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Piper PA-24 Comanche

#4 in our series, Exploring the Piper PA-24 Comanche's Rich History


The Piper PA-24 Comanche was developed as a response to the evolving needs and trends in the general aviation market during the late 1950s. Until its introduction, Piper Aircraft was primarily known for its "rag-and-tube" taildragger aircraft, which were simpler in design and construction. The aviation industry was shifting towards more sophisticated, high-performance aircraft to cater to the growing demands of pilots seeking better speed, range, and comfort. Competing models like the Beech Bonanza and the Cessna 210 were setting new standards in the market, prompting Piper to innovate and introduce a model that could effectively compete in the high-performance single-engine category.


The Comanche marked a radical departure from Piper's previous designs, featuring a modern, all-metal, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear, a sleek roomy cabin, and an oval-section fuselage for enhanced aerodynamics. Its development was geared towards offering pilots a combination of good looks, speed, and efficiency, characteristics that were becoming increasingly important to private pilots and small commercial operators alike. The aircraft's design incorporated features like a laminar-flow wing and sharp-edged styling, which not only contributed to its performance but also its aesthetic appeal, a factor that remains appreciated by enthusiasts and pilots to this day.


Initial models of the Comanche included the 180-HP PA-24-180 and the 250-HP PA-24-250, both of which were equipped with carbureted Lycoming engines and manual flaps. These models boasted significant improvements over the years, including upgrades to the fuel system, the introduction of electric flaps, and an increase in gross weight to enhance payload capacity. The Comanche family grew to include more powerful versions such as the 260 and 400 HP models, each offering further refinements and capabilities aimed at satisfying the demands of a diverse pilot base.


The Piper Comanche remains a highly regarded aircraft in the general aviation community for its performance, upgrade potential, and enduring design. The aircraft's legacy is kept alive by a dedicated owner community that continues to fly, maintain, and cherish these classic airplanes.


Original Design:

The original design of the Piper PA-24 Comanche was a significant leap forward for Piper Aircraft, marking its entry into the market of high-performance, single-engine airplanes with several innovative features for its time. The design was focused on combining speed, efficiency, and aesthetics, catering primarily to personal and business use, rather than training. Some of the standout design elements of the PA-24 Comanche include:


Retractable Tricycle Landing Gear: One of the most notable features of the Comanche is its retractable tricycle landing gear, which was a departure from the conventional fixed gear found on many of Piper's earlier designs. This feature significantly reduced drag, contributing to the aircraft's improved performance and speed.


All-Metal Construction: The PA-24 was constructed entirely of metal, a shift from the fabric-covered frames of previous Piper models. This change not only improved the durability and maintenance of the aircraft but also contributed to its sleek, modern appearance.


Low-Wing Configuration: The Comanche's low-wing design was pivotal for its performance, offering better visibility and handling characteristics, as well as contributing to its aerodynamic efficiency. The laminar-flow wing design further enhanced its speed and fuel efficiency.


Laminar-Flow Wing: The wing of the Comanche was designed for laminar flow, reducing drag and thereby increasing speed and efficiency. This was a relatively advanced feature for general aviation aircraft at the time and played a significant role in setting the Comanche apart from its competitors.


Sleek and Modern Styling: The PA-24 Comanche featured sharp-edged styling and a sleek, roomy cabin, which was not only aesthetically pleasing but also provided a comfortable and inviting space for pilots and passengers. The aircraft's design emphasized both form and function, appealing to pilots looking for an aircraft that performed well and looked good doing it.


Powerful Engine Options: Starting with a 180-HP Lycoming O-360 engine in the PA-24-180 and a 250-HP Lycoming O-540 in the PA-24-250, the Comanche offered powerful engine options that contributed to its high performance. Later models introduced even more powerful engines, including the 260 HP and 400 HP options, allowing for better climb rates and higher cruise speeds.


Customization and Upgradability: The design of the Comanche allowed for significant customization and upgrades, with options for increased fuel capacity, engine upgrades, and even turbocharging in later models. This flexibility made the aircraft highly adaptable to various uses, from long-distance travel to more performance-oriented flying.


These design features made the Piper PA-24 Comanche a highly competitive aircraft in its segment, appealing to a wide range of pilots from private owners to business operators. Its introduction marked a significant milestone for Piper, showcasing the company's ability to innovate and adapt to the changing demands of the aviation market​.



