When Fred Weick and John Thorp set out to design a less expensive alternative to Pipers Comanche, its unlikely they thought the resulting PA-28 series would become so popular, so durable or so varied. Since introducing the Cherokee 150 and Cherokee 160 (PA-28-150 and PA-28-160, respectively), in 1961, Piper has stretched, T-tailed, turbocharged and reproduced that basic airframe tens of thousands of times.
Its original “Hershey-bar” wings eventually gave way to a longer, semi-tapered
design, the landing gear has been folded and many different powerplants have been fitted. While much has changed, the designs basic utility, systems, handling and reliability have remained. Three models remain in production-four, if you count the twin-engine PA-44-180 Seminole-almost 50 years later.
While PA-28 Cherokees came in many flavors, the most powerful of them-the Dakota-isnt the fastest but is perhaps the most flexible. It and earlier 235-HP Cherokees take advantage of the markets affinity toward muscular four-place singles, a natural attraction proven popular enough to support two significant entries for many years: the Cessna 182 Skylane and Piper PA-28-235/236.
The 182 came first and outlasted the 235/236: By any measure, its been a success. Like the Piper, it features a good combination of utility, roominess and performance. Pipers version, however, never matched the 182s popularity, even though it combines the Skylanes chief attributes: decent performance, simplicity, and common, proven components. If your needs include a big dose of horsepower pulling a simple airframe, the most powerful PA-28 Cherokee is a very solid candidate.
Even before the 1960s began, Piper proved to be a master of taking a single design and turning it into a variety of airplanes. The companys PA-24 series-precursor to the Cherokee line and first available with 180 HP-eventually was offered with 250, 260 and a whopping 400 HP, plus a popular twin-engine version. Carrying that theme forward, the companys PA-28 Cherokee started life as a basic four-place, fixed-gear single with 160 HP, positioned opposite the Cessna Skyhawk. Before all was said and done, the PA-28 had mutated into everything from the two-seat Cherokee 140 to the T-tailed Turbo Arrow IV plus a twin-engine version, the PA-44 Seminole.
Then and now, the Cherokee 235 represented the top end of the PA-28 line, with a derated Lycoming O-540 engine mated to the basic Cherokee airframe. It was brought to market as a 1964 model, only three years after the original Cherokee hit the scene. Aside from the engine, the only significant difference between the Cherokee 235 and its less-powerful siblings was an extra two feet of wingspan. The extended wingtips housed fuel tanks, needed by the thirstier engine, boosting total
fuel capacity to 84 gallons.
The original 1964-65 model came equipped with a fixed-pitch two-bladed propeller mated to a 235-HP Lycoming O-540-B2B5 engine having a TBO of only 1200 hours. Plane spotters can identify this, along with the follow-on B model, by only two side windows. The B model also had an optional constant-speed propeller. It was produced from 1966-68. The 1968 model boasted an increased TBO of 2000 hours: The improvement was retrofittable, and by now there should be none of the 1200-hour engines left in service.
The 1969 C model boasted a third side window, new instrument panel and power controls. Few other significant changes were made for this, the D, E or F models. This first PA-28-235 series finished up in 1972, with the F.
The 235s second generation began with the 1973-74 Charger and ended with the Pathfinder model, produced from 1975-1978. Both were still PA-28s, but with enough differences to be significant. Examples include a five-inch fuselage stretch coupled with a 100-pound boost in takeoff weight and a corresponding 59-pound increase in empty weight. There were other, minor alterations, like standard shoulder harnesses for the front seats and a stall horn to replace the stall light. And the constant-speed prop at last was made standard.
The final variant, the PA-28-236 Dakota, was introduced in 1979. It boasted the new semi-tapered wing planform first available on the Warrior in 1975 and by then common across all PA-28 models. The Dakota was larger in a couple of critical dimensions, with another fuselage stretch of 7.5 inches and a span increase of 3.4 feet.
Also new was a different engine variant, the Lycoming O-540-J3A5D, still of 235 HP. It offered better fuel efficiency, less noise and vibration. It also was designed to use 100/130 avgas instead of 80 octane. The Dakota sported a new cowling plus Pipers new-style wheel pants and, along with the new wing came new ailerons and a new fuel system, reducing capacity from 84 to 77 gallons (73 usable). Despite the drop in fuel capacity, range didnt suffer as much as one might expect. This can be attributed to better engine efficiency and improved aerodynamics, thanks to the long, semi-tapered wing.
