Text and Photos by Budd Davisson

Air Progress, April, 1976

I suppose in less aeronautically oriented segments of society, the name "Apache" conjures up visions of bronze skinned warriors, their inner strength and nobility fairly oozing from every pore. In the airplane game, however, the name Apache has something less than strength and nobility attached to it . . . a whole lot less. Mention "Apache" around pilots and most of them immediately think of a 3,500 pound sweet potato that has a couple of little Lycomings snuggled up next to it with a side-walk-sized wing tying the mass of bulges together. The Apache is not the multi-engined darling of the aviation set.

Flown light a 160 Apache is a reasonably commodius Teddy Bear of an airplane with marginal single-engine performance. With 170/180 hp, it's a good airplane.
What the Piper PA-23 Apache is, in reality, is the lowest common denominator in the many-motored airplane zoo. It's the cheapest, the easiest, the most obtainable, the ugliest, the most docile and, according to some, possibly the least useful. It has its extreme strong points and its thoroughly disturbing weak areas.

I cannot be counted amongst the lovers of the Apache. As a matter of fact, I'm not particularly crazy about multi-engine airplanes in general, mostly because I don't do a lot of the kind of flying that I feel demands two engines; night and real hard core IFR or a combination of the two. But, even I have to admit that there have been times I wished I had that other fan out there to keep me cool.

I will also admit that there have been periods of short-term insanity during which I fantasized buying a light twin as a family chugabout. Periodically, I, too, fall prey to a form of cross-country mental aberration that has me daydreaming about launching off for Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Bimini or Cincinnati. It has been during these apparent mental relapses that I've done my share of Apache tribal research. I haven't even considered buying other twins because I am emotionally incapable of writing a check on which the first number is higher than one. Since there aren't a half dozen stock Apaches in the world that are worth over $20,000, my search for a twin has always been Apache oriented. (BD Note from 2003: that number has only gone up about 50-75% so it’s still a bargain but you do have the prop AD, as well as other AD’s, to worry about).

The fifth seat is really a child's seat and the child better not have claustrophobia.
Quite frankly, I haven't flown an Apache much since I first got my rating in one (doesn't everybody?). Further, I have never flown a dead stock, right-out-of-the-oven PA-23. So during my last case of twin-twitch I went out to beautiful Sussex International Aerodrome in New Jersey and rented one of the privately owned Apaches that are on the field. This particular one belongs to a local real estate man, Russ Bierhle, and he rents it out for $35 an hour dry, a price I found to be about average for the East Coast. I wouldn't doubt that the same airplane can be rented for less money in other areas. (BD Note: Thirty-five bucks an hour! Don’t you just love it?).

80 Papa is an Apache, period. With the exception of the third window modification (necessary to keep the passenger in the tiny fifth seat from blacking out from claustrophobia) and the homey looking curtains, very little of consequence has been changed. It has gone through the obligatory two or three paint jobs and interiors and now looks and smells almost brand new, but it is still a 100% stock Apache, complete with the original rounded wingtips and 160 hp Lycomings that were added to the breed in 1957.

It has gotten to the point that a stock Apache like 80P is almost a rarity because the cost of the airframes has gotten so low (under $10,000 for a 150 hp dog) that folks are really doing the modification number on them. And let's face it: on an Apache, any modification looks good. The most common mechanical mods are the 170/180 hp Lycoming engines, which only increases cruise by around 5 mph, but they jack the climb up a solid 3-400 fpm. It still won’t leap out from under you, but it does get it on fairly well. Since Vmc is 80 or 85 mph, depending on the exact model, it's safest to keep it on the deck and rotate only when you get the magic number. Then, get it cleaned up and leveled out until 95 mph shows up. 95 mph is the best single engine climb speed, so once you've got that, you should be able to climb away with one engine caged . . . (theoretically, that is).

When flying Russ's airplane we made a number of simulated single engine go-arounds and take-offs, and right then and there I decided I wanted nothing less than 180hp on each side of me in an Apache. With three people on board and full fuel, we could just barely, and I mean barely, climb away from the field. At 95 mph and a rate of climb in the area of 50 fpm (the book says 90 fpm) we were at the mercy of every bit of low-level turbulence that came along. In the end we wound up seeking out ridges and slope-soaring for altitude because even the slightest downer cost us altitude. If it had been a hot day or if we had a heavier load and the emergency had been for real, I would have been looking for a cornfield to set down in.

By now most Apaches either have modern radios or a stack of antiques. There doesn't seem to be an inbetween. The wide panel, however, will accept just about anything.
Again, theoretically, the Apache will climb with the gear down, but I couldn't prove it that day. It would barely hold its own. So, if you lose the left one, which has the only hydraulic pump, you're pumping away like crazy with the long lever that pulls out from under the quadrant to get the gear up while trying to fly a very marginal airplane. The rudder trim is a ceiling mounted crank ala early Piper and it can complicate things because you never know for sure which direction to trim. Even by looking up at it, I made several mistakes and wound up trimming first one way and then the other before I got it right.

