Buying A Used Aircraft: Piper Warrior

The Piper Warrior possesses a blend of attributes that still make it a dominant player in the used trainer market.

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Right after World War II, manufacturers of light aircraft assumed servicemen returning from overseas might want to learn to fly, and they were right. The sweet spot for this growing market was four seats, 150-HP and fixed tricycle landing gear. Cessna answered the call with the phenomenally successful Cessna 172. Piper’s response was the PA-28-140 Cherokee, granddaddy of a full line of Cherokees that added seats, fuel and power as the product line, and the market, matured. The Grumman Tiger/Cheetah line would pose a threat to Piper’s dominance as a trainer, but could never knock Piper’s mundane do-it-all PA-28-161 from its trainer pedestal.

Piper Warrior is Born

Complaints of an anemic climb rate caused Piper engineers to start adding power to the basic Cherokee, transitioning from 150 HP to 160 HP in the Warrior II. But the real innovation occurred when the original Cherokee’s rectangular “Hershey Bar” wing was swapped in 1982 for a tapered wing. Piper would add seats (Cherokee Six) and power (Archer III and Dakota), but the original design intention of four-seats, fixed gear had now been fully realized.

Further annealing the Piper Cherokee Warrior to the training market was an airframe that could be easily flown and maintained—along with an ability to stand up to the rigors of student use and abuse. Plus, it makes for a familiar transition to other Piper singles, including the complex Arrow, as students work through their ratings.

Piper Warrior Maintenance and Safety

One reason training operations prefer the Warrior is maintainability—from the firewall forward to the back of the panel—there’s easy access. Plus, with its simple systems and familiar Lycoming powerplant, most all mechanics can work on it. For students, the airplane’s manual flap system, actuated by a bar between the front seats, contributes to an air of simplicity.

On the other hand, a scan of the NTSB’s 100 most recent Warrior wrecks shows that those flaps aren’t always well managed on go-arounds. Runway loss of control (RLOC) accounted for 17 percent of the wrecks.

Current Market: Piper Warrior for Sale

There are other airplanes that are faster, or carry more. But the Piper Warrior’s reputation as a basic airplane with no glaring deficits equates to more than 30,000 flying today. And the fleet has certainly increased in value. The current Aircraft Bluebook suggests a 1997 PA28-161 Warrior III retails for around $80,000, and we’re hearing of a market demand as small flight schools add them to flight lines. Planes used for private use— especially ones with paint, interior and avionics upgrades—sell for north of $100,000.

For a deeper dive on the Piper Warrior, head to Aviation Consumer and the Used Aircraft Guide, where you’ll get a detailed model history, historical resale values, recent FAA AD’s, competing model speed/payload/price comparisons and a detailed current NTSB accident scan summary.

Timothy Cole has served more than 30 years as chief content officer of Belvoir Media Group, publisher of AVweb.com, Aviation Consumer, Aviation Safety, and IFR. He is an instrument-rated private pilot and has approximately 1,300 hours in a succession of Mooney M20Js.  In previous reporting assignments, Tim wrote about climate change research at The South Pole, the Russian space program, America's nuclear Navy and first-person accounts of flying aboard a variety of American military aircraft, from the B1-B Lancer to the F-18 Hornet, to the B-52 Stratofortress, and the Hercules LC-130 used for Antarctic transport. He lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with his wife, Sarah Smedley.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. A couple of oversights:
    The Cherokee 140 wasn’t the “grandaddy” of a full line of Cherokees. The first Cherokees were Cherokee 150s and 160s in 1962–two years before the 140. The 140 came along to produce a trainer to compete with the 150–the Piper Colt wasn’t cutting it in the sales department. Piper made it a two-place, with snap-in back seats as an option–and took out the baggage compartment and door to cut costs. Contrary to popular lore, the engine is the same as the original Cherokee 150, at 150 h.p.–NOT derated to 140 hp–the 140 moniker was simply to differentiate from the Cherokee 150.

    Accident-wise, the Cherokee 140 still had the short wing (high sink rate) and the short stabilator (less effective). The Warrior didn’t come about in 1982–it was introduced as a 1974 model–instead of competing with the 150–the Warrior competed with the 172–with a 150 hp Lycoming, a 174 sq. ft tapered wing (same sq. footage as a Skyhawk, and a 150 hp engine. It’s no accident that Warriors have the same wing sq. footage, the same Lycoming engines, and even the fuel tanks hold 18 gallons a side if filled to the tabs–exactly what a 172 holds. They cruise within a couple of knots of each other, and climb within 5 fpm of each other. The longer stabilator is much better in the flare. The Warrior also has a longer cabin with 4 full-size seats, and a wider door. It also did away with the direct-connected nosewheel–the original Cherokees had a direct connection, which resulted in the nosewheel being cocked in a crosswind landing–early Cherokees had a much worse runway loss-of-control than even the high-wing Skyhawks.
    As trainers, the Warriors initially didn’t fare well compared to the Cessna 152. Cessna crowed “OUR trainer only burns 5.5 gph.” Piper responded by instituting “instructional cruising speed”–throttle back to 2050 rpm and you’ll go about 100 mph–about the same speed as a 150–on the same 5.5 gph.

    Price-wise, a 1980 Warrior goes for $43,000 according to Aircraft Bluebook, while the same year Skyhawk lists for $80,000–same performance (though the Skyhawk jumped $10,000 last quarter, the Warrior jumper $13,000). For a 2000 Skyhawk, the figure is $155,000 vs. $85,000 for the Warrior–both are up substantially.

    As an FBO, I have owned about 35 Skyhawks over the years, and about 50 Warriors. Much as I love the Skyhawk, it’s hard to beat the economics of the Warrior–two airplanes, nearly identical performance.

  2. Piper had some engineering problems in the early 70s. Examples:

    Many of their airplanes had aluminum wiring–yes, it saved money and saved weight, but it was subject to corrosion–and even electrical fires. There are kits out to convert those aircraft to copper wire.

    Similarly, Piper had batteries located under the rear seat, and with the aluminum wiring, led to starting problems with the long leads. In 1983, the battery was moved to the engine compartment.

    Early Warriors had “balanced” wide-chord ailerons intended to aid in the roll control with the higher aspect ratio wing. They weren’t needed, and production efficiency was gained by putting the smaller-chord (but longer) ailerons on the aircraft.

    Another example of poor Piper engineering at the time was the short-lived T-tail craze in the 70s–which created compromised pitch handling for little or no discernible benefit in cruise. Fortunately, it went away in only a couple of years, and never was adopted on Warriors or Archers.

    Many Warrior buyers seek out the 150 h.p. version so that they can burn auto fuel. There is very little difference in actual performance between the 150 and 160 hp aircraft. We use auto fuel in our trainer fleet, and have never had a problem in thousands of hours–though we buy 94 octane fuel direct from the refinery–with a “birth certificate” listing octane and Reid Vapor Pressure. Contrary to popular belief, there IS an STC for the 160 hp engines, but unlike the 150 hp STC, it does require minor modification–a second standby electric fuel pump, and replacing the RH fuel line with one of larger diameter to assure no vapor lock–and all takeoffs and landings are done on the right tank. I asked the STC holder if there was a problem in testing–“No, but the FAA wanted that in there–we could have eliminated it, but it wasn’t worth the cost of testing.” We’ve never had a problem.

  3. Problems with aluminum wiring were:
    – splicing to copper
    – screw terminals

    Different rate of expansion tended to loosen connections which then headed up.

    Going had problem with long wire run back to APU in tail of B737.

    Problems in buildings as well.

    For buildings there is a different type of screw terminal, I forget what the difference is.