The Tomahawk was Piper's attempt at creating an affordable two-place trainer. Before designing the aircraft, Piper widely surveyed flight instructors for their input into the design. Instructors requested a more spinnable aircraft for training purposes, since other two-place trainers such as the Cessna 150 and 152 were designed to spontaneously fly out of a spin. The Tomahawk's NASA GA(W)-1 Whitcomb airfoil addresses this requirement by making specific pilot input necessary in recovering from spins, thus allowing pilots to develop proficiency in dealing with spin recovery.
The Tomahawk was introduced in 1977 as a 1978 model. The aircraft was in continuous production until 1982 when production was completed, with 2,484 aircraft built.
The 1981 and 1982 models were designated as the Tomahawk II. They incorporated improved cabin heating and windshield defroster performance, an improved elevator trim system, improved engine thrust vector, 100% airframe zinc-chromate anti-corrosion treatment, better cockpit soundproofing, larger 6" wheels and tires for greater propeller ground clearance and improved performance on grass and dirt runways, among other enhancements.