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Destination: Holiday in Las Vegas

Destination: Holiday in Las Vegas

Whether you think of Las Vegas as Sin City, the City of Second Chances, or the Neon Capitol of the World, the reality is, it’s all of these—and none of these. With entertainment high on the list for most visitors to this resort city in the middle of the Mojave, spending a winter holiday in Las Vegas can be as meaningful as you want it to be. 

Las Vegas. It’s spectacular—that is, it’s a spectacle. There is an enormous amount to see and do here, year-round and around the clock. I worked with pilots Carl Steinhoff and Ned Atwell to find out what’s going on in the Las Vegas Valley during the winter months. Keep reading for a good look at what’s going on in this uniquely American desert city. 

Flying in 

First of all, a bit of handy information courtesy of Carl Steinhoff: Nevada is among the most mountainous states in the U.S. (I didn’t know that!) Steinhoff recommends a review of mountain flying techniques before heading to The Silver State. 

“Although the temperature drops in the winter, density altitude is always something to pay careful attention to,” he advised. “Watch the weather; patterns change quickly in the mountains.” 

Steinhoff recommends landing your Piper at North Las Vegas (KVGT) or at Henderson, Nevada’s Henderson Executive (KHND). Both of these airports have shops that can handle mechanical and radio issues. “I’d advise staying away from McCarran—fuel is expensive.” 

However, pilot Ned Atwell had a good experience at McCarran (KLAS). “ATC was very friendly on my single General Aviation landing there,” Atwell explained, joking, “Perhaps the controllers were new?”

Where you choose to tie down mainly depends on what you’re in Las Vegas to see. “If you’re heading to Old Las Vegas—downtown—land at North Las Vegas,” Steinhoff advises. “If you’re heading to the Strip, land at Henderson. Both are fine airports,” he added. 

Henderson Executive (KHND)

Henderson Executive Airport, 11 miles to the south of Las Vegas, has two parallel runways that are 6,500 and 5,000 feet long respectively. This airport, owned by Clark County, Nevada, has a good amount of commercial air tour traffic, and averages over 200 operations a day. Self-service Avgas at KHND is $4.94, and Apex Aviation on the field offers oxygen service. 

“At Henderson you may be able to get courtesy transportation if you call ahead; otherwise, call a rideshare service or a taxi,” Steinhoff explained. (The courtesy shuttle takes prearranged same-day reservations and departs KHND at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. —Ed.)

You could always wait it out at the Landings Restaurant on the field. They serve breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

GA-friendly Henderson Executive Airport is 11 miles to the south of Las Vegas.
North Las Vegas (KVGT)

North Las Vegas Airport is situated to the northwest of Las Vegas and has three paved runways. It, too, is publicly owned by Clark County, and fuel prices compare with Henderson at $4.94 per gallon for Avgas. However, KVGT experiences about double the traffic of Henderson with 485 operations on average per day; it’s the second-busiest airport in Nevada. Multiple businesses are on the field, including air tour operators, charters, flight schools, maintenance facilities and more. 

A flight crew briefing video with airport and ATC procedures is available online; note that you have to have Adobe Flash enabled for the video to play, but even so, I had difficulty playing certain sections of the video.

A recent $40 million investment in North Las Vegas Airport is geared specifically to attract General Aviation (it is the designated GA reliever airport for KLAS) and includes remodeling of the terminal that will be completed by the end of 2018. The Sunshine and Tailwinds Café located inside the terminal is open during construction. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

North Las Vegas is the designated GA reliever airport for McCarran (KLAS).
Things to do

“I’ve been here since 1988,” Steinhoff told me. “There are lots of interesting things—all kinds of activities out here.” While many visitors might wish to try their luck at a casino, Las Vegas is probably equally renowned today for its glitz-and-glam-style entertainment. 


Whether you want to see magicians, mimes, musicians or a musical, you will find them in Las Vegas. 

“If you are interested in shows, get reservations and tickets early,” Steinhoff said. How early? At least a couple of months. 

Some shows can be as low as $15 per ticket, but your price for a high-demand event likely begins at around $75 per seat and can go much, much higher.

Attractions on the Strip

Inside the Luxor Hotel, you can find more than 250 artifacts from the Titanic. Also at the Luxor is “Bodies: The Exhibition”—a fascinating exhibit with real human specimens. General admission to each of these exhibitions is $32 for adults; combination tickets are $42. 

There is also a “3 for $57” offer, where visitors can choose from nine different attractions, including the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay and Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage.

There are several free attractions on the Strip, including the volcano at the Mirage. Or check out the fountains with music at the Bellagio, which, Atwell told me, has “a fine seasonal floral atrium inside, too.” 

Downtown Vegas/Fremont Street

“Viva Vision,” a live light show on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, is a six-minute LED light spectacular. Shows occur hourly from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. every single night. The music and light shows on a 1,500 foot-long canopy in the middle of “Old Vegas” are seen and heard by 22 million visitors a year.

Just strolling around the 24-hour Fremont Street Experience mall is, well, an experience. If you want more, there are several other attractions in the neighborhood. Two of these include the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum—and their names say it all. 

Tickets are tiered for the various tour options at the Neon Museum, but a pre-booked guided tour is $28 for adults, while a trip through the Mob Museum’s three floors of exhibits (self-guided) is $26.50. Combination tickets for both museums are available for $48.

Getting merry and bright in Vegas. 
Skydiving (indoor and outdoor)

Indoor skydiving, called “the most unique attraction in Las Vegas,” offers paying guests of all ages the opportunity for a simulated skydiving experience in a padded wind tunnel. “Flights” are available for two minutes up to 60 minutes. The facility is open seven days a week—including limited hours on Dec. 24 and 25, 2018. 

If you prefer the “real thing” instead, “You can practice skydiving and gliding at Jean, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas,” said Steinhoff.

Hot air ballooning, helicopter tours

“Hot air balloon rides south of the city can offer the best views of McCarran; the balloons float under the Class B floor,” Atwell explained. 

Costs for the balloon tours vary and conditions need to be right for these flights, but I’d plan on at least $100 per person for a one-hour voyage; some companies offer bundles/packages with other entertainment, like a helicopter tour of the Las Vegas Strip. “Helicopter rides over the city are best at night,” said Atwell.

A helicopter ride in Las Vegas is most impressive at night. 
Out-of-town day trips

Death Valley

Steinhoff has a great suggestions for a fly-out day trip or even an overnight. “It’s common for people to fly from Las Vegas to Death Valley [California] on Saturday morning for breakfast.” 

