Piper Aircraft is a manufacturer specializing primarily in general aviation aircraft, that is, those used for private flying, business flying, and flight training. The company is located at the Vero Beach Regional Airport in Florida and has been owned since 2009 by the Government of Brunei.
From its inception in 1927 until the end of 2009, Piper produced 144,000 individual aircraft of 160 different types, and around 90,000 of these are still flying. Throughout much of the 20th century Piper, along with Beechcraft and Cessna, was considered to be one of the ‘Big Three’ manufacturers in general aviation. A huge number of pilots have learned to fly on Piper aircraft, and it would be almost impossible to find anyone involved in aviation who has not heard of the company.
History of Piper Aircraft
In 1927 when it was founded, the company was known as the Taylor Aircraft Manufacturing Company, after its original owners, Clarence, and Gordon Taylor. However, after Gordon died in the following year, Clarence was persuaded by entrepreneur William Piper to move to Pennsylvania. After the stock market crash of 1929, William Piper bought the company. He sold a large number of the very successful Piper Cubs, a Taylor-designed aircraft. Some of these early Cubs are still being flown today.
By 1940 Piper had cornered the general aviation market, and the company took on aircraft production for the coming war effort. After that finished, general aviation thrived overall, and in 1954 Piper moved on from building single-engined planes and produced their first twin-engined all-metal aircraft, the Piper Apache.
A new facility opened in Florida in the 1960s for the production of the Piper Cherokee, soon to be made in several different variants and become extremely popular worldwide. The company also went on to create other popular models like the Cheyenne, Navajo, and Comanche.
In 1970 William Piper died, leaving a very successful aircraft manufacturing company behind him. Since then, ownership has changed several times. But on balance, the company did well until the recession of 2007, when it seemed unlikely that it would survive. Then in 2009, it was purchased by the government of Brunei, and since then, Piper has bounced right back. In 2018, the company announced an order of more than 150 trainer aircraft, and in 2019 brought an order for 240 new Piper Archers and Seminoles.
Looking to the future, it seems as though Piper will continue to be a highly successful company, one that remains committed to William Piper’s original vision of simple, user-friendly airplanes. In terms of the general aviation industry, they’ll carry on being extremely popular.
Piper Aircraft Types
In less than 100 years of operation, Piper produced 160 different certified models of aircraft. They made 144,000 individual aircraft, and an incredible 90,000 of them are still in use and flying to this day.
That being the case, it is virtually impossible to produce an absolutely comprehensive list of every type of airplane the company made, and even if it were to be attempted, this would simply be confusing, as many of them were very similar to each other. So here is a list, in no particular order, of all the main models of Piper Aircraft, most of which are still in use today.
These types can be roughly divided into single-engined aircraft, twin-engined airplanes, and jets – although it must be said that Piper made very few jets. Indeed, on the whole, they concentrated on single-engined aircraft and still do so to this day. Most of their planes are for training and personal use, although more recently, they have also concentrated on the business market.
We will now take a more detailed look at a selection of Piper aircraft, covering each of these three categories.
Piper Single Engined Aircraft
We will take a brief look at a few of these models in more detail as examples of the variety of Piper single-engined planes which are on offer.
Piper J3 Cub – Early and Much Loved Trainer
The Piper J3 Cub was Piper’s most popular and produced aircraft, with 20,000 built between 1938 and 1947. It really put the company on the map, as far as aviation was concerned, quickly becoming very popular both as a trainer and personal aircraft. Unusually for Piper, which generally produced low-wing airplanes, it was a high-wing aircraft.
It was a two-seater and was designed primarily for student training and as a general aviation aircraft. Like most aircraft of that period, it was a ‘taildragger,’ ie it had a tailwheel rather than a nosewheel. Its popularity continued, and it gradually attained almost cult status. Many Cubs are still flying today, and owners speak extremely highly of them.
Piper PA-38 Tomahawk – For Training Later Generations of Pilots
The ‘Tommie’ is one of the best known of Piper’s single-engine aircraft, particularly among flight students. Huge numbers of people learned to fly on this two-seater aircraft, which was intended as a trainer right from its inception in 1978 until the last one was built in 1982.
Many people still learn to fly on the Tomahawk today. Indeed, I was one of those who, many years ago, learned to fly on this plane, and like many others, I still retain an affection for this aircraft. 2484 of these were built, and many are still flying today, sometimes privately owned, as well as being used by flying schools.
Piper PA-28 Warrior – Much Loved Four Seater Aircraft
The Warrior is one of the numerous versions of the PA-28 ‘Cherokee,’ a group of similar single-engined four-seater aircraft which also includes the Arrow, Archer, and Pilot 100. The Warrior is perhaps the best known and most popular of these, often being bought and flown by those pilots who learned to fly on a Tomahawk and then wanted to move on to something larger.
