Cherokee 140: The Little Indian That Could PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Cox   

Piper Cherokee 140A long time ago, I trained for my private license in a Champion Tri-Traveler and a Piper Colt. The flight school had a then-new Piper Cherokee 140, and when I finally flew it a few days after earning my ticket, I was impressed.

Businessman John Lowe of Guyton, Georgia, owned a 1966 Piper Cher­okee 140 that very well might have been that airplane. Then again, maybe not. Piper built some 1200 Cherokee 140s that year.
Either way, Lowe had the benefit of owning one of the simplest, easiest-flying airplanes above the planet. When the type was introduced, some instructors complained that it was TOO easy to fly, its stall too gentle, its handling too benign.(Is it really possible for an airplane to be TOO safe? I think not.)

Indeed, the Cherokee 140 probably deserves its reputation as one of the world’s friendliest trainers. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when I began delivering airplanes from Florida to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, probably half of my mounts were Cherokees of one type or another, from Warriors to Arrows, and all owed their lineage to the original Cherokee 140. Those weren’t the fastest trips I’ve made, and they certainly weren’t the most comfortable, but the airplanes were almost universally forgiving.

Lowe didn’t fly such exotic missions in his vintage Cherokee. For the most part, his trips were confined to the local 400 nm area around Savannah, Georgia. The pilot owns an electric sign company, All Brite Signs, and does business primarily in Georgia and South Carolina, sometimes using his airplane for travel between jobs.

He comes by his interest in aviation from his father, a WWII fighter pilot who flew F6F Hellcats off the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise in the Pacific theatre. “My father was flying off the Enterprise at the same time George H.W. Bush was stationed there,” says Lowe, “but Dad didn’t know the future president, because they were in different squadrons.”

Following the war, the elder Lowe continued to fly, but transitioned to PBYs, the famous amphibious rescue airplanes that saved hundreds of pilots and crewmen from drowning during the war. “The Navy was cutting back on fighter pilots, and Dad finished his Naval career transporting admirals in PBYs,” says Lowe. “He used to joke that PBYs weren’t nearly as much fun to fly as fighters, but the working conditions shuttling admirals around the country were much better.”

Piper Cherokee 140Granted such a legacy, John Lowe knew he’d eventually become a pilot, and he finally did in 1986. Not content to fly someone else’s airplanes, Lowe first invested in a series of ultralights before stepping up to factory-built, certified machines. He started with a Cessna 150 (“the cheapest thing I could find that wasn’t 40 years old”), then moved up to a 172 and finally transitioned to his current Cherokee 140 last January.

“After owning two high-wing airplanes, I was interested in trying a low wing, and the 140 was a good example in roughly the same performance and price class,” Lowe explains.

Back in 1966 when Lowe’s airplane was new, a typical 140 went out the Lock Haven, Pennsylvania factory door at an average-equipped price of about $11,600. Today, a reasonable ’66 Cherokee 140 in good condition demands more like $23,000.

The Cherokee was a definite departure for Piper, but the company hoped the Cherokee would offer a competitor for both Cessna’s 150 and 172 in a single model. Though it was far from the company’s first low wing airplane (that honor fell to the twin-engine 1954 Apache), it featured some major changes over previous models. Conceived by John Thorp (of homebuilt fame) and Fred Weick (father of the Ercoupe), the Cherokee line was designed for easy construction and simple maintenance.

The PA28 employed some 400 fewer parts than the previous, smaller Tri-Pacer, though the basic design retained many of the Tripe’s features, the overhead elevator trim crank, the single hand-brake (later models utilized toe brakes), manual flaps operated by a Johnson bar and a fuel selector on the left sidewall. Unlike the Tri-Pacer, the Cherokee’s tail incorporated a stabilator, a hinged, single-piece horizontal stabilizer, for pitch control.

The design also featured an unusually thick airfoil, sometimes called the Hershey-bar wing because of its pronounced, fat leading edge and classic airfoil shape, rounded on the top, flat on the bottom. Beneath the high dihedral wings, the oleo strut gear legs were tough and simple, widely-spaced for easy ground handling.

The very first Cherokee was a 150 or 160 hp airplane with two bucket seats up front and an optional small bench seat in the rear. In those days, Piper was trying to compete with the Cessna 150 for the trainer market, and that was tough with a larger, more powerful airplane, typically at least 15-20% more expensive than the Cessna. The reality is that any airplane designed to accommodate four people inevitably costs more to build and sell than one constructed for two.

Piper Cherokee 140Accordingly, Piper reduced power to 140 hp and removed the rear seat for a short time, in hopes of making the airplane more price competitive. Piper finally realized the comparatively “big” Cherokee could never compete with the littlest Cessna. Accordingly, the then-Vero Beach company abandoned the 140 hp engine after only one year, returned to 150 hp and restored the rear seat, though it maintained the model name Cherokee 140. (The same basic airframe and wing went on to become the Cherokee 160 and Cherokee 180, and slight variations became the Piper Archer, Arrow and Dakota, the latter with 235 hp out front.)

