Piper PA-28R Arrow

Not the fastest or sleekest, perhaps, but the Arrow has the virtues of simplicity and relatively low cost.

The Piper Arrow is, in a way, like a Ford Taurus. Not the fastest, not the roomiest, not the most stylish… but it has enough of all of those qualities to give it enduring popularity. For those unable to afford a Mooney or Bonanza, it offers a less expensive, though still reasonably capable, cross-country machine. It also has the advantage of not being an orphan – the Arrow is still being made.

The Arrow, since its really just a retractable Cherokee (or Archer), is a logical step-up airplane for pilots who now fly fixed-gear Pipers. Everything will be familiar, from gauge placement to handling and procedures. And that, of course, was the basic marketing model for all of the major manufacturers in the 1960s and 1970s: train pilots in two-seaters, graduate them to similar four-place, fixed-gear models, then to retractables from the same blood line.

The ubiquitous Piper PA-28 has been folded, stapled and extruded into an almost unbelievable number of variants over the years, from the modest Cherokee 140 trainer all the way through the T-tailed Turbo Arrow IV – including the Warrior, Cherokee 180, Archer, Cherokee 235, Dakota, Challenger, Charger, Pathfinder, Cherokee 150,. Cherokee 160, Arrow, Arrow II, Arrow III… and a few turbocharged models in there for good measure. The PA-32 series also shares the same basic design, and, by extension, the Seneca. The PA-28 airframe, too, was made into a twin, in the form of the Seminole.

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 owes its existence to 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 badly needed shot in the arm in the low-end market. Cessna had a runaway success on its hands with the 172, and Pipers competition – the Tri-Pacer – was downright dowdy by comparison. In the retractable market, Piper did have the sleek and handsome Comanche to sell, however.

The Cherokee did well, and was soon joined by the 180 and 235, giving Piper a strong lineup of fixed-gear singles suitable for a variety of missions. Since all Cherokees shared the same basic airframe, the company was also able to realize some manufacturing economies.

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.

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 $1,350 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 $2,000 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 electromechanical (compared to Mooneys distinctive manual 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.

The original Arrow compared we’ll with the Mooney in some departments, such as roominess and cost. However, it fell short in terms of speed… but then, nearly all airplanes do. Cruise was pegged at 141 knots, compared to 158 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 came out with a 200-HP version of the Arrow. The extra $500 it cost gave pilots a Lycoming IO-360-C1C engine, a few knots, and a 100-pound boost in gross weight, though 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 retrofit of new exhaust valves, and its unlikely that any of the 1200-hour mills are left. The TBO for the 200 is now also 2000 hours.

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 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 (leaving the Super Cub alone), 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.The new wing improved performance somewhat, most notably in terms of glide. It also gave pilots a 24-gallon increase in fuel capacity.

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 isn’t 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 squirelly low-speed performance, with a tendency to over-rotate on takeoff. Others, who don’t try to fly the Arrow IV like the earlier models, look more favorably upon the T-tail.

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.

When Piper emerged from bankruptcy several years ago, the Arrow was promptly back in production. Its essentially the same airplane as the conventional-tail Arrow IV, with a 2001 base price of $249,700, which includes a good instrument package but no autopilot.

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 (though 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 30 percent. The Arrow is second, up a little over 16 percent. The big loser is the Sierra, which has lost considerable value. Its worth noting that the used marketplace doesnt like the T-tailed Arrow much, either: a 1979 PA-28RT-201 has not yet recovered its new average equipped price, while a 1978 Arrow III is worth about 15 percent more than its new cost.

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 isn’t as fast as a Mooney 201, though its cabin is roomier and more comfortable.

The Arrow cruises at 130 to 143 knots, while consuming nine 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: 1,200 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 wing loading is lower than higher-performance retractables like the Bonanza/Debonair and Mooney, which means a less solid ride in turbulence and lower speeds. However, thats also a benefit during landing. 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 mention for the design of the seats in later aircraft, 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 bush-plane 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.

