The Piper Comanche with a 400 hp engine – is it possible to have too much power? Pic Stephan Rossouw

Jim Davis with Guy Leitch. Images Guy Leitch

There is a popular saying that you can’t have a plane with too much power. Piper put that to the test when they increased the engine in their beautiful Comanche from 180 hp to a stonking 400 hp. So – does it have too much power?

South Africa has one of the few remaining Comanche 400s and the type of pilots who have owned it say much about its character.

I was first owned by the indomitable Victor Smith – famous for his “Open Cockpit over Africa” exploits. It was then owned by South Africa’s Formula 1 champion Dave Charlton and is currently owned by Presidents Trophy Air Race uber-competitor, John Sayers. These are all pilots capable of taming the 400 galloping horses bolted onto the nose of Piper’s most svelte design.

When asked why they liked the Comanche 400 so much, both Dave Charlton and John Sayers have much the same answer – “Because it gives Baron speeds, with the cost and maintenance of just one engine.”

John Sayers has campaigned ZS-DZZ across many Presidents Trophy Air Races. A quick search through race results shows John roaring around the course at 195 knots – beating a number of Baron 55s. ‘nuff said.

The 400 sure is capable – but what’s it like to fly? Is it a rampaging monster – or a purring pussycat?

Jim Davis shares his insights into this extraordinary muscle plane.

If you listen to a pod of Piper pundits discussing their favourite aircraft. Some will insist that the Comanche is the greatest aeroplane of all time.

Comanches came with varying amounts of zing– anything from 180 to 400 horsepower. Many aircraft grow with time, but Piper planned the growth of the Comanches from day one. Here’s a 1956 news item from Lock Haven:

“The new four-seater Comanche might almost be mistaken for a wartime fighter because it is an all-metal, beautifully streamlined aircraft with retractable tricycle landing gear and an almost fighter-like cockpit canopy. The prototype is powered by a 180 hp Lycoming engine but future models could have various engines up to 400 hp, giving the Comanche something akin to the performance of a wartime fighter too.

This is a fascinating forecast because it shows the excellent relationship William T Piper had with Lycoming. There was no such thing as a 400 hp Lycoming at that time – so Piper got them to build it specially for his Comanche.

Unfortunately that didn’t turn out too well. The 400 was a magnificent aeroplane, but the market wasn’t ready for it. Also it had an undeserved reputation for hot-start problems. So only 148 were built, making it a pretty rare bird.

I was lucky enough to fly a 400 from time to time. Victor Smith owned ZS-DZZ, one of at that time only two in Africa. I had a little flying school at the old airport at George. Victor would phone me, “Davis, I need to do some instrument flying. Meet me at my hangar at 2.35.”

This was not a request. It was a military-type order which meant that I had to drop whatever I was doing and either fly or drive the ten miles to Victor’s little grass strip on the edge of the Serpentine River at Wilderness.

Of course, Victor didn’t want to do instrument flying – he wanted me to come and play aeries with him. I suspect the phone call was to convince his wife, Betty, that this was important aviation stuff that had to be complied with.

John Sayers owns ZS-DZZ and he competes regularly in the President Trophy Air Race

The Beast on the Ground

Comanches handle like Spitfires and they look magnificent. I can’t think of a prettier aeroplane than a Comanche with tip-tanks. And there’s nothing that will take you that far in so much comfort and style.

As you pull a Comanche out of the hangar the first thing you will notice is the big nosewheel – the same size as the mains. Not like the baggage trolly wheel on the Bonny and the 210.

A Comanche sits low and solid on the ground, and she handles rough surfaces and crosswinds very comfortably.

After pre-flighting you step up on to the wing and then deep down into the sports-car like cabin and sink into the red leather upholstery. All Comanche cockpits smell of avgas and luxury.

When that big 400 Lycoming is cold she starts instantly and the three blades shudder into a blur as the eight cylinders come alive with a deep throated growl.

Flying the 400

Takeoff in a 400 is something else. We would sit at the threshold of this little grass strip and Victor would take his feet off the brakes and start winding in the vernier throttle. There’s no Maserati howl from the engine, it’s more of the rumble that you get from a big-bore V8.

