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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.  

Fred Weick, the Ercoupe designer who had joined Piper that spring, assigned engineer Karl Bergey to the project, and with input from Howard “Pug” Piper they turned Thorp’s design study into the PA-28 Cherokee, a slab-winged fixed-gear four-seat single with (on its original 160 hp engine) no more than adequate performance at maximum weights. The Cherokee was, however, unarguably the most successful postwar aircraft Piper ever built, with almost 30,000 of its many variants being produced.

Latter among these was the PA-28-235, basically a PA-28-180 with longer wings, bigger fuel tanks and a 235 hp Lycoming O-540 inside more streamlined engine cowlings. The MTOW was upped to 2,900 pounds, later increased to 3,000 pounds on the final PA-28-235 versions, but it was still a four-seater, and the market was demanding something bigger.

So the PA-28-235’s fuselage was stretched by means of two “plugs,” one 30 inches long in the cabin area to accommodate three pairs of seats. A further 18-inch section was inserted between cockpit and firewall and provides an eight cubic foot baggage compartment capable of swallowing 100 pounds of baggage or freight, with a second, larger baggage area (also capable of carrying 100 pounds) behind the rear seats.

The prototype retained the PA-28-235’s cabin cross-section, but all production versions were to have a cabin widened by seven inches; the PA-28-235’s wings and stabilator were retained unaltered.

Certification and design changes

Now a full six-seater, the prototype PA-32 N9999W first flew in 1963 with a normally-aspirated 250 hp version of the ubiquitous Lycoming O-540. It received type certification in November 1965 and immediately entered production, fitted with an uprated 260 hp “E” version of the same engine. With an original 3,200 pounds, the Cherokee Six and Cessna’s Model 206 competed head-to-head as the only six-seat fixed-gear singles on the market.

The Six found almost instant acceptance among small commercial freight haulers and air taxi firms in the United States as well as parachute clubs. It remains especially popular with funeral businesses, since it can transport a coffin with ease; it’s the only U.S.-produced single able to do so. (Piper’s print advertising even showed a Cherokee Six accommodating a piano!)

A 300 hp version, the PA-32-300, was introduced in 1966 with a fuel-injected IO-540K powerplant and an MTOW of 3,400 pounds (which was also applied to the PA-32-260 model). Over its production life about 75 percent of PA-32s built were the -300 version.

Both variants received a number of design improvements and model iterations throughout the manufacturing run. These included a redesigned instrument panel on the “B” model, featuring levers instead of push-pull engine controls. Air conditioning became an option, and an extra window aft of the third main one was added in 1974, mainly for styling reasons. The 1975 models had the fin stretched by six inches.

The 260 hp version went out of production in 1978 and the 300 hp version was discontinued a year later. The latter was superseded by the PA-32-301 Saratoga and the retractable PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance, though the Cherokee designation was soon dropped to differentiate the two—now quite different—product lines. In 1980 the tapered outer wing panels which had been added to the entire Cherokee series also found their way onto the Saratoga and Lance.

Early in its production run the Cherokee Six was certified for floatplane operations using Edo-Aire 3430 floats and redesignated PA-32S-300. The original development aircraft, N3214W, was damaged in an accident and replaced by N3218W. The floatplane version was not particularly successful, however. It was difficult to operate with just a single door at the front, especially if conditions demanded an approach to the dock on the pilot’s side.

Once floatplane certification had been achieved, Piper used that same aircraft (now converted back to a landplane) to produce a single prototype PA-32-300 COIN (counterinsurgency) derivative, with four hardpoints under the wings for guns or bombs.

In early September 1965, N3218W was flown to Eglin AFB for the live firing of the 2.75-inch folding fin unguided rockets, 7.62 mm six-barrel machine guns, 272-pound general purpose bombs and 250-pound napalm bombs. Unfortunately, no contract was forthcoming from the USAF and the quasi-military Cherokee was never put into production.

Mirroring the Twin Comanche’s development from the single-engine model, Bill Piper’s son Howard’s intention was to produce a six-seat, multi-engine version of the Cherokee Six.

