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How to Fly the Cessna 172 in Microsoft Flight Simulator

Learn the real-world procedures and checklists to fly the Cessna 172 in MSFS.


Welcome to our introductory course on flying the Cessna 172 Skyhawk in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

If you want to use real-world procedures to fly the 172 as realistically as possible in your simulator, this is the course for you. You will benefit from this course whether you’re preparing for real-world flight lessons or flying your simulator as a hobby.

It’s taught by a real-world flight instructor and flight sim expert with over 1000 hours of flight experience in the Skyhawk.

Just buy this — I don’t care what you fly. You will learn how simply a professional pilot steps through a flight — from beginning to end — using a Cessna 172 MSFT sim platform to do it. I have already been through the course twice already … and that won’t be the end of learning from it for me. I do admit that I am biased — I have the benefit of learning from both Mike and Alan Edwards, who have graciously taken up the chore of coaching me back into the real sky … using X-plane 12 to get the skills, knowledge, and processes back … and fill in those gaps I’m not sure I would without these two. But, don’t pass up this chance for yourself … where you can learn from Mike right now. And set up a lesson or two with either … (as I am sure Mike’s full team is) … Alan and Mike are world-class.”

– Thomas C.

Student Pilot

(June 9, 2024)


What will I get from this course?

After completing it, you will understand how to operate the Cessna 172 using real-life procedures and manuals.

What skills should I have?

You should have the basic skills to control an aircraft during taxi, takeoff, landing, etc. Basic flying techniques are not covered, since the focus is on procedures specific to the Cessna 172.

What will you learn?

Check out the syllabus tab for a full description of the course content. We'll highlight some key areas below:

Real-world checklist and procedures

Learn how real-life pilots operate the aircraft, directly from the manuals published by Cessna.

We will teach you how to find these manuals online (for free).

We cover all normal checklists and procedures, including how to start the engine, runup, landing, and shutdown.

As we go through each item on the checklist, we use clear markers to help you quickly locate each button, knob, or switch in the cockpit. We also discuss reasons why each checklist item is important.

Planning and setting up the flight

We will fly a short, simple route from Arlington (AWO) to Skagit (BVS).

It’s very easy to navigate visually along this route, so you don’t need any background in instrument navigation. You should be able to follow along even if you are a beginner.

Important details for real-world pilots

When relevant, we point out differences between the MSFS Cessna 172 versus the real aircraft.

We also discuss some differences between different variations of 172s you may encounter in real life. The version simulated in MSFS is like a modern "S model" Cessna 172. However, other 172s may have different engine types, flap settings, speed limitations, etc.

Simulator-specific tips

You will learn some simulator-specific skills like setting up fuel quantities and using keyboard shortcuts.

Bonus items

G1000: Learn the procedural differences in operating the G1000 (glass cockpit) version of the Cessna 172. You will learn how the differences in the electrical system and the need for redundancy create some new checklist steps versys the steam gauge version.

Enhancement add-on: Learn how to install and use a free enhancement pack for the MSFS Cessna 172. It will give you features like realistic checklists, kneeboard charts, sun visors, and many other enhancements.

Which kind of 172?

We use a round dial (steam gauge) Cessna 172S which is built into Microsoft Flight Simulator by default.

The startup procedure and before takeoff checklist for the G1000 (glass cockpit) variant are covered in the bonus section.

For detailed G1000 procedures, we recommend viewing our G1000 Training Course (Intro).

Who is it for?

The course is made for real-world student pilots and enthusiasts who want to fly their simulated Cessna 172 as realistically as possible

What is not covered?

  • Preflight inspection (such as the exterior walkaround before the Before Start Engine checklist)
  • Flight planning (aside from basic route and altitude selection using SkyVector)
  • Navigation procedures
  • ATC or CTAF communications
  • Emergency procedures
  • Detailed autopilot operations
  • In-air leaning procedures (on-ground/taxi leaning is covered)
  • Knowledge items unrelated to the flight, like aircraft limitations, performance speeds, weight and balance, etc.

What if I use X-Plane or another simulator?

While the recording uses MSFS, the information is still applicable for operating any simulated Cessna 172.

