How High Can A Cessna Fly?

Doing your research into certain planes and learning about their capabilities can tell you a lot about whether you want to fly one.

As a private pilot, it should be natural to find out how high a Cessna can fly though this largely depends on which model.

How High Can A Cessna Fly

Each aircraft has its Service Ceiling and keeping within those altitude limits should mean safe flying for you and your plane. 

But it can be tricky to work out how high a Cessna can fly (see also “How Fast Can A Cessna Fly?“), especially if you have never flown one before. You can quickly find yourself overwhelmed and frustrated while you try to find the answers that you need. 

Well, no more! In this guide, we will look at what is meant by the Service Ceiling, the Absolute Ceiling, and some specific maximum altitudes for several popular Cessna aircraft. 

What Is The Service Ceiling?

This is the altitude at which a specific aircraft could climb at 50 feet per minute when in still air and at the standard pressure and temperature for that aircraft.

Though the aircraft can reach higher altitudes, the Service Ceiling should be seen as an altitude that should not be exceeded during normal flights. 

However, just as a car can go faster than the speed limit, an aircraft can go higher than the Service Ceiling which is known as the Absolute Ceiling.

This is the altitude that the aircraft can reach where it will not climb, even at the best angle of climb airspeed which is corrected for the altitude. 

The aircraft simply runs out of horsepower that can be produced by the engine at that altitude, most notably because the air is thinner.

It would need some additional help, such as a supercharged engine, to reach higher altitudes. 

The Cessna 150

According to the Pilot’s Operating Manual of the 1977 Cessna 150, a Service Ceiling of 14,000 feet is listed.

That is with the Continental 0-200 100HP engine and between 12,500 feet and that Service Ceiling of 14,000 feet, the flight crew must be given supplemental oxygen for flying over 30 minutes. 

Any altitude beyond 14,000 feet and the flight crew have to be using supplemental oxygen. Then at an altitude past 15,000 feet, the passengers also have to be provided with supplemental oxygen. 

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk

As one of the most popular aircraft around, you may get to fly a Cessna 172 Skyhawk one day. If you do, you should know that this particular aircraft has a maximum altitude of between 13,000 and 15,000 feet. 

A height above 10,000 feet is commonly known as the transition layer and pilots should avoid flying above this altitude, though it is possible.

Typically, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk should be cruising at an altitude of 9,500 feet for long-haul flights though for short flights this should be even lower at 4,500 feet.

The Cessna Citation X

The Cessna Citation X

It should probably come as little surprise that the Cessna Citation X is the one Cessna model that can fly the highest.

After all, they do cost upwards of $20m as a private business jet so you should expect them to handle high speeds and altitudes. At 51,000 feet, this is far and away from the highest-flying Cessna. 

That altitude also fares well when compared with a lot of other private aircraft including the Diamond DA40 (14,000 feet), the Cirrus SR22 (25,000 feet), and even the Pilatus PC-12 NG (30,000 feet).

The Service Ceiling of a Cessna Citation X exceeds commercial airplanes by some distance too. For instance, the Boeing 737 should reach 41,000 feet, and the Boeing 787 has a Service Ceiling of 43,000 feet. 

Final Thoughts

By flying under its Service Ceiling, you should be able to fly a Cessna safely yet knowing its limitations is important.

This can vary based on the model, for instance, a Cessna 172 can fly at a maximum altitude of up to 15,000 feet.

However, a Cessna Citation X can go much higher, and considerably faster, so can reach a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet.

Once you have mastered flying your Cessna at a comfortable altitude, you may be happy remaining there without finding out truly how high it can fly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Cessnas Compare To Commercial Airplanes In How High They Can Fly?

You could argue that the range of Cessnas, aside from the Cessna Citation X which seems to be the general exception, has its Service Ceiling.

Certainly, from the Cessna 152 at a Service Ceiling of 14,700 feet to the Cessna 208 Caravan at 21,900 feet, there is little marked difference in how high an altitude they can reach.

However, four Cessna models go even higher than that which are the Cessna 206 Stationair (26,000 feet), the Cessna 340 (29,800 feet), and the Cessna 425 Conquest I (34,700 feet), and the aforementioned Cessna Citation X (51,000 feet). 

Commercial airplanes typically fly at higher altitudes. With good reason too as they are built for longer-haul travel and have far more formidable engines and designs.

Again, there is little difference in the Service Ceilings of commercial airplanes as the Airbus A330 should reach 35,100 feet which is comparable with the Cessna 425 Conquest I.

The Airbus A320 should hit 39,000 feet, the Boeing 737 has a Service Ceiling of 41,000 feet, and the Boeing 787 should reach 43,000 feet.

The Cessna Citation X is the exception to the rule once more as it has a Service Ceiling of an impressive 51,000 feet.   

How Far Can A Cessna 172 Skyhawk Fly?

Though their construction has changed over the years, the newest Cessna 172 Skyhawk has a range of around 696 nautical miles.

That’s with the standard 45-minute reserve when running on 55% power, below their Service Ceiling at 12,000 feet. If you wanted to know how that would equate to a ground distance it would be around 1,290kms.

Jacob Stern
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