The aeroplane doesn’t leap from the block like a race-horse out of the gate. It just pushes you firmly in the back with an ever increasing force as the rumble gets louder.

Victor never got to full throttle on the ground – he would still be winding in the power as we flashed across the river and watched the beach and the palm trees sinking below us.

Before takeoff in the 400 make sure that you wind in plenty of right rudder trim – you will need it by the time you get to full throttle. Acceleration may be rapid, but don’t raise the nosewheel too early – she likes to accelerate level.

She’s ready to fly at 70 -75 mph and will climb strongly as soon as she leaves the ground. There is none of that wallowing that you get with a heavy Mooney, Bonanza or Centurion.

As you pull up the undercarriage, retract flap and reduce power, she continues to climb and accelerate solidly. Comanches don’t mess around when they leave the ground.

You can’t expect a 60-year-old machine to be quiet by modern standards. You can get by without head-phones but it’s not fun. A lot of the noise comes through the windscreen, and the optional, thicker, one-piece, curved windscreen is much quieter.

Like a sports car, the Comanche is a wonderful aircraft to play with. The controls are crisp and well-balanced at normal speeds. She sails round steep turns without adding power and without seeming to slow down. But at very low speeds she does wallow a bit and needs plenty of rudder.

Stalls are gentle and straightforward as long as you have the ball is in the middle. In an unbalanced stall she will drop a wing, and the rudder is slow to correct this until you have a bit of airspeed – which means losing a fair amount of height. It’s also easy to induce a secondary stall if you try to recover too quickly. But inadvertent stalls are unlikely, because you are warned by a strong aerodynamic buffet.

If you enjoy doing circuits and bumps you will love the Comanche. Her raw power keeps you busy round the circuit. And when you get the knack of landing a Comanche it’s an absolute delight. Ground-effect helps you to squeak the main wheels on, with that long nose so high you can’t see the runway.

Comanche flaps can give you a nasty fright if they are not maintained properly. I have twice had a Comanche try to roll on me when retracting the flaps. It’s possible for one to stick on its way up (not going down). This leaves you with one coming up and the other staying down. Once you know about it, there is no problem. In fact Comanches taught me a good habit – to keep my hand on the flap (and undercarriage) selector until the job is done. If a Comanche starts to roll as you retract the flaps, just move the selector down and the problem is over.

Some say it is a bitch to land. If you have a forward CofG she can run out of elevator during the hold off. But so can a 182, a Cherokee Six, a Seneca and a Beech Sundowner. That’s why Piper gave us electric trim. Simply put your thumb on the button and roll it back as you round out and she touches down like a fairy.

If you need to go-around at the last minute then you have got to be strong with the forward pressure – but again, you just press the trim button and your problems melt away.

And talking of CofG, Comanches never have that Bonanza nonsense of sitting on their tails. Load it any way you like and the CofG always stays within the envelope.

Flying DZZ with Victor, our ‘instrument flying’ would consist of, “let’s see how quickly we can get to 10,000ft”. Then Victor would say, “Look at this” as he levelled off. And we would watch the needle move steadily round to the 220 mph mark in the TAS window of the ASI. Or he might say, “I think I need to practice a few stalls and steep turns – would you like to have a go first?” Then sometimes we found it necessary to whip over the Outeniqua mountains to Oudtshoorn for a couple of practice forced landings, and some circuits and bumps.

Perhaps this is a good place to tell you that although the Comanche is seen as a hot-ship, this is a largely undeserved reputation. All the Comanches fly like proper aeroplanes. Certainly, if you pull them too tight in a turn, without enough airspeed, they will shudder and flick. But so will any self-respecting aircraft. Maybe not a Cub or a Colt, but then if a pilot ignores the stall warning and the shudder, should he really be allowed out on his own?

A Comanche is just an ordinary aeroplane. There’s no need to be frightened of it – treat it with respect and it will reward you in spades.