Disclaimer: This course is not a substitute for in-person flight instruction with a qualified instructor. Procedures can differ between different variants and years of Cessna 172 production. Be sure to reference the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) for your specific variant of Cessna 172 to ensure you are following the most correct, up-to-date procedures for your specific aircraft.


Cessna 172 Intro

An overview of the course and C172 procedures

4 min
Meet the instructor and get an overview of the course
How to find an official Cessna 172 checklist/manual
5 min
The POH (Pilot's Operating Handbook) contains all the aircraft-specific details and checklists you need to operate the 172. We will teach you how to find the POH online (for free). Note that the document we will look at is technically a generic document called a PIM (Pilot's Information Manual). For the most accurate information for a specific aircraft serial number, refer to the AFM (Airplane Flight Manual) in the aircraft.
Navigating the PIM
8 min
An overview of the sections of the PIM, such as normal procedures and emergencies. We will highlight some of the relevant speeds for operating the aircraft.

Full flight tutorial

We will operate the steam gauge Cessna 172 on a short flight from Arlington to Skagit (two airports in Washington State)

Flight planning
5 min
Use SkyVector to select a route and altitude. We will navigate an easy-to-find geographic landmark, so don't worry if you haven't learned flight planning or navigation in detail yet.
Sim Setup
3 min
Learn how to select the correct aircraft, set the fuel quantity, and configure good flying weather.
Before Start and Starting Engine
15 min
This is the first checklist we will cover. Note that the interior/exterior inspections are omitted in this course, but they are critical in real life. We will cover a simple passenger briefing and prepare the aircraft for startup. The starting engine procedure can be a bit tricky in fuel injected Cessna 172s, but we will take it step-by-step. We cover the procedure to "prime" the engine using the fuel pump and the mixture control. Finally, we will also follow Cessna's recommended procedure to lean the engine for taxi
4 min
Sample Video
Preparing the aircraft for taxi, such as initializing the GPS and turning on the proper aircraft lights. Then we taxi to the runup area and discuss the proper aircraft orientation relative the wind.
Before Takeoff Checklist and Takeoff
16 min
The before takeoff checklist is your opportunity to check that the engine is working properly (the "runup") and to set up everything for your flight (such as navigation and radios). It's a critical part of ensuring a safe flight, and must be done carefully before each departure. Before taking the runway, we will conduct a departure briefing, a flow check to ensure no critical items were missed, and a "lights camera action" check before visually clearing the area and taking off!
Climbout and Level Off
5 min
Climb speed selection, emergency landing site awareness, trimming to relieve control pressures, using visual references to maintain airspeed, level off at cruise altitude
3 min
Autopilot intro (to help hold heading/altitude), cruise checklist, navigation by pilotage, OBS mode on GPS to assist navigation,
4 min
Descent planning and checklist, before landing checklist and GUMP check
3 min
Using the VASI to maintain glide path, flap extension, managing pitch/power
Taxi In and Shutdown
3 min
Sample Video
After landing checklist, leaning the mixture for taxi, parking the aircraft, and the shutdown procedure ("securing airplane")

Bonus: Startup and Runup in the G1000 C172

G1000 Intro and Flight Setup
4 min
Overview of the G1000 and differences between G1000 vs. non-G1000 Cessna 172s. Installation of the Working Title Simulations Garmin G1000 NXi. Setting up flight.
Startup Procedures
6 min
Startup procedures, with a focus on the differences between the G1000 and non-G1000 C172
Before Takeoff Checklist (Runup)
12 min
Before takeoff/runup, with a focus on the differences between the G1000 and non-G1000 C172. Then we takeoff and highlight the differences in engine and turn coordination information

Bonus: C172 Enhancement Pack

How to install it
3 min
Downloading the free pack and adding it to the community folder
Overview of features and test flight
5 min
Kneeboard features, sun visors, pilot/passenger bodies, VFR maps on the yoke kneeboard, in-cockpit checklists, and other configuration options


Next steps
How to take your skills/knowledge to the next level; discussion of other popular avionics like the GTN 650/750


Mike Catalfamo

Mike Catalfamo

Founder of Flight Sim Coach. I’m a former airline pilot & Boeing engineer. I’ve been a desktop flight sim user since 2000, and I am passionate about helping pilots and enthusiasts use desktop simulation to achieve their goals as efficiently as possible.