Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Improbable Pacer


A rebuilt classic in a class by itself


pacerThere are few aircraft type organizations in general aviation more enthusiastic than the Short Wing Piper Club. That’s, perhaps, ironic in view of the inexpensive prices of most short-wing Pipers. The compact, little two- to four-seaters are among the cheapest entry-level airplanes available. Many sell for less than $25,000, especially the minimalist Vagabond, Clipper and Colt. As the last of the non-Cub Piper taildraggers, the Pacer enjoys a similar price advantage. Even the last of the Pacers, the 1954 model, sells today (in stock configuration) for well under $20,000. The PA20 was introduced in 1950 as a follow-on to the Piper Clipper after Pan American World Airways claimed it owned the name “Clipper” (apparently ignoring the fact that hundreds of sailing ships in the 19th century were called “clippers”).

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pacerThere are few aircraft type organizations in general aviation more enthusiastic than the Short Wing Piper Club. That’s, perhaps, ironic in view of the inexpensive prices of most short-wing Pipers. The compact, little two- to four-seaters are among the cheapest entry-level airplanes available. Many sell for less than $25,000, especially the minimalist Vagabond, Clipper and Colt. As the last of the non-Cub Piper taildraggers, the Pacer enjoys a similar price advantage. Even the last of the Pacers, the 1954 model, sells today (in stock configuration) for well under $20,000. The PA20 was introduced in 1950 as a follow-on to the Piper Clipper after Pan American World Airways claimed it owned the name “Clipper” (apparently ignoring the fact that hundreds of sailing ships in the 19th century were called “clippers”).

The Pacer was technically approved as a four-seat machine with 115 to 135 hp Lycoming O-290 engines out front. As the name implies, the Pacer was the predecessor to the first production tri-gear airplanes from the Lock Haven, Pa., company: Piper’s four-place Tri-Pacer and two-seat Colt trainer. The short-wing Pipers were an attempt to improve on one of the few things the venerable PA18 Super Cub didn’t do well: cruise cross-country. The PA18’s big, fat USA-35B airfoil obviously provided gobs of lift, the better to leap off unimproved strips in ridiculously short distances, but the long wing also produced more drag. The Cub’s 178-square-foot wing spanned some 35 feet and 2 inches, and the short-wing Pipers did their job with three feet less span per side and 30 less square feet of area. For a given horsepower, the reduction of wetted area and drag helped generate at least another 15 knots of cruise. Pilots who didn’t need the Super Cub’s spectacular short-field performance were attracted to the more compact Piper.

Frank Sperandeo of Fayetteville, Ark., is certainly one of the world’s strongest devotees of the short-wing Pipers. An A&P mechanic, authorized inspector and designated airworthiness representative (DAR) for the FAA, he has the mechanical expertise to repair and restore a variety of airplanes, and he also signs off newly constructed homebuilt projects for first flight. A pilot since the ’70s, Sperandeo began his personal aviation avocation by totally renovating a Piper Tri-Pacer, then stepped up to his present Pacer.

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Though Miss Pearl has been extensively modified and improved from its initial configuration, it maintains many of its original details.
As you may have guessed from Jim Lawrence’s photos, Sperandeo’s brilliant red and white Pacer is a definite cut above the average 56-year-old PA20. That’s partially because it’s the beneficiary of nearly five years of restoration, a complete rebuild from the ground up. Since acquiring the airplane in 1989, Sperandeo has dedicated nearly $40,000 and 4,200 hours of labor to the renovation of his 1953 Pacer, dubbed Miss Pearl.

Lavishing so much money and attention on an antique airplane hasn’t been without its rewards. In addition to winning Grand Champion at the Short Wing Piper Convention in 1995 and 2002, the A&P’s fully restored PA20 won Grand Champion at Sun ’n Fun (1995), Best Custom Classic at Oshkosh (1995) and the Oshkosh Charles Lindbergh Trophy for Best Customized Classic (2003). In addition, Sperandeo’s Pacer has won awards at virtually every other classic and antique aircraft show he has attended.



Labels: Piston SinglesSpecs

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