In the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s, personal airplane manufacturers were heavily invested in marketing their products the same way Detroit had been selling cars: Get new owners hooked on an entry-level model, offer several step-up models and make annual but incremental improvements. Just as Detroit’s Big Three had dealer networks, Beech, Cessna and Piper had them also, offering everything from primary flight training to maintenance, rental and charter.
Rarely would a new pilot trained in, say, a Cessna 150 look at another manufacturer’s product as a step-up airplane, because a larger, faster version of what he or she was already flying was readily available. Brand loyalty was important to general aviation’s Big Three back then, just as it was to Detroit.
But times changed, models were eliminated and some brands went out of production entirely, at least for a time. Despite economic upheavals, the microcomputer revolution and the advent of modern composite airplanes, the realities of aerodynamics, along with design, certification and manufacturing costs mean some models first conceived in the 1950s are still popular today. But that’s true only because those older designs perform well enough that potential new entrants know they’d encounter stiff headwinds trying to bring a new model to market.
For proof, look no farther than the market for new, four-seat, fixed-gear piston singles of less than 200 HP, which has long been dominated by Cessna and its 172. Along the way, Piper carved a deep niche with its Warrior and Archer. No viable competition has emerged, despite both designs having originated during Eisenhower’s years in the White House. And until the mid-1990s, the 172 wasn’t available fresh from the factory with a fixed-pitch propeller and more than 160 HP, while Piper offered the Cherokee 180, a model besting the basic Skyhawk in almost every category and which remains available today as the Archer III.
The original PA-28-180 was powered by a Lycoming O-360, which has proven to be a durable powerplant well suited to the airplane’s weight and performance. Before becoming the Archer in the mid-1970s—and before gaining a tapered wing and becoming the Archer II—it already was among the most popular Cherokees.
For many, the Cherokee 180/Archer is about as close as mere mortals can get to the perfect airplane. It has simple systems, a stone-reliable engine, sufficient room that four adults won’t commit immoral acts and economics good enough to serve as a basic trainer. For cross-country work, it has enough speed to make most headwinds only a slight nuisance and long-enough legs to be a decent though entry-level instrument platform. All of which means a good Archer will command a healthy price on the used market and, depending on year, generally will cost a bit more than an equivalent Cessna 172.
Of course, the 172 isn’t the Archer’s only competitor: Cessna’s own fixed-gear Cardinal, the Grumman/American General Tiger and the Beech Sundowner abound on the used market, often available for fewer dollars. But the Archer’s mix of good numbers, good looks and ongoing production—which usually translates into excellent parts availability—means its popularity likely will continue. Prospective owners know that and usually are prepared to pay the premium required.
The PA-28-180/181 series, of course, can trace its roots back to the basic Cherokee 140 and point to close relatives like the Arrow, Cherokee Six/Lance/Saratoga and even the Seminole twin. All owe their existence to the first Cherokee airframe originally designed by the late John Thorp, best known for the crank-winged Thorp T-18 homebuilt, among his many other designs. He reportedly considered the PA-28 among his favorites and, if viewing an original copy in plan form, one can easily see the resemblance between the first Cherokee and the Thorp T-18.
And this Piper’s lineage highlights something Piper has always done well, perhaps better than everyone else: Build a good basic model and evolve it into improved follow-on products without greatly increasing manufacturing costs. First rolled out in 1963, the original Cherokee 180 has been upgraded considerably, but is fundamentally still the same airframe, with some 10,000 flying.
The first Cherokee 180 had the constant-chord Hershey-bar wing (span 30 feet)—so-named because of its resemblance to the candy bar—and a Lycoming O-360-A3A engine. That early engine had a TBO of only 1200 hours, mainly due to a weak valve-train design, including 7/16-inch exhaust valves, which was far from Lycoming’s best effort. Later, those engines were switched to -inch valves, which increased the TBO in part by eliminating chronic issues with excessive wear and heat-induced damage. The smaller valves long ago should have been flushed entirely from the market by overhaul or remanufacture, but prudent buyers will check anyway if looking at an older engine.
