 75% counterweighted, to save about 4 pounds of weight). This caused a phenomenon called pilot-induced oscillation (PIO), as the pilot tried to correct a nose-high or nose-low attitude with out-of-sync elevator inputs which exacerbated the undesirable attitude.
The NACA 65A015 airfoil used on the Cessna 177 was chosen for its laminar-flow characteristics. This airfoil has a much higher drag at low airspeeds than the NACA 2412 airfoil used on the Cessna 172, so in order to obtain a positive rate of climb the pilot had to use a higher climb airspeed than was common in the Cessna 172.
Soon after delivery to customers was commenced reported incidents of Pilot-induced oscillation became so alarming that the factory initiated a priority program to eliminate the problem. The solution, which was provided to all aircraft already delivered at no cost, was known as Operation "Cardinal Rule" and included a series of 23 inspecition, installation, and modification instructions.
This Service Letter, SE68-14, consisted of modifying the stabilator to install slots just behind the leading edge (to delay the onset of stabilator stall) and installing full counterbalance (11 pounds versus the original 7 pounds) on the stabilator to eliminate the PIO problem. The gearing ratio on the anti-servo tab (at the trailing edge of the stabilator) was also modified.
Initial Cessna 177 Sales
Though the Cessna 177 initially sold well as factory-authorized dealers filled their previously-agreed upon marketing commitments, overall the sales did not meet company expectations. Due to the reluctance on the part of the factory's Marketing Division, Cessna decided to continue production of the Cessna 172 for at least one more year, so that the relative market strengths of both aircraft could be better evaluated. This decision to continue to produce the Cessna 172 meant that the Cessna 172 production line had to be reactivated and a last-minute decision about engines was needed. The long-term contract for Continental O-300 engines had been canceled and a large contract (5,000 units) had been placed with Lycoming for O-320 engines. Fortunately, the O-320 could be installed in the Cessna 172 with few problems, so the 1968 Model Cessna 172I was offered with an increase of 5 horsepower (4 kW), alongside the new aircraft.
The new design was named the Cessna 177 and given the name "Cardinal" when it was equipped with the optional-equipment package at the last minute. The Cessna 177, with its 150-hp (112 kW) powerplant, was considered "underpowered", even though it had more power than the 145-hp (108 kW) Cessna 172. The Cessna 177 did not climb as quickly as the Cessna 172I at the same indicated airspeed and its cruise speed was less than the Cessna 172I even with its apparently sleeker silhouette and the same 150-hp (110 kW) engine installed.
Recognizing that the aircraft was underpowered, Cessna introduced the Cessna 177A in 1969. The revision featured a 180-hp (135 kW) version of the same four-cylinder Lycoming used in the Cessna 177, moving the design's price and role somewhere between that of the Cessna 172 and Cessna 182. The additional power improved cruise speed by 11 knots (20 km/h). The 177A also included the fiberglass, downward-shaped, conical wing tips that had been introduced on the Cessna 172 of the same year.
1970 saw the introduction of the Cessna 177B, which had a new wing airfoil, a constant-speed propeller, and other minor improvements. The Cessna 177B weighed 145 lb (66 kg) more empty than the earlier Cessna 177, with maximum takeoff weight increased from 2,350 lb (1,067 kg) to 2,500 lb (1,135 kg). Despite these upgrades, the Cessna 177B was outsold by the Cessna 172, the airplane it was intended to replace. The wing airfoil was obtained by fairing the front half of the cambered NACA 2415 shape onto the previous NACA 65A015 airfoil. This eliminated the laminar flow benefit of the 65-series airfoil (whose low-drag "bucket" at a low angle of attack had not been properly exploited in actual use), but gave a better lift-to-drag ratio at high angles of attack (i.e. during the climb), and softened the break at the stall.
Cessna 177RG Cardinal RG
The final aircraft in the Cessna 177 line was the retractable-gear Cessna 177RG, which Cessna began producing in 1971 as a direct competitor to the Piper PA-28-200R Cherokee Arrow and Beechcraft Sierra. The Cessna 177RG had a 200-hp (150 kW) engine to offset the 300 lb (136 kg) increase in maximum weight, much of which was from the electrically-powered hydraulic gear mechanism. The additional power and cleaner lines of the Cessna 177RG resulted in a cruise speed of 146 knots (270 km/h), 22 knots (41 km/h) faster than the cessna 177B. A total of 1,543 Cessna 177RG's were delivered including those built in France by Reims.
