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Cessna 172 Engine Upgrades – Not Just Another Pretty Face on the Ramp

By Al Rice

Chief Pilot

Silverhawk Aviation Academy


People look at upgrading their 172 engine for a number of reasons and there’s a great deal of validity for them all. It’s not that much more expensive than a rebuild for TBO. It goes faster, climbs faster, and gives the owner a bit of bragging rights on the ramp.

For Silverhawk Aviation Academy, there were more practical reasons. We just added our sixth 172, and all have the Air Plains 180hp upgrade, known as the 172XP. We think the added horsepower gives us the best utility and value from the airframe for our requirements which are not unlike many other flight academies.

Silverhawk is the leading flight academy in Idaho for both rotor and fixed wing aircraft. We offer a variety of Part 141 degree programs through our association with Treasure Valley Community College as well as Part 61 training for U.S. and international students. We also offer FBO and charter services, all at our facilities at Caldwell Industrial Airport (EUL/KEUL), just outside Boise.

We started as a helicopter flight school just over 20 years ago. As our reputation grew, we expanded our service and fleet, now operating 14 Robinson helicopters, six Cessna 172s with the Air Plains 180hp upgrade, one Cessna 172RG and one Cessna 177RG, and a Beechcraft BE-76 Duchess. The company has more than 30 flight instructors, administrators and mechanics, all with a passion for training and helping people being new careers in aviation.

But back to our 172s. When we started to add fixed wing aircraft, we specifically targeted the Air Plains 180hp Cessna 172 modification, primarily because both mod and the company have solid reputations.

Caldwell is at the western entrance of the Treasure Valley, and although our home field elevation is not all that high (2432 ft. MSL), the surrounding area has airport elevations up to 5000 ft. MSL. During the summer months, this can equate to density altitudes up to 8000 feet. The 180hp engines add an additional safety margin when operating at the higher DAs.

The Air Plains 172XP upgrade also brings a gross weight increase that gives us more than 1,000 pounds of useful load. That makes it a true four-place aircraft that is so useful for lessons with more than one student.

Because of the unique nature of Silverhawk, we found another useful reason to employ the Air Plains. The Lycoming O-360 engine used on all six 172XPs gives us commonality with nine of our Robinson helicopters that are powered with either an IO-360 or O-360.  This makes for a much more manageable parts inventory and maintenance knowledge and familiarity.

The annual flight time for the school continues to grow and in 2018, we flew over 10,000 hours. The Cessna fleet flew 3000 of those hours, with most of those flown by the 172s.

From the start, we’ve opted to go after 172s already upgraded with the Air Plains upgrade, and even though we purchased our aircraft with various amounts of engine time, we have had few issues. When we do have issues, the Air Plains staff has always been friendly and helpful. For us, the STC is well designed and trouble free.

The market for the Air Plains 180hp upgrade seems to be getting tighter and they are harder to find. But for Silverhawk Aviation, I have no doubt that when we need another aircraft, we’ll have Air Plains at the top of our list.


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