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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The numbers would suggest Kenny is correct, although the Skylane has advantages in other areas. Take a look at our comparison chart, taken from the 1974 to 1975 edition of Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, which listed the two models in a head-to-head comparison of load and performance. Though most specifications are taken from sales brochures, keep in mind that Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft often tends to be more conservative in performance analysis than the manufacturers.

Kenny says his airplane performs very close to book in virtually all areas, except fuel burn. He averages 14 gph, and the POH specifies more like 12.8 gph. “Cruise definitely isn’t the airplane’s trump card, but with all the Laminar Flow mods, it’s either right on Piper’s promise of 133 knots or better, and that lets me keep up with many of the early retractable Piper Arrows. Climb is usually better than 800 fpm,” Kenny explains.

Cherokee stalls have long been notable for their supremely gentle nature, sometimes, hardly a stall at all. Usually, they’re little more than a mild pitching moment 10 to 15 degrees above and below the horizon while the airplane mushes toward the ground at 700 to 800 fpm. The airplane’s stall is so tame that some instructors suggest a full back yoke, power-off stall as a method of descending through an overcast in a Cherokee when all else fails, Piper’s last-chance equivalent of Cirrus’ ballistic parachute.

Factory Comparison: 1974 Piper Cherokee Pathfinder
1974 Cessna 182 Skylane
Average-Equipped New List Price: $36,490$30,475
Current Value: $63,000$79,000
Price Appreciation Factor:
Gross Weight (lbs.): 30002950
Empty Weight (lbs.):
Useful Load (lbs.):
Power Loading (lbs./hp):12.812.8
Wing Loading (lbs./sq. ft.):17.6
Total Fuel Capacity (gals.):
Payload, Max Fuel (lbs.):
Cruise Speed, 75% Power (kts.):133
Best Rate Of Climb, SL (fpm):
Service Ceiling (ft.):
Takeoff Run (ft.):
Landing Run (ft.):
Sources: Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest, Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft

The owner feels the Pathfinder’s landing characteristics are among the best of the Cherokees, primarily because the airplane has a heavier feel than other PA-28s and isn’t so flighty in the flare. “You have the ultimate panacea for a bad landing with the Pathfinder—power,” explains Kenny. “If everything goes against you during the approach or in the flare, you can usually blast yourself out of trouble with power.”

As a dedicated fan of the PA-28-235, Kenny has kept close tabs on maintenance problems and costs, and he feels the airplane is relatively simple and reliable. “Some pilots seem to have trouble with uneven oleo extension,” says Kenny, “but I haven’t seen that particular problem. With four tanks available, proper maintenance of the fuel selector becomes more critical. It would be fairly dumb to have all that fuel on board and not be able to get at it, so I place special emphasis on the check valve O-rings in the selector. The pitot blade has been known to become contaminated with water or bugs, but that’s not much of a problem for me.”

The owner is fairly cost-conscious, and while he flies for fun, he tracks operating expenses closely. Unlike so many of us who’d just as soon not know how much our airplanes cost to operate per hour, Kenny figures his Piper Pathfinder costs him about $110 for each flight hour. “Aside from those items you can’t control, such as hangar and insurance—I spend only about $1,200 a year on the latter—I don’t worry much about the cost,” says the contractor. “I choose to fly for recreation, just as many people choose to own a sailboat or cabin cruiser or invest in a cabin by the lake. For me, my airplane is my escape machine, and it’s worth any reasonable price to own and maintain.”

SPECS: 1974 Piper Pathfinder N57347

Labels: Piston Singles


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