Piper Saratoga Guide and Specs : Is It A Reliable Aircraft?


The genesis of the Piper Saratoga resulted from a hurricane in 1972, whose flooding wiped out much of the Piper plant at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Also destroyed was the tooling for the then-popular single and twin Piper Comanche. Given Comanche’s were labor-intensive to build, Piper chose to design a new retractable gear aircraft based on the six-seat, low-wing, all-metal, fixed gear Cherokee Six.

Initial designs mainly focused on installing a retractable undercarriage to the Cherokee Six fuselage, with the undercarriage borrowing heavily from the twin-engined Piper Seneca. The new design required engine mount and wing-spar redesign, while the engine remained unchanged.

In 1976 the new aircraft debuted as the Pa32R-300 Piper Cherokee Lance, fitted initially with the 300hp Lycoming IO-540-K1A5D and later the -K1G5D. It’s fair to say that the old Cherokee Six was never the sexiest aircraft on the line, but it could haul heavy loads, had a huge cargo/passenger door in the rear, and was a reliable workhorse. Therefore, from 1976 to 1978, the Lance came from a solid pedigree and looked similar, although with retractable undercarriage.

However, Piper’s marketing department must have been bored, and late in 1978, a modified Lance appeared on the scene with a T-tail. This involved moving the horizontal stabilizer and elevator to the top of the vertical stabilizer, and the aircraft name became just the PA-32RT-300 Lance II, dropping the Cherokee.

Piper also introduced a turbocharged version known as the PA-32RT-300T Turbo Lance II. As a marketing coup, it wasn’t a stand-out success, with pilots complaining about the handling problems associated with the new tail.

Their gripes revolved around a lack of elevator authority at low speeds, an increased take-off roll, and a propensity to pitch up when the elevator finally did gain some authority. Piper tried to breathe life into the new model, but the paying public wasn’t buying it, and as sales continued to drop, Piper discontinued the Lance II and the Turbo Lance II at the end of 1979.

In 1980, Piper reverted to a conventional tailplane on both models and a semi-tapered wing to replace the barn-door slab wing that had graced the Cherokee Six. Deciding the Lance name was irreparably damaged by the T-tail saga, Piper renamed the modified aircraft the PA-32R-301 Saratoga SP and the PA-32R-301T Turbo Saratoga SP.

These models remained largely untouched until the 1990s. In 1993, the Saratoga SP received new systems, a facelift, and renamed the Saratoga II HP (for high performance). The Turbo Saratoga received several mods through the years, yet it wasn’t until 1997 that it received a new engine in the 300hp Lycoming IO-540-AH1A, new cowling to suit, and was rebadged the Saratoga II TC.

The aircraft successfully continued in production until the 2008 economic downturn, with manufacturing ceasing in 2009. Despite the Lance II hiccup, the Pa32 family was a successful product, with over 7200 delivered by the time production ended.

2008 Piper Saratoga II HP Specifications

Engines     Weights and Capacities  
Model: Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D   T/O / Landing Weights Normal: 3600 lbs
Cylinders: Six   Standard Empty Weight: 2481 lbs
Displacement: 541.5   Max. Useful Load: 1119 lbs
Horsepower: 300   Baggage Capacity: 200 lbs
Aspirated Fuel Injected   Oil Capacity – per engine: 12 quarts
TBO: 2000   Passenger Configuration: 5
T/O Manifold Press:     Crew: 1
Propellors     Aircraft Dimensions  
Model: Hartzell HC-C2YK-1   Wing Span: 36.16 feet
Blades: 2   Length: 27.92 feet
      Height: 8.5 feet
Fuel:     Internal Baggage Volume(cu ft): 7 fwd/17.3 aft
Octane: 100/130   Wing Area: 174.5 sq ft
Capacity: 98 gallons (94 Usable)   Wing Aspect Ratio: 6.2
Burn @ 75% Power: 15 gph   Wing Loading: 20.6 lbs/sq ft

PA-32R Prices

Piper Saratoga

Non-turbo models from 1980 range in total airframe hours from as low as 1,700 to 4,700. The price range across these options stretches from US$169,000 to US$195,000, although most have 400 hours or less to run on the engine manufacturers TBO. The later HP models have airframe hours between 2,500 to 4,000, with prices spanning US$280,000 to US$330,000.

When shopping for the turbocharged versions, models between late 1997 and 2006 appear to have total airframe hours between 1,600 to 2,100. Prices range from US$289,000 to US$380,000.

PA-32R Performance & Handling

Handling of the Saratoga has been described as more like a light twin than a single-engined aircraft. That’s due mainly to the mass you’re carrying around and, therefore, its inertia; there aren’t many big roomy six-seaters that are particularly twitchy on the controls.