The newer engines all carry Lycoming’s more-or-less standard 2000-hour TBO, and the overall engine has a well-earned reputation as one of the company’s—if not the industry’s—more bulletproof designs. In fact, the engine’s reputation is one of the reasons for the Archer’s ongoing popularity. Throughout its history, the PA-28-180/181 has used essentially the same Lycoming O-360—still 180 HP—with only minor variant changes, although many wish for fuel injection.
After five years of production and few airframe changes, the instrument panel was modernized and a third, trapezoidal window was added to each fuselage side in 1968. This resulted in the airplane’s current ramp presence while admitting more light into the cabin. A longer wing came along in 1973—still with a constant chord, though—accompanied by a bigger stabilator and a five-inch fuselage stretch. The extra inches made a noticeable difference on cabin space.
At the same time, a modest, 50-pound boost in gross weight (to 2450 pounds) improved the airplane’s payload by half a person while a larger door, more-crashworthy seats and additional panel improvements rounded out the cosmetic improvements.
For 1973, the Cherokee 180 became the Challenger, but that wasn’t a Native American name, so Piper quickly changed it again—to Archer, beginning with the 1974 model year—continuing its ongoing theme. (Neither of those strictly are Native American names either, but despite the illogic, Piper’s are perhaps easier to follow than Mooney’s. )
It wasn’t until 1976 that the new tapered wing—still the standard configuration today—was introduced to the 180-HP airframe, resulting in the type-designation change to PA-28-181, which also continues with the current model. This change was so significant the model received yet another name: Archer II. Subsequent-manufacture PA-28-181s are known as Archer IIIs, while the latest Archer is the LX.
The basic tapered wing first was installed on the then-new 1974-era Warrior and, after a few tweaks involving the aileron control system, was added to the company’s other PA-28 models and, eventually, to the PA-32. The new wing’s inner panels were still constant-chord, while the outer panels were both lengthened and tapered. Wing-mounted fuel tanks remained in the same location, although total unusable fuel increased to two gallons.
The Archer II got a powerplant change as well, to the -A4M version of the 180-HP Lycoming O-360. That same engine is installed in new Archers today. These changes, of course, brought escalating prices. An original, 1974 PA-28-180 Archer with average equipment brought in $23,495 to Piper’s coffers while a typically equipped 1980 Archer II sold for $47,610.
There was no 1991 Archer, as Piper became ensnared in the light-aircraft industry’s overall economic troubles but by 1995, a reinvigorated and rebranded company—New Piper—rolled out the Archer III. It sold for $181,700, again with average equipment installed. We’ll always remember plucking one of the first Archer IIIs from the Vero Beach factory ramp during a ferry mission, while marveling at its modern appointments, compared to the early ones we grew up with.
By then, the New Piper Archer III got an upgraded cowl, an all-metal instrument panel, factory-installed Garmin GNS430/530 navigators, new paint schemes, air conditioning, better seats and an improved exhaust system. A 2010 model retailed for $299,500, and came standard with an Avidyne Entegra glass panel, an S-TEC 55X autopilot, air conditioning and two Garmin 430W navigators.
Priced in the low $300,000 range, the current Archer LX has Garmin’s G1000 integrated avionics (standard are two 10-inch displays), electronic engine indication system, a backup EFIS system, plus an ultra-modern paint scheme. It still has Lycoming’s O-360-A4M engine mated to a Sensenich two-blade propeller.
Speaking of engines, in 2014 Piper unveiled the Archer DX at the Aero show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. It has Continental’s 1200-hour TBO and FADEC-controlled CD-155 diesel. We covered it in the June 2014 issue of Aviation Consumer.
Any would-be owner wanting to upgrade from a basic trainer—or even looking for an affordable entry-level airplane to use as a trainer, then as a platform with which to perform the weekend getaway—always should at least consider an Archer. It’s a bit faster than a Cessna 172, it climbs better and it carries a smidge more, all without gulping fuel the way a 182 does. Maintenance costs are on the low side of reasonable. On the flip side—at least when compared to the Skyhawk—there’s only one door and passengers may not like clambering up on the wing to gain entry.
