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A Tale of Two Pipers

A Tale of Two Pipers

Piper Aircraft Corporation’s expansion in the mid-1950s led to the opening of a second facility at Vero Beach, Florida. The differences between Piper aircraft designed and built in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and those born in Vero Beach, Florida, are numerous and important for owners, operators, and mechanics to understand.

While many Piper pilots are aware on some level that Piper used to make aircraft in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and now makes them in Vero Beach, Florida, fewer understand the significance of that bit of Piper history.

It is not too much to say that Piper Aircraft in Lock Haven is almost a different aircraft manufacturer than Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach. The change of location led to significant design differences that need to be understood.


A history lesson

To appreciate the differences between the two Pipers and their respective product lines, a bit of history is in order.

Most know that Piper got its start in Pennsylvania when William Piper, Sr. bought into Taylor Aircraft. Piper then bought Taylor out, and moved the company to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, renaming it Piper Aircraft Corporation. This was back in the day of the Piper J-3 Cub, prior to World War II. (In “Piper Aircraft,” historian Roger Peperell notes that W.T. Piper bought out Gilbert Taylor in 1935, moved to Lock Haven and officially changed the company’s name in 1937.  —Ed.)

From the beginning, W.T. Piper sought to be the Henry Ford of aviation, attempting to make aviation affordable to the masses. With the Piper Cubs and their derivatives, Piper arguably achieved that goal.

After World War II, airplane development turned from tube and fabric truss construction to aluminum, semi-monocoque designs.

Piper’s first two all-metal aircraft were the Piper PA-23 Apache and the Piper PA-24 Comanche. These were both fine airplanes, but Piper’s lower-end line was still represented by the tube-and-fabric PA-20 Pacer and PA-22 Tri-Pacer. These models were competing against Cessna’s 170 and 172 series, which were more modern, all-metal aircraft. Piper needed a competitor to Cessna’s offerings, and they wanted to be able to produce it more cheaply.

Lightning Detection: Technology & Tactics

Lightning Detection: Technology & Tactics

Onboard weather avoidance equipment, and techniques for using it.

Anyone who has listened to an AM radio in thunderstorm country knows that lightning creates a lot of static on the radio. Likewise, readers of aviation stories have probably come across the mention of how an ADF will, at times, point to a lightning strike.

Out of this commonly observed phenomenon, airborne lightning detection equipment was born over 40 years ago. Christened the “Stormscope” by its inventor, Paul Ryan, the unit married radio frequency (RF) detection with a cathode ray tube (CRT) screen in order to plot lightning strikes.

One of the beauties of the Stormscope was that it didn’t require the large antenna needed by an onboard radar system. At that time, radar was largely limited to twins which had the room in the nose for the antenna; a few radar installations used a large pod under the wing.

The Stormscope used an ADF-sized antenna, so it was feasible to mount the equipment in most single engine aircraft and any twins that would not easily be outfitted with a radome in the nose. Thunderstorm detection came to the masses.

The term “Stormscope” has been appropriated to refer to all lighting detection equipment, but it is only technically correct when applied to the original line of products.

There are currently three providers of airborne lightning detection equipment (ALDE).

Insight Avionics manufactures a unit called the Strike Finder that analyzes individual strike signal properties to determine the bearing, range and severity. This data is plotted on an LED display as single orange dots. A stabilization module (not a rotating gyroscope) is available as a factory installed option; no field configuration or calibration of the module is required.

 

Avidyne makes the TWX670 Color Tactical Lightning Detection System which displays on its MFD, as well as some third-party displays. Color-contoured mapping of the electrical activity from the TWX670 sensor is often used as a complement with satellite-based datalink weather.

I’ll deal mostly with the Stormscope in this article, but the operating principles are the same—they all use radio detection to find lightning activity.

Evolution of the Stormscope

Over the years, the patents and trademark for Stormscope passed from Ryan International, to 3M, to B.F. Goodrich, and Stormscope is today owned and produced by L-3 Technologies’ avionics division.

The Stormscope can be thought of as having three generations, though this is a bit of a simplification. The Stormscope WX-7 was the first generation. In 1981, the second generation consisting of the WX-8, WX-9, WX-10/10A and WX-11 came out.

 

The WX-8 was a simplified unit that displayed a 135-degree forward-looking arc divided up into radial segments with three pseudo range rings that lit up green, orange or red depending on the intensity of the strikes detected.

The red segment was the innermost range/ring and the green was the outermost. WX-8s are still commonly found in General Aviation aircraft, though the unit has been out of production for many years—as have all of the second-generation units.

