The basic 150-HP four-place, fixed-gear single is about as close to an everyman airplane as you can get. Its the market segment where airplanes become just capable enough to be practical transportation tools. They wont haul a lot of people or cargo, but they will lift enough. They wont go all that far or all that fast, but they will perform adequately. Airplanes in this class are sort of like Toyotas: Not terribly exciting or fancy, perhaps, but they do what you need them to without costing an arm and a leg.
The Cessna Skyhawk still owns this market, and the prices of used airplanes reflect that dominance. However, at least two of its mainstream competitors, the Piper Warrior and AGAC AA-5 Traveler/Cheetah, are good, solid airplanes that can be had for considerably less. (The Beech entry, the Sport, is short on performance when compared to the Warrior and Cheetah.)
The AA-5 went the way of the dodo in the late 1970s, and the attempt to bring the design back (in the form of the Tiger) failed. Cessna removed itself from the scene voluntarily in the mid 1980s, and is now back in business with the new Skyhawk.
Which leaves us with Piper. The company fell on hard times and was forced into bankruptcy, finally emerging several years (and a few abortive buyout attempts) later as the New Piper. The company is building Warriors again, delivering 26 over the last four years since the new Warrior III came out. The Warrior never officially left production, though none were delivered in 1991, and only a handful during the period of Pipers troubles.
A glance at current prices of mid-1980s Skyhawks and Warriors shows that the Warrior is a bargain compared to the Skyhawk: The 1984 Cessna enjoys a $22000 higher price on the used-plane market over a 84 Warrior, according to the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest.
As general aviation was entering the heyday of the 1970s, Pipers line was beginning to look a little dated. The basic PA-28 had come out in 1962, and hadnt changed all that much in the intervening years. Piper singles all had the characteristic, fat Hershey bar wing, and the company was about to lower the boom on the sleek Comanche.
It was decided to update the line. A new airplane was planned, one that would take aim squarely at the Cessna Skyhawk. Previously, Piper didnt really have a direct competitor for the Cessna 172. The Cherokee 140 was more cramped, being more of a 2+2 airplane than a true four-place, and didnt perform as well as the Skyhawk.
The first Warrior was introduced in 1974, with a 150-HP Lycoming O-320-E3D engine. It didnt replace the Cherokee 140, though the 140 did succumb to poor sales after the 1977 model year.
In keeping with Pipers standard method of building many variants of a single design rather than developing an all-new airframe, the Warrior was essentially the same as all other PA-28s. In fact, the FAA treats all of them as one type when it comes time for the census; everything from the Cherokee 140 to the Turbo Arrow IV all fall into the same bin.
The Warrior did boast one big difference, though: A new, longer semi-tapered wing with a higher aspect ratio. This new wing helped the handling somewhat, with lighter roll control forces, and also boosted the climb rate. It also helped the airplanes looks.
Interestingly, the new wing represented a deviation from the production efficiencies originally touted as a virtue of the constant-chord wing. And its fun to recall some Piper engineers back when it was introduced boasting that the fat, new, stubby wing was actually every bit as good as the sexier-looking tapered Comanche wing, aerodynamically.
The new wing design first appeared on the Warrior, but eventually found its way into all of the PA-28 series as well as onto the PA-32.
The most significant upgrade to the Warrior occurred in 1977 with a 10-HP boost in engine output. As it turns out, Cessna made a similar engine swap at exactly the same time, but Cessnas 160-HP powerplant turned out to be the notorious O-320-H model that gave owners fits with valve train problems. So the Warrior would appear to have stepped away from the competition with a definite edge. Since then, however, the -H engine problems have abated.
A couple of other evolutionary changes occurred in 1978, when Warriors received more streamlined wheel fairings, and in 1983, when the battery was removed from under the rear seat and placed in front of the firewall. The new fairings yielded some seven knots in cruise speed according to the book, while the battery change shortened the run to the starter and helped combat starting problems (though these had been largely overcome, according to users, by swapping copper for aluminum cables).
Thanks to the change in weight and balance, it allowed the gross weight and useful load to be hiked by 115 pounds, and it extended the aft CG to allow more of a load in the baggage compartment. (The boost is available via STC for older Warriors.)
