The Piper Arrow occupies a unique point on the spectrum of light aircraft. Come what may, year in and year out, its always the first model owners and operators think of when they seek a retractable trainer.
They may not always buy it for that purpose, but the airplane is always on the short list of considerations. Why? Probably due to a combination of timing, marketing and capability.
When it appeared in 1967, the Arrow wasnt the first retract to hit the market; the Bonanza beat it by two decades and even Pipers own single-engine Comanche came out in 1958, enjoying moderate sales success.
But the Arrow was, well, different. By the late 1960s, the Comanche was looking dated, especially its systems, and the Arrow offered something new.
It was just fast enough to be a challenge for pilots stepping out of fixed-gear airplanes but not so fast as to leave them trailing on the static wicks. Payload and range were good if not spectacular and the airplane can reasonably fill both the trainer and the owner-flown cruiser role.
But the real reason for the enduring success of the Arrow is that it remains nearly a perfect step-up from Pipers popular Cherokee line.
If you can fly a Cherokee-any Cherokee-you can fly an Arrow. And the cost of ownership, despite a sometimes finicky gear system, is not much greater than it is for a fixed-gear single.
And that, of course, was the basic marketing model for all of the major manufacturers during the 1960s and one that is still followed today; train pilots in two-seaters, graduate them to similar four-place, fixed-gear models suitable for cruising, then to retractables from the same bloodline. Piper pursued this marketing strategy as well as anyone.
The ubiquitous Piper PA-28 has been folded, stapled and extruded into an almost unbelievable number of variants over the years. And yet today, New Piper still makes at least three versions of the basic PA-28, the Warrior, the Archer and the Arrow. Arrow production is at a mere trickle but if you want one, New Piper will accommodate. Sticker price: $271,600, with standard equipment as of summer 2003.
The Arrow can trace its lineage back to the dowdy 140 trainer all the way through the T-tailed Turbo Arrow IV , with the Warrior, Cherokee 180, Archer, Cherokee 235, Dakota, Challenger, Charger, Pathfinder and several models of Arrows in between.
Even the PA-32 series shares the same basic design features with the PA-28 airframe, which was stretched and tweaked to produce two twins, the Seminole and Seneca. The various descendants of the original Cherokee are so similar, in fact, that the FAA doesnt even distinguish between them. For purposes of the census and activity surveys, all PA-28s are the same.
The original PA-28 came from the fertile mind of John Thorpe, who designed an all-metal homebuilt that, after some modifications, became the first Cherokee. Introduced in 1962 as the Cherokee 150 and 160, the PA-28 gave Piper a shot at competing with sales giant Cessna, which was killing the market with its new Cessna 172, the most popular GA aircraft of all time. Pipers competition at the time was the frumpy Tri-Pacer, a cult classic now but a ragwing relic then.
In the retractable market, Piper had brought out the sleek Comanche in several versions up to-eventually, the 400 model with a fuel-guzzling eight-cylinder IO-720 engine.
But none of these were ever as mainstream as the Cherokee line turned out to be. Since all Cherokees shared the same basic airframe, Piper was able to realize some manufacturing economies that kept its products more competitive.
By the mid-1960s, Piper began considering the PA-28 as a candidate for penetration into the light four-place retractable market. At the time, Mooney effectively owned that niche. Beechs least expensive retractable was the Debonair, which cost a third again as much as a Mooney, and Cessna had no comparable airplane at all, since the 210 was a heavier, larger airplane. (Also more expensive.)
Piper outfitted the Cherokee 180 with folding legs and in 1967 unveiled the first Arrow. It was every bit a Cherokee, from the fat, constant-chord Hershey Bar wing to the stabilator.
The base price was $16,900, some $1350 less than the Mooney M20C Mark 21, according to the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest. However, the average equipped price of an Arrow as delivered was actually about $2000 more than the Mooney. A Cherokee 180 from the same year had a base price of a mere $12,900.
The PA-28R-180 came with a constant-speed prop attached to a Lycoming IO-360-B1E engine. The new retractable gear was electro-mechanical, compared to Mooneys distinctive manual-Johnson-bar arrangement, and had a unique feature: an auto-extension mechanism that would lower the gear if the airplane slowed below a certain airspeed.
It was intended as a safety feature and Piper touted the Arrow as the perfect airplane for pilots transitioning to high-performance, retractable-gear airplanes. Many pilots and insurance underwriters loved the foolproof gear system.