Another common second generation unit was the WX-10/10A. The units are almost identical, with the WX-10A having an improved processor. WX-10 series units display a 360 view with four range settings: 25 nm, 50 nm, 100 nm and 200 nm. There is also an option to select forward 180 degrees, which can provide better resolution as the unit’s memory only has to store those ahead, and not behind, the aircraft.

The WX-11 was essentially the same as the WX-10, but with the added feature of being gyrostabilized so that display would sync with the aircraft’s heading changes.

The third generation was dubbed by 3M the Series II Stormscope, and the WX-500 and WX-1000 are the two products on the market today. A Stormscope WX-500 will display information on many of the common MFD units, while the WX-1000 has its own display. These third-generation units have improved algorithms to provide more sensitivity and increased accuracy.

 

How it works

Any of the airborne lightning detection systems use well established radio detection principles and equipment to figure out what direction a lightning strike is coming from. In this, the units are quite accurate.

Ground units can use triangulation to obtain distance to the strike; airborne units do not have that luxury. Instead, the airborne units guess at the distance by comparing the strength of the RF signal made by the lightning strike to an average. The dot is then placed on the display on the measured radial and at the calculated distance relative to the distance ring depending on the range selected by the pilot.

If all lightning strikes were of the average strength, the distance displayed would likely be quite accurate. However, Mother Nature is never that cooperative. Hence a roughly circular cell will paint as an ellipse or sometimes in a stingray-shaped blob with the tail pointing at the aircraft in the center of the screen; this phenomenon is referred to as radial spread.

Usage and risk assessment

With the characteristics of a lightning detection system in mind, some techniques are helpful to interpret what the unit is telling you. The two primary pieces of information that a pilot needs to know when flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms are location and strength.

Determining strength is where the Stormscope is the most helpful. Onboard radar is better for location, but doesn’t tell you as much about the strength.

As lightning strikes more closely correlate with turbulence, and turbulence is more closely associated with inflight breakups, a few tips on determining the strength of a cell are in order.

It seems common sense that the more closely the strikes are displayed on the screen, the stronger the cell. That is true; however, there are other considerations. One of the most important is how fast the strikes are occurring.

One technique that I use is to hit the CLR button from time to time on my WX-10A so that I can watch a particular cell repopulate. A strong cell may add a dot on the display every few seconds so that it pretty much redisplays the cell is a minute or so.

 

Another technique is to change the range setting. If one is detecting a cell on the outer ring of the 100 nm range setting, I will change to 200 nm and see if more is shown. If so, it may indicate that what I am seeing at first is just a few strong hits and that on the longer range, I can see the outline of a larger cell. Any cell that paints well on the 200 nm range is one to be taken seriously.

Changing to the 50 nm range may show you whether a few of the strikes are strong enough to show on that setting. Tightness of the dots and the rapidity which they will repopulate tell you much about strength of the cell.

It is also good to keep in mind the overall atmospheric conditions when assessing the risk. If the storms are growing, as they typically are through the day with the peak solar energy in early to midafternoon, then the cells are likely getting stronger and extra caution is warranted.

At night, they are typically dissipating and what you see is what you get. I have gone through cells that painted only a strike or two, but painted ominously on the weather radar. Since it was after midnight, I was confident that the air mass cell was just collapsing and dropping water—and it was. (Always be alert to the potential for rapidly changing conditions, and don’t violate your personal margin of safety. —Ed.)

My strategy for using my WX-10A is to leave it set at the 100 nm range. Anything showing up in this range is worthy of the pilot’s attention. As a cell starts to populate on the outer edge, I can watch it move closer.

Once it is clear that I am not looking at a few random discharges that occasionally come and go, I will consider changing course. I have had good success with changing the heading so that no cell is in the 50 nm range within 30 degrees of the nose. That should give 25 nm of clearance from the storm.

To me 25 nm is adequate for the typical air mass thunderstorms, but ones associated with a strong frontal system may need a wider berth. Here is where knowing the overall weather conditions and having recent information on the tops of the cells can assist with the big picture decision-making.

As one changes course, it is important to hit the CLR button (unless the unit has a gyrostabilizer) so that you keep a clear idea of where the storm is relative to the aircraft.

An ALDE makes a nice accompaniment to onboard Nexrad by providing some real-time input, and to better allow the pilot to assess the strength of a thunderstorm and circumnavigate the worst of the cells.

With a little experience, onboard strike detection equipment can be the difference between taking a flight knowing some deviations may be necessary, and keeping the aircraft in the hangar for fear of blundering into a life-altering situation.

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

RESOURCES >>>>>

Weather avoidance equipment

– PFA supporters

Strike Finder Insight Instrument Corp.