An attempt to create some interest in a moribund new-airplane market was made in 1988, when Piper released a version of the Warrior targeted at flight schools called the Cadet. Basically a stripped version lacking creature comforts, it was available in VFR and IFR versions. The experiment continued through the 1994 model year.
Another spruce-up resulted in the New Piper Warrior III in 1995. Today, new Warriors with average equipment go for more than $170,000. Original, 1974 models fetch about $41,000.
The 10-HP boost in power raised the 75-percent cruise speed from 116 knots to 121 knots. And the new speed fairings nudged that up to 127 knots-not exactly blinding, and in the class of the Skyhawk, though eclipsed by the Cheetah. Owners report real-world performance is somewhat less than the book figures.
One big gripe by owners of the 150-HP model, especially, is the miserable rate of climb. Climb performance is lackluster, wrote one. On an 80-degree day with full fuel and two aboard expect 400-500 FPM from sea level. Rate of climb to altitude is the worst thing about the Warrior, said another. If I ever sell the Warrior, it will be to get an airplane that climbs much better, and is a little faster, said a third. For what its worth, the Cheetah shares this performance shortcoming, in spades.
One of the nice features of the Warriors is a generous 50-gallon fuel load (with 48 gallons usable). Burning 7.5 to 10 GPH at cruise, these birds yield a fairly good range with four to six hours of flying. One pilot said he flight-planned for 4.45 hours with a 45-minute reserve.
While respondents in the past have rated comfort as average, the current consensus is that its quite good. Later Pipers benefit from having some of the best seats in general aviation, from both a comfort and crashworthiness standpoint. These seats are designed with an S-tube frame similar to the legendary JAARS seat, which progressively deforms during impact and absorbs energy. For greater pilot comfort, there is an optional vertical seat adjustment which some say is great, but others say is prone to malfunctioning.
The fuel selector is located out of sight alongside the pilots left knee. The need to switch tanks left and right results in more fuel mismanagement errors than with the both tanks system on the high-wing Cessnas, judging from the accident reports. Naturally, its also easy to develop an imbalance unless the pilot remembers to switch regularly, and there is no aileron trim for the airplane. This makes at least a wing-leveler autopilot a nice option on the bird, in our opinion.
The Warriors parking brake is a robust handle sticking out from the bottom of the panel. Its simple and strong, and it works. The same goes for the flap system. Its manual, positive, blessedly simple, and it just doesnt break.
Like most low-wing aircraft, however, entry and exit is awkward. The Warrior has only one door, so three of the four occupants have to do some contortions to get in place. Emergency egress is problematical, since the rear windows cannot be opened in an emergency (like those of the Bonanza). The baggage door is fairly large, however.
Naturally, with a full load of 50 gallons, the bird wont carry four adults, but some owners report doing so with fuel only up to the tabs (34 gallons) and the resulting reduced range. Of course, the post-82 Warriors have the biggest useful load margin, with 1,099 pounds maximum gross weight.
The baggage compartment will take a full 200 pounds structurally-the same as the bigger Cherokees, and a lot more than the Skyhawk and Cheetahs maximum of 120 pounds, by comparison.
Owners say nice things about cabin ventilation, thanks to an abundance of outlets, both overhead and underneath. Unfortunately, there were complaints that in winter the overhead vents were too much of a good thing and could not be completely shut off, giving passengers the chills. One pilot solved this problem by simply taping up the exterior air inlet on the tail in the winter.
A few owners had the air conditioners that are available as options on the Cherokee line, but complained that the cool air yield in summer was not worth the sacrifice in payload and performance.
Conversely, cabin heating in winter was described as more than adequate-but not always delivered in a satisfactory manner. In fact, some owners warned that fliers feet might be roasted if they were placed too close to the outlet. The heater really puts out, said one owner, but it seems like its either full blast on or off; nothing in-between. Also, the heater output is right by the pilots feet, which tend to broil while his head freezes. Rear-seat passengers sometimes want more heat, warned another, but if you turn it up too much, the floor vent by the pilots right foot gets hot enough to melt your sneakers.
