Many of Piper’s post war models through the 40s and 50s traced their ancestry back to the J-3 Cub. No exception was the PA-20 Pacer, a 3-4 seat touring aircraft of 115-135hp, which retained the familiar wing of the Cub.

The Piper Aircraft Company entered a post war aircraft market which was initially buoyant but quickly declined. Piper struggled but succeeded in staying afloat by making conservative improvements to the J-3 design. The PA-15 Vagabond, PA-16 Clipper and PA-20 Pacer followed in quick succession.

The Piper Pacer emerged in 1949 as a development of the Vagabond and Clipper. The Vagabond had first acquired a fuselage wider than the J-3 to accommodate side by side seating, and the Clipper had a lengthened version of this fuselage to accommodate (in theory) 4 people. The Pacer was externally very similar to the Clipper, but closer inspection would reveal flaps (a Piper first), and yokes in place of the Clipper’s control sticks. However welcome these improvements were, they would ultimately be bested by the Tri-Pacer’s tricycle undercarriage which made it a strong seller. The Pacer’s production life thus was short, lasting only until 1954.

The Pacer can be seen as an interim design which was outstripped by the improved utility of its successor. However, as a classic aircraft the Pacer today has great appeal. With only 1120 built, it is unsurprising that many Tri-Pacers have been converted to tailwheel configuration to resemble their sleeker elder sibling.


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