Lowe’s airplane is one of the “high gross” models, certified at 2150 pounds gross weight but with an empty weight of only 1150 pounds. “Low gross” Cherokee 140s were certified at 1950 pounds, so useful load was 200 pounds less.

In reality, neither airplane was up to lifting four folks, but the high gross model boasted a theoretical 200 pound payload advantage. Lowe’s airplane features what Piper called a “Family Seat” in back, not that any sane person would try to carry a full quartet of folks in a Cherokee 140 unless two of them were small children. Lowe’s airplane weighs in empty at 1221 pounds.

Standard fuel on the early Cherokee 140s was only 36 gallons, an unreasonably low capacity intended to help maintain a reasonable payload, at least on paper. Optional fuel was 50 gallons, and most Cherokee 140s were sold in that configuration. Lowe has the “big” tanks, so if he fills them, he’s left with a theoretical 629 pound payload.

Like the Skyhawk, the Cherokee 140 is very much a jack of most trades, an excellent entry-level machine. It’s modestly inexpensive to buy and maintain, simple to fly and delivers enough performance for pilots who don’t demand strong climb and quick cruise. Power is provided by an O-320 Lycoming, pumping out 150 hp. This is one of the most reliable and longest-lasting engines in general aviation, rated for as much as 2200 hours between overhauls in some applications.
(Years ago, unlimited race pilot Lyle Shelton, owner of the highly successful F8F Bearcat “Rare Bear,” also had a hard-working Cherokee 140 that he and his crew used for shagging parts for the Bearcat. The airplane flew virtually every day, probably 15 hours a week. Lyle’s cardinal rule for those of us who flew the Cherokee was to never bring power off the forward stop except to land. Per Lyle’s instructions, the engine ran full throttle most of the time. We ran that engine 2800 hours, and when the crew finally did tear it down, the crew chief said it was still in excellent condition and probably could have run another 700-1000 hours.)

Piper Cherokee 140Lowe operates his Cherokee 140 from a 2600 foot sod strip in North Georgia, Hodges Airpark, and the owner reports that’s plenty of room for his airplane. “A half-mile of runway is more than adequate for a Cherokee 140,” says Lowe. “Even if I’m loaded to gross, the airplane comes off the ground easily in well under 1000 feet.”

Neither climb nor cruise are the Cherokee 140’s long suits. Pointed uphill with everything working perfectly, Lowe doesn’t plan on more than 550-600 fpm climb. The good news is that he flies in the Southeastern U.S. where terrain rarely tops 5000 feet. Service ceiling is advertised over 14,000 feet, but even Lowe acknowledges it would take a long time to get there.

When it comes to cruise, Lowe says he can sometimes see 115 knots in smooth air at 7000 feet if he’s doing everything right - a fully aft CG, vents closed, cruise prop and all other flight conditions optimized. More typical speed is 110 knots under normal conditions.

Lowe reports a fuel burn in his airplane on the order of 8.5 gph, so a 50-gallon fuel supply is worth about 4.5 hours plus reserve. That translates to a range of 500 nm at 75 percent. As with many high drag designs, reduced power settings only extend range slightly, hardly worth the effort unless you need to stretch reach to the next fuel stop.

As mentioned earlier, the Cherokee 140’s flight characteristics are perhaps the most benign of any trainer. The stall is virtually non-existent in any configuration. Years ago, a good friend, Dave Jackson, now CEO of King Schools, allowed me to use his Cherokee 140 for some stall tests. I stalled the airplane in every possible flight configuration, power on and off, flaps full down or up, in 60 degree banks and 30 degrees of pitch, and the airplane refused to get mad at me. All it would do was roll gently back to level and take up a slow, hobby horse bucking, meanwhile sinking slowly toward the ground. Hold the airplane’s yoke full back with flaps down and power off, and the 140 would eventually mush into the ground wings level.

Piper used to claim the Cherokee 140 was unspinnable, and it would seem very difficult to get into a true spin. Stabilator travel is limited, and it would be difficult to force the airplane into an asymmetric stall break and generate a spin.

Lowe loves his Cherokee’s gentle handling and wonders how anyone could get into trouble in the type. “After owning two Cessnas, I really like the Cherokee’s easy stall and low wing,” says Lowe. “That’s not to suggest the 150 or 172 were hard to fly, but the Cherokees low wing provides better visibility in the pattern than my Cessnas, it offers a gentler stall, it’s easier to fuel, easier to wash and I think it just looks better. In fact, I think any airplanes I buy from now on will be a low wing.”
Lowe says he almost never flies with more than two folks aboard, so there may an RV6 or Thorp T-18 in his future, but for now, his Cherokee 140 provides reasonable climb and speed, and “it’s the easiest flying airplane in the sky.”

Piper Cherokee 140A long time ago, I trained for my private license in a Champion Tri-Traveler and a Piper Colt. The flight school had a then-new Piper Cherokee 140, and when I finally flew it a few days after earning my ticket, I was impressed.