What I guess I'm saying is that unless you're a real ace with the airplane and/or are very lightly loaded, losing an engine during the first critical stages of takeoff means you'd just better give up the fight and bring the other throttle back so at least when you hit the ground you're under control. If you try fighting the engine and it gets the best of you, you're going to hit in a steep turn. Once you're cleaned up and climbing, things aren't quite so critical and you'll probably be able to nurse it around for a landing if (a) you're at fairly low altitudes (below 5,000 ft., the single engine ceiling), (b) aren't loaded to the gunwhales, and (c) it isn't 100 degrees in the shade. That's a lot of "IFs."

The 180 hp Apache is a whole different animal. Although it needs a few mph more for Vmc, it will climb away from a go-around or losing an engine on takeoff with little or no sweat. A 150 hp Apache, although I've never flown one, must be a real toad in that respect (I can expect letters for that comment).

Not the sleekest airplane in the air, the Apache still has a place for those who fly it within its obvious limitations.
A speed merchant the Apache is not. At a TAS of 155-160 mph you can expect to have homebuilts doing barrel rolls around you. Even so, it is darned economical. It's burning about 81/2 gallons per engine, and 17 gallons an hour ain't bad for a twin. Careful leaning could probably get it even lower, and it's burning cheap 80 octane, besides.

As long as both engines are running, the Apache is the absolute image of docility. As a matter of fact, it can be almost too docile and forgiving. This is particularly apparent in the way it floats on landing and in its glide angle. When that big fat wing gets filled up with lift, it takes nothing short of a drag chute to bring it back down. It glides and glides. The first approach I made was a simulated single engine job and I was playing it cozy, saving my altitude till the last. Well, I saved it right past the airport because I wasn't even close to getting it down. Oh well, I needed to practice a single engine go-around anyway. Full flaps, gear down, and a hard slip only produced about 1500 fpm at 90 mph.

Since all I'd ever flown was the Hoerhner equipped Apaches, the T-Craft float of 80P really caught me by surprise. Not only does it not want to come down, but it doesn't want to land when it finally does get close to the runway. If you're carrying even 5 mph too much, you've just lost a bunch of landing area.

In terms of pure stick and rudder flying, the Apache could be a 180 Cherokee. There's little or no difference except the Cherokee sinks faster. Put a Cherokee driver in an Apache, tell him to fly it like a Cherokee and he'll come out looking like an old time pro.

There are a lot of things to beware of when buying Apaches but it's a hard and fast rule that the later the Apache, the less things there are to look for. They changed the props and landing gear around 1957 and the 160 hp models have a 3,800 pound gross against 3,500 for the 150s. For either engine it's extremely important that you get one with the 1/2 inch valves as that runs the TBO up to 2,000 hours. Check the rear fuselage bulkhead for corrision and cracks. Most Apaches have been used as trainers so the rudder has spent a lot of time banging against the stops which can raise hell with the rear bulkhead and eventually crack rudder hinges.

The aftermarket rear window does a lot to modernize the looks and light up the rear seat.
The only really significant changes came with the 1960 model when the gear speed was raised from 125 mph to 150 mph and the flap speed was brought up to 125 mph. This may not sound like much, but when you figure that the single engine rate of climb speed is 95 mph and the older flap speed is 100 mph, you can really find yourself busy during single engine operation trying to keep from exceeding flap speed.

Another problem area, one that 80P certainly doesn't have, is in avionics. Since Apaches were the real "in" thing to fly in the late '50s, every one who owned one loaded it up with the best radio gear available. The result is that subsequent owners have tried to keep the old gear running and replaced it piecemeal rather than all at one time. Now most Apache's are hodge-podge avionics museums of the highest order. Since it's easy to tie up half the price of a good Apache in radios. it's best to shop around and spend a couple thousand for one that already has decent radios.

Although I'm certain there are a lot of Apache owners who will tell me I'm full of moldy enchiladas, I view the 150/160 Apache as an airplane that has as many dangerous aspects as good ones. I wouldn't touch a 150 hp with somebody else's ten-foot pole and the 160s look to me as if they are useful only within a very narrow range; lightly loaded, lower density altitudes and fair proficiency. If you load one up on a hot day, what you have is an airplane that has twice as much chance of losing an engine as a single does. And worse yet, one that will try to kill you if you do anything other than treat it like a single-engine airplane and plant it in a cornfield. However, I'd have to say that the docility of the basic bird combined with the power of the 180 hp mod is a nearly ideal situation.

In a typical recent issue of Trade-A-Plane (April, 1976) there were 37 Apaches listed with an average asking price of $13,800, most of them with medium time 160 hp engines and fair radios. $13,800 is a pretty low price for that much airplane. The only thing the prospective buyer has to do is define his needs and decide whether or not his needs are such that the basic 160 Apache will let him fill the bill safely. If the 160 hp won't do it with a fair margin of safety, my advice is to either go for bigger engines or look at a different airplane. Not everybody has a taste for 3500 lb. sweet potatoes. BD