By the time the Dakota came out, general aviation sales were beginning to drop dramatically. Few changes were made to the model, and production slowed to a trickle. The last Cherokee model came off the assembly line in 1994.
We did leave out one “Dakota” from the history detailed above. This is not a mistake, its intentional, because its really a different airplane: the PA-28-201T Turbo Dakota, with a turbocharged 200-HP Continental TSIO-360-FB powerplant. Aside from the questionable move of putting a significantly less powerful engine into an airplane people buy for horsepower, the execution left a great deal to be desired in the areas of induction, cooling and exhaust air flow.
The result-essentially a fixed-gear, Turbo Arrow III-was a bundle of mechanical trouble. The -201T has proven to be less reliable than the more powerful, normally aspirated Dakotas, with trouble and accident rates four times higher than one would expect, based on the proportion of them in the population. (Its impossible to be precise, since the FAA lumps together all PA-28s in the activity surveys.) An
unusually large percentage of accidents, incidents and SDRs have been directly related to the powerplant and accessories.
The “non-Dakota” Dakota was made for one year, 1979, and only 91 were built. Some of these were sold as 1980 models. In a previous look at Dakotas, we had this to say about the Turbo: “Suffice it to say everybody makes mistakes, and this was one of Pipers big ones. Oddly enough, some owners love them.” One such owner sent in his comments, below, indicating few problems with his aircraft
If you just cant resist a Turbo Dakota, be certain you get a solid-gold pre-purchase inspection, including documentation of meticulous maintenance before you consider purchasing it. For us, lack of an aftermarket wastegate and engine monitor with regular data retention would be a deal-breaker.
The market long ago decreed the big Cherokee of choice is the PA-28-236 Dakota. Enhanced performance from the new wing makes a real difference, and its reflected in the prices they bring. According to a recent Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest, the earliest Dakota retails for $91,000, versus $68,000 for the last Pathfinder. As a side note, the Turbo Dakota goes for $86,000, only $5000 less than the same year “real” Dakota. This may reflect its rarity as the only turbocharged, fixed-gear Cherokee; perhaps it also reflects many mods available to improve the Turbo Arrow these days also can be fitted to the Turbo Dakota.
Meanwhile, Cessnas 182-which formerly enjoyed much higher prices in the marketplace-has taken a hit. A 1979 model currently fetches $81,000, or 10 grand less than the Dakota. This is a reversal from the last time we looked at the two models; the Cessna product usually commanded a premium. It still does for some model years-the 1970 Skylane is $2000 more valuable than the same-year Cherokee 235, for example, according to the Bluebook-but the 182s historical higher price disappears when compared to the 236.
This reversal is probably the result of two phenomena. First, Skylanes are still being made, deflating prices for older ones. The same cant be said for Dakotas; when theyre gone, theyre gone. Second-and without rekindling a low-wing versus high debate-the Dakotas strutless, cleaner design usually appears more modern.
If we were in the market for a big Piper, wed opt for the nicest Dakota we could find. If money is more of an issue, theres an interesting trade-off that can be made. As noted below, the pre-Charger and Pathfinder PA-28-235s actually perform better than the Charger/Pathfinder do, though not as well as the Dakota. The trade-off comes in the extra useful load and interior space available with the Charger and Pathfinder. As noted above, its wise to avoid the Turbo Dakota unless youre very, very sure its right for you.
Most PA-28s handle about the same, and the 235/236 is no exception. Theres more difference between early Hershey-bar models and later, taper-wing versions than there is between the different models with the same wing. The Hershey-bar-equipped versions are quite stable in all but the most turbulent air (at which point they become very high workload if you want to fight rather than accommodate conditions). Many pilots term them truck-like. The taper-wing Dakota is more responsive and demands less effort.
A well-known “feature” of PA-28 handling is also present in the 235/236, and results from the nose gear not being a self-centering design. Instead, its connected full-time to the rudder pedals and, when the rudder is deflected in flight, the nose gear is, too. The effect is compounded with larger fairings and wheel pants. Having trouble maintaining desired heading when cruising in a PA-28? See if you are inadvertently putting some pressure on one of the rudder pedals, or kick the pedals left and right to see if the nosewheel is centered.
