Piper is a company built on the two-seat Cub, the light-sport airplane of its day, and now, with introduction of the PiperSport, it is returning to its roots. The PiperSport, a two-seater in the Light-Sport Airplane (LSA) category, gives the company a new entry level in terms of cost, particularly for flight training.
The PiperSport is a version of the Czech Sport Aircraft SportCruiser, an LSA that has been in production for several years and that is being built under license for Piper. The licensing deal allows Piper to begin deliveries of the PiperSport in the second quarter of this year instead of after the several years required to design, test and manufacture an airplane of Piper's original design.
The PiperSport is a low-wing metal airplane with a 100 hp Rotax 912 engine. It is a stylish airplane with a full canopy and swept vertical fin and wingtips. Though Piper played no part in the original design, it looks as though it could be a modern LSA version of the venerable Piper Cherokee that was designed nearly 50 years ago.
Comparing the PiperSport to Cessna's 162 SkyCatcher is unavoidable. Both are in the LSA category, and both airplanes are concrete evidence of each company's renewed emphasis on flight training. Cessna designed the 162 from scratch with the training mission as its primary focus. The program was announced nearly three years ago, and SkyCatchers are now beginning to enter service.
Piper was in a different situation three years ago with some significant questions about future direction. However, when investors from the nation of Brunei bought Piper last year, they put the company on solid financial footing, and the new owners revived an interest in flight training. Piper wants back into flight training and the light-airplane market in a big way, so the licensing route was the way to go.
Another point of comparison between the PiperSport and the SkyCatcher — other than run-together names — is both are being built outside of the United States. Cessna builds the 162 in China for cost efficiencies that allow the base model to be sold at about $110,000. The PiperSport will be built by Czech Sport Aircraft (CSA) in the Czech Republic so that it can carry a base price of $119,900. To achieve these prices, both companies had to move beyond their traditional production methods.
The PiperSport wing has a constant chord planform, very much like the original Cherokee. Unlike the Cherokee's "Hershey Bar" wing, the Sport has dramatically swept and flared wingtips. It's amazing how the shape of the tips directs your attention away from the blocky wide-chord wing. The original Cherokee wing looks, well, kind of clunky and unsophisticated. It's not, by the way. The Cherokee wing is very efficient in both lift production and lightweight structure, even though it looks like a flattened out box.
The PiperSport wing also has excellent lift characteristics, low stalling speed and light weight, but the wingtips, with their rakish flip at the trailing edge, mask the fact that a very conservative and fundamentally sound wing design works well between the fuselage and tip. The wingspan is almost two feet shorter than for the SkyCatcher, yet the PiperSport has 10 square feet more wing area. The extra wing area, and thus lighter wing loading, helps get the PiperSport's full flaps' listed stalling speed down to an almost unbelievable 26 knots.
Another design contrast between the Piper and Cessna is the old low-wing versus high-wing tradeoff. To enter the SkyCatcher you stand under the wing and slide in through doors with top-mounted hinges. To mount the PiperSport you climb up on the wing, and then step over the sill and down into the cockpit. The PiperSport cockpit is big, with 46.5 inches of width — a couple more inches than the Cessna, which is itself bigger than the traditional two-seat trainers. But entry into the PiperSport is a little more of a gymnastic affair as you step down, beyond the seat and around the control stick. Big, sturdy handholds are located on the instrument panel glareshield and between the two seat backs to give you the necessary leverage for the entry and exit.
The PiperSport canopy is hinged at the forward edge and swings open wide. The forward hinge means there will be no hazard if the canopy becomes unlatched in flight, because it will rise only a couple of inches and be held in trail by the slipstream. The overhead canopy is great for visibility, particularly in steep turns, but the sun shining through can really bake you even on a moderately warm day. To fight back against the sun, there are shades that you can pull forward to cover much of the overhead.