Design Team:

The Piper PA-24 Comanche was a groundbreaking design for Piper Aircraft, a more modern, high-performance aircraft created in response to the competitive landscape of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which was increasingly dominated by sleek, efficient, and faster aircraft such as the Beech Bonanza and Cessna 210.


The development of the PA-24 was a product of Piper's intention to innovate and capture a share of the market that demanded more sophisticated personal and business flying options. The design team at Piper focused on creating an aircraft that not only met but exceeded the expectations of pilots and aircraft owners at the time.


The original design featured powerful engine options, offering impressive performance metrics that were further enhanced in later models. These design choices underscored Piper's commitment to delivering an aircraft capable of high speed, long range, and efficient operation, with a keen eye on the evolving demands of the general aviation market.


Throughout its production run, the Comanche series saw several improvements and variants, including the introduction of turbocharging and enhancements to its fuel system, landing gear, and interior comfort. These innovations not only solidified the PA-24's reputation for performance and reliability but also demonstrated Piper's adaptive approach to aircraft design and development, balancing the need for speed and efficiency with the desires for comfort and style.


Unfortunately, the sudden end to the Comanche's production in 1972, came due to the devastating flood at Piper's Lock Haven factory caused by Hurricane Agnes, marked a premature close to what had been a successful chapter in Piper's history.


Read more about the incident HERE.


Production Run:

The Piper PA-24 Comanche, had its production run starting in 1958, marking Piper's entry into the market of high-performance, single-engine airplanes. The production of the Comanche series continued until 1972.


Over the course of its production years, the Comanche saw various models and upgrades, starting from the initial 180-HP and 250-HP models to later introductions of 260 HP and 400 HP versions, including turbocharged variants. The PA-24-250, introduced with a Lycoming O-540 engine, and the PA-24-260 series are among the notable versions, with the 260 series including the 260B, 260C, and 260TC (Turbocharged 260C) models. A total of 1,029 airplanes were sold from the Comanche 260 line. The Comanche 400, introduced with a 400 HP Lycoming IO-720 engine, was another significant model, with only 148 units built. Across all models, the Comanche series was well-regarded, making it a popular choice among pilots and aircraft owners.




Throughout its production run, the Piper PA-24 Comanche experienced several evolutionary steps, introducing significant upgrades, modifications, and variants that greatly improved upon the original design. These changes were aimed at enhancing performance, comfort, operational capabilities, and safety, keeping the aircraft competitive in the general aviation market.


Introduction of Higher Power Engines: The initial models, the PA-24-180 and PA-24-250, introduced in 1958, featured 180-HP and 250-HP engines, respectively. Later models saw an increase in power with the introduction of the PA-24-260 series in 1965, which had a 260 HP engine, and the PA-24-400 Comanche 400, introduced in 1964 with a 400 HP engine. These upgrades provided better climb rates, higher cruise speeds, and improved overall performance.


Fuel System Enhancements: The original Comanche came with a 60-gallon fuel system. In 1961, Piper offered an optional 90-gallon system, significantly extending the aircraft's range and endurance. This was a notable upgrade for pilots looking for longer non-stop flights.


Aerodynamic and Structural Refinements: Over the years, Piper introduced several aerodynamic and structural improvements. For instance, the PA-24-260C model featured a new "Tiger Shark" cowling and an aileron-rudder interconnect, enhancing the aircraft's aerodynamic efficiency and control harmony. Electrically actuated flaps replaced manually operated ones, starting with the 1962 model year, simplifying the pilot's workload during takeoff and landing.


Turbocharged Models: The introduction of the turbo-normalized PA-24-260TC variant in 1970 allowed operation at higher altitudes, providing pilots with better performance in varied atmospheric conditions. The turbo-normalization process improved engine efficiency and performance at altitude, significantly extending the aircraft's operational envelope.


Interior and Comfort Improvements: The Comanche series also saw improvements aimed at passenger comfort and convenience, including better cabin soundproofing, heating, and ventilation. These changes made long-duration flights more comfortable for both pilots and passengers.


Safety and Maintenance Modifications: Throughout its production, the Comanche series was subject to various safety and maintenance modifications, addressing issues identified after the aircraft was introduced to the market. These included changes to the landing gear system, control surfaces, and other critical components, ensuring that the aircraft met evolving safety standards and operational requirements.


The evolution of the Piper PA-24 Comanche throughout its production run demonstrates Piper Aircraft's commitment to innovation and responsiveness to pilot and owner feedback. Each variant and upgrade brought significant improvements to the aircraft's performance, safety, and operational capabilities, cementing the Comanche's legacy as a versatile and beloved aircraft in general aviation.



General Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Piper Aircraft
  • Production Years: 1958-1972

Performance (Varies by Model):

  • Cruise Speed:
    • 180-HP: Approx. 140 knots
    • 250-HP: Approx. 160 knots
    • 260-HP: Approx. 155-160 knots
    • 400-HP: Approx. 185-194 knots
  • Rate of Climb:
    • 180-HP: 700-900 FPM
    • 250-HP & 260 HP: 1300 FPM
    • 400-HP: 1600 FPM
  • Range:
    • With standard fuel: Up to 550 NM (180-HP) / Over 950 NM with aux fuel system
    • 400-HP: Increased with optional extended tanks


  • Wing Span: 36 ft.
  • Length: Varies, with the 260B adding 6 inches over previous models due to a longer propeller spinner.
  • Height: Approximately 7.5 ft
  • Empty Weight:
    • 180-HP: Varies, starting around 1,500 lbs.
    • 250-HP: Approximately 1,728 lbs.
    • 260-HP: Approximately 1,700 lbs.
    • 400-HP: Approximately 2,110 lbs.
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight:
    • 180-HP & 250-HP: Approx. 2,800-2,900 lbs.
    • 260-HP: Approx. 3,100-3,200 lbs.
    • 400-HP: 3,600 lbs.


  • Engine Types:
    • 180-HP: Lycoming O-360
    • 250-HP: Lycoming O-540
    • 260-HP: Lycoming IO-540 (including turbocharged 260TC)
    • 400-HP: Lycoming IO-720
  • Fuel Capacity: 60 gallons standard, 90 gallons with auxiliary tanks


  • Landing Gear: Retractable tricycle
  • Seating Capacity: 4 standard, with options for up to 6 in certain 260 and 400 models


In Comparison to Other Aircraft in Its Class:


The Piper PA-24 Comanche competes closely with aircraft such as the Beech Bonanza and Cessna 210 in terms of speed, range, and payload capacity. While the Comanche 180's performance may be slightly lower than some contemporaries, the higher-powered 250, 260, and especially the 400 models offer competitive or superior speed and climb performance. The Comanche's ability to carry significant fuel loads, especially with auxiliary tanks, provides exceptional range that is highly valued for cross-country flights. Additionally, the Comanche's roomy cabin and comfort features make it a preferred choice for personal and business travel. Its unique blend of performance, comfort, and aesthetic appeal continues to endear the Comanche to pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike.




V-Speeds (Varies by Model):

  • Vr (Rotation Speed): Typically around 70-75 knots depending on weight and model.
  • Vx (Best Angle of Climb Speed): Approximately 76 knots for early models, may vary for later, more powerful models.
  • Vy (Best Rate of Climb Speed): Around 85-90 knots for most models.
  • Va (Design Maneuvering Speed): Varies, but generally around 125-135 knots, indicating the maximum speed at which full, abrupt control movements can be made without overstressing the airframe.
  • Vfe (Maximum Flap Extended Speed): About 103 knots for the initial flap setting.
  • Vno (Maximum Structural Cruising Speed): Typically around 140-145 knots, the speed not to exceed except in smooth air.
  • Vne (Never Exceed Speed): Ranges from 190 to 202 knots depending on the specific model, indicating the speed beyond which structural damage is possible.

G-Load Limitations:

  • Normal Operating: +3.8/-1.52 G's for the standard category, ensuring the aircraft can handle typical maneuvering and turbulence within these limits.

Approved Maneuvers:

  • Non-Aerobatic Flight: The Comanche is approved for standard non-aerobatic flight operations, including stalls (power-on and power-off), steep turns, and other basic flight maneuvers essential for pilot training and proficiency.
  • Spins: Not all models are approved for intentional spins, and it is essential to consult the specific aircraft's operating handbook for details on approved maneuvers.

Performance Suitability:

  • Training: The Piper Comanche, particularly the lower-powered models like the 180, is well-suited for advanced flight training, including complex aircraft endorsement due to its retractable gear and constant-speed propeller. Its handling characteristics and performance envelope offer a solid platform for transitioning students from basic trainers to more complex aircraft.
  • Personal Aviation: With its higher performance models (250, 260, and 400), the Comanche excels in personal aviation roles, offering a blend of speed, range, and carrying capacity that appeals to owners and pilots looking for an aircraft capable of regional travel with family and friends. The aircraft's performance and fuel capacity make it ideal for cross-country flights, providing a comfortable and efficient flying experience.


