AOPA's Ultimate Arrow Sweepstakes
Sharpening an Arrow
The Ultimate Arrow for a lucky winner
BY PETER A. BEDELL (From AOPA Pilot, January 1997.)
After four consecutive years of giving away Cessnas, we've decided that it's time for a change of product for the annual AOPA membership sweepstakes. This year it's the Ultimate Arrow, a 1978 Piper Arrow III souped up with the latest improvements to make it safer, faster, and more comfortable. How do you win it? If you join AOPA or renew your membership in 1997, you're entered to win the Ultimate Arrow. You can also sponsor new members to get even more entries into the sweeps or you can send in a postcard. (See the rules on the membership card on page 19.) However you do it, the odds of winning the Ultimate Arrow will be far better than the average odds of winning a state lottery.
Why a Piper Arrow? The primary reason is that the Arrow is perhaps the simplest retractable to fly. It has the same predictable handling as the Cherokee line of singles in which many pilots have learned to fly, but it's a little faster and sexier, thanks to its retractable gear. With 200 horsepower and a constant-speed propeller, it makes a great high-performance/complex trainer that won't break the bank when the tanks are topped. The Arrow has just enough power to keep the scenery going by at a satisfying pace, yet not enough to get you into trouble.
It's true that we won't be giving away a new airplane, but the Ultimate Arrow will be more representative of what most pilots are flying these days a 1970s-vintage, normally aspirated piston single. And like most airplanes in their third decade of life, our sweepstakes Arrow needs some work. Its original engine is close to TBO, the exterior could use a splashy new shell, the burnt-orange seats could use a stitch of fabric befitting of the 1990s, and the avionics could be freshened up with the latest in technology. Every other month in the pages of AOPA Pilot, we will take you through the steps of transforming our humble Piper into the Ultimate Arrow. Even if you don't win the airplane or already have a trusty flying steed, the refurbishment process outlined in these pages throughout the year will offer inspiration for your own project. Although we hope to create the ultimate Piper Arrow, we'll keep the cost-conscious owner in mind by offering alternative methods and tips to keep refurbishment costs down.
After choosing to go with an Arrow, we set our sights on what is perhaps the most desirable model of Arrow ever built a normally aspirated, low-tail Arrow III, which incorporates the double-taper wing design. To find an Arrow with all of these traits, we were limited to 1977 and 1978 models. Piper reintroduced the low-tail, tapered-wing Arrow in 1990 and it's still available today as a new airplane. The new airplane has dropped the Roman-numeral suffixes and is known simply as the Arrow. It has many features that make it a better airplane than those produced in the 1970s for example, the flat metal instrument panel has vastly improved ergonomics and room for growth. Many other options, including air conditioning, are available to enhance comfort and safety. In addition, the investment includes all of the design improvements that The New Piper has worked into the Arrow over the years and comes with a warranty, too. But with an equipped price of more than $230,000, we realize that it is only a dream for most pilots. So we limited our search (and our budget) to the 1977 and 1978 models.
With such a focused search, we had some trouble finding our candidate Arrow. Even after weeks of tearing through Trade-A-Plane as soon as it arrived in the mailbox, we realized that owners of Arrow IIIs don't want to give them up. However, since purchasing the Arrow last fall, we've learned of a new way to shop for an airplane all you need is a fax machine and a phone. Phoenix Data Exchange is a free fax service in which you answer a few questions about the type of aircraft and equipment you would like. Phoenix Data Exchange faxes back a listing of available aircraft that match your criteria (see "Pilot Products," p. 96).
Searching the old-fashioned way, we found only one Arrow III in four weeks, and it had a total time of 9,200 hours. In desperation, we called about the 9,200-hour airplane. It was in the hands of Barron Thomas, an aircraft dealer with offices in Van Nuys, California; Dallas; and Scottsdale, Arizona. After hearing Thomas describe the airplane, we realized that it was a hopeless case; however, the call ended with a challenge for Thomas to find us our perfect Arrow. That was on a Friday.
The following Monday morning, Thomas claimed that he had found our Arrow. Low tail, tapered wing, normally aspirated, and all of the original components it certainly sounded like a winner; but, with an asking price of $65,000, it wasn't going to come cheap. Using a dealer can certainly increase the price of an airplane, but the dealer can also take some of the headaches out of finding the perfect one. At $65,000, this particular Arrow III was listed for more than what the Aircraft Bluebook-Price Digest figured as a price. Understandably, the demand is high and the supply is low for these rare Arrows, and prices reflected that. According to our calculations using the Bluebook's valuation method, N6383C was worth $57,700.
The airplane was in the hands of another dealer in Florida Bill Davis, a Piper Comanche owner/aficionado, who had purchased it at an auction. Being some 800 miles from the airplane, we had Davis send us some photos of it. N6383C had spent its life in Oklahoma, owned by Gary Smith, a furniture importer from Ponca City. Smith had bought the airplane new from Piper in 1978 so that he could learn how to fly. Smith admitted that he had amassed most of the 1,750 total hours on the airplane during the first 3 or 4 years he owned it. He used it mostly for pleasure and sometimes business flights and occasionally made long cross-country trips. The Arrow was always hangared and had no damage history. But its lack of use and the need for some extra money prompted Smith to sell it.
