Piper Dakota Guide and Specs : All You Need to Know

Introduced in 1979, the Piper PA-28-236 or commonly known by its marketed name, the Piper Cherokee Dakota, is one of the many variants of the Piper Cherokee and a direct successor to the Piper Cherokee Pathfinder, which was produced from 1974 to 1977. 

The Dakota was essentially the same as the Pathfinder, with one major change: it was given a tapered wing. Once the prototype was built and testing was complete, it received its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification on June 1, 1978, and debuted the following year.

Like most of the variants in the Cherokee line, the Piper Dakota is a single-engine piston-powered, all-metal aircraft with low-mounted wings and fixed tricycle landing gear. The aircraft can seat four persons in total: one crew and three passengers, who can enter the aircraft using the single right-hand side door. 

The Dakota shared nearly all of its components with the Piper Pathfinder (PA-28-235), which includes the naturally aspirated, carbureted fed, Lycoming O-540-J3A5D, which is derated to produce 235 hp (175 kW).

Thanks to its Lycoming powerplant, the Dakota, with its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 3000 lbs (1360 kg), could climb to a service ceiling of 17,500 ft (5334 m) and reach a maximum speed of 148 knots (274 kmph). 

A tapered wing has many benefits over a traditional rectangular wing because its design results in an increase in lift and a reduction in drag. The inclusion of a tapered wing in the design of the Piper Dakota meant that it outperformed its predecessor in many aspects. 

The first and biggest advantage the Dakota has over the Pathfinder is the increase in overall speed. Both aircraft weigh the same and have the same engine, which produces the same amount of power.

The Pathfinder has a top speed of 140 knots and a cruise speed of 126 knots. In contrast, the Dakota has a top speed of 8 knots (15 kmph) faster and a cruise speed of 17 knots (31 kmph) faster. 

Another benefit the Dakota has over the Pathfinder, thanks to its tapered wings, is the larger wing tanks, which have a major impact on the range. Smaller improvements from the design were an increased rate of climb and a reduced ground roll. 

Piper Dakota Specifications

The last Piper Dakota rolled off the line in 1994, and over its 12-year production run, there weren’t any significant changes made to the setup of the Dakota. There were minor changes made to the aircraft’s paint, avionics, and interior to keep it updated but that was the extent of it. 

Piper stretched and enlarged the frame of the standard Piper Cherokee to give the Dakota a larger footprint. The Dakota was made 5 in (12.7 cm) longer, a larger horizontal tail for more rudder authority, and an increase in wingspan due to the new design.

Piper made the Dakota larger to compete against the more popular six-seater Cessna 182 Skylanes.

The exact specifications of the Piper Dakota are:

Exterior Dimensions
Length 24.7 ft (7.50 m)
Height 7.2 ft (2.20 m)
Wingspan 35.4 ft (10.80 m)
Wing Area 170.4 ft² (15.80 m²)
Interior Dimensions
Length 97.0 in (246.40 cm)
Width 41.5 in (105.40 cm)
Height 49.0 in (124.50 cm)
Cabin Volume (Baggage Area Included) 106 ft³ (3.00 m³)
Baggage Volume 26 ft³ (0.74 m³)
Crew 1
Passengers 3
Weights
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) 3,000 lbs (1360.70 kg)
Standard Useful Load 1,392 lbs (631.40 kg)
Maximum Fuel Useful Load 700 lbs (317.50 kg)
Baggage Capacity 200 lbs (90.71 kg)
Performance
Power @ Maximum RPM 235 hp (175 kW)
Total Fuel Capacity (Two Tanks @38.5 gal) 77 gal (291 l)
Useable Fuel Capacity 72 gal (273 l)
Range (Including Res  
Oil Capacity 12 qt (11.36 l)
Service Ceiling 17,500 ft (5,334 m)
Rate of Climb 1,110 fpm / 338 mpm
Speeds
Maximum Speed 148 kts (274.10 kmph)
Cruising Speed @ 75% power Power: 144 kts (267 kmph) / Economy: 139 kts (257 kmph)
Cruising Speed @ 65% power Power: 138 kts (255 kmph) / Economy: 134 kts (248 kmph)
Cruising Speed @ 55% power Power: 130 kts (240 kmph) / Economy: 126 kts (233 kmph)
Stall Speed Clean IAS: 65 kts (120 kmph) / CAS: 63 kts (117 kmph)
Stall Speed Dirty IAS: 56 kts (104 kmph) / CAS: 56 kts (104 kmph)
Fuel Consumption
75% Power Power: 13.5 gph (51.5 lph) / Economy: 12.7 gph (47.9 lph)
65% Power Power: 11.8 gph (44.7 lph) / Economy: 10.9 gph (47.9 lph)
55% Power Power: 10.1 gph (38.2 lph) / Economy: 9.3 gph (35.2 lph)
Takeoff and Landing Performance
Takeoff Ground Run 886 ft (270 m)
Takeoff 50ft. Clearance 1,216 ft (371 m)
Landing Ground Roll  640 ft (195 m) with Heavy Duty Brakes
Landing 50 ft. Clearance 1,530 ft (466 m) with Heavy Duty Brakes
Systems and Equipment
Engine Direct Drive Lycoming O-540-J3A5D at 2,400 RPM
Propeller  Hartzell, Constant Speed, 2 Blade

