When looking at the Piper Lance/Saratoga, it’s important to remember that all airplanes are compromises. Since most of us lack an unlimited budget, we’re often forced to choose between going fast in a relatively small cockpit or dragging around a larger cabin more slowly. It’s simple, really: The “go-fast” airplane will get us to our destination sooner, but we might be forced to leave behind a few things, or a few people. The slower, large-cabin bird gets us there just fine, thank you, and lets us carry all the stuff we’ll need upon arrival.
In the six-seat, retractable piston-single market, there are three basic choices: Beech’s Model 36 Bonanza, Cessna’s Model 210 Centurion or Piper’s PA- 32R series, the Lance and Saratoga. The Bonanza arguably handles better than the other two while probably squeezing out a knot or two over the Centurion. The 210, on the other hand, generally has better short-field performance than the Bonanza and offers an improved hand-flown IFR platform. Piper’s Lance/Saratoga series, however, can often carry more than the other two (although the T210 out carries all others), albeit more slowly, and usually is thought of as the most stable of the three when flying IFR.
All three of these airplanes are growth versions of earlier, smaller airframes. All three are available in turbocharged models, either from the factory or in the aftermarket. In some cases, you have fixed-gear versions or derivatives as alternatives.
If trying to describe their differences by referring to the automotive world, the A36 Bonanza might be thought of as a BMW station wagon; the 210 as a Ford Explorer; the PA- 32R as a Chevy Suburban. All three make fine platforms when there are two or three people and a few bags. But when there are a lot of bags and people, the Suburban is one that gets the job done with ease. So it is with Piper’s Lance/Saratoga.
You just might have to stop for fuel a bit more often.
Piper Lance and Piper Saratoga History
In the early 1970s Piper suffered a major setback when a flood destroyed much of its Lock Haven, Pennsylvania plant. Among the casualties was the tooling for the popular, but labor-intensive, Comanche, which had an option for small third-row seats.
Piper decided to abandon the Comanche in favor of a new retractable derived from the fixed-gear PA-32 Cherokee Six. The company was already having success with the Seneca, a light twin derived from the same airframe, so it made sense to build on a familiar design. Not much needed to be done to the Cherokee Six: The PA-32 was already available with the 300 HP Lycoming IO-540, so essentially the only change was to fit a retractable landing gear. That meant a new engine mount and changes to the wing. Piper also modified the wing spar in the process, allowing a 200-pound boost in gross weight, to 3600 pounds. The new airplane was dubbed the Piper PA-32R Lance and introduced to the public in 1976.
The powerplant was the 300HP Lycoming IO-540 K1G5D with a 2000-hour TBO in the normally aspirated airplanes and the TIO-540- S1AD with a TBO of 1800 hours in the later turbocharged models. (The first 140 Lances built had K1A5D engines, the only difference being in fuel pump design.) The D means that the engine has the infamous Bendix dual magneto system. The fuel system originally held 94 gallons in four tanks, later upped to 102 gallons.
Piper’s PA-32R borrows heavily from its siblings. The main landing gear is much like the Seneca—logical, since the basic airframe is the same—and the nose gear resembles the Seneca and also the Arrow. The PA-32R also came with Piper’s automatic extension system for the landing gear. The fuel system is similar to the Seneca’s.
The Piper Lance remained essentially unchanged for two years. In the late1970s, though, someone at Piper decided that T-tails were a good idea. We believe it unlikely that the responsible parties were aerospace engineers or experienced pilots, based on the aerodynamic qualities of the Piper T-tail singles in general.The Lance wasn’t the only T-tailed Piper. This also was when the PA-38 Tomahawk was rolled out and the T-tailed Arrow IV debuted.
Piper combined the T-tail’s introduction to the PA-32 airframe with a turbocharged variant. These two aircraft, the Lance II (PA-32RT-300) and Turbo Lance II (-300T), were not well received. Though Piper ballyhooed the supposed advantages of the T-tail (smaller size and weight, reduced pitch changes with trim and flap application), the truth was that when the stabilator was moved up out of the propwash, the airplane’s handling suffered. In particular, takeoff runs increased significantly since it took a good deal of speed for the stabilator to become effective, and when it did, the result was a pronounced pitch-up. Some complained of lack of rudder authority. The T-tailed Lances were also sensitive to trim settings. The T-tail was a pain to preflight, especially in winter, when a ladder is required to remove snow from the stabilator.
