Monday, December 5, 2011
Piston Singles Buyer’s Guide 2012
Which aircraft is best for you?
The Warrior is Piper's entry-level trainer, a 160 hp model with flight characteristics that redefine the term "benign." The basic PA-28 Cherokee 150 was modified in 1974 to adopt a semi-tapered wing and the existing relatively bulletproof Lycoming O-320 engine, rated for 150 hp. That airplane lasted only four years in original form, before power was upgraded to 160 hp on the same engine, resulting in the PA-28-161 Warrior. The airplane's stall is so slow and gentle, it's almost nonexistent. Some instructors even criticize the Warrior for being too gentle. Cruise is 120 knots, and approaches are so slow, the airplane can easily sneak in and out of 1,500-foot strips. Price: $289,900.
Piper Archer LX
Piper Archer LX
Second in the Piper hierarchy is the Archer. It flies behind a 180 hp Lycoming and carries four folks if you're willing to leave some fuel behind. With gear and prop fixed, the Archer works well as a trainer or a 2+2 family traveling machine. Cruise is a few knots quicker than the Warrior, and with 48 gallons aboard, you can plan on cross-country flights out to nearly 500 nm. Combine that with perhaps the easiest landing characteristics in the industry, and you can understand why the basic PA-28-180/181 has been around for nearly 50 years. Price: $309,900.
From its inception in the mid-'60s, the Arrow was always intended as the simplest retractable in the sky. (The first ones even featured an automatic gear-extension system, long since disabled following the inevitable lawsuit.) Today, the Arrow remains the only basic retractable, now that Mooney has become a question mark. The 2012 Arrow retains essentially the same durable 200 hp injected engine as that used on the early models, the same relatively bulletproof gear system and the gentle handling of the fixed-gear Archer. Count on a reasonable 140 knots in cruise, though not many flight schools will care much about that parameter in training mode. Price: $399,000.
In late 2007, the Vero Beach company introduced the unpressurized Mirage, called the Matrix. In every sense, the Matrix was a Mirage without all the pumps, valves and other hardware necessary to inflate the cabin. The result was a resounding sales winner with virtually identical performance. Perhaps more than coincidentally, all the plumbing that was left out totaled 170 pounds, so the Matrix wound up with a pilot and three-passenger full-fuel payload rather than the Mirage's more typical one-plus-two limitation. The Matrix still succeeds in outselling all other Piper products. Price: $869,000.
Piper's original 1984 Malibu was such a world-beater that it blew the only competition, the Cessna P210N, completely out of the market for that year. (Cessna came back in 1985 with the considerably improved P210R, only to go out of production with all other piston Cessnas in 1986.) Today, the 350 hp, Lycoming-powered Mirage is the only pressurized, piston single on the market, and it's still the airplane of choice for many businessmen/pilots. Typically operated at 15,000 to 22,000 feet, the Mirage can provide 210 knots max cruise for a pilot and two passengers out to 1,000 nm, or a full load of people and stuff on 500-mile legs. Price: $997,500.
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