Despite the tapered wing’s better looks and—as many pilots confirm—its improved roll response, the market hasn’t always treated the Archer II well. In fact, there’s not much difference in performance between the Hershey-bar-winged versions and the tapered wing. The original Archer wing’s span of 32 feet increases to 35 feet, five inches on the Archer II after it’s tapered, while the service ceiling decreases and takeoff ground roll increases. Distance to clear a 50-foot obstacle is markedly reduced by tapering the wing, however, as is stall speed.
Those numbers—and perhaps the ability to use a smaller hangar—probably explains why early Archers—the 1974 and 1975 models—today sell in the $45,000 range, according to 2015 trends, while their slightly younger brethren fetch less, on average. The deficit isn’t overcome until the 1980 model but—all things being equal—prices start escalating from there. By comparison, a 1980 Cessna 172 retails for about $42,000 while a Grumman/GA Tiger of about the same vintage sells for around $50,000. You can’t touch a newer Archer III for under $80,000, in general.
Given the wide range of model years and histories of used Archers, it should be expected they will vary widely in installed equipment. Unlike Cessna—which only installed its house-brand ARC avionics in new piston singles until selling the unit in 1983—Piper put into its Cherokees either King or Narco products for quite some time. A recent scan of Trade-A-Plane revealed quite a few earlier models still equipped with orphaned avionics, plus a mix of old and new.
For 180-HP airplanes, Archers haul respectable loads. Empty weights vary by year and example, of course, but one owner told us his PA-28-180’s empty weight was 1452 pounds on a gross weight of 2400 pounds. With full tanks, that allows 650 pounds of people and stuff, or three husky people and a bit of baggage. Not bad.
Later Archers allow a 2550-pound gross but empty weights are often higher, so payloads are lower. A 2010 Archer III with standard equipment, weighs in at a hefty 1688 pounds empty with a ramp weight of 2558 pounds, for a useful load of 870 pounds. Older Archers might beat that by 75 pounds or more. With four people in the airplane and, say, 50 pounds of baggage, a typical example has room for 35 to 40 gallons of gas, or about three hours’ endurance with 45-minute reserves. Again, not bad for a modest airplane. If the passengers are light, full fuel and full seats may be possible.
Performance-wise, the Archer is respectable, but no one will mistake its numbers for a Bonanza’s, or even an Arrow’s. How fast you go on 180 HP depends on the year of manufacture and the equipment. Specifically, the semi-tapered wing on the 1976 and later Archers yielded benefits at both ends of the airspeed spectrum. The stall dropped by four knots and cruise speed went up by about the same amount. The large wheel pants available in 1978 add another four knots or so to cruise speed.
Even so, a late-model Archer with wheel pants will cruise at only about 120 knots, although some owners insist they see 125 to 130 knots. (We suspect erroneous airspeed indicators or tachometers.) The airplane gives up 10 knots to a Tiger but pulls ahead of a Cessna 172. Climb rate, while better than a 172, isn’t stellar. According to the POH, the airplane will climb out from sea level at about 740 FPM but, by the time it reaches 6000 feet MSL, upward mobility has trended off to around 450 FPM. As noted earlier, original Archers with the Hershey-bar wings eke out slightly better rate-of-climb numbers than later models with tapered wings.
The nosewheels are steerable on the ground, and the rudder pedals come with conventional toe brakes. Parking or emergency braking is controlled by a meaty handle and locking mechanism just to the left of the center console and easily manipulated with the pilot’s right hand.
Unless the airplane is air-conditioned, summertime cooling of the occupants can be a problem on the ground and at low altitude. Fresh-air ventilation is via wing-root inlets with outlets above the floorboards, supplemented by fan-driven overhead vents getting fresh air from an inlet at the top of the vertical stabilizer. Neither works well on the ground, requiring an open-door policy until right before takeoff. The good news is the Archer’s heating system usually works well.
Piper long ago abandoned its overhead pitch trim control—pilots never could remember which way to turn it to get what they wanted—and put a conventional wheel on the center console, between the seats. Below the instrument panel, in a center pedestal, is a rudder trim knob, though it’s not always necessary.
