Piper Tri-Pacer Guide and Specs : All You Need To Know

Introduction

When 9,490 aircraft of a specific model sell in a 14-year production window, you know the designers have got it right. In 1950, the Tri-Pacer leveraged off the success of its much-loved sibling, the Pa-20 Pacer, and went on to become a legend.

Until that time, most aircraft produced had a conventional undercarriage arrangement, with two main wheels just forward of the aircraft center of gravity and a tailwheel aft of the vertical stabilizer. Requiring more dexterity when taxiing and taking off, and landing, history abounds with incidents and accidents where pilots got it wrong.

The introduction of the Tri-Pacer with a tricycle undercarriage, having a nose wheel just aft of the propeller and two main wheels slightly aft of the aircraft’s center of gravity, was an attempt by Piper to make flying a little easier and safer. The tricycle undercarriage allowed directional stability and better visibility when taxiing. This design, coupled in 1955 with more powerful 150hp and 160hp engine options than the 135hp Pa-20, created tremendous interest in the Tri-Pacer.

A steel-tube and fabric, high-wing, strut-braced single-engine configuration aircraft with four seats, the higher horsepower Tri-Pacer can turn in a solid short-field performance, lifting a reasonable load with full fuel. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the first Tripacers powered by 125hp and 135hp Lycoming engines. Carrying four passengers in those models meant you weren’t going far due to the small fuel uptake permitted by the maximum aircraft weight.

However, a large interior, strong airframe, and attractive cruise speeds of 105 to 110 knots attracted customers. The inclusion of flaps, control yokes instead of control sticks, and separate doors for passengers and pilots provided a modern, performing aircraft at a reasonable price.

160hp Piper Tri-Pacer Specifications

Engines     Weights and Capacities  
Model: Lycoming 0-320-B   T/O / Landing Weights Normal: 2,000 lbs
Cylinders: Four   Standard Empty Weight: 1,131 lbs
Displacement: 320 cu in   Max. Useful Load: 869 lbs
Horsepower: 160   Baggage Capacity: 100 lbs
Aspirated Carburettor   Oil Capacity – per engine: 8 quarts
TBO: 2,000 hours   Passenger Configuration: 3
      Crew: 1
Propellors        
Model: Sensenich 74DM6   Aircraft Dimensions  
Blades: 2   Wing Span: 29.3 ft
      Length: 20.6 ft
Fuel:     Height: 8.3 ft
Octane: 100   Wing Area: 147.5 sq ft
Capacity: 36 Gallons   Wing Loading: 13.5 lbs/sq ft
Burn @ 75% Power: 9 gph      

Pa-22 Prices

The price new for a Pa-22 in 1955 was US$7,295. Given the number sold and their popularity, you’ll see a few for sale, and as in all things aviation, the condition is all. Lower horsepower models from the early 1950s sell around US$13,900 with just over 3,000 total time airframe (TTAF). The later models with higher 150 or 160 horsepower engines and circa 3,000 hours airframe time sell for US$25,000 to US$26,000. Heavily modified and overhauled models have asking prices between US$30,000 to US$45,000, with some on the market at close to US$60,000. Standard airframe hours appear to sit between 2,000 and 4,000 hours.

Piper Tri-Pacer Performance & Handling

Piper Pa-22

Owners describe the Tri-Pacer as a lovely aircraft to fly, or as one owner put it, “embarrassingly easy.” With the rudder aileron interconnect, turns don’t require too much fancy footwork, with the controls balanced and light. With such a light wing-loading, the aircraft moves about in turbulence; however, it is relatively stable as long as you don’t require hands-off flying. Stalls are mild to almost non-existent, with the aircraft not dropping its nose dramatically. Descent rates increase, and the aircraft mushes down.

The overriding handling issue with the Tri-Pacer in the air is the need to maintain power on approach. Pilots tell stories of carrying too little power on final and seeing very high sink rates develop, leading to a nickname of “the flying brick.” Nailing your approach speed and maintaining power through the flare is essential to perform an arrival resembling a landing.

On the ground, other dynamics come into play. The aircraft sits high, has a narrow main gear track, and directs steering from the rudder pedals to the nose wheel through push-pull rods. Such geometry makes taxiing a study in slight, gentle rudder inputs to prevent dramatic swerves. When the wind is strong, things can get lively. Maintaining proper control surface deflections during taxi will help prevent ending up on your back, while sharp or fast turns can spell disaster. None of these tendencies are assisted by the brakes being hand operated.

All that said, the Pa-22 is a sound little short-field performer with acceptable climb rates, carrying good loads while still allowing adequate fuel capacity.

