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A Timeless Tri Pacer

A Timeless Tri Pacer

When it comes to PA-22 rebuilds, there are good Tri-Pacers and there are great Tri-Pacers. This is the story of an exceptional “truly better than the day it was built” Tri-Pacer.

The one thing I like most about attending events like Sun ‘n Fun and EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is the opportunity to just wander around and look at airplanes. Walking the grounds with the sun barely up and the dew still dripping from wings, I sometimes am lucky enough to come across an airplane with a story that just has to be told.

Such was the case when I happened upon my friend Darin Hart, owner of American Legend Aircraft Co., on a sunny Wednesday morning at Sun ‘n Fun. He was busily wiping Lakeland, Florida’s “liquid sunshine” off the most amazing-looking Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer that I have ever seen. It was like stepping back some 60 years to a spring morning in Lock Haven, just after the pristine PA-22 rolled off the assembly line. 

“This is without a doubt the nicest Tri-Pacer in the world,” Hart said. “And it’s not just because we rebuilt it. It’s as close to brand-new as you’re ever going to find. And it should be, considering the owner spent nearly $250,000 on it.”

While Darin had me at “the nicest Tri-Pacer in the world,” the thought that the owner had spent nearly $250,000 having it rebuilt meant this was a story to share.


You can’t put a price on love

“A lot of people say I’m nuts and that I’ll never get my money back,” explained the Tri-Pacer’s proud owner, Mark Wyant. “But I’m OK with that. That’s not what this is all about. This is not just any airplane to me. It represents a lot of great memories and a very special part of my life.”

Bringing back great memories and paying homage to his father are the two reasons why Wyant began the project to rebuild his beloved Tri-Pacer in the first place. 



To understand how we got where we are today, we have to go back to 1974, when Wyant was an eighth-grader in Dallas.

“When you’re going to school in Garland, Texas, if you don’t play football, there’s not much left for you to do. I was too skinny for football, so I spent a lot of time reading,” Wyant said. “I got a copy of  ‘Anyone Can Fly’ by Jules Bergman, and I was hooked. I read that book three or four times.”

“It was all about Bergman learning to fly in a Piper Tri-Pacer. It was full of Tri-Pacer stories and pictures, and that was my introduction and motivation to learn to fly,” he said. “And, of course, I fell in love with the Tri-Pacer because of the book.”

When he turned 15, Wyant started taking flying lessons at Dallas’s Addison Airport (KADS) in a Cessna 150. 

“Then, my dad and I got the idea of buying a Tri-Pacer together,” Wyant said. “We started looking around for a nice one. Turned out there was one for sale at Addison Airport where I was learning to fly. My dad and I went over to look at it together.”

“I just fell in love with it right there. We ended up buying it for $5,000.”

“Later that night, I snuck back into the hangar where it was parked. My best friend Jon Contreras and I just sat in it with the master on and all the lights flashing,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been more proud of it than if it was a new Learjet.”

“I finished up my license in 8664D at nearby Rockwall Municipal Airport (F46). The Tri-Pacer was a lot more fun to fly than the 150,” he said. “Two months after I got my license, I flew my mom and dad a thousand miles up to Indiana to see my grandmother. My parents were very trusting—neither of them were pilots. I even took my grandmother for a ride back in the summer of 1976. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.”

Wyant said that during his senior year in high school, he took a lot of his friends flying and that the guys on the football team were now looking up to him—literally.

“I was suddenly the big man on campus, so to speak,” he said. “Not many high school seniors have their own airplanes. The Dallas Morning News even did an article on me when I got my license on my 17th birthday.”

While Wyant loved his Tri-Pacer, once he was out of high school, his head was turned by airplanes that were just, well, sexier. 

“We had the Tri-Pacer for about a year, then sold it,” he said. “You always want to go further and faster. I went on to become a CFI and fly freight at night. After a while, I went to work flying for American Eagle, and finally as an international 767 pilot for American Airlines.”

8664D: Gone but not forgotten

Wyant spent a total of 22 years flying for American. While he loved his job, when the opportunity came along to take an early retirement from flying the line, he took it. Wyant had a logbook full of hours in a wonderful assortment of aircraft types, yet he never forgot about his first love.

“I always knew my Tri-Pacer was out there. I kept checking the FAA registry for it and fortunately nobody ever changed the N-number,” he said. “That airplane just meant so much more to me than tubing and fabric. It has a history with me—a short one, but a very meaningful one in my life.”

