Since its introduction in 1957, the Cessna 150 has played a mainstay role in pilot training by providing an affordable, easy-to-maintain platform that anyone can fly. Cessna promoted the 150 as the “world’s premier trainer,” and while borrowing many of the design characteristics from tailwheel Cessna models 120 and 140, the 150 was created solely with the training market in mind, to tap into what was then a booming market.
When most people think of a two-place light aircraft, the venerable Piper Cub comes to mind. However, the Cessna 150 long ago eclipsed the Piper Cub as the most-flown two-place GA aircraft.
Development of the Model 150 began in the mid-1950s with the decision by Cessna Aircraft to produce a successor to the popular Cessna 140.
When the Cessna 150 came to the market, customers loved it. The exterior was as beautiful as it gets, well, not by today’s standards. Bright white is typically the base color, and a stripe of red, tan, blue, green, or orange marks the length of the aircraft.
When considering the aircraft’s exterior and design, the first Cessna 150s look a bit frumpy by modern standards, with their squared-off tails and turtle deck-style fuselage, with no rear window. These unflattering characteristics created poor visibility to the rear, modest baggage space, and a placard against spins. But it was not to stay that way for long, as Cessna 150 experienced several modifications, including some dramatic ones.
Some of the 150’s design improvements included side-by-side seating to facilitate instruction, a tricycle landing gear for easier ground handling and landings, and a rear window.
The interior is mostly white-matte with a touch of chestnut or black around the dashboard. Anyone who learned to fly in a 150 will remember the cockpit as cramped and narrow, which never changed, as cabin comfort is not much of a consideration in two-place trainers.
Lessons are short, and there’s no point in pretending there’s enough room in the airplane for plush seats. The 150 is so narrow that even pilots of moderate size will bump shoulders.
Although the seat height is quite low, the legroom is excellent as Cessna did bow the doors out slightly and trimmed the center console to provide more side-to-side legroom. Despite the fact that thicker seat padding has become standard, it helps only a little, as many owners have had the seats re-padded or carry pillows to make them more tolerable.
The noise level is quite high due to the proximity of the cabin to the engine compartment, but the advent of noise-cancelling headsets and intercoms has rendered this moot. Cabin ventilation is via the standard Cessna pull vents in the wing roots, plus in most models, the windows open for taxi and can also be opened in flight. For a small airplane, the baggage area is rather generous as the baggage compartment was also enlarged several times and one option included a rear child seat.
The baggage area could accommodate up to 120 pounds of bags, so it was suitable for a toddler and a day bag, but little else. It is useful to keep in mind that the 150 was introduced as a small airplane, and despite Cessna’s modifications of bowing out the doors, narrowing the center console, and dropping the floor pan, it remained small throughout production.
The first Cessna 150’s came off the production line with a 100-HP Continental O-200 engine, a reliable and easy-to-maintain engine that matched the airframe nicely.
When 80/87 gas began to fade from the market in 1978, displaced by 100LL, Cessna switched to the 110-HP Lycoming O-235, which provided more power and boosted the TBO from 1800 hours to 2000 hours and eventually 2400 hours.
Except for troublesome starter drives, the Continental O-200 used in the Cessna 150 was a reliable and robust engine that could be counted on to make the 1800-hour TBO, if not beyond.
The Lycoming O-235L2C was supposed to achieve three goals: solve the O-200s’ lead fouling problem, boost power a bit to increase the payload; and last, reduce noise. The higher compression O-235 delivered 110 HP at 2550 RPM rather than the O-200s at 2750 RPM. However, with this engine change, Cessna did not hit the mark as the owners complained about high parts prices for the O-235, including pistons and valves, the latter being sodium-filled for improved cooling.
The lead problems were still there with the new engine and O-235 accumulated lead deposits in every nook and cranny, and lead fouling of plugs became such a problem that a special extended-electrode spark plug was developed for this engine.
One positive aspect of the Lycoming engine is its TBO; a whopping 2400 hours. If you can keep the thing from choking on lead, it may reach that impressive limit.
At the front of the aircraft is a 2-blade metal fixed-pitch propeller by McCauley. Moving to the aircraft’s systems, fuel is supplied to the engine from two 13-gallon tanks, one in each wing. From these tanks, fuel flows by gravity through a fuel shutoff valve and strainer to the carburettor. With the optional long-range system, fuel capacity can be increased to 38 gallons in total.