Theres an obvious hazard if the pilot has deflected the rudder when the nosewheel touches down. Its not really a problem, but is something new Cherokee pilots should know about. Still, for all the years these characteristics have been known, the long-term damage caused by improper stress, loss of control and gear collapse accidents occur with high frequency.
A particular handling quirk found in this biggest of Cherokees wont be found in a less-powerful version like the Warrior, however: That big engine weighs a lot, and it affects the way the airplane handles in the landing flare. The 235/236 otherwise is an easy-flying airplane (and many owners praise its stability in IFR operations), but the greater weight of the engine/propeller combination out front-while contributing to a generous CG envelope-increases the designs tendency to under-flare in landing and even during takeoff.
Lightly loaded, the 235/236 can be difficult to flare properly during landing, especially if speed control is not good, airspeed is high and full flaps are used. The same trick that works so well in PA-32s and PA-34s-using only the first or, at most, second notch of flaps-helps the pilot to hold the nose gear off. Notably, Skylanes and other big-bore, tricycle-gear Cessnas can suffer from the same lack of pitch authority in the flare.
Unlike some airplanes, early Cherokee 235s performed better than later models. This is due, in part, to the fact that many designs start out underpowered; not so the 235, which had plenty of ponies from the outset. Cruise speed, rate of climb,
range, service ceiling and landing poor altitude performance of the Charger/Pathfinder, which can be attributed to the same engine hauling around more airplane. Even the official figures reflect this: Late-model 235s with constant-speed props have a service ceiling of 14,500 feet. The Chargers official top is a dismal 12,000 feet, and even getting to 10,000 in the summer is a trial.
The new, longer wing on the Dakota brought much better performance to the design. The service ceiling went up to a very respectable 17,500 feet, assuring adequate density-altitude performance and ability to cruise with relative efficiency at the teens. Only takeoff ground run performance declines when compared to the Charger (886 to 800 feet), although performance to cross a 50-foot barrier improves (1216 versus 1260 feet).
Climb performance in the Dakota is also markedly improved, again because of the longer wing. These are the characteristics attracting people to big-engined singles-an airplane with a smaller engine simply cant hold its own in a hot-high-heavy situation the way a Dakota can. In its own way, the Dakota shows what aircraft development within a model line should be but rarely is: improved utility and performance.
The Dakotas wing also pays off in improved roll response, due to the taper and new aileron design.
There are a few things to be aware of about the PA-28-235/236s systems, some of which are potential problems for the uninitiated.
The brakes come in for routine castigation. Especially in the later models, pilots complain there is too little braking power available and pedal feel is too spongy. This may be a perception rather than a fact. Braking force directly relates to the airplanes performance and wheel/tire size, along with the discs and pads. Too much brake power puts the expense elsewhere, in replacing flat-spotted tires.
The fuel system in earlier airplanes deserves mention as well. The original four-tank fuel supply requires constant attention to fuel management. Accidents continue to occur from failing to switch tanks or because a tank with no or low fuel is selected. This occurs despite the location of the fuel gauges and selector on the 235s in the center of the cockpit, below the engine controls. The Dakotas system is simpler but the selector is in the usual out-of-sight, out-of-mind PA-28 position on the left side wall.
Another potential problem area is the pitot/static system design. With the pitot tube (or blade in this case) mounted on the bottom of the port wing, the system is very susceptible to water contamination and bug blockage. Its nearly impossible to inspect properly, and frequently the only indication is the lack of or clearly erratic indication of airspeed during the takeoff run.
Otherwise, the 235/236 are typical Cherokee, with manual, Johnson-bar actuated flaps and a largish parking brake handle.
In later models, with more seat adjustments in both the front and rear, and better attention to seat shape, the 235 is better than the average lightplane over long stage lengths. A number of owners have commented on seat design as a plus. We agree, and not only for comfort reasons. Piper is one of the only manufacturers to pay attention to crashworthiness of their seats: The “S” shaped seat frame deforms on impact, absorbing energy.
Especially after the fuselage stretch introduced in 1972, the 235 series provides
reasonable comfort for four people. Many owners report the front-seat passenger actually has an easier time keeping out of the pilots way than in a Bonanza. The Dakota is roomier still.
