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Destination: Storied Savannah

Destination: Storied Savannah

A walkabout in a historic Georgia city.

Georgia was the last of the original Thirteen Colonies— and Savannah was its first city. The colony of Georgia had been created in 1732 as a “buffer state” to protect South Carolina from the Spanish in Florida.

It’s believed the city, founded by James Oglethorpe, was so named after the river. The Savannah River runs to the north-northeast of Savannah, while the Little Black River just northeast of that comprises the border with South Carolina. 


Like New Orleans, Charleston and other southern coastal towns, Savannah has been swamped by the waters more than once. Today, five canals and several pumping stations keep the city from flooding. Fortunately, due to its location in the Georgia Bight, it’s at a lower risk of hurricanes than other cities on the Atlantic.

It’s humid in Savannah, and though it rains a fair amount from June to September, it rarely snows—and in recent history, even freezing temperatures are rare. Overall, the temperatures tend to be cooler and more moderate than inland areas of Georgia. 

Pilots will find good treatment at a few of the GA airports just over the border in South Carolina. (See “Lowcountry Alternates” by Michael Leighton on page 57. —Ed.) Regardless of how you arrive, a trip to Savannah is a trip worth taking. 

I was surprised to find that the population of the city proper is just 145,000. For such a modestly-sized town, it has a lot to offer visitors. Savannah is old, beautiful, and in my experience, lives up to the hype.


Architecture and the arts

James Oglethorpe designed Savannah in a grid system. Shady public squares were interspersed at regular intervals between blocks, and of the original 24 squares in the layout, 22 greenspaces remain intact today.


Many significant buildings remain intact, too. As a result of the efforts begun by the Savannah Historic Foundation in the 1950s, Savannah’s Historic District is one of the largest in the United States. 


With so much ornate architecture and ironwork, iconic fountains and statues, cobblestone and Spanish moss, it’s little wonder that Savannah was voted one of the 10 Most Beautiful Places in America by USA Weekend.


Though Savannah escaped destruction during Gen. Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” it suffered through two major fires in 1796 and 1820, the rise and fall of the cotton industry, and the Great Depression. With such a long and arduous history, Savannah is reputed to be America’s most haunted city. 


Capitalizing on this, various companies offer ghost tours, nighttime ghost “walks” and cemetery tours. Organized tours to view the architecture and historic buildings in the daylight hours abound, and are available via trolley or on foot.


I took a walking tour of Savannah’s Historic District that focused on some of the major landmarks and various architectural styles. Our guide had a master’s degree in architecture from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and loved his adopted city.

Some know Savannah best through “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. This novel still holds the record for the longest best-selling book on the New York Times’ list (216 weeks). Anyone who recalls this story, or the 1997 movie of the same name, might recall the iconic “Bird Girl” statue. 

After the book became so popular, this privately-owned grave monument was relocated from Bonaventure Cemetery to the Telfair Museum of Art, and later to the nearby Jepson Center for the Arts. 

As you’ve probably gathered, the arts are pretty big in Savannah. Savannah College of Art and Design has over 40 programs in both contemporary (branded entertainment, design for sustainability) and traditional disciplines (art history, sculpture). 

The Culinary Institute of Savannah at Savannah Technical College also has a large presence in the city, and is one of the top culinary programs in the nation. In addition to three teaching kitchens, Chef Jean Vendeville and his students created Bistro Savoir—a nonprofit that offers seasonal sales of pastries and breads. Proceeds from the sales help to fund a scholarship/exchange program in France.

Museums, shopping and more

Some things I enjoyed in Savannah included a brief visit to the River Street Market Place, an open-air shopping area with various flea market-type sellers and food vendors. The market opens every day at 10 a.m., and even if you don’t purchase anything, it’s nice to stroll along the river and watch the activity at the market as well as on the water in this port city.

Strolling is something I did a lot of while in Savannah. The city is set up to wander around in, so treks to City Market’s boutiques, antique shops, galleries and gift shops can be easily accomplished if you make sure to take time to get off your feet here and there. With so many sun-dappled squares full of benches, building in rest time is a breeze.


One must for any newcomer is a visit to Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. This old-fashioned confectionery has the world’s most delicious pecan pralines (truly) as well as divinity, saltwater taffy, gophers (a.k.a. turtles), fudge, caramels and truffles. I visited. Daily. (I also tried to bring a box of pralines home to Wisconsin, but my husband and I ate them all by the time we got to Louisville, Ky.)

Military history buffs have no shortage of learning opportunities anywhere in the South. Savannah-area attractions include Fort Pulaski and Old Fort Jackson. The Webb Military Museum, a newer museum featuring a single private collection, gets great reviews online. 

Another must is the Pin Point Heritage Museum. This museum is inside a former oyster and crab packing house. The self-sustained Gullah/Geechee community on the marsh near the Moon River was isolated for nearly 100 years; this museum’s mission is to preserve the creole language, farming and fishing traditions of this unique African-American Lowcountry culture.


There are so many options for good food in Savannah. Here are a few of my recommendations.

For a casual meal, I’d try Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room for fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé and other Southern specialties—provided you can get a seat. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, doesn’t take credit cards and is usually very busy.

Debi’s Restaurant’s is another down-home place—and it’s the diner where Jenny worked in “Forrest Gump.” This no-frills family restaurant serves good sandwiches and breakfast all day. It’s only open 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., though, so don’t plan to eat here for dinner.

There are several choices for fine dining in Savannah. One of these, 700 Drayton, is located at the Mansion on Forsyth Park. This upscale restaurant has some eclectic choices, but you can get breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner along with a nice selection of wines. The main dining area is beautifully decorated.

