Vero Beach, FL
Piper Aircraft Chief Pilot,
Senior Manager of
Production Flight Test
1. You’ve been at Piper more than 28 years. Can you describe your start at the company?
I was hired into the training department in 1989, back when Piper used to perform all piston training in-house, with both new and old aircraft. Stuart Millar, Piper’s owner at that time, held the belief that we needed to train in all airplanes because of the intangible benefits – can’t put a dollar figure on accidents you don’t have. So, during my first five years I provided type-specific training to pilots in Senecas, Aerostars, Saratogas, Cherokees, Seminoles, Super Cubs, Malibus and others. It was a really fun time, and I met a lot of great people I am still friends with today.
2. What are your current responsibilities within the company?
I am the chief pilot, as well as senior manager of production flight test. I am essentially responsible for anyone who flies within the company with the exception of engineering test flight. I also act as the corporate pilot, check out sales pilots, perform demo flights, transport aircraft to trade shows, etc. But I spend the bulk of my time flying production test flights across the whole product line. Each aircraft has its own extensive flight test procedure designated by the FAA prior to certification. We are the ones who verify it meets those operational standards.
3. In your career, what have been some of the biggest shifts in the industry?
I’d say the growth in avionics and cockpit automation has been the biggest shift. Airplanes have not changed all that much otherwise. But the automation has made both airplanes and pilots different. The whole attitude of flying is different. Back when I started, you didn’t expect the autopilot to work and now it’s a shock if it doesn’t. With GPS, flight planning has dramatically changed as well – it takes a lot less pilot input. Cost is another shift, but I have my own theory on that topic.
4. Can you elaborate on your cost theory?
There is this feeling now that flying costs more than it should since it was a lot cheaper back in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. That’s the time a lot of us grew up in. But if you go back farther than that and look at private flying in the 1930’s and 40’s, relatively speaking it was as expensive, if not more, than it even is now. I honestly think the era between the end of WWII through the early 1980’s was the anomaly and what we are experiencing now is the norm. It’s an interesting way to look at it.
Piper’s most recently debuted model is the M600. What sets it apart from other M-Class models?
The range and payload. With 260 gallons of fuel, you have six hours of range plus the ability to offload a significant amount of fuel and still have more range than you need on an average-length trip. It’s a clean-sheet wing, making it a completely different performing airplane. Usually, with smaller turbine-engine aircraft, you are compromised with range/payload, but Piper has cracked the code with this one.