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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,

Steve

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,

Steve

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 .

RESOURCES >>>>>

FAR PART 43, APPENDIX A
Federal Aviation Administration

BLACKWOOD HAND CONTROL STC FOR PIPER PA-28
Federal Aviation Administraton
rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgSTC.nsf/WebSearchDefault?SearchView&Query=SA1741WE

INFORMATION FOR WHEELCHAIR AVIATORS
Able Flight
ableflight.org

Freedom in the Air (flight videos)
freedomintheair.org/hand-controls

International Wheelchair Aviators
wheelchairaviators.org

Operation Prop (Linwood Nooe)
operationprop.com

Vision Air
mirageair.com.au/vision.shtml

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