160hp Piper Tri-Pacer Performance and Handling Specifications

Cruise Speed (Kts)     Stall Speed (kts) (Flaps down) 49
75% @ Sea Level 109      
75% @ 7,000 ft 116   Service Ceiling (ft) 16,500
         
Fuel Consumption (GPH)     Best sea-level rate-of-climb (fpm) 800
75% 9      
      Take-off Ground Roll (ft) 1,120
Max Range (nm)     T/O Dist. over 50-foot obstacle 1,600
75% @ Sea Level 465      
      Landing Ground Roll (ft) 650
Est. Endurance (hrs)     Ldg Dist. Over 50-foot obstacle 1,280
75% power 4      
      Do Not Exceed Speed (kts) 123

Pa-22 Maintenance Schedule

Piper

Maintenance costs are not excessive on the Tri-Pacer due to its straightforward and robust design. Annual inspections are straightforward and inexpensive, as are the 100-hour maintenance inspections. As with its sister Pa-20 Pacer, one problem to watch for is corrosion in the airframe tubing. Predominant corrosion areas are in the aft fuselage longerons and the tail structure. Corrosion can also be found in and around the structure of the door.

AD AD 99-01-05 is of note, 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 inhibitors. 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.

Another issue reported by owners is a slow or no cranking fault on starting, which is down to battery cables failure. Most owners replace their cables with a larger copper cable which solves the problem.

Piper Tri-Pacer Modifications and Upgrades

There are many modifications available for the Tri-Pacer. The most popular mods address the known foibles.

Bogart Aviation in Washington, at https://bogertaviation.com/, provides a new battery box and cables to address the known issue with slow or no cranking when starting. There are also mods to replace the under-powered generators with alternators. Brake mods are plentiful, with the Williams and Univair conversions highly mentioned in Tri-Pacer forums. These STC-approved mods either fit new disc brakes, replace the hand brake with toe braking, or both.

Univair and Airframes Alaska offer lifetime sealed lift struts to remove the need for ongoing wing strut inspections mandated by the AD. Some owners chose to re-skin their aircraft with aluminum, while others have converted the Tri-Pacer to a conventional undercarriage configuration, similar to the Pa-20 Pacer. There is also a mod to replace lower power Lycoming O-290 with the 160hp O-320, although this does require wing strengthening.

Pa-22 – Where To Find Replacement Parts

Generic parts are readily available at places like Aircraft Spruce, Preferred Airparts, and Aircraft Supply. However, for Tri-Pacer specific parts, the name that most crops up in conversation is Univair. Found at www.univair.com, Univair specializes in vintage aircraft part supply, and they hold STCs for several Tri-Pacer modifications. For an aircraft of such venerable age, sourcing spares does not appear to be an issue.

Piper Tri-Pacer Common Problems

The lift-strut AD we discussed earlier is a well-known issue; however, owners do have the ability to fit a sealed strut to remove the maintenance requirement. Airframe corrosion can be a concern, with inspections hampered by the long life we now get from the Ceconite, Polyfiber, or Superflight cloth now used to cover aircraft.

Since some fabrics can last 20-years when adequately looked after, corrosion problems can be hard to identify. Some owners insist on recovering their aircraft every 10-years allow airframe inspection and ensure airframe integrity, even though the fabric will endure beyond that period. Finally, resolution of the battery cable and under-powered generator issues is possible by installing larger copper cables and higher power alternators better suited to today’s operations and power demands.

Pa-22 Insurance Options

Piper Pa

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$325 to US$535 per year.

If the insurance includes additional hull cover for US$25,000, the annual premium for the experienced pilot will be between US$560 to US$790 per year, while the lesser experienced pilot can expect US$760 to US$990 per year.

Piper Tri-Pacer Model Resale Value

Eight aircraft-related factors are influencing Pa-22 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. The Piper Tripacer has maintained its value remarkably well. In 1955 it was worth US$7,295, and with asking prices today between US$14,000 to US$26,000, the aircraft has not lost a lot of value in 71 years.

Along with its sibling, the Pa-20, the Tri-Pacer must be one of the cheapest four-seater aircraft on the market today. It provides outstanding short-field performance, gentle flight characteristics, acceptable cruise speeds, and low operating costs.

Pa-22 Owner Reviews

Unsurprisingly, owners wax lyrical about the Tri-Pacer. Reporting between 7 to 9 gallons per hour fuel use depending on engine power, they all speak of the minimal operating costs of a well-looked after aircraft. The Pa-22 appears to compare favorably with the performance of a similar age 172, with lower operating costs. The benign flight characteristics, good load carrying capabilities, solid short-field capabilities, and acceptable cruise speeds seem to be the main topic of conversation.

All owners agree that for load carrying, it’s an aircraft for two people with full baggage, three people with overnight baggage, or four people with no baggage.

Piper Tri-Pacer Similar Aircraft

Partenavia Fachiro

The Piper aircraft that preceded the Pacer and Tripacer were the Pa-15/17 Vagabond and the Piper Pa-16 Clipper. However, the Tripacer’s main competition was the Partenavia Fachiro, the Cessna 170, and the Stinson 108. All aircraft with similar specifications, although cruise speeds were generally lower than the Tripacer.

Piper Tri-Pacer Clubs You Can Join

If you own a Pa-22 Pacer, you are strongly advised to 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 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 is ‘wing loading’?

Answer: Wing loading is the total aircraft mass divided by its wing area. Faster aircraft generally have a higher wing loading as less area is required to carry the same mass. However, it takes a longer distance high wing loading aircraft to take off and land.

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 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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