This Oshkosh winner is one of the all-time great flying SUVs!
Kersten’s flying pickup truck is the Cherokee Six, which wasn’t his first airplane. When he was a kid, he knew a neighbor who flew for United Air Lines and introduced him to flying in a 1947 Bellanca. “Instantly, I got hooked. I thought, I could do this!” he recalls.
Kersten began flying on his own in a Champ and finished in a Cessna 150. After getting his license in 1966, he bought a 1940 Taylorcraft. He says, “It was all I could afford and I flew it everywhere. I wish I still had it.”
Later, Kersten owned a Stinson 108-3. “I really like the Stinson—you can haul four folks and it has more beans than a Cessna 172. As a matter of fact, I took my wife, Eileen, for our first date in my Stinson, only the mags didn’t check, so I borrowed a Champ and took her up. She was so scared, she grabbed my neck, but I calmed her down and after that, she was fine,” describes Kersten.
“Eileen took the AOPA pinch-hitter course, and she’s a lot of help when we go flying anywhere. You have to have a wife who likes airplanes. When our kids came along, we bought a Cessna 206. It was great and flew like an airliner. We needed something else to carry the load up to the cabin. The airport at Center Island is in the middle of the island and our cabin is only 150 yards away. It only takes us a little more than 40 minutes to get to the island from home if we go by air; by boat, it would take six hours or more. Since it’s easy to get to, lots of friends and family want to go. We just needed to haul a lot of stuff. That’s why we bought into the Six—it hauls the same as a 206, but has more room and a cargo door,” explains Kersten.
Most successful airplanes are evolutionary, and the Cherokee Six is no exception. The Six traces its lineage to the PA-28 Warrior and Archer. The airframe is longer, lower, wider and, well, heavier. The pilot and co-pilot have their own door, and the four or five passengers have a large door of their own on the left side of the airplane. If you want, you can get one with seats arranged in a club format. The Six has a rather long nose—by thrusting the engine way out there, Piper solved CG problems with the bigger airplane and added a 100-pound baggage compartment between the firewall and the cockpit. An additional rear baggage compartment sits behind the rear seats.
Stepping up from an Archer or a Warrior isn’t a leap. A new Six pilot simply has to accept the fact that the airplane is heavier and won’t respond as quickly as its lighter brethren. The upside of mass makes it a better instrument platform and offers a smoother ride for passengers. On the downside, the long nose makes the landing flare problematic.