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Key Takeaways

  • A Cessna 172 can absolutely fly over the Atlantic
  • There are several different routes a C172 could take to make a transatlantic voyage
  • You will absolutely need to take additional equipment such as oxygen tanks and a floatation device to stay within regulations

The bestselling civilian aircraft in the world, the Cessna 172 is one of the most versatile aircraft ever, but how does it fare crossing the Atlantic?

A Cessna 172 can if there are refueling points within its range. A standard Cessna 172 has a 40-gallon fuel capacity. It burns between 5 and 8 gallons per hour, resulting in 4 to 7 hours of endurance depending on density altitude, power setting, and load.

As an experienced corporate pilot with years of experience flying single-engine aircraft across the Atlantic, I can assure you that with adequate planning and the right frame of mind, an Atlantic crossing can be as fascinating as it is challenging.

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Cessna 172 Mission Suitability

To answer this question, the first thing we must understand is the aircraft itself. A Cessna 172 is a robust workhorse that works as well as a trainer as it does anything else.

The Cessna 172 comes standard with a Lycoming IO-360 which spins a 2-blade McCauley prop. This develops the 180 hp available for take-off. Its robust fixed-gear configuration allows it to land and take off on rough terrain, while its aerodynamics give pilots the flexibility to choose between speed, range, or load, depending on the mission.

In crossing the Atlantic, the mission is to maximize range. While the Cessna 172's simplicity, stability, and versatility allow a lone pilot to make the crossing safely, it would be wise to have a relief pilot.

Flight Planning Considerations

A typical take-off and Vy climb of a Cessna 172 from sea level to 13,000 feet will consume 7 gallons, leaving 33 gallons remaining in the tanks. The ascent to this altitude will cover a horizontal distance of 27 nautical miles.

Since all Atlantic crossings are done under instrument flight rules, you must plan a flight to the destination, then to the alternate, and maintain a 45-minute reserve beyond that. At standard cruise speed, this 45-minute reserve is approximately 5 gallons.

That leaves 28 gallons to fly to a destination and its alternate. The Cessna 172's superior aerodynamic design allows for flight in different configurations of speed, weight, or range.

When configured for speed at 13,000 feet, the C172 can achieve a maximum sustained cruise of 122 knots IAS. Under standard conditions, the C172 consumes 7.7 gallons per hour in this configuration. This results in a total en route time from departure to destination and alternate, of three hours and thirty-eight minutes.

However, when rigged for range, setting the power back to 2100 RPM or 44% BHP reduces fuel consumption down to 5.4 gallons per hour, resulting in 5 hours and 10 minutes of flight time with a TAS of 95 knots.

But on a Cessna 172, if your goal is to extend the range, engage carb heat to full at altitude and lean the engine to a notch cooler from peak exhaust gas temperature. This will bring the fuel consumption to 3.8 gph. Flying in the Arctic circle also allows your aircraft to run a little warmer and burn fuel more efficiently when you run it a little warmer.

At this setting, your TAS will drop to 90 knots. It will, however, significantly increase your endurance and range. With 28 gallons, a burn rate of 3.8 gph gives you seven hours and eighteen minutes of flight time. This will allow you to cover 630 nautical miles.

An alternate 75 nautical miles away from the original destination, means you can fly 555 nautical miles from your Top of Climb to your destination.

The horizontal distance you would have covered, according to the C172 pilot’s operating handbook, during your ascent to twelve thousand feet, is twenty-seven nautical miles. Adding 555 to 27, gives you a range between departure and destination points of 582 nautical miles.

Crossing the Atlantic

At its widest, the Atlantic is more than 2600 nautical miles, making it impossible for smaller aircraft to cross.

There are three typical routes pilots use to cross the Atlantic depending on the aircraft's capability.

The Southern Route

The Southern Route departs St. Johns in Newfoundland, Canada, and heads towards the Azores. This is not a route the C172 can take since the longest leg of the flight is 1400 miles over water with nothing in between.

The Middle Route

This begins at Goose Bay, Canada, and heads to Narsarsuaq, Greenland. This leg is only 700 nautical miles. A little more manageable, especially with a good tailwind. But still, for the 172, this route is also unlikely, since I don't want to rely on a tailwind exclusively to get me across the North Atlantic.

The Northern Route

We are now left with the northern route that departs Iqaluit in northern Canada and flies to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland. This distance is only 480 nautical miles. While it won't really work flying at max cruise, flying at the 44% power setting at 13,000 feet, properly leaned out, will be possible.

If using the northern route, the answer to this question is now, a definite maybe.

From Kangerlussuaq, fly to Kulusuk airport on the western coast of Greenland, 340 nautical miles away. This distance, as we have already calculated, is not a problem. The trick here is to fly this leg of your journey under VFR since you would not have enough fuel capacity to choose an appropriate IFR alternate.

From Kulusuk airport you can now fly IFR to Reykjavik, which is 384 miles, with Akureyri, 154 nautical miles away, as the alternate.

From Reykjavik, you will now fly to Hofn, 195 nautical miles away with Reykjavik as your alternate. From Hofn you will fly your penultimate leg to Vagar in the Faroe Islands. Vagar is 254 nautical miles from Hofn. Hofn will be your alternate.

From Vagar you will fly your final leg to Stornoway, 232 nautical miles away, with John O'Groates as your alternate.

The C172 is a workhorse, built for endurance and designed for harsh conditions. The Tundra certainly qualifies. While most of the focus has been on flying over water.

The trip also has much time over some of the harshest landscapes known to man. An emergency in these areas is better handled with an aircraft like the C172 with its rugged landing gear and short take-off and landing capabilities.

Additional Equipment

To take advantage of the winds aloft, flying as high as possible increases the range of the aircraft. Just remember you need to have supplemental oxygen above a cabin altitude of 12,500 feet.

Between 12,500 and 14,000 feet, you would need supplemental oxygen when flying for more than 30 minutes. And above 14,000 feet the crew would need oxygen for the entire time.

Each Aircraft Breathable Oxygen (ABO) tank and the piping for it weigh approximately 8 - 10 pounds. You would need to account for that as well in your weight and balance calculations.

The one thing that is not obvious when asking this question is that while the aircraft itself can hop its way across, there are regulations that you will have to adhere to.

Most importantly, since you will be flying more than 50 miles offshore when you cross the Davis Strait and then again when you cross the Greenland Sea, and then again when you cross the Atlantic to arrive in Scotland.

Regulations require that you bring along a floatation device for each occupant. These are two critical issues you have to keep in mind when you undertake this cross-Atlantic flight.

If you are a seasoned pilot in North America, you are probably used to a large network of emergency services that could come to your aid in the event of a problem with your flight. Do not expect the same as you make your way across the Atlantic.

Not only are the crossings over water dangerous, the crossing over land in parts of northern Canada, across Greenland, and Iceland occur over some harsh and deserted terrain.