Early airplanes came with a double stack of avionics, with less-critical boxes mounted in a second column to the right of center. Again, many of these airplanes have since seen an avionics shop for upgrades, but many others haven’t. Reaching to the far side of the panel isn’t a chore, but it’s surely an inconvenience and something you should consider when inspecting a potential purchase. Recent upgrades may have eliminated boxes from the right stack, but unless the entire panel was redone, cosmetics may suffer.
Wing flaps are controlled with a Johnson-bar handle between the seats, including detents. It’s an easy system to deploy smoothly, while also affording the ability to immediately retract or extend flaps, depending on your needs, without having to wait for an electric motor. And, of course, they’re fully available even in the event of an electrical failure. Deploying flaps does result in an upward pitching moment, but it’s relatively easy to counteract with forward pressure on the yoke. Most crosswinds are easy to handle, thanks to the low wing and wide gear.
Early airplanes mounted the circuit breakers to the far right of the instrument panel, about as far from the pilot as possible. Same with the heat/defrost controls. On the upside, frequently needed switches—master, fuel pump, beacons and the like—are mounted just above the engine controls. Systems gauges are just below the flight instruments, with an idiot-light annunciator panel above them. The tachometer is mounted in front of the pilot’s right knee, which often makes for unnecessary head motion during takeoff.
Occupants should have no trouble remaining comfortable during a three-hour leg, although pre-1973 back seats—before the five-inch fuselage stretch—are somewhat tight. Pipers have decent but not exceptional front seats with an S-shaped frame designed to absorb energy in a crash. The height adjustment uses a gas-assisted spring and when this wears out, the seat automatically falls to its lowest setting, giving a short pilot a good view of the glareshield, but little else.
The seat stuffing tends to compress with use, causing sags, and the plastic back trays on the seats aren’t at all durable and fall apart with use. The aftermarket is your friend, as relatively inexpensive solutions exist for both well-known issues. There’s an adequate baggage compartment behind the rear seats that’s accessible in flight, but can’t be opened from the inside.
Cabin appointments can range from the original avocado green or bright orange upholstery and sub-panels dating from the 1970s to more tasteful and less jarring designs, including what seems to be the new industry standard: light gray fabric or leather. Later models came with all-metal instrument panels—the Royalite plastic overlays were finally banned.
The Piper Cherokee didn’t get to be an industry-standard airplane by having handling quirks; it simply has none. Its flight controls are relatively well balanced, with roughly equivalent pressures required in all three axes. The Archers are safe, stable and predictable and easy to land, even on short runways. In slow flight, the airplane has no bad habits, nor does it build speed in unusual attitudes.
Archers don’t have much AD baggage. It was the target of a controversial AD in 1987 calling for an expensive inspection of the wing spar for cracks. This procedure required de-mating the wings and cost some $1200 at the time. In typical FAA overreaction, it was an emergency measure brought about by the crash of a 7000-hour Archer used for pipeline patrol. That AD was rescinded when the expected rash of cracked spars failed to materialize.
However, in reviewing recent service difficulty reports, we noted that mechanics are finding evidence of corrosion in the spars, at least one of which required replacement. This corrosion is often discovered when leaking fuel tanks are removed for repair. Make sure a pre-buy includes an inspection and check the wing-attach fittings, too.
Check the baggage door for a leaking seal; the tell-tale sign is wet or waterstained carpet on the baggage floor. By now, early Archers should have been through at least one interior refurbishment, so pulling up the floorboards in that area to inspect for corrosion is a good idea.
While you’re back there, take a few extra moments to inspect the battery box just aft of the baggage compartment. Piper placed it there, presumably to help with loading. But in a misguided effort to save weight, the company at one time equipped its airplanes with aluminum battery cables, which proved susceptible to corrosion. Given the lengthy cable run from the battery box to the engine compartment, many owners have encountered starting issues. Aftermarket kits and a Piper service bulletin are available to help replace the aluminum cables with copper, which isn’t as prone to corrosion and high resistance.