Some insurers even assigned lower rates to pilots without much retractable time. It was hoped that the automatic extension system would end aviations most common, embarrassing and preventable mishap-the gear-up landing. (It didnt.)
The original Arrow compared well with the Mooney in some regards, such as roominess and cost. However, it fell short against the Mooney in one important area: cruise speed, which was about 141 knots, compared to 145 to 150 knots for the Mooney. Still, the Arrow was considerably faster than the carbureted, fixed-gear, fixed-prop (but otherwise identical) Cherokee 180.
After two years and sales of almost 1100 airplanes, Piper brought out the 200-HP version of the Arrow. The extra $500 it cost gave pilots a Lycoming IO-360-C1C engine, a few knots higher cruise and a 100-pound boost in gross weight, even if that was eaten into by a 79-pound increase in empty weight.
The C1C engine was more costly in other ways, too-it had a 1200-hour TBO, compared to 2000 for the 180. That has since been remedied through the retro-fit of new exhaust valves and its unlikely that any of the 1200-hour engines are still out there. A pro-forma check of the logbooks will tell the tale, however.
The 200-HP Arrow was sufficiently more popular than the 180 that the latter was dropped in 1971. Starting with the 1972 model year, the airplane was redesignated the Arrow II. Its fuselage was stretched five inches, providing more rear-seat room; its wingspan was increased 26 inches and the stabilator was lengthened in span.
This allowed 50 pounds more gross weight and the addition of the long-awaited manual gear-extension override. Thanks to larger bearing dowels, the old 1200-hour TBO was boosted to 1400 hours. The next year marked the development of a redesigned camshaft and another TBO increase-to 1600 hours.
In the mid-1970s, Piper revamped its line of metal singles starting with the bottom of the PA-28 line. The airplane that had been the Cherokee 140 became the Warrior, sporting a new, semi-tapered wing of higher aspect ratio than the familiar Hershey Bar.
This new wing found its way onto the Arrow in 1977, creating the Arrow III. In that same year, Piper made a turbocharged version of the Arrow, a model which draws positive comments from owners.
The new tapered wing improved performance somewhat, most notably the glide and slow speed approaches, where it reduced the Hershey Bar wings tendency to sink.It also boosted the fuel capacity by a respectable 24 gallons, to a total of 72 gallons.
The Arrow III lasted only two model years. In 1979, Piper made a controversial design decision, opting to equip many of its airplanes with trendy, fashionable T-tails. The Arrow was no exception and the resulting machine was dubbed Arrow IV. Predictably, performance suffered.
Like many T-tail airplanes, the Arrow IV flies differently than Arrows with conventional tail feathers. The T-tail, depending on airspeed, is either very effective or far less effective than a conventional tail, which isnt as prone to abrupt transitions between different flying regimes. This is due to the fact that the stabilator sits up out of the propwash, and so is less effective at low airspeeds.
Many pilots complain that the Arrow IV has squirrelly low-speed performance, with a tendency to over-rotate on takeoff. Others, who dont try to fly the Arrow IV like the earlier models, look more favorably upon the T-tail. Weve flown both versions and our view is that the T-tail does handle differently on takeoff but we concede an experienced owner could get used to so as not to notice.
As a result of the general aviation slump, the normally aspirated Arrow IV was not built for a few years, from 1984 through 1988. In 1989, 27 were delivered. In 1990, Piper finally dropped the T-tail and went back to the conventional arrangement. Eight were built that year, none in 1991, six in 1992 and only one in 1994.
This was also the time when Piper was on the rocks and searching for a buyer. Piper emerged from bankruptcy in 1995 and most recently, built 26 Arrows in 2001 and 25 in 2002. Its essentially the same airplane as the conventional-tail Arrow IV but now jazzed up with high-end avionics from Garmin.
When the Arrow was introduced, its only real competition came from Mooneys early M20s. Other manufacturers soon realized the viability of the market segment, however, and it wasnt long before other competitors appeared. Beechs offering was the rather lackluster but roomy Sierra, while Cessna weighed in first with the Cardinal RG, then the Cutlass.
Rockwell got into the small retractable business with the Commander 112 and Mooney upped the ante with the landmark 201. The average equipped prices of these airplanes when new in 1977-the first year all of them were offered at once-ran as follows: Arrow III: $50,320; Cessna Cardinal RG: $50,095; Rockwell Commander 112: $61,295; Beech Sierra: $53,594 and Mooney 201: $57,420.
The marketplace has declared the Mooney the runaway winner in terms of non-adjusted appreciation: that same 1977 airplane has increased in value by 63 percent by 2003, even allowing for the recent downturn in market values which has impacted all models.
