Piper PA-24-250 Comanche: The Jalopnik Airplane Evaluation
The PA-24-250 Comanche was Piper’s shot on the excessive efficiency, retractable (touchdown gear), piston single (single piston engine) market. It was additionally the one mild civil plane to come back with 4, six, and eight-cylinder choices from the manufacturing facility. It’s an necessary airplane, in its personal manner, and as we speak we’re going to evaluate it
(Editor’s Be aware: We acquired an electronic mail from a pilot who needed to write down evaluations of small plane. Since none of us are pilots, and this appeared like a enjoyable factor to do, we figured why the hell not? We fact-checked as greatest we might, at any price. So that is the primary of what could grow to be a collection of sky-car evaluations.)
The Comanche’s Backstory
Within the late 1950s by the 1960s, whereas the Large Three automakers have been busy competing with higher-performance vehicles to promote to public, the Large Three of normal aviation have been dreaming up sooner and extra highly effective planes to dominate the skies.
Beechcraft, Cessna, and Piper had every been having fun with successes for the reason that finish of World Struggle II, however the demand for sooner private plane and availability of low cost leaded gas within the ensuing many years drove every of them to develop four-seat airplanes with bigger engines and retractable touchdown gear.
Beechcraft was the primary out of the gate, initially promoting the 180 horsepower Bonanza in 1947. It had a horny low-wing design and ruddervators. By 1956, Beech’s fork-tailed sensation had 225 HP and a claimed cruise pace of over 180 mph. Like a sports activities automobile for the skies, it was recognized for its nimble and satisfying dealing with, construct high quality, and propensity to kill pilots that overstepped their (or the airplane’s) limits.
On the time, Piper’s most profitable plane was the Cub, a wooden and material taildragger with 65 HP and a blazing most cruise of 85 mph. To compete, Piper would want to interrupt out the drawing paper and begin over. What design parts did they use? Laminar stream wing (similar to the P-51 Mustang!) and retractable touchdown gear. It additionally had a spacious and aerodynamic four-seat cabin… and a weak 180 HP four-cylinder engine. Oops.
Whereas it was sooner than mounted gear airplanes, Piper realized it had introduced sticks to a gunfight with the Comanche 180, and it simply couldn’t compete with the Bonanza.
In 1958 it launched the Comanche 250. Powered by a 540 cubic-inch Lycoming flat-six, the 250 HP model of the Comanche lastly gave efficiency that might rival the Beech, and at a lower cost. The higher climb price, cruise pace, and helpful load of the 250 made it far more in style than the 180 and pushed Piper to go even additional.
Utilizing the deeply scientific components of extra engine = extra higher, Piper adopted the muscle automobile pattern and threw eight cylinders beneath the hood. On this case, a 720 cubic-inch gas injected flat-eight with 400 HP at 2,650 RPM. With a 1,600 FPM price of climb and cruise pace over 210 mph, the huge engine gave good efficiency, however was additionally the airplane’s greatest flaw.
Gas burns of 20-23 gallons per hour scared off many aspiring homeowners, and like an affordable AMG Mercedes, engine work might simply price greater than the worth of the aircraft itself after just a few years. Piper dropped the 400 after 2 years and, similar to Hal and Lois Wilkerson, targeted on bettering the higher balanced center little one of the household.
Including gas injection bumped energy to 260, and including a window plus eradicating a cabin wall allowed fifth and sixth child-size seats on the 260B and 260C variants. Gross sales by no means did catch the Bonanza, and the Comanche was proving costly to construct. In 1972, the Lock Haven manufacturing facility the place the Comanche was constructed flooded, and Piper determined to deal with the slower and cheaper to construct Cherokee line.
The Comanche In the present day
Strolling as much as the Comanche 250 as we speak, one of many first stuff you discover is that it sits low to the bottom with a nose-up perspective. The low, easy wing and all shifting stabilator give the impression of low drag, however the open entrance cowling and non-filleted wing to fuselage transition give the plane away as an older design. Entry into the cabin is by way of one door on the passenger aspect, requiring a fast step up on the wing after which climbing over the seat to get into the left or the again.
As soon as within the pilot seat, you discover that nose-up perspective and lengthy cowl restricts your ahead discipline of view considerably whereas on the bottom. It’s no worse than in some comparable singles, however requires you to scoot your seat uphill to succeed in the controls.
Talking of controls, I discovered the pedals nearer than I’d like after I acquired the yoke the place I needed, however the seat and cabin width let me splay my legs the place it wasn’t too uncomfortable. Aside from the warmth.
It was a balmy 92 levels the day of my flight, and whereas the Comanche has smaller home windows than many different plane, the only door opening and credit score card-sized vent window on my aspect did little to decrease the EZ Bake Oven expertise. Naturally both sides has a phenomenal chrome ashtray.
A number of pumps of the primer, throttle in barely, key to start out, and the carbureted flat six involves life with a calmly muffled, massive bore growl. The fan up entrance cools the cabin some, so long as you settle for the noise of the open door. Throughout taxi, the pedals really feel initially stiff, however the nostril steering is responsive, and all however the tightest turns might be achieved with out utilizing brakes.