Given a positive history such as this airplane's (one owner, hangared, dry country), we became more enthused about it and arranged for a prepurchase inspection. Anyone considering the purchase of an airplane should have it inspected by an unbiased third-party shop. We asked some contacts in Florida who they thought would be a good person to inspect the Arrow. A few suggestions were made by the sellers, but we felt better going with a third party suggested by folks we knew. In turn, we sent N6383C to Aircraft Engineering in Bartow, Florida, for a prebuy inspection. Bill Turley inspected the airplane and gave us a one-page squawk sheet of items that could easily be remedied in our quest to turn 83 Charlie into the Ultimate Arrow.
Satisfied with the results of the prebuy inspection, we made Thomas an offer of $60,000, barring any anomalies found in the title search under way at AOPA's Title and Escrow Service in Oklahoma City. The offer was not immediately taken, but we thought that it was fair, given the Bluebook's quote and the demand for such an airplane. Thomas et al. were abiding by Vref, another book listing market prices, which pegged our Arrow's value at just more than $67,000. After a day of mulling it over, Thomas accepted our offer, and the Arrow was ours after some trading of money through AOPA's escrow service.
The First Step
First, we had to retrieve the airplane from Aircraft Engineering and bring it home to AOPA's headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. After takeoff from Bartow, the Gear Unsafe light wasted little time in illuminating. As is the case with many electrohydraulic systems, we chalked it up to the system's lack of pressure in keeping one of the gear tucked up against its microswitch. After recycling the gear, the light eventually extinguished itself. Thus began the addition of items to the prebuy inspection squawk sheet. In the 5 hours that it took us to get home, our list grew only a little. Near the top of the list was the fact that the pilot's seat needed a serious rebuild in order to withstand a flight of more than a few hours. But with 72 gallons of fuel available and a 10-gallon-per-hour fuel burn, the Arrow can tool around for more than 6 hours at 65-percent power. During the arrival at Frederick, that telltale Piper whistle and three green lights let us know that the gear was down, despite the previous warnings.
With 83 Charlie at its new home on AOPA's ramp, it was time to decide what we could do to make it the Ultimate Arrow. Simple items were engine, paint, and interior, but from there it was time to ask, "What would make any airplane the ultimate?" Borrowing heavily from our experience with 1994's Better Than New 172 sweepstakes airplane, we looked at items to improve the safety, performance, and comfort of the Arrow.
There is no engine upgrade available for the Arrow, so we will improve its speed (and possibly the looks) through the use of various aerodynamic mods. We'll add safety enhancements such as improved lighting, both inside and out; crashworthy seats and belts; weather avoidance equipment; and a standby vacuum system. The panel will include the latest line of avionics from AlliedSignal's Bendix/King division. For now, these radios are being sold as a package only if you buy a brand-new Cessna 172 or 182. An IFR-approved KLN 89B coupled with a huge Arnav 5200 multifunction display will keep track of your progress over the ground with remarkable precision and will increase the pilot's situational awareness to enhance safety. Electronic engine monitoring, Unison's Lasar electronic ignition, and a fuel computer will allow the pilot to lean the engine precisely for maximum efficiency. With a new three-blade propeller from Hartzell and the electronic ignition, we hope to reduce noise and vibration for those riding in the plush new leather cabin insulated with extra soundproofing. Believe it or not, we've only scratched the surface of improvements being considered for the Arrow. However, despite all of the talk of fancy gadgetry, we must start with refurbishing the basics.
After bringing it home, we next took the Arrow to Safe Flight Incorporated at the Bay Bridge Airport in Stevensville, Maryland. Shop owner Bob Hudson began tearing into the airplane, quickly adding items to the prebuy squawk list. Some ADs were out of compliance, almost all of the hoses ahead of the firewall were stamped 1977 and needed replacement, the landing gear and gear doors needed new hardware and hoses, some control surface bearings were shot, and various other little gremlins had made their way through the Arrow. Many of these items were noted on the prebuy inspection and were expected, but just as many items were found only after a more detailed annual inspection. If you can afford it (and the owner concedes), it is a good idea to get an annual in the place of a prebuy inspection. In such a case, the cost of the annual can be split or a similar deal can be made to swallow the cost. All told, the Piper parts order for our Arrow totaled more than $4,000, while the labor added another $1,300. It quickly became apparent that not much money had been put into this airplane since it left the bustling Piper factory 19 years ago.
The Next Step
Our March issue will bring the next installment of the Ultimate Arrow refurbishment overhauling the engine and replacing the propeller. We'll explain the choices and decisions that need to be made before and during the engine and propeller overhaul, and we'll discuss alternatives for your project. Although we'll be going for the ultimate firewall-forward overhaul of our Arrow, we'll keep the frugal owner in mind by offering tips on how to keep costs as low as possible for your own project. Stay tuned, because we could be talking about your airplane.