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Thursday, January 22 2015 00:00

Comanche Mods List

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February 2005-

ACD Corporation
Tacoma Narrows Airport
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Installation of Truboplus/Electronics Int'l Gauges and switches.

Sunday, December 29 2013 09:33

Piper Saratoga

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August 2005- 

Piper compares today’s normally aspirated Saratoga II HP and turbocharged Saratoga II TC to SUVs. A friend who owned a 1981 fixed-gear Saratoga called his airplane a flying pickup truck. Having flown both, I think the SUV analogy is pretty close—and it turns into a pickup truck if you take the passenger seats out.

The Saratoga appeared in 1980, as a fixed-gear, six-seat single based on the earlier PA-32 Cherokee Six and Lance models. It differed from them in its longer, semi-tapered wing (derived from the “Warrior Wing” introduced on the PA-28-161).

In addition to making the airplane look better, the wing change improved handling and vastly simplified fuel management: the Saratoga has just two fuel tanks, one each in the left and right wings, holding a total of 107 gallons (102 usable). The earlier airplanes had a more complicated system with multiple fuel tanks that led to fuel exhaustion and resulting accidents in some cases.

Sunday, January 13 2013 11:54

The Future: Cherokee Six Avionics Upgrade

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January 2005

I have seen the future. I have seen the future and it was installed in a 1976 Cherokee Six. As I sat in the cockpit of N4300F, it dawned on me that what I was looking at was the future of General Aviation.

Airframe and powerplant advances in General Aviation aircraft are virtually impossible to find. With few exceptions like the Cirrus, we are flying the same designs behind the same power plants that were designed in the 1950s. But avionics have made terrific advances.

It would stand to reason that a tried-and-true airframe and powerplant combination combined with modern electronics would create the next generation of personal aircraft. That is essentially what the factories are selling.

That is what I found when I arrived at Peninsula Avionics at the Tamiami Airport (KTMB) in Miami, Fla. Shop owners Jim Prince, a virtually newly minted pilot, and his partner Nick Popvski were understandably proud of their “new” toy.

June 2013

It’s 1967 and you want to buy a new single-engine retractable. What are your options? Beech, Cessna, Mooney and Piper all have offerings, but you’re a loyal Piper flyer and want to stick with the brand. That still leaves you with two alternatives: the PA-24 Comanche and the newly introduced PA-28R-180 Cherokee Arrow.

The Comanche is fast and sleek. The Cherokee Arrow looks like and flies like—well, a Cherokee—which is not necessarily a bad thing, but here’s the clincher: the Arrow’s base price is just $16,900. The Comanche is groovy, but its $30,000-plus price tag is a bit of a bummer. Besides, the Arrow has that rad landing gear system.

The Arrow project began in 1964 as the Cherokee 180 C “Special.” Work focused initially on finding the right engine and nosewheel combination. The Lycoming O-360 was chosen originally and paired with various nosegear retraction systems, but none were suitable.

Eventually the fuel-injected IO-360 was chosen as it allowed room under the engine for gear retraction. It was necessary, however to reduce the nosewheel size to 500 x 5 inches to get the gear to fit.

Thursday, January 15 2015 00:00

The World's Nicest Tomahawk

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January 2015-

When I was a student pilot, I wasn't much of a Tomahawk fan. The aircraft had a reputation for being difficult to fly well. Years later, one of my students bought one—and I got to fly the little Piper for the purpose it was intended. That's when my opinion changed for the better.

Tuesday, December 31 2013 07:03

Flight Test: Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six

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August 2013

“There are two Diwys in my life,” said Barry Colvin with a wry grin, “but only one of them is temperamental.”

He didn’t volunteer any further information, and since I had just flown his Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six G-DIWY (named after his Dutch wife) without encountering any problems, I didn’t inquire further into the subject!


The Cherokee Six story really begins in 1957, when Piper hired leading designer John Thorp (of Sky Scooter and T-11 fame) to conduct a preliminary design study for an all-metal airplane to replace the Tri-Pacer.

At that time Piper was committed—philosophically, at least—to metal monocoque airframes, and was already building the Apache and about to introduce the Comanche.

Sunday, November 18 2012 21:20

Twin Comanche

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September 2004 -

Here's an airplane that has been literally turning heads for more than 40 years, and for good reason. When Piper launched the first PA-30 Twin Comanche in 1963, it was immediately obvious that this new airplane could do all the things that it was supposed to: it provided speed, efficiency and economy. In short order it was also discovered that this light twin was delivering a few more things that it wasn't supposed to, but we'll get to those details later.

In production from 1963 until 1972, the 2,150 Twin Comanches that came out of the Lock Haven, Pennsylvania plant were always good to look at and relatively inexpensive to operate. When Ret Thompson retired from his 37 year career with Northwest Airlines (and the North Central Airlines and Republic Airlines predecessors that he worked for), he looked around for a personal airplane to keep his aviation appetite whetted.