By comparison, the Arrow is up a respectable 40 percent, for the same model year over the same period. Its worth noting that although T-tailed Arrows used to be valued less than straight tails, the market has finally started to catch up. But they hardly command premium prices.
The Mooney runs away from the rest in another sense as well: speed and efficiency, which have great value. This is food for thought, since the Arrow is no faster than, say, a Grumman/AGAC Tiger, an airplane that delivers this performance on 20 less horsepower with a fixed-pitch prop and fixed landing gear.
It costs about 15 to 20 percent less to buy and less to maintain. The Arrow, powered by a 180- or 200-HP engine, is an unremarkable performer in its class. Cruising at 130 to 143 knots, the Arrow certainly isnt as fast as a Mooney 201, although its cabin is roomier and more comfortable, it has more baggage space and its easier to enter and exit.
The Arrow cruises at 130 to 143 knots, while consuming 9 to 12 gallons per hour. A Cessna Cardinal RG or Grumman Tiger will go as fast, while burning less fuel. And a Mooney 201, on the same fuel, goes the fastest. Still, the Arrow has a roomier interior than all but the Cardinal, and its useful load is the greatest: 1200 pounds.
The first two Arrows had somewhat limited range, thanks to their 48-gallon fuel capacity. But the Arrow IIIs 72-gallon fuel tanks eliminated that problem. Arrow III owners report six-and-a-half hours of endurance, while Arrow II owners sometimes wish for larger tanks.
The Arrow handles much like any PA-28, which is to say its fairly benign. Stalls are a non-event, which is in contrast to airplanes like the Mooney; the latter will reward a slightly off-center ball with a sharp wing drop.
The Arrows wing loading is lower than higher-performance retractables such as the Bonanza/Debonair and Mooney, which means a less solid ride in turbulence and at lower speeds. However, thats also a benefit during landing. The Arrow lands like what it is: a Cherokee.
Owners report few vices. Climb performance is competent, but unremarkable. The Arrow is not a STOL airplane, but it doesnt eat up runway, either. During letdowns, the Arrows gear serves as an effective speed brake.
The gear extension limit is close to the cruise speed-which really says more about the cruise speed than it does about the gear-so descents arent the problem they are in slick airplanes like the Mooney.
The interior of the Arrow is quite comfortable. Piper deserves credit for the design of the seats, which have a crashworthy S-tube design meant to progressively collapse and absorb energy during an impact. This same design is used in the famed JAARS bushplane seat. Piper also gets crashworthiness kudos for installing a thickly padded glareshield.
Heating and ventilation are both quite good, unlike some other airplanes in the class, with lots of overhead and floor vents. Some owners complain that floor heat vents get a little too hot, in fact. Air conditioning was also an option in the Arrow and a few airplanes have it. It can be a maintenance issue, however.
Entry and exit is through the single overwing door, as with all Cherokees. Its not the best when compared to a Cardinal RG or a Commander 112s double doors, but its not a show stopper.
The doors double-latch system can confuse passengers, particularly in an emergency: be sure to brief them. Sometimes the tang on the top latch gets out of adjustment or the door warps, making for difficulty in closing.
Panel design is generally good in the Arrow because Piper put the engine gauges near the power controls. On the other hand, the tachometer is down in the lower reaches of the panel, putting it out of direct line of sight. We would rather it be higher on the panel to make setting power easier.
The automatic gear extension system, although often a boon in preventing inadvertent gear-up landings, isnt perfect. The Arrow has suffered its share of gear-up landings. Either the automatic gear-extension system didnt work as it was supposed to or pilots had overridden it and forgotten to re-engage it.
Also, like most retractable-gear airplanes, the Arrows system is prone to a variety of malfunctions, many of which could be avoided with regular maintenance and frequent inspections, including a good preflight, in which you actually bend down and stick your head up into the wheel wells for a good look. Not fun on a wet ramp but sometimes worth the effort. (This is true of any retract, by the way.)
During a representative five-year survey of the FAAs accident/incident reports, The Aviation Consumer counted 95 Arrow gear-ups involving some type of pilot error.
Many occurred during an instructional flight with a CFI aboard. Often, the automatic extension system was overridden while pilots were practicing slow flight or performing stalls.
Other gear-ups occurred when the pilot simply forgot to lower the gear; the automatic extension system either didnt work at all, or only partially extended. Some occurred when the pilot-after selecting gear down-failed to note that he didnt have a three-green indication. Had he followed the emergency extension procedure, the mishap probably wouldnt have occurred. Fifty-one gear-ups or collapses occurred due to a malfunction-broken actuator rods, trunnions and so on.
