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PA-32 Cherokee Six/Lance/Saratoga

PA-32 Cherokee Six/Lance/Saratoga (5)

The Piper PA-32R is a six-seat, high-performance, single engine, all-metal fixed-wing aircraft.

PA-32R-300 (1976–1978) 

Marketed as the Piper Cherokee Lance. Initial version of the retractable PA-32 line, with a standard tail in the 1976 model.The 1977 and 1978 models featured a tail modified to a "T" design with the stabilator (horizontal stabilizer/elevator) moved to the top of the vertical tail.


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Piper PA-32: The Unsung Hero of Southwest Alaska

Piper PA-32: The Unsung Hero of Southwest Alaska

“King Salmon Tower, Cherokee N32785 is a Cherokee Six, 8 miles east of the field; inbound for landing Runway 18; got Echo.”
“Good morning, Lydia; King Salmon Tower. Traffic is Justin in the Katmai Beaver, at your 2 o’clock, 3 miles, for the river.”
The nonchalant and personal interaction with the tower in this small frontier town is part of the reason why I love it so much. The tower controllers at King Salmon Airport (PAKN) know our names, our airplanes and where we are from. They know everyone and talk to us like friends.

In no time, I was on a short approach for a long landing on Runway 18. I watched Justin cruise smoothly down to the river. My long landing brought me almost all the way to the southeast ramp, where I would offload some of the cargo from my company’s Cherokee Six. 

I cleared the runway and started shutting down my avionics and recording my times. I parked in the same corner I always parked in and reached over my copilot to unlatch the door. Once out on the wing of the Cherokee, I did a quick scan of the ramp. 

Behind me, an unmistakable paint job taxied into view. The orange and yellow Andrew Airways Saratoga, also from Kodiak Island, parked behind my bird. In front of us, a brown and gold Cherokee Six, painted identical to another one in our fleet (both from an air taxi in Skagway), taxied out for departure. 

Sitting on the ramp in Karluk, Alaska (PAKY), the shortest and one of the most challenging airstrips we fly into.
Approaching to land at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak/Kodiak Airport (PADQ).

As I looked around more, I realized the ramp was cluttered with these Piper heroes; private and commercial aircraft alike. I quickly offloaded some of my freight and pressed on to Naknek, a small community 12 miles further west of King.

The Naknek Airport (5NK) is a quaint one; two narrow gravel runways form an “L” shape. There isn’t really a ramp; instead, the intersection of the runways served as a cluttered parking lot. You sort of just roll out to the end and shut down wherever your plane stops. 

On each side of the runway, there were Piper Cubs and Cessna 180s tied down in the brush. I maneuvered my Cherokee around a Cessna 206 and “nosed in” to a group of three other Cherokees. I shook my head as I jumped off the wing of the little plane. The population of Sixes and Saratogas in this region was amazing. I had never seen so many in one place. 

Due to the surrounding terrain, the wind has a tendency to get extremely turbulent and cause a tailwind regardless of the direction you land.


When I first started growing in my aviation career, I worked on the ramp for a small air taxi on the coast of Maine. Penobscot Island Air exclusively flew Cessna 206s and 207s, servicing several remote islands. For two years, I threw bags and fueled their planes. I took every opportunity to ride along, in total awe of these workhorses. They seemed to take all the abuse we could give them, from icy runways to 90-degree days. Mail and freight and lobster would weigh the planes down daily, but they never faltered. They were trusty and sturdy and unrelenting.

Island Air Cherokee Sixes on the ramp in Old Harbor (6R7), one of the villages on Kodiak Island.

Upon moving to Anchorage, I found the story to be quite similar: many of the operators flew strictly Cessna 206s and 207s. There wasn’t a Cherokee to be found. 

When my summer season in Anchorage came to a close and I began to look for a new job, I was referred to Island Air Service in Kodiak, Alaska. I remember speaking with the chief pilot on the phone and asking questions about the operation. I was standing on the dock looking out over Lake Hood when he mentioned their wheelplane fleet consisted of mostly Cherokee Sixes. 

