Identifying Piper Planes
by Lou Bernard
I’ve been helping out down at the Piper Museum for a while now, and it’s kind of amazing what you pick up. Piper is a small museum dedicated to the history of Piper Aviation in Lock Haven, and we have displays and artifacts that are all about planes. My two-year-old, Paul Matthew, absolutely loves to come down and visit Daddy at the museum. He runs right down to the hangar, where he can walk among the planes. “Red one, Daddy!” he says, pointing. “Airplane! Airplanes fun!”
The planes are all different. I’ve been learning the differences; I can now look at them and tell which ones are which. Sometimes I walk down in the hangar myself, just looking at them all, while the board president thinks I’m working. That’s the nice thing about being a freelance writer; just about anything I do looks like some sort of work effort.
So I’d like to tell you about the different types of planes, because my daughters have already quit listening. Bear in mind, I’m not a pilot or engineer, so what you get from me is more of a visual observation on the different planes. For instance….
The J-3 Piper Cub. This is the one everyone thinks of first; it’s sort of the flagship plane of Piper. It is, of course, bright yellow, because William Piper wanted a plane that stood out against the sky. The wings are up on the top of the plane, and it has a stick instead of a steering wheel. (I told you I wasn’t all that technical.) It’s a pretty cool-looking plane.
The L-4 Grasshopper. This one was produced for the Army and used in World War II. Structurally, it’s about the same as a Cub, but it’s painted drab green because the military only knows about one color. The windows on a Grasshopper are stronger, and go around the entire plane to increase the range of sight. The Grasshopper was named because it was used mostly to take off and land in small, grassy areas.
The Aztec. Out of them all, I think the Aztec is my favorite. It’s bigger than the Cubs, and the wings are down on the bottom of the fuselage. Each wing has an engine and a propeller, instead of putting the propeller on the nose of the plane. The Aztec is a plane designed for adventure—It could go over a thousand miles before stopping to refuel. Pilot Max Conrad set all kinds of records in his Aztec, making two emergency landings at the South Pole and crashing one in Greenland. Max Conrad is my hero.
The Cheyenne. The Cheyenne is Paul Matthew’s favorite; he is desperate to actually fly one once he masters the basics, like sentences. This one is more of an executive-class plane; you can easily imagine the cast of “Mad Men” drinking Scotch while they fly in it. It’s a longer, bigger plane, and has eight or twelve passenger seats. The Cheyenne on display at the museum comes equipped with a small sink, drink cooler, and toilet.
The Tri-Pacer. This one is a very small plane, with a small wingspan up on top of the fuselage, like the Cub. It’s the Prius of airplanes; if you stick your hand out of the window, the plane stalls. It has three wheels on the bottom, hence the name. I’m told the Tri-Pacer is the easiest one to learn to fly, which I totally plan to test one day when my wife isn’t looking.
The Papoose. This one’s pretty easy to remember, as there’s only the one. Only the prototype was ever made. The term “Cute little plane” would not be out of place when describing the Papoose. It’s small, with smooth fiberglass wings that show a distinct honeycomb pattern. This was supposed to add strength, but it really didn’t, and wood and aluminum had to be added to strengthen the wings. This made the plane too heavy, and the project was dropped.
Want to learn more? Feel free to drop by the Piper Museum. I’m there a couple of times a week, and you get to see all the planes on display. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see Paul Matthew, and get some input from my son. “Blue one!”