Piper’s Impressive PT6A Powered Cheyenne III

When Piper Aircraft announced its plans to build a big-cabin turboprop in late 1977, time was of the essence – only, we didn’t know it. It took another three years to get the airplane certificated, during which time the robust state of the general aviation manufacturing economy had begun to unravel. The Cheyenne III’s main competition, the Beech Super King Air 200, introduced in 1974, had an established head start, and industry sales volume was no longer the rising road to riches during the 1980s that it had been in the 1970s.

The Cheyenne III, and its successor, the IIIA, is a good airplane, and had times been better, its fortunes would have risen with its capabilities. The smaller Cheyennes had established an enviable reputation as fast, good-value business transports. The T-tailed PA-42 was an even-better rendition of Piper’s formula.


Piper PA-42-720 Cheyenne III


Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-41, 720 shp




560 usable gallons


Certified ceiling

33,000 ft.

Single-engine ceiling

18,200 ft.

Max. cruise speed

290 kts

Stall speed

87 kts

Takeoff distance
(50 ft. obstacle)

3,230 ft.

Landing distance
(50 ft. obstacle)

3,017 ft.

Max. range (w/reserve)

2,240 nm

Climb rate-2 engines

2,236 fpm

Climb rate-1 engine

531 fpm



11,285 lb


11,200 lb

Zero Fuel

9,150 lb


10,330 lb


6,389 std., 7,118 as tested

Useful load

4,896 std., 4,167 as tested



47.67 ft.


14.75 ft.


43.39 ft.

Cabin length

218 in.

Cabin width

49 in.

Cabin height

51.4 in.


800 lb

The idea behind the Cheyenne III was fairly straightforward; take the Cheyenne II and make the fuselage almost nine feet longer, give it five feet more wingspan, with bigger engines, and top it off with a trendy T-tail. It would be able to hold up to eleven, have a max cruise of 290 knots and reach 33,000 feet for 1,500 miles of range. More of a winner is always better.

The engines would remain P&W PT6A turbines, but they would be the –41 versions with 100 more shaft horsepower than the –28’s of the Cheyenne II. More importantly, the engine would be flat-rated at 720 shp to about 16,000 feet, versus a max rating of 850 shp in Beech’s Super King Air, leaving the Cheyenne III some extra breathing room for high-and-hot performance.

A Purposeful Presence

As it appeared in early 1980, the PA-42-720 Cheyenne III conveyed an impressive ramp image. It has a long and lean look, with a huge tail and pencil-slim nacelles extending almost half the length of the fuselage. The horizontal tail spans nearly 22 feet and the maingear is 19 feet wide.

Some 88 Cheyenne IIIs were delivered before an engine change to the PT6A-61 created the Cheyenne IIIA in 1984. Power rating remained 720 shp, but with even more enhanced altitude performance. Around 60 of the IIIAs were built before production ceased after 1991; in addition to the free-fall of new general aviation aircraft sales, the PA-42-720 faced internal competition in the early 1980s from the introduction of the stretched Cheyenne IIXL in 1981, and then the Cheyenne IV (later known as the 400LS), which was built from 1984 to 1991. Also certificated as a PA-42, the hotrod IV had 1,000-hp Garrett TPE-331 turboprops and could reach 41,000 feet and top 330 knots.

piper cheyenne

Had the times been better, the Cheyenne III would have doubtless earned a good share of the twin turboprop market, as did the smaller Cheyennes. In 1979, U.S. aircraft shipments totaled 17,811 units; a decade later, in 1989, the industry built only 1,585 aircraft, and in 1991 the total was down to 1,021. The good times were over.

As a used aircraft, the Cheyenne III is a strong, capable business plane, even if its operation is often limited to 27,000 feet by today’s RVSM requirements. To experience the aircraft in flight, we were fortunate to accompany Roger Hines, partner and pilot at U.S. Assets Recovery, which operates a 1981 PA-42-720 as a company aircraft on business missions around the country. Centrally based in Joplin, Missouri, U.S. Assets flies to destinations ranging out 1,000 miles. Acquired about six months prior to our visit, the aircraft had accumulated about 7,500 hours total airframe time and had 2,000 hours on the engines, which came to the present owners with fresh hot section inspections. The paint job was applied in 2006, at which time the engines were upgraded to –42 status.

Read the rest at Twin and Turbine.

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