On the takeoff roll, pushing within the throttle to max energy gives an honest shove, however removed from heart-stopping acceleration. Minimal proper rudder is required to maintain centerline, and the aircraft requires a lightweight pull to rotate at 85 mph. Ebook numbers put takeoff distance at 750 toes on a normal day, however the takeoff roll was nearer to 1,300 toes on our sizzling and humid afternoon.
Preliminary climb was proper round 1,000 toes per minute with the gear up. Not a rocket by any means, however not unhealthy for the situations. Greatest price climb pace is 105 mph and gives an honest plane perspective and consider ahead. As anticipated, climb diminished with altitude, giving 870 FPM at 3,000 toes, and 790 FPM at 4,000.
Nonetheless, 790 FPM is healthier than quite a lot of planes can do at sea stage on a chilly day. Since one of many fundamental promoting factors of the Comanche was cruise pace, I made a decision to see what she might do at 6,000 toes. Utilizing 24 squared (24 inches of manifold stress and 2m400 rpm on the propeller) I acquired a two-way GPS common of 150 knots, or 173 mph.
Not unhealthy, particularly contemplating the recent day and the situation of my take a look at chicken, rented and saved exterior for the previous 15 years or extra. Many house owners have reported cruise of 155 knots true, and round 13 gallons per hour of gas burn, which appears plausible.
At cruise, the aircraft feels easy with an excellent stability of stability and responsiveness. Gentle turbulence settles shortly and causes no noticeable lateral motions, plus the flat perspective provides an excellent ahead discipline of view, and even an honest view of the bottom in entrance of the wing.
Roll and pitch controls have good concord, with a average power, and virtually no rudder wanted to coordinate turns. Roll response is reasonably fast – nothing like an Further 300, however nonetheless enjoyable and about as quick as you’d need in a non-aerobatic plane, lest you get excited and your passengers involuntarily redecorate the inside.
Suppose sports activities sedan, not monitor toy. The web impact is a way of pace (helped by an airspeed indicator in MPH vice knots) that you just by no means actually get in one thing like a Cessna 182. You even get sufficient airflow by the round cabin vents to lastly cool off.
Leaving the ability up in a shallow dive will get you 200 mph shortly, and even pulling the ability to idle, you don’t need to plan on happening and slowing down concurrently. Bringing the pace all the best way again to a clear stall, you’ll get the stall horn first, then some positively noticeable buffet, then the nostril drop round 80 mph. Loads of warning and nothing scary on the drop.
As soon as again within the touchdown sample, the airspeed and equipment and flap modifications flip one thing that was a minor annoyance into an actual difficulty: The pitch trim is a horizontal window crank above your head, like an previous Volvo sunroof.
Whoever’s determination it was to make up-down modifications a left-right crank will need to have both thought it was an incredible prank, or had virtually no expertise with airplanes. Or people. This turns flying the sample into an train in rubbing your head and patting your abdomen concurrently, and takes manner an excessive amount of psychological power, to the purpose the place I simply flew parts of the sample out of trim.
Later variations had a extra conventional up-down wheel positioned proper beneath the throttle, however how the roof crank ever made it out of the manufacturing facility is a thriller to me. Possibly focusing too closely on which shade of chrome for the ash trays.
Whilst you’re busy preventing one snake within the cockpit, you discover the good airflow from earlier has almost died off, and the smallish home windows imply you lose sight of the runway turning downwind. The excellent news is the well-balanced controls are nonetheless there and the flaps and equipment give sufficient drag to right from reasonably excessive or quick. Additionally, the touchdown gear is constructed powerful.
Why is that final one significantly necessary as we speak? Do not forget that nose-high perspective from the bottom? Yeah, it didn’t go away whereas flying. Years of not flaring to land within the navy could have eroded my capacity to be significantly delicate whereas touchdown mild airplanes, however I’ve acquired sufficient latest expertise in them to often keep away from any main bouncing or destructive feedback from the opposite seats.
Not as we speak. What I assumed was a standard flare perspective resulted in bouncing the nosewheel, then the mains on the primary attempt. Add energy, go round, attempt once more. Decrease to the bottom this time, flare just a little too nostril excessive, barely overcorrect, hit the nostril and mains concurrently with a little bit of a bounce.
“It’s possible you’ll be barely out of trim.” Thanks. The final two landings I managed to grease the principle wheels down, however nonetheless acquired a little bit of a bounce on the nostril. No matter. I’m certain there’s a option to get it proper, however there’s a motive many homeowners pump up the principle struts or set up a smaller nosewheel to get a flatter perspective on the bottom.
Costs for Comanches fluctuate from about $35,000 for one with the next time engine and older avionics to $110,000+ for up to date C fashions. Moving into an airplane that hasn’t been inbuilt almost half a century appears just a little daunting, however the airframes are very corrosion resistant, and elements availability isn’t too dire.
It’s additionally one of the crucial generally modified airframes, with a number of “pace mods” and auxiliary gas tanks obtainable to push vary as much as almost 900 nautical miles. The march of expertise is sluggish normally aviation (a brand new $750,000 Bonanza has 300 HP and cruises round 170 knots), so that you’re not giving up all that a lot efficiency by getting one thing previous, only a little bit of refinement.
My private opinion? 90 p.c of a flight goes to be gear retracted, shifting shortly, and the Comanche 250 is an effective stability of efficiency, area, and enjoyable to fly for a reasonably low value.
Simply make certain it has a rattling trim wheel. Possibly pump up the struts too.