When we came back to his little strip of grass next to the river, it never seemed too short. We would rumble over the reeds at the edge of the lake with full flaps at 75 mph and sink gently into the grass at the threshold. Mostly we didn’t need brakes because Victor knew how to fly an aeroplane.

Wonderful times in a spectacular aircraft.

The Demise of the Comanche

You may be wondering why such a brilliant aircraft should go out of production. It’s a sad story. [queue ominous music please].

1972, enter stage left the villain of the peace – Agnes. She was the worst hurricane in American history. She twisted her way up from Florida and dumped nearly a metre of water on Pennsylvania, killing 129 people. Mr Piper’s factory at Lockhaven was one of the casualties. The Comanche’s dies, jigs and tooling were completely wiped out.

This was the second flood, and it killed the Comanche range, including the Twin Comanche. Word has it that it was an accountant’s decision to discontinue the Comanche tribe – no red blooded pilot could ever have made that terrible mistake.

—————————————– 

The littler Comanches

The 180

The first, and littlest Comanche, the 180, is an absolute delight. Not because it’s a great performer – it isn’t. In fact none of the single Comanches perform like modern glass aeroplanes. But then they are 50 or 60 years old. And they are roomy and comfortable. It’s like comparing an E-type Jag with the latest Porsche 911.

The 180 is nimble, and light as a feather. It has that beautifully simple carburettor, O-360 A1A Lycoming that always starts on the third compression. And even with the slightly shorter nose than its big brothers it’s still a very pretty aeroplane.

Actually one taught me an important lesson about pre-flights. It has, in common with many other Pipers, those sensible engine cowls that you can open with a couple of clips. I love it. How can you preflight an aeroplane without looking at the engine?

Anyhow, I preflight this 180 in the gloom of a hangar without a torch. I fiddle with the plug leads, inspect the primer lines, view the engine mounts and check the exhaust flange gaskets – which are prone to blowing. It all looks fine.

We take off on a sparkling clear morning with the Outeniqua mountains so clear you can almost touch them. As we turn downwind there is a slight burning smell. Suddenly smoke billows from the engine and the slipstream whips it away over the wing. I yank the throttle back, turn towards the field, chuck out the gear and flaps and land on the cross runway – completely forgetting to turn off the fuel.

Smoke is still pouring out of the cowling so I leg it to the terminal building, come back with an extinguisher, open the cowl and give it the berries. It is all over in moments.

The frightening thing is that it was entirely my fault. If I had pre-flighted in the sunlight, or used a torch, I would have seen the massive rats’ nest in the bottom of the cowl. Sorry, fellow bunny-huggers, I don’t know what happened to the darling little furry inhabitants.

Before leaving the 180, I have to admit that speedwise, the beautiful Comanche wing is not quite as good as it looks. The boxy, short-wing, 180 Arrow is about 3 mph faster than the 180 Comanche at pretty much the same weight. But then the Comanche glides like a Grob, while the Arrow doesn’t so much glide as plummet.

But it’s a brilliant wing for long distance flying. In November 1959, my hero, Max Conrad, flew a 180 Comanche from Casablanca, in Morocco, non-stop to El Paso in Texas. That’s just short of 7,000 miles (11,211 km) in a little 180 hp aeroplane. And that record still stands today.

The 250.

I have a very soft spot for this aircraft, probably because the 250 is the Comanche in which I have the most time.

Comanches are renowned for their long legs. In the days when my bladder could match the aeroplane’s, I flew a 250, ZS-DPL, from Rundu to George non-stop with three up and plenty of clobber. That’s 960 nautics or 1100 statutes, and we arrived with enough fuel to divert to Cape Town or PE. We may have been a tad over gross at takeoff, but the Comanche doesn’t mind in the least.

But that’s nothing. In June 1959 Max Conrad flew his 250 Comanche non-stop from Casablanca to Los Angeles. That’s 7668 miles (12,340km) breaking the record for that class. That’s Cape Town to Edinburgh and you would still be able to fly another 1300 miles.

In 1962 the 250s stopped using manual flaps and came out with electric ones. Actually I prefer the manual ones – there is nothing to go wrong, they are quick to operate, and you can tell what setting you have by resting your hand on the lever.