“This is the time of year to fly to Death Valley,” he continued, “and it has a fine resort. If you land at Furnace Creek (L06), they have a phone and the Inn at Death Valley will send a van to pick you up.” 

Both Furnace Creek and another airstrip, Stovepipe Wells (L09), are operated by the National Park Service. Each has a paved 3,000-foot runway but offer no services, so plan accordingly. 

Hoover Dam

“Visit the dam!” insisted Steinhoff. For this, though, you can’t book ahead—you’ll have to come in person to get a limited number of tickets offered daily from now through Jan. 31, 2019. (The dam is closed to tours on Dec. 25, 2018. —Ed.)

“You can also fly over the lake [Mead] if you follow ATC instructions—there is heavy jet and helo traffic near the dam,” Steinhoff added. 

Some prefer to hoof it instead: “You can walk on the bridge connecting Nevada with Arizona,” said Atwell. 

The visitor center at Hoover Dam is undergoing a renovation until Feb. 14, 2019, but a modified tour is being offered this winter. Be prepared to pay for parking and complete a security screening. But all the fees and possible lines and traffic are well worth it for the indescribable views and the sheer scale of this engineering feat. 

If you’re in the area, a trip to see the Hoover Dam is a must. This impressive photo showcases the dam and the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. 
Red Rock Canyon

“Red Rock Canyon is pretty, and it’s a pleasant ride,” said Atwell—but his son, Mark, begs to differ. (He says if you’ve seen one red rock, you’ve seen them all!)

The Scenic Drive through the Mojave is a 13-mile trip open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. in December. To use the roadway will cost $15 per car per day; it’s $5 per person for bicycles and pedestrians. The one-way route is dotted with various overlooks and designated stopping places. 

Hikers can choose among 26 routes at various levels of difficulty. Rock climbing, mountain bike trails and overnight camping are offered as well. 

Dining and accommodations

“For dining in Las Vegas, there is an unlimited variety,” said Atwell, and he wasn’t kidding. There are more than 2,260 restaurants listed in Las Vegas on OpenTable. “But some can be pricy—it is a tourist town.” 

Some of the best of the best include Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab (American); Kabuto (Asian); and Le Cirque inside the Bellagio (French). Veranda at the Four Seasons has Sunday brunch and outdoor dining. 

An autumn display at the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens includes a talking tree.

As far as staying in Las Vegas, if you want to be on the Strip, you can find hotel rooms right in the mix at some of the most recognizable hotels for as low as $27 per day on weeknights. 

Consider a fly-out vacation to Las Vegas this winter. The weather is favorable and there’s obviously plenty to do day and night with little to no holiday closures. When you factor in two GA airports and the abundance of options for ground transportation, visiting the Las Vegas Valley during the holiday season may be one of the most fun and hassle-free holidays you ever have.

Getting Merry and Bright in Vegas

Are you ready to exchange presents, eat another turkey and listen to some carols? Well, if you plan to do this in Las Vegas, you are in for some great fun.

Let’s face it, Las Vegas is known for doing everything big. Christmas is no exception. The holiday season is actually a great time to visit Las Vegas. However, things get pricy and sell out fast around that time of year. Make your plans as early as you can. 

The Vegas Strip is full of holiday spirit as the casinos try to outdo each other with decorations, lights and mega-Christmas trees. 

Just a few of the many attractions in Las Vegas this holiday season include a holiday music and light show at the fountains of Bellagio, a winter wonderland display at the LINQ Promenade with decorations, carolers and holiday music, and Santa Claus—in scuba gear—swimming among 4,000 sharks, stingrays and tropical fish at the Silverton Casino Hotel Aquarium.

Source: “2018 Christmas in Las Vegas,” lasvegashowto.com.

Heather Skumatz is production coordinator for Piper Flyer. Send questions or comments to .



Furnace Creek (L06) 
Henderson Executive Airport (KHND)
McCarran International Airport (KLAS)
North Las Vegas (KVGT)
North Las Vegas Airport Flight Crew Briefing video
Stovepipe Wells (L09) 


Landings Restaurant (KHND)
Sunshine and Tailwinds Café (KVGT)


Fremont Street Experience 
High Roller
Luxor Hotel attractions
Mob Museum
Neon Museum
Shark Reef Aquarium 
Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat
Vegas Indoor Skydiving


Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab 
Le Cirque
Veranda at the Four Seasons


Death Valley National Park
Hoover Dam
The Inn at Death Valley
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area


Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority 
PA-22/20 Pacer Flight Test

PA-22/20 Pacer Flight Test

A highly experienced pilot has strong opinions about the Pacer and Tri-Pacer. His flight in a Tri-Pacer tailwheel conversion puts those opinions to the test. 

Images by Keith Wilson

2019 is the 70th birthday of the Piper PA-20 Pacer. Is there another aircraft which is so much better with a tailwheel than it is with a nosewheel? 

What am I on about? 

It’s just that no two aircraft I’ve flown contrast quite like the Piper PA-20 Pacer and the PA-22 Tri-Pacer in terms of looks, handling and performance. (For parity, see Resources for a list of articles praising the Tri-Pacer. —Ed.) 

The good news for Piper is its customers didn’t share my opinion—eventually the company sold nearly nine times more Tri-Pacers. In 1953 alone, the Tri-Pacer outsold the Pacer 6 to 1. 

Alex Smith’s PA-22/20 Pacer sports a period-appropriate bright red and arctic white scheme. 
A Tri-Pacer, converted to a Pacer

The test aircraft in this article is actually a Tri-Pacer converted to a tailwheel, so that makes it a PA-22/20 Pacer—if you’re confused, you’re excused. (For more about the particulars of this conversion, and a common STC used to perform it, see Resources for further reading. —Ed.)

Notwithstanding the improvement in looks, handling and performance, the tailwheel conversion also means you get an aircraft that is 50 pounds lighter (basically the nosewheel weight minus tailwheel weight) and has a 50-pound improvement in useful load for the same mtow. Plus, you get a wider track undercarriage once the original main gear legs are reversed or replaced, and the fuselage is modified to accept the changes. 

A big criticism of the original PA-20 was its narrow track, which, combined with its short wing and fuselage, make it much more lively than its Cub/Super Cub antecedents. 

The short wing and short fuselage of the Pacer are apparent here.

For Tri-Pacer pilots, ground handling forms the basis of their side of the argument as to which is the better aircraft. In normal conditions, Tri-Pacers are easier to handle on the ground because of the nosewheel and wider track, and easier in the air because of the linked aileron and rudder controls.

