1969 Piper Cherokee 180 submitted by Doug Harvey

The PA-28-180 turned out to be more than “just another Cherokee”

This PA 28 180 Review was originally written in 2014.

Any pilot who’s been kicking around aviation for a while recognizes the names of airplanes identified as industry icons. Back in the 1930s, the Beech Staggerwing became a standard by which other models were measured. The Boeing Stearman was another airplane indelibly imprinted on the minds of thousands of aspiring military pilots. In the 1940s and 1950s, the model 35 Bonanza also assumed a place as one of the paragons of performance, though the type’s hundreds of tail failures later proved the V-tail model was not without its warts. (In fairness, many of these structural failures were probably precipitated by the airplanes’ pilots. Trouble was that many others were not.)

Then, there was the Cherokee 180. (“Give me a break, Bill. You’re not seriously suggesting there was anything special about the pedestrian Cherokee 180, are you?” Why, yes, in fact, I am.) The first of the true, four-seat Cherokees may not have been as legendary as the Staggerwing or Stearman, but it was indeed a special airplane in that it was Piper’s first four-seater truly capable of lifting four people. Yes, there had been the Piper Pacer and Clipper, marginal, low-powered, four-place machines of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and the modestly more capable 160 hp Tri-Pacer of the same period, but these were correctly considered “marginal performers” with a full load.

(Significant of not much, I logged my first few hours of flight time in an 85 hp “Super” Cub, and spent the rest of my private training in a Colt, a two-seat, 108 hp, economy version of the Tri-Pacer. A fun little airplane, but its stubby wings didn’t provide much glide with power off.)

1964 Piper Cherokee 180 Michelle Dolin
1964 Piper Cherokee 180 submitted by Michelle Dolin

Cherokee 180 Added More Power

Then too, the less powerful Cherokees that preceded the Cherokee 180 (the 140, 150, and 160), weren’t quite up to the job of lifting a quad of people. Performance with a full string quartet aboard was marginal—even without their instruments! In fact, Piper’s first semi-modern, fixed-gear, single-engine, people-mover of a quartet of humans was the Piper Cherokee 180. The collective brain child of John Thorp (of T-18 fame) and Fred Weick, an NACA airfoil designer and engineer, the PA-28 incorporated a purely rectangular wing with a constant chord and a conventional “Hershey bar” configuration, featuring a dramatically curved surface on top and a comparatively flat bottom wing.

Technically, it was known as an NACA 65(2)-415. The 415 referred to Fred Weick’s Ercoupe design of 20 years before which used a similar airfoil. From the outset, the primary goal of the Cherokee design was to produce an aircraft that could actually make a profit. The Cherokee series was configured with significant efficiencies of production that would allow Piper to build a safe, economical, aircraft at a low cost to allow sales at a reduced price.

When the Cherokee 180 was introduced in 1963, Piper’s average equipped price was only $15,100, whereas the Skyhawk (with normal options) cost $14,751. The Cherokee was a little dearer, but not by much.

Inevitably, the basic Piper 180 was improved as it matured. Later versions of the Cherokee 180 utilized the longer-span, semi-tapered Warrior wing, an obvious aesthetic success, but perhaps a less desirable aerodynamic section. Designer John Thorp commented about the later, tapered wing, “Tapered wings tend to stall outboard, reducing aileron effectiveness and increasing the likelihood of a roll off into a spin.” Noted aircraft designer Peter Garrison agreed that tapered wings were of limited value. “To prevent tip stall (with the semi-tapered airfoil), designers resorted to providing the outer portion of tapered wings with more cambered airfoil sections, drooped or enlarged leading edges, fixed or automatic slots or slats, and, most commonly, wing twist or washout. The trouble with these fixes is that they all increase drag, (often) canceling whatever benefits the tapered wing was supposed to deliver in the first place.”

The simple, original, rectangular design was intended to offer an extremely docile stall, and that was exactly the result. When Weick and Thorp were done with the PA-28 wing, its stall characteristics were little more than a gentle, hobby horse bucking up and down, with almost no tendency to drop a wing. Hold a Cherokee in a coordinated stall, and the airplane would usually mush toward the ground at 800-900 fpm in a roughly level attitude. Some instructors even criticized all generic Cherokees as being too easy to fly! Another benefit of the original wing design may have been slightly reduced drag. This resulted in perhaps a knot more real-world cruise than the later Warrior wing. Piper billed the followon, 180 hp Archer with the new wing as having “slightly quicker control response,” but again, few pilots could tell the difference. It looked sexier, and that’s what counted.

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Included in this article: All about the Cherokee 180’s engine, its takeoff ability with people on board, and a comparison with the Cessna 172.

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