As soon as it was released from development and certification work, the first prototype N9999W was converted into a trimotor by grafting two 115 hp Lycomings onto the wings, Twin Comanche-style, while retaining the original 250 hp engine in the nose. It first flew in this form in May 1965 but with the center engine shut down, the two outboard engines proved not sufficiently powerful enough.

All three engines were subsequently replaced by 150 hp Lycomings driving fixed-pitch propellers—but again the concept was abandoned as, with one engine shut down, the drag of the unfeathered prop made performance unacceptable. The cost and complication of three variable-pitch, feathering propellers was also unacceptable.

Piper reverted to a conventional twin-engine 180 hp Lycoming arrangement while retaining several Cherokee components and designated the resulting type the PA-34 Twin Six. Subsequent development models were powered by a pair of 200 hp Lycomings and, with a retractable undercarriage replacing the prototype’s fixed version, this Cherokee Six derivative finally entered production as the PA-34-200 Seneca in 1971.

Thus the Cherokee Six has played quite a pivotal role in the Piper lineage; as a genuine workhorse in its own right it has also deservedly acquired a loyal following. It is one of very few single-engine aircraft capable of lifting its own empty weight in fuel, freight and bodies. With five seats removed to convert it into a mini-freighter, the flight manual quotes an empty weight of 1,707 pounds, leaving a useful load of 1,693 pounds—almost parity. I have heard of several occasions where a Cherokee Six has been flown with somewhat more than its “official” usable load without detriment to either performance or handling.

DIWY’s features

The subject of this flight test, G-DIWY, began life as an N-registered PA-32-300B (N8931N) before being exported to Germany (D-EHMW), then Denmark (OY-DLW) from where its owner Barry Colvin acquired it in 1993. It was then treated to a bare metal strip-down and respray along with a total interior refurbishment by Scanrho Aviation based at the East Winch airstrip in Norfolk, England, where Colvin keeps his aircraft. The resulting immaculate condition of the whole aircraft belies the fact that it first rolled off the Vero Beach production line as long ago as 1969.

On first encounter, the almost 28-foot-long Cherokee Six appears quite a substantial aircraft for a single, and looks almost too long for the relatively stubby 32.8-foot slab wings. These are twin-sparred, and attached to the fuselage through an integral carry-through box spar, with further attachment points for the rear spar and an auxiliary front spar. The airfoil section is a laminar flow NACA 654-415, with its maximum thickness 40 percent aft of the leading edge.

The wings contain four fuel tanks with a total capacity of around 84 U.S. gallons, divided between two main (and easily removable) wing tanks and two resin-impregnated fiberglass tiptanks, each containing 25 and 17 U.S. gallons respectively. The tiptanks aren’t like those of a Cessna 310 or 340; rather, they form part of an ordinary-looking rounded wingtip.

The manual gives the interesting (and reassuring) information that the fuel in each tank is useable down to the last pint. It is fed through a large and clearly-marked five-position (four tanks, plus “off”) fuel selector mounted below the power quadrant in the cockpit, then routed through a Bendix RSA-5 fuel injection device that supplies the Lycoming via a clever system which measures airflow, and uses the resulting information to operate a servo valve and accurately regulate fuel flow.

This makes it possible to maintain metering pressure above vapor-forming altitudes, at the same time requiring a fuel inlet pressure sufficiently low that a normal diaphragm fuel pump can be used. All this means that cockpit workload is simplified, leaving the pilot only to regularly monitor and select the appropriate fuel tank to keep the aircraft in lateral trim during long flights.

Piper retained the traditional Cherokee single starboard door for cockpit access, but added a further door on the opposite side just forward of the three pairs of seats. Later models (including the example tested) have an additional 16 x 22-inch baggage hatch installed just behind that rear door, giving a huge access area to the 20 cubic foot baggage area and rear cabin. Both front and rear baggage hatches are secured in the open position for loading by a Dzus fastener-equipped fabric strap.

