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The PA-25 Pawnee was an agricultural aircraft. It remains a widely used aircraft in agricultural spraying and is also used as a tow plane, or tug, for launching gliders or for towing banners. It was produced from 1959 to 1982.

The PA-60 Aerostar (formerly Ted Smith Aerostar) is an American twin-engined propeller-driven executive or light transport aircraft, designed by Ted R. Smith. It was originally built by Ted Smith Aircraft Company, which after 1978 became part of the Piper Aircraft Corporation.

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Articles

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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The Best Pipers for Personal Travel

The Best Pipers for Personal Travel

Picks vary based on mission and budget, yet almost every Piper has a niche.

By Kristin Winter

With photos by Jim Lawrence

Almost all airplanes are good for traveling, when compared to cars. In the past, I regularly used a Tomahawk for 300 nm trips, though it wouldn’t be my first choice for a traveling aircraft.

As you can guess, there is no one best traveling aircraft. It depends on how far you need to go and how much you need to carry. The options are also informed by your budget. Here I discuss some of the best options to cover several different missions for personal pleasure travel.

The weekender

For a budget weekend traveling machine that is also economical for local flights or training, my pick would be an Archer II. I favor the 1978 and 1979 models. Starting with the 1978 model, the streamlined wheel pants boosted the speed to nearly 130 ktas.

To me, those two model years were the sweet spot for the 180 hp version of the fixed-gear Cherokee. After 1979, Piper started to add deluxe interiors and other amenities that eroded the carrying capacity.

Earlier versions may haul more, but are slower. All of the 180 hp PA-28s are good, stable aircraft and make good instrument aircraft as well.

All of the PA-28-180/181 aircraft are great airplanes. Some have been modified with aerodynamic enhancements that allow these older Archers to rival the speed of the Archer IIs with the factory speed wheel pants.

Range for the Archer II is somewhat modest even with full tanks. A 500 to 550 nm flight with an hour reserve allows 650 to 700 pounds of payload. This makes the Archer II good for weekend jaunts for a family of four, or three adults.

The cost of operation with the reasonably bulletproof O-360 Lycoming engine, fixed gear, and fixed pitch prop makes an Archer II quite economical. This is also an aircraft that can be purchased to learn in as it makes an excellent trainer as well.

PIPER ARCHER II
Photo 01: In an Archer II, a 500 to 550 nm flight with an hour reserve allows 650 to 700 pounds of payload. Photo: James Lawrence
PIPER ARCHER II
Photo 02: The Archer II is a good choice for weekend jaunts for a family of four, or three adults. Photo: James Lawrence
PIPER ARCHER II
Photo 03: The Archer II panel. Photo: James Lawrence

The weekender

For a little more range, a little more speed, and a fair bit more carrying capacity, the Piper Dakota (PA-28-236) is a very popular aircraft, as attested to by the strong demand for them.

The Dakota will typically lift 1,200 to 1,250 pounds of fuel and payload. This makes it a true four-place aircraft.

The 72 gallons of usable fuel gives the Dakota a range of 600 to 700 nm, and its 235 hp O-540-J3A5D engine with a Hartzell constant speed prop delivers a cruise speed slightly in excess of 140 ktas.

If there is a downside to the Dakota, it is its popularity. It’s not uncommon to see nice ones for sale for much more than $100,000. That is at least 30 percent more than the Archer II. The Dakota is also more expensive to maintain with the constant speed prop and a six-cylinder engine that costs more to overhaul. The Dakota can burn up to 14 gph, while the Archer II burns about 10 gph at most.

The distance runners

For the family of four or less that wants to use the aircraft for longer trips, such as from New England to the Gulf Coast or down to Disney World, a faster aircraft with longer range better fits the bill.

Generally, non-aviation enthusiasts, and even some veteran flyers, don’t want to spend more than three to 3.5 hours in a small aircraft at one time. This fact limits the effective range to about six to seven hours of flying in a day, punctuated by a fuel and lunch stop. If your vacation trips are going to cover 1,000 nm or more, then an Archer or Dakota will be hard-pressed to make that journey in two legs.

