Mission Critical: How I chose the Cherokee 235

9:04 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Those who read this blog regularly know I fly a 1964 Cherokee 235 affectionately named Katy. She's been a good friend and a faithful airplane, with affordable performance and a payload that is unheard of in today's new airplane market, even if you paid ten TIMES what I paid for her.

But the story of how I settled on the PA-28-235 is worth noting, in case you are doing some year-end airplane shopping, or think you might be in that market at some point in the future. So, here's the logic train I rode to come to the conclusion that resulted in owning two-seven whiskey.

As 2007 progressed, I grew closer each day to owning a new (previously loved) airplane. This would be a family plane, in every sense of the word. And when I say family, I mean “extended” family, which includes myself and my wife, the step-sons in L.A. and Portland, OR. and their offspring, which today includes my granddaughter:

Early 2007 was fun for me as I tried to hone in on exactly which make/model would best serve the family...and the family business. I knew that before I could settle in on one make/model to shop for, I first needed to create a “mission” that the plane would be asked to complete. This task has been fun because it allowed me to fine tune my wishlist down to one important requirement.
First, I looked at range. In 2006 – the year prior to buying Katy – I would have flown this plane to Seattle, Norcal and Socal, Northeastern Washington State, and Western Wyoming on business trips. So it was obvious the airplane I was buying needed to have LR tanks. Next, I thought about avionics. As I planned on earning my instrument ticket in 2008, I needed the new plane to be IFR certified, with two radios, an autopilot and GPS.

I wanted a fixed gear plane with a fixed-pitch propeller to save on insurance and maintenance, and would prefer a low wing, for the ease of fueling as much as the flying qualities. Paint and interior were low on my list, as those things do not make a plane safer, faster or more effecient, they only look better on the ramp. What mattered was one thing:
The biggest problem to solve was useful load, or to be more specific, full fuel payload. You see, this was going to be my family's plane as much as mine, we would use it as our magic carpet to transport us to each other's door, vastly improving quality of life. I wanted a four-seater, but wanted to have the option to fill all four seats with adults, pack in a Samsonite for each of us and throw in my camera and computer bags. On that mission, the people/bags weight plus full fuel – so the four of us can actually GO SOMEWHERE – would easily push the payload well north of 1,200 lbs.
North of twelve hundred pounds payload eliminates quite a few choices, such as the Skyhawk 172, the Cherokee 140/161/180 line, and a number of high performance low wing retractables. So I ran all the data through my brain, and came up with this:
Back in the day, I used to rent the cleanest Cherokee 180s you could find anywhere from Memley Aviation at Chandler Airport in Fresno. I loved the way the Cherokees flew, they were rock-solid stable, predictable, and made crosswind landings a non-event. So I dialed in the PA-28 family as the winner of this search. When I began crunching numbers of the Cherokees, I soon found out that the 235 was basically a 180 on steroids and delivered a useful load that exceeded 1,400 lbs! To make the early 235s, Vero Beach mated the wing from a Cherokee Six to the fuselage of a 180, hung 235 horses of Lycoming power out front, and created something to compete head-to-head with Cessna's Skylane. I knew I'd found my choice. The 235 was... the one.
So there it is. I had decided to buy a cherry late 60s to early 70s Cherokee 235. I saw many in TAP and Controller in my price range of $50-60,000, and felt great knowing that while they might burn a few more dead dinosaurs per hour, they do it while hauling the load I want to haul, which – when you really get down to it – is everything. And the choice has proven to be sound, with Katy having a full fuel payload of 923 lbs AFTER filling four tanks with 84 gallons of 100LL.

As any future airplane owner considers his/her options for flying machines, it is critical to carefully ponder your ultimate mission. If chasing hamburgers low and slow in day VFR conditions is your thing, look at the massive cost savings of an S-LSA. If you need to land alongside a pristine creek in the backcountry of Idaho to slay the illusive Rainbow Trout, that ship will need specific performance to get in and out of a short strip carved out of dirt.

But if carrying four actual humans above (or if you must, below) wings full of AvGas on a long cross-country is required in your mission, nothing matters more than full fuel payload. Sure, useful load is a nice number, but what happens when you fill those tanks all the way?

It's sad but true that if you dropped $750,000 tomorrow on a sleek new composite ship with more avionics than the Space Shuttle, you need to be prepared to thin your passenger manifest before takeoff with full fuel, because the payload will be embarrassing low compared to my 48-year-old 235.

Because it is just plain wrong to own a four-seat airplane and have to leave one member of your family standing on the ramp.

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