When pilots found out about these traits, sales plummeted. In 1980, two years after the T-tail’s introduction, Piper saw the light and reverted to the original tail design.
At the same time, the company applied the same wing upgrade that had already appeared in the PA-28 series. The constant-chord “Hershey Bar” wing was replaced with a semi-tapered planform. Piper also “simplified” the designation of the entire PA-32 series, renaming them Saratoga SP. The fixed-gear versions were simply called Saratogas. As before, there were turbo versions available, designated by a T at the end of the model number. The fixed-gear option was dropped in 1993, only to reappear briefly as the Piper 6X from 2004-2007. The retractable version saw various iterations under the Saratoga name until 2008.
Used values of the T-tail models have historically been lower than those of the conventional-tailed airplanes, which makes the T-tail a relative bargain in a six-place airplane. Owners of T-tails seem to like them. It should be noted that although Ttail owners without exception stand behind their airplanes and claim the poor reputation is undeserved, the airplane nevertheless has documented performance differences from the otherwise identical straight-tailversion (more on this later).
Differences Between the Lance Turbo and the Saratoga Trubo
The turbocharged engines have AiResearch turbos with wastegates mechanically linked to the throttle controls. The pilot has to adjust the throttle to maintain manifold pressure during climb, and it is possible to overboost the engine if too much throttle is applied. (The MP gauge is inconveniently located in front of the pilot’s right knee, but there is an overboost warning light on the panel’s eyebrow.)
The Piper Turbo Lance II has an unusual updraft engine-cooling system that takes air in through a low-mounted “fish-mouth” oval scoop, forces it up over the cylinders, then back down and out through cowl flaps. Owners say the system is ineffective and requires the use of extra fuel and step-climbs to avoid engine meltdown.
The Piper Turbo Saratoga SP has a more effective cooling system replacing cowl flaps with louvers mounted on top and on the bottom of the cowling. A popular mod is to add an intercooler.
Piper Lance/Saratoga Interior
Most find the interior of the Piper PA-32R quite comfortable. The cabin is over 10 feet long and 3.5 feet high. Shoulder room for the front and center seats is four feet and 3.5 feet for the back row. Most 32Rs have club seating and there’s a big side door for the passengers, who need not clamber over a wing to enter the airplane. It’s remarkably quiet, due in no small part to the presence of a nose baggage compartment located between the cabin and engine. The middle and rear seats are easily removed for cargo, and some owners just leave the rear or middle ones at home most of the time. Because of the wide cabin, there’s plenty of room on the panel for any gadget one might want. Other than that, it’s pure Piper single.
The fuel selector is a bit different from the familiar PA-28 sidewall mounted pointer, being sensibly located on the center pedestal. One thing we don’t like is the sump-draining procedure. Not a simple matter of sticking a fuel tester in a quick drain, the procedure requires the pilot to first put a bucket under a nozzle in the belly, then get back in and hold down a lever located under the right center-row seat while simultaneously switching tanks.
This gymnastic routine continues for a minimum of 18 seconds due to the length of the fuel lines, after which the pilot gets to go back outside, look in the bucket and try to figure out which tank the water came from.
Later PA-32s have some good crashworthiness features, including seats with S-shaped frames designed to progressively crush on impact and a thickly padded glareshield.
Piper Lance/Saratoga Load Carrying
Typical of single-engine airplanes, Piper Lances and Saratoga SPs force the pilot to choose between filling the cabin and filling the tanks. Still, an airplane this size is quite practical when it comes to hauling, because carrying four with baggage and full fuel is possible. The turbo models are a bit more limited. With six FAA-standard people aboard, a PA-32R can carry enough fuel to fly 2.5 to 3.5 hours. The CG range is quite wide, but with only two people aboard, care must be taken to avoid exceeding the forward limit. There are two baggage compartments, both with a 100-pound capacity: the nose bay and a large one aft of the rear seats. One way to improve the T-tail’s squirrelly handling reputation is to put 50 pounds in the aft baggage compartment to bring the CG aft into the center of the range.