The Warrior shares with the other Cherokees a gentle nature, pleasant handling and such a reluctance to stall aggressively that some pilots rate it a poor teacher. Several respondents said that with both rudder and stabilator trim, the airplane does not need an autopilot.
Wed rate runway handling as decent, despite the large number of accidents on both takeoff and landing-especially landing-we uncovered in past checks of FAA accident and incident reports. It appears most of these stem from student indiscretions.
Pilots report they like the way the aircraft handles in a crosswind landing and feel more secure taxiing in windy conditions with the wide gear stance, as opposed to operating in the high-wing Cessnas.
The Cessna Skyhawk and the AGAC Traveler/Cheetah are the most logical competitors to the Warrior for the attention of buyers who want four-seaters that wont break the bank and who are willing to settle for modest performance.
The Cessna has by far the best overall safety record. In a cross-country race, the Cheetah would be likely to barely edge out the big-engined Warrior with the fancy pants, and leave the Cessna and the older Warriors in its propwash. And while the AGAC has the most pleasant, facile handling, in our book, the flaps are definitely inferior for getting into short fields. The Cessna gets our nod for getting in and out of little runways.
Heres where the Warrior should shine. Its the opposite of high tech sophistication. Its got fixed gear, a fixed-pitch prop, mechanical flaps and a small carbureted engine. And, indeed, owners report low maintenance costs and modest annual inspection fees.
As might be expected, though, the engine compartment is the source of most upkeep problems. Our checks of Service Difficulty Reports showed a lot of Slick magneto failures. The powerplant itself was tagged with numerous failure modes, with valves at the top of the list, then following up with camshaft/lifter/pushrod problems, cylinder cracks and rocker arm breakage.
A lot of the magneto failures were attributed to failed bearings and some to malfunctioning impulse couplings and worn bushings along with loose distributor gear fingers. Several other assorted magneto breakdown problems were listed in the SDRs, as well.
Potential buyers should check to see if there is roughness following engine start, since according to Lycoming thats one sign the exhaust valves are beginning to stick. (The roughness usually goes away after the engine warms up, incidentally.)
There were also several reports of broken rocker arms. Avco-Lycoming SB 477 called for inspection and rework of P/N LW-18790 Rocker Arm Assy. It pays to make sure this critical item has been taken care of. Several submitters said they felt better quality control is needed in the manufacture of this part.
The SDRs showed that a fair amount of unwanted attention was showered on cracked spinner bulkheads. This came in third in the roster after magneto and engine problems. Some users reported cracks within 100 to 200 hours of operation.
And once again Warrior battery cables were the subject of a fair number of complaints and blamed for slow starting. The common fix is to swap the old aluminum cables for copper ones to prevent corrosion at the connections because of dissimilar metals. The long cable run from the battery under the rear seat to the engine obviously added to the problem. But in 1983, as we noted earlier, Piper relocated the battery to the engine compartment.
Poor starting isnt the only possible disadvantage of aluminum cables. In 1986 Piper issued a service bulletin (836A) noting field reports that corrosion between the aluminum terminal and aluminum wire at the battery positive post had caused overheating of the wire due to high electrical resistance.
The possible result: an electrical fire. Indeed, we noted one SDR in which the battery box and battery actually caught fire after startup. The submitter suggested the service bulletin should be made into an AD and the plastic battery box be replaced with a metal one.
The SDRs suggest it might also be wise to keep an eye out for plastic fuel tank floats disintegrating under the ravages of 100LL. We counted eight reports on this, with another that suggested the fix can sometimes be less than a huge success, since a metal float replacement filled with fuel and sank ignominiously.
If youre looking at a Warrior equipped with air conditioning, take a look at the bracket that attaches the alternator and compressor. We noted reports that the mounting bolts had broken or worked loose. And in one case the submitter found the bracket was installed backwards, subjecting the rear tab of the alternator to stress and misalignment of the pulleys.
Although we noted no Service Difficulty Reports on landing lights, some owners complained to us of frequent outages of the nose-mounted landing light, presumably as a result of vibration. For what its worth, this problem occurs quite commonly in other types of aircraft.
An interesting mod for the Warrior is a set of vortex generators from AM R&D. We have no direct information on the effectiveness of these, but all weve heard and observed about VGs to date indicates that they work as advertised. A worthwhile investment, in our view.