Why link the aileron and rudder?

Both the PA-20 and PA-22 have classic wing designs with USA-35B airfoils (like a Piper Cub) and the relatively simple ailerons of all short-wing Pipers—but at just 29 feet, 3 inches wingspan, the PA-20s and PA-22s are approximately 6 feet shorter in span, with 40 square feet less wing area than a Piper Cub. 

For “simple” (read: no) differential movement: the upgoing aileron moves as far as the downgoing one, producing yaw in opposition to the direction of roll. 

Adverse yaw moment is also exacerbated in an aircraft with reduced yaw stability, and the fuselage of the PA-20 and PA-22 is 10 percent shorter (i.e., less stable) than a Cub. If you forget your feet and just turn the wheel, the PA-20 and PA-22 initially yaw away from the bank and you keep on going straight ahead. 

This is one reason why I love the Pacer: it’s the ultimate tailwheel trainer because you just cannot forget your feet. PA-20 pilots quickly settle down and any initial cursing is replaced by a greater understanding of what is required to fly in balance in all three axes all the time. 

The spring-connected ailerons and rudder on the PA-22 Tri-Pacer are the antithesis of this, in my opinion. I believe they have no place in a cockpit with a qualified pilot at the controls. Mercifully, the test aircraft has the ailerons and rudder disconnected from one another as part of the tailwheel conversion. 

The rest of a Piper Pacer is as stock as you can get for the era: it’s a rag-and-tube high-wing aircraft much like any other Auster, Bellanca, Cessna and others. The original PA-20s and PA-22s were offered with a range of “flat four” Lycoming engines up front and many have been updated in later life. The test aircraft started with 125 hp and now sports a 150 hp Lycoming engine. Some extreme Pacers have 180 to 200 hp and there are plenty flying with tundra tires, floats and skis.

Like many Pacers and Tri-Pacers, this example has had an engine upgrade, and now features a 150 hp four-cylinder Lycoming under the cowl.

Owner Alex Smith has been flying his Pacer, G-APXT, for two years. He also has a share in a Nanchang CJ-6A, and before that, he shared a Yak 18T for many years. 

I asked him why he bought a Pacer, and Smith said, “I needed a runabout for the family as my son will be barred from the [CJ-6A] by his mother for a good while yet. And I wanted something that would stretch me, so a tailwheel seemed a good call.” 

Alex Smith and his “family runabout.” 

“I wasn’t particularly looking for a Pacer,” he continued, “so it was something of a revelation when I found it. This one is a fraction of the price of a Super Cub and superbly finished.”

I next asked how he got on with flying the Pacer for the first time. He replied, “I think one of its challenges is its sink rate—it doesn’t float when flaring like Super Cubs. That means if you misjudge the flare height, it can plonk down a bit sharpish.”

“On the other hand, it doesn’t really stall as such—it just parachutes down,” Smith added. Another satisfied customer by the sound of it. 

With his comments in mind, Alex and I went flying at White Waltham Airfield (EGLM) in Berkshire on a beautiful spring day before the ground had been baked hard by the drought.

G-APXT prior to restoration.
G-APXT has found her calling as a taildragger.
What’s it like?

My first impressions of the aircraft were very good indeed. The Pacer is small but perfectly formed; a jaunty little tailwheel aircraft very unlike the rather brutish-looking (to me) tricycle version. 

This is an immaculate restoration and although the colors of bright red and arctic white—inside as well out—might not be everyone’s taste, there’s no denying the workmanship that has gone into the restoration and paint job. 

G-APXT has plenty of neat features, such as the faired-in grab handles at the back of the fuselage and a separate door for the rear seat passengers. The front seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of leg room once you have managed to clamber in, pulling yourself up with a hand on the tube frame which connects from the wing root to the top of the panel. The forward door is on the right, so the captain goes first. 

I notice that only the left rudder pedals have toe brakes, so I opt for the right seat for the first flight as I haven’t flown one for years, and the PA-22/20 Pacer can be particularly squirrelly on the ground. It might be something to do with the main wheel alignment and/or the wheels toeing in and out under compression more than the original PA-20. 

The rudder pedals are fixed, but the seats are adjustable. I find it’s better to do the adjusting with no weight on the seat (i.e., you will need to clamber back out again). Because of the short fuselage, the nose sits much higher off the ground than in a Cub and it’s an uphill struggle to slide the seat forward otherwise.

The panel is nicely laid out and sympathetically modernized with a GPS and upgraded radio/transponder atop the older King radio, which was probably put there in the 1980s.

Fuel is just 30 imperial gallons (36 U.S. gallons) in two tanks—15 per side, selected on the left cockpit wall. Here comes the first Pacer idiosyncrasy: you must not fly on the right tank with less than one-third fuel remaining unless straight and level. Alex told me that he got caught out early on with this limitation, and the Pacer’s engine stopped in a turn with the right tank selected and one-fourth remaining. 

Another Pacer quirk is the position of the magneto rocker switches on the panel in front of the throttle. A hefty plunge of throttle in a hurry might well have you accidentally punching off one, or even both, mags. On the other hand, I do like the starter button (also on the panel) rather than a key. It’s cool.

The instrument panel has been updated with sufficient VFR avionics. 
Startup, runup and takeoff

Engine starting is as easy as it can be for a flat four: switch on the battery, switch on the left mag, select fuel left or right; prime as required; mixture rich, throttle set and hit the button. 

After start, you must remember to switch the other mag on, and also the generator switch, otherwise you’ll flatten the battery in about 15 minutes. A friend of mine once did that to me mucking about taxiing around in a Tri-Pacer at Le Touquet (LFAT) in northern France while I was paying the parking fees at the tower. 

I ended up having to swing a prop for the first time, but not before I had gone back to the tower to ask if they knew anyone who could swing the prop for me. 

“Oui monsieur,” replied the man on the desk. When I asked who to look for, he replied, “He is very easy to recognize: he doesn’t have any fingers on his right hand!”

I never found out for certain if the French man at the desk was kidding, but I didn’t get any help. I remember standing in front of the aircraft, about to swing, when I noticed that the profile view of the cabin is that of a coffin. Later on, over Bordeaux, the engine quit because—yes, you guessed it—we were on the right tank with less than one-third of a tank of fuel. 

Trying to bury these bitter memories, I get Alex to release the parking brake by depressing the foot pedals whilst pushing the brake lever and then we start moving forward, weaving that high nose. I’m tall and can just about see over it, but a Spitfire-style weave is the best thing to do, bearing in mind that you are also blind to the side where your colleague is sitting. I proceed cautiously. 

One more quirk of the Pacer is that the foot brakes don’t work when the parking brake is set. This, the dodgy ailerons, the fuel quirk and the mag switches all make me wonder if the aircraft was designed in a bit of a hurry; it’s certainly not as resolved as the Piper Cub/Super Cub, that’s for sure.

Engine runup and pre-takeoff checks are completed in short order before we line up on the grass at Waltham and I open up the throttle. The tail stays down and there’s no pronounced swing but I quickly realize the rudder is skittish and have to calm down my inputs to stop seesawing the nose left and right down the runway. 

At 40 mph the elevator is live, and I am able to raise the tail a little just before we fly off cleanly at 50 mph ias after a ground roll of just under 500 feet at mtow of 2,000 pounds. 


Getting settled in the air

I quickly sort myself out and try and take stock of that rapid sequence of events. For sure this aircraft is nothing like a Cub/Super Cub. The Pacer is more lively, but sensitive; faster, but uses something over twice the runway to get off the ground. 

Let’s look at the actual figures later while I try and wrangle this skittish machine. After initially climbing at 65 mph and 800 fpm, now we are climbing at 90 mph and 500 fpm before I level off at 2,500 feet and let the speed build up to a top speed of approximately 145 mph (it’s turbulent); then come back to 135 mph at 2,500 rpm with what I suspect is a cruise prop. A 150 hp Super Cub would be left in the dust at this speed: it’s 20 mph slower than the Pacer, and 15 mph slower than the Tri-Pacer.

Let’s look at those ailerons a bit more. Initially, the increased drag of the downgoing aileron means that as well as raising the wing it also causes the wing to pull back, causing adverse yaw. However, further column throw puts the Frise leading edge of the upgoing aileron into the airflow and the aircraft then swings into the turn. All in all, it’s pretty messy until you remember to use your feet, after which, a perfectly coordinated and balanced turn is possible. 

Control harmony for roll, pitch and rudder is just about spot-on and the crank-style trim mounted overhead works well, just like in the Cherokee that came after this aircraft. I spend a little while just generally throwing this little bird around the sky before it’s time to fly with the Nanchang camera ship. 

We settle on a speed of 100 mph for the photo shoot because both aircraft are happy there and we have a little extra “smack” in the Pacer to fly on the outside of a turn. The reduced visibility of a high-wing aircraft is apparent here, but I’m relatively comfortable flying alongside while Keith Wilson snaps away. Twenty minutes and we’re all done. Time to explore a bit further.


The tin parachute

Once away from the Nanchang, Alex and I try a little stalling. I reduce throttle to idle and pull the nose ever higher to try and induce a g-break. Alex did warn me. 

Finally, at 47 mph and with the nose about 10 degrees above the horizon, the aircraft gives up; the nose drops and I briefly see 600 fpm on the VSI. Then it pitches back up again. 

And so the nodding continues. We climb back up to a safe height and try it with flap—not a lot more happens, except it’s slower and reveals a little wing drop, with otherwise the same outcome. What a safe airplane! 


Back into the circuit

Back at White Waltham we fly the circuit with ease in this really nice and characterful aircraft, going down and slowing down at the same time, then slotting in with the usual traffic. 90 mph downwind, 75 on base and 65 on final with three stages of flap works OK. 

Over the threshold I slow to 60 mph—the classic 1.3 VSO—and then close the throttle to settle down in a nice little three-point attitude… when all hell breaks loose. 

The combination of the Pacer’s short coupling, freshly-refurbished (read: stiff!) bungees in the undercarriage and White Waltham’s infamous bumps mean that I can’t quite catalog how I came to get to a walking pace in this aircraft. 

We did another circuit and the same thing happened. If you fly a Pitts or similar, you’ll know what I mean.

When I came to write this story a few months later, I traveled up to G-APXT’s base at Sleap (EGCV) in Shropshire to try again at landing it with one of those variables removed—and it worked: I found myself able to control it. While it’s not as docile as a Super Cub, I decided that a Pacer is actually a bit better than a Pitts.


Bob Davy is s commercial pilot and aviation journalist from London, England. He spends most of his time flying around Europe in Avro RJs for airlines and private clients. He has 15,000 flying hours in nearly 300 different fixed-wing aircraft. Davy knows he is lucky because he regularly flies three of his five favorite aircraft: the P-51, the Nanchang CJ-6 and the Pitts Special. (His other two favorites are the Hawk and Spitfire). Davy has been published all over the world. In addition to writing hundreds of flight tests, he has also written a novel, “In Case of War Break Glass,” which takes place in World War II and is loosely based on the life of Robin Olds. Send questions or comments to .



“The Practical Piper Pacer” by Myrna Mibus, April 2015

This article and others, including two PA-22 Tri-Pacer owner profiles, are available at PiperFlyer.org.


Univair Aircraft Corp.

Comanche Stabilator Horn Inspection

Comanche Stabilator Horn Inspection

Piper PA-24 Comanches are subject to AD 2012-17-06, which requires inspection of the stabilator horn for cracks and corrosion. A&P/IA Steve Ells describes proper procedures for removal, inspection and reinstallation.

June 22, 2011, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that asked all concerned parties to comment on a proposed AD. The proposed AD would mandate an initial inspection of the stabilator horn assembly for cracks and corrosion on Piper PA-24, PA-24-250 and PA-24-260 Comanche single-engine airplanes. After the initial inspection, replacement or continued inspection would be required.

Since I am the happy owner of a 1960 PA-24, I followed this closely.

Comanche owners contributed many comments seeking to relieve and/or clarify the requirements of the original NPRM. Some suggested that the FAA make changes due to mitigating factors such as the wall thickness of the stabilator torque tube, nut-tightening torque values on the bolts that secure the horn to the torque tube and other concerns.

The NPRM was written because cracks had been found in several stabilator horns. The submitted comments were well-regarded by the FAA and raised valid points. After changes and updates, AD 2012-17-06 was issued Aug. 22, 2012. 

The review of the initial proposed rule, the comments, names of the commenters and the FAA’s responses to the commenters can be read in full on the FAA’s website. (A link to the page is in Resources. —Ed.)

AD 2012-17-06 and Piper Service Bulletin No. 1189 (April 29, 2010)

A little over five years ago, in early January 2013, I pulled the stabilator horn assembly on my Comanche and drove it over to Johnston Aircraft in Tulare, California, for the initial inspection. In my opinion, Johnston ranks right up there with three other Comanche shops in the country. 

I watched as Charles Gazarek at Johnston showed me how to remove the aluminum horn and then perform the inspection steps mandated by the AD. No cracks were found in the horn. 

This horn is an aluminum part that connects the stabilator torque tube to the cables that control aircraft pitch through the horn assembly. The horn assembly consists of the horn, a tube (Piper Part No. 22880-00) and a balance weight (Part No. 23175-00). The torque tube is secured to the aft bulkhead of the fuselage by four bolts that hold bearing block assemblies in place. The torque tube rotates in two large sealed bearings. The stabilators slide over the torque tube and are secured by two bolts on each side. 

The left bearing block and torque tube. 

The AD calls for an initial inspection, and then repetitive inspections every five years or 500 hours TIS, whichever comes sooner. The horn must be removed from the aircraft and inspected for cracks by dye penetrant or other means. 

The timeline for complying with the initial inspection requirement of the AD varies based on the age and origin of the horn. Refer to the AD for details, but the short version is that if a horn has not been inspected since the AD was published in 2012, it is likely due for an initial inspection.

The repetitive inspection can be terminated by installation of what’s known as the Aussie horn, which is a stronger replacement horn that was developed in Australia and is approved for installation by a STC. (For more on this alternative, see the sidebar on Page 28. —Ed.)

Pull those tailfeathers

Removing my left and right stabilators was easy. (The author, Steve Ells, is an A&P/IA. Repair work such as this must be performed or supervised by an authorized mechanic. —Ed.) I removed the two close-tolerance (AN175) corrosion-resistant bolts on each side that I installed to comply with a previous AD (AD 74-13-03 R1) and slid both stabilators off the torque tube. They slid right off since I had cleaned and polished the tubes and applied a light coat of LPS-2 prior to reinstallation five years ago.

The stabilator control cables attach to the torque tube assembly at the forward end of the tube at the balance weight. I cut the safety wire and slacked both cables, then removed the bolt that connected the cable terminations. 

Then I removed the two bolts that secured the balance weight on the tube, and slid the weight off.

Next, I removed the upper and lower tailcone fairings and the tail navigation light bulb socket after disconnecting the trim tab actuating arm assembly (Part No. 20828-00) and electrical wiring to get access to remove the torque tube.

After removing the two bolts of the yoke assembly that supported the trim tab drum assembly to the blocks that hold the torque tube bearings and lowering the yoke and drum assemblies, I removed the four bolts securing the bearing blocks and pulled the torque tube assembly out from the aft bulkhead. 

The bearings, bearing blocks, torque tube and horn have been removed from the aft bulkhead. 
Preparing for inspection

After removing the assembly from the airframe, I slid the two bearings and blocks off each end of the torque tube, then slid the aluminum horn off the tube for inspection.


These two photos are from Piper Service Bulletin No. 1189, Fig. 1. The black lines on the aluminum horn assembly indicate the areas to be inspected.


None of this was difficult. Because the tube had been previously cleaned, the bearings slid off easily. I checked the bearings for ease of rotation. They were smooth and free. The left and right bearings had been replaced in the past. Newer bearings have a white Teflon seal; original bearings have a red seal. 

After I heated the horn for a few minutes with my electric heat gun (an electric hair dryer will work), it slid off the tube.

I stripped off the “rattle-can” primer paint I had applied after the last inspection with off-the-shelf paint stripper. 

Piper Service Bulletin No. 1189 shows two horns that had cracked. In each case, the cracks were through the bolt holes either at the front or aft side of the horn.

I looked closely at the horn with a very bright light but couldn’t see any evidence of cracking. The next step was the dye penetrant inspection.

It took me just over three man-hours to get to this point. 

Dye pen(etrant)

The AD requires an inspection in accordance with the instructions given in Piper Service Bulletin No. 1189. According to the bulletin, cracks start at the inner surface, so there’s no need to remove exterior paint from the horn to complete the inspection. Simply clean the inside of the horn with isopropyl alcohol prior to performing the dye penetrant inspection.

A dye pen inspection consists of cleaning the surface, then applying a coating of the penetrant, which is a very viscous red liquid. Leave the dye in place for a few minutes so it can penetrate any surface cracks, then clean the part completely. The dye pen kit I used consisted of a can of spray-on cleaner, a can of spray-on dye and a can of spray-on developer. 

As you can see by the photo, I sprayed a generous coat of dye onto my horn. After a few minutes, I sprayed the provided cleaner on a clean rag and wiped off all the dye. 

After drying the horn, I sprayed on an even coating of the developer. The dye is ruby red, while the developer looks a lot like spray-on talcum powder. The developer coated the surfaces of the horn.

I was looking to see if I saw red lines in the white developer which would indicate cracks. Luckily, there was no evidence of cracking. So, I cleaned the horn and started reassembling the torque tube assembly.

The stabilator horn, liberally coated with dye. 

I again smoothed and cleaned the outer surfaces of the torque tube with a Scotch-Brite™ pad before applying a light coating of LPS-2. Then I slid the horn into position. 

The most critical reassembly task was applying the correct torque to the two bolts that hold the horn in position on the torque tube.

I then slid the left and right bearings and blocks onto the torque tube. There was no need to remove the part called the stabilator torque collar. This collar, which appears black in the photos on bottom of Page 30, is part of the stabilator travel adjustment system. 

The service manual calls for a dimension of 8.620 inches between the left and right bearing block. If that dimension is not attained, shims are installed to achieve it. Mine checked OK.

The stabilator horn assembly is mounted to the rear bulkhead with four 5/16-inch diameter bolts, two in each bearing block. The nuts are torqued to the standard torque (there’s a standard torque table in the service manual) for 5/16-inch bolts loaded in tension. That torque value is 100 to 140 inch-pounds.

Once the bearing block bolts were torqued, I moved the trim tab drum yoke into position and installed and safetied those bolts. Then I slid the left and right stabilators onto the torque tube and secured and torqued those bolts. Checking stabilator balance and travel

After the tail was reassembled but before I reconnected the pitch system control cables, I followed the procedure in Chapter 4 of the Piper PA-24 Service Manual to check the stabilator balance. First, I leveled my Comanche. A stabilator is in balance when it can be moved to any position throughout full travel and not move once placed in any position. Mine was balanced.

I then connected the control cables and positioned and tensioned the up and down cables to provide the mandated control wheel travel and the stabilator travel. 

I rechecked my procedures and steps, then when satisfied that all was as specified, I reinstalled the tailcone fairings after reconnecting the power and ground wires to the tail navigation lights. 