Given this record-not overwhelmingly better than similar retractables-its not surprising that you wont find an insurance carrier today who offers lower rates purely because of the Arrows automatic gear system.
Safety features sometimes spawn new hazards while eliminating old ones. The automatic gear extension system is a good example. At high density altitudes, one owner told us, the gear sometimes drops after it has been retracted. This, of course, nullifies any climb! Indeed, there have been incidents in which the airplane might have been able to climb out safely had the gear not dropped at the wrong moment, causing a stall/mush into the terrain.
Then there are Arrow pilots who lose engines and decide to ditch with the gear up. Unfortunately, some forget to override the automatic extension system. The gear plops out seconds before splash down-sending the Arrow head over heels.
Such mishaps are rare-we only counted a few (none fatal) in our five-year survey. But in mid-1987, Piper, then owned by Lear-Siegler, ordered the system deactivated because of concern over liability suits. It sold kits to do so and told customers it wouldnt provide parts to repair the existing system. Piper sold 1400 kits.
One year later, Piper-then owned by M. Stuart Millar-withdrew its order to deactivate the automatic extension system, provided that pilots take the necessary actions to assure that any pilot flying these aircraft are fully advised of the system and its proper operation. In part, Piper was responding to the complaints of irate owners who believed the system worked often enough to be desirable.
Maintenance-wise, the gear is not quite as trouble free as the Beech and Mooney electric system but nothing like the maintenance hog of Cessna single-engine gear systems. Its design weakness is the hydraulics, which can leak. Seals and hoses require attention and occasional replacement.
As for ADs, the Arrow isnt bad but it varies by model. The earlier version, the PA-28R-180, is currently subject to a relatively long list of 18 ADs, none major. The most recent, AD 97-01-01, requiring inspection/replacement of a landing gear sidebrace stud.
Most Arrow models were hit by a number of shotgun ADs that applied to either the Cherokee line or components such as paper air filters covered by AD 99-05-09.
We strongly recommend joining the Cherokee Pilots Association. Their expertise can save real money when tracking down common Cherokee problems. Contact them at www.piperowner.com or at 813-948-3616.
A variety of aerodynamic mods are available for PA-28s, from the usual flap and gap seals to the high-spiff factor LoPresti cowling, contact 800-859-4757 or www.speedmods.com. Speed brakes can be had from Precise Flight (www.preciseflight.com or 541-382-8684), although the Arrows high gear speeds make their value questionable. STOL kits are available from Sierra Industries. Contact them at www.sijet.com or by telephone at 830-278-4481.
The Piper Arrow was a perfect step-up plane for me. After years of renting various Cessnas, Pipers, Beachcraft and even a Grumman or two, it was time to own something.
Money was an object, but I wanted something fast enough for short- to medium-length cross-country flying, economical enough for local flying, fun enough to satisfy the craving, and forgiving enough for someone who cant fly as much as hed like. A 1973 Arrow II fit the bill perfectly.
Shortly after buying into the airplane, I started training for my instrument rating. The Arrow is an excellent advanced trainer-complex enough to develop your skills yet stable enough to allow you to focus on the learning rather than on managing the airplane.
As an instrument platform, the Arrow is straightforward and predictable. Even with some provocation it wont bite.
I would flight plan 130 knots and 9 gallons per hour for cross countries, but the airplane always beat both numbers, typically closer to 135 knots and 8.5 GPH.
Although not the largest cabin around, passengers and crew alike found the seating comfortable and the ventilation good. Children and shorter folks would sometimes prefer to sit on a pillow for better visibility over the nose.
The baggage area is large enough for most things youd want to carry, but weight is an issue with full fuel. Standard procedure was to fill the tanks only to the tabs for extra useful load.
The air conditioner worked wonderfully when charged, but recurring refrigerant leaks were a nagging problem. On A/C equipped models, the alternator belt is smaller and far more sensitive to proper pulley alignment than on other Cherokees.
After the belt broke on one occasion, we went through a half dozen of them before achieving the perfect combination of alignment and tension required for long-term service. That the prop has to come off in order to install a new belt only makes each occurrence that much more painful.
Since things like this seem to happen at the worst possible times (at night and over a solid cloud deck), it would be nice if the Cherokees had a better annunciation for charging system failures.