Safety Record:

Between 1982 and 1992, an average of 33 single Comanches and 10 Twin Comanches per year were involved in reportable accidents. When comparing accidents per 100 aircraft in the fleet, the single Comanche averaged 12 accidents, while the comparison singles had 9.6, indicating a slightly higher accident rate for the Comanche against its peers like the Beech Bonanzas, Cessna Centurions, Piper Arrows, and Lances. The Twin Comanche's accident rate was virtually identical to that of comparison twins at about nine accidents per 100 aircraft.


Common safety concerns for the Comanche series include handling during landing, with the aircraft known to float during the flare and then settle sharply. This characteristic demands that pilots manage approach speed carefully and possibly apply a touch of throttle during the flare to achieve a smooth touchdown. The aircraft's performance in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) also showed a notably higher accident rate compared to the comparison group, suggesting that pilot judgment and skill in adverse weather conditions are critical factors.


Maintenance and aging-airplane issues have been highlighted as areas of concern, with recurrent Airworthiness Directives (ADs) and the cost of annual inspections being significant for Comanche owners. The aircraft's landing gear, while not as complex as that of some other retractables, has been identified as a common trouble spot, with gear-up landings or incidents attributed to operational oversights rather than mechanical failures​.


Comparatively, while the Comanche may present certain challenges, it also offers significant benefits in terms of speed, comfort, and aesthetics. Its handling characteristics, once familiar to the pilot, contribute to a rewarding flying experience. The Comanche series, especially models like the 250, combine competitive cruise speeds and comfort with the appeal of a classic design. These attributes, along with the potential for significant range provided by optional fuel system upgrades, make the Comanche a compelling choice for pilots willing to manage its maintenance requirements and operational peculiarities​.


Acquisition Cost:

A PA-24-260 Comanche from the mid-1960s, has an estimated price of around $125,800. Similarly, the PA-24-260B Comanche models from 1966 to 1968 have a typical price around $130,250. These prices reflect the aircraft's enduring value and desirability in the used aircraft market, taking into account factors such as condition, avionics upgrades, maintenance history, and market demand.


Comparatively, these current values indicate that the Piper PA-24 Comanche has maintained and even increased in value over time, considering inflation and the cost of new aircraft. The Comanche's reputation for performance, comfort, and aesthetic appeal, alongside its capability for upgrades and modifications, contributes to its continued popularity among pilots and aircraft enthusiasts. The comparison of these values to the original acquisition costs demonstrates the aircraft's lasting appeal and the general appreciation of well-maintained vintage aircraft in the aviation community.



In conclusion, the Piper PA-24 Comanche stands as a testament to aviation innovation and the enduring legacy of Piper Aircraft. From its inception in the late 1950s to its premature production halt in 1972, the Comanche carved out a distinct niche in the general aviation landscape. Its sleek design, advanced features for the time, and range of powerful engine options appealed to a broad spectrum of pilots, from private owners to commercial operators. Despite the challenges posed by its safety record and the maintenance demands of an aging aircraft, the Comanche's performance, versatility, and aesthetic appeal have cemented its place in aviation history. Today, the Piper PA-24 Comanche remains highly regarded among aviation enthusiasts, collectors, and pilots, embodying the spirit of vintage aviation while continuing to soar through the skies. Whether for training, personal use, or simply as a cherished collectible, the Comanche offers a unique blend of history, performance, and beauty, making it a beloved icon in the world of general aviation.



A list of recommended sources for those looking to delve deeper into the world of the Piper PA-24 Comanche include:


  1. Piper Aircraft, Inc.: The manufacturer's official website is the go-to source for detailed information about the Comanche, including its history and the evolution of its models.
  1. AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association): AOPA offers a comprehensive safety review of the Comanche, as well as other resources for owners and pilots.
  1. Aviation Safety Network: For an in-depth look at the safety record of the Comanche, including notable incidents and accidents.
  1. Plane & Pilot Magazine: This site provides articles and reviews on the Comanche, offering insights into its performance, maintenance, and ownership experiences.
  1. com: Offers detailed specifications, performance data, and current market valuations for different Comanche models.
  1. AeroCorner: Provides a historical overview, specifications, and a photo gallery for the Piper PA-24 Comanche.
  1. International Comanche Society: An organization dedicated to the owners and pilots of Comanche aircraft, offering resources, forums, and events.



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