Wednesday, December 1, 2004
For many light-twin owners, Piper’s Apache is about as good as it gets
In very stark contrast, the original Piper Apache typically flew away from Piper’s Lock Haven, Pa., factory at a mere $36,000. You get the idea. As a result, Piper built just over 2,000 of the bulbous PA-23 Apache 150s as well as 160s between 1953 and 1961, and the airplane proved to be one of the most popular multi-trainers of its day, flying in between a pair of Lycoming O-320s. The same airframe was later to spawn the Piper Aztec, featuring similarly bulletproofed 250-hp Lycoming IO-540s. (There also was a super version of the Piper Apache, which came with 235-hp Lycomings, but only 100 examples of it were built before Piper discontinued the Apache altogether and concentrated on selling Aztecs.)
The Piper Geronimo conversion came along in the mid-1960s. Despite the Piper Apache’s warts, or perhaps quite more accurately, because of them, the Apache was a prime candidate for a modification. In the never-ending search for more efficient methods of overcoming gravity, three partners from Seguin, Texas, came up with the brilliant idea that given 180-hp engines, a larger vertical stabilizer for additional rudder authority, a cleaner, extended, Twin Comanche-style nose (which can come complete with its own baggage compartment), Hoerner wingtips and a host of other aerodynamic improvements, the Apache could become the airplane that it should have been right from the beginning. The partners formed a company then known as Vetco, which later evolved to Seguin Aviation, and the Piper Archer Geronimo was launched.
As the most popular of several Piper Apache mod packages, the Geronimo has changed hands four times, and now Diamond Aire of Kalispell, Mont., is the current owner of the stack of STCs that comprise the Geronimo. Diamond Aire acquired the mod package and all associated tooling in 1996.
Diamond Aire CEO John Talmage is quite predictably enthusiastic about the transformation of the Apache to a true-performance twin. “The stock airplane was almost ideally very suited for a huge modification,” comments Talmage. “The engine swap is relatively easy, many of the other mods are practically bolt-ons, and the universe of airplanes is huge, over 2,000. Our best information is that some 250 to 300 full conversions are flying, plus an even larger number of partials.” Talmage sells the full Piper Geronimo conversion for $295,000.
Considering that the average stock Apache sells for only about $35,000 these days, it might be quite a stretch to really imagine Diamond Aire selling many full $295,000 conversions. Conversely, some folks do love their Apaches enough to make such major investments. The pudgy Piper may not have the cult following of a Beechcraft Bonanza or Aerostar, but it’s nevertheless a popular machine. Ever since the advent of the Cougar/Duchess/Seminole trainers, Apaches have become predominantly personal transports, and some owners are quite willing to spend significant sums to reinvigorate them to better-than-new condition.
It’s very important to note that the full conversion results in an airplane that’s superior to the original one in virtually all respects. The Piper Geronimo is, after all, a fully remanufactured, ground-up and rebuilt airplane, not just a fancy name for an engine swap. It’s about as close as you can come to new, but at significant, savings. In addition to range, handling and performance improvements, the full Geronimo conversion turns the Apache into a six-seater—okay, more of a four-plus-two—and that gives it a definite advantage on the personal market.
Continental Airlines captain Frank Young keeps a Piper Geronimo Apache as a pet at Montgomery County Airport in Conroe, Texas, near Houston. Young purchased his modified Piper Apache five years ago from an owner in Apple Valley, Calif., where the airplane had once served as a demonstrator for the third modification company, Southwest Aero-Mods.
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Labels: Piston Twins