A thing I really like about the 250s is that they mostly came out with carburettors on their O-540-A1A5 Lycomings. That makes for easy starting and less to go wrong.

The undercarriage is also nice and simple. It has a direct mechanical linkage to a lever (Johnson bar) that’s hinged on the floor below the centre of the panel. The early ones were manual like the older Mooneys – same designer.

On the later models the lever is telescoped into a stub which you can extend to work the gear manually should the electricity fail. It’s comforting to drop your hand to this stub and feel it rotate until the gear clonks into place.

The 260

Perhaps the 260 is the most interesting member of the tribe because it came in four flavours: Carburetted, fuel injected, six seater and turbocharged. I hasten to say that the six-seater isn’t really, it has extra windows and a couple of kids seats which take up the entire boot.

To my mind the ultimate Comanche is the turbocharged 260 six-seater with tip tanks. With enough fuel to go 2000 miles you can still put 730 lbs in the cabin.

Conrad wasn’t the only one to choose Comanches for record breaking. Sheila Scott used her 260, G-ATOY, called Myth Too, to fly solo round the world in 1971 and then go on to break more than 90 other world records, including first single engine aircraft to fly over the north pole.

313 Comments

  1. amoxicillin buy no prescription: amoxil for sale – how to buy amoxicillin online

  2. zithromax without prescription: zithromax 500 – buy azithromycin zithromax

  3. purple pharmacy mexico price list: mexico pharmacy – pharmacies in mexico that ship to usa

  4. best online pharmacies in mexico: mexican pharmacy – reputable mexican pharmacies online

  5. farmacias baratas online envГ­o gratis Cialis sin receta farmacias baratas online envГ­o gratis

  6. п»їpharmacie en ligne kamagra gel acheter mГ©dicaments Г  l’Г©tranger

  7. pharmacie ouverte 24/24: kamagra gel – pharmacie ouverte

  8. Wonderful website you have here but I was wondering if you knew
    of any message boards that cover the same
    topics discussed here? I’d really love to be a part of online community
    where I can get responses from other experienced people that share the
    same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me
    know. Cheers!

  9. Magnificent beat ! I wish to apprentice whilst you amend your web site,
    how could i subscribe for a blog web site? The account helped me a applicable deal.
    I have been tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast provided bright clear
    idea

  10. Outstanding quest there. What occurred after? Take care!

  11. Hi, I do think this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will
    revisit yet again since i have book marked it. Money and freedom
    is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue
    to guide other people.

  12. buy prescription drugs from india best india pharmacy – top online pharmacy india indiapharmacy.guru

  13. I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your
    post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. can you offer guest
    writers to write content for you? I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on some
    of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome blog!

  14. Excellent post! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

  15. Truly when someone doesn’t know afterward its
    up to other viewers that they will help, so here it happens.

  16. Its such as you learn my mind! You appear to understand a lot about this, like you wrote the e-book in it or something.
    I think that you simply can do with some percent to force the
    message house a little bit, but instead of that,
    this is fantastic blog. An excellent read.

    I’ll definitely be back.

  17. bookmarked!!, I love your web site!

  18. migliori farmacie online 2023 farmacia online farmacia online piГ№ conveniente

  19. It’s truly very difficult in this full of activity
    life to listen news on Television, thus I simply use the web for
    that reason, and get the most recent information.

  20. Suivre le téléphone portable – Application de suivi cachée qui enregistre l’emplacement, les SMS, l’audio des appels, WhatsApp, Facebook, photo, caméra, activité Internet. Idéal pour le contrôle parental et la surveillance des employés. Suivre le Téléphone Gratuitement – Logiciel de Surveillance en Ligne.