In all, the removal, inspection, reinstallation and rigging and travel checks took very close to a full day of work, or 8 man-hours. (For reference, AD 2012-07-16 estimates the entire inspection process, including removal and replacement, takes 12 man-hours. —Ed.)

After completion of the steps in the AD, I entered a maintenance record (logbook) entry that is signed and reads similar to this: “October 29, 2018: Airframe total time 3,255. Complied with AD 2012-17-06, dated Oct. 22, 2012 (g) (2) (i) and (5) and Piper Service Bulletin 1189 Instructions 1 through 6. No cracks found. AD is next due October 29, 2023 and 3,755 aircraft total time.”

Now my stabilator horn is airworthy for another 500 hours or five years. 

No cracks were seen after applying the white talcum-like developer. 
Not too tight; it’s a shear load

Paragraph 5 in the “Inspection/Replacement” section of AD 2012-17-06 mandates that the bolts that go through the horn and torque tube be torqued to 120 to 145 inch-pounds or 10 to 14.5 foot-pounds. It doesn’t sound like much, especially for bolts that may at first seem to hold the tail together!

There are two reasons for what seems to be a low torque value. The first reason is because overtorqueing the nuts has been determined to be the cause of the cracking. There’s no need to apply a hefty torque since the nuts don’t need to do any more than prevent the bolts from falling out. 

The second reason is because of the bolt loading. This bolt-nut combination is loaded in shear, not tension. The bolts transfer the up and down motion of the horn/tube and balance weight into rotary motion of the torque tube. 

To apply the correct amount of torque, the friction drag of the nut’s locking element first must be determined. Common aircraft-quality self-locking nuts “lock” in position due to either a fiber insert in one end of the nut or by a slight out-of-round section of a steel locknut. 

How many inch-pounds of turning force does it take to overcome that locking component? The easiest way to determine the friction drag is with a deflecting-beam torque wrench. The following is the equation as published in the AD: 

The stated torque value of 120–145 in.-lbs. includes friction drag from the nut’s locking element, which is assumed to be 60 in.-lbs. The installation torque can be adjusted according to the actual, measured friction drag. For example, if the friction-drag torque is measured to be 40 in.-lbs. (20 in.-lbs. less than the assumed value of 60 in.-lbs.), then the installation torque will be adjusted to be 100–125 in.-lbs. of torque.

The steps are to first determine the friction drag of the nut’s locking element in inch-pounds and then adjust as necessary to get the final torque.

A reliable torque wrench is crucial for reinstallation of bolts on the stabilator horn.

Know your FAR/AIM and check with your mechanic before starting any work.

Steve Ells has been an A&P/IA for 44 years and is a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings. Ells also loves utility and bush-style airplanes and operations. He’s a former tech rep and editor for Cessna Pilots Association and served as associate editor for AOPA Pilot until 2008. Ells is the owner of Ells Aviation (EllsAviation.com) and the proud owner of a 1960 Piper Comanche. He lives in Templeton, California, with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to .


Johnston Aircraft Service Inc.
AD 2012-17-06
Federal Aviation Administration
Piper Flyer’s Magazine Extras 
PDF available at PiperFlyer.org/forum
Off to a Good Start: Planning for your First Annual

Off to a Good Start: Planning for your First Annual

Evaluate and maintain a new-to-you aircraft using all of the tools available today.

So, it’s been a year since the pre-purchase/annual inspection was completed and you have been the owner of this new-to-you airplane. As the months passed, every flight revealed more details about the condition and usefulness of your new flying partner. 

You probably encountered a few issues that required immediate attention and many others that became line items on your to-do/wish list. (In last month’s Piper Flyer (November 2018), Dennis Wolter outlined best practices for preparing to tackle a renovation. —Ed.)

With this list and your maintenance technician’s familiarity with your new airplane, the arrival of annual inspection time presents the perfect opportunity to sit down with your mechanic and put together a schedule for the renovation of your airplane.

In the list that you put together when flying the airplane during previous months, it’s important to include maintenance and performance issues that need to be discussed before starting that all-important first annual. 

I definitely believe that you should read all applicable Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins and confirm that important issues are well-understood and properly completed. Just because an AD is signed off in the logbook doesn’t mean that it was done properly or even that it was done at all. A couple of times a year at Air Mod, we find evidence that a signed-off AD was, in fact, never taken care of. 

The point here is that between a thorough pre-purchase and the first annual, all issues are checked and verified, and your airplane should be off to a good start toward working its way to being a “good as new” machine.

From a safety standpoint, the condition of your airplane’s engine is of major importance. You should take advantage of every technical process available for evaluation and maintenance in this area. 

Back in the day, inspecting an oil filter for contaminates such as metal particles and performing a simple compression check were the two major engine evaluation processes that a technician used in determining the health of the piston engine.

Compared to my early days in this industry, we now have at our disposal far more inspection and diagnostic tools that make it possible to operate our engines longer with greater confidence. 

Determining engine health

A compression check is done to determine the health of the upper or power section of the engine where combustion takes place. Combustion exposes pistons, rings, cylinder walls, valves and valve guides to a lot of heat and combustion byproducts. 

The time-tested compression check involves a technician using compressed air and air pressure gauges to determine if the cylinder and all of its parts are doing the job of sealing in the combustion gases in such a way as to efficiently produce the desired pressure of pushing the piston down to turn the crankshaft and rotate the propeller. Any leaking of these high-temperature gases past the valves or the piston and ring assemblies will cause heat buildup, a decrease in engine performance and increased wear on these critical components. 

As good as the compression check was and is, it falls short of presenting all the information needed to fully evaluate the condition of the combustion components of a piston engine.

Beam-me-up-Scotty to 2018. Today, we have three diagnostic tools that bring engine condition tracking to a whole new level. 

Tool No. 1: Borescopes

The first implement I refer to here is the affordable, state-of-the art borescope. What’s that, you might ask? It is a 1/2-inch diameter, 18-inch-long fiber-optic tube that can be placed in an engine cylinder through a spark plug hole. It will present a high-resolution color-correct image on a bright screen that allows a technician to evaluate the condition of the cylinder walls, piston crown, valves, etc. 

Borescope being placed in an engine cylinder.

Often, an engine that has good compression will have stress marks on the cylinder walls or discoloration on valves that can only be seen with a borescope. These anomalies can indicate a potential for future problems. The borescope allows a technician to address an issue before it becomes a failure. Also, most borescopes have a built-in digital camera, making it easy to email a picture of a problem to the customer. So much for the good old days!

