The Cessna Story

The history of Cessna aviation began in June 1911, when Clyde Cessna, a farmer in Rago, Kansas, built a wood-and-fabric airplane and became the first person to build and fly a powered aircraft in the heartland of America, between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Clyde Cessna started his aircraft ventures in Enid, Oklahoma testing many of his early designs on the salt flats. When bankers in Enid balked at providing capital, he moved to Wichita.

In 1924, Cessna partnered with Lloyd C. Stearman and Walter H. Beech to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Co., Inc., and served as its president. In January 1927 he left Travel Air to form his own business, the Cessna Aircraft Company. The first of his new monoplane designs, the "Phantom," flew on August 13, 1927. Following that, the company created a series of successful four and six-place monoplanes.

With the collapse of Wall Street in the autumn of 1929, Cessna and other manufacturers soon found themselves with dramatically shrinking sales. Cessna slashed prices, but to no avail. Faced with the prospect of bankruptcy, the company's board of directors voted to oust Cessna and closed the factory doors in 1931.

Undaunted, Cessna, along with his son Eldon, rented facilities in the abandoned Travel Air complex and created the C.V. Cessna Aircraft Co. It built small, custom racing airplanes. Sadly, Cessna was dealt another blow in 1933 when his close friend Roy Liggett died in the crash of the CR-2 racer built by Clyde and Eldon. Cessna's grief ran deep and he withdrew from aviation. Retreating to his farm in Rago, Clyde Cessna would never involve himself in aviation again.

During this period, Cessna's nephew, Dwane Wallace, had been working for Walter Beech doing engineering analyses on biplanes. Wallace, whose love of flying had been kindled as a teenager, soloed in a well-worn Travel Air in March 1932 and later earned his private pilot license. Although he continued to work diligently for Beech, Dwane had a dream: he was contemplating plans to reopen the Cessna Aircraft Company. His gamble was that the public would buy an upgraded version of Cessna's 1928 Model AW cabin monoplane.

In January 1934, Dwane Wallace with his brother Dwight, a talented attorney, wrested control of their uncle's derelict company from the board of directors. With Dwane at the helm, the Cessna Aircraft Company was reborn and the process of building it into a global success was begun.

In 1948, Cessna introduced the 170, a four-place tailwheel airplane powered by a 145-horsepower Continental engine. The airplane, an obvious upgrade from the company's previous 140 model, was a popular improvement. In November 1955 the tricycle derivative of the 170 first flew. It entered service in 1956 and was an overnight success. Over 1400 were built in its inaugural year. This new airplane, later to be known as the Skyhawk, would become the most widely produced light aircraft in history.  Cessna's advertising has boasted that its aircraft have trained more pilots than those of any other company.

In 1985 Cessna was bought by General Dynamics Corporation and in 1986 production of piston-engine aircraft was discontinued. Over 35,000 172s had been manufactured up until that point. The company cited product liability as the cause for their demise. The corporation's CEO, Russ Meyer, said that production would resume if a more favorable product liability environment were to develop. In 1992, Textron Inc. bought Cessna and, after passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, resumed production of the piston-engine 172, 182, and 206 designs.

On 27 November 2007 Textron announced that Cessna had purchased bankrupt Columbia Aircraft for USD$26.4M and would produce its Columbia 350 and 400 as the Cessna 350 and Cessna 400 at the Columbia factory in Bend, Oregon. There had been speculation that the acquisition of the Columbia line would spell the end of the Cessna NGP project, but on September 26, 2007, Cessna Vice President for Sales, Roger Whyte, confirmed that development of the NGP project would continue, unaffected by the purchase of Columbia.

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Clyde Cessna - 1914

Cessna with his "Comet"

1927 Cessna "Phantom"

Roy Liggett with the CR-2 that killed him in 1933

Dwane Wallace and Walter Beech

Cessna 170B - Precursor to the 172