“My dad passed away some 18 years ago, and he was always very supportive of my flying. It was one of those things that he and I shared a great attachment to,” Wyant said. “My dad couldn’t fly because of poor hearing and eyesight. But that didn’t stop him from loving time in the cockpit. He loved to fly. This right seat was his whenever we flew together.”

“As time went on, whenever we would buy another airplane—whether it was the Mooney, Bonanza or Aerostar—when we flew together, we’d laugh and say, ‘It sure beats the Tri-Pacer.’ But, that’s not a bad thing. That little airplane meant something really special to us,” he said. “That’s why I had to get this airplane back.”

As luck, or maybe fate, would have it, Wyant’s first love was living not far away in Tyler, Texas, which is about 80 miles from his home in Dallas.

“I had searched out the owner’s phone number and called to see if he was willing to sell. His answer was no,” Wyant said. “About a year later, I called and asked again. Same answer. About another year later, I decided that I was going to give it one last shot, so I called and offered twice what it was worth. That got his interest.”

As Wyant happily admits, he ended up paying “stupid money” to get his beloved Tri-Pacer back. When it comes to settling affairs of the heart, some things just can’t be measured in money. 

She didn’t look at all like her yearbook photos…

“When the owner had finally agreed to sell the Tri-Pacer, he had described it as being in ‘excellent condition and always hangared,’” Wyant said. “After I arrived at the airport, I found that, yes it was in a hangar all right—but leaning up against the hangar was more like it. It was horrible-looking. It hadn’t been out of that hangar for a long time.”

Wyant was in too deep to turn back, so he bought 8664 Delta and flew her back to Addison. While many an owner would have been totally disheartened by the sad condition his high school sweetheart was in, Wyant saw it as an opportunity to not just bring his beloved Tri-Pacer back to the way he recalled, but to make her even better. 

“That’s when I contacted Darin Hart at American Legend Aircraft Co. When I decided to do a restoration, I didn’t want just any restoration—I wanted to make this Tri-Pacer as good or better than the day it left the factory in Lock Haven,” Wyant said. “You can’t find many people that can do that.”

And who better to do a “factory-fresh” restoration on the Tri-Pacer than a company that currently makes factory-new Cubs? That is precisely what the craftsmen at American Legend Aircraft Co. have been doing since 2004 with their popular Legend Cub series.

Along with manufacturing new Legend Cubs, Darin Hart has become a legend of sorts among the Piper community with the exceptionally high-quality aircraft rebuilds that come out of his facility in Sulphur Springs, Texas. 

“American Legend Aircraft Co. actually started from our work doing high-quality restorations on Cubs. I think we’ve won five or six Lindy Awards at Oshkosh over the years,” Hart said. “People call us on a weekly basis wanting to do a restoration on a Cub, Champ or Tri-Pacer, but they have to be really serious for us to do the job.”

“For us just to pull the covering off and replace it, without doing anything else, will take 400 man-hours and cost $38,000,” he said. “And that’s not sandblasting the frame or replacing any hardware. That’s just the covering. The price scares a lot of window-shoppers away.”

Hart said that when Wyant called him about rebuilding 8664D, his first response was that the airplane wasn’t worth the cost of just stripping and recovering it. 

“But then he explained the story behind it. I could tell that this wasn’t really about the airplane to Mark; it was much more,” Hart said. “I am proud that he put his trust in American Legend to do the work for him.”

You want it when?

While Wyant was more than happy to pay American Legend Aircraft Co.’s premium price for the work, there was one catch. 

“We started the project in late January, and Mark said he had to have it at Oshkosh that July. We had inside of six months to rebuild the Tri-Pacer,” Hart said. 

“I think he was a bit surprised when I said that would be no problem at all. We are a production shop, so we are used to getting airplanes in and out quickly. We don’t have room or time to keep projects sitting around for years.”

While the timeframe was not out of the ordinary, the team didn’t have any time to waste. Hart said that a big part of what sets an American Legend rebuild apart from others is the high level of research and detail they put into the project. 

After stripping the airplane and inspecting the steel tubing and wood ribs and components, they set about repairing and replacing whatever needed doing. All in all, Hart said, it was in serviceable condition for a 60-year old airframe.

