A Short Biography of W.T Piper and the beginning of Piper Aviation
It has been said that the Piper Aircraft Corporation was a mirror image of it's founder. W.T. Piper was a teetotaler as some may call it. His personality was embedded in sober British stock that emigrated to New England. Mr Piper didn't smoke, drink or moralize although he did gamble. His gambling however, involved calculated business risks that he understood from all angles as a true entreprenure. Mr Piper believed in individual responsibility and personal initiative. He believed simply that work was both honorable and rewarding.
When Mr. Piper was 18 his father sent him to Harvard because Cambridge tolerated saloons. Mr Piper graduated cum laude from the engineering school in 1903. Mr. Piper entered construction engineering and built the first reinforced concrete garage in New York City although he found the work a bit dull. Following an opportunity in an oil business partnership Mr. Piper found himself with a connection to airplane manufacturing. Mr. Piper purchased shares of common stock of Taylor Brothers Aircraft of Bradford Pennsylvania. Taylor Brothers Aircraft didn't fare well against more established competition such as Curtiss-Wright, Travel Air and Waco. Taylor Aircraft suffered as most did during the troubled economic times of the 1930's and eventually filed for bankruptcy.
Although Mr. Piper didn't have sufficient financing available to rescue the Aircraft maker, he did feel strongly that the airplanes being manufactured for student instruction were too expensive and out of financial reach of almost all airport operators. He believed that a lightweight, affordable airplane would bring about an entirely new era in avaiation.
Mr. Piper purchased the assets of the failure of Taylor Aircraft for $600.00 after refinancing his earnings from oil investment and a bank loan. In a typical act of generosity Mr. Piper gave half of everything to Mr. Taylor. The partnership organized Taylor Aircraft Corporation.
Mr Taylor designed a small, high wing, two-place monoplane which he called the "Cub". The prospect for the sales potential of this airplane, as much as anything else, influenced Mr. Piper decision to go into the avaition business. The Cub was an attractive small plane and had it's skeptics. The manufacturing of airplanes at the time was very difficult. At one point there was so little money in the till that Mr. Piper had to go to a wholesale grocer, an old friend, to work out a deal to pay his employees in food on an IOU arrangement.
During this difficult financial period aircraft engines were available to Mr. Piper in cash only and stored at local railroad express office. Mr. Piper would accept a check payment for an airplane directly from the customer then leave the customer to race down to the bank to cash the check. Then head to the railroad express office to purchase the engine, lash the engine to the bumper of his car and head back to the factory. Back at the factory the engine was installed in the plane while the customer waited in the lobby. The plane would be "test" flown once around the airfield and then handed over to the customer.
By 1938 three events changed the company's fortunes: The partnership had been dissolved and Mr. Piper was in sole command, a fire in Bradford, PA caused the company to relocate to Lock Haven, PA and Adolf Hitler had evoked fears of war in the United States. With the threat of war looming, plans were developed to create a pool of civilian pilots who could for the core of a military air force. Piper Aircraft aquired a large silk mill about the time the U.S. Government began a vast civilan pilot training program.
Piper was positioned perfectly and Piper alone had the production capability to meet the demand for a small inexpensive, trainer-type airplane. As evident of this 4 out of 5 US Pilots in World War II received their original avaition instruction in Piper Cubs. While during World War II the skies were filled with Superfortresses, Liberators, Avengers and Warhawks there was another aircraft in the skies. The Piper L-4 was a conversion of the J-3 Cub painted olive drab with a 65 horsepower engine. The Piper L-4 was used by the thousands in the Pacific, Asia and Europe. Famous Generals used the airplane for transportation and assessment of tactical situations among them Dwight D. Eisenhower and General George S. Patton and Omar Bradley and even Winston Churchill flew in the ubiquitous Piper L-4.
Following the end of World War II the outlook for light plane manufacturers was extremely postive. With trained pilots returning to civilan life the idea of a half-million citizens flying their own personal planes could finally be realized. The light plane industry with Piper in the vanguard position enjoyed strong growth up until the spring of 1947. Then the market slowed. What was realized during this time was that the Piper would have to evolve to customer demand. The need for additional passenger seating and faster speeds become evident. No longer would a customer purchase an airplane, if against a brisk headwind, a Ford V-8 could outpace him on the highway below.
The first real breakthrough for the Piper Aircraft Corporation in the postwar period occured in 1954 when its twin-engine aircraft was designed. Piper had discovered a market segment that had strong growth potential. The businessman that needed to get somewhere in a hurry and didn't want to travel on scheduled commercial airlines. The airplane developed into a low-wing, all metal plane with retractable landing gear and an unheard of price of $17,000.00 for a twin-engine plane. This aircraft was named the Apache and began Piper's tradition of adopting Indian names for it's planes. The apache was the true cornerstone of Piper's postwar growth.
In 1976, Piper produced its 100,000th airplane. At that time one out of every 10 airplanes man has ever produced has been a Piper. Piper Airplanes almost daily crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Piper Aircraft have also made many record flights. Two Super Cruisers, specially fitted, flew around the world soon after the end of World War II. Other record setting Piper Aircraft have been displayed at the prestigious National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute.
Following a short illness, Mr. Piper died on January 15th 1970. One week after celebrating his 89th birthday. On July 19th 1980, Mr. Piper was inducted into the renowned Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Piper took his rightful place alongside the legends of the aviation history.
Piper Aircraft Corporation has always been and will continue to be a celebrated leader in its industry.