Piper Dakota Performance and Flight Characteristics

Piper’s habit of modifying the Cherokee to meet different requirements means the design of the Dakota isn’t anything to write home about. A benefit to this is that all Cherokees have the same basic principles, and owners can expect different models to behave similarly in nearly all aspects. 

The larger fuselage of the Dakota translates to a more spacious cabin. The extra space has allowed Piper to install four fully adjustable seats that are known to be comfortable which makes long journeys in the Dakota easy.

These seats were also built with safety in mind. In the event of a crash, the specially designed seat frame deforms on impact, absorbing energy and protecting the passenger.

Though the Lycoming O-540 has been derated to 235 hp (175 kW), you’ll never find yourself wanting power in the Piper Dakota. Increasing the throttle produces a very palpable response from the aircraft, even when it’s fully loaded. 

Climb performance was also increased thanks to the new wing. The Pathfinder can only manage an 800 fpm climb rate whereas the Dakota has a climb rate of 1,110 fpm which is a 38 percent increase. The landing ground roll also decreased significantly, from 1,040 ft (316 m) on the Pathfinder to 825 ft (251 m) on the Dakota. 

The Dakota has 77 gal fuel tanks (72 gal usable) versus the Pathfinders 62 gal tanks, which has a major impact on the range. The size increase allows the Dakota to fly for 710 nm (1315 km) which includes 45-minute reserve fuel. 

Cruise performance on the Dakota is in line with what you’d expect of an aircraft of this nature. When 75 percent power is applied, and the mixture is leaned out for fuel economy, the six-cylinder engine burns 12.7 gph (47.9 lph) and powers the Dakota along at a speed of 139 kts (257 kmph).

When leaned for best power, fuel burn becomes 13.5 gph (51.5 lph) while the speed increases to 144 kts (267 kmph).

Handling-wise, the Dakota behaves like any other Cherokee model. However, the tapered wing makes it more responsive and requires less force to operate than older models. Many owners love the way the Dakota handles and say it’s a dream to fly.

Piper PA-28’s have a nose gear that doesn’t self-center and is linked to the rudder pedals full-time. A feature that is present in the Dakota as well. This poses an issue in flight, as anytime rudder is applied, the nose-wheel is also deflected. The addition of fairings only serves to exacerbate the effect. 

The larger issue with this characteristic is the chance of the nose-wheel being unknowingly deflected during a landing is an obvious hazard. Seasoned Cherokee pilots are well-aware of the issue, but beginners should have it in mind until it can be corrected subconsciously. 

The center of gravity of the Dakota tends to be towards the front because of the heavy engine and propeller combination. While a forward CG ensures stalls are easy to get out, takeoffs require more back-pressure.

Landings are an entirely different story; finesse and fine control are required to prevent nose-wheel landings because the Dakota tends to under flare.

Piper Dakota Price

Piper Cherokees are very popular aircraft in general, and the Dakota is the go-to model for anyone looking for a bigger Cherokee. Capable, comfortable, and easy to fly (mostly), prices for the Dakota have been increasing over the last few years. 