“We took the frame down and sandblasted it clean, then replaced what metal tubing wasn’t up to our standards,” Hart said. “It’s essentially a new airframe. Then we replaced every nut, bolt, pulley and cable. Everything is brand-new.”






“Univair Aircraft Corp. has a tremendous stock of parts for these classic old Pipers. It was easy to buy practically everything we needed,” he said. “Control surfaces, ribs, flying wires, struts, the entire exhaust system—even the fairings that go around the struts—things you think you’d have to fabricate, you can buy from Univair.”

Hart said that instead of overhauling the 160 hp Lycoming O-320 engine, Wyant wanted a brand-new engine because that’s the way it left the factory in 1958. 



Speaking of achieving that factory look, Hart said that one detail that many restorers overlook is the painstaking replication of the original factory stitching. As Wyant recalled, “Darin went back and found the original build sheet on this airplane to find out how they laid the fabric on, how it was stitched and even the location of the ‘dollar patches.’” 

“The way American Legend stitched it all is exactly to the original Piper specifications published in the Piper production manual. Everything is as authentic as it can possibly be.”

“Also, most people don’t realize that the back half of the baggage compartment was originally made of canvas cloth,” he said. “Most have long since replaced it with the same fabric as they use to cover the exterior, but that’s incorrect. We found original OEM canvas and put it back where it belonged, including the strap that holds the tow bar in place.”


Back to the future

Of course, you can’t put all that work into making every detail factory correct and then rattle-can on any old paint scheme. So, while Wyant liked the yellow and white scheme the Tri-Pacer had when he flew her as a teenager, it wasn’t as she left the factory.

Since they already had Piper’s dimensional drawings of exactly where the stripes and N-number were laid out on the airframe, Hart contacted Piper restoration expert Clyde Smith, aka “The Cub Doctor,” to find out the exact colors the factory would have used in 1958.

“He knew by the serial number what the exact colors were for that airplane,” Hart said. “Santa Fe red and Daytona white. It’s a very classic combination for Pipers.”

“The only difference in the factory paint and what we used was that ours is shiny, while the factory originally used a matte finish. We felt the shiny paint would hold up better and be easier to clean,” Wyant said. “All of the interior fabric is also Piper spec. Turns out, it was the same upholstery that was originally from a 1958 Mercury Marquis automobile, which we were able to find from a supplier.”


Hart said that while finding the original material to redo the upholstery was easy; replacing the original batting material used for cabin soundproofing was much more labor-intensive. But, again, if it was done at the factory, it was replicated in Mark Wyant’s Tri-Pacer.

While it’s crystal clear that Wyant and American Legend spared no effort nor expense to make the Tri-Pacer as 1958 as possible, that type of originality won’t work when it comes to an airplane that’s actually going to fly in today’s airspace, especially with the 2020 ADS-B mandate on the horizon. 





N8664D goes NextGen

So how do you keep an airplane looking like it’s right out of 1958 while having all the avionics capabilities needed to safely navigate around Dallas’s busy airspace? Well, it turns out a bit of visual trickery does the job.

“My friend Jon—the same friend who sat with me in the airplane the night I bought it in 1976—and I took the panel rework on as our project. All of the instruments were sent to Keystone Instruments in Lock Haven where they were rebuilt, and the faces were repainted in the original off-yellow color,” Wyant said. “Most people think they’ve yellowed with age, but they were originally that color so that they would show up better when lit by the red cabin light.”

Wyant was even able to locate and reinstall the original Piper ashtray that came in the Tri-Pacer, not that there’s any smoking allowed. 

While he was able to add in many OEM details, when it came time for equipping the Tri-Pacer with modern avionics, Wyant was faced with a more difficult challenge. That’s where the high-tech trickery comes in.

“I wanted anyone looking in the cockpit to see an airplane the way it was in 1958, but I also needed avionics that give me the same safety and capabilities I have in my Citation Mustang,” he said. “To accomplish what I wanted, Jon took an original Narco Omnigator and a VLR-3 low-frequency receiver and cut them down so that they were about an inch and a quarter deep. We needed several “donor” radios to accomplish this, and it took over two months to pull it off.”