Otherwise, the 235/236 is typical Piper, including a single cabin door and a baggage compartment accessible from the rear seats. Panel layout also is carried forward from other and earlier PA-28s, which is to say its good with the exception of the engine instruments. Early 235s had these two gauges on the upper right side of the panel. While there is a certain logic to putting the tachometer and manifold pressure gauge near the throttle, as with later models, we prefer to see the critical powerplant information up high, and near the pilots line of sight. To us, the late-model Bonanza is about as good as it gets in a single.
The center avionics stack is rather short when compared to other manufacturers, so Piper generally relocated the autopilot to above the pilots left knee and left room for a “short stack” to the right. Some earlier panels may have sacrificed the glovebox, too, and recent attempts to install the latest and greatest avionics have run into issues regarding available depth behind the panel, especially at the top of the center stack.
The 236s and later 235s have a row of rocker switches above the power quadrant. Circuit breakers are mounted low and on the right half of the panel. Earlier models used fuses and toggle switches, which often got spread across both halves of the panel. With many 235s at or beyond 45 years in service, some panels may appear very dated; others may have been totally revamped.
The 235/236 has a huge advantage going for it when it comes to maintenance: reliability. That said, the engine is relatively inaccessible, requiring removal of at least the cowlings top half for anything other than routine preflight oil checking.
The O-540 is significantly derated compared to some variants of the same engine, like the 350-HP versions in the Navajo. That means stresses are low, and service reports verify that the 235-HP version is nearly bulletproof. With the core engine still in production and tens of thousands in the field, support has not been a problem. With parts and service widely available, proper maintenance does not require a guru.
Because its a PA-28, parts and service for the airframe are quite easy to come by. As these things go, its an easy airplane to live with.
These observations, of course, do not apply to the Turbo Dakota. The powerplant and accessory problems it suffers are legion by comparison. Still, many of the same aftermarket mods that tamed the Turbo Arrow models-intercoolers, for instance, and improved wastegates-can be fitted to the Turbo Dakota. As noted above, wed consider these aftermarket items mandatory.
Mods, Type Club
Any airplane in service for almost 50 years will develop a vibrant aftermarket for replacement parts and modifications. Not only does the PA-28 series fit this mold, it may lead the pack since so much of its design remains constant from model to model and year to year. Thus, a basic part or modification initially developed for, say, the PA-28-140 could easily be used on a -235, subject only to obtaining the necessary approvals.
Among the modifications available are aileron and flap gap seals, more efficient wingtips, stabilator tips and fairings, wheelpants, vortex generators, retrofit shoulder harnesses, HID lighting, and much more. Many replacement parts-especially for plastic interior and exterior items-are available from aftermarket third parties and are vastly superior to the originals (which may or may not remain available from the factory).
Having recently absorbed the Cherokee Pilots Association, the Piper Owner Society (www.piperowner.org, 866-697-4737) is the type club serving 235/236 owners. Services include a monthly four-color magazine, online forums, insurance discounts and more, including technical support.
I was tired of hearing “please expedite your climb” from ATC when flying IFR in the Northeast in my Warrior and decided that a Dakota would solve that problem. As a result, Ive owned a 1979 PA-28-236 for nine years now, and the climb performance has always been great. Lightly loaded in cool weather, its easy to pin the VSI at 2000 FPM in a 100-knot climb. Even under the worst conditions, it will easily climb 500 FPM at any altitude.
Stepping up to the Dakota will be a non-issue for anyone who has flown a Cherokee. Except for the constant-speed prop and the better performance, it was essentially the same airplane as my Warrior. In fact, by setting the power at 55 percent you have Warrior performance; at 65 percent it becomes an Archer; and at 75 percent (or even 85 at low altitudes) it comes into its own. Of course, fuel consumption is much higher than its lower-powered siblings. Annuals have cost about the same as the Warrior-typically about $1500, owner-assisted. Insurance cost went up only a bit, to about $1200 per year.
The airplane has had relatively few maintenance issues, with a couple of exceptions. I have learned to treat the #1 exhaust riser as a consumable. I get about 200 hours out of each pipe. Often they can be repaired, and I keep a usable replacement in the baggage compartment. The pipe usually cracks at the weld at the cylinder flange, but at least one has cracked across the flange. I make a simple check by “pinging” the exhaust components with my finger during preflight, and this usually reveals the cracked piece.