According to Aircraft Bluebook, a 1979 model year Piper Dakota is valued at $97,000. But that was in October of 2019. Two years later, the average price of a Dakota has been valued at $141,700, while the price range is between $89,900 – $199,900.

The figures show that the demand for Dakotas has increased, causing prices to rise by about 40 percent. Based on the data collected from the available listings on the market, the average total time of a Piper Dakota is around 3,500 hours, while the engine hours average at around 1,100. 

The Piper Flyer Association sells Dakotas, which range from $260,000 to $325,000, depending on the avionics suite installed. While this might seem like an exorbitant amount to pay for a 40-year-old aircraft, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill Dakotas.

Completely refurbished and updated to modern standards by Premier Aircraft Sales, while it isn’t promoted as a next-to-new aircraft, it should be because that is what it is. 

Piper Dakota Resale Value

If you’re worried about if the Piper Dakota has good resale value, don’t be. The Dakota is a favorite in the Cherokee lineup, and the combination of performance and utility ensures that the demand for Piper Dakotas will only increase. The current price trend for the Dakota is an increasing one, so it will hold its value for years to come. 

Piper Dakota Maintenance

Piper Cherokees are known for being reliable machines, and the Dakota doesn’t step out of line, which is great news for anyone looking to fly one. 

Pick a part, any part, on the Dakota, and you’ll have no issues finding a replacement. The sheer number of Piper Cherokees on the market means that you’ll be able to find whatever you need with relative ease.

Servicing a Dakota is also cheap, because nearly every AMT has dealt with multiple Cherokees, and it doesn’t require specialization to work on. 

The Lycoming O-540 engine that powers the Piper Dakota is a very popular one and is used in many different single-engine aircraft, making parts easy to find, and AMTs with O-540 experience plentiful.

The engine on the Dakota has been severely derated, which means wear and tear are low. Service reports verify that derated versions of the O-540 are extremely reliable and cheap to operate because parts will not need replacing too often.

Lycoming recommends the O-540 to be overhauled every 1800 hours, but plenty of owners have been known to blow past this number and have no issues at all.

According to OverhaulBids.com a factory-new engine from Lycoming can set you back $60,128 on average. The significantly cheaper factory rebuilt engine costs an average of $37,506, while a factory overhauled engine costs $5,000 less, at $33,006. 

Piper Dakota Modifications and Upgrades

The PA-28 is one of the most popular aircraft models on the planet, second only to the C172. The line has been in production for decades, and the design has been more or less the same throughout the years. So naturally, it has a massive aftermarket for modifications and replacement parts. 

There are a wide variety of parts available. Some of the first parts that are fitted are replacements for plastic interior and exterior parts that are better than the factory original pieces, followed by HID lighting, better shoulder harnesses, and smaller parts that don’t require certification. 

Aerodynamic upgrades like aileron, wingtip, and stabilator modifications can be purchased from Met-Co-Aire and LoPresti Speed Merchants. For pilots operating on smaller landing strips, Sierra and Bush have created a short takeoff and landing (STOL) kit for the Dakota, and to stop on a dime, speed brakes are available from Precise Flight. 

Piper Dakota Clubs You Can Join

The main organization for Dakota owners is the Piper Owners Society (POS), which absorbed the Cherokee Pilots Association (CPA) in 2008. Membership offers a monthly magazine, discounts for insurance and parts, technical support, and online forums. 

The Piper Flyers Association, another club that caters to Dakota pilots, also mirrors the services provided by the POS and is a superb resource and community.

Another popular online forum is Cherokeechat.com, which was created to fill the void left by the CPA. It also provides technical information and is a place for owners to gather and discuss their piper aircraft.

Piper Dakota Where To Find Replacement Parts

As previously mentioned, the Piper Cherokee parts are roughly the same across most models, which means parts from other Cherokee models will fit the Dakota, and the success of the Cherokee line means there won’t be a shortage of used parts.

Sites such as Aircraft Spruce and Knots 2 U have a wide variety of Dakota and Cherokee parts that can easily be searched for by part number or by aircraft identifier (PA 28-236).

Another resource of parts, especially parts that are difficult to find, is a flying club. Being a member of one of the flying clubs mentioned earlier gives you an entire community of Dakota owners who are always willing to help. Most clubs also partner with parts suppliers to provide their members with discounts.

