Piper Pacer Guide and Specs : Reviews From Pilots

Introduction

A sight that quickens the heart of any true pilot is a rag-and-tube taildragger taxiing out onto a mown field on a sunny day—a real trip down nostalgia lane for us grey hairs. The Piper Pacer is one such aircraft to stir the senses.

Manufactured by Piper between 1949 and 1964, the Pacer family is a high-wing, strut-braced single-engine configuration aircraft that consists of the four-seat Pacer, Tri-Pacer, and the Caribbean, and the two-seater Colt.

Another Piper success story, those 15-years saw almost 13,000 of the Pacer family roll off the production line. The Tri-Pacer outstripped its siblings, with almost 9,500 built, the Colt followed with 2,200, and the Pacer with 1,120.

A large interior, sturdy airframe, and attractive cruise speeds attracted customers, including flaps, control yokes instead of control sticks, and separate doors for passengers and pilots.

In its first four years, the Pacer emerged with three different engine options. Launched with the 125 hp Lycoming O-290-D series, the Lycoming -C1 and -D2 series followed quickly at 115 and 135 hp, respectively.

In late 1950, Piper produced a variant on the Pacer called the Pa-22 Tri-Pacer, named for having a tricycle undercarriage rather than the conventional taildragger configuration.

A more pejorative term used was ‘the flying milk-stool’ due to the angle and appearance of the landing gear nose leg. As with the Pacer, three years of Tri-Pacer production saw four engine options produced ranging from 125 hp up to 160 hp. All four options used Lycomings from the O-290 or O-320 series.

The Caribbean was Piper’s attempt at a cheaper and less well-specified Tri-Pacer fitted with the 150 hp Lycoming O-320-A2A. Production of this variant only occurred between 1959 and 1960.

In 1960, Piper scrambled to bring a two-seat version of the Tri-Pacer to market to compete as a two-seat trainer against the Cessna 150. Called the Pa-22 Colt and powered with a 108 hp Lycoming O-235, the two-seater resembled the Tri-Pacer but without the flaps, rear-seat windows and doors, and the second fuel tank.

The Pa-20 and 22 series success are measured in quantity built, yet also in the numbers still flying today, with many used worldwide by recreational pilots as bush planes.

Piper Pacer Pa-20 Specifications

Engines

125 hp

135 hp

 

Weights and Capacities

 

Make:

Lycoming

 

T/O / Landing Weights Normal:

1,800 lbs

Model:

O-290-D

O-290-D2

 

Standard Empty Weight:

1,005

Cylinders:

4

4

 

Max. Useful Load:

795

Displacement:

289 cu in

289 cu in

 

Baggage Capacity:

50

Horsepower:

125

135

 

Oil Capacity:

8 Quarts

Aspirated

Normal

Normal

 

Passenger Configuration:

3

TBO:

1500 hrs

1500 hrs

 

Crew:

1

         

Propeller

   

Aircraft Dimensions

 

Model:

Sensenich 76AM-2

 

Wing Span:

29’ 3”

Blades:

2

 

Length:

20’ 5”

     

Height:

6’ 2”

Fuel:

   

Internal Baggage Volume:

Octane:

80/87

     

Capacity:

36 US Gallons

     

Burn @ 75% Power:

7.2 Gallons/hr

     

Pa-20 Prices

Piper Pacer

The price new for a Pa-20 in 1950 was US$3,795. Today you’ll struggle to find too many for sale, as they are much loved. When they do come on the market, the condition is all.

I’ve seen them sell for $US28,000 with TTAF of just over 3,000 hours and mid-life engines, to near US$37,000 for an immaculate example, heavily modified, with a newly overhauled engine.

Of Tri-Pacers, you find many more for sale. Prices range from US$20,000 to over US$60,000, depending on engine horsepower, engine times, and total time airframe (TTAF). Most airframe hours range between 2,000 to 4,000.

Pa-20 Performance & Handling

Owners and test pilots all describe the Pacer with similar adjectives. Lively, sensitive, good in the climb, and one of the more docile stall characteristics you’ll find on an aircraft; however, it’s decidedly skittish on the ground due to its short fuselage, short wing, and narrow main wheel track.

