Piper PA 32 Guide and Specs : Is It Easy To Fly The Work Horse?

The Piper PA32 is a powerful single-engine performer from the Piper family. Also known as the Cherokee Six, the Piper PA32 is a stretched-out Piper Cherokee allowing additional seats, increasing the load to six passengers and extra baggage space. 

Brought to life in 1965, the PA32 is a light piston engine, fixed-gear aircraft, and is popularly used in air taxi and medevac services. Because of its excellent performance and value, the PA32 is still an aircraft that is sought out by many today. 

1965 / Piper / PA32 Specs

Piper

The original Piper Cherokee hadn’t been in production for very long before Piper designed the Cherokee Six, a lengthened Cherokee with six to seven seats, an extended fuselage with baggage compartment, and a new 260 horsepower engine.

The wingspan was unfortunately only extended by less than three feet and was only done to the tips of the wings in order to increase the capacity for fuel. The PA32 was then equipped with four wing tanks for the extra fuel consumption.

While Piper is known for its one pilot door, the Cherokee six was fitted with a second passenger door on the left-hand side, just behind the wing. This allowed much easier movement for the passengers.

A baggage door was also included in the PA32 design. The baggage door was placed next to the passenger door, and with some design ingenuity, Piper made the doors able to open at the same time. 

The dual doors allow space for much larger or awkward-shaped baggage to be loaded into the aircraft and can load up to 200lbs in the baggage compartment.

Unfortunately, many aircraft owners did not consider the 260 horsepower to be enough for the new model, and so in 1966, the FAA approved a 300 horsepower engine to be installed into the aircraft. The new model was titled the PA32-300 and was available for purchase from Piper in 1967.

Although the larger engine satisfied many, the amount of drag produced by the aircraft’s landing gear was still questioned. As a result, Piper created the PA32R, a model of the PA32 with the retractable landing gear. 

With new tapered wings added to the design, the name Cherokee was replaced, and the Cherokee Six became the Saratoga in 1980. This was the beginning of Piper’s luxury, high-performance, single-engine aircraft line.

The PA32 comes with space for one pilot and up to 6 passengers with an additional seat installed, resulting in a capacity of 7 onboard. This is thanks to its increased length of 27 feet, although the wingspan sits at a short 32 feet, resulting in the aircraft looking slightly stubby.

With a gross weight of 3400lbs and an increased baggage compartment, the Cherokee Six can travel with a significant number of passengers and their bags, making it suitable for long trips at faraway destinations.

PA32/ Model Prices

Although the price of an aircraft will decrease as it ages, with proper maintenance and being well taken care of, eventually, the decrease will stay steady at a reasonable price. Depending on whether the PA32 has a higher horsepower engine or retractable landing gear will also affect the price.

Currently, a PA32 with 260 horsepower can be listed as low as $80,000 depending on the time on the engine since overhaul. However, the slightly more popular 300 horsepower model can go for as high as $200,000. 

Of course, there are used and older models. Piper stopped manufacturing the Cherokee six in 2007 and finding a model younger than 1980 is very difficult due to their popularity. 

PA32/ Performance and Handling

Piper Aircraft

While Piper boasts the 3400lb takeoff weight, this wasn’t a possibility with full passengers and full fuel with a fixed pitch propellor. Many were installed with a constant speed prop which allowed a heavier load and better climb performance.

Of course, as a result, the 260 horsepower Lycoming engine was not as sought after. Equipped with a carburetor, it was also much more susceptible to carburetor icing. This 300 horsepower fuel-injected engine was a much more appealing aircraft.

With the -300 model, the PA32 can reach a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour. Cruise sits at a solid 168 miles per hour, making an impressive range of 840 miles. This performance makes the PA32 very popular for private owners, but some argue the numbers on paper are not as significant in practice. 

The PA32-300 can carry 84 gallons of fuel, with an average fuel burn of 14-16 gallons per hour. This allows flights that can last up to 5 hours, including the half-hour of reserve fuel for unforeseen circumstances. 

The PA32 has a stall speed of only 55 knots while in the landing configuration. This includes flaps and gear down and allows for a very slow approach speed on landing, making landing a much smoother experience. 

The powerful 300 horsepower engine can bring a climb speed of up to 1050 feet per minute, an essential characteristic that allows the aircraft to take off out of locations with obstacles at the end of the runway. 