All variants had the same fuel tank arrangement, with a baseline capacity of 26 gallons. In exchange for crew comforts, Cessna offered long-range tanks that expanded this to 42 gallons on the original model, which was reduced to 38 from the Cessna 150H onwards.
Electrical energy is supplied by a 14-volt, direct-current system powered by an engine-driven alternator and a 12-volt storage battery.
When we move into the Cessna 150’s cockpit and take a look at the instruments, we see the traditional six-pack cockpit. A quick scan of the six-pack provides the pilot with current information on aircraft speed, altitude, climb/descent, altitude, heading, and turning/banking.
The trainer market has evolved considerably since the Cessna 150 first appeared, and although modern trainers such as the Diamond Katana have improved the breed, the 150 still has better performance and handling traits. Speaking of its performance, the overall handling qualities of the Cessna 150 are described as “superb.”
The 150’s finest qualities are apparent during flight training procedures. It stalls well with a generous amount of warning and has “outstanding” stability on all axes.
When comparing the Piper Tomahawk, Beech Skipper, and Cessna 150, the top speeds and useful loads are nearly the same in all three, but the Cessna tends to get off quicker and land shorter.
Certified in the utility category, it is not designed for purely aerobatic flight, though some maneuvers are permitted according to the aircraft’s Pilots Operating Handbook.
The aircraft is equipped for day and night VFR and may be equipped for day or night IFR with additional equipment. The first Cessna 150s produced cruised at 121 mph at 75% power, while the last models cruised a little higher at 123 mph with the same power setting. With a maximum cruise speed of 104 knots, its top speed is given as 109 knots, the same as the Tomahawk and two knots faster than the plodding Beechcraft Skipper.
In the real world, however, they go slower. Luckily for Cessna, speed wasn’t a priority when designing the 150.
The airplane seems happiest at 90 to 95 knots, which is a realistic speed. The Cessna 150’s original do not exceed a speed was 136 knots, which was improved to 141 knots on follow-up variants.
Stall speeds are 48 knots clean and 42 knots in landing configuration, a stark difference from the Cessna 172 family, where there have been significant changes over the years.
The airplane is comfortable with an approach speed of 60 knots or slower, but it will easily tolerate higher speeds because those draggy flaps bleed off excess airspeed in a heartbeat. The climb rate is 670 feet per minute with a range of 318 nautical miles.
Handling is what it is, which is predictable and docile, with relatively light control forces and no nasty stall habits. The Cessna 150’s slow flight characteristics are so utterly benign that they nearly qualify as a STOL airplane.
The large flaps, even when limited to 30 degrees-are quite effective, although they do generate quite a nose-down trim moment. Its large and very effective rudder and flaps (that extend to 40 degrees throughout all models) are very useful during training as they allow student pilots to get comfortable and familiar with the controls.
The model is an excellent crosswind trainer since it has an effective rudder. The light wing loading makes for good maneuverability but also educates the pilot the hard way about aileron positioning with crosswinds present. This wing loading, combined with the high wing position and tricycle gear, makes the Cessna 150 a joy to the land.
The standard empty weight of the Cessna 150 has grown over the years. Early models weighed 985 lbs empty, which was slightly reduced to 980 lbs on the Cessna 150H but eventually rose to 1,111 lbs with the Cessna 150M.
The type’s take-off weight remained similar – 1,500 lbs. for the Cessna 150 and 1,600 lbs. for both the 150H and 150M. This works out to a useful load of 515, 620, and 489 lbs., respectively. Modifications to the aircraft’s baggage compartment increased its capacity from 80 lbs on the Cessna 150 to 120 lbs on the later models.
Throughout its production run from 1958 to 1977, the Cessna 150 went through a total of sixteen variants, including two manufactured exclusively by the now-defunct French firm Reims Aviation. The first model of the Cessna 150 was available as the “150” and carried no suffix letter.
The engine was a 100-horsepower Continental O-200, the gross weight was 1,500 lbs. and flaps were actuated manually with a lever between the seats. The 1961 model incorporated enough changes to justify a suffix letter and thus was designated the “150A.”
The “A” had its main landing gear moved aft by two inches to eliminate the problem of the aircraft balancing on its tail while loading people and also to improve nose wheel steering authority.