Here is a great example of the value of this technology. I called a good friend, Adrian Eichhorn, who has done quite a bit of research into the use of this technology, to help identify cylinder components that are in the early stages of failure. He sent me a photograph of an exhaust valve that presented an uneven color pattern, indicating that the valve was becoming too hot in one area and not sealing at that point on the edge of the valve. 

Uneven color pattern on an exhaust valve indicates a possible problem. 

If not corrected, the valve will eventually begin to deform and lead to serious and expensive valve failure. Eichhorn, in partnership with AOPA, came up with a chart showing various color patterns that indicate different types of potential valve failures. These charts have been distributed and used in the field with very positive results. Smart! (A link to the PDF is available under Resources at the end of this column. —Ed.)

These borescopes are miracle investigative tools that allow technicians to see into inaccessible areas in various parts of the engine and airframe. I have a customer who recently used one to find a badly-corroded elevator component that was close to failure.

Tool No. 2: Oil analysis

Another important area to be evaluated is the bottom end of the engine—the crankshaft, connecting rods, oil pump, camshaft, etc. Back in the good old days, about the only diagnostic tool a technician had to help establish the condition of these components and their bearings was to hold a magnet in the oil as it drained out of the engine and look for magnetic or ferrous metal particles sticking to it. A technician could also cut open the full-flow oil filter, if the engine was equipped with one, and look for metal fragments in the filter. 

Magnetic fragments mean a steel component is experiencing high wear; nonmagnetic fragments mean a nonmagnetic component such as a bushing is wearing, or something is rubbing the aluminum crankcase. Fragments don’t always provide enough information to accurately diagnose a potential problem. Big pieces of metal indicate serious pre-failure issues.

The second engine diagnostic tool I’m going to discuss is oil analysis. It can vastly improve a mechanic’s ability to assess an engine’s health. 

Here’s how it works: as the technician is draining old oil out of the engine, a small cup is filled with an oil sample that is sent to a laboratory for analysis. After testing, the lab returns a report to the technician that indicates the percentage of metal residue found in the oil, measured in parts per million and listed by type of metal. Iron can indicate wear on the oil pump gears; silver can indicate wear on a plain bearing such as connecting rod or crankshaft main bearings; bronze can indicate wear on valve guides, and so on. 

As the engine builds hours and additional oil samples are analyzed, a technician can track data and determine wear trends of the various internal engine components. If a high reading of a specific metal is noticed, the technician can use this information to identify a possible point of failure and initiate the appropriate maintenance action.

Tool No. 3: Engine monitors

The third 21st-century device that has revolutionized the monitoring of piston engine operation and maintenance is the digital engine monitor with data download capability. The complexity of these systems can range from basic exhaust gas and cylinder head temperature monitors to systems that replace existing round engine instruments with a full screen that has multiple additional read outs for voltage, percentage of horsepower, fuel remaining and even outside air temperature.

Digital engine monitor with data download capability.

These systems allow valuable information to be downloaded and analyzed by an owner, a technician or an online company, to track engine condition trends. Science fiction has become reality. We should take advantage of these contemporary tools to ensure the safe and efficient operation of an engine all the way to TBO. (See Resources for a list of PFA supporters. —Ed.)

Other items to evaluate


An annual inspection item that I believe is sometimes not carefully looked at is the age and condition of the fuel, oil and vacuum flex hoses. Many rubber flex hoses in service today have a service life of five years. Failure of an oil or fuel hose can definitely contribute to a bad day! 

I highly recommend replacement of timed-out hoses with hoses fabricated with cost-effective, safety-enhancing orange fire-resistant sleeves, which protect the hose and its often-flammable contents in the event of an electrical or engine fire. The photo shows a typical black hose with a service life of five years as well as a stainless steel fitting, fire-sleeved silicon rubber, extended service life, top-of-the-line hose.

Extended service life hose on top, typical black hose below. 

Engine accessories

Moving beyond the engine itself, it’s important to monitor the service life and condition of the engine accessories. A good pre-buy inspection should have clarified the times in service and inspection status of all the stuff that keeps the engine running. 

An owner needs to be aware of the status of these components in order to prevent as many surprises as possible.


Let’s focus now on a big item: magnetos. Most brands of magnetos require a 500-hour half-life inspection and a 1,000-hour overhaul or replacement. Experience has shown that scheduled maintenance and monitoring is very effective in increasing the reliability of these critical components. 

Vacuum pumps, propeller governors

We know that dry vacuum pumps driving traditional gyros have a higher failure rate after 500 hours of operation. Propeller governors are best overhauled at engine change. The failure of a prop governor can send engine-damaging metal through the engine’s lubrication system—that means big bucks to fix! The point here is to have a meeting with your maintenance tech and totally vet the status of all firewall-forward systems. 

Engine overhauls

OK, I’m walking on thin ice here. No discussion about piston airplane engines would be complete without talking about the often-debated subject of time between overhauls (TBO). It seems like experts are all over the map as to when a seemingly great-running engine should be overhauled. Opinions range from “TBO is cast in stone” to “TBO is an arbitrary, money-making number set by the engine manufacturer.” (See “Further Reading” in Resources for more on this topic and other topics discussed in this article. —Ed.)

Here’s an 18-year-long anecdotal study I was unintentionally exposed to during the time Air Mod was located next to one of the more active field overhaulers in the country. Located by their hangar were two dumpsters. One contained rejected ferrous metal engine parts (crankshafts, connecting rods, gears, cams, etc.). The other contained rejected nonferrous aluminum parts (crankcases, cylinder heads, etc.). Most of the engines going through their facility were overhauled at or near TBO. 

Based on the quantity of rejected parts that got hauled off to the recycling facility, I tend to think that the manufacturers base TBO numbers on experiences they’ve had tracking these engines for almost a century. Just remember, you can’t write the check on the way down!

If it’s time for you to schedule that engine overhaul, tune in next time as we look at the options and process involved overhauling your trusted engine. Until then, fly safe.

Industrial designer and aviation enthusiast Dennis Wolter is well-known for giving countless seminars and contributing his expertise about all phases of aircraft renovation in various publications. Wolter founded Air Mod in 1973 in order to offer private aircraft owners the same professional, high-quality work then only offered to corporate jet operators. Send questions or comments to .



Electronics International
Insight Instrument Corp.
J.P. Instruments Inc.