Other mods include the usual speed mods from LoPresti Speed Merchants, Met-Co-Aire, and gap seals from AM R&D. Sierra Industries also makes a STOL kit for the airplane, and Precise Flight makes a set of speed brakes.
In 1993 I purchased a 1982 PA-28-161 that I had been renting for six months. It had 1600 hours on the engine and 5000 on the airframe. It was in good condition and had never let me down. After owning it for 3-1/2 years, I can honestly say that its the best investment I ever made.
Like many pilots, I did my training in a Cessna 152. Shortly after getting my ticket, I upgraded to the Warrior and never looked back. The low wing offers better in-flight visibility, nicer landings and a more comfortable interior.
She currently climbs fully loaded in Florida at 650 FPM and cruises at 2900 feet at 109 knots all day long, burning 8 GPH. At higher altitudes the speed climbs to 113 knots and the fuel usage drops to 7.8 GPH. Sadly, this does not meet the book figures, but its fast enough to pay the premium over driving. The plane has both rudder and stabilator trim, eliminating the need for an autopilot. Above the clouds, trimmed both ways, all she requires is a little left pedal and an occasional tweak as the fuel burns off.
The cost of owning a Warrior, although a tad more than the previous owner led me to believe, has been rather reasonable, all things considered. My overhauled engine, purchased from Colonial Aviation in Tampa and installed by Marathon Aviation in Kissimmee, was less than $7000. Some 18 months and 500 hours later, Ive had virtually no problems with the engine. I was lucky and had the right mags and the right oil pump to avoid the more expensive ADs.If I had to find fault with the airplane, since purchasing it Ive replaced most of the original instruments that have worn out at one point or another. Im a little disappointed that they didnt hold up a while longer, but through replacement Ive gotten to know my plane a little better and feel more secure flying it. Most of the maintenance is easily performed, including the routine items: oil changes, tires, brakes and plug cleaning.
Recently, I totaled up all my costs, pro-rated my recent paint job and engine overhaul and calculated that my operating costs have been $38/hour including all repairs, insurance mortgage and regular maintenance. Throw in $16/hour for fuel and oil and Ive got a sweet four-seater sky-high cab at only $54/hour.
Despite several years spent tied down outside in Florida, its remained surprisingly free of corrosion. My last three annuals have produced minimal squawks, mostly little things that keep me learning more about the airplane than I really want to know. Ive invested about $17000 including the paint job and overhaul since purchase, while the value of the plane has increased almost $14000. This means it cost me $1000 a year for the privilege of owning my own plane and having unlimited access to the freedom of flying. And as a bonus, Ive had the extra reward of learning the mechanics of what keeps an airplane in the air and how much it costs!
I would recommend the Warrior to anyone who wants a real four-seater whose fuel tank will usually outlast the smallest bladder on board.
I own a 1980 Warrior II, purchased in 1991 with 1100 total time. The plane was immaculately kept before I bought it, never a trainer, and all SBs done. I just reached 2000 hours, at which time I installed a factory remanufactured engine. It is pristine with a ton of avionics and options.
Because I fly jets for a living, what I really wanted was something fast, like a Bonanza. Im not sorry I chose the Warrior. It is so easy and honest to fly-no bad habits. If people would stop and think a bit, and buy something a bit slower and simpler, then they could afford a lot more flying without giving up a modern airplane with good systems.
The Warrior has much to recommend it:
Reliable engine that is inexpensive to overhaul and keep up.
The engine is accessible through a quick-open hinged cowling for thorough preflights and lower maintenance costs.
Mechanics everywhere know the airplane.
Parts are available everywhere, and the airplane is still being made.
For the money, it has about the most modern panel and shortest AD list you can find.
It has manual flaps-nothing to fail or buy.
It has the lowest interior sound level of anything for the money.
Modern tapered wing, pleasant to fly and relatively efficient, especially at altitude.
Stable IFR platform. An autopilot is not necessary to stay ahead of the airplane during an approach.
Easy to insure. Considered a trainer by the insurance companies.
Simple left/right fuel system.
48 gallon fuel capacity with indicator tabs for easy partial fueling.