The menu at Sapphire Grill is set to showcase local seafood, but also offers fowl (duck and chicken), lamb, pork and beef. This multi-story establishment is located on Congress Street—quite near a little place you might have heard of: The Lady and Sons. (You’ll know you’re close when you see the line waiting to get in the door for Paula Deen’s Southern Buffet.)


Savannah has all major hotel chains, along with vacation rentals, inns, boutique hotels and more. I recommend you begin your search for lodging at VisitSavannah.com. The site is nicely arranged so you can narrow your search by “pet friendly,” “family friendly”—and yes, even “haunted.”

We stayed at the East Bay Inn, located on the corner of E. Bay Street and Lincoln. It’s a smaller hotel (28 rooms) in a nice location—a short walk across Emmet Park brought us to River Street and the many waterfront sights, shops and eateries. A walk in the other direction takes you into the central part of the city and on down to the Victorian District.


Current rates at the East Bay Inn are quite reasonable on weekdays ($129 to $161), but weekend rates are significantly higher ($259 to $279). During peak times (late March through June, and again from September through November), rates average $188 on weekdays and $299 on weekends.

Tybee Island

A trip to Savannah really isn’t complete until you take the drive east to Tybee Island. From downtown Savannah, it’s a simple 20- to 30-minute drive east on the Islands Expressway/I-80, past Cockspur Island and Fort Pulaski to Tybee Island. 

This island has been a retreat for the people of Savannah (called “Savannahians,” in case you were wondering) since the Civil War. In many ways, Tybee is a typical seaside village, with ramshackle seaside shops, a large public beach, a couple of larger hotels, and some quirky year-round residents. 

Though there are some very good eateries on Tybee—like A.J.’s Dockside—in our experience the shrimp po’boy sandwiches from out-of-the-way roadside stands were even better. Fresh seafood and public fishing are both in abundance here. 


Besides surfing, sunbathing and swimming, families might enjoy a trek through Fort Pulaski National Monument. This “Third System” military fort cost around $1 million when it was constructed in 1847. With 11-foot-thick walls, Fort Pulaski was supposedly impregnable—but it fell in 1862 under bombardment from James rifled cannons. 

There are at least a dozen hotels, inns and cottage complexes on Tybee Island—enough options to suit anyone who wants to spend some serious “Tybee time.” In my experience, though, accommodations can be a little hit-and-miss. If you plan to stay here, I suggest that you visit the location in person before committing.

Savannah and the entire Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina are rich with stories, and my time in the area felt too short. I’d love to go back. Til then, I guess I’ll have my pralines shipped from River Street straight to my door. 


Heather Skumatz is managing editor for Piper Flyer. Send questions or comments to .

Sources: VisitSavannah.com, Wikipedia.org


Visitor information

Savannah Chamber’s downtown map
Tybee Visitor Center
Visit Savannah

Tours, museums and monuments

Architectural Tours of Savannah
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Jepson Center for the Arts
Old Fort Jackson National Historic Site
Pin Point Heritage Museum
Telfair Museums
The Webb Military Museum

Shopping and gifts

River Street Market Place
Savannah’s Candy Kitchen
Savannah City Market


AJ’s Dockside 
Debi’s Restaurant
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
Sapphire Grill
700 Drayton Restaurant
The Lady and Sons 


East Bay Inn
The Straight Dope on Fabric-Covered Airplanes

The Straight Dope on Fabric-Covered Airplanes

Fabric-covered planes in good condition are available, but you need to know what to look for.

Aircraft have been covered in cloth since the Wright Brothers took flight, and the material had to be as light as possible yet strong enough to withstand the demands of flight. 

The standard material used in the early days was cotton or linen. Vintage aircraft typically had wood wings and steel tubing used in the fuselage. 

The materials

The use of cotton or linen cloth is still approved; however, it is rarely used today because synthetic materials and improved processes are available. 

Synthetic materials and associated application processes not only reduce the amount of labor required, but also provide longer life, resistance to rot and fungus, and are safer in the case of fire (during material application, and while in flight). 

Polyester cloth specific to aviation applications is almost exclusively used in the recovering (or initial covering) of an aircraft today. Fiberglass cloth has been used as well, and other synthetic materials have been experimented with and/or are in development. 

The most important difference between newer synthetic materials and the original cotton and linen cloth is the fact that cotton is more difficult to work with. In addition, cotton is subject to attacks by fungus, mildew, chemicals (such as acid rain) and is susceptible to damage from rodents and sunlight. 

While synthetic fabric is deteriorated by sunlight too, it has better resistance to the effects of ultraviolet light. Synthetic fabric is also resistant to fungus attack, and while it can be damaged by chemicals, it is more resistant to damage than cotton. 

Cotton and the compatible nitrocellulose dope used to stiffen the fabric in the recovering process are flammable. Nitrate-based dope is extremely flammable even after it dries, and is seldom used today.

Synthetic fabrics sometimes call for cellulose acetate butyrate dope according to the STC, but oftentimes a material that is less flammable and more suitable to the synthetic fabric process is used. 

A significant factor regarding polyester cloth is that the tautness of the fabric is controlled by heating the fabric with a temperature-regulated device similar to a clothes iron. Application of dope or sealant materials will not appreciably shrink polyester, as is the case with cotton fabric. 

Aviation-specific synthetic fabric can be much stronger than cotton fabric. This is a key issue in the pull testing (strength) of the raw fabric to determine continued airworthiness years after the initial fabric application process has been completed. Fabric is considered airworthy until the strength degrades to less than 70 percent of the original design strength. 