Distance is an important factor to consider with aircraft, but so is height. The higher the service ceiling, the more distance can be traveled and the less fuel burned. The PA32 has a service ceiling of 16,250 feet, a height at which oxygen will be required.

PA32 / Model Maintenance Schedule

Like any privately owned aircraft, an annual inspection needs to be completed once a year. The inspection can discover any sort of small issues within the aircraft, and the maintenance engineer completing the inspection will let the owner know about possible repairs.

Inspections can be costly, and sometimes purchasing new cylinders can put the price in the tens of thousands. However, this is necessary to maintain the airworthiness of the aircraft and to ensure it runs smoothly.

The 2000 hours is a recommendation, not mandatory, but it is recommended to have the overhaul completed at the right time. It can save the owner from unwanted engine trouble in the air from a broken cylinder.

Because the engine overhaul is extremely costly, the time on the engine is mentioned during the aircraft’s sale. A PA32 with a 260 horsepower engine that has only 100 hours on the engine versus the PA32-300 model with 1100 hours on the engine can sell for a much higher price due to the overhaul being completed more recently. 

PA32/ Modifications and Upgrades

Piper 1

Although the two biggest upgrades to the PA32 were the more powerful engine and retractable landing gear, many have applied different upgrades and changes to get the most out of their precious Cherokee six. 

The PA32-300 LD was an experimental model built by Piper. The LD stands for low drag and was created to be a more fuel-efficient model and was equipped with different modifications to reduce as much drag as possible.

The PA32S was also introduced by Piper and was the seaplane model. Few were built, but the PA32 is easily recognizable far afar while sitting atop a pair of floats.

The PA32-301T was a model Saratoga equipped with a turbocharged engine. The turbocharging allowed for better performance, but in exchange, there was a larger fuel burn, and the cowling had to be remodeled to fit the engine. 

Of course, there are many small modifications approved by the FAA that can be added to the Cherokee six, mostly to increase the speed by a few knots and reduce drag. These include gap seals, speed brakes, and aerodynamic wheel fairings. 

As many of the remaining PA32 increase in age, owners have been upgrading the interior panels to include better navigation and radios. GPS is becoming an industry standard and is replacing older equipment. 

Seat upgrades are also becoming the norm. As the older material begins to deteriorate, the PA32 is now being retrofitted with leather seats or a stronger fabric to withstand wear and tear. 

PA32/ Where to Find Replacement Parts

Luckily Piper is still one of the leading aircraft manufacturers in general aviation today, and their parts are not too difficult to come by. 

Whether it be new or used, PA32 parts can be easily found second-hand or new online or at retailers. Aircraft mechanics also tend to keep a stock of parts that break easily on common aircraft and have catalogs that allow them to order new parts. 

Lycoming is still in production today, so finding cylinders or a crankshaft for the PA32 engine is not something to be concerned about unless it’s the price.

PA32/ Model Common Problems

While the PA32 has a very large following due to its wonderful design, one quirk that leaves much to be had is the added fuel tanks. 

Because of its increased performance and need for fuel, the addition of two wing tanks was added into the wings of the aircraft. Unfortunately, this means that a pilot’s reserve fuel can be spread out in 4 fuel tanks, as opposed to just two.

This undesired situation can be avoided but not without a certain level of stress. In order to avoid fuel being left in the tanks, they need to be run dry before being switched. This can result in a few seconds of panic as the engine takes a moment to catch the new fuel. 

Another undesired quirk of the PA32 fuel system is the requirement to burn the inboard tanks first. At higher weights, the aircraft should have the fuel load concentrated at the wingtips.

This results in the aircraft having a fuel weight limit since if the weight becomes too concentrated at the wing root, it can cause them to bend. 

Unfortunately, the PA32 does have a relatively high accident record when it comes to taxiing on the ground. Because of the long, high angled nose, it can be difficult for the pilot to see while taxiing, resulting in incidents of taxiing into lights, other aircraft, or buildings. 

There also isn’t much in terms of ventilation for the rear seats. As a result during extreme temperatures, those sitting in the back might have to suffer very hot air on the ground or very cold weather in the air.

PA32/ Insurance Options

Piper PA

Insurance premiums vary depending on the value of the aircraft, its systems, the experience of the pilot, and the level of coverage that is desired. Due to these factors, no two insurance programs are alike, and pilots can shop for their more preferred plan. 

