The Archer Goes Glass
New Piper’s amazingly popular PA-28 series now comes with the Avidyne FlightMax Entegra
For most pilots, the quintessential Cherokee always has been the Archer. Yes, there’s still the Warrior, and there were the 140, 150, 160 and Cadet before that, but the Archer always has represented perhaps the most generic of the Cherokees. Just as the Cub was the signature general-aviation single of the ’30s and ’40s, and the flawed but beautiful V-tailed Bonanza dominated the ’50s and ’60s, the Piper Cherokee has become one of the most recognizable aviation icons of the ’70, ’80s and ’90s, hardly the fastest or the most comfortable, not the most efficient to buy or operate, but an outstanding combination of talents nevertheless.
For reasons only Piper understands, the company abandoned the Cherokee name a while back and still seems to bristle a little when someone refers to the Warrior, Archer, Arrow and now-discontinued Dakota as Cherokees. By any name, the PA-28s have nothing to apologize for. Some 30,000 of the four-seat Pipers were built in the last 40 years, and the type has served as both a gentle trainer and talented transport.
Today, the Cherokee 180/Challenger/Archer soldiers on into the 2000s, a familiar platform now fitted with an avionics suite to die for. Specifically, the 2004 Archer III on display at this year’s EAA AirVenture sported a new, dual-tube Avidyne Entegra primary flight display/multi-function display (PFD/MFD). It’s probably more than coincidence that New Piper chose to introduce a glass-cockpit Archer at about the same time Cessna premiered its new Garmin G1000 Skyhawks, proving, as usual, that competition is good for everyone.
Base price for the Archer III is $211,600, which includes a Garmin stack of a 430 com/nav/GPS system, a 330 transponder with traffic uplink, a 340 switching panel, including beacons, and the usual Telex mic and headset. The premium upgrade (known as option 598) costs $34,950 and adds the second 430, an STEC autopilot, a carb-ice detector and full leather. Stepping all the way up to the Entegra flat-panel display boosts price by almost $50,000, but includes the PFD, MFD, second 430, STEC 55X autopilot, EMAX Engine Indicating System, fuel totalizer and weather data uplink. This puts the Archer in direct competition with Cessna’s Skyhawk SP, fitted with the Garmin G1000 of comparable talent.
Despite the dramatic, philosophical difference between the Archer and Skyhawk SP (the variation in wing placement gives the two types distinctive looks and slightly dissimilar landing characteristics), it’s a little surprising how similar the two models are in specs and performance. Both types originated more than 40 years ago, and the basic design hasn’t changed much since then. The two models use wings of nearly identical area and Lycoming engines of the same horsepower (although the Cessna’s is injected), with gross at 2,550 pounds, stall below 50 knots, cruise within four knots of each other and nearly the same payload. The Archer and Skyhawk have consistently flown with similar handling and enthusiasm, and the recent introduction of the Skyhawk SP has made the two airplanes head-to-head competitors.
The recent dramatic improvement in avionics technology has introduced a new class of pilots to instrument, navigation, weather and traffic-detection capabilities previously reserved for the military, corporate aviation and the airlines. Install an Avidyne in an Archer, and you magically transform the airplane’s personality from basic to business. Archers always have been excellent personal airplanes, but somehow, the Avidyne system seems to qualify the model for corporate use, if over limited distances and at modest speeds.