Piper Clipper Opener

Short Wing Cutey
Text and Photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, circa 1972

Here's an example of a super early pirep from yours truly. Around 1972. In those days magazines had very few pages alotted for color. The big ones had four pages in a middle series of pages and that was it. If you look through some of the other Airbum pireps you'll see photos that you'd kill for them to be color, but they aren't because those pix fell on pages other than the middle form. They are usually conversions of color slides to black and white and they suffered in the process. In the case of the little Clipper, I probably shot it in both black and white AND color, a quaint way of doing things in today's digital age. Anyway, read on for some 35-year-old- prose from a 30-year-old-writer. Wow! Was I ever that young?

It looks like everybody's model airplane. Everytime I see a Piper Clipper or Pacer fall out of the sky and make its stiff-legged way down the runway, I half expect to see a great big kid appear from nowhere, pick the airplane up, and wind the rubber band in preparation for its next flight. Not too big, not too small, the lines and proportions seem to fit together in a very comfortable way, producing an airplane that looks so right, so terribly ordinary, that the feeling it gives is usually an extreme combination of apathy and quiet excitement.

Chronologically speaking, the Clipper falls between the Vagabond (what a neat name for a Sunday pilot's airplane) and the Pacer. In the true Piper tradition of design-stretch-redesign-add-subtract-shrink-modify, the Clipper owes most of its lines to the Vagabond and most of its imagination to the J-3. It was built for one short year, 1949, after which it received a 125-hp Lycoming in place of its 115-hp 0-235, its little control sticks were replaced by wheels, and it was renamed Pacer. But it was still a Clipper (or was it a Vagabond) . When the gear Vs were turned around and a nosewheel added, the model airplane look disappeared, and the Clipper/Pacer gave birth to a bastard child, the Tri-Pacer.

Clipper Air Rear
The quick clue this isn't a Pacer is that is has no flaps, even though it has the rear, left door.
Bob Cacchio of Mendum, New Jersey, apparently had this same it's-just-the-right-size feeling I have because the care and cash he has put into his Clipper have produced an outstanding example of a not-quite-classic airplane. Cacchio bought 92H in 1966 and proceeded to strip, clean, and refurbish. Almost everything looks new, from the fabric to the black pleated Naugahyde interior. Cacchio even went so far as to design and build his own instrument panel covers. The work involved is obvious, so it was understandable that Bob was a little apprehensive about letting a complete stranger play with his toy. I promised not to break it, but I'm not sure he was convinced.

With a span under 30 feet and a length of 20 feet, the mileage logged doing a preflight is mighty small. Coincidentally, the wing panels are exactly the same (except for attach points) as a Clipped Cub. When a Cub is clipped for aerobatics, one bay, 40½ inches, is removed from the inboard end of the wing, which makes the ailerons nearly full span. The Clipper has these long ailerons. Which came first, the Clipped Cub or the Clipper (I wonder if the name is significant) ?

The wings carry their primary loads through aluminum spars and beefy struts, but the air loads are carried through the fabric into built-up aluminum ribs. A popular conversion is replacing the fabric with light gauge aluminum. There is an STC for this conversion and helps eliminate that awful ache in the budget every seven years or so. (Ed note: you'd never do that today.)