Not only that, but it also had 15% larger rear side windows and new adjustable seats. The Cessna 150B was the 1962 model. It had a new propeller that increased cruise speed by 2 knots and the option of a two-passenger child seat for the baggage compartment.
The 1963 model was the “C,” which introduced the option of larger tires and fuel quick drains. The 1964 “D” model brought the first dramatic change to the 150 – the introduction of a rear window under the marketing name “Omni-Vision” that changed the look of the Cessna 150 and cost 3 mph in cruise speed. It also resulted in a larger baggage compartment and a greater structural weight allowance for baggage from 80 to 120 lb.
Elevator and rudder mass balances were increased to reduce flutter potential caused by the less aerodynamic rear fuselage. The gross weight of the aircraft was also increased in 1964 to 1,600 lbs, where it would stay until the advent of the Cessna 152. The 1965 Cessna 150E saw only the addition of new seats. The 1966F model saw great changes to the 150 design.
The tailfin was swept back 35 degrees to match the styling of the Cessna 172 and other models, the cabin doors were made 23% wider, and new brakes were brought in.
The previously manual flaps were now electrically actuated through a panel-mounted flap switch, while the old electric stall warning system was replaced with a pneumatic type. The baggage compartment was enlarged by 50%.
In the 1967 G model, the instrument panel was redesigned, while the 150J, in 1969, brought a new key-operated starter that replaced the old “pull-style” starter. In 1970 Cessna introduced the A150K Aerobat, a Cessna 150K with limited aerobatic capabilities. It retained the 100 horsepower Continental O-200 in all Cessna 150s used, but differed from the baseline 150K in having more structural strength, being rated at +6/3 g.
The Cessna 150L had the longest production run of any 150 sub-model, being produced from 1971 to 1974 with several upgrades, while Reims produced a variant of the FA150L Aerobat with a Rolls-Royce Continental O-240-A engine.
The final Cessna 150 model was the 150M, produced for three years from 1975 to 1977.
Simplicity and reliability have made the Cessna 150 an insurance-friendly aircraft, even among its class. Depending on the kind of coverage required, insurance for the 150 series will usually total between $225 and $790 a year. Additionally, the purchase cost is excitingly low as well, making it a smart first plane for many low-time pilots. Depending on the year and upgrades, you can pick up your own Cessna 150 for between $12,500 and $49,500, though most often you can get them at the lower end of that range, at an average of around $20,000.
Like any other aircraft, the Cessna 150 is not flawless. Most issues experienced by operators have arisen when the aircraft is employed as a trainer, as that combines flight hours above the average for a utility owner plus the inherent additional wear associated with having new pilots at the controls.
Wrinkled firewalls and cracks in the horizontal stabilizer’s spar are some of the common problems found in the aircraft resulting from hard landings and careless ground handling. Another common complaint is regarding the aircraft’s seats, which are unusually prone to sliding back due to defective or poorly designed seat locks and rails. This has caused numerous crashes, mostly during take-off or landing when pilots get caught by surprise by their seat sliding and instinctively hold onto the first thing they can find – the yoke, most of the time.
At low altitudes and speeds, the elevator is actuated all the way back, which usually results in a stall with no time to recover.
Pilots love the Cessna 150 for its simple handling, owners adore the easygoing maintenance, and the low fuel consumption makes it easy to get behind too.
One of the reasons for the Cessna 150’s popularity is that it had a smooth introduction and aged gracefully: most 150 models flying today under owners who observe normal maintenance protocols enjoy a high availability rate combined with low maintenance costs.
To conclude, it is very hard to be disappointed with a standard, trustworthy plane like the Cessna 150. This small, but the iconic airplane has gone on to train many pilots, and when it comes to pilots who fly solo, there don’t seem to be many more plentiful, affordable options out there that can beat the Cessna 150.
This incredibly versatile aircraft can be upgraded to quite a few options depending on the variant, including a pretty good aerobatic trainer, a great backcountry plane, as well as a light cross-country plane. The two-seater 150 might not be ideal for someone wanting to fly the whole family out on vacation, but for someone learning to fly, giving out lessons, or just enjoying joyrides, be it alone or with a passenger, it is hard to beat.
If success can be measured by the number of pilots trained, the 150/152 is successful to the tune of 250,000. That’s how many pilots have learned to fly in this airplane, and many more will.