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Piper Aircraft, Inc.

Piper is the only general aviation manufacturer to build and offer aircraft for every general aviation mission, from trainers and high-performance aircraft for personal and business use, to turbine-powered business aircraft and the PiperJet. Piper's rich legacy is born of over seven decades of unparalleled history, with hundreds of thousands of aircraft brought to market and more than 160 models certified. Approximately 90,000 of those aircraft are still flying and being serviced and supported on every continent by Piper's 65 service centers, 40 dealers and 2,500 field personnel.

The New Piper Aircraft manufacturing plant at Vero Beach Municipal Airport is in many ways a shadow of the Piper company. In 1976, Piper had 8,000 employees in three factories; by 1999 it had just over 1,000 workers and a single factory. In 1976, the industry was in its heyday, with Piper cranking out 4,000 planes a year in 19 models, including the legendary yellow Cub; in 1999, New Piper built fewer than 400 planes in eight models.

Historic achievements are easily found in the Piper scrapbook. To literally millions of people around the world General Aviation can be summed up in two words: Piper Cub. To many of them, all General Aviation aircraft fall into that category. And that's understandable. William T. Piper is known as the "Henry Ford of Aviation." And the yellow Cub is the acknowledged symbol of personal flight. Bradford, Pennsylvania, oilman Bill Piper had no experience with airplanes when he joined the Taylor Aircraft Company's board of directors in the early 1920s. The Taylor brothers had developed a small, light monoplane powered by a 20hp Brownbach Tiger Kitten engine. It was in this machine that the Cub took its roots.

When Gilbert Taylor left the company, Bill Piper brought in a new chief engineer, Walter Jamouneau, and under his direction the original Cub was modified to its historic, bright yellow J-3 version. In 1937, a fire in the original Bradford factory devastated the organization, and the company was moved to an old silk mill in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. When the company moved to Lock Haven, it became The Piper Aircraft Corporation.

World War II made demands on civilian aircraft manufacturers, and Piper answered the call by modifying its J-3 designs for military use. The resulting changes, most notably the L-4 model, saw extensive use in training combat pilots. Nearly 6,000 of the L-4s saw service and four out of every five American World War II pilots got their start in these dependable airplanes.

First Bankruptcy and Recovery

In 1947 the company was in serious financial trouble and the banks took temporary control. A new model, the Vagabond, was developed which is acknowledged as the aircraft the saved Piper. This was the first of the short wing Pipers.

After building tube frames and fabric-covered aircraft for 17 years, Piper introduced its first all metal plane, the Apache, in February of 1954. It was also Piper's first twin engine model and the first in a series to be named after an American Indian tribe. This was followed by the single engine Comanche.

With the success of the Apache, Piper saw the bright future for General Aviation and expanded its research and development capabilities, as well as its manufacturing base. In 1957 it built a new R&D facility at the old Naval airbase in Vero Beach, Florida. The Sunshine State proved to be an excellent site for experimental flight testing. The first accomplishment of the new facility was the introduction of the PA-25 Pawnee, an agricultural spraying aircraft.

This kind of advanced thinking in Vero Beach led to the expansion of manufacturing facilities in Florida, and the introduction of another airplane that was to be the forerunner of a whole family of successful, innovative aircraft. The PA-28 Cherokee was designed there and FAA-certified in October of 1960. It went into production in Vero Beach in January, 1961. The single-engine, four-place Cherokee design became the basis for more than half of Piper's aircraft in the decades to follow. Subsequent models, including the Warrior, Archer, Dakota, Arrow, Seneca and Saratoga were all based on this ground-breaking design.

The PA-32, or Cherokee Six, series came out in 1965 showing off a new stretched cabin that could accommodate six people. Their luggage could be stowed in a new forward baggage compartment, and they enjoyed a larger cabin interior. There was even a rear door to make it easy for passengers to be seated comfortably. The most recent addition to the PA-32 family tree is the Saratoga II TC, introduced in 1997.

In 1967 the twin engine lineup was enhanced with the introduction of the PA-31 Navajo. This powerful, cabin-class twin was designed to meet the growing demands for business travel. From the original, a series of relatives evolved. They were the Navajo Chieftain and the Mojave, followed by a lineup of twin turboprops, the Cheyenne I, the Cheyenne II and the Cheyenne IIXL.

While the company was built on the strength of its single engine aircraft, it excelled in development of twins. In 1971 the PA-34 Seneca was introduced. This six-place light twin was built around the Cherokee Six frame. Since its inception, the Seneca has seen duty around the world as an air taxi, a reliable charter aircraft, a dependable trainer for pilots stepping up to advanced multi-engine classes, and as a popular choice of the owner-pilot. Today's Seneca V still fits into each of these categories.

As the progression in the turboprop field continued, Piper introduced the Cheyenne III in 1979 and later upgraded it to the Cheyenne IIIA. These powerful aircraft had seating for up to 11 and were able to cruise at 300 knots with a range of up to 2,000 statute miles on the thrust of two 720hp Pratt & Whitney engines. While they targeted the executive market, the Cheyennes also found their way into many training programs, and were used to train pilots in such organizations as Lufthansa Airlines, Alitalia Airlines, Korean Air, All Nippon Airways, Austrian Airlines, and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

In 1983, when many manufacturers were pulling back or calling it quits, Piper introduced a totally new aircraft design. The PA-46 Malibu revolutionized personal aviation and came at a time when the industry truly needed a boost. It took three years of study and dedication to get the first Malibu into the air, but this pressurized, six-place, single-engine aircraft provides the creature comforts and amenities of many small business jets, but for a fraction of the price and operating cost. It immediately captured the imagination of owner-pilots, especially those who used their own aircraft for business. In 1988 an up-graded version, the Malibu Mirage was introduced. It's 350hp turbo-charged Lycoming engine immediately pushed it to the forefront of the industry.

