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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pacerIn total, the airplane Sperandeo spent so much time rebuilding has also chocked up a staggering 50 top finishes at virtually all the regional shows—Arlington, Copper State, Merced, Southeast, Virginia, Colorado and most of the others. (Upon seeing Sperandeo’s handiwork, William T. Piper Jr. commented, “I personally have never seen any Piper that can compare.”)

The numerous awards have served to verify Sperandeo’s reputation for quality construction, but he still has other mountains to climb. “There’s no question Miss Pearl is far from original,” comments Sperandeo, “but the upgrades I’ve made have as much to do with safety and reliability as with comfort and performance. Apparently, some judges feel that maintaining the original configuration is more important than safety, and for that specific reason, Miss Pearl doesn’t always win the top prize. But I’m working on it.

pacer“It’s never made sense to me to restore an old airplane without incorporating as many upgrades as possible to improve reliability,” says the A&P. “It seems unrealistic to cling to the original configuration religiously, and then be afraid to fly the finished product because the technology is 50 years old.”

pacerIn fact, Sperandeo’s Pacer maintains the original configuration but has been modernized in virtually every area. The Lycoming engine has been revised to an O-320 rated at 160 hp, the alternator has been improved to a 60-amp unit, easily capable of driving modern avionics. A lightweight B&C starter has replaced the original, and custom NACA air vents have been installed.

After five years of restoration and a complete rebuild, Miss Pearl has garnered numerous awards at air shows around the country. But the 56-year-old PA20 isn’t strictly a show plane; it’s flown about 200 hours yearly, including trips with Grace
Flight and the Young Eagles Program.
Sixty-six-gallon tanks have replaced the original 36-gallon containers, 400,000-candlepower landing lights now supplant the original, etc., ad bankruptcium. There’s no area that Sperandeo hasn’t updated and improved. (For more specific information on Miss Pearl, visit Sperandeo’s website,

In total, Sperandeo has made some 95 mods to the Pacer, most of his own design and all approved with appropriate Form 337s in place. “This is definitely not a strict show plane or hangar queen that only emerges from its hangar to enter competitions,” says Sperandeo. “I fly the airplane about 200 hours a year, from Fayetteville to all corners of the United States, so Miss Pearl truly is a working airplane.”

The builder is especially active in the EAA’s Young Eagles Program, and he has taken some 100 kids for first flights in the classic Piper. He also flies the Pacer on Grace Flights, transporting children and their parents from remote locations to doctors and hospitals for treatments.

When the A&P/AI isn’t transporting kids or competing at aviation displays with his Pacer, he’s sometimes judging other airplanes, another of his multiple talents.

Labels: Piston SinglesSpecs


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