Control authority in all axes is slow and steady, although not heavy. Owners describe the aircraft as stable and vice-free with benign stalling characteristics; one owner suggested that the conversion would be simple if you were transitioning through the Piper range and had time in an Archer.

The aircraft has a large center of gravity envelope, yet you’ll nudge or exceed the forward limit with only one or two in the cabin. As with all singles, you can fully load with fuel or fully load with people, just not both. That said, in the non-turbo version, you can carry four people with some baggage and full fuel. Remove the rear seats, and you are flying the airborne equivalent of a pick-up with good cargo space.

The long nose can take some getting used to, with taxiing akin to flying a taildragger. When chugging around a circuit, dropping a notch of flap helps with visibility if seeing the runway is important to you. When landing, use the trim through the approach, maintain some power into the flare, then reduce power slowly to let it settle.

As with most load carriers, the Saratoga is not a speed fiend, in fact, slower than the obvious competitors. Cruise speeds vary by model, yet 150 to 160 knots is standard for non-turbo aircraft, burning between 14 and 18 gallons per hour. At altitude on a turbomachine, you’ll push 175 knots.

2008 Piper Saratoga II HP Performance and Handling Specifications

Cruise Speed (Kts)     Stall Speed (kts) (Flaps up)  
75% @ 10,000 ft 175   Stall Speed (kts) (Flaps down) 57
75% @ 15,000 ft 185      
      Service Ceiling (ft)  
Fuel Consumption (GPH)        
75% 16   Best sea-level rate-of-climb (fpm) 1,120
65% 14      
55% 12   Take-off Ground Roll (ft) 1,110
      T/O Dist. over 50-foot obstacle 1,810
Max Range (nm)        
75% @ 7,500 ft     Landing Ground Roll (ft) 880
55% @ 16,000 ft     Ldg Dist. Over 50-foot obstacle 1,700
Est. Endurance (hrs)     Do Not Exceed Speed (kts) 191
65% power     Max Structural Cruise Speed (kts) 148

PA-32R Maintenance Schedule

PA-32R Maintenance Schedule

Prospective owners should be aware of three maintenance issues involving significant service bulletins Piper considers mandatory.

Piper SB 1006 involves a seven-year corrosion inspection of the main spar behind the fuel tanks. Piper states, “If not detected, significant corrosion in the spar cap area may affect the structural integrity of the spar which, if left uncorrected, may compromise the wing structure.” The tank removal also allows compliance with the calendar time replacement of the flexible fuel vent hoses behind the fuel tank.

Piper SB 1161B refers to an inspection for cracking of the aft wing rib assembly at wing station 49.25. A number have been found cracked, and if allowed to propagate, a reduction in the shear buckling capability of the spar web may compromise the torsional strength of the wing. While a service kit is available, found too late, the crack may require some serious specialist wing work to replace the rib.

Finally, Piper SB 1216B requires inspection of the aileron outboard hinge fitting. Cracks may develop in the aileron nose rib web, which, if unchecked, may result in the outboard aileron hinge fitting detaching, potentially along with the aileron. The inspection is repetitive every 100-hours until aileron replacement terminates the inspection requirement.

PA-32R Modifications and Upgrades

A favorite upgrade appears to be aerodynamic kits to improve cruise speeds, climb rate, low-speed handling, and fuel consumption. Knots2U https://www.knots2u.net/ and Laminar Flow Systems https://laminarflowsystems.com/ are two of the many kit providers.

Installation of propellers offering improved performance is common. Professional Pilots Inc. https://www.propilotsinc.com/ offers an STC to install a new 3-bladed “Scimitar” MT-Propeller, which is lighter, of composite design, and has an unlimited blade life. The company claims an improvement of approximately 5 knots in cruise. Major propeller manufacturers Hartzell and McCauley also offer improved performance propellers.

Speedbrakes are available through Precise Flight at https://preciseflight.com/, which can double your normal rate of descent while helping prevent engine shock cooling.

PA-32R Where To Find Replacement Parts

Speak to any owner or maintenance professional, and they’ll tell you of the ready availability of Piper spares. Any of the major parts suppliers throughout the world retain stock of common Piper spares and can access the more unusual parts within a reasonable lead-time.

PA-32R Common Problems


If you own a turbocharged Lance II, the biggest concern is the engine running too hot. Most owners plump for an intercooler mod that solves the temperature issues while providing increased horsepower and extended engine life.

Staying with the turbo Lance and Saratoga aircraft, there have been several engine fires and aircraft lost due to failures of exhaust systems from misaligned or misassembled exhaust pipes. FAA AD 91-21-01 requires the installation of new exhaust components designed to alleviate the failures.

On all models, landing gear problems appear to be an issue. Maintenance personnel experienced on the Saratoga suggest regular inspections for trunnions exhibiting excessive play from bearings and bushings being outside tolerance.