Piper Lance/Saratoga Performance Anxiety
While 150 knots isn’t all that bad, when compared to other big retractables the PA-32Rs are rather slow. Almost any A36 Bonanza or Cessna 210 will walk away from the 32R, being about 10 knots faster.
At 75 percent power, a Lance cruises at 158 knots while burning 18 GPH. The Saratoga SP is a little faster, and improvements in induction air cooling allow their engines to be leaned to peak EGT, saving a couple of gallons an hour. The turbocharged airplanes can cruise at 177 knots while burning nearly 20 GPH up high, but at lower altitudes they’re only a couple of knots faster on the same fuel.
Because of its T-tail, the Lance II has a significantly longer ground roll than the conventional-tail models. The books indicates a 1650-foot ground roll under standard conditions, and notes the roll will be one-quarter longer if the airplane is loaded toward its forward CG limit. Ground rolls for the Lance and SP are posted as 1380 and 1200 feet, respectively. Initial rate of climb is a tad over 1000 FPM for all models.
Piper Lance/Saratoga Maintenance
Several Turbo Lance II owners complained about their hot-running engines. (One said his mill once toasted the forward baggage compartment sufficiently to melt plastic diaper bags that had been stowed there.) However, as noted below, there are modifications designed to eliminate the heat problem.
Among recurring ADs are: 77-12-06, which requires the shanks of Hartzell Y-blade propellers to be inspected and cold-rolled every 2000 hours or five years (90-2-23 also calls for a one-time inspection and possible replacement of the hub, and 94-17-13 requires recurrent inspection of hub grease fittings); 78-23-01, which requires the fuel drain lever doors in naturally aspirated Lances to be checked every 100 hours until they’re replaced; 93-5-22, which addresses the fuel injector lines on the TIO-540-S1AD engine; 95-26-13, which requires recurrent inspection of oil cooler hoses.
A rash of engine fires in turbocharged Lances and Saratogas prompted an Airworthiness Directive requiring portions of their exhaust systems to be periodically inspected and eventually replaced. The AD targets the fittings on a 90-degree elbow between exhaust ports and turbocharger in the Lycoming TIO-540-S1AD engine powering the big Piper singles.
In 1988, NTSB issued a warning about the fittings when it concluded its investigation of a Turbo Lance that crashed during an attempted emergency landing in Lincoln, Neb. The Safety Board found the elbow fitting in the Lance had separated, allowing hot exhaust gases to flow into the engine compartment and start a fire. The board noted the gasket and flange on the fitting had been misaligned during maintenance on the exhaust system about a month before the accident occurred.
The FAA responded with an AD (89-12-4) requiring periodic inspections of the exhaust elbows and fittings, and replacement with modified components developed by Lycoming. The FAA estimated that compliance would cost $858 per engine.
However, later evidence of a string of exhaust system-related accidents and incidents involving both the Turbo Lance II and the Turbo Saratoga SP prompted the NTSB to call for a more stringent AD. Four such crashes occurred in 1990 alone. The
Safety Board, noting that some of the crashed aircraft had received new parts called for by the AD, declared the AD was not an effective solution and called for a revision mandating repetitive inspections whether or not new parts are installed. The revised AD, AD 91-21-01, requires new exhaust parts that would beat the cracking problem.
Landing gear problems are prominent in SDR reports, accounting for about a quarter of the total. Chief among them were broken nosegear actuators and cracked or broken nosegear trunnions. Other frequently cited problems included cracked engine mounts, exhaust system leaks and separations, broken magnetos and loose stabilator attachments.
Piper Lance/Saratoga Mods, Owner Groups
Several companies have developed means to alleviate the heat problems plaguing the Turbo Lance II; if this is the model you’re interested in, check to see if one of these kits has been installed in a candidate airplane. TurboPlus still offers intercoolers for the turbocharged Lance and Saratoga (www.turboplus.com).
