Plane & Pilot
Thursday, April 1, 2004

Piper Pathfinder

The chief of the four-seat Cherokees still holds its own as a heavy hauler

piperCherokees have always had a deserved reputation as the most docile singles in the sky. Flown to the bottom of their speed envelope, they have practically no stall at all. Systems are so simple, even magazine writers can manage them, and control response is slow enough to keep the most ham-handed pilot out of trouble.
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A 1974 model, Kenny’s Pathfinder incorporates the five-inch fuselage stretch (all absorbed in rear-seat legroom), elevator trim relocated to the lower sub-panel, the third side window, a larger tail, 100 pounds more gross weight than the basic 235 and a constant-speed prop. Piper wasn’t done with changes to the airplane and would later modify the wing and search for a better name.

So why did Kenny choose a Cherokee 235 in the first place, more accurately, the second place (as this is his second airplane)? “My first airplane was one of the very first Cherokee 235s produced, a ‘64 model,” says Kenny. “And I liked it so well, I decided to stay with the type. I bought my Pathfinder out of Nashville in the summer of 2000.” Since the initial purchase, Kenny has upgraded several aspects of his airplane’s equipment. Most of the avionics are new-generation Garmins, with a primary nav entrusted to a coupled Garmin GNS-530 and a secondary nav to a Bendix/King KX-155. A WX-900 Stormscope helps keep the airplane away from the worst weather. The owner also added one of JPI’s EDM-700 engine analyzers to better control mixture and to troubleshoot potential engine problems.

Bachelor Kenny’s needs rarely dictate a full cabin, and his airplane’s performance benefits from the reduced weight of only two up front on most trips. A general and industrial contractor, Kenny uses his airplane for flying around the Southwest, “mostly for fun in Nevada, California, Arizona and Oregon,” Kenny comments. “But I do sometimes fly the Pathfinder on business.”

With typical stage lengths less than 300 nm, Kenny’s Piper has fuel to spare. It sports four tanks, a pair of inboard 25-gallon containers, plus two additional 17-gallon tip tanks. The fuel system has been a source of more than a few operational problems for pilots with an “on/off” mentality. Kenny adds, “With four tanks, there’s obviously no ‘both’ position, so the pilot has to actually manage the fuel to keep things in balance.”

Contrary to what you might expect, the flight manual suggests running on the inboard tanks first to minimize loads on the aircraft center section. Kenny follows a strict schedule of alternating the inboards a half-hour per tank to maintain symmetrical loading, using the right tank on the right side of the hour and the left on the left side of the clock. After three cycles on each side, he runs down the outboards in a similar manner and plans to land on one of the mains.

Eighty-two-gallon tanks turn out to be more than enough for the Pathfinder. Piper actually decreased fuel capacity from 82 to 73 gallons with the introduction of the 1979 Dakota. The industry standard of four hours plus reserve is easily achievable in the 235. At a block burn of 14 gph or less (Kenny is religious about running 100 degrees rich on the EDM-700), the Pathfinder has an easy 5.0 hours endurance at max cruise, more like 6.5 hours at 65%.

The interesting thing is that all that range and endurance has no downside. Despite the heavy load of options, Kenny’s Pathfinder sports a 1,309-pound useful load and a whopping 805-pound payload with full tanks. “We all tend to buy two seats more than we need, and I rarely use the rear pair, but when I need to, I can carry pretty much anything I want,” Kenny brags. “I can lift four standard folks plus a pile of baggage or a quartet of 200-pound guys. I doubt there are many Skylanes that can lift that kind of load with anywhere near as much endurance.”

Labels: Piston Singles


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