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Welcome to The Airplane Intel Podcast, the weekly General Aviation podcast for aircraft owners, operators, pilots and mechanics. We deliver practical advice, tips and strategies to make aircraft ownership simple, safe and cost effective.

Show Notes

This week, we’re discussing the Piper PA-32 series aircraft including the Cherokee 6, Lance and Saratoga. Then we discuss some ways to reduce the overall costs of aircraft ownership and Don reveals the tip of the week. Plus, general aviation news, fuel prices and your questions

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The Piper PA-32 Series

Today’ we’re talking about the single –engine, 6-place, high performance complex airplane from Piper known as the PA-32. In this market, we essentially have four choices: The Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, the Cessna 210, the Cessna 206 and of course the Piper PA-32 series. Each airplane has its pros and cons and again, knowing your mission is crucial for making the right choice.

Like the others, the PA-32 is a stretched version of a smaller airplane. In 1965, Piper stretched the PA-28 Cherokee from a 4-place 160 HP airplane, to a six-place 260 HP airplane, dubbed the PA-32-260, affectionately, known as the Cherokee Six. The fuselage was stretched about 4 feet and the wing span increased just shy of three feet to make room for more fuel, up to 84 gallons of 100LL. The aircraft is equipped with a Lycoming O-540 mounted behind a fixed pitch prop and optional constant speed prop. The airplane’s empty weight is 1,665 pounds with a maximum takeoff weight of 3400 pounds giving it an impressive useful load of about 1700 pounds with a baggage capacity of 200 pounds. The baggage compartment is located in the nose between the engine and cockpit with additionally baggage space behind the passenger seats. 

Perhaps one of the best features about the PA-32 series is the rear passenger door is located aft of the left wing with the rear baggage door making for a very wide opening for passengers as well as bulky cargo. Its low stance and wide doors makes for one of the easiest airplane for passengers to enter and exit from with a pilot door located on the right side of the cockpit.

Inside the airplane, the cabin is the roomiest of all the other 6-place singles and featured club seating where the middle row faced aft. The cabin is so wide, that a seventh seat could be added to the center of the middle row, but most have a cooler or storage container between the two middle seats.

But the original Cherokee Six was underpowered and in 1967, Piper introduced a 300HP version dubbed the PA-32-300. The 300 came standard with a constant speed prop and a fuel injected IO-540 engine. The improved Cherokee Six can climb at about 1000 fpm and cruise at about 135-145 kts at 75% power burning about 15-16gph, whereas the 260 version cruises about 5 kts slower at a gallon or so less per hour giving both airplanes about a five hour range with reserves.  Despite its criticisms, the 260 version remained in production until 1979 with a myriad of small improvements along the way including update instrument panels and interiors.

However, in 1975, Piper introduced a retractable gear version of the Cherokee Six called the Lance and designated the PA-32R. The Lance was equipped with a 300 HP IO-540 engine and maintained the same fuselage, cabin and wing from the Cherokee Six except the wing was beefed up to handle the landing gear wells. However, the Lance only saw speed improvements of about 10-15 knots compared to the Cherokee 6. When new, the Lance was about 25% more expensive than the Cherokee Six although there isn’t a real price difference today.

In 1978, Piper equipped the Lance with a t-tail, designated the PA-32RT-300. According to Piper, mounting the stabilator on the tail improved efficiency because it was out of the propeller slip stream. However, this version received a lot of criticism for poor pitch control at lower speeds, primarily because the stabilator was much smaller than that found on the conventional tail airplanes.  Nevertheless, many Lance owners argue the T-tail Lance’s reputation is undeserved.

In 1978-79, Piper turbocharged the Lance calling it the Turbo Lance II, designated the PA32RT-300T. The airplane had a service ceiling of 16,000 feet and could cruise at about 175 knot true on 20 gph with a useful fuel capacity of 94 gallons. You can tell the difference between a normally aspirated Lance and a Turbo Lance thanks to the Turbo’s massive oval intake below the prop. Unfortunately, it’s not very esthetically pleasing and it wasn’t very good at cooling as the turbo lance had a lot of cooling issues.

Fortunately, the T-tail Lance was short lived as Piper introduced the Saratoga in 1980. Dubbed the PA-32-301, the Saratoga was a massive and much needed improvement to the PA-32 featuring a conventional tail and a much better wing. The old Hershey Bar wing was replaced with a long tapered wing with over 3 feet of additional span and bigger ailerons for more roll authority at slower speeds.

The airplane is available as a fixed gear and retractable model known as the Saratoga HP and turbo charging is available for both and later became the Saratoga II HP and Turbo Saratoga SP with cockpit and cabin updates to match. In 1997, the Saratoga became the Saratoga II TC with a TSIO-540-AH1A engine with a redesigned cowl and smaller inlets. Through the 90s and 2000s the airplane received a number of cockpit improvements including different avionics suits from King to Garmin 530s to Avidyine in 2004 and eventually the Garmin G1000 in 2007.