Piper Aircraft was once one of the largest manufacturers of small airplanes in the world. With a fascinating history that goes back nearly a century, we thought we’d take a look at this iconic brand and why it’s so important to the general aviation industry – let’s take a look.
Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corporation
Before Piper Aircraft was known around the world, the company was named after the original founders, Clarence and Gordon Taylor. Just a year after they started their new business in 1927, Taylor Aircraft Manufacturing Company, Gordon would sadly perish in a prototype airplane demonstration. After his brother’s death, Clarence was persuaded to move to Pennsylvania by entrepreneur William Piper. The Harvard graduate, World War I veteran and oil tycoon, Piper would eventually come to also be known as the “Henry Ford of aviation” for the impacts he made in the field. It all started with the Taylor partnership. He was the original investor in the Taylor brothers’ company after seeing the potential of their many consumer-friendly aircraft innovations. The pair would work together over the next seven years, but they would ultimately be destined to fail.
Purchase by William Piper
Soon after forming, the stock market crashed in October of 1929, causing Taylor Brothers Aircraft to file for bankruptcy. Piper bought the company for just under $800, taking the reins as the company’s financial operator. Even though Clarence Taylor would stay in charge as president until 1935, Piper would effectively control the company’s purse strings and influence business decisions. Throughout the Great Depression, Taylor and Piper constantly butted heads. This culminated in Piper buying Taylor out in 1936; both went on to form their own companies, Piper Aircraft and Taylorcraft, respectively. However, Piper wouldn’t have made it very far without the foundation that Clarence Taylor laid before him. He sold the most successful fabric-covered airplane, which were Taylor-designed Piper Cubs. Because they were easy to fly, affordable and extremely popular, these planes are often called the “Model T of airplanes”.
Piper Aircraft: Leading the Pack
By 1940, Piper had cornered the general aviation market and with the serious threat of the U.S. entering World War II, the need for aircraft had suddenly come roaring back from the depths of the economic crash of the 1930s. Piper had recently moved to a massive factory in Lock Haven, PA and were perfectly positioned to take on the aircraft production capabilities for the upcoming war mobilization effort. To give you a sense of how popular Piper was throughout the war, 80 percent of U.S. WWII pilots were trained in Piper Cubs. Even General George Patton, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously flew in the Piper-made L-4. Like the other “Big Three” companies, Cessna and Beechcraft, Piper was set up excellent for post-war success. After the Japanese surrendered, thousands of soldiers versed in the skill of flying were returning to civilian life. They became a prime target market for manufacturers like Piper.
Even though society never reached the level of “an airplane in every American’s garage”, as some futurists of the 1950s wanted, the general aviation industry thrived and Piper was at the forefront. Although it would take them a while to develop, they finally released their first twin-engine, all-metal aircraft in 1954, the Piper Apache. This small aircraft was particularly appealing to businessmen who needed to get from place to place quickly and was the cornerstone of Piper’s post-war growth. For two decades, they innovated with better-performing lines of airplanes. A new facility opened in Florida in the 1960s for the construction of a new PA-28 Cherokee aircraft. They also went on to create other popular models like the Cheyenne, Navajo and Comanche. By 1969, however, Piper would undergo significant change after the purchase of a controlling interest in Piper by Bangor Punta Corporation. The following year, William Piper, having just turned 89, passed away. Even though he was no longer at the helm, he was the reason that one out of every 10 airplanes manufactured has been a Piper. By 1976, the company produced its 100,000th airplane.
Changing Hands Into the Future
Since the death of William Piper, his company has changed hands several times. In the mid 1980s, Bangor Punta was acquired by Lear Siegler, which in turn was bought by Forstmann Little, and then sold to a private investor. The list goes on. Ultimately, the company went bankrupt yet again in the 1990s and renamed itself “The New Piper Aircraft”. In 2003, American Capital Strategies bought the majority of the company, and even though they worked out a promising partnership with Honda, tragedy lay ahead. The Great Recession struck in 2007 and deeply impacted their airplane orders and workforce. Contracts were cancelled, staff was laid off and it was unclear whether the company could once again bounce back from financial ruin. In 2009 at the depths of the stock market crash, the Government of Brunei via a state-controlled investment strategy company, Imprimis, purchased Piper from American Capital Strategies. Since this stunning acquisition, Piper has bounced back – over the past two years alone, they’ve closed two of the largest deals in the company’s history. In 2018, they announced an order of more than 150 trainer planes and 2019 brought an order for 240 new Piper Archers and Seminoles. Going forward, Piper will continue to be an iconic brand, one that remains committed to William Piper’s original vision of simple, user-friendly airplanes that out-performe competitors. In terms of the general aviation industry, they’ll continue to be one of the most popular small aircraft soaring the skies.
Are you interested in renting a Piper airplane?
Reach out to Inflight Pilot Training to learn more about our fleet of Piper airplanes in Minneapolis. Try the easy-to-fly Piper Arrow for a few hours of fun. We also supply a number of other fun planes you can fly, from Cirrus to Beechcraft to Mooney and beyond – learn more about our general aircraft rental.