Newcomers to the Pa-20 will have to learn to use their feet again, as the Pacer doesn’t have differential ailerons and with the short-coupled fuselage, expect considerable adverse yaw in the roll until you find your feet. Piper did fit a bungee between the aileron cabling and rudder cabling to assist with this issue.

Thanks to that short wing, when you cut the power, the aircraft does drop, so maintaining a trickle of power into the flare prevents undercarriage maintenance bills, or embarrassing arrivals.

Pa-20 Performance and Handling Specifications

Cruise Speed (kts)

125 hp

135 hp

 

Stall Speed (kts) (Flaps down)

44

75% power

117

121

     
       

Service Ceiling (ft)

12,500

Fuel Consumption (gph)

         

75% power

7

7.5

 

Best sea-level rate-of-climb (fpm)

820

         

Max Range (nm)

   

Take-off Ground Roll (ft)

1,210

75% power

505

     
     

Landing Ground Roll (ft)

780

Est. Endurance (hrs)

       

65% power

 

Do Not Exceed Speed (kts)

137

Pa-20 Maintenance Schedule

Piper PA 20

Here’s one aircraft where maintenance costs are not prohibitive, a testament to a sturdy and straightforward design. If there’s one area to watch, it’s corrosion in the airframe tubing.

The Pacer seems prone to corrosion in the tubing around the doors, the aft fuselage longerons, and the tail structure. Annual inspections are straightforward and inexpensive, as are the 100-hour maintenance inspections.

The main AD of note is AD 99-01-05, which supersedes AD 93-10-6. The requirement is to inspect the wing struts and the wing strut forks. The first for corrosion, the second for cracking.

Periods are annually for strut inspections, accompanied by the application of rust inhibitor. The crack inspection is every 500-hours, with a fitting replacement life of 2,000-hours. The new fittings have rolled threads rather than cut.

Pa-20 Modifications and Upgrades

Myriad is the only word to describe possible mods and upgrades. Loved by the bush pilots, the Pacer has many choices depending on your use.

Svenn’s Aviation in Wisconsin and Trimmer Aviation in Alaska hold STC’s to install 180 hp Lycomings to the Pacer.

Univair, and Airframes Alaska, offer lifetime sealed lift struts obviating the requirements for the previously mentioned AD. Alaskan Bushwheel holds STC’s for installation of eligible Alaskan Bushwheel tires of 26″, 29″, or 31″.

With the Pa-20, you’re spoiled for choice with mods for floats, skis, STOL kits, auxiliary fuel tanks, extended wingtips, and speed fairings with seals.

Pa-20 Where To Find Replacement Parts

According to owners, parts for the Pacer are not an issue. Many are generic, off-the-shelf components supplied by Aircraft Supply or Preferred Airparts. When parts are Pa-20 specific, Univair Aircraft Corporation has everything you need for the airframe in Colorado.

Pa-20 Common Problems

We’ve spoken of the lift-strut AD and an owner’s ability to fit a sealed strut to remove the maintenance requirement. That aside, the airframe corrosion issue is one to watch and is exacerbated by the long-life we now get from the Ceconite, Polyfiber, or Superflight cloth now used to cover aircraft.

Given the exceptionally long life of well-looked-after fabric, many corrosion problems are hard to identify. Some owners insist on aircraft recovers every 10-years to ensure airframe integrity, even though the fabric will endure beyond that period.

Pa-20 Insurance Options

The standard aviation insurance all aircraft owners take is liability coverage, while hull coverage is optional. Liability coverage covers damage caused by the aircraft, including passengers, while hull coverage covers damage to the aircraft itself. The greater the experience of the owner/pilot, the lower the premiums.

For private pilots with 500 hours total time and 50 hours on the model, the 2021 annual cost for US$1,000,000 liability coverage ranges between US$250 to US$300 per year. Pilots with less experience can expect this to rise from US$330 to US$530 per year.

If the insurance includes additional hull cover for US$25,000, the annual premium for the experienced pilot will be between US$550 to US$800 per year, while the lesser experienced pilot can expect US$770 to US$1,000 per year.

