Abbotsinch Aviation is a group of like minded aviators flying G-EGPF, a 1978 Piper PA-28R-201 Arrow III. We bought her in Sweden as SE-GVV and flew her home to Glasgow International Airport in Scotland in late June 2019. There are currently four group members, two experienced PPL holders and two experienced airline pilots both of whom are current flying instructors. Both group instructors will be available to all members to provide training and check outs whenever required.
The aircraft is based at area “whiskey” on the North-West perimeter of Glasgow Airport. We work closely with, and operate from the premises of Leading Edge Flight Training. This close relationship affords us the luxury of operating from Glasgow and to take full advantage of the excellent facilities at Leading Edge for briefing, planning, refreshments or catching up with fellow aviators. Leading Edge have their own fuelling facilities and we have negotiated the best possible rate to enable us to offer the group members an excellent hourly wet rate.
A little bit of history
The Cherokee Arrow was derived from the successful Cherokee 180 and made its first flight on 1967 with a 180hp engine and the rectangular Hershey bar wing common to the PA-28 product line at the time. The Arrow went through various upgrades over the ensuing years, the engine increased output to 200hp. To make the passenger experience more comfortable the fuselage was lengthened by 5 inches to create the Arrow II. This variant stayed in production until 1977 when the Cherokee Arrow III (Type PA-28R-201) was launched. The main difference was a completely new wing design, this was tapered, span increased and fuel tank capacity 77 US Gal (72 Usable) giving it a potential endurance of 6-7 hours. The Arrow III was also the first to be offered with a turbo-supercharged six cylinder Continental engine. The Arrow III became the Arrow IV in 1979 with the controversial decision to move the horizontal stabiliser to the top of the rudder for the on trend T-tail. After a few years and a lot of turbulence in the light aviation industry Piper went bankrupt in the mid 80’s. When New Piper took it’s place the Arrow eventually entered production again, mostly due to it being the complex aircraft of choice for training schools and universities across America. However the designers ditched the T-tail and went back to the Arrow III design. They dropped the numbered suffix and the aircraft became simply the Piper Arrow and the PA-28R-201 type once again became the design of choice.
Why an Arrow III and why no turbo?
When the four group members formulated the plan to buy an aircraft we all had our own ideas about what mission the aircraft would be capable of. We were all looking for something a little bit special, something that would create a bit of interest. However, we didn’t have bottomless pockets. We agreed we wanted an aircraft faster than the standard club aircraft, pleasing to the eye, capable of travelling a fair distance with good load lifting characteristics. It had to have reasonable short field capability. Definitely a stable IFR platform.
We thought about Cessna 172’s and 182’s, Cirrus SR20, Rockwell Commander 114B, Mooney M20 and Piper Arrow. Once we started looking all the other aircraft fell by the wayside and we kept coming back to the Arrow. But which variant?
There were a few factors which drove our decision to buy an Arrow III.
The first was the wing, although the Hershey Bar wing on the Arrow and Arrow II was known to be a little less draggy so consequently making the cruise speed a couple of knots faster. We decided that as we expected to have a mixed ability level in the group the superior glide characteristics of the tapered wing would make this a safer option. Also the increase from 48 US Gal usable fuel to 72 US Gal was a clear advantage. The maximum take off weight was increased with the new wing so the useable load was more or less the same. So that lead us to a choice between the Arrow III or Arrow IV.
Next was the tail, it is a matter of debate whether the T-tail or the conventional tail Arrow is the better choice. There are pros and cons and many forums and internet blogs with opinions on this. However aesthetics aside, it came down to the handling characteristics of each design that helped us made our choice. The T-tail horizontal stabiliser is around 14% smaller in area than the conventional tail Arrow. It is also well up and out of the prop wash. This means that handling near the ground can be challenging, higher stall speeds, a tendency to over rotate on take off as the tail enters the prop wash. Our biggest concern was the low speed handling near the ground, again we felt exposing lower experience pilots to this was an unnecessary risk. The other consequence of the T-tail is that with higher rotate and landing speeds this negatively impacts the runway required. So an Arrow III was the choice, but to turbocharge or not to turbocharge, that was the question.
Lastly was the engine, two of the group members are well used to flying around Scotland and its Islands all the way through the year. This made them acutely aware of the prevalence of water throughout the atmosphere at altitude over the UK and Scotland in particular. Even in the summer, icing can be an issue in Scotland. As IFR flying was a priority it became clear that the opportunity to use a turbocharged engine properly at 10,000ft plus would be a rare occurrence. Also handling a turbocharged engine takes a good amount of management and care, we decided that keeping it simple was the best plan. Practically speaking, the time before overhaul (TBO) on a turbocharged engine is 1600 hours, however the Lycoming IO-360-C1C6 is 2000 hours. There was a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggested that turbocharged engines rarely made this TBO. The final nail in the coffin was the cost of an engine overhaul. Ball park figures were £40000 to zero-time an turbocharged Continental and £25000 to zero-time the Lycoming. At TBO (which can be extended if the engine is sound) that is effectively £25 per hour on the Continental and £12.50 on the Lycoming. So, an Arrow III was the choice.
We believe was the right choice for our group, but it took us nearly a year to locate and purchase the right aircraft. The fact that the original production run of the Arrow III was only a couple of years made them very rare beasts, especially in Europe. Although our net was cast as far as New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.
What’s the plan then?
When we bought the aircraft we decided to keep her on the Swedish register initially. Sweden is a full member of EASA and this admittedly was easier to get her home and flying for what was left of the Scottish “Summer” in 2019. As the UK has announced that we are planning to leave EASA this accelerated our plans to put her on the “G-reg”. As part of the annual inspection in 2020 she has now had her Swedish SE-GVV markings removed and replaced with her new UK markings. “Sierra Victor Victor” has been transmitted over her radios for the last time. Her callsign is now “Golf Echo Golf Papa Foxtrot” or “Golf Papa Foxtrot” for short. For those not paying attention..EGPF is the ICAO identifier for Glasgow Airport.
Right from the outset the Ethos of the group was to make this one of the best Arrows in the country. Our plan is to invest in the aircraft every year for the next 3-4 years on sensible upgrades whilst maintaining a healthy contingency fund in case that rainy day does one day arrive. We are planning to upgrade the avionics suite to a modest but very capable IFR set up with a modern auto pilot and LPV capability eventually. We will be looking to install a modern engine management monitor and remove the fidgety and unreliable analogue instruments. Also on the list, we plan to replace all the external lights with modern LED equivalents with upgraded landing lights in new wing tips. The plan is not to continually badger people for money, these upgrades will be done sustainably and as new members join the group. This won’t happen overnight, but as this is a fundamental value of the group, if you are interested in joining the group, you have to be onboard with this mindset going forward.
Enquiries are welcome from all interested parties, we are looking to operate with an ideal group number of between eight to ten people.
Interested?…more details here