10:36 AM

43 Years of Progress?

My favorite aviation magazine – AOPA Pilot – is running a story in their current issue highlighting the best entry-level four-seaters on the market. In this detailed article are segments on the Cirrus SR20 SRV-G2, Diamond DA40-FP, Cessna Skyhawk 172 and Piper Archer III. All are very nice planes, with the minimum "off the showroom floor" price at $199,990 for the SR20 SRV-G2.

As I read this story, two facts emerged: (1) Just south of $200 grand is now the minimum buy-in to own some of the more popular four-seat airplanes available today, and (2) None of the four will out perform my 1964 Cherokee 235, the 28th one of that model ever built.

Now before you go off and swear at me for bragging about my new baby, remember that numbers do not lie. And you can forget about reminding me that all four of the planes in the AOPA Pilot article are brand new beauties with lavish interiors and perfect fit and finish. This post is not about ramp appeal, for if it was, my 235 would not make the semi-finals compared to a pretty new Cirrus. No, this post is about how well one of those planes compares to my 235 when asked to perform its No. 1 function of hauling humans from A to B.

When you look at a modern day Piper Archer III, the heritage back to the original Cherokee line cannot be ignored. Yes, the wing looks different, but from 100 feet away, most pilots who do not know the history of the Cherokee line might not be able to tell a 1970's-era Dakota with a new paint job from a 2007 Archer. So let's line up my 43-year-young 235B and a modern Archer III, and see how they compare:

Speed and Fuel:
Both airplanes have Lycomings, with the O-540-B4B5 in my plane cranking out 55 more ponies then the 180-hp Lycoming O-360-A4M in the Archer III. And of course, you might shout that those 55 ponies are guzzling lots more gas, but you'd be wrong. I'm averaging about 11.5 GPH fuel burn to achieve 130 KTAS, and AOPA Pilot says that 75 percent power at 7,900 feet will get you 128 KTAS in the Archer...but you'll shove 13.5 gallons of dead dinosaurs through the Lyc to earn those numbers.

Useful Load:
The Archer has a full fuel payload of just 590 pounds, compared to the 915 pounds for my 235. Yes, you read that right...I can haul FOUR 200 pound dudes and 115 pound of their stuff off the runway – legally – in 1,040 feet over a 50' obstacle. But after filling the tanks in the Archer III, one of those 200 pound dudes and ALL the gear remains on the tarmac, so the plane can take to the sky...using 1,608 feet to clear that mythical obstacle that stands in our way off the end of every runway in the land.

I can cram those four 200-pounders in each of my seats, top off my four tanks, and cruise somewhere in the neighborhood of 765 nm (...with reserves), 321 nm farther then the Archer III's 444 nm. At 12 GPH, I can easily cruise for six hours and leave a hour in the tanks, double what a modern day version of bascially the same plane can do...with the Archer III's endurance at 75 percent power shown at three hours in the AOPA article.
I am continually unimpressed with the useful load of today's four-seat GA flying machines. Yes, they are slick, yes they are fast, and yes they have killer avionics. But when you boil down those "on paper" performance numbers, many times they are attained at the expense of carrying actual people in those four seats.

And one last note. At $199,000 for the cheapest plane described in the AOPA article, I saved over $130,000 and have a bird that will out-perform anything on that list. When the GA manufacturers of today come up with a four-seater with enough full-fuel payload to carry as much as a 1964 Cherokee 235, and sell it at a price under $100,000, now THAT will be progress.

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