“We mounted them to a false panel piece that looks just like they are original. They even light up when you turn them on,” Wyant said proudly. “But, when you remove the faceplate, you’ll find a brand-new touchscreen Garmin GTN 750 and a Garmin GTX 345 ADS-B Out/In transponder. As it turned out, once installed in the panel, the height of the 750 and 345 were the same as the Omnigator and VLR-3 units, so it’s the perfect match.”

Another significant upgrade Hart and his team performed on the Tri-Pacer was the switch from the OEM BFGoodrich brakes to more modern and reliable Cleveland wheels and brakes. In addition, they replaced all the old incandescent exterior and interior lights with new LED lighting.

“Now I can leave all the strobes and landing lights on all the time, which is good for safety,” Wyant said. “For additional reliability, we also upgraded to a new lightweight, Sky-Tec starter and replaced the old alternator with a new 60 amp alternator.”

What goes around, comes around…

Wyant said that, true to their promise, the team at American Legend Aircraft Co. completed the “brand-new” Tri-Pacer in time for Hart to fly it to Oshkosh AirVenture 2017. 

“We put just about 1,800 hours into the total rebuild,” Hart said. “I have to say that it really turned out great. And that it’s a very nice flying airplane. I’ve flown it to Oshkosh, and to Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland and it’s a very comfortable cross-country airplane.” 

“Although, I can see why Piper quit making them. They are very complex airplanes, and they couldn’t compete with the Cessna 172 for production,” he said. “In particular, the control cables—being fully interconnected—were very sophisticated and labor-intensive to install. Compared to the Piper Cub, the Tri-Pacer is probably twice as complex to put together.”

No matter how complex the project was or how much it ultimately cost, Wyant says that he is thrilled with how his beloved Tri-Pacer turned out. 

“I believe it’s the finest example of a Piper Tri-Pacer in the world,” he said proudly. 
“I don’t mean that as any type of hyperbole, but I truly believe that we achieved our goal in every way.”

So, you ask, now that the Tri-Pacer is done, what are his plans for it?

“Back in 1958, people thought they were dumpy-looking and nicknamed them ‘flying milk stools,’ but today, I think they’ve become retro,” he said. “My son is 13 and he’s a fan of the way it looks and flies. I’m slowly teaching him to fly the Tri-Pacer, and he’s loving it.”

“Another funny part to our story is that the hangar where I originally found 8664 Delta is only about 75 feet away from my current hangar at Addison Airport,” Wyant said. “Today, my Tri-Pacer lives in my hangar next to my Citation, and my hangar office is right inside. Every day when I walk in, I take a minute to give her a little pat.”

“This is not just an airplane to me; it represents a lot of great memories and a very special part of my life and the people in it,” he said. “There is no question that I own the world’s most expensive Piper Tri-Pacer. And I’m totally fine with that.”

Dale Smith has been an aviation journalist for 30 years. When he’s not writing aviation articles, Smith does commission aircraft illustrations specializing in seaplanes and flying boats. Smith has been a certificated pilot since 1974 and has flown 35 different types of General Aviation, business and World War II vintage aircraft. Send questions or comments to .


American Legend Aircraft Co.

Garmin Ltd.

Hartzell Engine Technologies LLC (Sky-Tec starter)

Parker Hannifin Corp. 
(Cleveland wheels and brakes) 

Univair Aircraft Corp.

PA-22/20 Pacer Flight Test

PA-22/20 Pacer Flight Test

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

Images by Keith Wilson

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

What am I on about? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why link the aileron and rudder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Smith and his “family runabout.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Getting settled in the air

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

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

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

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

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


The tin parachute

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

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

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


Back into the circuit

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


Univair Aircraft Corp.

Keep Those Old Cubs Rolling & Stopping

Keep Those Old Cubs Rolling & Stopping



Upsizing your vintage Piper wheels and tires. 

A cub is a young bear as well as the mascot for early Piper airplanes. Today, up to 79 years from their birth, many of these once-youthful Cubs (and Cruisers, Clippers, Pacers and Vagabonds) are getting a bit grizzly. 

After decades of landings, good and bad, an old Cub’s legs may be in need of some renewal. Vintage drum brakes, which never were the best, may have lost their grip with age; wheels can become corroded and wobbly; classic fat 8.00-4 tires are increasingly hard to find and painful to afford.

Supply and demand has changed

Decades ago, when the time for a tire change came, most Cub owners just asked their local mechanic to pull a tire off the pile and put ‘er on. Tires for Cubs and Clippers were readily available, made by various manufacturers, and reasonably priced. 