Piper PA-24 Comanche – Popular Retractable
The Comanche was designed and introduced by Piper Aircraft in 1958 and produced from 1957 to 1972. Unlike many of the smaller Piper aircraft, it has a retractable undercarriage and can hold up to six people. This means it is a little faster and more sophisticated than some of the smaller single-engined Piper aircraft. It should not be confused with the similarly named Piper Twin Comanche, which, as you would expect, is a twin-engined aircraft.
Piper M350 Mirage – Single Engined Business Aircraft
The Mirage and its later development, the M500, are single-engined turboprop aircraft. Although sometimes used by private pilots, these six-seater aircraft are primarily designed for business use and represent a move by Piper towards trying to attract the business flyer.
Piper Twin Engined Aircraft
Unlike some of their competitors, Piper has produced several twin-engined aircraft and continues to do so, despite many in the aviation industry criticizing piston-engined twin aircraft for not being particularly safe, in particular after single engine failure. But Piper twins have always been popular, and this continues to be the case.
Piper PA-34 Seneca – Aspiration For Many Private Pilots
This aircraft is seen by many private pilots as the epitome of luxury and is the airplane that many owners of single-engined Piper aircraft would like to move up to in the future. The Seneca has been in production since 1971, although not continuously. It is primarily used for personal and business flying.
Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche – Two Engined Version of the Popular Comanche
The Twin Comanche should not be confused with the single-engined Piper Comanche, although it was developed from it and therefore has a number of similarities. Piper built about 2150 of these between 1963 and 1972, and it was very popular among those pilots who were qualified to fly twin-engined planes and liked Piper aircraft.
Piper PA-44 Seminole – Twin-engined Trainer
This is one of the few twin-engined aircraft which Piper still builds today. In fact, it is a twin-engined development of the Piper Cherokee and is primarily used for multi-engined flight training. The Seminole was built from 1979 to 1982, then again from 1989 to1990, and it has been in production from 1995 until the present day.
Unlike Cessna, perhaps its main competitor, Piper has produced very few jet aircraft, preferring to concentrate on the piston-engined aircraft for which it is so well known.
PA-47 Piper Jet – one of Piper’s few Jet aircraft
The PA-47 Piper Jet, along with later development, the PiperJet Altaire, are Piper’s only Jets to date. So far, neither of these has been put into general production, but that could change in the future.
The Major Differences Between Piper Aircraft and its Competitors
Piper’s main competitors in the general aviation world are Cessna and, to a slightly lesser degree, Beechcraft. And, to be honest, on the whole, there is not much to choose between all three of these well-respected aircraft manufacturers. They all concentrate to a large extent on general aviation and manufacture planes that generations of private pilots have learned to fly on and fly very happily.
That being said, the main difference overall is in the wing configuration of their single-engined piston aircraft. Cessna makes mainly high-wing aircraft, while Piper aircraft – apart from the very early Cub aircraft – have low wings. Now, while this does not make a huge difference, there are some advantages and disadvantages of each type. Some pilots will prefer Cessna’s aircraft design, and others will prefer Piper’s. Other than that, there is really not much to choose between them overall, although, of course, individual models will differ, often greatly.
Another difference is in emphasis, particularly in more recent times. Cessna is moving out of producing piston twin-engined aircraft, to a large extent, concentrating to a great extent on jets. Piper, on the other hand, still produces quite a number of piston twins, including its popular twin training aircraft, the Seminole. Which of these approaches is likely to be the best move for the future of general aviation remains to be seen.
Advantages of Piper Aircraft
One of the advantages of Piper aircraft is that the company is so well known. Aircraft engineers are well used to working on Piper aircraft, and any snags and problems with a particular type are likely to have been well documented. If you buy a newer or more unusual aircraft, this may not necessarily be the case. So Piper aircraft may not be all that exciting, but they will be reliable and enjoyable to fly. Not every pilot wants excitement or something completely new.
Another advantage is that Piper produces a reasonable choice of twin-engined aircraft. Some other manufacturers are moving away from doing this. Of course, there are known disadvantages to piston twins, one of them being the difficulty of flying with only one engine. Indeed, it has been said, not completely in jest, that in the event of single-engine failure, the purpose of the second engine is only to fly the aircraft to the crash site! But many pilots like piston twins, and if you are one of these, you have a reasonable choice among Pipers.
Disadvantages of Piper Aircraft
One of the best-known disadvantages of some Piper Aircraft, in particular the Cherokee types, is that they have only one door on the right-hand side. This means that everyone, pilot and passengers, has to enter and exit through that door. The pilot has to be on board first, so is not able to help passengers, who may struggle to climb aboard or simply be unfamiliar with light aircraft.
