Piper Comanche
Comanche Opener

When Piper Came Into the New Age
Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, 1980's


A 250 Comanche was my first flying job for a small real estate company when still in college. Took it into some amazingly small strips...I was too young to know better.

The Comanche has only one characteristic that irritates pilots and that is the tendency to climb up on ground effect during takeoff. The Comanche can be extremely light on its feet long before it's ready to fly. The Comanche sits so close to the ground that it will skip and skid around just a little bit, making you feel as if it's ready to fly long before the actuality. This is one airplane where, if there's any wind, you don't pick up the nosewheel first and let it run on its mains until ready to-fly, because as the nosewheel leaves the ground, the plane will want to hop off prematurely. This is not a problem, it's just a characteristic—something which makes the Comanche's personality a little different than the next airplane.

That same tendency to ride on a little cushion of air means that if you make a super-smooth landing in the machine, the struts will stay extended as you float along just as pretty as you please, in a thistle-down landing. Unfortunately, you also have very little braking at that point. For that reason most pilots who fly the airplane into short fields would start to flare with the left hand and grasp the flap handle with the right hand, slowly bringing it up so that the airplane squatted down gently, but firmly, in order to have maximum braking immediately. The brakes, by the way, were initially a single handle poking out from underneath the panel which actuated both brakes, just like the old Tri-Pacer. These gave way to toe brakes in 1961, a welcome addition. Those marvelously useful mechanical flaps gave way to new-fangled electric ones sometime after 1965. Prior to that there was little or no doubt as to whether you were bringing the gear up or the flaps, because it's pretty hard to mistake a switch for a two-foot long handle with a button on the top. If the statistics were compiled, undoubtedly they would show that later Comanches are subject to a lot more inadvertent gear up rollouts than the earlier models.
One aspect of the Comanche's spacious panel layout produced some interesting, if only momentary, silences on downwind many times. The panel layout is virtually identical in appearance and location to that of the Cherokees of the period but the mixture and carburetor heat knobs are exactly reversed. The sudden silence always got your attention immediately and you pushed the knob back in just as quickly.

THE COMANCHE IS SUCH A GOOD OLD AIRPLANE why is it not still in production like the Bonanza? The exact answer will probably never be known buta couple of basic facts will let you draw your own conclusion. By the time Comanche production drew to a close in the 1970-71 period, it sold for approximately $42 to 45,000, while a similarly-equipped Mooney could be had for around $27,000 and a Bonanza for $50,000. As far as that goes, an extra S20 or 25,000 bought you a Twin Comanche which was even snarkier-looking and had two motors besides. Perhaps the Comanche's biggest drawback was that it was Comanche and not a Bonanza, and everybody knows doctors buy Bonanzas, not Comacnhes. So by the time a convenient. flood inundated the Lockhaven plant, the decision had been made and the excuse found to discontinue the line. At the time there were many who said, "Gee, it's a shame; you really shouldn't do that," but the realities of the situation were that they were probably only selling ten or twelve airplanes a year and it's hard to support a labor force with that small production and still keep the price from being outrageous.

That long wing makes the Comanche must more forgiving and a real floater in ground effect, if fast.

Today Comacnhes live on in their various forms and conditions to give the would-be retractable owner a wide range of price and performance. The little 180 will give you 140 mph indicated, when lightly loaded at only ten gallons an hour. The 250s and 260s will push that up to 165 to 170 mph, but you're burning twenty-five to thirty-five percent more fuel. The most noticeable difference, however, is in climb performance. Then there is the 400 horse muscle machine that is so rare and exotic that you'd better find a 400 owner and hang around him a while to find out if you have what it takes to feed eight cylinders of fire-breathing. gas-guzzling Lycoming.

The gap in the price between the 180 and the 250 Comanche has gotten smaller, just as the price of avgas has gotten bigger. Fifteen to $20,000 will put you in a 1S0 with $17 or 18,000 to $25,000 buying a fairly nice 250. The 260s are a quantum jump up, partly because they are better performers and much newer. The actual price changes between different models of Comanches are influenced as much by condition and by how archaic the avionics may be. The single exception is the 400 Comanche, which is generally priced as high as the owner thinks he can get away with.
Although it's entirely possible to buy airplanes that are faster than the Comanche and, in point of fact even a clean Dakota can be as fast as the 180, you would still be hard pressed to come up with an airplane that offers the good looks, comfort and general utility of a Comanche, regardless of the model. It has no bad habits; the glove compartment is not stuffed full of ADs and, above all, it is one of the best-looking airplanes ever built.

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