I almost choked. Cherokees? On short gravel runways? In the middle of nowhere? What?

An Island Air Cherokee on the slushy ramp at Ouzinkie Airport (4K5). Ouzinkie is a village on Spruce Island just north of Kodiak Island.

Oh, how ignorant I was. Later that year I was sitting wide-eyed in the pilot’s seat for three weeks of training, every day learning something new that the little low-wing Piper could do. 

There wasn’t much it couldn’t do. Its sturdy gear absorbed stiff crosswind landings with ease. It cruised anywhere from 120 to 135 knots but slowed to a mere 75 to 80 knots on short final—an ideal airspeed for the shorter fields we landed on. 

The empty weight of the Cherokee Six averages about 1,700 pounds. The useful load of that same plane sits at a little over 1,600 pounds. The plane can almost carry its own weight in fuel, gear and/or passengers. When loading an airplane in the remote villages I fly to, weight and balance is a huge factor. 

With short runways, gusty winds and unpredictable weather, I want to know that I am getting optimal performance out of my airplane in every given aspect. If I’m taking 1,000 pounds of gear and hunters out of a short one-way airstrip with a 15-plus knot tailwind in marginal weather, the last thing I want to think about is an airplane out of CG. 

That’s the magic of the PA-32’s center of gravity. The Six can be loaded in just about any manner to maximum gross weight and still be in the center of gravity envelope. Of course, every airplane has its limits, but the overall maneuverability of the airplane seems unchanged. 

The PA-32 is comparable to the Cessna 207. If you were to place a 207 and a Cherokee Six side by side, performance is nearly identical. At an average empty weight of 2,000 pounds and a useful load of 1,800 pounds, the 207 has an equally generous CG.  

On Kodiak Island, the average village airstrip is about 2,000 to 2,500 feet long with at least one approach over water (no obstacles) and every strip is within a few hundred feet of sea level. The performance, useful load and overall stability of a Cherokee Six in this environment makes this underrated and underappreciated aircraft a huge part of Island Air Service’s fleet. It’s the same story for many other air operators in this region of the state. 

Kodiak, Alaska, looking south.


Chilliwack, British Columbia, right before a test flight after getting sheet metal work and a paint job at Upper Valley Aviation.

Each of these planes have survived decades of use. My favorite Cherokee in our fleet has over 16,000 hours on the airframe, with its entire life here in Alaska, operating as a cargo-hauling, Part 135-flying beast. It still flies straight and true, as if fresh from the factory.

Lydia Jacobs is a line pilot for Island Air Service in Kodiak, Alaska. Originally from Corinth, Maine, Jacobs bought a Cessna 150 at age 18. In the spring of 2017, Jacobs sold her car and used the money for fuel to fly her 150 solo from Maine to Anchorage, Alaska. The trip took over 60 flight hours, and she often slept in her plane or in a tent. Jacobs currently has a little over 1,500 hours. Send questions or comments to .

Flight Test: Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six

Flight Test: Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six

August 2013

“There are two Diwys in my life,” said Barry Colvin with a wry grin, “but only one of them is temperamental.”

He didn’t volunteer any further information, and since I had just flown his Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six G-DIWY (named after his Dutch wife) without encountering any problems, I didn’t inquire further into the subject!


The Cherokee Six story really begins in 1957, when Piper hired leading designer John Thorp (of Sky Scooter and T-11 fame) to conduct a preliminary design study for an all-metal airplane to replace the Tri-Pacer.

At that time Piper was committed—philosophically, at least—to metal monocoque airframes, and was already building the Apache and about to introduce the Comanche.

Piper Saratoga

Piper Saratoga

August 2005- 

Piper compares today’s normally aspirated Saratoga II HP and turbocharged Saratoga II TC to SUVs. A friend who owned a 1981 fixed-gear Saratoga called his airplane a flying pickup truck. Having flown both, I think the SUV analogy is pretty close—and it turns into a pickup truck if you take the passenger seats out.