Stormscope

L-3 Technologies, Inc.
Other lightning detection products
TWX670 Tactical Weather Detection System
Avidyne Corp.
The Best Entry-Level Pipers

The Best Entry-Level Pipers

Longtime Piper pilot and Piper twin owner Kristin Winter discusses the cream of the crop in entry-level VFR Piper aircraft.

Photos by James Lawrence

My introduction to flight came in a Cessna 152, in which I did most of my primary training. As a leggy Norwegian from the Upper Midwest, it was not a great fit; it was a barely fit. Add springtime convective turbulence and a flight school that had us plan all of our cross-country flights at 3,000 feet, and that poor little Cessna and I never quite hit it off. I learned what airsick was before I learned what airspeed was. 

A chance flight in a Piper Arrow II transported me upward in my eventual flying career—in more ways than one. I was smitten with the solid stability of the Arrow even in our brief dalliance. (For details on this flight, take a look at “Saved by the Arrow,” published in Piper Flyer in June 2016. —Ed.)

After passing my private pilot checkride, I cast longing looks at the two Arrows nestled among the gaggle of Cessna 152s and 172s. Unfortunately, the evil stepmother in this fairy tale—in the person of the FBO manager—decreed that I must have 100 hours before I could snuggle into one of the Arrows without a chaperone. This sent me in search of something similar that satisfied my urge for stability.

Discovering the Piper Cherokee 140

Back in the 1970s, there were seven FBOs on this suburban airport, a condition unheard of in the 21st century. A couple of hundred yards down the taxiway was a small FBO owned by a long-term instructor and airline pilot. 

For a reasonable price, there I could explore the charms of what I consider the best entry-level Piper for local flying and short cross-country flights: the PA-28-140, commonly known as the Cherokee 140. 

Here was a pair of 1967 models sporting Mark 12 navcoms, the greatest tube navcoms ever made. (For those less fossilized than myself, glowing vacuum tubes were what powered electronics until transistors and other solid-state circuitry took over a few years after these aircraft were produced.) One of the 140s had a coffee grinder-style ADF that required the pilot to carefully tune and listen for the ident to have any hope of finding the right frequency. 

For night flying, the instrument panel was lit by a red floodlight on the ceiling, just behind the trim crank, which was also on the ceiling and looked like a window crank from a 1950s Chevy (and probably was). It was perfect. I felt like I had stepped into an Ernie Gann novel. 

I put at least a hundred hours on those two planes as I forged toward my instrument rating, which was back when one needed 200 hours to qualify for it. I have flown numerous 140s since, and they are honest, straightforward little airplanes.

 

Production notes

The Cherokee was the replacement for the Tri-Pacer. It was designed to be simple to fly, simple to manufacture, and simple to maintain. This new model also got a new home as Piper opened up a factory in Vero Beach, Fla., which has been the home of the Cherokees and their derivatives ever since. 

Originally the aircraft was produced in 150 and 160 hp models and was called the Cherokee until the 1963 model, when it became the Cherokee B. With the B model, the buyer could choose a 150 hp engine, a 160 hp engine or a 180 hp engine. For the 1965 model, it became the Cherokee C, with the same engine options as the Cherokee B.

The aircraft got its “Cherokee 140” moniker when Piper decided to promote the basic Cherokee as a trainer. Piper removed the rear seats and tweaked the prop, and Lycoming tweaked the engine slightly to reduce the horsepower from 150 to 140 hp. 

The PA-28-140 came out in early 1964. In 1965, the horsepower was upped back to 150 and it was offered with rear seats. (Piper sold a kit to add the rear seats to the 140s sold a year earlier.) About the only thing that remained was the name. 

For 1964 and most of 1965, buyers could purchase a Cherokee 140 with 140 hp and thereafter, with only 150 hp engine as an option. From 1964 through 1967, buyers could also get a Cherokee B or Cherokee C with their choice of a 150, 160 or 180 hp engine. 

It was a confusing mishmash of models that Piper simplified with the 1968 model year, when the company trimmed the offerings to two: the Cherokee 140 with the 150 hp engine, and the Cherokee D with the 180 hp engine.

The Cherokee 140 did not undergo too many significant changes over its run, which ended in 1977. The most notable changes included going from push-pull engine controls to a throttle quadrant; a standard “T” configuration instrument panel; and moving the pitch trim from the overhead crank to the wheel on the floor next to the Johnson bar for the flaps. 

