I remember the year 1967 as one of conflict and contradiction. At once both troubled and optimistic. Every night the news broadcast images of the Vietnam War, where young men were fighting and dying. John McCain was a naval aviator and in October 1967 he was shot down over Hanoi and remained a prisoner of war for five and a half years.
There were scenes as well of the young men and women back home who were protesting the war. One demonstration at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium drew 40,000 protestors. There was the Six-Day War in the Middle East, and there were racial riots in Detroit and Newark. It seemed to my young mind at times that the world was going crazy.
Then again, a kid could always turn to the distraction of “The Monkees” or “Star Trek” on TV. Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Coliseum pitting the Green Bay Packers against the Kansas City Chiefs had started the year off well for sports fans (Green Bay won). Unemployment stood at just 3.8 percent, and GDP was growing at an average of 5.1 percent a year.
At Piper Aircraft, 1967 marked the beginning of deliveries of its new Navajo. The PA-31 Navajo was a six- to eight-place airframe designed to compete with the Beech model 65 Queen Air and the Cessna 411.
The Navajo debuted with a base price of $89,500 and a choice of cabin configurations: six-place standard; six-place executive, with the cockpit cordoned off from the cabin; and eight-place commuter. It was equipped with a turbocharged Lycoming TIO-540-A1A and a Hartzell propeller and could cruise at 217 knots at 75 percent power.
It had been built with the business client in mind and came with a refreshment unit, foldaway tables and a toilet. It could carry 350 pounds of luggage in nose and rear cabin compartments. It gained early acceptance from a number of regional airlines including All Nippon Airways of Japan.
The 1970 Navajo B boasted a 310 hp Lycoming TIO-540-A2B (or A2C) engine and PiperAire air conditioning. Options included a pilot access door, a wide utility door and nacelle wing lockers. The price for the B model had climbed to $115,570. That year also saw the release of the PA-31P Pressurized Navajo, priced at $197,000.
Development of the C model and a C/R model with counter-rotating props began in 1972. The C model was equipped with 310 hp Lycoming TIO-54-A2C and the C/R came with 325 hp Lycoming L/TIO-540-F2BD engines. The C/R model also had engine nacelle luggage compartments that extended beyond the trailing edge of the wings. Interiors were updated (can you say “crushed velour”?) and hushed thanks to Quietized soundproofing. Deliveries began
in December 1974.
In 1978 the C and C/R models got increased gear and flap extension speeds, a new Altimatic X autopilot and Flight Director system along with spiffed-up interior and exterior options. The 1981 models had optional nacelle fuel tanks that could hold 54 gallons of useable fuel and extend the range by up to 375 nm.
The Navajo received many improvements and minor changes over the years before the last production model rolled off the line in 1983.
Shortly after the launch of the Navajo, Piper designers and engineers began work on a bigger, more powerful version. Originally named the Navajo II, it was designed with three basic missions in mind: corporate use for six to eight people; commuter or charter aircraft for nine passengers and a pilot; and cargo hauler for shipments up to 2,000 pounds.
To accommodate the requirements for the baggage area (it was to hold six golf bags, 12 overnight bags and eight suit bags), the Navajo fuselage was stretched by 24 inches forward of the spar. Additional windows were added, the floor was strengthened and the gross weight was increased to 7,000 pounds.
The new model—now named the Chieftain—was launched in 1973 with a price of $141,900 for a base model and $167,045 for an IFR-equipped aircraft.
The Chieftain was well received with small commuter and regional airlines, and Piper wanted to further its reach into that market. On Sept. 1, 1981, Piper set up an airline division and its focus would be sales of the new T-1000 series which were set to deliver in 1982.
Based on the Chieftain airframe, the new “airliner” was designed as an 11-place airplane (two crew, nine passenger) and would feature 350 hp Lycoming L/TIO-540-J2B engines. Weight and safety concerns dictated fixed, non-reclining lightweight passenger seats, a pneumatic emergency gear extension system and strengthened landing gear.
Certified as the T-1020, 22 planes were built and saw service with small airlines before production ended in 1985 signaling the end of the PA-31 line.
In 1985, John McCain was a U.S. representative, anti-apartheid demonstrations were staged in front of the United Nations building and race riots were taking place in England. The Cold War which had experienced a period of détente was heating up again, and the news was filled with reports of airline hijackings.
Like most other aircraft manufacturers in the mid-1980s, Piper was reeling from the effects of onerous product liability lawsuits and insurance costs. Unemployment was 7.2 percent. But then, as in 1967, a person could find distractions on TV in the form of “The Cosby Show”—and “Star Trek” (on reruns).
The Navajo/Chieftain line would go on to spawn the Cheyenne and Pocono, but that’s a story for another time.
PIPER NAVAJO VARIANTS
Initial production version, also known unofficially as the PA-31-310.
Variant of the Navajo with normally aspirated engines; 14 built.
PA-31 Navajo B
Marketing name for 1971 improved variant with 310 hp (231 kW) Lycoming TIO-540-E turbocharged piston engines, new air conditioning and optional pilot access door and optional wide utility door.
PA-31 Navajo C
Marketing name for 1974 improved variant with 310 hp (231 kW) Lycoming TIO-540-A2C engines and other minor improvements.
PA-31P Pressurized Navajo
Pressurized version of the PA-31 Navajo, powered by two 425 hp (317 kW) Lycoming TIGO-541-E1A piston engines.
Referred to as the Navajo “C/R” for counter-rotating. Variant of Navajo with counter-rotating propellers introduced with the PA-31-350 Chieftain. 325 hp (242 kW) Lycoming TIO-540 / LTIO-540 engines.
Stretched version of the Navajo with more powerful 350 hp (261 kW) engines that rotate in opposite directions (a Lycoming TIO-540 and a Lycoming LTIO-540) to eliminate critical engine issues.
Piston engine variant of the PA-31T1 Cheyenne I; 50 aircraft built.
Also known as the T1020/T-1020; variant of the PA-31-350 Chieftain optimized for commuter airline use, with less baggage and fuel capacity and increased seating capacity (nine passengers). First flight Sept. 25, 1981; 21 built.
Also known as the T1040/T-1040; turboprop powered airliner with fuselage of the PA-31-350T1020, and wings, tail and Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-11 engines of PA-31T Cheyenne. First flight July 17, 1981; 24 built.
Experimental version of PA-31-350; two built.
Unbuilt airliner variant with fuselage lengthened by 11 feet, 6 inches (3.51 m) compared to the PA-31-350.
Version of Chieftain built under license by Embraer in Brazil.
Turboprop conversion of EMB 820C, fitted with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-27 engines flat-rated to 550 shp. The Carajá’s MTOW of 8,003 pounds was 1,000 pounds more than that of the Chieftain.
Re-engined Navajo with 350 hp (261 kW) Lycoming TIO-540-J2B engines, four-blade “Q-Tip” propellers and optional winglets. Conversion designed by Colemill Enterprises of Nashville, Tenn.