The Saratoga appeared in 1980, as a fixed-gear, six-seat single based on the earlier PA-32 Cherokee Six and Lance models. It differed from them in its longer, semi-tapered wing (derived from the “Warrior Wing” introduced on the PA-28-161).

In addition to making the airplane look better, the wing change improved handling and vastly simplified fuel management: the Saratoga has just two fuel tanks, one each in the left and right wings, holding a total of 107 gallons (102 usable). The earlier airplanes had a more complicated system with multiple fuel tanks that led to fuel exhaustion and resulting accidents in some cases.

The Saratoga retained the club passenger seating arrangement, with two rows of seats facing each other behind the pilot and copilot, first introduced in 1977, but used a conventional stabilator instead of the T-tail that had been used in the Lance. The fuel-injected 300 hp Lycoming IO-540 engine was retained.

Initially, three versions were available—the fixed-gear PA-32-301 Saratoga, retractable PA-32R-301 Saratoga SP and turbocharged PA-32R-301T Saratoga TC. In 1983, the fixed-gear version was discontinued (it was revived a couple of years ago under the name 6X). The SP and TC models remain available today.

Sadly, the Saratoga figured in one national tragedy: John F. Kennedy Jr.’s 1999 fatal accident. He died while piloting a 1995 Saratoga-SP on a flight to Martha’s Vineyard. At the time, news reporters focused on the combination of a low-time pilot and a high performance airplane, but while the Saratoga certainly meets FAA high performance requirements, the truth is that it’s a very docile bird with an excellent overall safety record.

The NTSB’s final report on the 1995 accident said, in part: “Examination of the airframe, systems, avionics, and engine did not reveal any evidence of a pre-impact mechanical malfunction.”

The single most common cause of fatal accidents in Saratogas (according to Aviation Consumer’s Used Aircraft Guide) is continued VFR flight under instrument conditions. That kills pilots in any type of aircraft!

Walk up to a Saratoga for the first time—new or used—and it will impress you first with its size. I personally also find it, well, a little dull-looking. Passengers fall in love with it as soon as they see the wonderful interior, and pilots may start to be impressed as they load people into it. The flight crew enters from a door over the right wing, as in Cherokees; but passengers have their own doors in the left side.

There are front and rear baggage compartments—the former accessed through a cargo door in the nose, and the latter by folding down the back seats. Together, they hold a respectable 200 pounds—or you can remove the passenger seats to create a cargo carrier with some 75 cubic feet of available space (my friend with the 1981 “pickup truck” once carried a complete anesthesia machine this way!)

Saratogas are heavy—about 2,400 pounds empty, depending on the model and equipment—so you’ll need either a tug or help to pull out of the hangar. Either way, spotters are a good idea. The long wings can lead to hangar rash if you’re not careful.

Weight and balance can be an issue—with full fuel but no passengers, you may find your Saratoga forward of its CG limit. Toss your golf clubs or a tool box in the rear baggage compartment though, and you’ll be fine. Useful load varies with the year and equipment—the original 1980 fixed-gear version could carry up to 1,600 pounds, making it almost impossible to overload. Late model retractables carry about 500 pounds less, so you have to trade fuel for passengers or baggage.

All Saratogas have a fuel drain under the belly that requires unusual preflight effort. You have to put a container under it, then get into the airplane, press a drain button, get out of the airplane, and retrieve the container to see what’s in it. After that, though, you only have to deal with two under-wing drains. The rest of the preflight is conventional.

In flight, all Saratoga’s are stable (if not particularly fast) airplanes. The controls are well balanced, and the airplane does a good job in turbulence as well as smooth air. If you’re used to Cherokees you may find the roll rate a little slow, but the control forces are moderate. Archer and Arrow drivers won’t have any trouble moving up. Saratogas have a reputation as forgiving airplanes.