Aerodynamic clean-up kits (e.g., gap seals and fairings) are available from a number of companies, including Knots 2 U (www.knots2u.com) and Laminar Flow Systems(www.laminarflowsystems.com). LoPresti (www.speedmods.com) offers gap seals, too, along with a redesigned cowling, which the company says improves engine cooling and reduces drag.
Precise Flight (www.preciseflight.com) offers speed brakes, a standby vacuum system and a pulse-light anti-collision system. Upgraded propeller systems are available from both Hartzell (www.hartzellprop.com) and McCauley (www.mccauley.textron.com) for most PA-32R models.
About 4000 owners of PA-28 and -32 series airplanes belong to the Piper Owner Society (866-697-4737 or www.piperowner.org). The group holds an annual convention and regional fly-ins, and publishes a monthly magazine focusing on maintenance and operational information.
Piper Lance/Saratoga Owner Comments
I bought my 1980 Turbo Saratoga (intercooled by Turbo Plus) in 1994. I have not regretted the choice. I have installed speed mods, cosmetic enhancements and almost every avionics update available. After eight planes and over 20 years as an owner/pilot, I’ve come to believe that you get what you pay for.
Most years my Saratoga annuals run about $5000, but have been as high as $15,000. A less fussy owner can certainly maintain a plane like this for less money. This airplane carries my granddaughter and I’m not willing to compromise anything I see as a safety issue to save money.
Every pilot wants more speed, but I’m satisfied with 185 to 190 knots at long-distance cruise altitudes in the mid-teens, where I am above most of the weather. I never have to worry about weight, balance or room. In the four years my son was a student in Washington, D.C., a 240-mile trip, we drove our Jeep Grand Cherokee exactly once. It simply could not handle the load that the Saratoga could carry, and the plane made overnight stays optional, not mandatory. Another four years of school in Philly only reinforced that view.
The Saratoga was also the only practical way for my late father to visit his older brother in Maryland. Both men, in their 80s and 90s, were too old and too physically impaired to travel either by ground or airline. The Saratoga interior volume means that almost anyone can enter, exit or ride in comfort. Almost anyone can get into or out of a Saratoga with a plastic footstool and that big-ass rear passenger door. For
SCUBA or ski trips I can literally toss all the equipment I want into the back without even thinking about it. I don’t deny that I would like another 20 knots or so, but I would lose almost all the utility for the kind of flying I do.
I’ve made a lot of very long trips (1500 miles or more) and the ability to stretch out, read a book, use a laptop or have a sandwich can’t be equaled without a much bigger and more expensive plane.
I’d love to own a Meridian or a TBM, but realistically that won’t happen. For pilots whose need for speed outweighs the need for space, or don’t need to save five GPH, there are better choices. But when I balance the speed of the little airplanes against the room and practicality of the Saratoga, there’s no contest.
Brian Peck,Middlebury, Connecticut
I bought my normally aspirated, fixed-gear Saratoga in 1998 to serve the transportation needs of my young family, and almost 14 years later it is still carrying out its mission. My friends said that I didn’t need a six-place airplane, but I have had no regrets.
The Saratoga has all the utility of a minivan with wings. I cannot think of a trip where we had to leave anything at home. On one trip we loaded our family of four, two grandparents, luggage for a weekend and an outboard engine and went to Maine, still under gross. When it was first introduced, Piper boasted of the size of the Saratoga when it published sales literature showing a Spinet piano being loaded in one. Has anyone ever tried transporting a pianoin a Skyhawk?
The Saratoga is a well-designed airplane that performs well in several categories. If you don’t fill the 107-gallon tanks, it really can carry six adults. If you watch your load, it really can go 800 miles non-stop at 145 knots. It is well-equipped forIFR flights, and the cockpit is comfortable and stable. Most of my trips are in the Northeast and from one to two hours long, so the lack of retractable gear and turbo-charging is not missed and the savings are appreciated. Angel Flight passengers are easy to load through the large rear door.
When newer pilots ask me for advice about the purchase of a plane, I tell them to focus on their typical mission. When it comes to my typical missions of transporting family, friends and Angel Flight patients around the northeast United States, you can’t beat a used Saratoga.