The FAA testing specification has always been in reference to the original material the aircraft was designed and certified with. Aircraft produced under the CAR 3 rules were approved with cotton or linen cloth of different grades depending on wing loading and maximum airspeed limitation. For example, aircraft could be certified with grade A cotton, intermediate cloth or glider cloth, depending on the never exceed speeds and wing loading, and then could be later recovered with a fabric of a higher rating. 

The process

Working with cotton or linen requires special techniques and processes for a good-looking and airworthy cover job. When recovering an aircraft, the structure has to be carefully inspected and all defects repaired; then it can be primed and protected prior applying the fabric. 

The fabric has to be cut and sewn to the shape of the wing or fuselage and cemented or tacked into position. After the fabric is installed and secured to the frame, it’s permanently attached to the wing ribs with a special lacing cord using a designated knot. 


The spacing of the rib stitches varies according to the VNE (never exceed) speed of the aircraft and if the area is in the propeller slipstream or not. Some aircraft use screws or fabric clips in place of the rib stitching. 

After the rib stitching, the next procedure is the application of cloth tape to cover the stitching and the installation of inspection rings, grommets and patches in various locations to protect the underlying fabric. 


A plasticized liquid lacquer (i.e., dope) is applied to the fabric in several applications initially by brush and then by spray gun to form an airtight and waterproof bond that also tightens and stiffens the fabric materials. 

The proper fit of cotton or linen fabric prior to doping is important, as extremely taut fabric caused by multiple applications of dope will shrink and distort or damage the underlying structure requiring removal, repairs and reapplication of the fabric. 

Proper health precautions must be followed when applying doping agents, especially when applying urethane in a spray form as it is extremely toxic. 

Multiple applications of various mixtures of dope are applied generally by spray gun. Mixtures may include dope with silver metallic compounds for resistance to light, dope with fungicide for resistance to fungus, and pigmented dope for the final color applications. 

Purchase considerations

An aircraft covered with polyester fabric—if it is applied according to STC, properly maintained and kept in a hangar—can have an almost indefinite life. However, when considering the purchase of a fabric-covered airplane, it is important to seek a mechanic that is familiar with this type of aircraft and knows what to look for. 

With the cost of a complete recover job for a simple airplane such as a Piper J-3 Cub or Piper PA-18 Super Cub in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, you must be certain of the condition of not only the fabric, but what lies underneath. 

As with most airplane purchases, it is always good to look for an aircraft that is in excellent condition and pay the asking price rather than look for the bargain. That bargain plane could require recovering that would make the final cost exceed the value of the aircraft. 

Prior to contracting with a mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection, there are areas which you can check yourself just to see if the fabric-covered aircraft is in a condition that you would consider purchasing it. 

Keep in mind that vintage tailwheel aircraft probably have had a few ground loops, with airframe and/or engine damage and major repairs. Damage history is almost a given—but what this means for the purchaser is that the repairs must have been done correctly and that the aircraft flies like it should. 

The first order of business is to check the aircraft records, including any FAA Form 337 documents, to get an idea of the history of the repairs done to the airframe and engine. 

After checking the aircraft records, including compliance with all ADs, it would be wise to make up a written list of items to check on a pre-purchase walkaround. Make notes of anything you have a question about. 

Start with the condition of the fabric, and what the finish looks like. Check for cracked and missing paint or dope that would allow sunlight to directly access the fabric. Look for ringworm in the fabric; this indicates that the paint job is failing and will cause the cloth to deteriorate in a short time if exposed to direct sunlight. 

Check for patches, noting any especially large patch areas—these would require a logbook entry, or possibly a 337 form indicating a major repair. If there is no logbook entry indicating a repair was made where a large patch is located, be suspicious. There could have been major damage to the airframe structure that was repaired improperly, or not at all. 


Wrinkles or sags in the fabric most likely point to structural damage. For example, a dent in the metal leading edge of a wing would cause a sag or wrinkle in the fabric that would be visible from the outside. 


Blisters or rough areas under the fabric along lower longerons are an indication of rust in the steel tubing. Other areas could also have blisters or rough spots, such as the horizontal stabilizer, elevator or rudder; water is often trapped in these areas and eventually causes rust or corrosion. 


A fabric-covered aircraft should have sufficient drain holes or grommets installed—not only to allow moisture to escape, but also allow air to circulate and expel any moisture created by condensation. 


With the owner’s permission, pull a few inspection plates off from under the wings, especially in the area where the lift struts attach to the spar. Use a flashlight to take a good look at the wooden spar around the bolt holes, checking for obvious defects such as cracks or splits in the wood.


Move the strut at the upper end and see if there is any evidence of movement between the spar and the lift strut attachment fitting. Whether the spar is wood or metal, any movement is not good and could cause the spar to crack in this location, which would be an expensive repair or replacement. 

While the inspection plates are off, take a look up through the wing. Sunlight is the number-one enemy of fabric, and any daylight showing through the upper wing surface means a reduction in the useful life of the fabric. A very dull indication of light is okay, but if you can see a shadow of a person’s hand blocking the sunlight, then there probably isn’t enough light-resistant silver or pigmented dope remaining on the fabric. 

While the inspection plates are off, take a look at the rib stitching to see if the lacing cord is intact. Rodents have been known to get into a wing and chew the lacing cords, requiring expensive repairs. Rodents and birds can destroy an aircraft, especially if the structure is compromised by droppings or if drain holes are plugged with debris. 


While on the subject of wing ribs, note that over the years, several aircraft accidents (and at least one fatality) have occurred as a result of missing rib nails that secure the rib to a wooden spar. 


Another problem with wings and ribs is that of dissimilar metal corrosion when steel clips are used to secure fabric to the individual aluminum wing ribs. 

