The Piper PA-24 Comanche is a single-engined, low wing, all-metal light aircraft, with retractable landing gear and either four or six seats. Piper designed and built the aircraft from 1956 until 1972, when the manufacturing plant was wiped out by a massive flood and production ceased.
There were a number of different models built during that time, most notably the Comanche 180, 250, and 260, although there were a few others too. Although it has not been produced since then, there are many Comanches still flying, and it is a popular and much-loved aircraft among many private pilots.
However, in recent years it has been to a large extent left behind by the better known Piper Cherokee models, which are still in production.
It should be noted that there is also a PA-30 “Twin Comanche”, which is a twin-engined aircraft. Having the same name for the two types has caused a certain amount of confusion! However, being a very different airplane, the PA-30 is outside the scope of this article.
Specifications – Piper PA-24 Comanche
Weights and Dimensions
- Max Take-Off Weight: 1,315 Kg / 2,899 lbs
- Max Landing Weight: 1,315 Kg / 2,899 lbs
- Max Payload: 622 Kg / 1,371 lbs
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 90 gallon / 341 liter
- Cabin Height: 1.19 metre / 3.90 feet
- Cabin Width: 1.14 metre / 3.74 feet
- Cabin Length: 2.7 metre / 8.86 feet
- Exterior Length: 7.62 metre / 25.00 feet
- Tail height: 2.29 metre / 7.51 feet
- Fuselage Diameter: 1.25 metre / 4.10 feet
- Wing Span / Rotor Diameter: 11 metre / 36.09 feet
- Engine: 1x Lycoming IO-540 Piston
- Power: 260 horsepower
- Max Cruise Speed: 169 knots / 313 Km/h
- Approach Speed (Vref): 55 knots
- Travel range: 1,064 Nautical Miles / 1,971 Kilometers
- Service Ceiling: 22,000 feet
- Rate of Climb: 1500 feet per minute / 7.62metre per second
- Take Off Distance: 430 metre / 1,410.74 feet
- Landing Distance: 370 metre / 1,213.90 feet
Since all Piper Comanches are now second hand, prices can vary immensely depending on age, model, condition, and sometimes just the luck of the draw! However, one expert source quotes a retail price for the Comanche 250 – the most popular and most common model – of between $37,000 and $46,000.
An aircraft with a turbocharged engine is likely to cost about $500 more, and some Comanche 250s sell for as much as $74,000. So there is a huge amount of variation in prices.
Performance and Handling
The early Comanche 180 had a 180-horsepower Lycoming O-360 engine and a 140 knot cruise speed. The Comanche 250, when it was produced, only cost a little more, but its 250 hp Lycoming O-540 engine meant that its cruise speed increased to 160 knots.
The result was that this quickly became the far more popular Comanche model, and by the end of production some 250 Comanche 250s had been sold.
The Comanche 250 is said to have good handling characteristics and to be very easy to fly. Most pilots find that after a few hours they feel very much at home in the cockpit.
However, it is important to know that Comanches are very responsive….or some might say they are slippery or twitchy. Speed reductions take some time and need to be well planned, which of course makes preparation for landing a little more difficult than it would be for slower or more staid aircraft.
The Pilot’s Operating Handbook recommends an approach speed of 71 knots, which may mean you need to lower flaps quickly and even do extra turns to slow down for landing, if you have been cruising at the Comanche’s high normal cruise speed.
Pilots do sometimes complain about the difficulty of landing a Comanche anyway. If you land even a little too fast, the airplane tends to float and float, while the speed slowly bleeds off. This could present problems on short runways, and most of the grumbling you hear about Comanches has to do with landings.
Close to the runway, those laminar-flow wings ride deep in ground effect. If you’re too fast, the airplane can seem to take forever to land and settle on the ground.
Forcing the aircraft on to the ground may be tempting, but it causes even more problems, and it is important to make sure you are at the correct attitude and airspeed as soon as you land. Overall, Comanches take careful handling and will not tolerate sloppy flying.
On the other hand, Comanches are very responsive, and pilots who take the time to learn how to handle them properly report that they are a sheer delight to fly. It seems that your either love them or hate them, and many pilots love them enough to hold on to them rather than buy any newer aircraft.
