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Key Takeaways

  • The Cessna 172 uses various engine types in each model, including a 145 HP Continental O-300-A, 175 HP Continental GO-300-C, 145 HP Continental O-300-C, 175 HP Continental GO-300E, 160 HP Lycoming O-320-H2AD, 160 HP Lycoming IO-360-L2A, 180 HP Lycoming O-360-F1A6, and 195 HP Continental IO-360-KB.
  • The first engine used in the Cessna 172 aircraft was the Continental O-300-A six-cylinder, air-cooled engine.
  • Other factors impacted by the engine include the plane’s speed, flying range, fuel usage, and weight.

Because the Cessna 172 is one of the most popular planes used today, it’s necessary to know how it works and what engine powers it.

The Cessna 172 is powered by various engines, including the following models.

  • 145 HP Continental O-300-A
  • 175 HP Continental GO-300-C
  • 145 HP Continental O-300-C
  • 175 HP Continental GO-300E
  • 160 HP Lycoming O-320-H2AD
  • 160 HP Lycoming IO-360-L2A
  • 180 HP Lycoming O-360-F1A6
  • 195 HP Continental IO-360-KB

The Cessna 172 aircraft is commonly used as a trainer for new pilots and pilot students, meaning it’s safe and efficient. This is because of the engine that powers it, which we will explain below in more detail.

Table of contents


Which Engine Powers The Cessna 172?

The original Cessna 172 was built with a Continental O-300-A six-cylinder, air-cooled engine in 1955. Over the years, newer models have received upgrades to improve aerodynamics, speed, horsepower, weight balance, etc.

Other Cessna 172s have Continental GO-300E, which was first introduced in 1963. This is a more powerful engine with better durability and a longer time before overhaul.

Beginning with the Cessna 172I, the engine upgrade was a newer Lycoming O-320-E2D engine. Many of the Cessnas used a variation of the Continental or Lycoming engine depending on the manufactured year.

This engine has a displacement of 320 cubic inches and delivers 180 horsepower at 2,400 RPM. It is also equipped with a two-blade constant-speed propeller.

The Cessna 172N was built with the Lycoming O-320-H2AD in 1977. Later, the Cessna 172P was upgraded in 1981 with the Lycoming O-320-D2J.

Other engines used to power the Cessna 172 in later model years include the following.

  • Continental GO-300-C
  • Continental O-300-C
  • Lycoming IO-360-L2A
  • Lycoming O-360-F1A6
  • Continental IO-360-KB

Cessna 172 Engine Evolution

The Cessna 172 is a four-seat, single-engine, high-wing airplane. It is the most popular general aviation aircraft in the world.

But it’s rather compact and not known for its high speed or impressive horsepower. Instead, it operates efficiently as a reliable, compact aircraft.

That said, we can look at each Cessna 172 model and the engine that powered it. This allows us to understand the evolution of this plane and why it’s considered such an efficient aircraft.

Original Cessna 172

The original Cessna 172 has a 145-horsepower Continental O-300 six-cylinder, air-cooled engine. This was the first Skyhawk build, weighed 2,200 pounds, and remained in production until 1960.

Cessna 172A

The Cessna 172A was the first Skyhawk modification model, with a launch date in late 1960. It used the same 145-horsepower Continental O-300 with changes to the tail fin and rudder for better aerodynamics.

Cessna 172B

The Cessna 172B was actually the first model to receive the Skyhawk nickname with upgrades to the exterior and interior. However, the same Continental O-300 was used, and no major performance changes were made besides new avionics.

Cessna 172C

The Cessna 172C was released in 1962 with new seats and increased baggage area sizing. All performance features remained the same, and no changes to the engine happened either.

Cessna 172D

In 1962, the first major engine change happened when building the Cessna 172D. The new engine was a 175 horsepower Continental GO-300E, increasing the plane’s durability and cruise speed by 11 MPH.

Cessna 172F

Nothing significant changed with the Cessna 172E, but the 172F was built with new electronically operated flaps. It kept the same engine and became a primary trainer plane and one of the safest planes with this new design.

Cessna 172H

The Cessna 172H was the final Skyhawk built with a Continental GO-300E engine. The design also reduced the nose gear stroke and drag for better speed, safety, and overall flying efficiency.

Cessna 172I

The new Cessna 172I was the first ever Skyhawk built with a Lycoming engine. This aircraft was equipped with a 150-horsepower Lycoming O-320-E2D, increasing the optimal cruise speed to 131 MPH.

Cessna 172N

The next engine upgrade for the Skyhawk was the Cessna 172N. The new engine was a 160-horsepower Lycoming O-320-H2AD which ran on 100-octane fuel.

Cessna 172P

In 1981, the Cessna 172P was built and launched with an upgraded Lycoming O-320-D2J engine, but the performance changes were minor. This engine was slightly lighter, and the new flag detection feature helped decrease the aircraft's weight.

Cessna 172R

The Cessna 172R was built with a 160-horsepower Lycoming IO-360-L2A factory-fitted fuel-injected engine. This plane also had many interior upgrades, including new seats and a multi-level ventilation system.

Cessna 172S

Lastly, we saw a significant upgrade to the Cessna 172S in 1998 when it was built with the new 180-horsepower Lycoming IO-360-L2A engine.

How Does The Cessna 172 Engine Work?

The Cessna 172 is a four-seater, single-engine aircraft. The plane is powered by a Lycoming O-320 engine capable of generating 145 horsepower.

It has two propeller blades made from aluminum and steel with a diameter of 13 feet and 3 inches. However, we discussed the different engine variations depending on the Cessna 172 year and model number.

These engines all operate and work the same. The only primary difference is the power and speed they provide, including the top speed and cruising speed capabilities.

The engine also works like a car engine, using an intake stroke, compression, ignition, and exhaust system. The cooling is monitored and manipulated by airflow based on the fins and piston cylinders.

There is also an internal lubrication to allow the heat exchanger to operate correctly. When the engine works well, it remains cool enough to function at maximum speed levels without breaking down.

Other Cessna 172 Engine Performance Specs

We have gone over the possible engines used in each Cessna 172 model. But now we can look at how this engine performs based on factors like speed, flying range, fuel burn, and weight capabilities.


There are two primary factors to consider regarding the speed of a Cessna 172. This includes both the maximum and optimal cruising speed for a flight.

For the newer models, the maximum speed is estimated to be 188 MPH. The optimal cruising speed is between 125-140 MPH, depending on the engine type and Cessna model.

Flying Range

The flying range of a Cessna 172 is about 800 miles at cruising speeds with proper weight and a full fuel tank. This provides plenty of endurance for short-distance flights and training exercises for student pilots.

Fuel Usage

The standard Cessna 172 has a fuel capacity of 40 gallons. This is plenty of fuel for most Skyhawk flights because it runs efficiently and only burns between 7-9 gallons per hour at cruising speed.


Most Cessna 172 models have a maximum takeoff weight between 2,200 and 2,550  pounds, depending on the manufactured year. This is important for carrying cargo, fuel, and passengers on board for flights.

Putting too much weight on the plane can impact performance and force the engine and plane to fly unsafely.