Since tailwheel equipped aircraft are sometimes involved in ground loops, check the wingtips for damage. Look at the fabric to see that there are no scrapes or tears, and check the wingtip for cracks or damage by looking up and out toward the tip through an inspection hole near the wingtip. 

Take a look at the lower rudder area and tail post for signs of damage such as loose fabric, wrinkles or sags, and possibly bent tubing from a hard landing on the tail. 


Get up on a stepladder and check the center section and inboard wing fabric directly in the propeller slipstream. This area sees a lot of vibration and heavy airstream deflection from the propeller, which induces wear/chafing and weakening of the fabric. 

The use of a suction cup on the fabric—attempting to pull up on the fabric in this area—is a simple test to see if the fabric is weak and/or not secure, requiring repair or replacement. 

Final thoughts

When evaluating a fabric-covered aircraft, you really need to take enough time to go over the paperwork and the aircraft completely. Repairs to structure or a complete recover job are considered major repairs; they are expensive, and legally must be done by (or supervised by) an experienced and licensed mechanic with inspector status to complete the FAA Form 337. 

Recovering a Type Certificated aircraft is a job I recommend you leave to the experts. Errors in the fabric replacement process are easily made—and these can be difficult and costly to correct. Mistakes may even require starting the job over. 

Replacement of aircraft fabric is a big job because it never is just a plain recover job—there may be repairs required along with the preparation involved, such as completely disassembling the fuselage frame and sand blasting the fuselage, inspecting for damage and rust, and applying dope proof primer. 


Woodwork requires proper preparation with cleaning, sanding and application of special dope proof sealer. 

Multiple repairs to the structure, to include welding prior to the recover process, are more common than one may anticipate. These repairs can become overwhelming unless the job is properly planned and executed by an experienced person. 

How much a recover job costs depends on the process used, how many repairs are required prior to covering, and if you are able to assist in the process. 

Poly-Fiber publishes an estimated cost of materials for recovering a Cub as approximately $5,500, and estimates the time required as a month. These figures are probably optimistic, especially if you don’t have experience or close supervision. 

When considering the purchase of a fabric-covered aircraft, look for a well-maintained aircraft with a quality fabric cover job. A quality job should last 20 years or more, depending on environmental conditions and exposure to sunlight. Any bargain-priced fabric-covered plane will most likely cost more to own. 

Vintage tailwheel aircraft can be a joy to own and fly. Enjoy the experience, buy the best—and leave the recover job to someone else!  

Michael Berry is a former aircraft repair shop owner. He is also a multi-engine rated ATP (757/727), A&P/IA, airplane owner, turbojet flight engineer and Part 121 air carrier captain. Berry has over 15,000 pilot hours. Send questions or comments to .


Consolidated Aircraft Coatings (Poly-Fiber)
Place, Peel, Press & Spray

Place, Peel, Press & Spray

The pros and cons of using decals and stencils to apply aircraft graphics.

You’ve just repainted your airplane and it’s beautiful. There’s just one detail keeping you grounded: applying the required N-numbers and placards. 

According to the dictionary, a placard is a “sign for public display.” So, what’s the best method to publicly display your aircraft information? Decals or paint? 

Dried-out decals

I’ve never liked decals, particularly after seeing so many cracked and peeling from airplanes sitting in the sun on the flight line, but they do have some advantages. 

First, almost anyone with patience can apply them. If you mess up, peel it off and try again. Another benefit is that they can be easily removed. If there’s a chance you may change your N-number, decals are the way to go. 


There’s one caveat, though: the paint around decals can fade, so after a few years it may not look so great if you make a change. (Kind of like a girl with a suntan from one bikini who then wears another with a different cut. You can tell where the sun’s been, and where it hasn’t.)

Unless you have the cash to hire a professional painter, or you’re an artist yourself, you’ll want to use decals for any complex designs. Unusual or personalized images can be sent to an aviation graphics company for printing on decal material.


Soap is for the kitchen dishes

When applying a decal to an airplane, many people suggest using soapy water—often a mixture using common dish soap—to make a slippery surface for the decal to float upon. This allows for fine adjustment of the decal’s position and for air bubbles trapped underneath to be squeezed out. 

I don’t think soap is good for adhesion, and I have to wonder if the reason many decals are peeling and cracking is that they’ve been degraded by a sunbaked soap film. If you use my method, you shouldn’t have any bubble problems and you won’t need to make last-second, soapy adjustments to your decal’s position.

My method to apply decals

1. Use a small piece of masking tape to place the decal where you want it, with the backing material against the aircraft. The decal material is made of three layers, a heavy backing, the decal in the middle and a light protective paper. You’ll be able to see through the light paper side to ensure its orientation.

2. Step back and look at the position carefully. Compare what you see in front of you to your photos or design plan. Is the decal straight? Does it match the “line” of your plane? It might look better if it matches the airplane’s lines versus being dead-straight.

3. Adjust the decal until you are absolutely sure that’s where you want it, then completely tape down the top edge.

4. Flip the decal up, making a hinge of the tape. Crease the tape so it moves easily.

5. Have a soft, clean cloth within reach and start peeling the backing off the decal from the top, next to the tape hinge. Press down that topmost edge of the decal and use the cloth to smooth the decal as you slowly peel the backing material off. The cloth will help it go down smoothly without any bubbles. Work slowly, and pull the backing material off in a straight line.

6. When the decal is fully applied, remove the protective paper and masking tape, and rub the decal gently with the cloth.

A second pair of hands helps during any decal application, and is essential for large decals—one person pulls off the backing, while the other smoothes the decal. 

