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Piper celebrates its eightiethPiper celebrates its eightieth

Florida manufacturer sees strong production numbersFlorida manufacturer sees strong production numbers

Piper Aircraft threw open its doors to aircraft owners and visitors on Nov. 10 and 11, welcoming pilots from around the nation to help celebrate the company’s eightieth anniversary at its Vero Beach, Florida, headquarters.

Pipers line up at Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach, Florida, to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the company.

Founded in 1937 by William T. Piper, the company that gave the world the iconic yellow J-3 Cub started out in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. That location, near the Susquehanna River, was prone to flooding, so the company relocated to Vero Beach in 1967. Piper also has manufactured aircraft in California; Oklahoma; and Lakeland, Florida, but those locations have since been closed.

Several proud owners of J-3 Cubs flew their airplanes to Vero Beach Regional Airport, creating a static display of the recognizable aircraft along the flight line. Among the oldest airplanes at the Piper anniversary event was a 1941 Cub restored by husband and wife Carl and Donna Miller. The couple bought the airplane in flyable condition with the intent of fixing it up over time, but soon realized a full restoration was in order. Donna declared that they took it on a beautiful last flight and after landing took to the fabric wings with box cutters and sliced up the fabric, a painful process, but one that motivated them to be “all in” with the task of restoring the historic airplane. The couple are founding members of the Florida Cub Flyers, a group of 42 Florida Cub owners who fly together and help each other. The Millers learned new skills under the watchful guidance of experienced Cub restorers. Donna, in particular, took to stitching of the fabric.

Removal of the fabric revealed numerous repairs over the decades, some more properly done than others. The panel was left mostly in its original form, as was the electrical system—which means there isn’t one. Even the original brakes remain; most restorers compromise and install modern wheels and brakes. But Carl said that most of his flights are off the grass at his home base at Indian River Aerodrome, a 2,600-foot grass strip outside Vero Beach. “When you fly off grass, you shouldn’t need brakes—if you fly it right,” he reminded. About the only modern upgrade was the addition of shoulder harnesses, a real nod to safety and definitely worth the compromise.

The Miller’s Cub was joined at the Piper event by about a dozen other Cubs, all belonging to other Florida Cub Flyers’ members.

Piper is on schedule to produce 163 aircraft in 2017, and will produce 210 in 2018, said Eric Wright, senior director of certification and technical affairs. Piper has built more than 140,000 aircraft throughout its history. Of those, 100,000 are still flying around the world. The company holds more than 150 type certificates.

Piper produces single-engine piston PA-28 Warriors (to order), Archers, and Arrows; twin-engine Seminoles and Senecas; and the turbine M series 350/500/600, as well as Matrixes (to order). In August, Piper announced that sales of the PA-28 trainers had grown to their highest level since 2003. The company has supplied aircraft to the ATP Flight Schools, FlightSafety International, and the University of North Dakota, among others. Trainers are sold directly to flight schools, but a dealer network still services turbine shoppers.

The company employs about 800 workers, some of whom have worked for Piper more than 50 years. Some retirees are hired back part-time so that they can train younger workers in certain manufacturing techniques. “It works well and yields a really quality product,” said Brian Mesing, senior program manager of new product development.

Visitors to the factory Nov. 11 saw aircraft in production, as the company runs two shifts six days a week at the million-square-foot facility. Mesing noted that Piper builds 90 percent to 91 percent of every aircraft. Engines, propellers, and avionics are the only outsourced items, he said.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
Topics: Aviation Industry

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