Various minor and cosmetic changes and refinements were made too, but these Cherokees are all the same basic airplane and they all fly the same way. Cherokee 140s were kept simple on purpose, as they were aimed at the trainer market and designed to keep the hundreds of Piper flight centers equipped back in the heyday of General Aviation training and activity. The production run only ended when the Tomahawk was introduced as the new Piper trainer.

Flight characteristics

If I had to describe a Cherokee in one word, it would be “honest.” They are simple and straightforward to fly, to land, and to maintain. In smooth air they can be trimmed to hold altitude so well you would think it was on autopilot. 

For northern pilots, it is nice that Cherokees are warm in the winter. The heater and the insulation are adequate to keep the cabin comfortable, even when it is below zero outside. 

They pretty handle well in a crosswind due to the low center of gravity and the wide stance of the landing gear, though the roll response is not stunning. The manual flaps also give you instant and immediate control, so if one needs to dump lift after touchdown, it is easy and quick.

I have a blast flying Cherokee 140s, but never flew one that had 140 hp. I doubt any that were made have not been converted to 150 hp. My first choice for an entry level, VFR, fun airplane that is a realistic option for a 200- to 300-mile trip carrying a couple of passengers would be a Cherokee 140. 

Cherokee 140 considerations

Today a Cherokee 140 can be had for the price of a new Toyota. It would be hard to spend more than $40,000 on one, and many are available for $30,000 or less.

Maintenance is simple and annual inspections should not much exceed $1,500 even in an expensive part of the United States, provided the aircraft is maintained as it goes and flown regularly. 

It is also one of the cheapest aircraft to insure, even for low-time pilots. At 7 to 8 gph, fuel burn is reasonable and the aircraft can be STC’d for auto fuel if it is available in one’s area.

Most Cherokee 140s will have a useful load around 820 to 850 pounds, which means you can fill the tanks with 48 gallons of useable fuel and still put almost 600 pounds in the aircraft. That makes it a good three-person aircraft, though there are some limitations on back seat legroom. 

At maybe 110 ktas burning about 8 gph, it has on-paper a range of around 450-plus nm with a VFR reserve—though backseat passengers might not be able to stick it out for four hours. Three hours is a reasonable maximum for these planes, yet they are also an economical choice for local flights and the proverbial hundred-dollar hamburger run.

 

The PA-38: also a good choice

My second choice for an entry level VFR aircraft might surprise some. I will make a pitch here for one much-maligned Piper, suitable for those who only need two seats. The Tomahawk is a very nice little plane. I have hundreds of hours in them. 

The poor Tomahawk got a bad rap as the tail structure needed some beefing up and a few pilots got them into a spin that they couldn’t get out of. 

Of all the planes I have flown—which covers most everything Piper has made in the last 50 years—the Tomahawk is the most fun just to do touch-and-goes. There is no other airplane that I can consistently grease on the runway than a Tomahawk. 

It is also just a fun little airplane, if you stay off soft strips. It would be a good choice to learn to fly in and to just bop around in. The visibility is unmatched with the bubble canopy and the panel is logical and well-laid-out.

The Tomahawk was designed as a trainer, so don’t expect it to be a great traveling machine. As it happens, I have flown as much as 400 nm in one leg, which is about as far as its 30 gallons of fuel will take it. It will cruise between 100 and 105 ktas burning 6 to 6.5 gph. 

The Tomahawk deserves a more complete treatment than I can give it here. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the little Tomahawk, despite disparaging names like “Traumahawk,” typically uttered by pilots who have never flown one. It is by far my favorite two-place trainer, and I would love to have one just to go around the patch and do touch-and-goes.

 

Compare and contrast

The Cherokee 140 and the Tomahawk are two excellent starter aircraft for VFR or light IFR, if properly equipped. 

The 140 has more capability and is more expensive to buy and feed gas than the Tomahawk. There are also a lot more of them out there. For that reason, the Cherokee 140 gets my nod over the fun little Tomahawk, which is somewhat rarer to find in the market. 

Both of these airplanes are great entry level choices for a first-time buyer looking for an economical plane for fun local flying and short trips. 

Look for Winter’s further explorations of the best Pipers for other missions in future issues of Piper Flyer. —Ed.

Kristin Winter has been an airport rat for almost four decades. She holds an ATP-SE/ME rating and is a CFIAIM, AGI, IGI. In addition, Winter is an A&P/IA. She has over 8,000 hours, of which about 1,000 are in the Twin Comanche and another 1,000 in the Navajo series. She owns and operates a 1969 C model Twinkie affectionately known as Maggie. She uses Maggie in furtherance of her aviation legal and consulting practice; she also assists would-be Comanche, Twin Comanche, and other Piper owners with training and pre-purchase consulting. Send questions or comments to .

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