For really large decals—such as 12-inch N-numbers, which could be five or six feet long—it’s best to cut the decal into manageable pieces. After taping down the top edge (step three, above), cut vertically between the numbers. The decal will look like a row of teeth. Then apply one number at a time.

Placarded information

Aviation graphics companies sell sets of decals for all the placarded information needed inside and outside your particular aircraft, such as “No Step,” “Avgas Only” and “Fasten Seat Belts.” Do I really need a “No Smoking” decal on my instrument panel? Evidently, it’s required. 

Use the same tape-hinge method described earlier for these small decals.

Stencils and paint

Painted graphics look better, especially after years under the sun, but painting also takes far more effort (or money, if you want someone else to make the effort). 

First, you must apply stencils and protect nearby areas of the aircraft from overspray, then mix up and spray toxic paints, remove the stencils and protective materials, and clean the spray equipment. The stencils, paint and rental of a spray gun cost far more than decals. 

Painted markings are also almost impossible to change—you’d have to repaint the background color first—so be sure before you start spraying. 


If it’s so much effort, why paint? 

It looks really good and stands up to the elements when done right.

Large stencils can cost hundreds of dollars—quite a bit more than masking tape—but modern stencil materials give a much sharper edge and don’t allow paint to bleed underneath. 

I think it’s worth the cost. This is especially true when painting on fabric covered aircraft with ribs and stitches to cover. The difference between figures sprayed through computer-cut stencils and those done using masking tape is obvious, at least to me.

Some painters still prefer to use tape to mask out N-numbers and insignias for painting, citing the cost and difficulty of handling large stencils. But, in my opinion, that’s a tradeoff of quality for cost. You have to be a real artist to create straight, properly aligned letters with a roll of masking tape, and there’s inevitably a few spots where the paint bleeds.


If you do use masking tape, run your thumbnail over the edges to make sure they are pressed down completely. And, no matter how well you think the tape is adhering, paint will bleed under it every time if you apply the paint too heavily at first. A very light, almost dry coat will seal the edges and prevent bleeding when you apply a heavy coat to finish the job.

My method for applying stencils is the same as it is for decals. The only difference is the additional step of removing the middle layer—the one cut in the shape you want to paint—so the paint can reach the surface.

Really large stencils might take three people to apply: two to pull off the backing material and one to smooth the stencil.

Take a second look

I ordered two identical stencils for my aircraft. You would think the company would set up the type (in this case, a large N-number), hit “print 2,” and they’d be spit from the stencil-cutting machine exactly alike. Well, they weren’t. 

The painter placed the stencils on my aircraft according to my instructions and sprayed. Only after he peeled them off did we see that the spacing of the letters was incorrect on one. The letters were too close together.

My pilot friends say, “no one will ever notice,” and maybe that’s true—but I noticed it immediately. I could have fixed it by increasing the spacing myself, if only I’d seen it earlier. The lesson here is: stand back and take a long look before slinging paint. 

I’m sure there are decal people, stencil people, masking tape people… and everyone has their own opinion. You can make your own choice. That’s part of the fun of having your own plane, isn’t it?

What methods have you found work best on your airplane? Visit the forums at PiperFlyer.org to share your successes, upload your photos, and get more ideas.

Dennis K. Johnson is a writer and a New York City-based travel photographer. He flies sailplanes whenever possible and is the owner of N105T, a newly restored Piper Super Cub Special. Send questions or comments to .


The High & The Writey: When Did your Life Change Forever?

Remembering why we fly.

“I’ve owned 41 airplanes. A few of them would talk with me. This little seaplane, though, we’ve had long conversations in flight. There’s a spirit in anything, I think, into which we weave our soul. Not many pilots talk about it, but they think about it in the quiet dark of a night flight.”

—Richard Bach 

Why do you fly? I am asking a serious question. What was the reason after you took your first flight that you decided you needed to keep flying? 

Flying isn’t an inexpensive hobby, like Frisbee throwing or collecting pencils. It isn’t something you can put in a drawer for 10 years and ignore while the rest of your life trundles on its merry way. At some point in your life you told yourself that flying was something you really wanted to do, and at that point your life changed forever.

Think back and try to remember that moment.

My decision point came when I was 12 years old and was on my red three-speed Schwinn bike. The realization that I wanted to spend my life flying occurred to me as I turned my bike onto my street after a long and hot ride back from the airport in Lakeland, Fla.

This wasn’t my first round-trip six-mile bike ride up and down Drane Field Road. I had been doing it every weekend for quite a few months. This day was different because I had finally gotten a free airplane ride. It was short and hot and was in an Ercoupe. 

I was biking home on that humid day and right when I leaned into the turn to Polk Avenue, I spotted three people standing on the sidewalk. Then this thought hit my brain: “Those people didn’t get to go flying today.Their lives must be awful.”

From that point on, I never understood how some people could live their lives without going flying—without even thinking about going flying. 

Can you imagine that? Some people don’t even like flying. Some people hate the idea of flying! What kind of life is that? 

I have learned how to live in a world that contains non-flying people. Some of them are my friends. Some of them are family members. Living with non-flying people does not mean that I in any way understand them. How can you be truly happy in this world when you know flying exists and you aren’t doing it?

Some of you may have been flying for so long that you have forgotten the thrill you had when you decided that you had to fly. You may look on your plane as something that can get you somewhere at a great amount of speed. You might think of it as a business tool that saves you time and money. Flying might have reduced itself in your life to punching buttons on your flight management system and complaining that you don’t get enough days off from your piloting job.

This can happen with any endeavor, no matter how wonderful. I know that it has happened to me from time to time. For example, back when I was flying Boeing 777s for a large airline, this thought actually crossed my brain one day: “Oh, crap. I have to fly to Paris again?”

