Piper PA-20 & 22 Pacer and Tri-Pacer

Piper PA-20 & 22 Pacer and Tri-Pacer

The PA-20 Pacer and PA-22 Tri-Pacer are a family of four-place, strut braced, high-wing light aircraft that were built by Piper Aircraft in the post-World War II period.

The Pacer was essentially a four-place version of the two-place PA-17 Vagabond light aircraft. It features a fabric covered steel tube fuselage with an aluminum frame wing, like Piper’s most famous Cub and Super Cub. An aircraft prized for its ruggedness, spacious cabin, and, for its time, impressive speed, many Pacers continue to fly today. 

The Piper Pacer was originally designed as a tail wheel aircraft and thus had somewhat limited forward visibility on the ground and more demanding ground-handling characteristics. To help introduce more pilots to easier, safer flying, in 1953 the PA-20 was redesigned and offered as the PA-22 Tri-Pacer with a tricycle gear instead of the tail wheel landing gear. Additionally, the Tri-Pacer offered higher-powered engine options in the form of 150 hp (112 kW) and 160 HP (120 kW) engines, whereas the largest engine available to the original Pacer had an output of 135 hp (100 kW). At the time the tricycle undercarriage became a popular preference and 1953 saw the PA-22 Tri-Pacer outsell the Pacer by a ratio of six to one. Due to the geometry of the nose wheel installation it is sometimes referred as the “Flying Milk Stool”. 

In 1959 and 1960 Piper offered a cheaper, less well-equipped version of the Tri-Pacer with a 150 HP (112 kW) Lycoming O-320 designated the PA-22-150 Caribbean. Over 8000 Tri-Pacers were produced between 1953 and 1960 when production ended, with over 2000 still registered with the FAA in 2006. 

The 1959 price for the PA-22 Caribbean was $8,395, the Deluxe version $9,395, The standard 160HP version $8,890 and the Super Custom with radios and full panel was $10,770. The PA-22 Colt in Standard, Custom and Super Custom ranged between $4,995 and $6,995. 

An unusual feature of the Tri-Pacer is the incorporation of bungee linked ailerons and rudder. Beside simplifying the coordination of in-flight maneuvers, this system which can easily be overcome by the pilot as required, allowed the installation of a simplified form of autopilot marketed by Piper under the name Auto-control. 

A small number of PA-22s have been converted to tail dragger configuration, resulting in an aircraft that is very similar to a PA-20 Pacer, but which retains the model refinements and features of the PA-22. These conversions are often referred to by owners as PA-22/20s and are often listed in classified aircraft ads as such, although officially such converted aircraft continue to be designated by the FAA as PA-22 Tri-Pacers. When this conversion is accomplished, a 2 puck disc brake conversion is usually installed in place of the original drum brakes and the Lycoming O-360 180 HP engine is the preferred upgrade. Some PA-22s have a Hartzell Constant speed controllable propeller or Koppers Aeromatic propeller. Each of these installations improves performance/economy at the sacrifice of payload. 

A trainer version of the PA-22 Tri-Pacer was designed and designated the PA-22-108 Colt. It was intended to compete directly with other popular trainers of the day, such as the Cessna 150 and was powered by a 108 hp (80 kW) Lycoming O-235. The Colt was available 1961-1964. 

The Colt is essentially a PA-22 Tri-Pacer with the rear seats and windows removed, only one fuel tank in the left wing, no flaps, no rear door and other detail changes that were implemented to reduce cost and complexity. An auxiliary fuel tank was available, of the same 18 US gallon capacity as the main tank that could be installed in the right wing. Like the earlier Vagabond, the Colt features side-by-side seating for two, however the Vagabond has stick controls and the Colt has control wheels. The PA-22-108 uses a single puck disc brake in place of drum brakes fitted to previous models. A few Colts have also been converted to tail wheel configuration, although this is not as popular as converting Tri-Pacers.


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