Piper Lance/ Saratoga

For many owners, these six-placers offer ideal speed, payload and operating economy.

Aircraft owners are forever seeking the free lunch: an airplane that carries as much as you can stuff into six seats and doesnt burn much gas. Oh, and while were at it, how about a 200-knot cruise speed?

As the old saw goes, pick two. Or more likely one. The harsh truth is that airplanes that carry a lot generally dont go fast. Pipers Malibu may be an exception but its high price puts it in a rarified market.

And so we come to the Piper Lance and Saratoga series. This basic airframe has proven both a durable idea and robust performer, combining a number of desirable features into an affordable package.

Its not the best load hauler, nor the fastest, nor the most comfortable but it has enough of each to be a contender for many would-be buyers, especially those who might otherwise consider a twin.

The PA-32R is aimed at the cross-country transport end of the market spectrum, with retractable gear for some extra speed and turbocharging available to get above most of the weather.

Its not all that fast when compared to competing airplanes such as the Beech A36 or Cessna 210, however at 150 to 155 knots, its not exactly a slug, either.

Model History
In the early 1970s, Piper suffered a setback in the form of a flood that destroyed much of its Lock Haven, Pennsylvania plant. Among the casualties was the tooling for the Comanche, Pipers popular, but complex and labor-intensive high-performance single.

The company decided to abandon the Comanche in favor of a new airplane 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 PA-32R Lance and introduced to the public in 1976.

The powerplant was the 300-HP 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.

The PA-32R borrows heavily from its siblings. The main landing gear is very much like the Seneca-logical, since the basic airframe is the same-and the nosegear resembles the Seneca and also the Arrow. The PA-32R also came with Pipers automatic extension system for the landing gear. The fuel system is also similar to the Senecas.

The Lance remained essentially unchanged for two years. In the late 1970s, though, someone at Piper decided that T-tails were a good idea. We believe it unlikely that the responsible parties were aerospace engineers, based on the aerodynamic qualities of the Piper T-tail singles in general.

The Lance wasnt the only T-tailed Piper. This was also the period when the PA-38 Tomahawk was rolled out, and the T-tailed Arrow IV debuted. Piper combined the introduction of the T-tail with the addition of a turbocharged variant. These two aircraft, the Lance II (PA-32RT-300) and Turbo Lance II (-300T), were not very well received. Although 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 airplanes 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 also a pain to preflight, especially in winter, when a ladder is required to remove snow from the stabilator.

To this day, debate rages over the handling qualities of the T-tail. Some experienced Lance owners say the T-tail is no different than the conventional tail model while others insist they can tell the difference from the left seat. Either way, rumors abounded about the T-tail and sales plummeted.

In 1980, two years after the T-tails 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 Hershey Bar wing was replaced with a semi-tapered planform. Piper also simplified the designation of the entire PA-32 series, renaming the entire lot of them Saratogas. The airplanes that had been Cherokee Sixes were now called Saratoga, while the Lance became the Saratoga SP. As before, there were turbo versions available, designated by a T at the end of the model number.

The Saratoga SP lives on as the Saratoga II HP and the turbo is now dubbed the Saratoga II TC in the New Pipers lineup. Notable differences include a new, axisymmetric (round) low-drag cowling and, just announced in 2003, Entegra primary flight display systems from Avidyne paired with Garmins popular 400 and 500 series navigators. In 2004, a new II HP retails for about $440,800; the turbo II TC for $472,200. (Those prices are without the new Avidyne Entegra, however. Prices with the PFD are still pending.)

On the used market, Saratogas and Lances have not held their value well in recent years. These models took as much as a 12 percent hit in value in the post 9/11 era. 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. Lately, the price difference between T-tails and conventional tails is less.

Owners of T-tails seem to like them and almost without exception stand behind their airplanes, claiming that the poor reputation is undeserved. The airplane nevertheless has documented performance differences from the otherwise identical straight-tail version (more on this later).

The turbocharged engines have Airesearch turbos with waste gates mechanically linked to the throttle controls. The pilot has to adjust the throttle to maintain manifold pressure during climb and its possible to overboost the engine if too much throttle is applied. The MP gauge is inconveniently located in front of the pilots right knee, but there is an overboost warning light on the panels eyebrow.