Sunday, February 17 2013 20:49

Cub Resurrection: Part One

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September 2012

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned during the restoration of my neighbor’s 1939 Piper J-3 Cub. There weren’t any self-locking nuts in 1939; every bolt in the airplane is safetied with a cotter pin. The parts book is a joke. The Cub Club organization is super-helpful, as is Clyde Smith, Jr., aka “The Cub Doctor.”

Finally, unlike the parts situation with my own “modern era” airplane (the sweet-flying 1960 Piper PA-24 Comanche 180), every part we’ve needed has been readily available from either Wag-Aero or Univair.

We’d planned to be ready to fly N21938 south to the West Coast Cub Fly-in held in early July, but we didn’t make it. But we are making progress—and I’ll talk about the two types of aircraft maintenance progress later—and we are having a lot of fun.


This year celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Piper Cub, and the grand prize in EAA’s 2012 sweepstakes is N31085—a restored Piper J-3C-65 Cub. Cubs are simple machines that have served faithfully in the role of teaching stick and rudder skills to thousands of flyers over the decades. (The “Win the Cub” Sweepstakes is now closed to entries; the drawing will be held at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh on Sept. 10, 2012.—Ed.)

More than 14,000 Cubs were built in Lock Haven before production ended in 1946. In 1945, Piper built 6,320 J-3s—that’s 28 a day if the total number is averaged over a five-day work week. In spite of the low power loading (around 17 pounds/hp) and lower wing loading (6.25 pounds per square foot of wing area) when compared to more modern airplanes, flying a little yellow—they’re almost all painted yellow—J-3 Cub is near the top of almost every pilot’s bucket list.

Wednesday, April 30 2014 22:02

Two-Seat T-Tailed Trainer PA-38 Tomahawk

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May 2014- It was a rather long road to certification for the airplane which eventually became the Tomahawk, with lots of starts and stops along the way. 

Piper began design of a two-seat, low-wing tricycle gear training aircraft in 1958. It was to feature side-by-side seating and be made of fiberglass reinforced plastic with a gross weight of 1,500 pounds.


The first (and as it turned out, only) prototype—N2900M—was completed in spring 1962 and was designated the PA-29 Papoose. It boasted an all-moving horizontal tail, flaperons and a 108 hp Lycoming O-235-C1B engine.

Piper management seems to have been underwhelmed by the plane and initiated a project review to determine the model’s viability.

Concerns were raised about the longevity of the fiberglass material and it was decided that prototypes should be sent to Arizona and Lock Haven to test the material’s ability to withstand summer heat and winter cold.

Other changes were suggested and eventually N2900M received new wings, which met with mixed reviews and added 30 pounds to the empty weight of the plane.

Piper management discussed the future of the PA-29 and considered dropping the project altogether, but really seemed to want a replacement for the PA-22-108 Colt, so they moved forward with the Papoose project. Howard Piper continued to mull over the advisability of committing to fiberglass construction.

Over the next couple of years changes were made to N2900M which included extended wingtips, centering springs on the flaperon system and other fixes. In 1964 a complete redesign was proposed with two possible variations for the canopy, larger wings and a change in material from a paper honeycomb construction to an aluminum honeycomb construction.

None of the proposed changes for the PA-29 were undertaken. Piper had begun production of the two-seat Cherokee 140 in 1964 and it seemed a safer bet to stay with that more tried-and-true design.

Piper’s historian Roger Peperell believes that the Papoose took its last flight on Feb. 22, 1965.


Although Piper executives had dropped the Papoose project, the company continued to look into other possibilities for its training fleet and in 1969 began development of the PA-38. The project was cancelled rather abruptly in July 1970, but Piper continued its market research of the flight training segment by testing competitive aircraft and through market surveys.

In 1972 Piper sent a survey to 10,000 flight instructors throughout the United States asking them what features they would most like in a training aircraft. The top five responses were “handling characteristics,” “performance,” “operating costs,” “cabin comfort” and “price.”

With this information at hand, Piper restarted the Light Trainer program with Richard Kroeger as project director.

Both two- and four-place aircraft were designed, and a wing based on a modified Whitcomb GA (W)-1 airfoil was tested and was fitted to the prototype. It had a conventional low tail and a 100 hp Continental O-200 engine held on by a sheet metal mount rather than the more standard steel tubular mount. Airflow problems created by the sheet metal mount were to be worked out during testing.

Although Kroeger left Piper in 1973*, work continued on the PA-38 for a short time. The prototype received new wheel fairings, wing fences, a new aft fuselage fairing and other changes, but the project was stopped in October 1973 and the prototype was disassembled and stored.