Hefty 200-pound luggage capacity with no CG problems.
The seats in later Piper products are some of the finest placed in small planes. Makes Cessnas and Mooneys feel cheap. My wife and I just flew 1100 miles in about eight hours without undue fatigue, largely because of these seats. Also, the back seat is a comfortable bench with good support…much better than bucket seats.
People forget the importance of two critical items in small airplanes: Seat comfort and sound level. A slow, simple airplane that is quiet and comfortable will deliver you at your destination in much better shape than a fast, complex airplane with lousy seats and an interior sound level sufficient to sterilize mice.
I do have a few tips for prospective owners:
Get the gross weight STC, which adds 115 pounds.
Join the Cherokee Pilots Association. Their magazine and connections are a priceless resource.
Lean the engine aggressively.
Buy an engine monitor (I chose an Electronics International Ultimate Scanner).
Do all engine starts and shutdowns with the alternator switch off. This protects the alternator from voltage spikes and makes it last longer.
Fly the airplane high. The tapered wing likes 7000 to 11000 feet best, the TAS is higher, fuel consumption lower, the ride is better, and theres less traffic.
Cost of operation runs about $60/hour for about 200 hours a year. I spare no expenses on annuals, do oil analysis, tend to replace items before the break, and so forth. This cost includes hangar, insurance, debt service, fuel, maintenance and engine reserve.
I bought a 1978 PA-28-161 Warrior II for my first plane a couple of years after getting my license. It was my pride and joy for 6 years. I sold it just last year, for about 70 percent more than I paid for it, and the new owner still got a good deal.
When I first bought the plane it had the usual things that needed fixing up. I was also impressed that a plane with a mid-time engine and poor paint could so consistently beat book performance. Well, some money fixed the things that needed fixing. Reds up in Ada Oklahoma took care of the paint. And a quick tachometer check solved the performance surprise-the tach was reading over 100 RPM low at cruise!
Although it could be pushed to a little over 120 knots at 75 percent, I usually pulled the power a little. I found the simplest thing to do was to flight plan for 115 knots at 65 percent and 10 GPH over the whole trip, ignore climb and descent, and arrive with a little more reserve than scheduled. Just assume five hours in the tanks, lop one off for reserve, and you will always make legs of up to four hours with plenty to spare.
A little below gross, I have coaxed it up to 13000 a couple of times. Once, at gross, I got it to 12500-but I felt more like a glider pilot than a powered plane pilot. There was absolutely nothing left over for the downdrafts. And with a rate of climb that was only about 700 FPM at best from sea level, getting up there was something you only did on long trips.
I fly a lot of missions for Angel Flight and other volunteer pilot organizations. Once the plane was up to standard, I had a 100 percent mission go rate -it never failed to be there when I needed it. We flew a lot of IFR together, into airports large and small, including the occasional turf strip. A more honest plane could not have been found, nor could I have wished for a better first plane.
In the end, however, two things finally got to me: First, the useful load was only 800 pounds. With full fuel and myself that left only 300 for the passenger(s)-not enough for my needs. And second, I got tired of those 50-plus knot West Texas headwinds on trips to El Paso. Seeing the GPS groundspeed dip down in the 60s one time too many finally got the better of me.
I now own the Warriors big brother-the PA-28R-201T, a turbocharged Arrow III, and truly love its performance. But I guess in a way, the Warrior was more faithful to me than I was to it.
-James M. Knox
My experiences with Piper Warrior aircraft are, in general, positive. The highest praise I can give the aircraft is that she flies as well as a 172. After renting this aircraft for approximately 200 hours, I find it to be very forgiving during difficult landings and a comfortable IFR platform. Two to three passengers are relatively comfortable on a 300 nautical mile trip…probably moreso than in a 172.
My gripes regarding this plane are mainly logistical. That is, it is difficult to board and deboard passengers and picture-taking maneuvers border on aerobatics. Children do not prefer this airplane because seeing out is virtually impossible for them. On the other hand, they sleep fine in the back seat. All in all, for the 3-person family that flies 300 NM or shorter distances, on 2000 foot-plus runways (hard or grass), with total hours per year in the air 50 or less, one would be hard pressed to find a better buy in a private airplane.