Thomas G. Clements,Glens Falls, New York
I own a 1999 II HP based in Florida with about 2100 hours. The biggest selling points are its stability as an instrument platform and the comfortable seats up front. Minuses include climb performance at altitude, the long takeoff roll and the very limited full-fuel useful load. I limit myself to airways no higher than 12,000 feet and always ask for the longest runways at high altitude airports, even then using short-field techniques as a safety measure.
The post-1999 ‘Togas have great panels sporting HSIs and Garmins, and often come with TCAS and a Stormscope. I have added a panel powered 396. I definitely recommend the S-Tec 55X autopilot vs. the non-“X”-model, as it saves you from constantly adjusting the tracking. Annuals run between $3000-$7000 as there are usually a couple of things that need to be replaced. The perfect progression for this plane would be via Cherokee/Archer, Arrow and then Saratoga. From there it’s a small jump to a Seneca, followed by a somewhat bigger one to a Mirage or Meridian.
Compared to a Bonanza, the Saratoga trades speed for comfort. Versus a 206, you trade speed for useful load. Compared to its predecessor, the Lance, the Saratoga gives you many creature comforts at the price of the Lance’s load utility. A problem is getting a CFI who is really intimately familiar with the plane for the initial training. It’s better with A&P mechanics and parts.
Given that the pre-glass-panel Saratogas were virtually unchanged between 1999 and 2006 save for the upgrade to a GNS530, the earlier versions represent excellent value. If I had to do it over again, I’d get a TC for my flying in California. The HP is much more economical, however, if used mostly in eastern, southern or Midwest states.
I purchased a fixed-gear 1988 Saratoga (PA32-301) seven years ago to accommodate travel for our five-place family. We selected it for a combination of speed and capacity, which is another way of saying a Bonanza wouldn’t hold our family, bags, dog, and so forth. About 600 hours later, it’s taken us from the
Tropic of Cancer to Canada and from the Atlantic Coast throughout the Rockies. As a family, we’re delighted with the aircraft.
Perhaps the largest transition was getting used to the Saratoga’s nose. That long nose hides a lot of runway or taxiway. A loaded Saratoga tends to squat down on its mains, adding to the challenge. I’ve flown tailwheel aircraft with better forward visibility on the ground. A spotter in the right seat is well appreciated at unfamiliar airports.
With partial flaps to lower the nose, the airplane can fly a landing pattern at 90-95 knots. Once I became used to the plane I started
crossing the fence at 1.3 Vso (79 KIAS) and began fitting into GA runways with less adventure. The aircraft’s 1000-foot sea-level takeoff ground roll is the limiting factor in short-field work.
The PA32 is famous for developing prodigious sink rates. The power-off sink rate at best glide (80 KIAS) with the blue knob forward is 1400 FPM. Pulling the prop back lowers that to 900 FPM and greatly extends glide range. A full load can make up to an eight-knot difference in liftoff speed and five-knot difference in cruise. Climb rates are quite different, and there are several thousand-foot differences in service ceiling. (A fully loaded Saratoga has a service ceiling of 13,000 feet.)
We fill the mains only (70 gallons) and fly three-hour legs with ample IFR reserves, which is about all the family wants to sit still anyway. Starting with an empty weight of 2287 pounds, that configuration allows for an 893-pound payload. It’s well worth checking empty weight when considering a PA32 purchase as there’s quite a bit of variability in the fleet.
Since purchase, the Saratoga has cost $145/hour in fuel, maintenance and repairs. That’s somewhat on the high side, as early maintenance bills included catching up with several items which previous owners had deferred, including SB1006 ($2562), which calls for removal of the fuel tanks and inspection of the spar. Insurance runs $8.68 per thousand for hull insurance (no deductible), and $0.95 per thousand for smooth liability.
The closest thing to a formal users group is the Toga Party email list (groups.yahoo.com/group/toga_party) where one can correspond with other Saratoga owners. The Piper Owner Society (www.piperowner.org), and Piper Flyer Association (www.piperflyer.org) also support the Saratoga amongst other model
Pipers. The Piper Forumis also a helpful and active Internet community.
Joe Budge,Annapolis, Maryland
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue ofAviation Consumermagazine.
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