Another problem is leaky fuel tanks, particularly on older airplanes. An airworthiness directive (AD 79-22-02) addresses peeling tank sealant, with which owners long ago should have complied. It’s not much of a problem any more, certainly nothing like the hassle of owning a Mooney. The vents are also a source of maintenance trouble. One SDR found they had been installed incorrectly.
Otherwise, maintenance hotspots have to do with typical Lycoming issues, such as cracked cylinders, corroded cams and problems with Bendix and Slick magnetos. Also, on older airframes, the stabilator bushings may need work. Have them checked during pre-buy. Another area to look at, according to the SDR database, is cracking in the skins of the forward wing walk. One SDR submitter reported six high-time airframes with this damage.
Mods, Type Clubs
Various aerodynamic mods are available from LoPresti Aviation (www.speedmods.com, 772-562-4757) and Met-Co-Aire (www.metcoaire.com, 800-814-2697). LoPresti has flap gap seals, wheel pants and flap hinge fairings. Met-Co-Aire offers replacement wingtips, tailcones and dorsal fins. LoPresti also offers its BoomBeam landing-light enhancement.
Knots 2 U (www.knots2u.net, 262-763-5100) also sells a range of Cherokee mods, including gap seals, wingtips and wheelpants. The company also offers upgraded strobe lights, engine air filters and aftermarket control wheels, among other products.
Laminar Flow Systems (www.laminarflowsystems.com, 386-253-8833) offers a wide range of gap seals, wheel fairings and other aerodynamic clean-up kits for the Cherokee. For fiberglass parts to replace broken or cracked plastic exterior fairings, of which the Cherokee has many, try Globe Fiberglass (www.globefiberglass.com, 262-763-5100).
There are two type clubs serving the Piper Archer models. The Piper Owner Society (POS, www.piperowner.org) consolidated its efforts with the Cherokee Pilots Association (CPA) several years back. The Piper Owners Society serves all Piper products and is a good source of tech and operating information. Meanwhile, the Piper Flyer Association (PFA, www.piperflyer.org) offers services similar to POS’s. There’s also www.piperforum.com, with plenty of good discussion about these aircraft.
I bought my first airplane, a 1966 Cherokee 180, in May 2014 almost as an impulse purchase when I saw a really good deal on Barnstormers.com. That was one impulse buy that I haven’t regretted for one second. In the year and a half I have owned the Cherokee, I have visited 37 airports in seven states and two provinces. It has been a vehicle for exploration and travel that never would have been possible while I was renting.
With a four-cylinder Lycoming and fixed-pitch propeller riding on fixed landing gear and with manual flaps, the Cherokee’s systems are stone simple and so far I haven’t encountered any mechanical issues worth mentioning.
Insurance was easy and not overly expensive. I had about 160 hours (mostly in Cessnas) when I bought the airplane. The insurance company required a basic checkout from a flight instructor, then I was free to go on my own. My first year’s insurance was about $1200 (Canadian) for $45,000 hull value and $1 million liability. All of the quotes I received were in that range, but some required up to 10 hours of dual before they would insure me. It pays to shop on more than just price.
The Hershey-bar wing has certain advantages and disadvantages. It feels solid in the air—much less kite-like than the Cessnas I was flying before—and it rides turbulence very nicely. In rough air it feels like a much larger airplane than it is. On the downside, it can be a bit of a groundlover when heavily loaded at high density altitude days, so I am planning on adding vortex generators.
At high altitude it doesn’t climb as quickly as I would expect given the power and weight. Hershey-bar Cherokees are known for their prodigious descent rate and the 180 is no exception. I actually like this quality as it makes doing a tight circuit with an approach at nearly any speed you like very easy. It’s easy to slip off any excess airspeed on final (being able to slip with full flaps is a nice change coming from flying 172s). Float is non-existent with the Cherokee. Keep in mind that if a Hershey-bar airplane floats at all you are coming in way too fast. When I observe others landing Cherokees, there seems to be a tendency to fly the approach too fast (probably out of fear of the sink rate). Fly a nice approach speed and the Cherokee will reward you with a precise, short landing every time. My exit on the runway I usually land on is 1800 feet from the threshold, and light braking is all that’s required to make the turn. Arrivals can be firm if the flare isn’t timed right and holding a touch of power right to touchdown can do a lot to smooth things out. A touch of power (sometimes a blast of power if sink rate on final is high) can really help with stabilator authority, which is sorely lacking at low speeds on these early birds.