The sturdy spatted fixed undercarriage uses three identical Cleveland 6.00 x 6 wheels with Cleveland double disc hydraulic brake assemblies on the mains. The brake system is operated by traditional toe brakes on the rudder pedals (pilot’s side only, though dual brakes were an optional extra), with a short, stubby fly-off parking brake emerging from below the instrument panel just by the pilot’s right knee.

To set the parking brake, one simply pulls back and presses the button, when the handle remains as set. A further pull and release without touching the button releases the brakes, which are more than capable of holding the aircraft unassisted against the preflight engine runup. Tire wear is easily checked, as some three to four inches of the lower part of each wheel are visible below its spat.

The flaps are mechanically (hooray!) operated by a long lever mounted centrally on the cockpit floor and have three extended positions: 10, 25 and 40 degrees. These are defined by detents, which to overcome one must press the button at the end of the flap lever, very much as a car hand brake operates.

Also centrally mounted is a large black knurled plastic trim wheel, operating in the logical sense (i.e., roll back for nose-up trim) which operates a long anti-servo/trim tab on the rear all-flying stabilator.

Having flown hundreds of hours ahead of such an arrangement, I much prefer an all-flying tailplane to a fixed version with an elevator. In my humble opinion it gives a better feel, more positive warning of an impending stall, is always at the optimum angle of attack (thus creating less drag), and can cope more effectively with a wide range of CG positions—essential for an aircraft which might be flown solo one day and with seven occupants the next.

“Seven?” I hear you ask. The Cherokee Six can be fitted with a small jump seat between the two rear rows, making it a true seven-seater, though to be fair this seat is only really adequate enough to hold a child. But with a standard (i.e., six seats installed) useful load of 1,623 pounds you can emplane six 168-pound adults into the PA-32 and still have enough margin to uplift over 500 pounds of fuel and baggage (though taking on the maximum 84-gallon fuel load would soak up almost all that amount).

Although a check should be made beforehand to ascertain the correct weight and balance figures, in practice the Six is surprisingly uncritical in this respect, helped by having that 100-pound forward baggage compartment. Make no mistake: the Cherokee Six is a serious load hauler and long-distance touring machine. Some later variants offered optional club seating for the four rear passengers, whose windows are equipped with curtains to block out strong sunlight at the above-cloud altitudes the aircraft might routine attain. Barry Colvin has even provided in-flight video/DVD entertainment to keep his young family occupied during longer trips.

Interior features, startup

The cabin is provided with a simple heating and defrosting system controlled by two sliding levers on the right lower panel. Each seat has its own heater outlet, while individual adjustable fresh air bull’s-eye vents are situated in the cabin roof, one above each occupant, fed by a forward-facing inlet atop the center fuselage.

The instrument panel is pretty much standard, with two rows of main gauges and instruments ahead of the P1 position, radio/avionics including the obligatory GPS positioned just right of center, and two lower subpanels extending the width of the cockpit containing fuel and engine health gauges, circuit breakers and such. The lowest subpanel also carries a combined fuel flow/manifold pressure gauge and a tachometer.

My only criticism of the otherwise well-laid-out panel is that these were just a little too low for comfort, requiring a conscious look downward in the scan to monitor them—not such a good thing during IMC or close formation flying. The autopilot and nav coupler are also mounted on this lower subpanel, but as they are almost a “set and forget” item, their position is not so critical. A further small panel on the left cockpit wall houses switches for the master, fuel pump and landing/strobe lights.

The starting sequence contains nothing unusual, simply requiring the master switch to be turned on, the appropriate fuel tank to be selected, the fuel pump to be activated to build up pressure, and the ignition key to be rotated, remembering to press it in for the last section to activate the starter motor.

The fuel-injected Lycoming is usually started with the mixture in “Lean cut-off” and pushed rapidly to “Rich” when it fires up. This normally occurs within a dozen or so rotations of the beefy 80-inch diameter two-blade Hartzell propeller, depending on whether the engine is cold, warm or hot, whereafter the Lycoming settles into a satisfying throaty six-cylinder tickover.