Second Bankruptcy and Recovery

On July 1, 1991 the Piper Aircraft Co. filed for bankruptcy. The Vero Beach plant which built the best light airplanes in the world had shed 3,200 jobs since 1978. By 1991 only 45 of those jobs remained, victims of the US legal system. The company had a backlog worth $100 million; its assets were $75 million and its liabilities, $47 million. The company simply had no cash. No one would lend the company money to operate without product liability insurance.

Bankrupt Piper Aircraft Corp. announced on October 29, 1991 it would stop producing aircraft and sell its manufacturing assets. Piper owner M. Stuart Millar agreed to sell the tooling and manufacturing rights to eight Piper aircraft models to the Cyrus Eaton Group International Ltd. of Cleveland for an undisclosed price. The group planned to headquarter the new Piper Aircraft International in Canada and build the airplanes in eastern Europe or Russia. Cleveland's Cyrus Eaton Group offered to purchase the assets for about $46 million, but ultimately, Eaton did not buy the company.

Piper shopped around the U.S. and Canada for a new location in which to rebuild. Aerospatiale also negotiated for its purchase in 1991 but was dissuaded by the product liability issue. Another suitor wanted to relocate manufacturing to a New Mexico Indian reservation to ameliorate this problem.

In 1992, Angus Stone Douglass, a businessman with ties to New Jersey criminal-politicians, bought all of Piper's common stock from Millar for $500,000 cash through his Duck's Nest Investment firm. In his first year in charge, the company shipped 90 planes and reported operating profits of $7 million on revenues of $47 million.

Pilatus Aircraft Inc. of Switzerland then made a controversial bid for Piper. Pilatus made single-engine turboprop planes, and wanted to enter the commercial market. Pilatus's civil planes tended to end up in military uses in such unsavory places as Iraq and Angola, and recent sales to Burma and South Africa were freshly controversial. In September 1993 a federal bankruptcy judge threw out the proposed purchase of Piper Aircraft Co. in a major setback in the company's reorganization. US Bankruptcy Judge Robert Mark agreed with legal arguments by Piper's creditors committee and a legal representative for potential crash victims of Piper planes, who asked Mark to cancel the deal by Pilatus Aircraft. The judge ruled that the Swiss company's $45 million offer would not be enough to pay debts and set up a trust fund for Piper's potential claimants.

In early 1995 Douglass was forced out of Piper over a questionable stock transaction, according to reports in Florida Trend. Teledyne (later named Allegheny) and Philly investment firm Dimeling Schreiber & Park bought Piper for $95 million in March 1995, renaming it The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. In July 1995, after Piper had stabilised its financial position during four years of Chapter 11 protection, the US Bankruptcy Court approved a new reorganisation plan under which Piper's assets were bought for $95 million by Newco Pac Inc, a new company jointly owned by Philadelphia-based investment firm Dimeling, Schreiber and Park, Teledyne Continental Motors (which was Piper's largest creditor), and the remaining creditors. Under this ownership, The New Piper Aircraft Inc was established; company name changed to Piper Aircraft Inc in September 2006.

The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. became a reality in the summer of 1995 when President/CEO Charles Suma, and a nucleus of employees took over the assets of the Piper Aircraft Corporation. There were fewer than 100 employees in that first year but they embarked on an exciting assignment. The task was not an enviable one: Take on all the competitors and bring the Piper name back to the forefront of General Aviation. But this cadre of dedicated people was up to the challenges.

Engineers were challenged to create an aggressive research and development program to bring new, innovative aircraft to market. Customer service professionals from a variety of industries were tapped to create a system that provides the best service possible to every customer around the world. The organization embarked on a campaign to recruit the best distribution professionals around the globe. And the marketing and sales staff recommitted itself to making New Piper the leader not only in the owner-flown segment of the General Aviation market, but the leader when it comes to supplying the best training aircraft in the world, as well.

Along the way, Piper introduced improved versions of all models, including its venerable Seneca with the improved version, Seneca V. While every model benefited from the improvements made available by the latest in technology, New Piper also added new models, including a turbo-charged model to the Saratoga lineup - the Saratoga II TC.

New products, beginning with the debut of the Seneca V in January 1997, initially involved more evolution than revolution. Production numbers climbed cautiously. During 1999, Piper delivered 329 aircraft, 395 in 2000; 441 in 2001, 290 in 2002, 229 in 2003, 189 in 2004, 233 in 2005, 238 in 2006 and 221 in 2007. Planning for 2008 covered 269, including 100 Malibu Matrixes. However, Saratoga TC deleted from 2009 catalogue, while termination of Arrow under consideration. In July 2000 the New Piper Aircraft Inc. of Vero Beach rolled out its first new plane since recovering from bankruptcy five years earlier. The Malibu Meridian, a turbine-powered plane capable of flying up to 300 mph, left the assembly line and underwent its first flight test. Later in the summer, the first plane was delivered to Richard Dumais, chief executive of Texas International, who flies among homes in Dallas, Palm Beach and Steamboat Springs, Colo.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:59:16 ZULU