Pa-20 Model Resale Value

Cockpit

Eight aircraft-related factors are influencing Pa-20 resale. They are:

  • Airframe Total Hours

  • Engine Hours Since Overhaul

  • Installed equipment, especially instrument/avionic fit-out

  • Maintenance schedule compliance

  • Damage history

  • Fabric condition

  • Interior condition

  • Modification history

These eight items are all within the owner’s control and make a considerable difference in the final asking price. With that said, however, the Pa-20 has maintained its value extraordinarily well. In 1950 it was worth US$3,795, and with asking prices today between US$20,000 to US$30,000, the aircraft has not lost much if any value.

It must be one of the cheapest four-seater aircraft on the market today, providing low operating costs, outstanding short-field performance, benign flight characteristics, and acceptable cruise speeds. On top of that, it’s just the nicest little aircraft you could hope to own.

Pa-20 Owner Reviews

Owner reviews are consistent that the Pa-20 is a low-cost, practical, and fun aircraft with excellent fuel economy, speed, and load-carrying capability. All mention the aircraft’s quirks, such as the need to maintain power into the flare else the landing becomes an arrival.

The fuel system got a special mention due to a strange routing from the right tank. Failure to have the correct tank selected at certain stages of flight can cause the engine to go suddenly quiet. STC’s abound to fit a different fuel selector, which solves the issue.

Most have changed out the old drum brakes with discs, and all speak of the hand-operated brakes and flaps as something with which to get familiar.

All issues, however, are not seen as show stoppers; instead, they are items about which potential owners should be aware.

Pa-20 Similar Aircraft

Stinson 108

The two aircraft considered comparable in terms of age, construction, and performance are the Cessna 170 and the Stinson 108. Both are capable bush planes with similar specifications, although cruise speeds can be lower than the Pa-20.

The purchase price is the other differentiator. Both aircraft are more expensive to purchase than the Pacer, with some of the second-hand Cessnas being three times the price of the average Pa-20.

Each aircraft is similar to the Pacer in having a significant owner and user group, with many modifications to enhance short-field operations or address individual quirks.

Pa-20 Clubs You Can Join

There is no question that if you own a Pa-20 Pacer, you must join the Short Wing Piper Club found at https://www.shortwingpiperclub.org/. With chapters across the US and Canada, the knowledge and support offered to owners is second to none.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is a Rag and Tube, or Fabric-Covered Aircraft?

Answer: The aircraft fuselage is constructed of steel tube, with a tightened or shrunk fabric covering, which is sealed and painted.

Question: What Does Service Ceiling Mean?

Answer: An aircraft’s service ceiling is defined as the height at which the aircraft cannot climb at a rate greater than 100 feet per minute.

Question: What is The Meaning of the Term TBO?

Answer: TBO means Time Between Overhaul, which is the manufacturer’s recommended running time, in hours or calendar time, before overhaul.

Question: To What Does TTAF Refer?

Answer: TTAF stands for Total Time Airframe, which refers to the number of flying hours the airframe has accumulated since new. Thus, it is an indication of age and use.

Question: Aircraft Gross Weight Refers to What?

Answer: Gross Weight is the total aircraft weight, including pilots, passengers, fuel, oil, and cargo.

Question: What Does Max Structural Cruise Mean?

Answer: Maximum structural cruise, or Vno, refers to the airspeed above which the aircraft should be flown only in smooth air. Above this speed, turbulence or rapid control deflections increase the chance of structural damage.

Question: What are FAA-PMA Approved Parts?

Answer: FAA refers to the Federal Aviation Administration, and PMA means Parts Manufacturer Approval. It is an approval granted to a parts manufacturer to manufacture specific aircraft components.

Question: What are Longerons?

Answer: Longerons are the load-bearing component of, in this case, an aircraft fuselage structure. They run longitudinally from the nose to the tail of the aircraft.

Their role is to transfer the stresses and loads from the skin to the frames and formers of the larger fuselage structure. They are also found in wings but run spanwise, from tip to root.

Question: What is an STC?

Answer: An STC refers to a Supplemental Type Certificate. An STC is an approved modification to an aircraft, engine, or component. All aircraft, engines and components have type certificates that approve their use. That is why an approval to modify them is classed as ‘supplemental’.

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