Since all Comanches are close to 50 years old at least, most models still flying are well-used, and aging issues keep up the cost of annual inspections. So owners do have to be willing to handle any maintenance issues regularly and invest in upgrades as and when necessary.
Perhaps for this reason, owners are sometimes less than enthusiastic about Comanche maintenance. On the plus side, they can be well maintained at lower cost than many other aircraft due to the now widespread use of generic parts.
There is a good supply of many of these commonly needed items. But on the minus side, although the aircraft is quite easy to maintain, and most mechanics should be able to do it, age cannot be ignored, and more work will probably need to be done than for newer aircraft.
So if you buy a Comanche, do understand that you will need to invest in regular maintenance and take good care of it, as you would with an aging relative, perhaps!
Modifications and Upgrades
Because the Comanche has been around so long, there are a very large number of modifications and upgrades available. Indeed, according to at least one source, probably no two Comanches are exactly alike today! You can modify your Comanche’s engine, the way it looks, the way it handles, and many other features.
For example, it is possible to fit the more powerful Lycoming O-540 engine into a Comanche 180 of 1960 or later. There is at least one report of this being done, although you might have to hunt around to find someone who could do this competently for you.
But the resulting aircraft would be essentially a Comanche 250 with a low gross weight, which might be very useful in some circumstances.
Also, the carbureted Lycoming O-540 found in the Comanche 250 may be upgraded to fuel injection. Cowls and propellors can also be modified, which might improve speed and performance, and also aid maintenance access to a large extent.
In summary, the Comanche’s list of ‘mods’ is long, and perhaps best accessed and any changes made through involvement with an expert. Such an expert can be found through the International Comanche Society (ICS), which owners say is an excellent resource for Comanche owners.
The organization also offers a technical support service to help with maintenance when needed. The list of modifiers and parts resources is long, and best accessed from involvement with the ICS and its members and publications.
Speaking of ICS, owners tell us the group is an exceptionally good resource for Comanche owners. It offers a magazine as well as other resources and can be reached at 405-491-0321 or via the website at www.comancheflyer.com.
Where to Find Replacement Parts
As mentioned above, the International Comanche Society is probably the best resource for all replacement parts. However, obtaining parts is rarely a problem anyway, as generic parts can be used in many instances.
According to one owner, “The landing gear and stabilator are unique to Comanches, and a knowledgeable mechanic is required. With a Comanche expert doing the maintenance, these systems have been trouble-free for me, but not cheap.
Other systems and accessories on the aircraft are common to many other airplanes. Parts are primarily through boutique suppliers and rarely a problem to source. The engine is reliable, smooth, easy to start and well supported.”
So obtaining replacement parts may require some research, but should not present any major problem.
As has been already mentioned, when it comes to handling the Comanche is easy to fly, but also slippery and easy to lose control of when on the approach to landing. Indeed, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) pilot error was the cause of roughly 75% of Comanche accidents, which is rather high.
Landing accidents seem to be most common, owing to the need for a slow approach speed and the tendency of the aircraft to float in ground effect when about to land.
Other problems generally relate to the age of the Comanche fleet, but these can be prevented by regular maintenance. Overall, it must be said that the Comanche is a remarkably safe aircraft, and has no notable problems or vices.
As with all aircraft insurance, coverage comes in two parts – liability insurance for accidents affecting pilots, passengers, or others, and hull insurance to protect the aircraft itself. Hull insurance is optional, but most pilots do opt to include it, for obvious reasons.
As of February 2020, there were eight insurance companies quoting Piper Comanche insurance in the U.S. One of them quotes the following typical costs of Comanche insurance:-
“We consider qualified pilots to have at least a private license, IFR rating with 300 total hours, 25 retractable gear and 10 hours in the make/model.
For an annual policy with $1,000,000 in liability only coverage.
Premium range for qualified pilots: $345-$495 per year.
Premium range for less than qualified pilots (low-time/etc): $525-$730 per year.
For an annual policy with $1,000,000 in liability coverage and $80,000 in hull coverage
Premium range for qualified pilots: $1,400-$1,758 per year.
Premium range for less than qualified pilots (low-time/etc): $1,890-$2,120 per year.”
Note that unlike for some aircraft, insurance companies are likely to specify an IFR rating and experience on retractables, and charge extra if you don’t have these.