One of the Cherokee 180’s strongest suits is useful load. My airplane has a full fuel payload of 800 pounds. There aren’t many four-cylinder, four-place singles that can haul weight like a Cherokee 180. Unless you are hauling lead ingots you will cube out before you gross out. Front seat space is comfortable, and two grown men can sit side by side without touching shoulders.
The rear seat is comfortable also, but rear legroom is non-existent (something corrected in the longer wing airplanes). Though the airplane will readily haul the weight of four adults, at least two of them had better be short-legged because the cabin just isn’t long enough to accommodate two sets of long legs one in front of the other.
The baggage area is adequate, but not generous. Packing in small soft bags works much better than large suitcases. With the single cabin door on the wrong side, loading isn’t easy. Less able people can have real trouble getting in and out of the airplane. I’ve flown it nearly 200 hours now and still haven’t figured out how to get in and out gracefully. I think that in the event of a forced landing, the single door could seriously impede egress if the person in the right seat is injured or has mobility issues.
No one will ever call the Cherokee 180 a speedster, but I get where I need to go in good time. Firewalled at sea-level density altitude, my airplane will do 127 knots. Most four-cylinder Lycomings will run lean of peak without any trouble and the O-360 is no exception. I typically cruise at 2450 RPM and 117 knots, burning 9.3 GPH.
I typically flight plan at 110 knots, and on a 3000-NM trip I averaged a block-to-block speed of 112.5 knots. Pulled back to sightseeing/long-range speed (2100 RPM) I true around 100 knots burning 6.2 GPH. The large fuel tanks on this machine give very good endurance and range. I recently tested the endurance of my airplane and climbed to 10,000 feet and flew a triangle pattern (to negate the effects of wind) at 2100 RPM. I landed 6.1 hours later with one hour and 20 minutes fuel remaining in the tanks, having covered 630 NM. This was probably the most boring flight of my life, but it proves that these Cherokees have legs.
A winterization plate is a good idea if you fly in a cold climate, as my airplane’s oil doesn’t get hot enough to burn off the nasty bits if it’s much below freezing.
I’ve developed an interest in backcountry flying and the Cherokee 180 works OK for this, provided you keep it light and respect its (and your) limitations. The nosegear on the Cherokee is quite robust, attaching to the engine mount rather than the firewall.
It’s far from a bush machine, but it’s gotten me into and out of several abandoned strips and great fishing spots.
Overall the Cherokee 180 is an economical, comfortable, versatile machine that I think would satisfy the (realistic) needs of most pilots well. It will haul a pile of weight, is easy and forgiving to fly, has adequate cruise speed for all but the longest trips and has simple, reliable, and easy-to-maintain systems that won’t break the bank. They offer excellent value and performance for the money.
The nearest competition in terms of payload and speed is a 180-HP Cessna 172. Check out the price delta between the two types—it’s staggering. The Cherokee is an excellent first airplane, but it has sufficient performance that it could be your last airplane, too. I’m very happy with my machine and I would buy it again in a heartbeat.
Prince George, BC Canada
I am in a 1974 Piper Archer partnership and from my experience, the Archer strikes a wonderful balance of performance, payload and efficiency. The Archer is no Mooney or Bonanza, but frankly, unless you are regularly flying 500-mile trips, you won’t notice much difference. I just keep thinking that with a faster airplane, I would get to fly less!
The stabilator makes the plane easy to fly in the pitch axis, making it a good instrument trainer. Our plane has a useful load of about 940 pounds and is nicely equipped with modern avionics, including Garmin GNS430. I’m surprised at how efficient the airplane is to fly. I often return from local flights having burned 6 to 7 gallons of fuel per hour. If you would have told me that this was likely in anything but a Cessna 152, I would not have believed it. Of course, I lean aggressively (including on the ground), which also keeps the plugs clean and the magnetos smooth.
This plane is perfect for just poking holes in the sky in an inexpensive way.