Preflight checks include the usual prop exercising, which brought about a significant drop in rpms, though the mag check only resulted in a maximum reduction of 100 rpms, showing the engine (at least on the tested example) to be in good shape, with good oil pressure and normal temperatures.


Taxiing the PA-32 is straightforward as the nosewheel is directly connected to the rudder pedals and has a 30-degree turning arc either side of center, though initially I found it needed a firm bit of boot to get it all the way round. Maybe this was because we were only two-up; with passengers in the back, it would be less heavily loaded.

Both wingtips are easily visible from either front seat, so clearance while taxiing is no problem. The ride from the wide-track, long-wheelbase undercarriage is comfortable, even over taxiway potholes, and elicited no undue pitching moments. Colvin routinely flies from less-than-smooth grass strips without difficulty.

Takeoff, with one stage of flap selected, requires a fairly hefty initial push on the right rudder to counteract the torque of 300 willing horses. Rotation at 80 mph came in just under 10 seconds. Although the need to maintain visual contact with the photographic Cessna 172 ahead of us restrained our climb rate on this occasion, a fully loaded Cherokee Six will ascend at over 1,000 fpm at its best rate of climb speed of 105 mph (the Piper airspeed indicator is marked in statute miles).

For a maximum climb gradient soft-field short takeoff (e.g., to clear the standard 50-foot tree) the manual recommends the 25 degree flap setting and a climbout at 95 mph, while a more relaxing cruise-climb 115 mph should be pegged. Once past 500 feet the flaps can be retracted and thereafter the electric fuel pump switched off. In the climb the Cherokee Six needs some right rudder all the way up to maintain balance (no rudder trim is fitted), though any pitch forces can be eliminated with the trim wheel.

That big black trim wheel also has to be rolled quite a long way forward once the desired altitude has been reached to achieve a straight-and-level setting in the cruise. It felt somewhat undergeared, but once in balance the Cherokee settles down and can be flown hands-off in calm air.

In any event, it’s got a wing leveler and nav-coupled autopilot, so the proud owner can play airline pilot if he’s so minded, making heading changes using the big bug on the direction indicator and further reducing cockpit workload. Nor does he or she have any added complications such as cowl flaps to worry about; in truth the big stable Cherokee Six is almost as simple to fly and operate as a flying club’s PA-28.

Flight characteristics

On the day of my test flight the air was as smooth as one could wish for, but with its high wing loading and long fuselage the Cherokee Six is renowned for remaining fairly unruffled in turbulence. At optimum altitude the Cherokee Six has a claimed maximum true airspeed of 174 mph, though many owners dispute this figure.

Setting “25-square” (25 inches manifold pressure; 2,500 rpm) at 6,500 feet I got an indicated airspeed—corrected for altitude on the airspeed indicator’s adjustable outer scale—of 158 mph. To save wear and tear on the engine and reduce fuel flow, Colvin routinely operates his Cherokee Six at 23 inches and 2,300 rpm. This showed a cruise just a needle’s width over 150 mph and allows a comfortable with-reserve range (according to the manual) of 1,000 statute miles.

The differential ailerons aren’t the world’s most responsive, giving a roll rate of some 70 degrees per second, but they are perfectly adequate. In a steep turn I was able to reach some 70 degrees of bank before any top rudder was needed to support the nose.

Slowing to investigate the stall, I found it needed a positive firm pull of the yoke to slow the Six down and maintain height. The clean stall occurred just below 70 mph indicated, when the nose fell, somewhat reluctantly, straight down with no wing drop and was preceded by some trembling of the yoke. The stall warner, a red light situated on the panel immediately in front of the pilot, began flashing about 10 mph before the actual stall; no aural horn is fitted.

With full flap the stall was reduced to 63 mph indicated airspeed. After the initial stall I continued to hold the yoke fully aft. The nose came up briefly, nodded, dropped again, and we continued descending in a series of nods and stalls with the yoke still fully aft and with no hint of a wing drop—provided the slip ball was kept in the center.