But today, Goodyear is only manufacturer of 8.00-4 tires, and they cost more than $300 a tire. If you need a tube for that tire, add another $140 to $150. 

Faced with the possibility of a $900 tire change, many vintage Piper owners are spending a few extra dollars up front to upgrade the landing gear to accept more reasonably priced 6.00-6 tires. 

The upgrade doesn’t only save money on future tire changes; the installation of new tires, wheels and brakes offers owners many benefits in increased safety, durability
and reliability.

A note about tire sizes

On tires with a Type III size classification (for example, “8.00-4,” or “6.00-6,”), the first number is the tire’s section width—that’s the widest point of its outer sidewall to the widest point of its inner sidewall when mounted on a wheel. The second number is the wheel rim diameter that the tire fits. 

With Type III tires, there is no indication of the overall diameter (i.e., how “big” the tire is); you have to look that up in the specifications for your aircraft.

To complicate matters, tires and wheels use different designations. A four-inch wheel for a vintage Cub is an 800x4 wheel, while the tire is an 8.00-4. Maybe the tire and wheel manufacturers should have communicated way back when it all started?

Classic Cubs, early Super Cubs, and various vintage Piper aircraft use tires that are 8.00-4, so that means they are about eight inches wide and fit on a four-inch wheel. The precise size depends on the weight of the plane, the rim, and the inflation, and may vary by about half an inch. 

For aircraft owners who want to change from the classic 8.00-4 tire to today’s more common 6.00-6, it means you’re changing from a four-inch rim to a six-inch rim, and the tire is two inches narrower. 

Reasons to consider a change

The first Piper equipped with the 6.00-6 tires and six-inch wheels was the Piper Tri-Pacer introduced in 1951.In part due to the popularity of training aircraft with tires in this size, numerous tire manufacturers offer a selection of tires with different treads, different numbers of plies, and various prices. 

To make the switch to 6.00-6 tires, you must change to six-inch wheels—and to do that, you must change the brakes, too. That could get expensive, but considering that 8.00-4 tires cost about $360 a pair more than 6.00-6 (without tubes), it might make financial sense. 

Do you use your plane for training and need tire changes often? Are you satisfied with your airplane’s braking ability? Does the aircraft hold in place during a runup? Are your wheels corroded or cracked? Do you need to replace any other landing gear parts? Are you thinking about flying into the backcountry and might need bush tires, or even tundra tires?

Besides addressing any specific issues with your particular aircraft, changing to six-inch wheels has numerous advantages. With any type of brake, disc or drum, a larger diameter provides better braking—and modern disc brakes are certainly a far more effective design than 1950s-era drum brakes.

If you get a flat tire away from home, you’ll be lucky to find a repair station with an 8.00-4 tire when you need it. With overnight shipping, that’s not quite the problem it was decades ago; however, there’s only one tire that’s approved for a four-inch wheel. 

If your favorite aviation parts supplier is out of stock on the tire, you’ll be calling around the country to locate one. And in years to come, there’s a real possibility that 8.00-4 tires will get harder to find, not easier. So why not upgrade all your landing gear parts, brakes, wheels and tires at once?

A bolt-on kit is available

The engineers at Grove Aircraft Landing Gear Systems, a family-owned business based in El Cajon, Calif., have developed a solution to the problems of aging four-inch wheels and brakes. 

Grove Aircraft offers a bolt-on conversion for vintage aircraft to upgrade to modern six-inch wheels and disc brakes for many vintage Pipers, from J-3s up to PA-20 aircraft. 

The price for Grove’s conversion, which includes two new wheels (either aluminum or magnesium), disc brakes, mounting hardware and brake line fittings, costs $1,689. 

If you add together a new pair of pricey 8.00-4 tires (research shows a single new tire and tube runs between $466 and $555), plus any extra repair, such as a new four-inch wheel at $450, or a standard brake job that can cost several hundred dollars, then the upgrade to six-inch wheels and tires may make good financial sense. 

For a one-time cost of $1,689 you get the option to use less expensive tires with the benefit of better braking.

The conversion kit from Grove is simple enough for the average pilot to install, with parts that bolt on to the existing landing gear attachment points. However, all work should be supervised by a licensed A&P mechanic, and must be inspected and approved.