More than one cylinder developed cracks around the spark plug holes over the years and from the reactions we received it seemed like it came as no surprise to anyone.This type of crack did not produce any effect that could be noticed in flight, each one was discovered as part of routine maintenance. I dont know if thats a trend or we are a statistical anomaly.
Despite its checkered history, we never had any operational problems with the automatic gear extension system, which always worked properly. Since the proper calibration for the system sometimes precludes retracting the gear at reasonable speeds after takeoff, my standard procedure was to override the system for takeoff and climb to 1000 feet AGL, then accelerate to a best rate or cruise climb speed and re-enable it.
One caution is that in an engine-out situation, youd want to disable the system, since best glide speed and zero thrust may put you below the threshold for extension and cause you to loose some glide range when the wheels come down on their own.
I think the emergency extension system is as good as they come-press the override lever all the way down and the gear extends. Its simple, fast and effective.
Its a good thing that companies like Piper have a captive customer base because between the high prices for parts and the slow response times from the factory, they would fail in a more competitive environment, in my estimation. They do produce a well-built airplane, though, and with good organizations like the Cherokee Pilots Association around for in-service support, things work out okay in the end.
Ive since moved up to a 1978 Turbo Arrow III and find that it extends all of its normally-aspirated siblings best qualities all the way up into the flight levels.
The newer Arrow has a myriad of after-market aerodynamic and engine modifications, including flap and aileron gap seals on the semi-taper wing, spats, cowl flaps, an intercooler, and an automatic wastegate.
Throttled back, I can get almost the same fuel burn and airspeeds as the Arrow II, or I can open it up and maintain sea level horsepower to 18,500 feet where shell do over 175 KTAS.
With its higher useful load, bigger tanks and higher speeds, I consider the Turbo Arrow to be my personal airliner. The gear driven alternator means no more broken alternator belts and the engine modifications seem to have addressed the heat-related shortcomings of the early model Turbo Arrows. Unfortunately, I dont yet have enough operational experience with the Turbo Arrow to comment further.
Overall, these aircraft have proven themselves to be reliable, economical, safe and comfortable. I guess you could say that I wouldnt hesitate to buy another one-because I already did!
I dont currently own an Arrow, but have rented them for a couple years.I learned to fly in Cessnas and have flown them for 35 years, but I find a lot to like about the Arrow. Its handling and performance are superior to the underpowered Cutlass.
The Arrow cruises at 130 knots TAS. It feels stable in the air and on the ground, and has decent payload notwithstanding a gross weight of only 2600 pounds. Visibility is better than in high wing aircraft.
Pitch authority is limited, reducing exposure to stall/spin events. Its hard to get the nose high for the flare, but its less prone to prop strikes than the nose-heavy Skylane.
The manual flaps are quick and easy to deploy, without looking inside the cockpit. The crosswind handling characteristics are far better than the high wing, high-center-of-gravity Cessnas.
The oleos are firm and not prone to bounce. The wide track and low stance make crosswind landings relatively easy. Its hard to make really bad (or really good) landings in the Arrow.
The Lycoming IO-360 is reliable, easy starting, and free from carburetor ice. The fuel flow you set is the fuel flow you get. Cooling does not seem to present issues notwithstanding the absence of cowl flaps. The Arrow is a capable airplane which does not make excessive demands on piloting skills, thereby contributing to safety.
The Arrows vices: The single door is inconvenient and a safety issue, in my view. It prevents the pilot from getting the passengers loaded, briefed and so on before boarding. As in otherlow-wing singles, entry and exit are a pain for all but the young and lithe.
The 48-gallon fuel capacity is marginal for cross country flights. Its a 200-mile airplane. I flight plan for 11 to 12 GPH fuel flow without aggressive leaning.
However, because of the limited capacity, you can fill the tanks and carry four average size adults without exceeding gross.
There would no way to practice emergency gear extensions or to confirm gear down and locked in case of electrical failure, since the gear is invisible from the cabin and there is no mechanical back up to the indicator lights.
Many earlier aircraft have an automatic extension system which lowers the gear at 105 MPH below certain power settings-this can be overridden, however.
Lowering the gear adds much more drag than in the Cessna retractable designs. With the gear down and power off, the Arrow sinks like a stone. Emergency landings should be practiced regularly.
On balance, the Arrow is a good choice for the pilot seeking the elusive compromise between reasonable performance, good handling and economy.
-Alan B. Hoffman
St. Louis, Missouri
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Resale Values, Payload, and Prices Compared.”
Click here to view “Accidents: No Standout Causes.”