Plane & Pilot
Friday, July 1, 2005

Piper's Archer II


When you’ve been around the coolest airplanes in the world, which one would you choose for yourself?


Piper's Archer IISuppose you know a guy who’s a graduate of the Lockheed Skunk Works. I’m sure you have one of these guys at your local airport. One of those guys who spent most of his life building the world’s fastest, highest-flying, nearly invisible airplanes. The kind of guy who built extreme airplanes— airplanes that nowadays are famous, but during their operational life, he couldn’t even brag to his wife about. One of those “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
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Piper's Archer IISuppose you know a guy who’s a graduate of the Lockheed Skunk Works. I’m sure you have one of these guys at your local airport. One of those guys who spent most of his life building the world’s fastest, highest-flying, nearly invisible airplanes. The kind of guy who built extreme airplanes—airplanes that nowadays are famous, but during their operational life, he couldn’t even brag to his wife about. One of those “If I told you, I’d have to kill you. No, really, I’m not kidding” kind of jobs building airplanes like the world’s fastest—the SR-71—and the world’s highest-flying glider with a really big engine—the U-2 spy plane. Airplanes like the super-secret Have Blue, the prototype of the F-117 Stealth Fighter, and the F-117 itself. This is a guy who won the Collier Trophy, given since 1911 for accomplishments like breaking the speed of sound.

Now suppose this guy was a pilot. You’ve got to ask yourself, what kind of airplane would a guy like that choose? Would he choose a vintage twin, like Henry Cotton’s Lockheed Vega spy plane? Would he choose a really fast airplane, perhaps one with aerospikes, like the Lancair IVP? Or maybe he would like a stealthy workhorse, like a Piper Cub?

I know that guy. He’s unassuming Ron Pyles of Fort Worth, Texas, and he chose to fly a Piper Archer II. It turns out Pyles is a pilot like the rest of us. He likes to fly for fun, and he doesn’t want to spend a ton of money to do it. For Pyles, the Archer II was a perfect choice, although it took him a while to figure that out.

Pyles became interested in flying when he was 14 years old. A neighbor was building a wood biplane of his own design, and Pyles helped him as often as he could. One day, the neighbor had mounted the engine and propeller, and wanted to test it. The neighbor put Pyles in the front seat, briefed him on how to start it and went around front to hand-prop it. The engine started on the first pull, and Pyles tried to retard the throttle, only to find that the linkage failed and the throttle went wide open.

The airplane jumped the chocks and headed toward the garage. Unfortunately, Pyles wasn’t briefed about brakes; fortunately, the structure inside the garage stopped the airplane before anyone was hurt or too much damage was done. The builder was a Lockheed test pilot. Pyles’ entire neighborhood worked in the local aviation businesses and made sure that Pyles didn’t take the mishap as his fault. The test pilot took him for his first flight, and Pyles rode with him many times during his high-school years.




Labels: Piston Singles

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