When it comes to exiting the aircraft, the pilot has to be the last to leave. This can cause problems for passengers and could even be a safety issue in an emergency, although, to be honest, I have never heard of this being the case. Nevertheless, it is often cited by pilots as a reason why they do not like Piper Cherokees.
Also, there are those pilots who prefer Cessna’s predominantly high-wing aircraft, which allow excellent visibility in the cruise, over Piper’s low-wing planes, which obscure a lot of the view. But this is purely down to personal preference.
Overall, Piper aircraft are very safe. The aircraft are well known and, on the whole, are easy to fly, and accident rates for the planes as a whole do not differ from those of other aircraft.
That being said, the PA-28 ‘Cherokee’ group of aircraft does suffer from a high nighttime accident rate, in particular the retractable PA-28 Piper Arrow. It has been speculated that this is because the fixed-gear Cherokee is frequently used as a trainer, and the Arrow is flown on more cross-country flights in diverse weather environments than many similar aircraft, often being bought as a pilot’s first retractable. It has been suggested that better training would lower the accident rate, which is down to pilot error rather than any intrinsic problem with the aircraft.
Recommendations necessarily depend on what sort of pilot you are and what type of aircraft you are looking to fly. This will, of course, depend to a large extent on pilot experience and, if you are buying an aircraft, on your budget too. But here are some general recommendations:-
For the Student Pilot – Piper PA-38 Tomahawk
For a first purchase – Piper PA-28 Warrior
For longer trips, and as a first retractable – Piper Arrow
For longer flights with more passengers, as the first twin-engined aircraft, and often to fulfill a long-held ambition – Piper Seneca
For a first jet, if you can find one – PA-47 Piper Jet
But of course, there are a large number of other Piper types that you may well prefer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Is a Piper Tomahawk a good plane to learn on?
Answer: Generations of instructors and student pilots have learned to fly on this aircraft. Having learned to fly on it myself many years ago, I certainly have a soft spot for Tomahawks. But, in company with a number of other pilots, I found its aggressive stall characteristics somewhat frightening. When I began to fly a Cessna 152 instead, which stalls very gently, it was a great relief. But many instructors would point out that to really learn stall recovery, you do need an aircraft which actually stalls, rather than just ‘thinks about it’, as some pilots would say about the Cessna 150 and 152. So on balance, yes, it is a good plane to learn on.
Question: Are Piper airplanes easy to fly?
Answer: On the whole, yes. But all types are different, so if you are transferring from one Piper plane to another, do get some extra training. For example, when I converted from the Tomahawk to the Warrior, I was somewhat taken aback by how long it floated above the runway before landing, and it took me a while to learn to land it safely.
Question: What is the most popular Piper airplane?
Answer: The PA-28 Piper Cherokee, in its many types, has sold more and been flown more than almost any other Piper aircraft. Most pilots can find what they want in one version of this type.
Question: How much will a Piper Cub J3 cost?
Answer: Despite being such an old aircraft, second hand Piper J3 Cubs are not as cheap as you might expect. Cubs have a certain romance and almost a cult following, and sell for more than they realistically should. In the 1940s, a new Cub sold for $1595, which is equivalent to about $20,000 in today’s money. In the 1980s and 1990s prices shot up and some sell for between $100,000 and $200,000, but Cubs in excellent shape are available for between $30,000 and $50,000. Cheaper ones are available if you look around carefully, but they may well need a lot of work doing to them. According to one source, prices for used Cubs start at under $20,000 and can rise well above $50,000. So there is a great deal of of variation when it comes to prices.
Question: Are Piper Aircraft better than Cessna aircraft?
Answer: To be honest it makes very little difference. It really depends on what you are looking for, and what you prefer to fly. There are those who say the low wing Pipers are better, and others who prefer the high wing Cessnas. Both companies produce excellent aircraft, and you won’t go far wrong with either of them. Check out our comparison guide on Piper vs Cessna here.
Piper aircraft have been much loved and very popular for many years. The company has built aircraft suitable for every type of private pilot with almost any budget and continues to do so. So if you are in the market for an aircraft for personal flying, one of Piper’s stable may indeed be the one for you.
There is a huge amount of choice, so it is impossible to pick a “Best Buy” for every type of pilot and situation. But if forced to do so, I would recommend the Piper PA-28 Cherokee, which comes in many guises, both retractable and non-retractable, and at a wide price range.
And if you then want to move on to a Piston Twin, how about a head-turning Piper Seneca.
Whichever type you eventually choose, good luck with your flying, continue to enjoy it, and fly safely!
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