Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Piper’s First Retractable Single

There are a few airplanes that deserve better than they got. The Comanche 250 is one of them.

The Comanche was conceived in the late ’50s when Piper and the rest of the industry was playing catch-up with the premier four-seat retractable, the Beech Bonanza. Piper’s Comanche was introduced as both a 180-hp and a 250-hp model, sporting four- and six-cylinder versions of the same engine. The former was planned to compete with Mooney’s wood-wing and tail Mark 20A, the latter with Beech’s successful V-tail, along with the dark horse Bellanca 260 and Meyers 200. " />

Compared to most airplanes of the era, the Comanche 250 was a relative economy model. It’s important to remember this was the ’50s when the CPI was about a seventh of what it is today. The Comanche did essentially the same job as the others at an acquisition cost of $5,000 to $7,000 lower. What cost $7,000 in those days is priced more like $50,000 in 2005. Some buyers probably found the Comanche’s 20% to 25% lower sales price compelling.

The comparison chart suggests the Comanche’s cruise is the slowest in the class, but Wall feels the gap may be considerably narrower in the real world, as speeds for some of the other models are probably overstated. It’s interesting to note that even today, most modern production airplanes of comparable horsepower don’t fly much faster than the Comanche.

With well over a thousand hours in the PA-24, Wall acknowledges the 1,350-fpm climb spec is little more than a PR man’s dream; 1,000 fpm is more like it, but the quoted cruise number is accurate. “I’ve run the Comanche at max cruise several times, and it seems to do pretty much what Piper claimed for it, 158 knots or so at 6,500 feet,” explains Wall.

The owner doesn’t push his airplane at 75% most of the time, however. He prefers to throttle back to whatever power will yield 140 knots.

“I like to fly as high as possible, and the Comanche does that well,” says Wall. “I’ll typically climb to at least 10,500 feet, perhaps even 11,500 or 12,500, strap on an oxygen mask and cruise at about 2,000 rpm and all the manifold pressure I can get. That usually allows me to see a true airspeed of 140 knots on a little over 10 gph.”

Later Comanches offered as much as 90 gallons in long-range tanks, but the first 250s, Wall’s included, were limited to 60 gallons. That means Wall can fairly easily plan on slightly more than four hours of endurance plus reserve, enough to traverse nearly 600 nm at a sitting.

Like those who have flown Comanches and learned to appreciate their talents, Wall’s only disappointment is that there’s nothing left to do. He’s convinced the Comanche 250 was the best of its vintage, and he’s determined to keep it for, oh, probably the rest of his life.

1958 Piper Comanche 250


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