In September 1974 the PA-38 once again resurfaced as the “New” Light Trainer Project. The previous prototype was reassembled with changes; the sheet metal engine mount was scrapped in favor of a tube steel mount used to affix a Lycoming O-234 115 hp engine to its front. It also received sprung-steel landing gear, a new cowl and a change to the fuselage at the door.

Lynn Helms had been hired as Piper’s president in 1974 and he thought T-tails would help to modernize the Piper fleet. The PA-38 received a T-tail in 1976. Despite its modern T-tail, the Piper board would not approve production of the model and the project was once again scrapped on May 25, 1976.

Under the direction Bill Barnhouse, the project was re-re-revived in late 1976. Changes were made to the flaps, wings and ailerons and a 112 hp Lycoming O-235-L2C was fitted to the airframe. A bubble-like cockpit provided exceptional visibility.

Finally the PA-38-112 (now dubbed Tomahawk) was approved for production. It was presented to Piper dealers and training centers in October 1977 to good effect and 1,400 pre-orders were taken. It received its certification on Dec. 20, 1977. Deliveries began in April at a price of $15,280.

Magneto failures caused the FAA to temporarily suspend the Tomahawk’s Airworthiness Certificate in September 1978, but the problem was corrected and production resumed.

Additional stall strips (above what had already been originally certified) became standard equipment on the PA-38 from January 1979 on, and Piper issued a Service Bulletin recommending installation of the additional strips for earlier models. In 1983 AD 83-14-08 was issued and it required (among other things) installation of Piper Flow Strip Installation Kit, Part No. 763-930.

In March 1981 Piper began deliveries of the Tomahawk II. This model came with improved cabin heating and windshield defroster performance, an improved elevator trim system, improved engine thrust vector, better cockpit soundproofing, larger six-inch wheels and tires for greater propeller ground clearance, and improved performance on grass and dirt runways, among other enhancements.

Sales of the Tomahawk II were poor and the model met its final end in 1982.

A total of 2,519 Tomahawks left the Piper production line and about 649 remain on the FAA registry.

Flying characteristics

The Tomahawk received a reputation for being dangerous in a spin, and in fact in 1997 the NTSB estimated that the Tomahawk’s stall/spin accident rate was three to five times that of the Cessna 150/152.

The AOPA’s Tomahawk Safety Review published in 1997 researched this apparent tendency. The report states, “Looking at the stall/spin scenarios in some detail, we found that the vast majority of them occurred at low altitude where, by our estimate, it would have been difficult—if not impossible—to recover from an incipient spin, regardless of aircraft type.”

It offered this advice for pilots and prospective pilots of the aircraft: “Some Tomahawk critics contend that the aircraft should not be stalled or spun. After looking at hundreds of accidents involving both the PA-38 and comparable aircraft, we note that some caveats are in order.

“No aircraft should be stalled or spun at low altitude, but we would extend the margins a bit in a PA-38. Before going solo, pilots should check out with an instructor who has considerable spin experience in the PA-38 and should have spins demonstrated to them, if circumstances permit, in strict accordance with the POH.”

Designed by a committee of thousands

The Tomahawk was—and is—a unique aircraft. You would think that designing an aircraft to the specifications of its end users would be a winning approach, but the process to get the Tomahawk to market seems remarkably convoluted.

The Tomahawk is nonetheless appreciated by its adherents and with cruise speed ranging from 90 to 110 knots, a fuel flow of about five gph and a range (with reserves) of more than 400 miles, it’s still used today as both a trainer and economical personal transport.

Jennifer Dellenbusch is president of the Piper Flyer Association. Send questions or comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

*Roger Peperell tells the story of Richard Kroeger’s post-Piper deeds. He writes, “Richard Kroeger left Piper in September 1973 and went to the University of Michigan, where he refined the design of his ‘light trainer’ in February 1974. Not surprisingly the design looked similar to the Piper ‘light trainer.’ Beech Aircraft [was] offered the design, which they accepted and it became the Beech model 77 Skipper that went on sale in 1979 and explains why the Skipper looks similar to the PA-38.”


“AOPA Tomahawk Safety Review” by Bruce Landsberg


I  learned to fly in Cessna 150 rental airplanes out of Colts Neck, N.J., a half-mile dirt strip. When the pressure from real estate developers outweighed the interests of a few grass-strip banner-towing pilots in 1988, Colts Neck closed, and I considered buying one of the student-rental airplanes. My pre-purchase inspection became a “no-purchase” inspection and I ended up buying N4372J, a friend’s 1967 Cherokee PA-28-140. It had lousy paint, a torn-up interior, a chewed-up
propeller... and wonderful handling. From 1988 through 1995, N4372J got an intercom wired in, a new propeller, new paint, a fixed-up interior, a better radio and the other usual improvements we read about in Piper Flyer. It also received a LyCon 160 hp engine upgrade through Western Skyways.

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