This is likely to be fairly typical, but pilots would be advised to shop around, particularly if they are low-time or have other issues making insurance more difficult than average.
But insuring your Comanche should not present any major or insurmountable issues.
Since the Piper Comanche is an old aircraft anyway, it is likely to keep its value, so long as it is well maintained by its owner. Indeed, Comanches are so popular that depreciation in value is likely to be minimal.
The values quoted above in the prices section are likely to remain the same, or at least broadly similar, when it comes to re-selling your Piper Comanche, so long as you have looked after it and maintained it well.
According to some sources, Piper Comanches are absolutely loved by their owners, who try to hang on to them long after they are too old and should have been sold. Our research tends to find that this is indeed the case. Here are some comments from owners….
“I was 63 years old when I got my pilot license. I am now 73. My first and only aircraft has been my Comanche 250, which spent most of its life in Texas. The first owner-an elderly 84-year-old pilot-had tears in his eyes as the plane left his sight….
I have since flown the Comanche 800 hours, flew to AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, several times, flew around the United States and even flew along the New York Hudson River corridor and around the Statue of Liberty….Its a great aircraft and lots of fun.”
“I am the second owner of a 1966 B-model Comanche that I purchased in 1985 and have 4000 hours in the airplane. The Comanche 260 is fun to fly, fast, responsive and stable for IFR. It lands safely and usually smoothly, with the correct speed and an exaggerated flare. Strong crosswinds and short field landings are straightforward.”
“I just thought I’d write to let you know how much I like my Comanche 400.”
The Piper Comanche competes with its more modern Piper relative, the Piper Cherokee series, in particular the Piper Arrow, which is also a retractable, as might be expected. Other similar aircraft are the Cessna 172, and also the Grumman AA-5 series and Beechcraft Musketeer, although none of these are retractables and they are significantly slower.
You might also want to consider the Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche, although to be honest this is not really similar except in name! And of course flying a twin is a whole other ballgame!
Clubs You Can Join
There is a club specifically for Comanche owners as mentioned above – the International Comanche Society or ICS.
According to owners, this group is an excellent organisation for Comanche owners. It offers a magazine as well as other resources, as well as a technical support service when you or your mechanic need some advice. Most Comanche pilots speak very highly of it.
Many owners also join the Piper Flyer Association, which is perhaps the best known club for all Piper owners. There is also a Piper Owner Society, which you can find at https://piperowner.org/.
There is a Piper Comanche group on Facebook, which describes itself as “THE group for those of us who love Piper Comanches”. You are also likely to find a number of local and regional clubs and groups, although perhaps not quite so many as for the more popular Piper Cherokee models.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: I Learned to Fly on a Piper Tomahawk. Will it be Difficult for me to Fly a Piper Comanche?
Question: I am Considering Buying a Piper Comanche, or Perhaps a Piper Arrow. Which is Better?
Answer: it really comes down to personal preference. Both of these aircraft are single-engined retractables, and both are very popular.
The Comanche may require more maintenance, since all Comanche models are now quite old, and some people would say it is harder to fly. But your best bet would be to try both and see which you prefer.
Question: Will a Piper Comanche Cost a Lot to Maintain, as it is Such an Old Aircraft?
Answer: Being an old aircraft, it will require more maintenance than more modern types, and thus is likely to cost a bit more. But it will not be too horribly expensive, if you buy a well-maintained model in the first place.
Question: I Always Thought the Comanche Was a Twin Engined Aircraft. Is This not the Case?
Answer: There is indeed a Twin Comanche, as well as the single-engined type discussed here. Both are very different, and having the same name for them has caused some confusion, among people other than you. You will need to research the Twin Comanche separately if that is what interests you.
The Piper PA-24 Comanche is an old aircraft, but is still popular and much-loved by owners. It is easy to fly, but does have a few difficulties and quirks which mean pilots should be very careful and maybe undertake extra training before flying one for the first time.
But one advantage is that it comes with so many modifications and variants that you can almost design your Comanche the way you want it. If you are considering buying a single-engined light aircraft, the Comanche is certainly worth looking at in more detail. Like a lot of other pilots, you may find that you like it a lot!
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Aviation Consumer https://www.aviationconsumer.com/used-aircraft-guide/piper-comanche-2/
International Comanche Society https://www.comancheflyers.com