According to bwifly.com, qualified pilots who are looking for liability-only coverage can expect between 600 and 800$ USD a year. Low-time pilots, student pilots, or pilots with no experience on the aircraft can expect it to be a little higher, ranging from 700 to 1300$ USD a year. 

Liability coverage only covers the pilot and their damage, not the cost of the aircraft. For that, you would need hull coverage. 

Hull coverage for experienced pilots can begin at 1300$ USD and can go as high as 1600$ USD a year. For the less experienced pilots, they can expect 3000 to 4000$ USD a year. This covers the aircraft itself, so should it be in an accident, it will be covered as well as the pilot. 

In many countries, only liability coverage is required by law, but hull coverage creates more safety and reassurance for the pilot. 

PA32/ Model Resale Value

Luckily as long as an aircraft remains certified, the value is not lost over time. By maintaining the upkeep of the aircraft, the PA32 will sell for the same price that it was purchased, if not more.

Due to its popularity, the PA32 can be obtained from as low as 60,000$ USD for a base model with 260 horsepower to a more modern model with a 300 horsepower engine and retractable gear at 200,000$ USD. 

PA32 / Owner Reviews

From those who have a mission of flying distances of up to 800 miles, with a very high useful load, the PA32 has received a lot of praise. Because of their excellent craftsmanship, there are still many flying today. 

The PA32 provides roomy comfort to allow the ultimate relief during long-distance travel. Its speed is efficient and provides a decent fuel burn, allowing owners to plan long trips without worrying over the cost.

The PA32 is ideal for business trips, air taxi services, and medevac flying. In these areas, it has excelled and is still very popular in the general aviation community. 

PA32/ Similar Aircraft

Piper Cherokee

This single-engine aircraft is regarded as one of Piper’s best with six seats, and it is a general aviation aircraft with a long range and high useful load. Should a Piper fan be interested in a smaller version, then the PA28, the original Piper Cherokee, is an excellent candidate.

While not sporting the spacious 6 seats, the Piper Cherokee is an identical, smaller version of the PA32. With a little less capacity, less speed, and less range, the Cherokee can be obtained for a significantly lower price. 

Meanwhile, should you desire more power, the PA44 is a twin-engine Piper designed with dual engine control in mind. Still sporting 4 seats. However, it can travel at a significant amount of speed thanks to being a multi-engine aircraft. 

If six seats are needed for your intended mission, then the six-seater Beechcraft Bonanza is a lovely alternative. Its speed is comparable to the turbocharged PA32 Saratoga and has a very spacious interior. 

The Cessna 206 is another 6 seater alternative. Although it has slightly less baggage space, the Cessna name provides a level of reassurance in the quality of the aircraft. Finding insurance is easy with a Cessna model and the 206 is considered a reliable aircraft with Cessna in its name. 

With a fixed gear, it might not be as fancy as some of the later PA32 models and does create a bit more drag that increases fuel consumption, but the easy access to parts and quick, simple maintenance standards make the 206 a popular alternative to the PA32.

PA32/ Clubs You can Join

The Piper Owner Society on piperowner.org is a perfect club and resource for all kinds of questions and comments you might have. Facebook also provides a free Piper owners club that allows members to ask questions to the community and find resources. 

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How much does it cost to fuel the Piper PA32?

Answer: The PA32 can carry 84 gallons of fuel and takes 100LL type aviation gasoline. The cost of fuel is between four and seven dollars a gallon, resulting in up to 600$ USD spent on completely filling the tank.

Question: What are the operating costs of the Piper PA32?

Answer: The Piper Cherokee 6 can have different costs depending on the condition of the aircraft and how often its flown. If you include variable costs, fixed costs, and emergency funds, it would be best practice to plan to spend up to 300$ USD an hour on operating the PA32. 

Question: Where can I buy a Piper PA32?

Answer: Since the production of the Piper Cherokee six was stopped in 2007 the aircraft must be purchased used. The United States carries almost 8000 PA32s that were built since the beginning of their production. However, not all of them are still being flown today. Purchasing a PA32 can be completed through an aircraft broker or finding one for sale online through aircraft sale websites.

Research Citations

https://bwifly.com/piper-pa-32-insurance-cost/

https://www.avweb.com/features/piper-pa-32-cherokee-six-saratoga/

https://www.planeandpilotmag.com/article/choosing-a-six-seat-single/

https://piperowner.org/talk/discussion/74166/pa-32-seating

https://www.flyingmag.com/pilot-reports/pistons/six-seat-stalwart-used-pa-32-review/

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