There wasn’t a cake, although Piper Aircraft Inc. had all the other ingredients of a celebration at its Vero Beach, Fla., headquarters and factory Nov. 10. Hundreds of people were on hand and 84 aircraft—including Piper products that represented the company’s lineage going back to the J-3 Cub—flew in to help the company celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary. The venerable aircraft manufacturer’s Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Factory Fly-In ran from Nov. 9 through 11.
A number of Cubs and Cub replicas, many flown by members of the Florida Cub Flyers, were on hand. Another Cub pilot—David Hockin of Huntsville, Ontario, Canada—had to leave his 1947 J-3 behind. The airplane, with a Continental O-200 engine and straight floats, had just been put away for the winter. Hockin said that during the summer he keeps the Cub at a dock on a lake behind his house, and takes it out before any local waterways begin to freeze. “I like to max out the flying season and then come down” to Fort Pierce, Fla., where he has a condo and spends the winter. “That made it easy to stop by for the seventy-fifth,” he explained.
Bill Waldron of Morristown, N.J., flew down with three friends for the weekend in his 1965 Piper Comanche 400. “We had a beautiful flight down,” he said. “I hope it’s as good coming back.” He said he’s visited the Piper factory several times and wanted to be there for the anniversary celebration. “I figured I’d fly my Comanche back to its home—even though it was made in Lock Haven,” he laughed. He said the airplane—only 125 of the model were built—has been a great traveling airplane. Waldron has owned it for 25 years; one of its previous owners was British aviatrix Sheila Scott, who broke at least 15 world records in the Comanche during 1965. Waldron said that many of her records still stand.
Visitors enjoyed to opportunity to look at the visiting aircraft, tour Piper’s manufacturing facility, and hear a presentation on the company’s past by Piper’s historian, Roger Peperell. One of many pivotal points in the company’s history came when the tube-and-fabric Tri-Pacer was replaced by the all-metal Cherokee, Peperell explained. “As you know it proved to be a very big success, and they essentially still make it today,” he said.
Piper President and CEO Simon Caldecott welcomed the crowd, especially those who arrived in their personal aircraft. “Many of you have come in Piper Cubs, which really is the legacy of this company. There’s a number that came in Piper aircraft, and there’s a number of people that came in other brands. My head of sales is sitting down there with purchase orders for new Pipers, for all you guys who came in Brand X. You can fly out in a Piper aircraft this afternoon.”
And Caldecott, who has led Piper for the past 13 months, made it clear that the 75-year-old aircraft manufacturer is not resting on its laurels. One of his goals is to re-engage Piper in the training market. “We recognized we were missing a big opportunity. Piper Aircraft’s heritage is in training aircraft—the Piper Cub is a great example of that,” he said. The Cub trained 80 percent of the pilots during World War II “and today, approximately 28 percent of people learn to fly in a Piper product,” he said. “Certainly in the last five to six years, we’ve ignored the flight schools. One of our big objectives is to work with the flight schools and create long-term alliances and have long-standing relationships with those flight schools,” said Caldecott, who kicked off that effort by announcing an alliance with the Florida Institute of Technology.
Caldecott also announced that Piper is updating its Seminole twin and Archer single with Garmin G1000 glass-cockpit avionics suites, beginning with 2013 deliveries. Benefits of common flight decks in the Seminole TX and Archer TX include a straightforward step up to Piper’s high-performance M-class singles, as well as streamlined maintenance and parts supplies. “We’re also going to enhance our support for flight schools. We see it as a great opportunity to move forward,” he added.