Downturn Buster: PA-15 Piper VagabondWritten by Nick Bloom
Considering that Piper produced this quick-and-cheap two-seater after going bankrupt, it is surprisingly good.
When the American economy went into reverse in 1947, Piper could not have been more wrong-footed. It had a huge inventory, a massive factory with too many workers and went bankrupt.
Out of necessity came a little wonder, though—the Piper Vagabond (PA-15). It was designed to be inexpensive and quick to build, to use up the stock of part-built Cubs and Super Cubs, and to be an airplane that would sell in a recession…
so it had to be cheap. No frills.
No one really thought it would fly well, but to the amazement of all involved, it did. Some say it flew better than the Cub it was modified from.
Ed Terris owns a rare example of the Piper Vagabond—rare because it’s remained virtually unmodified since it left the factory, aside from a few changes to the instrument panel.
When it comes to airplane design, less is often more. Good airplanes can be ruined by additional seats and a more powerful engine, because everything has to be strengthened and you have to carry more fuel. A good part of the power is expended on the extra weight; a light, agile airframe becomes clumsy.
I had already flown one of the later variations on the airframe, a 115 hp Piper Clipper (PA-16) with four seats. I found the Clipper functional, but a poor load carrier (the owner had removed the rear pair of seats as useless) and not particularly pleasant to fly. The Clipper was also a pain to land. So I jumped at Ed’s invitation to try the first of the breed, the Vagabond, which he claimed was much better.