Other wheel conversions

Even if you already have six-inch wheels, it’s important to note that not all systems are approved to take larger tires. 

The Grove six-inch wheels have STC approval to accept many tire sizes, including 6.00-6, 7.00-6, 8.00-6, 8.50-6 and 26x10.5-6 tires—and numerous tire manufacturers make them. With these wheels you can customize your tires to your flying—or more accurately, your landing—needs.

Several other companies, such as Cleveland Wheels and Brakes (a division of Parker Hannifin Corp.), offer STC’d six-inch wheel conversions for Piper airplanes, too. 

Each manufacturer comes with an approved tire size list, so be sure that the tire size you plan to use is listed before you buy a wheel conversion system.

Ease of installation

Rick Hannemann, of Sherwood, Wis. recently used the Grove wheel and conversion brake kit on his restoration of a 1954 Piper L21-B Super Cub, a military version of the basic Super Cub.


He reports that the installation was simple to perform. “Everything was in the kit and just bolted on,” Hannemann explained. He plans to mount 8.50-6 tires on his new wheels, a good choice for landing on grass airfields, his type of flying.

“I made this change for better braking and due to the lack of parts for old drum brakes,” Hannemann continued. “I know if I did have a problem [with the conversion kit], I could call up Robbie [Robbie Grove, owner of Grove Aircraft Landing Gear Systems] directly; he cares about airplanes and his customers.”

With new tires, modern wheels and brakes, vintage Piper aircraft can keep landing and rolling reliably as long as they can fly.

Dennis K. Johnson is a writer and a New York City-based travel photographer, shooting primarily for Getty Images and select clients. He spends months each year traveling, flies sailplanes whenever possible and is the owner of N105T, a newly restored Piper Super Cub Special.
Send questions or comments to .


Wheel and brake system upgrades

Grove Aircraft Landing Gear Systems Inc.

Parker Hannifin Corp.
 – PFA supporter

Wheels, tires and brakes
– PFA supporters

Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co.
Univair Aircraft Corp.
Installing Shoulder Harnesses

Installing Shoulder Harnesses

Adding shoulder harnesses in at least the front seats should be a must for any aircraft that does not have them. A&P/IA Kristin Winter reports on the recent installation of a three-point system on an aircraft that previously had only lap belts.

Before the early 1970s, Piper did not provide shoulder harnesses for its aircraft. In fairness, that was only slightly after the auto manufacturers did the same thing. 

Lack of shoulder harnesses have resulted in life-altering brain injuries from accidents in which the front seat occupants could have walked away virtually unharmed. Fortunately, a number of companies have STCs for the retrofitting of shoulder harnesses in Piper aircraft. 

Several retrofit options

The largest manufacturer of restraint systems is AmSafe. It supplies much of the OEM market, be it a GA manufacturer or a commercial aircraft manufacturer like Boeing. 

The only product AmSafe currently offers as a GA retrofit is its seatbelt airbags. (Winter has a set of seatbelt airbags she plans to install in her Twin Comanche, and will report on that project in a future issue of Piper Flyer. —Ed.)

The largest holder of shoulder harness STCs for Piper aircraft is Alpha Aviation in Minnesota. Alpha Aviation has STCs covering early PA-23, PA-24, PA-28, PA-30, PA-32 and PA-39 aircraft. 

B.A.S. in Washington has an STC for the PA-28/32/34. The kit offered by B.A.S. is a four-point shoulder harness/lap belt system. 

Aero Fabricators, a company affiliated with Wag-Aero, has several STCs as well. Wisconsin-based Wag-Aero offers kits for J-3, PA-11, PA-18 and PA-20/22 aircraft, as well as PA-28s. 

Univair in Aurora, Colo. markets AmSafe shoulder harness restraint systems for J-3s, PA-11s, PA-12s and PA-18s.

A brief look at the kits

Most of the STC kits have two sets of components. One is the belts and fittings. 

Some shoulder harnesses have inertia reels, and some include a fixed belt. The latter type generally costs less, but can be a bit less convenient for the pilot when he or she has to loosen the belt in order to reach something in the cockpit. 

The other set of components in a kit is whatever is required to provide the necessary structure in order to mount the shoulder harness with enough strength to provide the necessary protection to the user. 