My friend with the 1981 model says: “the airplane has no surprises—if you try a departure stall it just hangs on the prop and the nose bobs up and down.” Performance-wise, well… Let’s be honest: Nobody buys a Saratoga to go fast. The original fixed-gear models cruised at around 150 knots at 75 percent power.

Today’s top-of-the-line turbocharged retractable Saratoga-II TC is about 30 knots faster at optimum altitude, but it burns around 20 gph. You can cut that to less than 15 gph at 55 percent economy cruise—but speed will drop. With full fuel, though, you’ll get quite a lot of range either way.

With a 24-year production history, what you’ll find in the panel varies dramatically. Early Models mostly had King radios and steam gauge instruments. The 2001 model I flew a couple of years ago had a Garmin 530/430 radio stack.

Today, Piper offers an all-glass Avidyne FlightMax Entegra panel as an option in new Saratogas. This replaces all the round instruments with two big flat-panels that give you a primary flight display, air-data handling system, GPS moving-map with terrain, Skywatch traffic avoidance, engine data and in-flight weather (either or both digital data link and/or Stormscope).

There are three round backup gauges on the extreme left side of the panel, but that’s it—everything else is taken care of digitally. It’s all coupled to an S-TEC 55 autopilot that does everything short of land the plane automatically.

The POH for the Saratoga is similar to that for most late-model Piper singles, but if you’re moving up from an Archer or Arrow you may be surprised to find a descent planning table, which gives fuel, distance and time to descend (assuming 500 fpm at 135 knots). While helpful for pilots of the turbocharged models, who need time to come down from the flight levels, this may be overkill for normally-aspirated Saratogas.

The Saratoga cabin is surprisingly quiet (especially in the later airplanes, which have extra soundproofing). The 300HP engine is pretty loud on takeoff, but when you level off in cruise it’s quiet enough to hear the radio clearly without a headset, and even quieter for the passengers in back.

While Saratogas are good load-haulers and offer long range, they’re not cheap. According to Vref, an original 1980 fixed gear PA32R in average condition is now worth a bit over $140,000. Brand new airplanes with the glass panel run over half a million.

And regardless of age, no Saratoga is cheap to fly. My friend with the 1981 fixed-gear airplane paid over $2,600 for his annual inspections; retractables of course are more expensive.

Factory remanufacture of the current IO-540-K1G5D used in the normally aspirated Saratogas costs over $43,000. Rebuilding the TIO-540-AH1A used in current turbocharged Saratogas costs even more—and engine management on the turbo airplanes is critical.

Piper uses a fixed wastegate, which requires the pilot to adjust throttle settings to avoid overboosting the engine. You can’t just shove the throttle full forward on takeoff, and you also need to watch your power settings on descent—pulling the throttle all the way back can result in shock cooling, while failing to reduce power will overboost the engine. One way to speed up descents without shock cooling the engine is to install Precise Flight’s speed brakes.

While on the subject of the turbocharged airplanes, the Lycoming TIO-540 was the subject of an infamous emergency Airworthiness Directive, number 2002-17-53, which mandated replacement of hammer-forged crankshafts, regardless of the engine’s age. Many Saratogas—and other airplanes with these engines—were grounded while their logbooks were checked, and in some cases the crankshafts had to be replaced.

Any Saratoga that’s been flying since 2002 should have had the AD complied with by this time… But if you see a deal that looks too good to be true on a turbocharged Saratoga that’s been sitting for a while, it would be a good idea to check the logs.

The usual suspects provide the usual modifications for Saratogas, including wingtips with landing lights (standard on the latest airplanes), gap seals and fairings, modified cowls, and speed brakes.

My friend who owned the old fixed-gear “pickup truck” told me a couple of years ago that if I test-flew one of Piper’s new SUVs, I’d want to own it. He was right—I just wish I could afford one.

