Tuesday, February 23, 2010
PiperSport: Piper’s Big Play
Race-car gorgeous. Great performance. Available now!
PiperSport lands beautifully: stable on descent and easily set up with the stick-top electric pitch buttons and electric flaps. The interesting throttle setup on the center console comes with a releasing cam on the throttle lever. This can wear out in time if you don’t squeeze every time you make power adjustments. Perhaps Piper will modify that down the road, but it gives a nice GA feel to throttling, and the action is very smooth.
We were high and a bit hot on final. Jones instructed, “Just ease back on the stick, it’ll slow down and settle into a nice sink rate.” Sure enough, in a few seconds we were dropping out satisfactorily. I ended up still needing full flaps and a forward slip. No problem: In barn-door mode, PiperSport manages the extra drag just fine, like an airplane should.
My landing, in a seven- to nine-knot crosswind, wasn’t as artful as I’d have liked, but the airplane gave good feedback all the way down and forgave my imperfections. The airplane floats in and flares at such a slow speed, you almost feel like you’re landing an ultralight. Stall is tabbed at 39 knots, max weight—with flaps up! With full flaps, it’s closer to 30 knots, and I think I read somewhere that calibrated stall speed is 27 knots! With a terrific speed ratio of 4.4:1, the PiperSport is decidedly more floaty than similar low-wing LSA. Yet control is good right down to tires on tarmac.
PiperSport impressively fills out the legal LSA performance envelope. Cruise is listed at 120 knots; range with two 15-gallon wing tanks is 600 nm; and useful load is 600 pounds, which includes the standard ballistic parachute system. (Smart move on the ’chute.)
You can carry 120 pounds of baggage using a combination of the two wing lockers (an unusual feature) and roomy aft-seat compartment.
Stalls in approach mode give plenty of buffet warning. In departure mode, the superdramatic nose-up angle is impossible to ignore. Jones asked, “Can you imagine anybody not noticing they’re at the stall in this airplane?” Even a veteran ultralight pilot would feel nervous hanging on the prop like that.
Stall recoveries are nominal: relax the stick, and you’re flying again with minimal altitude loss. Add power, and you’re back to cruise or climb. Stick roll forces are firm but not stiff. Roll rates are snappy when you muscle it, reminiscent of, well, flying a Cherokee.
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