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Piper's Cherokee Soars into the 21st Century

I learned to fly 55 years ago, and I did my training in Piper Cherokee 140s and150s. Those of us who flew Piper's chunky, slab-winged basic trainer liked its modern, low-wing look, compared to Cessna's strutted, high-wing competitor, the150 (today called the 152). We were also partial to the Piper trainer'ssubstantial mien, whereas the 150 always seemed flighty and fluttery, its little cabin crammed with two seats, its fuselage tiny and tinny.

Today's equivalent of my old Cherokee trainers is the Piper 100i, the trainer that,thanks to our sponsors, is being flown by our RedTail Flight Academy (RFA) students. 

The Academy owns two Piper 100i three-seat trainers, bought new, with ceremonial delivery and acceptance taking place at the 2021 Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in, AirVenture.

The Academy 100i's, appropriately enough, have a special factory paint job featuring a red tail and wingtips. 

RFA selected the Piper 100i after extensive in-flight testing and on-paper economic comparisons by the Academy’s leadership team and core staff of volunteer instructors. After flying the competition as well as the Piper trainer, the choice became clear.

Class Cherokee vs Piper 100i

How Do the classic Cherokees and the new 100i compare?

Fora start, their "bones" are identical. Their airframes—their skeletons—are essentially the same. The original Cherokee trainer, the 150, was type-certificates in 1961, though the 100i has a separate type certificate issued by the FAA in 2020. 

The Biggest difference between the two airplane types is their instrumentation and avionics. My old Cherokees had standard "steam gauge" instrument dating back to the 1940s and even earlier—round analog dials.

The New 100i—the i stands for IFR, meaning the airplane is totally equipped for instrument-flying training in the complex current airspace system—has what's called a glass cockpit in place of the old round dials. Everything the students need for flying in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) is displayed on a big glass screen directly in front of them, plus a digital moving-map display.

This Is a direct replication, only slightly simplified, of the instrumentation that guides every Boeing and Airbus airliner, and virtually every smaller regional airliner as well. RFA students are learning to fly with the very same kind of equipment they will soon be using professionally, even when they start out as brand-new first officers on 50-seat commuterliners.

The Cherokees that I trained in were two-seaters, and they soon gained two moreback seats—nothing more than a padded shelf with seat belts—for pilots who wanted to rent or own an airplane that could fly weekend cross-country trips.

The Piper 100i, however, makes no pretense at being a family-fun airplane. It is a flight-training machine, nothing more and nothing less. It has a single comfortable back seat, centrally located so the occupant can peer between the student and instructor up front, and its sole purpose is to allow a second student to closely observe the training process. Not quite as good as doing the actual flying, but it greatly increases the utility of the 100i by allowing a student observer to participate in a flying lesson.

The biggest visual difference between a basic Cherokee and a 100i is the engine cowling. Like all of Piper's modern designs, it has a "LoPresti cowling," based on engine-cooling technology developed by a brilliant designer and innovator named Roy LoPresti.  

The drag created by the need to force air into an engine's cowling to remove heat from the cylinders—and, equally important, to exhaust it cleanly—was, in my student-pilot era, handled haphazardly: just cut some big holes in the front of the cowling; the more air that enters the better, right? Well, not really. More air means more cooling drag, and LoPresti was a master at reducing cooling drag. Hence, the small, circular openings, giving the 100i a clean, modern look.

Ultimately, some of the most important advances that set the Piper 100i apart from generations of Piper Cherokees is the emphasis on economy, which enables the airplane to be sold for around $300,000. 

  • There is no baggage door; flight-training students don't need weekend baggage. 
  • The right side of the instrument panel is blank—no instruments or gauges—since an instructor can see a student's flight panel. Plus, there’s a backup with a mounted iPad in the blank space. 
  • The cabin interior is designed and furnished to stand up to the rigors of flight training, i.e., nothing fancy. 
  • And finally, the new 180-horsepower Continental engine is specifically engineered for frequent stops and "hot" starts.
Classic Piper Cherokee trainer.
One of the Redtail Flight Academy's two Piper 100i trainers
Piper 100i "glass cockpit"

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