Saratogas offer an extremely comfortable cabin (for both pilot and passengers), and the latest avionics can be had for a price. Having flown a couple of them, it’s easy for me to see why a man like JFK Jr, who could have bought just about any airplane he wanted, picked a Saratoga.

John D. Ruley is an instrument-rated private pilot, and a freelance writer specializing in aviation and technology. He’s also a volunteer pilot for Liga International. You can write to John at .



New Piper Aircraft



RMD Aircraft Lighting Inc.

(wing tips with landing lights)



Knots 2 U Ltd.

(gap seals, fairings, wing tips with landing lights)



Laminar Flow Systems

(gap seals, fairings, wheel pants, solar powered cabin ventilator)



LoPresti Speed Merchants

(spats, splitters, seals, wing tips with landing lights, cowls)



Precise Flight

(Speed Brakes, Standby Vacuum, Pulsating Landing Light)



The Future: Cherokee Six Avionics Upgrade

The Future: Cherokee Six Avionics Upgrade

January 2005

I have seen the future. I have seen the future and it was installed in a 1976 Cherokee Six. As I sat in the cockpit of N4300F, it dawned on me that what I was looking at was the future of General Aviation.

Airframe and powerplant advances in General Aviation aircraft are virtually impossible to find. With few exceptions like the Cirrus, we are flying the same designs behind the same power plants that were designed in the 1950s. But avionics have made terrific advances.

It would stand to reason that a tried-and-true airframe and powerplant combination combined with modern electronics would create the next generation of personal aircraft. That is essentially what the factories are selling.

That is what I found when I arrived at Peninsula Avionics at the Tamiami Airport (KTMB) in Miami, Fla. Shop owners Jim Prince, a virtually newly minted pilot, and his partner Nick Popvski were understandably proud of their “new” toy.

Piper PA-32R Lance/Saratoga

Piper PA-32R Lance/Saratoga

The Piper PA-32R is a six-seat, high-performance, single-engine, all-metal fixed-wing aircraft.

PA-32R-300 (1976–1978)
Marketed as the Piper Cherokee Lance. The initial version of the retractable PA-32 line, with a standard tail in the 1976 model. The 1977 and 1978 models featured a tail modified to a "T" design with the stabilator (horizontal stabilizer/elevator) moved to the top of the vertical tail. This design placed the stabilator outside of the prop wash compared with the low tail design and appreciably affected the takeoff and landing characteristics.
PA-32RT-300 (1978–1979)
Beginning with this model, the Cherokee name was officially dropped and the model was designated the Lance II. The "T"-tail arrangement was continued on the Lance II.
PA-32RT-300T (1978–1979)
Also in 1978 a turbocharged version, designated the Turbo Lance II, was introduced. The Turbo Lance II has a service ceiling of 20,000 ft with a rate of climb of 1050 ft/min. It can cruise at 10,000 ft at 175 kt true airspeed at 75% power burning 20 gal/h. Fuel capacity is 94 usable gallons.
PA-32R-301 (1980–2007)
The 1980 models reverted to a standard tail design and were designated as the Saratoga SP.In 1993 the airplane received several cosmetic and systems updates and was redesignated as the Saratoga II HP.
PA-32R-301T (1980–2009)
The 1980 Turbocharged model was given the name Turbo Saratoga SP. The name and model designation stayed the same through the 1996 model year, despite several updates to the airplane during that time. Starting with the 1997 model year the airplane received a new designation, the Saratoga II TC, and a new Lycoming TIO-540-AH1A engine. Externally the biggest difference was the new cowl, with much smaller, round air inlets. 1997-1998 Saratoga II TC's featured a King avionics suite, which was switched to dual Garmin GNS-430's and a GTX-320 transponder with the 1999 models. In the mid-2000 model year the avionics were again updated, with one Garmin GNS-430 and one GNS-530, and a GTX-327 transponder as standard equipment. Beginning in 2004 the Saratoga models were available with an Avidyne Entegra "Glass Panel" avionics system, which was replaced by the Garmin G1000 in 2007.
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