The 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 Turbo Saratoga SP has a more effective cooling system that replaces the cowl flaps with louvers mounted on top and bottom of the cowling.

Most find the interior of the 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 4 feet and 3.5 feet for the back row. Most 32Rs have club seating and theres a big side door for the passengers, who need not clamber over a wing to enter the airplane. Its remarkably quiet, due in no small part to the presence of a nose baggage compartment located between the cabin and engine. The rear seats are easily removed for cargo and some owners just leave the rear ones at home most of the time.

Because of the wide cabin, theres plenty of room on the panel for any gadget one might want. Other than that, its 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 dont 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 located 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.

Payload, Performance
Typical of single-engine airplanes, the Lances and Saratoga SPs force the pilot to choose between filling the cabin and filling the tanks. Still, an airplane this size is 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. Compare this with the A36 Bonanza, which has a hat shelf and the narrow slot between the front and center seats. As mentioned earlier, its easy to remove the seats and convert a Lance or SP into a cavernous freighter. One of our favorite marketing photos shows a Cherokee Six (same fuselage) being loaded with, believe it or not, a piano.

Large airplanes tend to have heavy controls and the PA-32R is no exception. Of the various configurations, the Saratogas are the best, though the pitch forces are a bit stiff. The tradeoff, of course, is stability. PA-32s make good instrument platforms.

As noted, the T-tailed Lance II has the least desirable handling characteristics of the lot. Despite this, T-tail owners say that the reputation is undeserved, its just that the T-tail version takes some getting used to.

They also say that the key to avoiding the T-tails squirelly-handling reputation is to put 50 pounds in the aft baggage area to bring the CG aft into the center of the range. While 150 knots isnt bad, when compared to other big retractables, the PA-32Rs are rather slow. A36 Bonanzas and Cessna 210s walk away from the 32R, being about 10 knots faster. At 75 percent power, a Lance cruises at 158 knots at 18 GPH.

The Saratoga SP isnt faster but improvements in induction air cooling allow the engines to be leaned to peak EGT, saving a couple of gallons an hour. The turbocharged airplanes can cruise at 177 knots, burning nearly 20 GPH up high, but at lower altitudes theyre only a couple of knots faster on the same fuel.

Because of the T-tail, the Lance II has a significantly longer ground roll than the conventional-tail models. The book indicates a 1650-foot ground roll under standard conditions and notes that the roll will be one-quarter longer if the airplane is loaded toward the 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.

Several Turbo Lance II owners complained about their hot-running engines. One said his 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 recurrent 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. AD 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 requires the fuel drain lever doors in naturally aspirated Lances to be checked every 100 hours until theyre replaced; 93-5-22 addresses the fuel injector lines on the TIO-540-S1AD engine; 95-26-13 requires recurrent inspection of oil cooler hoses; AD 99-05-09 addresses induction air filters.

A rash of engine fires in Piper Turbo Lances and Saratogas prompted an Airworthiness Directive requiring portions of their exhaust systems to be 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 that powers the big Piper singles. In 1988, NTSB issued a warning about the fittings when it concluded its investigation of a Turbo Lance that crashed a year earlier during an attempted emergency landing in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Safety Board found that 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. Later evidence of a string of exhaust system-related accidents and incidents involving both the Turbo Lance II and the Turbo Saratoga 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. It also asked Lycoming to develop new exhaust parts to 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 nose gear actuators and cracked or broken nose gear trunnions. Other frequently cited problems were cracked engine mounts, exhaust system leaks and separations, broken magnetos and loose stabilator attachments.

Mods, Owner Groups
The PA-32 line has an average list of mods. Knots-2-U has a range of speed mods (www.knots2u.com or 262-763-5100); so does LoPresti Speed Merchants at 800-859-4757 and www.speedmods.com.

Laminar Flow Systems (www.laminarflowsystems.com and 888-327-8140) also has a line of speed mods for the PA-32. For engines, General Aviation Modifications, Inc. (www.gami.com or 580-436-4833 ) has GAMIjector balanced fuel nozzles.

Precise Flight offers speed brakes, a standby vacuum system and a pulse-light anti-collision system. Contact Precise Flight at www.preciseflight.com or 1-800-547-2558. Hartzell has aggressively pursued prop mods for the PA-32 line, especially three-blade models. Contact 937-778-4200 or www.hartzellprop.com.

