I-285 Crash: Plane Not So ‘Popular’

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Not long after I published a story on the history of the Piper Cherokee Lance that crash landed on the eastbound lane of i-285, a reader reached out to me.

A self-identified attorney and a flight instructor took issue with the headline: ‘“I-285 crash: a popular plane’s past”

Additionally, he pointed out some troubling statistics that he said he’d gathered. Overall, he presented an interesting argument. We went over his letter several times and refined his point:

That, perhaps, the plane’s model (which was only manufactured from 1976 to 1979) was difficult to fly at low altitudes and that difficulty can’t be ruled out as the cause of the crash.

The Lance was not Piper Aircraft’s finest hour. Rather, it was an attempt to add sizzle to its predecessor, the Cherokee Six.  

A later version, the Piper Saratoga, had a fairly long shelf life; but not the Lance.

For balance, it should be noted that, that plane wasn’t free from notable accidents. JFK Jr. died after crashing one off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

Earlier versions of the Lance, such as the one that crashed into I-285, were comparatively  ‘heavy’ and difficult to fly, especially at slow speeds. Later versions of this model, the Lance II and the Turbo Lance II,  particularly with the T Tail design, made the plane even more difficult to control at slow speeds.

I think it’s important to emphasize, again, that the Cherokee Lance (PA-32R-300) did not have that problematic T Tail design, and was basically a Cherokee Six with retractible landing gear.

Due largely to ‘challenging’ flight characteristics, the ‘Lance’ production  was short lived. Sales plummeted. Between ‘76 and ’79, Piper built less than 2,000 of them [per AOPA].

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association [AOPA], of the 1,941 Lance Aircraft built, there have been 127 fatal accidents. That’s a rate of .065 – roughly double the ‘popular’ Cessna 172,  with about 43,000 built [more than 20 times the number of the Lance].

Today, a little more than half of the Lances built are still ‘registered’. Eighty percent of Cessna 172s, meanwhile, are still in the sky.

So, assuming nothing wrong with fuel or mechanically with the engine, then as an aviator for 45 years, my guess is this crash may have something to do with the plane; not just the pilot.

On a hot day, with a heavy, somewhat underpowered plane, the pilot who died shortly after taking off from DeKalb Peachtree Airport earlier this month, had his hands full in a Lance.

This Atlanta-area lawyer didn’t want his name attached to the letter, so I was unable to get it published in the newspaper.

Still, I thought it important enough to share, here.

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