It’s good to discover that the Cherokee Six retains the lovely docile stalling characteristics of most early Piper singles, right back to the dear old Cub—and that’s impressive for such a big airplane. Correct recovery from a further stall had us back into balanced flight with a loss of less than 100 feet.

At the economy cruise setting the Cherokee Six simply snores along contentedly while covering the ground at a respectable rate. The cockpit is relatively quiet even without headsets, though later models feature thicker windscreens and even better sound deadening. The newly reupholstered seats are very comfortable.

Visibility is perfectly adequate except directly below or upward, though even the latter part of the sky can be examined by craning forward to the steeply raked windscreen. Look backward as you fly along and there seems to be an awful lot of cabin behind you—especially if you’re more used to four-seaters, as behind the rear pair of seats is that further capacious 20-cubic-foot baggage compartment.

Approach and landing

Circuit and landing procedures are dead simple. With no cowl flaps or undercarriage to worry about, the power and prop can be retarded either in the overhead or downwind leg. Flap-limiting speed is a useful high 125 mph, so I deployed the first stage downwind at 110 mph, the intermediate stage on base and full flap on finals, each setting requiring the trim wheel to be rolled back to reduce the yoke pressure. Final approach was flown at 90 mph with just a trickle of power to arrest the sink rate.

I carefully experimented with a couple of seconds of hands- and feet-off flying as we descended toward short final without occasioning any anxiety, further confirming the Six’s splendid stability. The throttle was only finally pulled fully back as we came over the numbers.

The subsequent flare (at least, in the forward CG position in which we were operating) was again a firm and positive affair, but the Six responded by rotating nicely into the landing attitude and meeting the tarmac with little drama and no bounce.

Applying power for a go-around, the advantage of mechanically-operated flaps is apparent, as there is no delay while they motor back to takeoff setting. Essaying a short-field landing for my second (full-stop) touchdown, the Cherokee Six was happy to come down at last, with a touch more power, at 85 mph indicated airspeed. Once down the brakes were applied firmly but without eliciting any squeaky protests from locked wheels.

From touchdown to full stop used up less than half of Bourn Airfield’s 2,000 feet of slightly bumpy tarmac (the manual says it can be accomplished within 650 feet) in almost nil-wind conditions.

In closing

There is no doubt that the Cherokee Six in its 300 hp guise is a very capable and versatile aircraft indeed, and fully deserves the loyalty it has earned from its (mainly small U.S. commercial) owners and pilots. A total of 3,876 were produced at Vero Beach of which almost 2,400 were the 300 hp variant.

The entire Cherokee series has been plagued with ADs over the years. While none have been catastrophic, there are a number of niggling ones on the fuel system, especially relating to fuel tank sealant deterioration, which need to be closely investigated by prospective purchasers. (See Questions & Answers on page 18 for more on the Cherokee Six 300. —Ed.)

Despite that, the Cherokee Six is a relatively cost-efficient machine to operate. At an economy cruise setting and properly leaned out at optimum altitude, DIWY burns around 14.5 U.S. gallons per hour. For a six/seven-seater serious load hauler, I’d say that was a pretty impressive statistic. But not only that: the stable, almost docile Cherokee Six is as simple to fly and operate as its smaller brethren, has excellent short-field performance characteristics and an enviable safety record, including a rate of stall accidents among the lowest of any airplane (hardly surprising, with the Cherokee wing’s notable reluctance to stall).

Okay, so it’s not the quickest 300 hp airplane around, but it’s about the most willing all-round workhorse in its class that I’ve come across so far. I like it.

Peter Underhill was a graduate of the Rolls Royce Engineering Apprentice School and subsequently worked for the company for many years. He loved flying and owned a variety of aircraft. Underhill was an active member of the UK’s homebuilding movement. He went on to become a regular contributor to the UK’s leading General Aviation magazine, Pilot, where he wrote a wide range of flight test articles in his own inimitable style. Send questions or comments to .


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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