There are two owners groups, both offering a wealth of information about Pipers in general. Some 4000 owners of PA-28 and -32 series airplanes belong to the Cherokee Pilots Association at (813) 948-3616 or www.piperowner.com. You can also join the Piper Owners Society at www.piperowner.org and 866-697-4737.

Reader Feedback
I transistioned four years ago from an Arrow to a 1985 Saratoga turbo retractable and have been pleased with the result.When I decided to move up,I researched your Used Aircraft Guide pretty thoroughly and narrowed thechoice to either a Beech A36 or the Saratoga/Lance.

Ialready was leaning toward the Saratoga for itsadditional space, baggage room, load-carrying capacity and easier piloting transition by going from one Cherokee model to another. However,a telling incident with the narrower weight envelope of the Beechenabled my wife to easily make thefinal decision for us.

As we wereinspecting an A36 in Atlanta, she entered the rearcabintoinspect it while I was getting the final sales pitchfrom the owner. As I then put my weight on the outside step toproceed tothe front cabin, the rear of the plane dropped almost to the ground!

Of course,this resulted from herbeing in the placarded rearmost seatandmy weight being added atthe mid- fuselage.Although we are normal size people,it violating the Beechs weight envelope.

She immediately removed herself and made it clear that we wouldnot buy an airplane in which that could occur.

Your Used Airplane Guide helped me on other decisions.By getting the newerSaratoga, I avoidedsome of the wartsother owner had notedon their earlier Lances. The longer tapered wing on the 1985 solves much of thedramatic altitude loss of the Hershey bar wing on approach when the throttle is pulled back. The addition of vents in the upper cowling hasprevented the engine overheatingnoted insome of the earlier models.

Overall, the Lycoming IO-540drewconsiderablecriticism from contributors toyour guidebut subsequent ADs and manufacturer improvements seem tohave solved most problems. Minehas beenveryreliable, based on the log books of the one previous owner and my experience sincebuying it.

I hadthe engineoverhauled at TBO(1800 hours) but it was still performing well, other than a lot of oil blowby. In fact, one1989 Saratoga I inspected was at 2400 hours and hadnt yet been overhauled. Im a little paranoid, however, after having the original engine in my Arrow eat a valve in flightwhen I wenta few hours beyond TBO.

The airplane is well equipped with lots of old Bendix/King Silver Crown avionics andthey still perform well, other than a growing squelch problem on one of the KY197s and the typically erratic ADF. The KFC150 will stillfly unerringly down the glideslope when I choose not tofly it manually.The KNS80 RNAV works well and, in addition to the old Arnav loran, I carrya Garmin 195 for verification.

Additionally, the airplane has an electric heading indicator, Stormscope,back-upvacuum pumpand heat pads on the prop. Theres a built-in oxygen tank for when Itake real advantage of the turbo andgo up high-its certified for 20,000 feet.

I switched from the original masks to cannulas after reading one of your articles, whichprovides a long time between tank refills.

Thecabin seating allows plenty of room for the max four adults I permit and baggage space isample. I removedthe rear seats ononeoccasion andmade the airplane into a truck, like they do in Alaska.Its reputation for load hauling is justified, although the Saratoga doesnt have the load capability of some of the earlier Lances.

As with all airplanes, there are, of course, tradeoffs. Pedal pressure when I taxi also reminds me of a truck. Although I love the 165-knot cruise at 10,000 feet,the 20 GPH fuel burn (at 125-degrees rich of peak)is somewhat sobering.Descents must be well planned because of the 132 knot max on my speed brakes-gear deployment. Istoppedtracking hourly costs when I owned the Arrow after realizing it was not depreciating but instead going up in value at an unpredictable rate.However,my last annual on the Saratoga at just under $2000 was the cheapest Ive had, although my mechanic will tell you Im also a stickler for fixing anything on which he thinks there may be an issue.

The paint is original and still looks great. It and the 1986 model paint scheme-not seen muchbecause it was during the period when Pipers annual sales were very low-draw lots of comments. Thats very good formy ego and helps distract meas the lineman is filling the voluminous 107-gallon fuel tanks.