“Anatomy of a Valve Failure”
PiperFlyer.org/forum under “Magazine Extras”


“My engine is 50 hours from TBO….” by Bill Ross
Piper Flyer, September 2018
“A Step-by-Step Guide to Overhauls” by Jacqueline Shipe
Piper Flyer, February 2018
“Is Your Engine Worn Out?” by Steve Ells
Piper Flyer, October 2017
“Dissecting a Dry Air Pump” by Jacqueline Shipe 
Piper Flyer, June 2017
“I Found This in my Oil” by Jacqueline Shipe 
Piper Flyer, May 2017
Q&A: Adding Toe Brakes to a Cherokee, Hand Controls for Wheelchair Aviators

Q&A: Adding Toe Brakes to a Cherokee, Hand Controls for Wheelchair Aviators

Q: Hi Steve,

I just bought a 1968 PA-28-180 Cherokee 180 B. So far, it’s been wonderful, but there’s one thing that I haven’t yet gotten used to. I trained in a newer Cherokee and it had toe brakes. My airplane just has a brake handle that I pull on to apply both main brakes at the same time. 

How can this be a good idea? Every airplane I flew in my training had toe brakes and whenever I wanted to turn sharply, I used the brake to sharpen my turn. I can’t do that in my “new” Cherokee and I am hoping you can point out how I can install toe brakes in my airplane. 


A: When I looked in the PA-28 and PA-28R Parts Catalog (Piper Part No. 753-582) for the PA-28-180, the way I read it, toe brakes were available on the left side on the PA-28-180 from Serial No. 28-1 up through 28-7305611.

The serial number range for your airplane, the Cherokee 180 B, includes serial numbers from No. 28-671 through 28-1760.

Toe brakes were an option from the factory. All Cherokees were equipped with hand brakes, but only the ones that were ordered with toe brakes also got the factory-installed toe brakes. 

There is no STC to install toe brakes on Cherokees. I have heard of owners who went to an aircraft salvage yard for the entire toe brake package—pedals, crossbar supports, links, firewall reinforcements, master cylinders and other parts that were available—and had these parts installed. Since all the parts are listed in the parts manual for the Cherokee 180, this is certainly doable. 

Some mechanics will say this change is a minor alteration for two reasons. First, Piper already approved the installation of the toe brake system at the factory and all the parts are Piper-produced. Second, it is not listed in the list of major alterations in Appendix A of Part 43 of the regulations. Minor alterations require only a logbook entry for a return to service.

Despite those facts, these days most shops will seek FAA approval in the form of a field approval sign off on a Form 337 (Major Repair and Alteration). This is despite the fact it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get a maintenance inspector at a local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) to sign off a 337.

For what it’s worth, I did see a set of Cherokee toe brake pedals on eBay today. It lacked the master cylinders and the necessary firewall reinforcements, so you’d have to source those parts elsewhere.

My 1960 Piper PA-24 Comanche is the first airplane I’ve ever owned that does not have toe brakes. At first, I was skeptical too. 

I soon learned that I didn’t miss the toe brakes at all. Part of the reason is that I used to lock up and flat-spot tires when I had toe brakes. That got expensive. Yes, I had to learn to live with the turning radius of my Comanche, but now that I know about it, the larger turning radius hasn’t been a headache. 

Many owners with the handbrake controls, myself included, strongly suggest that you live with your hand-actuated brake system for a few months before you make your final decision. It’s a good system.

Happy flying,


A Piper handbrake, like this one installed in Steve’s PA-24 Comanche, is simple to operate. The brake system applies equal braking pressure to the main wheels. Just pull the handle to slow down.

Q: Hi Steve,

I expect my mechanic can answer this, but I haven’t asked him yet. I have a Piper PA-28 Cherokee that I’ve owned for years. This airplane has been a central part of our family trips and vacations. 

My son was severely hurt last year in a motocross accident and has lost the use of his legs. He gets around fine in his wheelchair and has expressed an interest in flying. I have heard something about wheelchair pilots, but don’t have any details. 

Is there a way to equip my Cherokee so that my son can take flying lessons?

Flying Dad

A: Hi Dad,

I’m sorry to hear about your son’s accident.

Yes, theoretically there’s a way to equip your Cherokee with controls that will enable your son to safely fly your airplane. But unless you can find a used set of hand controls to install in your airplane, it’s going to be tough.

Unfortunately, the two companies that developed hand controls for disabled pilots and had them approved through what’s called a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) are no longer producing the hardware and paperwork for installation of the controls.

STC SA1741WE approves the installation of hand controls in PA-28-140, -150, -160, -180, -235 and PA-28R-180 and R-200 aircraft. This modification is sometimes known as the “Blackwood hand control” after the originator. The STC is presently owned by Mike Smith, but is not in production.

During my research, I spoke with Justin Meaders at International Wheelchair Aviators. Meaders is a pilot and uses a wheelchair. He was able to update me on the state of STCs for equipping Pipers for pilots who require hand controls to fly. 

Meaders told me he is working to get the FAA to recognize the Blackwood hand control for Pipers as a medical device that would not require an STC for installation.

Vision Air of Australia has Australian approval for a hand controls system for Cherokees, but it hasn’t been approved for use in the United States.

There is a similar STC for Cessna hand controls known as the Union control. The STC is in suspension now, but has been purchased by Linwood Nooe of Operation Prop in Brandon, Mississippi. 

I asked Nooe if he knew of a source for the hand controls. He told me that his nonprofit organization offers flights and flight training to men and women that can’t operate foot controls, and that people donate used controls to him from time to time. 

Nooe also invited anyone who needs hand controls to fly to come to his facility in Mississippi  for both introductory flights and flight training. (Nooe’s contact information is in Resources. —Ed.) 

You can view videos of hand-controlled flights using the Vision Air controls and Union control on the website of the United Kingdom-based nonprofit Freedom in the Air. (See link in Resources. —Ed.)

Best wishes on helping your son fly,


These diagrams, provided by Linwood Nooe, show the Union hand control.
It is similar to the Blackwood control used on Piper Cherokees. 

Know your FAR/AIM and check with your mechanic before starting any work.

Steve Ells has been an A&P/IA for 44 years and is a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings. Ells also loves utility and bush-style airplanes and operations. He’s a former tech rep and editor for Cessna Pilots Association and served as associate editor for AOPA Pilot until 2008. Ells is the owner of Ells Aviation (EllsAviation.com) and the proud owner of a 1960 Piper Comanche. He lives in Templeton, California, with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to .


Federal Aviation Administration

Federal Aviation Administraton

Able Flight

Freedom in the Air (flight videos)

International Wheelchair Aviators

Operation Prop (Linwood Nooe)

Vision Air

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