  21. 有很多玩家推薦線上娛樂城,皇家娛樂城是全球線上博弈領導品牌」,敢這麼講肯定是有兩把刷子的,而且也擁有「博弈產業市場的合法營業執照」https://www.ry666.net/gaming/

  22. MuziekMantra, a pioneering music therapy company, harmonizes healing through the power of sound. Specializing in therapeutic musical interventions, we offer personalized sessions to enhance mental well-being, emotional balance, and overall health. Our experienced music therapists create transformative experiences, utilizing melodies as a pathway to relaxation and self-discovery. Whether addressing stress, anxiety, or promoting mindfulness, MuziekMantra tailors each session to meet individual needs. Elevate your well-being with the transformative energy of music – let MuziekMantra be your guide on the journey to harmony and healing.
    MuziekMantra Music Therapy In India

  23. Meilleure application de contrôle parental pour protéger vos enfants – Moniteur secrètement secret GPS, SMS, appels, WhatsApp, Facebook, localisation. Vous pouvez surveiller à distance les activités du téléphone mobile après le téléchargement et installer l’apk sur le téléphone cible. https://www.mycellspy.com/fr/

  24. buying from online mexican pharmacy mexican pharmacy buying prescription drugs in mexico online

  25. “I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article on [specific topic]. army agniveer vacancy The insights you shared are both informative and well-presented.

  26. pharmacies in mexico that ship to usa mexican rx online buying prescription drugs in mexico online

  27. mexican pharmaceuticals online mexico pharmacy mexican border pharmacies shipping to usa

  28. Услуга сноса старых частных домов и вывоза мусора в Москве и Подмосковье под ключ от нашей компании. Работаем в указанном регионе, предлагаем услугу слом деревянных домов. Наши тарифы ниже рыночных, а выполнение работ гарантируем в течение 24 часов. Бесплатно выезжаем для оценки и консультаций на объект. Звоните нам или оставляйте заявку на сайте для получения подробной информации и расчета стоимости услуг.

  29. Услуга сноса старых частных домов и вывоза мусора в Москве и Подмосковье под ключ от нашей компании. Работаем в указанном регионе, предлагаем услугу демонтаж после пожара. Наши тарифы ниже рыночных, а выполнение работ гарантируем в течение 24 часов. Бесплатно выезжаем для оценки и консультаций на объект. Звоните нам или оставляйте заявку на сайте для получения подробной информации и расчета стоимости услуг.

  30. Услуга сноса старых частных домов и вывоза мусора в Москве и Подмосковье под ключ от нашей компании. Работаем в указанном регионе, предлагаем услугу снести дом цена с вывозом. Наши тарифы ниже рыночных, а выполнение работ гарантируем в течение 24 часов. Бесплатно выезжаем для оценки и консультаций на объект. Звоните нам или оставляйте заявку на сайте для получения подробной информации и расчета стоимости услуг.

  31. Услуги грузчиков и разнорабочих по всей России от нашей компании. Работаем в регионах и областях, предлагаем заказать грузчиков Воронеж. Тарифы ниже рыночных, выезд грузчиков на место в течении 10 минут . Бесплатно выезжаем для оценки и консультаций. Звоните нам или оставляйте заявку на сайте для получения подробной информации и расчета стоимости услуг.

  32. Забудьте о низких позициях в поиске! Наше SEO продвижение и оптимизация на заказ https://seosistemy.ru/ выведут ваш сайт в топ, увеличивая его видимость и привлекая потенциальных клиентов. Индивидуальный подход, глубокий анализ ключевых слов, качественное наполнение контентом — мы сделаем всё, чтобы ваш бизнес процветал.

  33. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги
    разработка сайта москва на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

  34. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги
    seo оптимизация сайта на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

  35. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги
    стоимость продвижения сайта в москве на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

  36. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги
    услуги seo на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

  37. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги
    продвижение в гугл цена на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

  38. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги продвижение сайта сео на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

  39. Дайте вашему сайту заслуженное место в топе поисковых систем! Наши услуги seo продвижение на заказ обеспечат максимальную видимость вашего бизнеса в интернете. Персонализированные стратегии, тщательный подбор ключевых слов, оптимизация контента и технические улучшения — всё это для привлечения целевой аудитории и увеличения продаж. Вместе мы поднимем ваш сайт на новый уровень успеха!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *