(June 2011) There are good reasons that the Piper Archer is an airplane commonly found in flight school fleets.
Its stable flight characteristics and simple design make it an excellent trainer. And with enough speed to get you where you want to go, but not too much to get you in trouble, as well as the navigation capabilities and creature comforts that pilots expect today, the Piper Archer’s design has also become a popular choice for pilots looking for an entry-level airplane. Piper has just rolled out a program that makes it easier for its customers to combine flight training and airplane ownership.
Piper’s Ready, Set, Fly program, designed for the Archer LX, just launched this spring in response to an AOPA study that found that lack of convenience, quality of instruction and scheduling hassles were big reasons why people don’t fully commit to learning to fly.
“Piper’s program addresses the convenience issue head on, because the standardized training course will be offered in a highly concentrated, three-week program, with a dedicated, professional instructor,” says Randy Groom, executive vice president at Piper. “And [students] will get to do it in their very own aircraft.”
The Ready, Set, Fly program may also be an attempt by Piper to refocus its attention on its entry-level airplane. Since customers tend to be brand loyal, they need to be captured in the infant stage of their flight training. The number of delivered Piper Archers has steadily decreased, to the point that more airplanes left the factory in 2000 than the total number for the time period between 2005 and 2010. During the past decade, Piper may have put too much effort into its Altair jet and turboprop products, forgetting where those customers generally come from — a single-engine trainer.
Piper is in the process of selecting a training provider for the Ready, Set, Fly program, most likely right at Florida’s Vero Beach Municipal Airport, where Piper has been located since 1955 and where the abundant Piper PA-28 Cherokee family of airplanes first saw the light of day in 1960. Initially, the Vero Beach facility was strictly used for the Cherokee, which became one of Piper’s most successful designs. Piper’s Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, factory remained in operation until the mid-1980s. One reason for the closure was the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes, which caused the Susquehanna River to flood in 1972, destroying some vital production equipment. A few Piper models were produced in Lakeland, Florida during the 70s and early 80s, but by the late 1980s the entire production line had moved to Vero Beach.
The basic design of Piper’s Cherokee series — all-metal, single-engine airplanes with low wings and piston power — was the brainchild of, among others, aeronautical engineer John Thorp, who designed about 30 types of airplanes during his nearly five-decade-long career.
The Cherokee series ranges from the very basic, two-seat Cherokee 140 to the six-seat Cherokee Six. Piper has tested many sizes and configurations of the Cherokee airframe: retractable and fixed tricycle gear, constant speed propeller, Hershey-bar and tapered wings, conventional and T-tails, and even floats. The only things that the factory never explored, it seems, are tailwheeled and pressurized options.
Slotted right in the middle of the Cherokee family, the Piper Archer is a descendant of the PA-28-180, which debuted in 1963. Ten years later, the airframe was modified with a longer wing, bigger stabilator, longer fuselage, higher gross weight, bigger door, more-crashworthy seats and a new name — the Challenger. But Piper’s marketing department quickly realized the mistake in not staying with the traditional Native American names, and the year after, the Challenger re-emerged as the Archer.