For the longer trips where huge load is not critical, a Turbo Arrow III fits the bill nicely. It has the altitude capability to get up where the air is smooth and cool and to take advantage of the increased true airspeed. The Turbo Arrow III is also an easy aircraft to maintain, as it is a PA-28 to the bone. Its TSIO-360-F or -FB Continental engine is not as robust as the Lycoming, but it is a very smooth running engine.

There is one other option which has passionate adherents. The Comanche will rival the performance of the Turbo Arrow into the low teens, will haul a bit more, and is a gorgeous flying airplane. Comanches are also better protected against corrosion. All aluminum components on the Comanche were primed with zinc chromate before being riveted together, providing corrosion protection in the lap joints.

The downside is that it is hard to find a maintenance shop that is really well versed in the Comanche. Unless one is nearby, the best strategy for a new owner is to find a careful and competent mechanic and stay involved in the maintenance by doing the legwork to find solutions to issues as they come up.

The information and the solutions are available, but it often requires tapping into the tribal knowledge of other owners on forums such as the Airworthy Comanche Forum and Piper Flyer Association. Maintenance personnel will rarely take on that task, leaving it to the owner. (Piper Flyer published a Comanche buyer’s guide article in the March 2017 issue. —Ed.)

Piper Arrow III
Photo 04: The Piper Arrow III. Photo: James Lawrence
Piper Arrow III
Photo 05: The Piper Arrow III panel. Photo: James Lawrence
Piper Arrow III
Photo 06: The Piper Arrow III. Photo: James Lawrence
Cherokee Six
Photo 07: The Piper Cherokee Six: For those that have a bigger family or need to haul larger loads, the Cherokee Six can be a good bet. Photo: Mike Berry

For some, bigger is better

For those that have a bigger family or need to haul larger loads, the Cherokee Six and the Lance/Saratoga family are good bets. My choice here is a 1976 or 1977 Piper Lance. Without going to the expense of the turbocharged option, the Lance offers the best balance of speed and carrying capacity.

Earlier Cherokee Sixes will carry more weight, but are slower. The later PA-32s have more luxurious interiors and more amenities, at a cost in useful load. (Later this year, Piper Flyer will have a complete buyer’s guide to the Cherokee Six, Lance and Saratoga lines. —Ed.)

In 1979, the Lance morphed into the Lance II. The T-tail configuration cost useful load and made the aircraft unsuitable for soft fields due to the inability to lighten the nose on takeoff roll. However, the configuration works for many, and the Lance IIs are generally significantly cheaper than the Lance. After the Lance II, Piper added the tapered wing and rechristened it the Saratoga; a nice plane, but carrying capacity suffered.

The Lance is a solid 155 ktas aircraft that in my experience will lift 1,450 to 1,500 pounds. The usable fuel is 94 gallons, which at that speed is good for four-and-a-half hours or so. At 155 ktas, one can expect to burn 16 to 18 gph.

With forward and aft baggage compartments and six seats, the Lance, like the whole Cherokee Six line, offers many loading options if the pilot is careful with the center of gravity. The big cargo door in the back allows for the loading of bulky items, whether it’s taking a child to college or loading camping gear or mountain bikes. In 1977, club seating became an option on the Lance.

Many Lance owners that don’t need all the seats will sometimes remove one or both of the middle seats for more legroom and more space for baggage or coolers for in-flight dining.

Lance, Lance II
Photo 08: Lance, Lance II: The Lance is a solid 155 ktas aircraft that in the author’s experience will lift 1,450 to 1,500 pounds. The usable fuel is 94 gallons, which at that speed is good for four-and-a-half hours or so. The Lance IIs are generally significantly cheaper than the Lance. The T-tail configuration cost useful load, but the configuration works for many.

Higher, faster, farther

For the traveler who wants both long range and pressurized comfort, the Malibu and the Mirage might fit the bill. At one time, the Mirage was the preeminent reciprocating single-engine pressurized aircraft. It has since been superseded by Piper’s M-series aircraft as the M350, but is still available as a great used aircraft.

The original Malibu was produced with the turbocharged Continental 310 hp engine and was produced for five years before Piper certified the aircraft with a 350 hp turbocharged Lycoming TIO-540 and renamed it the Malibu Mirage.

