The Twin Comanche first saw the light of day in 1963 and between then and 1972; Piper built about 2150 Twin Comanches in its Lock Haven, Pennsylvania plant, the same factory that produced the venerable Cub. By any measure, the Twin Comanche was sleek and sporty compared to the airplane it followed, the dowdy, bulbous-nosed PA-23 Apache. (That airplane eventually evolved into the PA-23-250 Aztec, a strong airplane for Piper in its own right.) The Twin Comanche has two designations, PA-30 and PA-39.
The first Twin Comanche shared two things with its slower predecessor, the Apache: It had four seats and the same basic 160-HP Lycoming O-320 power plants. One difference is that the PA-30 has the injected version of the O-320, the IO-320-B1. Cabin room was virtually identical in both airplanes.
But the Twin Comanche was clearly a different airplane. Compared to the Apache’s short and squat looks, the Twinkie was rakish, with a sloped windshield, a pointed nose, tiger shark engine nacelles and even optional tip tanks. With cruise speeds as fast at 170 knots, along with miserly fuel burn, the Twin Comanche proved popular among private owners, flight schools and charter operators.
In 1966, Piper introduced a new Twin Comanche—the PA-30B. Although it has two extra seats, it really isn’t a six-place airplane for anything but the shortest flights and the smallest people. The extra seats eat up the baggage space and the useful load of 1390 pounds allows just a half load of fuel if all six seats are filled. Given the airplane’s low fuel consumption, half fuel is enough for 300 miles or so, but it’s not realistic to think of the Twin Comanche as a six-place airplane. (There are windows for the fifth and sixth seat passengers, but they’re better at illuminating what’s really a large baggage compartment.)
In an era when turbocharging wasn’t common in light aircraft, Piper brought out the PA-30B in 1966, with optional factory installed Rayjay turbochargers, boosting potential speeds to 190 knots in the mid to high teens. Nor were these the seamless, automatic waste gate turbo we’re used to today. Each turbo had a waste gate controlled directly by a mechanical cockpit knob. Although such a system is cheap and reliable, it imposes yet another cockpit duty on the pilot. For any pilot not used to this system, flying it can be like running a steam locomotive.
In 1969, Piper introduced the PA-30C, which offered minor improvements. Among these was a new instrument panel with offset radio rack and flight instrumentation in the classic T-pattern, rather than Piper’s traditional hodgepodge arrangement, which many of the earlier airplanes still have. The last of the Twin Comanches was the PA-39 series. Distinguished by its counter-rotating engines, this series was regarded by many as the finest of the Twin Comanche line and, say many owners, the one to buy.
Twin Comanche production ended in 1972, a victim of both a declining market and Tropical Storm Agnes, which drove the Susquehanna River over its banks, flooding the Lock Haven plant. By then, Piper was already established in Vero Beach, Florida, but neither the single nor the Twin Comanche variants made the transition to Vero.
Depending on model and year, Twin Comanche owners report cruise speeds of 160 to 210 knots on 13 to 16 gallons per hour, all up. Our guess is that the median cruise is closer to the lower number than anything above 200 knots. Generally, airplanes with higher cruise speeds have various speed-boosting mods. An unmodified, normally aspirated Twin Comanche can best be thought of as a 160-knot airplane.
While it’s true that this isn’t faster than some modern singles, having the second engine is important to some owners. With back-up vacuum and electrical systems, tackling low IFR or night operations is less stress inducing, even if the airplane isn’t exactly stellar on one engine.
Like any light piston twin, the Twin Comanche will eke out a climb with one engine caged, but you won’t suffer a nosebleed during the ascent. If everything is done just right and the weight isn’t too high, look for about 200 FPM of climb, or a bit more. (Interestingly, the new Diamond Twin Star hasn’t bettered that performance, nor would we expect it to.)
When it was first introduced and thanks to its popularity as a multi-engine trainer, the Twin Comanche suffered somewhat of a tarnished reputation with regard to handling on one engine