Piper Aircraft’s pedigree can be traced back to 1927 when Gordon and C.G. Taylor formed the Taylor Brothers Aircraft Manufacturing Company. The Arrowing A2 Chummy emerged as the company’s first design making its first flight from Municipal Aviation Field, Rochester on 14th February 1928. The Chummy, its name derived from the seating arrangement of a side-by-side “chummy” layout, was a high-wing strut braced two-seater monoplane powered by a 90hp Anzani engine. The Chummy was offered for sale at $2,300.
Following the company’s name change to Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corp., a refined version appeared designated the Taylor A2 Chummy fitted with a 113 hp Ryan-Siemens “Yankee 7” engine. Built in time for the 1928 Detroit exhibition, unfortunately the Taylor A2 crashed killing Gordon Taylor. Gilbert was devastated but vowed to continue in aviation and in 1928 the Taylor B2 Chummy appeared. The Rochester premises were not large enough for the production envisaged, so alternative premises were sought. At that time, the town of Bradford, Pennsylvania was seeking new businesses to boost the local economy following the decline in oil production. As a result of incentives offered by the citizens of Bradford, the company moved to Harri Emery Airport, Bradford, PA, where a new factory was built. One of the local investors was oil man Mr William T. Piper.
The Chummy was expensive and not selling. The company was rapidly going broke due to the depression and 1930 saw many aircraft factories closing their doors. In an attempt to keep the factory at work, the Taylor D1 Glider was produced but in the summer of 1930 the company was forced into voluntary liquidation. W.T. Piper purchased the assets and formed the Taylor Aircraft Company with Gilbert Taylor as chief engineer.
The experience with the glider gave rise to the thought that a light aircraft could be built. Mr Piper wanted to produce a simple low-powered economical trainer enabling instructors to offer inexpensive lessons. Using the wings from the glider and other materials left from the Chummy, the E2 (E following the sequence from the model D Glider, and 2 was for the 2 place) was born. The choice of suitable engine still had to be made. Continental Motors were approached but the low-cost aero engine, the A40 was not yet available.
Mr G. Kirkendall of The Light Manufacturing & Foundry Co. of Pottstown, PA was sent to fit the 25hp Tiger Kitten 30 to the E2. The aircraft managed to get airborne to a height of just one foot and flew for 10-15 feet. The engine was too underpowered and Mr Kirkendall was sent on his way. However, it was this engine that engendered the name of the aircraft. Gilbert Hardrel, a Taylor Aircraft accountant is believed to have said, “the engine is the Tiger Kitten, why not call the plane the Cub”. The name stuck and the rest is history.
A French 40hp Salmson 9 cylinder radial engine was installed on the Cub which flew successfully in September 1930 but this engine was considered too expensive. The project was put on hold. An example of the unproven 35hp A40 was purchased from Continental and fitted to the Cub but this proved to be problematic during testing and was returned to Continental several times for modification. Production of the Taylor E2 Cub eventually got underway in 1931 with the A40-2 engine, the basic aircraft price was $1,325.
Progressive improvements were made to the E2, producing the F2, and H2.
William Piper and Gilbert Taylor had different management styles that developed into an uneasy partnership, coming to a head in December 1935 when Piper agreed to buy out Taylor’s shares. Taylor left the company to create his own organisation, later to be known as Taylorcraft. W.T. Piper appointed Walter Jamouneau as chief engineer who had made significant improvements to the design in the form of the J2, a pure co-incidence that the designator “J” was the same as his initial.
In 1936 the Bradford factory was destroyed by fire and although limited production was re-established, the decision was made to find alternative premises. The company was wooed by the town of Lock Haven, PA, where J2 production commenced in July 1937. Jamouneau continued to develop the J2, which lead eventually to the type being redesigned as the J3 Cub, advertised as the “New Cub” (Note: it was decided to stay with the designator “J” rather than use the next in-sequence letter, “K”). In November 1937 the company changed its name to the Piper Aircraft Corporation and early in 1938 both J2 and J3 Cub aircraft were built together at Lock Haven.
Production of J4 Cub Coupe and J5 Cub Cruiser followed until 1942 when the US Government halted civil aircraft manufacture. Along with Aeronca and Taylorcraft, Piper was now heavily engaged in production of the L-4 “Grasshoppers” for the US Army, based on the J3. A total of 5,677 L-4 and its derivatives were built by Piper, including the HE-1 ambulance version of the J5.
Peace-time brought an abrupt end to all outstanding military orders and in common with other manufactures, Piper found itself with large production facilities threatening to become redundant. Fortunately, 1946 saw a huge demand for civilian aircraft, most of which were tube and fabric designs, prompting the opening of a second production facility at Ponca City, Oklahoma. New all metal types were being built by Cessna and Beech prompting much development activity at Lock Haven. Piper had a 12,000 aircraft, $26m order back-log. In November 1946 a total of 670 aircraft were delivered. However, this post-war boom was short lived. A year later, November 1947 saw just thirty deliveries. The market was saturated with war surplus aircraft being sold at knock down prices.
Piper’s plans for new models gave way to more traditional tube and fabric designs. The Cub was improved as the PA-11 Cub Special (military version L-18). The J5 was upgraded to become the PA-12 Super Cruiser. Since there was a large stock of components it was logical to make use of this stock and hence the little 2 seat side-by-side PA-15 Vagabond was born – a low cost trainer and the first of the “short wing” Pipers. The Vagabond is acknowledged as the aircraft that saved Piper Aircraft. Information on the new PA-15 Vagabond was released to the pubic on 22 January 1948 priced at just $1,990 and to keep the price down was only available in yellow with no stripe.
The Vagabond was supplemented by the PA-16, a low priced four seat version of the PA-15 using the same wing. Piper was unsure that the “4 place Vagabond” would sell, however, the production model, the PA-16 Clipper sold well and production rate was raised to 3 a day. There was also demand for a more powerful version of the PA-15 which gave rise to the PA-17 Vagabond (Vagabond Trainer). A further development, the PA-18 Vagabond was not to be and this project was cancelled. Piper was underway with a new tandem trainer for military and civil use using the designator PA-19. The civil version of the PA-19 was assigned the now vacant PA-18 designation, named Super Cub. The PA-18 Super Cub replaced the PA-11 on the production line.
Piper used a PA-16 to develop an updated version, to be designated the PA-20, (originally to be known as the Clipper) but due to an impending law-suit by Pan American Airways regarding the name “Clipper”, Piper decided on a new name for the PA-20 and registered the name “Pacer”.
The idea of a nose wheel came from the Ercoupe. It is interesting to note that Sanders Aviation (who owned the Ercoupe design) suggested that Piper consider acquiring the Ercoupe business. Piper declined. Piper took the PA-20 Pacer and moved the the main gear rearwards to enable a nose-wheel to be fitted. The PA-22 Tri-Pacer/Caribbean was born. The PA-22 Tri-Pacer first flew on 28th July 1950 with the last production aircraft completed in August 1960 following the introduction of the new 4 seat PA-28 Cherokee.
Instead of dismantling the PA-22 jigs and tooling, Piper used them to develop the two place Tri-Pacer, designed for training and therefore a smaller and cheaper engine was fitted. The prototype was designated the PA-22-108, adopting the name Colt.
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