The Malibu and Mirage were made to cruise high, fast and far. Range can extend to 1,550 nm, depending on altitude and power setting. Cruise speed is between 185 and 225 ktas; again, depending on power setting and altitude. Both models, as well as the newer M350, have 120 gallons of useable fuel.

While the Malibu was originally touted as burning 15 gph lean of peak (LOP), there were some significant engine problems with the Continental. Whether that was due to operating lean of peak, or was due to operators not operating LOP properly, is a matter of debate.

The 350 hp Lycoming on the Malibu Mirage is going to want something closer to 20 gph; the M350 with its Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A engine and dual turbochargers touts a “consistent fuel burn at any altitude,” according to the sales brochure.

The shortcoming of the Malibu/Mirage is that while the aircraft has six seats, you aren’t going to sit six adults in the airplane and do more than taxi around the airport. Even then, it would not be terribly comfortable. The real-world useful load runs about 1,250 pounds. With full tanks, the payload on these aircraft is slightly more than 500 pounds. (The M350 shows a standard useful load of 1,308 pounds. —Ed.)

The weight and complications of pressurization and all-weather capability exacts its toll on both carrying capacity—and on one’s wallet. PA-46 aircraft are not designed for short or soft runways, but they can get above much of the winter weather in pressurized comfort for a family of four and cover a lot of distance.

Mirage
Photo 09: Mirage: The Malibu and Mirage were made to cruise high, fast and far. Range can extend to 1,550 nm, and PA-46 aircraft can get above much of the winter weather in pressurized comfort for a family of four. Photo courtesy Piper Aircraft
Mirage Panel
Photo 09: Mirage Panel: Photo courtesy Piper Aircraft

The traveling twin

One more category of personal traveling machines to discuss are the light twins. For some, flying in a single engine aircraft over rough terrain or over water makes them uncomfortable. Without getting into the all-weather aircraft that we will discuss in an upcoming article on business aircraft, the Twin Comanche gets a shout out as a great traveling machine.

The “Twinkie” offers more speed than the Lance on less fuel. It carries the same as a Turbo Arrow III, or maybe slightly more, but goes further and faster, at least until the T-Arrow gets up into the mid-teens.

The Twinkie is powered by a pair of Lycoming IO-320 engines which are about as reliable as any aircraft engine ever made. The redundancy in systems and powerplants can be very comforting over the middle of Lake Michigan at night, or over an expanse of the high desert like southern Utah. (Kristin Winter has written a couple of in-depth articles about the Twin Comanche. Refer to the February 2016 and March 2016 issues of Piper Flyer. —Ed.)

As mentioned, in a later edition we will examine the best options for business travel. The commonality in that selection is that business needs a reasonably all-weather aircraft. However, there is a small segment of pleasure travelers whose needs fit better into that category than those we have just covered.

With the exception of its cropdusters, all Pipers are traveling machines to a degree. Range, payload and speed are the prime considerations. Next is weather capability. All the models discussed have the ability to be equipped to fly at least light IFR.

For those shopping for their first plane, those looking to upgrade—and those merely dreaming about a plane for personal travel—enjoy that journey. Buying a plane is a memorable event. Picking the right plane will make it memorable for all the right reasons.

Sources: “Piper Aircraft” by Roger W. Peperell. London, Air-Britain, Ltd., 2006; FAA TCDS 2A13, Rev. 56 (PA-28); TCDS A1EA, Rev. 18 (PA-30); TCDS A3SO, Rev. 33 (PA-32); TCDS A25SO, Rev. 27 (PA-46); piper.com; various Piper Aircraft POHs.

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 is a recognized authority on Piper Comanche aircraft. Currently she is serving as Director of Operations for a commuter airline in Southeastern Alaska. Send questions or comments to .

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Piper PA-60 Aerostar

Piper PA-60 Aerostar

The Piper Aerostar (formerly Ted Smith Aerostar) is an American twin-engined propeller-driven executive or light transport aircraft, designed by Ted R. Smith. It was originally built by Ted Smith Aircraft Company, which after 1978 became part of the Piper Aircraft Corporation.

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