From Oil Man to Air Man
Piper began manufacturing the Piper Cub, a low-price, simple airplane so light and easy to fly that even Piper himself became a pilot—at the age of 60. From an abandoned silk factory in Lock Haven, Piper’s company grew into a maker of inexpensive airplanes—they cost only $1,325, and didn’t increase in price for many years—that stood apart from Cessnas, and the most obvious distinction was where Piper chose to place the wings.
You Take the High Wing, and I’ll Take the Low Wing…
By the Book
All of Cessna’s small airplanes follow a high-wing design scheme in which the body of the plane hangs below the wing. In the low-wing design of many Pipers and small airplanes, the body of the plane rests atop the wings, which serve as a step into the cockpit
Aside from the Cub and its cousins, the Pacer and TriPacer, Pipers became known for their low-wing design, which some pilots prefer to the high-wing design of most of Cessna’s small models. There is a distinct difference in the flying characteristics of the two planes that becomes starkly noticeable particularly during landing. For the most part, the preference for the low-wing scheme doesn’t go beyond cosmetics. Still, some pilots like sitting on top of the wing instead of dangling below it.
The location of the wing can be important to a pilot. For example, some pilots, often young ones who are just beginning their careers as professionals, take jobs flying along gas and oil pipelines in remote stretches of desert or forest looking for telltale signs of leaks. To do the job really well, they need to be able to look straight downward, which is where high wings make the job a lot easier. Other pilots count animals, something that helps fish and wildlife officials regulate populations. Wildlife pilots often fly very low while passengers count animals like moose, antelopes, even schools of fish and pods of whales, for hours on end. That job is a lot easier if the airplane wing isn’t blocking the view.
My preference is for high-wing Cessnas, and I have a particular fondness for the classic lines and easy-going flying characteristics of the Cessna 170. For one thing, I find high-wing Cessnas easier to get into and out of. Piper’s low wing sometimes makes for tricky footing when stepping on the wing—always the right wing—to reach the door, and an awkward step down into the cockpit. High-wing Cessnas can be entered from both sides of the cockpit—and exited from both sides, too, in case of emergency—and are as comfortable to get into as a two-door sedan.
What’s more, I like the visibility Cessna’s high wing gives me, not only during cruise flight, but when approaching the airport. In a low-wing Piper, and any low-wing airplane for that matter, the wings block my view of the airport during some phases of the landing approach, which I find a nuisance.