Piper Dakota Common Problems

Though the Dakota is a reliable aircraft, it is not without its faults. 

The brakes system on the Dakota is problematic. Pilots often complain that there isn’t enough braking authority and that the pedal feels too light.

Heavy-duty brakes can be fitted using an aftermarket kit unless the aircraft in question has been fitted with them from the factory. However, once heavy-duty brakes are fitted, it becomes much easier to flat-spot the tires by adding too much force. 

Another problematic system is the pitot and static system. The pitot blade is mounted on the bottom of the port wing. The blade can get clogged by water and bugs, and its positioning makes proper inspection nearly impossible.

The only surefire way of knowing if there is an issue is to spot an erroneous reading on the airspeed indicator. Inspecting the pitot and static lines is extremely cumbersome because the fuel tanks have to be removed to access the lines. 

Piper Dakota Insurance Costs

The Dakota and the Cherokee line, as a whole, have excellent safety records, which makes it easy to insure.

According to BWI Fly, for liability coverage of $1,000,000, an experienced owner of a Dakota who aims to use the aircraft for private use can expect to pay around $160-$260 per year and $440-$1,050 per year for a combination of the liability and hull coverage of $44,000. 

For the same liability coverage amount, pilots with less than 300 hours under their belts can expect to pay $275-$450 per year, and the cost increases to $950-$1,750 when hull coverage is brought in. 

Piper Dakota Competitors and Similar Aircraft

Piper Dakota Competitors and Similar Aircraft

The main competitor for the Piper Dakota is the Cessna 182 Skylane. Why? Because the Dakota was built for the sole purpose of competing against the C182.

While it was in production, the Dakota successfully attracted customers who would’ve otherwise bought a Skylane because many preferred its low-wing design over the Skylanes high-wing. 

The Dakota beats out the Skylane in a few categories, such as maximum cruise speed, payload, and total horsepower. But why is the Skylane still in production while the Dakota isn’t?

The answer is simple: Piper expected it to perform better, but it didn’t, through no fault of its own. The C182 was simply too established and had better specifications. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What Does Insurance Consider a Qualified/Advanced Pilot?

Answer: Qualified pilots receive lower insurance rates as they are considered to have more experience and therefore are safer and easier to insure.

The insurance provider BWI Fly considers a qualified pilot to have at least a private pilot license, 300 hours total time, and 25 hours on type. The exact number of hours required to be a qualified pilot is dependent on the insurance company. However, you can expect it to be around the hours quoted above.

Question: What are Derated Engines?

Answer: Derating an engine or motor is either the intentional or unintentional reduction of total power that an engine can produce in ideal conditions. Intentional derating can be achieved through mechanical or electronic means. Putting in smaller carburetor jets to limit fuel flow is one such method of mechanical derating.

Derating can be accomplished electronically by mapping a lower tune into the electronic control unit. Unintentional derating is usually caused by wear and tear on an engine which results in a reduction of power. 

References

  • Cox, B. B. C. (2015, July 13). Dakota. Piper Owner Society. https://piperowner.org/dakota/
  • Dakota PA-28-236 specifications, cabin dimensions, performance. (n.d.). GlobalAir.Com. Retrieved September 26, 2021, from https://www.globalair.com/aircraft-for-sale/Specifications?specid=356
  • estaff. (2001, March 6). Piper PA-28 cherokee 235/dakota. Aviation Consumer. https://www.aviationconsumer.com/aircraftreviews/piper-pa-28-cherokee-235-dakota/
  • Lycoming 540 overhaul cost. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2021, from http://blog.overhaulbids.com/lycoming-540-overhaul-cost/
  • Piper Cherokee. (n.d.). BWI Fly. Retrieved September 26, 2021, from https://bwifly.com/piper-cherokee/
  • Piper Dakota Group price report. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2021, from https://www.hangar67.com/Price/report/piper-dakota-group/mgp-117
  • Smith, D. (2018, August 3). Piper flyer association – Premier edition Piper Dakota. Piper Flyer Association. https://www.piperflyer.org/piper-models/piper-singles/piper-pa-28-cherokees/item/1083-premier-edition-piper-dakota.html

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