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Tomahawk, or Skipper

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Well-known member
Dec 21, 2001
My father likes to keep a small aircraft for putting around the GA, NC, and TN mountains. He had a C150 but sold it and intends to replace the airplane with a Skipper, or Tomahawk.

Which aircraft climbs better in the summer? Which aircraft has a better useful load?

He needs a C182, but will not spend the bucks.

Any advice, comments, or suggestions regarding which type would be a better purchase for him would be appreciated.
Go with the Skippy, by far a better a/c. Climbs better, more stable, and MUCH more roomier. At least that way you can ride around in a Beech vs. a Piper Indian Hauler.
There have been several articles in Aviation Safety over the past few years about how dangerous the tomahawk is.

The production aircraft supposedly contains fewer ribs in the wing than the design aircraft. There have been many fatal stall/spin accidents which were blamed on the aircraft entering a flattened spin.

I'll try to find the article and post it here. I flew a Skipper a couple times. I remember it feeling sluggish compared to the 152 with two of us taking off on a summer day, but I certainly didn't fly it enough for that to be an educated opinion. I had many friends who did thier Private in the aircraft, they all loved it.
Yep,agree on the Skipper-they're generally in nicer condition overall and a lot less AD's than the "Traumahawk",plus the spin manners of the PA38 are just spooky.However,be advised Skippers usually cost a good bit more.Here's one from a guy who specializes in Skippers down in Al-benny,GA:

The Aviation Safety article is from October 5, 1996. It references an NTSB report from an accident in Inman, KS on March 5, 1994.

The article states"The most significant production changes noted by one former design engineer were the use of light sheet metal aluminum stock for the wing spar and the reduction from 11 to only four ribs in each wing." (the NTSB reports 4 full ribs and 4 nose ribs)

This apparently softened the wings causing them to twist when g loads are applied. Thus the bad spin characteristics.

The NTSB report is enough to keep me from flying in the Tomahawk, but I instructed with a guy who loved that little airplane. Maybe it's ok as long as you don't slow it down.
The tomahawk is a good airplane, if flown within limitations. The biggest concern with the airplane is that it was never certified. It's not just some minor changes to wing ribs and a change in the spar weight. The airplane was certified with a different airfoil; a completely different wing. Under that certification, I believe it was the only airplane to get by with such a crucial design change.

That is not the reason for it's reputation, however. Both the skipper and the tomahawk appear similiar externally, and both are susceptable to certain deep stall characteristics, to a degree. However, the two are different airplanes.

The tomahawk is not rigid under a load. It is also as a result, not consistant. One may spin the airplane three hundred times with full consistancy, or six hundred for that matter. But somewhere in there, perhaps on the 601st, it becomes uncontrollable; it won't recover. It buffets and oil cans, and the empennage flexes, giving a slightly different aerdynamic effect; it becomes a different airplane.

Part of the bad reputation is not deserved. There are a lot of tomahawks around the country in constant, active use in the training arena, and as personal rides. Airplanes that are constantly put into stalls and spins are perhaps more likely to be involved in accidents related to aerial maneuvering, or recovery issues, and that may be part of the issue.

The following site addresses some of the concerns, recommends specific further testing, and has a brief bibliography with references to further pursue the matter.


The following Air Safety Foundation tends to disagree with much of the controversy, and is worth reading:


I can't comment on the Skipper because I've never flown one, but from what I can gather it is essentially a Beech built Tomahawk. Depends on who you talk to but I believe Beech came up with the the design first. I may be mistaken on that though, so don't hold me to it.

I do have more than a few hours in Tomahawks however. In a nutshell IMHO it's a terrific airplane. I would buy one in a second if I were looking for a two place airplane.

The spin characteristics of the Tomahawk have been maligned more than Bill Clintons credibility. IMHO unjustly so. Dig up the AOPA Air Safety study on the Tomahawk. It is an accurate and fair analysis and should alleviate any concerns anyone has about the safety of the airplane.

It was designed to be a trainer, unlike the 152. Piper surveyed CFI's to find out what they wanted in a training airplane. What they asked for, and got, was a stable, comfortable, reliable A/C that required a student to properly learn how to use the rudder.

It does does spin differently than a 152. The key word being differently. Whereas the 152 just kinda lazily rolls over the Tomahawk definitely drops one wing quickly and you usually end up upside down as you enter the spin. After that it recovers quite nicely using normal control inpuits for spin recoveries. Every Tomahawk I ever spun required definite control inputs to make it spin, just like any other airplane. If you stall it uncoordinated you can spin it, if you don't you can't. I also never had any difficulty recovering from a spin.

There are a few rare cases where skilled, experienced pilots intentionally spinning Tomahawks got themselves into trouble. In one case there were two people killed. That can also be said about a lot of other airplanes too, but it is the Tomahawk that gets the bad rap. Again, unjustly so in my opinion.

As much as I like the Tomahawk I would, all else being equal, buy a Skipper instead. Personally, I think Beech makes a better product. The fit and finish is usually much nicer on a Beech.

I've helped buy a few Tomahawks. Plan on spending about $18K for a typical used needs a little work airplane with a clean history. There are some outstanding low time restorations out there in the $25K range.

The only AD that is a real concern is the one that places an arbitrary life limit on the wings at 11000 hours. It's uncalled for and is a nice way for Piper to assure themselves of having to build new airplanes. There is no way around it at this point, however, I've been in contact with an engineer that has been woking on getting a mod approved by the feds to get around this AD. No joy yet.

In short, Tomahawks are terrific airplanes. Don't buy the negative hype about it's spin characteristics. They aren't "Traumahawks".
Thanks for the good information.

Best Regards,
~~~^~~~ Fins to the Left!

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