Alternators only lasted a couple of years, with either the alternator mounting tab breaking (completely off, in one case), or cracking the attach bar. I replaced the stock Chrysler alternator with a Plane Power AL12-C60 and it has been fine now for about 100 hours. The Plane Power is lighter, too. Same thing with the starter. When it hung up, I replaced it with a Sky-Tec, saving a few more pounds up front.
My Dakota leaks oil-only a few drops between flights, but this has persisted despite many attempts to locate the leak and even through a complete overhaul. Oil consumption is pretty high on my engine, about a quart every 4-5 hours. It did not change after the engine was overhauled.
Handling is typical Cherokee, but since the Dakota has a much greater useful load, you do need to adjust landing speeds a bit depending on weight. Previous reviews have suggested the Dakota is nose-heavy, but I found it actually seems to have more elevator authority in the flare than my Warrior.
The Dakota is legendary for its ability to carry four people and full fuel. It is difficult to overload it.
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Im a new private pilot and bought my Dakota 4 months after earning my certificate last year. I currently only have 35 hours in this plane. I bought it to transport my family of four between our permanent home in Iowa to our lake place in Arkansas (400 nm). The trip now takes around 2.5 to 3.0 hours vs. the nine it used to take driving.
I am happy with the plane so far and have not had to do anything to it except oil changes, so I cant offer much cost information other than it averages about 13 GPH for me. Im sure Im conservative leaning vs. more experienced pilots. Insurance is only about $1400 per year (fixed-gear Cherokee Sixes I was looking at were going to cost me around $4500 annually for insurance).
Two days after I successfully passed the private checkride in June 2005, my partner and I took ownership of a 1979 PA-28-201T. One of 91 built, the Turbo Dakota, as its more commonly known, is the “Red-Headed Stepchild” of the Dakota family-mostly because of its rather troublesome engine, the Continental TSIO-360FB with the fixed wastegate. We were looking for an airplane without the complexity of a retractable to initiate and complete my instrument training and capable of hauling four people and luggage. To say the least, its been an interesting ride!
Previous owners had upgraded the panel with a Garmin 430, Garmin 340 audio panel, Garmin GTX327 transponder, KCS 55A slaved HSI system, plus an Insight Strikefinder and engine monitor. Under the cowl, a Merlyn automatic wastegate controller was also installed, along with an Aero Safe standby vacuum system.
The airplane has more than 1200 pounds of useful load and, with the long tapered wing, its a very stable platform. I usually plan for 140 knots at 12 GPH, but usually do a little better; get it higher into thinner air and it obviously does much better.
The engine had about 600 hours before TBO when purchased. Approximately 300 hours later, a crankcase bolt sheared while on short final, spewing engine oil onto the belly and windshield. We decided to replace the engine with an overhauled unit, at which time the prop was sent out for an overhaul, also along with a new spinner to replace the original cracked unit. A little over two months and $40K later, we were back in the air. The new engine made a huge difference. Oil consumption is almost nil, the airplane climbs better and goes faster (8-10 KTAS across the board).
I would not even consider owning a Turbo Dakota (or any other aircraft with the Continental TSIO-360) without the Merlyn controller installed. The factory fixed system is a joke, the turbo spins at full speed all the time, even at lower altitudes when you do not need it, resulting in excess turbo, cylinder head and oil temperatures. With the Merlyn installed, most of the exhaust gas is bypassed away from the turbo when not needed (lower altitudes), resulting in lower temps across the board. A slight increase in speed at the same power setting also results.
After more than 200 hours since the new engine was installed, and except for an alternator drive bushing failure in IMC, at night (which ended well, by the way) its been a trouble-free ride.
Would I buy another Turbo Dakota? You bet! Its easy to fly, easy to maintain, relatively inexpensive to insure ($1300 annually for two instrument-rated pilots), and the turbocharged engine is nice for reaching the smooth, cool air at higher altitudes where speed and fuel efficiency increase. Between Piper and the aftermarket, finding parts has not been a problem.
There are faster airplanes burning less fuel, and singles that will carry more, but not many at a fuel burn of 12 GPH. I think the Dakota and Turbo Dakota represent a good compromise between speed and utility.