Egress is not the best, especially when compared to the Cardinal RG and Commander 112 with their double doors, and the Sierra with its separate passenger door. Further, the double-latch system can confuse passengers, particularly in an emergency: be sure to brief them.

Piper chose long ago to put the engine gauges near the power controls, which makes a certain amount of sense, but wed rather see the gauges up in the pilots line of sight where theyre hard to miss.

Gear troubles
The automatic extension system, though often a boon in preventing inadvertent gear-up landings, isn’t perfect. The Arrow has suffered its share of gear-up landings: either its automatic gear-extension system didnt work, or pilots had overridden it and forgotten to reengage 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 under the wheel wells for a good inspection).

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. Many gear-ups 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, etc. Given this record-not overwhelmingly better than similar retractables-its not surprising that you probably wont find an insurance carrier today who offers lower rates purely because of the Arrows automatic extension system.

Safety features sometimes spawn new hazards while eliminating old ones. The automatic gear extension system is a good example. At high density altitudes, relates one owner, 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 their 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 1,400 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.

Club, mods
We strongly recommend joining the Cherokee Pilots. Their expertise can save real money when tracking down common Cherokee problems.

A variety of aerodynamic mods are available for PA-28s, from the usual flap and gap seals to the high-spiff factor LoPresti cowling. Speed brakes can be had from Precise Flight (though the Arrows high gear speeds make their value questionable). STOL kits are available from Sierra Industries.

Owner Comments
My expensive experience with replacing both main spars nearly six years ago is split out as an extraordinary item.

In conjunction with repainting after the wing repairs I installed all of the LoPresti mods then available: aileron & flap gap seals, wheel well and flap hinge fairings. These are advertised to give a 10 MPH speed gain and I was hopeful of a solid 5 knots. It appears I got about 2 to 4 knots.At about 75 percent power (full throttle, 2400 RPM, leaned to peak EGT per JPI EDM700 and burning about 9.5 GPH) and optimum altitude (about 6500 feet) I now cruise at 143 to 145 KTAS versus 140 to 142 KTAS before. In other words the mods let the Arrow turn in book cruise speeds in spite of the drag of 11 antennas. I have tried the best power mixture a few times to see if there is another knot or two to be found. Fuel flow increased to almost 10.5 GPH, but I couldnt see any change in IAS. Looking for performance improvements in such small increments gave me a new appreciation of how much airspeed is scrubbed off by even the slightest turbulence.

Rate of climb performance, which is easier to verify, increased by about 100 FPM based on several timed climbs to 7000 feet from sea level. Aileron feel is more crisp than before the mod.

Probably everything to be said about flying an Arrow has already been said. It is not glamorous, but an honest performer. Good cross country and IFR platform.

-Robert Bracken
via e-mail

I have owned a 1975 Arrow II for about six months, my first. I wanted some performance, constant-speed, retractable, economy, low-wing and a four-place single. I diligently searched in the U.S for an Arrow II or III, but soon decided that the extra 24 gallons of fuel and the tapered wing werent worth the extra $10- to $15,000 so I settled for an Arrow II and after six months I couldnt be more satisfied.

My airplane was bought with 2400 TT, 400 SMOH and 300 on a new Hartzell three-blade prop. The benefits of the three-blade are better climb and less vibration; it eliminates that red arc on the tach between 2100 and 2350 RPM. So far, Ive logged over 150 hours in it, and find it to be a very good platform for long cross-countries.

I am satisfied with the performance so far. I generally hang in the 9000-12000 foot neighborhood, set at 21/24, and consistently see 126-130 knots on 8.5 GPH. There are another 12 knots out there if I want to part with an extra 2.5 GPH. Climb is also fine: I made one local trip on a warm August afternoon with full fuel and 775 pounds of occupants, and still got 650 FPM.