This disconnect from the love of flying can be a way to cope when spending time with non-flying people. Who of us hasn’t been at a party and gotten asked by a non-flying acquaintance, “Flying is expensive, right?” 

Your stock answer was most likely something to do with how much money your airplane makes you, or saves you. You were attempting to use concrete terms to explain something that is too awesome for words. 

I suggest that we stop trying to explain the inexplicable to people who think that flying is something uncomfortable that they have to do in order to visit Aunt Thelma in Shreveport. 

Maybe a better answer to the flying question should go something like this: “I fly because I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Or, we could quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who said, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.” I’d leave it at that, and then gently change the subject to something that party-goers commonly talk about—like taxes, losing weight, or football. 

Meanwhile, in your own mind, you can remember how that golden sunset looked that evening when it was calm and quiet and comfy while you were flying your plane. You can remember the feeling as you sit in your cockpit after a flight and listen to the tic-tic-tic of your engine cooling down and the slowing whirr of your instruments winding to a stop.

I am not sure you can express to your party friend in words that the reason you have made flying such a big part of your life is because you love it. 

We love almost everything about it. I am not saying that we love checkrides or memorizing FARs or dealing with the FAA. That stuff is clerical debris, and it is the price we have to pay to do what we hold dear. 

I certainly don’t begrudge you the fact that your airplane can save you time, nor do I want to diminish the pride you might have from memorizing all of those FARs. I just hope that from time to time—maybe as you metaphorically ride your bicycle home from the airport—you consider that the true reason you spend all of your time and treasure on flying is because you simply love it.

Kevin Garrison’s aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Fla., and he retired as a 767 captain in 2006. Currently Garrison is a DC-9 simulator instructor and a 767 pilot instructor. Send questions or comments to .

PA-24 Comanche Buyer's Guide

PA-24 Comanche Buyer's Guide

What you need to know about buying and owning a Piper Comanche.

When some pilots think of Piper, they think of the Cherokee line and its derivatives which are still in production today. The Piper Comanche is a different design and preceded the first Cherokee by three years.

While Cherokees were designed and built in Vero Beach, Fla., the Comanche is a Lock Haven, Penn. aircraft. Lock Haven was Piper’s original factory. The Comanche was the first all-sheet-metal, semi-monocoque aircraft that Piper designed and produced.

Piper opened the Vero Beach facility to devise and assemble a line of aircraft that were less expensive to produce than the Comanche. A combination of design choices for ease of manufacture and the lower labor rates in Florida led to the Cherokees eclipsing the Comanches. Comanche production ceased in 1972.

Strong airframe, good performance

The Comanche is said to have about 50 percent more parts than does the Cherokee. I believe it.

It clearly took more manpower to build the parts and assemble the aircraft. One result was a particularly strong airframe.

The Comanche was designed to withstand 7.5 gs rather than the 5.7 gs required by FAA regulations.1 Though the aircraft was only officially certified in the normal category for 5.7 gs, the reserve of strength allowed for bigger engines and increased gross weight as the design was refined over the years.

So why is there any interest in an aircraft that has not been produced in almost half a century? The answer is in the specifications.

When a pilot starts to look for an honest four-place traveling aircraft with good speed and range, they usually find the performance numbers of a Comanche attractive. I developed this guide for those who are not immediately repelled by the idea of an older airplane and are intrigued by the performance.

The Piper Comanche is a classic. It’s one of the nicest planes to fly and own—and also one of the hardest to try and find a truly nice one for sale.

Comanches tend to be loved to death. By that I mean that owners hang on to them long after they should have sold them. So many have been sitting idle for too long because the owner keeps hoping to get that medical back and just can’t bear to sell the plane that he or she has had for decades.

Designed to compete

Piper designed the Comanche to compete with the Bonanza. Arguably Beech won that competition, but Comanche owners are every bit as dedicated to them as Bonanza drivers are dedicated to the various models.

The “Bo” generally wins on fit and finish. They are both nice flying, with the “Bo” generally faster down low, and the Comanche often faster in the low teens where the Comanche wing starts to strut its stuff.

The “Bo” is nicer landing, but the Comanche is cheaper to buy and maintain. I have well over a thousand hours in various Bonanza models, and prefer the Comanche—especially when I am paying the bills to keep the plane running.

The cabin is roomy and comfortable, and the wing is optimized for operation at higher altitudes which increases their efficiency and range.

In its 14-year production run, Piper made numerous changes to the Comanches. Initially the Comanche was certified and produced as a 180 hp version powered by a Lycoming O-360-A1A. The first 100-plus aircraft produced were all Comanche 180s.

Comanche 180

The 180 had a maximum gross weight of 2,550 pounds, and today typically have a useful load of between 900 and 950 pounds. (Keep in mind that these specifications are approximations based on my experience.) Comanches are often very highly modified with speed kits, etc., so each aircraft really has to be treated as its own design.

The Comanche 180 demonstrates the soundness of the aerodynamic design. A stock 180 in good condition will typically outrun an Arrow, carrying the same load on 20 less horsepower—a 75 percent cruise of 140-plus ktas on 10 gph or so.

Applying all the possible speed mods has brought the cruise speed of a Comanche 180 to over 150 ktas and close to that of a Cirrus SR20, the latter of which has the benefit of composite construction and computer-aided design.

The Comanche 180 carries 60 gallons of fuel, of which 56 gallons is usable. This gives a four-hour endurance with a very comfortable reserve. It is also the nicest handling and nicest landing of all of the Comanches.