-Wayne Plaster
Tampa, Florida


My partner and I are in our third year of ownership of a 1978 T-Tailed, turbocharged Lance (PA-32RT300T). He is a 7000-hour CFII with prior ownership in Mooneys and a Cessna 310 and I am a 500-hour instrument-rated private pilot who was flying a 172 and looking for something bigger and faster. The Lance fits both of our mission profiles very well.

Initially, I was leery of the T-tail configuration. I had heard the hanger stories and was not entirely convinced by my partner, who has flown PA-32s with both T-tail and conventional set-ups. My first takeoff in the Lance didnt help assuage my concerns as I used almost double the amount of runway that I was used to traveling in the 172.

It wasnt until we landed for that $100 hamburger and had to push the Lance into a parking spot that I realized that I was flying a substantially heavier airplane and it would naturally require more pavement before it was ready to fly.

I guess that because Ive never flown a conventional tail PA-32 that I just dont know any better or maybe the claims are a bit exaggerated. But now that Ive been flying the Lance for a while, I am quite comfortable getting in and out of all my favorite strips and not aware of any the alleged handling problems of the T-tail.

The Lance makes for quite a stable cross-country platform. Im not going to set any speed records. I flight plan for 150 knots at 65 percent burning 16 GPH at cruise. The turbo will easily get you to the 20,000-foot service ceiling. I normally fly in the 8000 to 10,000-foot range with passengers. If Im by myself or with another pilot, Ill strap on the bottle and climb to the mid-teens to take advantage of wind and thin air.

The Lance is big on the inside (49-inch cabin width) and will haul just about anything you can get through the double door that serves the cabin. I saw an old Piper promotional photo where some guys were loading a small piano into a Lance. I havent tried that yet, but I believe shed lift it without a problem! Even at the ripe old age of 26, my airplane is still turning in numbers right at or close to the POH.

Initially, insurance costs were a concern because of my low number of hours and lack of retractable time. We started around $3000 per year for full coverage, with two thirds of the bill due to my low hours/experience. Our rates have come down steadily each year. I expect in the next year or two that we will bottom out around $2000. We budget $2000 per year for the annual. Weve done three and they are averaging about $1700.

We havent started on a panel upgrade yet so we still have the original Collins stack, but we have sent both navs and both comms to Meggitt to have them refurbed.

We still fly the original Altimatic III-B autopilot with glideslope coupler, an Apollo 2000 GPS, Stormscope, Insight engine analyzer and have all six seats wired to the intercom and vintage entertainment center, an AM/FM cassette.

For a gal of 26 years (3010 total hours, 550 SMOH), our Lance has only one bad habit: She likes to spit a little oil, not a measurable amount, just enough to keep me busy wiping oil drops off the hangar floor. Weve tried several different models of oil separators, but have yet to find one that will fit and work properly. I am very happy with the Lance, it exceeds my expectations in performance and handling and is cheaper to operate than I expected.

-Steve Warren
Via e-mail


We own a Turbo Lance and here are the pluses and minuses of the airplane: T-tail in not as big problem as some people calim but some weight in the back helps. The airplane hauls four large adults and baggage, plus gas and more people if theyre smaller or you leave some gas on the ground. A good hauler and roomy but no speed demon; we plan for 150 knots.

We purchased the airplane with most original equipment intact. The engine ran very hot and took 26 GPH to keep temperatures down below 400 degrees CHT. A JPI or other good engine monitor is needed for this airplane to watch temperatures.

The big issue was installing an STC using Saratoga parts to put two louvers in the upper cowling and many in the bottom cowling and change the air induction and cooling flows. No intercooler was involved in that STC. The temperatures dropped considerably after the cooling and induction mods were completed.

Fuel use was reduced to about 18 to 19 GPH running rich of peak. Temperatures were still high so we tried lean-of-peak operation and lower power settings to about 65 percent.

Fuel burn is now 13 GPH lean of peak and temperatures are normal. But the speed is reduced to about 135 knots groundspeed.

The AD on the two-bladed Hartzell propeller had a service life so we went to a three-bladed prop, which took care of the AD.

The airplane has a good airframe but the nosegear download and associated hardware should be inspected or overhauled any time the engine is removed from the airframe.

-Lyndon L. Payne
Plano, Texas

Also With This Article
“Resale Vales, Payloads, and Prices Compared”
“Safety: Runway LOC, Engine Failures”