Overall Model Sales
The Cessna 177 cost more than the cessna 172. Due to the poor reputation of the early models, the Cardinal was consistently outsold by the Skyhawk despite the improvements made to the Cessna 177s built after 1971. While not a commercial failure, the Cessna 177 was not a success by Cessna's standards. Both the Cessna 177B and Cessna 177RG ceased production in 1978, just ten years after the first Cessna 177 was introduced.
Today both the Cessna 177 and Cessna 177RG are considered desirable aircraft to own, mostly because of the large doors which offer easy entry, the aircraft's reasonable performance for the power, active owners groups and the aircraft's attractive looks. The Cessna 177 offers much better upwards visibility than a Cessna 172 because of its steeply raked windshield and more aft-mounted wing. The absence of an obstructing wing support strut makes the aircraft an excellent platform for aerial photography.
Aircraft Type Clubs
The Cessna 177 and Cessna 177RG family of aircraft are supported by several active aircraft type clubs, including the Cardinal Flyers Online and the Cessna Pilots Association.
Accidents and Incidents
On 11 April 1996, a Cessna 177B carrying 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her certified flight instructor and her father, crashed after take-off from Cheyenne Airport in Cheyenne, Wyoming, killing all on board. Dubroff was attempting to set a cross-country record for young pilots, although her instructor was thought to have been at the controls at the time of the accident. No defect in the aircraft itself was found. The accident resulted public outrage and new Federal legislation banning record attempts by non-holders of private pilot or higher certificates.
The Cessna 177 in Popular Culture
A Cessna 177 was prominently featured throughout the 1968 Russ Meyer movie "Vixen!". In the film the early-model Cessna 177 is shown flying from a mountain airstrip with four occupants and a heavy fuel load, a mission the 150-hp (110 kW) version was unable to carry out due to its lack of power. The Cessna 177's lack of wing struts and exceptionally large doors made it relatively easy to film the actors sitting in the airplane, an important attribute in filming a low-budget, tightly-scheduled B-movie.
1977 Cessna 177 Cardinal and Cardinal II
On 30 September 1967, Cessna introduced its Model 177, a single-engined four-seat aircraft with a cantilever wing, then powered by a 112 kW (150-hp) Lycoming engine, and intended as a luxury addition to its range of single-engined two and four-seat models. Increased engine power was provided subsequently by installation of the 134 kW (180-hp) Lycoming O-360 engine as standard. Five versions of this aircraft became available by late 1970, of which the Model 177 was the basic standard version; this was discontinued in 1976, leaving the following four commercial versions:
A total of 3,740 cessna Model 177/Cardinals had been built by 1 January 1977, including Cardinal RGs, and Reims Cardinal RGs built by Reims Aviation in France.
1977 Cessna Cardinal and Cardinal II Specifications and Performance Data
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Cessna 177B Specifications and Performance Data
Cessna Cardinal RG and RG II
On 3 December 1970 Cessna announced a further version of its Cardinal single-engined four-seat cabin monoplane, with hydraulically-retractable tricycle-type landing gear, a more powerful fuel-injection engine and a number of different standard and optional items.
The landing gear is retracted by a simplified self-contained hydraulic system, with an electrically-powered hydraulic pump that provides a maximum system pressure of 103.5 bars (1,500 psi). The hand pump, for emergency retraction or extension of the gear, is designed to eliminate the need for complex sequencing valves in the hydraulic power pack. When the landing gear is retracted the nose unit is faired by wheel doors; the main gear is retained flush with the fuselage and has no wheel doors. Two versions of the Cardinal RG were available for 1977:
Cardinal RG: — Standard retractable-gear version, introducing the same standard and optional improvements as the fixed-gear Cardinal, plus new standard features which include a new rectangular hour meter, and a standardized fuel selector.
Cardinal RG II: — Specially-equipped version of the Cardinal RG which includes as standard Cessna Series 300 nav/com with 720-channel com and 200-channel nav with remote VOR/LOC indicator, ADF, transponder, 200A Nav-O-Matic autopilot with VOR/LOC track and intercept functions, horizon and directional gyros, true airspeed indicator, dual controls, navigation light detectors, external power socket, heated pitot, courtesy lights and emergency locator transmitter. Nav-Pac IFR option adds a second 300 nav/com with VOR/ILS, 400 glideslope and 400 marker beacon. By 1 January 1977, a total of 1,182 Cardinal RGs had been delivered, the total including 153 produced by Reims Aviation in France.
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