Comfort-wise, the seats were low-back, shoulder space is tight for two large men, and the back seat is not for tall people. I had all the seats changed to high-back and only put women and children in the rear seat. The cabin is quieter with the addition of an inflatable door seal and new quarter-inch front glass. Visibility is fine, and the plane is a simple pleasure to fly. Ventilation is superb, with a very competent heater and defroster.

My Arrow came with the auto-extender, but I choose to lock it out to prevent unwanted activation. The white arc tops out at 109 knots, but the gear-down limit is 130 knots, so it makes an effective speed brake. It is actually difficult to operate in level flight under 80 knots with the gear up.

This plane is a joy to operate, very stable and easy to handle. It makes a great instrument platform as well.

I would like another 10 to 15 gallons of fuel capacity and wish the engine gauges were at the top of the panel rather than the bottom. The I have very few squawks: the baggage door leaked (surprise!), but a new neoprene seal fixed that. Mid-range taxi speed was a little wobbly, but that was cured with a new front tire and wheel bearings ($230). The interior plastic tends to deteriorate and discolor. Ive gotten many replacement components through Tom Ross of Clark Air, (702 876-0880). His prices run 50 to 80 percent less than Heinol and Globe.

The first annual was a breeze; the AI said the airplane is very solid. The base cost was $650, plus $50 for oil and filter and $225 to the avionics shop for a new overhead rotary light switch and second PTT button. Cost of the new front glass and installation was $320 and $150 respectively. Insurance (Avemco) was $1600 the first year, but I only had 10 hours of retract time. Ive since shopped around and think the renewal will be closer to $1100. I havent figured an hourly cost as I might find it discouraging. My hangar runs $400 and property tax about $600. Fuel an oil run about $17/hour.

I am considering some mods like flap, aileron, flap hinge and gear lobe seals and fairings with my scheduled paint next year, but have trouble believing the performance promises. If all the claims are accurate, the mods, with that sexy LoPresti cowl, will give me somewhere between 20 and 34 knots! Can you imagine – 165 knots on 8.5 GPH? Dream on, I reckon!

In my short time as an owner, I have come to realize two things: ownership is very rewarding and offers a great sense of accomplishment and personal independence, but ownership is not the most effective method for accumulating capital!

-Mark Dymond
Woodland Hills, Calif.

I selected the Piper Arrow as a logical upgrade from my Cherokee 140. I was looking for more speed and climb ability, coupled with benign handling and relatively simple systems. Arrows are still in production, and parts are readily available. I also like the fact that the backup gear extension system is operated by gravity – thats as simple and reliable as you can get.

I concluded the Arrow IIIs (long wing, conventional tail, 72 gallons fuel) were over-priced, and so searched for a good Arrow II (short wing, conventional tail, 48 gallons fuel). Before I located one, I found my 1979 Arrow IV (long wing, T-tail, 72 gallons fuel.) I was initially leery of the T-tail based on stories Id heard. Im now convinced that the IVs are true values when compared to the IIIs.

Over the last six months and 120 hours, Ive found the T-tail to solid and predictable. Pitch changes are minimal with extension of the gear or flaps. The tail retains full authority during landings. Stalls are typical Cherokee: non-events. On takeoff, things are fine if you accelerate to rotation speed, and then pull back. I did do my initial training in a Tomahawk, so this approach is nothing new.

I cruise at 130 knots at 65 percent burning 10.5 GPH. Im still cautious leaning, so I expect lower fuel flows are possible. Ive cruised comfortably at 14000 feet – something impossible in my old Cherokee. Endurance is 6-7 hours, providing good range with comfortable IFR reserves. Useful load, we’ll equipped, is 940 pounds. This translates to full fuel, plus 500 pounds of people and baggage.

Costs for fuel, maintenance, hanger, insurance, and OH reserve have been $45/hour. I havent had an annual done yet, so that number is artificially low. I expect the real number to be between $50 and $55/hour.

-Dave Anderer
Newark, Del.

Also With This Article
Click here to view charts for Resale Values, Payload Compared and Prices Compared.
Click here to view the Piper Arrow features guide.