PA-32R Insurance Options

The standard aviation insurance all aircraft owners take is liability coverage, while hull coverage is optional. Liability coverage covers damage caused by the aircraft, including passengers, while hull coverage covers damage to the aircraft itself. The greater the experience of the owner/pilot, the lower the premiums.

For a private pilot with 500 hours total time, an IFR rating, and 25 hours on type, the 2021 cost per year for US$1,000,000 liability coverage is in the range of US$620 to US$820 per year. Pilots with less experience can expect this range to rise to between US$780 to US$1,250 per year.

If the insurance includes additional hull cover for US$75,000, the annual premium for the experienced pilot will be between US$1,260 to US$1,549 per year, while the lesser experienced pilot can expect US$2,750 to US$4,300 per year.

PA-32R Model Resale Value

Resale on the Saratoga couldn’t be better, with high demand for the Pa-32 series. As in all things, aircraft purchase is a tradeoff, but if you’re looking for utility, comfort, and capability, the Saratoga needs to be near the top of your list.

Good quality, low hour Saratoga are very much in demand, so expect to pay a premium to the higher hour alternatives. Older non-turbocharged models have a price average of US$1850,000 with airframe times around 4,500 hours. Younger aircraft and turbocharged models average US$300,000 with 2,500 to 3,500 hours on the airframe.

PA-32R Owner Reviews

Owners describe the aircraft as honest, stable, roomy, and comfortable. Accepting they’re not the fastest aircraft, for the purchase price and operating cost all consider their mission requirements can’t justify the extra money to gain another 10 to 20 knots cruise.

The Bonanza may beat a Saratoga on speed, and a 206 may have the edge on load, but the owners feel they wouldn’t make a change given the utility, comfort, and appearance.

PA-32R Similar Aircraft

Beech G36 Bonanza

Modern comparisons are primarily with the Beech G36 Bonanza. Still manufactured, the Bonanza is known for its faster cruise speed and better climb, although shorter range. However, the choice is made easier for purchasers with the much greater acquisition cost of the Bonanza. Check out this Piper Pacer guide for more alternatives!

The older discontinued Cessna 210 Centurion would be the other option, retailing at comparable prices to the Saratoga on older higher-hour airframes. Yet if roomy and relatively modern are in your purchase requirements, the Saratoga wins hands down.

PA-32R Clubs You Can Join

You can join the Cherokee Pilots Association through www.piperowner.org or the Piper Flyer Association at www.piperflyer.org.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What does service ceiling mean?

Answer: An aircraft’s service ceiling is defined as the height at which the aircraft cannot climb at a rate greater than 100 feet per minute.

Question: What is the meaning of the term TBO?

Answer: TBO means Time Between Overhaul, which is the manufacturer’s recommended running time, in hours or calendar time, before overhaul.

Question: To what does TTAF refer?

Answer: TTAF stands for Total Time Airframe, which refers to the number of flying hours the airframe has accumulated since the new one. Thus, it is an indication of age and use.

Question: Aircraft Gross Weight refers to what?

Answer: Gross Weight is the total aircraft weight, including pilots, passengers, fuel, oil, and cargo.

Question: What does max structural cruise mean?

Answer: Maximum structural cruise, or Vno, refers to the airspeed above which the aircraft should be flown only in smooth air. Above this speed, turbulence or rapid control deflections increase the chance of structural damage.

Question: What are FAA-PMA Approved Parts?

Answer:  FAA refers to the Federal Aviation Administration, and PMA means Parts Manufacturer Approval. It is an approval granted to a parts manufacturer to manufacture specific aircraft components.

Question:  To what does the term IFR/MEL refer?

Answer:  IFR means Instrument Flight Rules. When pilots are flying IFR, it means they are under the control of Air Traffic Control. MEL, in this case, refers to Multi-Engine – Land. Both refer to ratings or approvals that a pilot must achieve to enable the operation of a multi-engined aircraft or flight under instrument flight rules.

Question: What is an STC?

Answer: An STC refers to a Supplemental Type Certificate. An STC is an approved modification to an aircraft, engine, or component. All aircraft, engines, and components have type certificates that approve their use. That is why an approval to modify them is classed as ‘supplemental’.

Question: What is ‘wing loading’?

Answer: Wing loading is the total aircraft mass divided by its wing area. Faster aircraft generally have a higher wing loading as less area is required to carry the same mass. However, it takes a longer distance high wing loading aircraft to take off and land.

Question: What does an intercooler do?

Answer: An intercooler is an air-to-air radiator that takes the hot air from the turbocharger and cools it before passing it to the intake manifold. Cooler air is denser, which improves engine efficiency. It also keeps the engine cooler, helping prevent overheating while extending engine life.

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