There is nothing from the outside that identifies a Comanche 180, save for the insignia. They have the identical appearance to the 250 and the early 260s. The hallmark of the early Comanches is the two windows on the side. The cowling is even the same for the four-cylinder 180s as it is for the six-cylinder 250s/260s.

Comanche 250

In the spring of 1958, Piper received its certification for the Comanche 250 and started making deliveries. The 250s had a maximum gross weight of 2,800 pounds. Stock airplanes commonly has useful loads around 1,100 pounds.

They are generally equipped with an O-540-A1A5 engine. The 250s would cruise at around 155 ktas at 75 percent power and burn about 14 gph at optimal altitude.

Like all Comanches, if you take it up higher, you’ll be rewarded with big fuel flow decreases with only small decreases in speed. Cruising above 10,000 feet will only cost a few knots in speed, but the fuel flow will drop to 12 gph or less. Keep climbing and the efficiency just keeps improving.

With 56 gallons of useable fuel, 500- to 600-mile flights with reserve is easily possible. Tiptanks are an STC’d option that increases the fuel capacity by 30 gallons and in most models, increases the gross weight.

The 180/250 came originally with the instrument cluster toward the center of the panel and the avionics on the left side. This was apparently so that the copilot would have easy access to the flight instruments. This configuration was fairly common in early aircraft, but was going out of fashion even in the 1950s.

Early Comanches had manual flaps and an arm that serves as the emergency gear extension lever that sticks up from the floor and lays down when the gear is raised. More than one unwary pilot has lost an iPad to that arm by putting the device on the floor in front of and between the front seats.

In 1961, Piper made significant improvements. The company increased the fuel capacity to 90 gallons with 86 useable by adding two optional 15-gallon auxiliary tanks outboard of the mains. This was only available for the 250 Comanches. That much fuel gives the Comanches a range of 900 to 1,000 nm. With tiptanks as well, 116 gallons of usable fuel could make a 10-hour flight a reality.

Also for the 1961 model year, toe brakes were added to the pilot side in addition to the handbrake, and the panel got a center stack configuration for the radios. To make sure that the additional fuel did not eat up too much of the cabin capacity, Piper increased the gross weight to 2,900 pounds.

For the 1962 year, Piper replaced the manual flaps that mostly just pivoted downward with Fowler-type flaps that moved back and down, thereby increasing the wing area. That in turn reduced the stall speed and takeoff roll.

At some point in 1962 or 1963, apparently with the 1963 model year2, fuel injection became an option.

By the end of 1963, Piper quit producing the 180 hp model except upon special order, and then stopped the 180 altogether in 1964.

Comanche 400, Comanche 260

Big changes were forthcoming in 1964. Piper introduced the 400 hp version of the Comanche, and by mid-year, started producing the 1965 model year—the first of the 260 hp Comanches.

The 400 Comanche was the brainchild of Howard “Pug” Piper who wanted a Comanche that would cruise in the high teens and low flight levels without the complication of turbocharging. The 400 has an eight-cylinder IO-720 engine that indeed will climb up and cruise in the flight levels.

The aircraft came out in 1964 powered by an IO-720-A1A engine with 400 hp. The fuel capacity is 130 gallons. Cruise speeds range from 190 ktas or so at 75 percent burning around 22 to 23 gph, to 160 to 170 ktas at higher altitudes burning 15 to 16 gph. (Again, speeds depend a lot on what speed modifications are installed.) The gross weight is 3,600 pounds, with a typical useful load of 1,350 to 1,400 pounds.

Piper made 147 of the 400s—all in the 1964 model year—and they are still prized as a niche aircraft. They climb like a homesick angel, but the engine is expensive to overhaul, running $60,000 to $70,000 for a quality rebuild.

The 1965 model was the first of the 260 Comanches which were delivered from late summer 1964 through 1965. With a new prop and a fuel injected engine (which was now redlined at 2,700 rpm instead of 2,575 rpm), an additional 10 hp was gained.

Piper also improved the aerodynamics by changing to a single-fork main landing gear which tucked the strut and the brake caliper into the wheel well, reducing drag.

Another desirable improvement was the installation of dual exhaust. These removed the muffler from the rear of the engine which had a tendency to overheat the cabin through the firewall. The new dual exhaust was also less prone to exhaust stack cracking which was, and still is, all too common, especially on the right side stack of the 250 Comanches.

Comanche 260B

Arguably the largest cosmetic and functional change in the Comanche took place with the 1966 B model Comanches. The fuselage was altered to make it possible to install a fifth and sixth seat in the baggage compartment. To accomplish this, Piper removed the back bench seat and replaced it with individual seats.

The baggage compartment seats are essentially three- to four-inch pads that attach to an anchor and sit on the floor. A padded back also attached and rested against the back bulkhead. Two little foot wells were placed under the rear/middle to accommodate these passengers’ feet. Piper was also required to move the baggage door to the left side of the fuselage so that it could act as an emergency exit, and added an additional window.

The B models and later are easily identified by the three windows down each side as opposed to the two windows for earlier Comanches. This made the fuselage appear longer, but in fact that is an optical illusion. The fuselage deimensions for all Comanches are the same. The overall length can change due to differences in prop and spinner. The B model was produced from 1966 through 1968.

Comanche 260C

For the model year 1969, Piper made a number of significant refinements. The main improvement was a much more modern-looking instrument panel in the standard six-pack configuration. Gone were the old toggle switches and the overall look that seemed to come out of an Ernie Gann novel. Lighted rocker switches and a power lever quadrant replaced the push-pull engine controls and made the Comanche C a more modern-looking plane.