This typically involves some reinforcements that need to be attached to the fuselage, usually involving riveting. For that reason, this is not a project for an owner alone unless he or she possesses an A&P license and the tools necessary for the job. 

In addition, a shoulder harness installation constitutes a major alteration, and requires that an A&P/IA inspect and sign an FAA Form 337.

Required tools and supplies

The tooling necessary to complete this project will vary a bit depending on what structure is required. Some airplanes may already have the structure installed because shoulder harnesses were an optional item for that particular model year; others may need quite a bit of reinforcing pieces installed in order to provide the necessary support. 

Regardless of the kit, the tools necessary for installing solid rivets—and possibly blind rivets as well—will be a necessity. 

Any practicing A&P is likely to have the necessary tooling, but for an owner that is interested in participating and wants his or her own tools, the major item is a 2X rivet gun. U.S. Industrial Tool, Sioux Tools and Chicago Pneumatic are just a few of several rivet gun manufacturers. 

The most important part of the rivet gun is a good “teasing” trigger that lets the operator control the force and frequency of the blows. The gun also needs a rivet set, which is the part that actually touches the rivet, and a spring retainer to hold it to the rivet gun. 

In addition, a selection of Cleco temporary fasteners and pliers will also be necessary. 

It goes without saying that the ability to drill holes will be key. A #30 drill bit is used for a 1/8-inch rivet and #40 is for a 3/32-inch rivet. There are some excellent YouTube videos done by EAA on the basics of sheet metal work. (See Resources for additional information. —Ed.)

This is a project that any owner with mechanical aptitude can tackle with supervision by an A&P. Doing so will be a great learning experience for those interested in understanding more about what is involved in aircraft maintenance.

A Comanche 250 project

Recently I participated in, inspected and signed the Form 337 on the installation for a 1959 PA-24-250 Comanche which had never had shoulder harnesses installed. The new owner was keen to have the safety advantage of shoulder harnesses. 

The Alpha Aviation kit for the Comanche 250 was very complete and of excellent quality. (See photo 01, page 22.) The kit included all required parts and hardware including restraints for two front seats, an 8130-3 Airworthiness Certificate, an installation manual and a copy of the STC and signed STC authorization. 

First steps

The first step is to gently remove the headliner from the area to provide access to the structure above the rear window. (See photo 02 on page 24, top.) Removing the headliner can be a challenging project and needs to be undertaken carefully to avoid damaging the headliner.

The structural portion of the kit consisted of a stringer and two doubler plates. The two doubler plates are riveted together with a carefully-laid-out pattern, and to this doubler plate assembly is mounted the attachment point for the inertia reel for the shoulder strap. Then a longitudinal stringer and the assembled doubler plate must be fitted and riveted to the airframe above the rear window. 


Measuring and positioning 

Careful measurement is key to making sure that the stringer and doubler are properly positioned. This is done by riveting the bottom of the assembled doubler to the existing stringer that runs above the window, as shown in photo 03 (page 24, bottom). Note that blind fasteners were used here. 

The installation of the assembled doubler sets the position for the new stringer, which runs from the door frame back to the frame at the back bulkhead. 

The photo below shows the assembled doubler and the stringer fitted to the aircraft and held in with spring sheet clamps, referred to colloquially as Clecos. Clecos have been used since before World War II and are indispensable for aircraft sheet metal work. The most common type require a special set of pliers to install and remove them. 


Clecos are color-coded based on the size of the hole they are designed to fill, and are used to pull tight the two sheets of metal. As mentioned earlier, there are several good videos available from EAA that cover Clecos and other basic sheet metal techniques and tools. 

The temporary fastening process

As is good practice, the initial holes were drilled to a smaller size, in this case 3/32 inch, which later were enlarged to 1/8 inch as called for in the instructions. This technique works to clean up any shifting that takes place so that each hole is reasonably precise. 

Once the structure is fitted and all the holes are drilled, the parts are removed in order to clean off the burrs and excess material from around the rivet holes. The parts are then reassembled and held in place with the Clecos.

Anchoring with rivets, and final steps

Solid rivets are generally preferred and more economical, but are not always practical, and the kit from Alpha Aviation provides both solid rivets and blind CherryMax rivets. 

CherryMax rivets are souped-up pop rivets made to an aerospace standard and are designed with a locking collar to fasten the stem into the rivet as the stem forms much of the strength of the fastener. 

CherryMax rivets are used when you can’t get a bucking bar to the back of a solid rivet. They can be seen in photo 04 (below) as they are used to attach the lower side of the assembled doubler to the aircraft’s existing stringer. CherryMax rivets have a number of special pullers that can be used to install them; some are hand-operated and some are pneumatic. 

Once all the rivets are installed, a strong support base has been created to anchor the inertia reel and shoulder harness, as shown in photo 05 (below). 

Reinstallation of the headliner, carefully cutting a hole for the bolt, and subsequently bolting on the inertia reel completes the installation—save for the log entry and completing the Form 337. 


Labor may vary; added safety will not

The labor necessary to install the shoulder harness kit varies with the amount of structure that must be added. It can take anywhere from a handful of hours to a couple of days’ worth of labor, but shoulder harnesses are most needed in the kind of accident that can happen to even the best pilots. 

No restraint will help if you hit a mountain at cruise speed—but landing mishaps, loss of runway control, or even a controlled glide into favorable terrain after an engine failure are more common. These scenarios are where a shoulder harness might make all the difference. 

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

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 .


Shoulder harness STCs
–PFA supporters
Alpha Aviation Inc.


B.A.S. Inc.


Univair Aircraft Corp.


The Wag-Aero Group


GA seatbelt airbags
AmSafe, Inc.


Fastening tools and supplies
Chicago Pneumatic


Cherry Aerospace


Sioux Tools


U.S. Industrial Tool & Supply Co.


Educational videos
EAA’s Sheet Metal Channel
Record-Breaking Attendance Expected at the 14th Annual Gathering at Waupaca

Record-Breaking Attendance Expected at the 14th Annual Gathering at Waupaca

40+ Aviation companies step up with sponsorships, door prizes and seminars. 

Cessna Flyer and Piper Flyer Association members will be descending on Waupaca, WI for the 14th annual Gathering at Waupaca. Members from 20 states and Canada will spend the weekend relaxing, learning and mingling before boarding the air-conditioned motor coach to AirVenture on MondayTuesday and Wednesday with an optional night bus on Wednesday to accommodate viewing the night air show. 

Seminars for this year:

Electronic Ignitions by Michael Kobylik, Electroair; Brake Systems by Vern Rogers, Parker Hannifin; De-icing Principals by Ken Heath, UTC Aerospace; Getting the Most from your Engine by Neil George, Continental Motors; Fuel System Maintenance by Kurt Hartwig, Eagle Fuel Cells; Owner Performed Maintenance by Steve Ells, Contributing Editor. Meals, the bus ride and a full slate of seminars are all included in the event and the friendships formed last through the years. 

Save the date and plan to join us next year: Jul 20–21, 2019. Three exciting seminars are already booked for 2019 with more to come.

Platinum/Bus Sponsors

Tempest Plus | tempestplus.com

 Electronics International | buy-ei.com

 Univair | univair.com


T-shirt Sponsor

 Continental Motors | continentalmotors.aero

Goodie Bag Sponsor

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Banquet Sponsor

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Bronze Sponsor

Air Capitol Dial | aircapitoldial.com


Proud Supporters

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City of Waupaca | cityofwaupaca.org

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 Lycoming | lycoming.com

Mountain High Oxygen Systems | mhoxygen.com/

Smooth Power | smoothpowerllc.com

Turbine Conversions | turbineconversions.com


Door Prizes:

 Aero LEDs | aeroleds.com

 Aerox | aerox.com

Aircraft Spruce | aircraftspruce.com

 AvBlend | avblend.com

Bruce's Custom Covers | aircraftcovers.com

 CiES | ciescorp.net

 Concorde Battery | concordebattery.com

 David Clark | davidclarkcompany.com

 Great Lakes Aero Products | glapinc.com

 Guardian Avionics | guardianavionics.com

 Icom | icomamerica.com

JP Instruments | jpinstruments.com

Lycoming | lycoming.com

Lyons Studios | lyonsstudios.com

McFarlane Aviation | mcfarlaneaviation.com

 Oasis Scientific | oasisscientific.com

 Parker | parker.com

 Precise Flight | priceflight.com

Smooth Power | smoothpowerllc.com

 Sporty's | sportys.com

Strut Wipe | strutwipe.com

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Turbine Conversions | turbineconversions.com

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Vantage Plane Plastics | planeplastics.com

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