Also gone was the classic Comanche “smiley face” cowling. In its place was the “shark’s nose” cowling with an extended prop hub. Cowl flaps were added in an effort to reduce cooling drag. The gross weight was increased 100 pounds to 3,200 pounds, but the majority of that was eaten up with the changes.

With the Comanche C, Piper also made factory turbocharging an option. The PA-24-260TC was actually the fastest of the Comanches when it was taken up into the flight levels. The manual wastegate controlled the manifold pressure once the aircraft could no longer maintain the desired power setting. These are the rarest of the Comanches with only around two dozen produced.

Turbocharging does provide significant altitude capability, but it comes at the expense of low altitude performance. The back pressure in the system caused by the manual wastegate means a reduction of about an inch in manifold pressure on takeoff. The turbos also come at a financial cost, as they increase the maintenance expenses and the engine overhaul expenses.

Knowledge sharing

Successful ownership and enjoyment of a Comanche generally requires the owner to take a role in the maintenance of the aircraft and take responsibility to obtain training from a knowledgeable instructor.

There are few shops in the country that truly know how to care for a Comanche and know what the current availability and lowest cost options are for parts. Most shops don’t see more than a few Comanches every decade, and their design is significantly different from the Cherokees and their derivatives.

When a known Comanche-savvy shop is not readily available, a partnership between a local IA and the owner can bridge the gap to help keep a Comanche in good airworthy condition.

There are online Comanche communities, such as the Airworthy Comanche Forum and the International Comanche Society, plus training programs by the Comanche Flyer Foundation.

One or more of these in combination with resources from your Piper Flyer Association can provide an owner with ready access to the information necessary to get any Comanche back in the air expeditiously.

Pre-purchase considerations

When purchasing a Comanche, it is important to have a pre-purchase inspection by someone who actually knows Comanches, not just one who claims to know them based on having done a few annual inspections over the years. There are a couple of areas where any old mechanic will not do.

The landing gear is the chief area where lax maintenance can cause a significant problem—and a significant expense—for a new owner. Failure to ensure that the landing gear has been properly maintained can be a $10,000 mistake if the entire system needs to be restored.

The Comanche landing gear is robust and perfectly safe, but it is not idiotproof. It does not have mechanical down-locks, which means the system needs to be rigged properly to keep the drag links overcenter so that no bounce or side load will allow the retraction of gear.

Because mechanics often do not have a good feel for how much play in a landing gear system is too much, Piper came up with a detailed inspection with Service Letter No. 782, and the FAA mandated that inspection to be done every 1,000 hours with Airworthiness Directive (AD) 77-13-21, paragraph (a).

That same AD also mandates the replacement of the landing gear bungees which help unload the landing gear transmission as the gear comes up. Replacement is every 500 hours or three years, whichever comes first.

AD 77-13-21 creates one of the first gotchas for potential owners, because it mandates two actions at different intervals. Mechanics rarely miss the paragraph (b) requirement to replace the bungees, but not so the 1,000-hour inspection which calls for partial disassembly of the landing gear and checking the bolts and bushings for excessive wear. This wear inspection is often overlooked—or even occasionally signed off without having been performed.

An experienced Comanche mechanic can tell in less than an hour what the condition of the landing gear is, but that is knowledge that comes from having performed a number of the 1,000-hour inspections to learn the before-and-after condition.

AD 2012-17-06 on the stabilator torque tube horn requires a 500-hour repetitive dye penetrant inspection for each horn with more than 1,000 hours time in service. The inspection takes about six hours. There is an STC to permanently comply with that AD by installing a new horn.

The STC’d horn runs close to $1,000 and will take eight to 10 hours to install, and then is subject to a 100-hour visual inspection that requires no disassembly.

Piper Service Bulletin No. 1189 provides more information, but fortunately, the AD is not as strict as Piper’s Service Bulletin. Thanks to some dedicated Comanche owners, one of whom is an aeronautical engineer, the FAA was convinced that longer inspection intervals were appropriate.

The two ADs detailed above are only a few of the ADs that may apply to a particular Comanche. In my experience, maintenance logs may state an AD has been permanently complied with, when it was only partially complied with—and repetitive inspections are, in fact, required. Research and verify the status of every single AD on the airframe before buying.


The Comanche is a great traveling machine. It hauls a good load, quickly, over a long distance. Comanches have been prominent over the years in racing circles, and numerous Comanches and Twin Comanches have circled the globe.

If are looking for a airplane that can haul a family, a Comanche is worth a look. It is frequently the last plane someone buys—and it could be the last plane you ever need to buy.

A&P/IA Kristin Winter has been an airport rat for almost four decades. She holds an ATP-SE/ME rating and is a CFIAIM, AGI, IGI. She has over 8,000 hours and owns and operates a 1969 C model Twinkie affectionately known as Maggie. Send questions or comments to .

 March 2017

1Author Ted Durosko is quoting Piper Chief Design Engineer Fred Strickland in “Check Pilot Report: The Piper Comanche.” Flying, Feb. 1958.

 2Piper followed the same protocol as automobile manufacturers who usually started the next model year in the fall of the previous year.



Owner information and assistance

Piper Flyer Association
Airworthy Comanche Forum


Safety and training

Comanche Flyer Foundation



Maintenance documents

AD 77-13-21, “Prevent Landing Gear Collapse”



Piper Service Letter No. 782A
“Landing Gear Manual Extension System Inspection and Nose Gear Down Lock Spring Installation”


Piper Service Bulletin No. 1189

“Stabilator Horn Assembly Inspection”


AD 2012-17-06

“Stabilator Horn Assembly Inspection and Replacement”


All three documents are available at PiperFlyer.org/forums under “Magazine Extras”

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