The Piper Saratoga is a low-wing tricycle gear six-seater aircraft typically considered a workhorse. This guide looks at its features for prospective buyers.
Piper produced the Saratoga between 1980 and 2007. It currently costs between $280,000 and $300,000. Its fuel tanks can carry up to 78 gallons of fuel, over a range of 765 nmi. At 75% power, it burns 16 gph and flies at a respectable cruise speed of 146 knots.
As an aircraft enthusiast and experienced flight instructor I have flown most general aviation aircraft. I frequently fly different Piper aircraft, including the Saratoga, the Piper Saratoga II and its sibling, the Piper Lance as well as the high performance turbocharged version known as the Turbo Lance II.
Built by Piper Aircraft, the Piper Saratoga, designated by Piper as the PA 32-301 is a descendent of the popular Cherokee 6, also known by its Piper model number, the PA 32-300. Both the Saratoga, which pilots affectionately refer to as the Toga, and the Cherokee Six are light twin aircraft that seat six occupants with just one pilot required to crew the aircraft.
It comes with two main engine variations. The first is the IO-540 which is a six-cylinder Lycoming engine that is fuel injected and generates 300 horsepower. The second is a TIO-540 which is the same engine as the first, except it comes with a twin-turbo to provide a slight advantage in power and altitude.
It also comes with two propeller options, a two-blade Hartzell prop or a three-bladed one. The two-blade prop produces a little less thrust for the same horsepower produced by the engine than the three-bladed prop. There is a slight weight penalty for the added prop.
The Saratoga is a low-wing aircraft that comes with a semi tapered wing, which replaced the “Hershey bar” wing design of the Lance and is the only main aerodynamic change from its Cherokee Six heritage. The inside is laid out comfortably for four passengers in a club seating format. Entry to the passenger cabin is via two doors that make entry and egress easy without being clumsy.
Despite being a separate aircraft model in the FAA’s eyes, all Saratogas are eligible to join the Cherokee Pilots Association as well as the Piper Flyer Association. Both organizations provide help to Saratoga pilots and owners with everything from how to get their annual inspections done to piloting tips.
Though one of the safest aircraft in our skies, the Saratoga (as well as the Turbo Lance), have had several crashes caused by engine fires resulting from the exhaust systems failing because of misaligned exhaust pipes.
Whilst principally designed to be a GA aircraft, the Saratoga is one of the few of its size which has removable rear seats. This makes it perfect for short-haul, small-scale cargo flying.
What Are The Specifications of The Piper Saratoga?
How Much Does The Piper Saratoga Cost?
There are two kinds of Saratogas you will find on the pre-owned market. Earlier models are the retractable gear version, whilst later models are the fixed gear version. This came about mostly because landing gear problems plagued its predecessors, as it has done with all variants of the Saratoga.
They both have the same specs and come within $5 of hourly costs when you include the cost of maintenance increase that comes with having retractable gear.
The other difference is that, while fuel burn and V speeds are typically identical, the cruise speed is about 12-15 knots higher on the retractable gear due to a significantly lower drag profile.
As for price, the difference between the ones with retractable gear and fixed gear is negligible.
There aren’t any new Saratogas out there as Piper ended production of the last Saratoga II TC in 2009. The Saratoga II, a newer iteration of the Saratoga, can be purchased for $500,000.
A used, early model turbocharged Saratoga with retractable landing gear averages $300,000. Generally speaking, turbocharged models carry a $300,000 to $350,000 price tag.
On the other hand, a normally aspirated engine with fixed landing gear with the latest avionics can be found for approximately $260,000.
Saratogas typically consist of aircraft with a fair paint condition, which means you’d probably have to have it sent to the paint shop for a new paint job and are about 1000 hours away from their next engine overhaul.
With four broad options available: fixed or retractable gear, and turbocharged or normally aspirated you have to think of the mission ahead to decide which you find will be your best bet.
Operating a Piper Saratoga can be simplified in terms of costs if we categorize the cost structure into three.
Direct Operating Costs, is one heading designed to capture all costs that the Saratoga will incur while in operation.
Fixed Costs, on the other hand, only capture costs that are incurred on a periodic basis regardless of use. Things like insurance and tie-downs are included in this section.
Finally, there are the Reserves that need to be factored in for big-ticket items that will be incurred in the future. Items such as overhauls are captured under this heading.
Direct Operating Cost
The largest item on the DOC list is fuel. We know that the Piper Saratoga has an average fuel burn of 13 gallons per hour. The current national average for AvGas is $6.50 making the cost of fuel on an hourly basis $84.50.
The Saratoga tends to eject a lot of oil out of the breather tube. You can see this, especially in the older models. Just look under one that hasn’t had a wash fly overhead and you can see the stain streak across the undercarriage.
Owners typically measure this oil burn at about one quart every three hours of flight. With a quart selling for about $10, that’s $3.33 an hour.
Whether you are flying it for yourself or renting it out for hire, the one rule of thumb that I always adhere to is to have an oil change every 25 hours and conduct a 100-hour inspection regardless of whether you hire the aircraft out. An oil change costs $150 for a Saratoga which averages to $6 per hour.
In total, your direct operating cost adds up to $93.83 an hour.
The 100-hour inspection will be captured under the Maintenance Reserve.
As for fixed costs, the largest cost component of this heading is the insurance premium that comes due annually.
There are two possibilities when it comes to insurance premiums. The first is the value you decide to insure the hull for. The second is the experience level of the pilot that flies the plane. If you are in a flight school or a flight club and will have a string of users in and out of it, then the price will escalate. If it's just one owner-operator then the price is a little lower.
Owners who believe that they would rather worry just about liability but self-insure against hull damage will have a significantly lower premium. Insuring a Piper Saratoga for just $1,000,000 in liability will only cost about $500 a year.
On the other hand, insurance premiums for those who choose to add hull coverage to the liability cover can expect one of two premium brackets.
Those who the insurers deem underqualified will expect to pay approximately $4,500 a year in premiums, while those who are qualified can expect a range between $800 and $1000. If you are renting the aircraft out, then expect the premiums to reach $6000 annually.
Two things you have to take into consideration is that if you take out a loan on the purchase price then you will have to insure the hull as well, increasing your insurance cost. You also have to have time in complex, high-performance aircraft to be able to qualify. If you don’t the insurance company will reject your policy until such time you satisfy that requirement.
The difference between a qualified pilot and a less qualified pilot is usually the amount of flung experience you have, whether you are IFR rated and how much time you have in the Saratoga specifically.
The second item that makes up the Fixed Cost for the Piper Saratoga is the hangaring costs. If you chose to hangar the lane, the national average for hangar space is $600 a month or $7200 a year. If you decide to tie it down on the ramp, that goes down to about $280 a month, or $3,360 a year.
Depending on who your insurer is, you might be able to get a break on the premium if you hangar the aircraft, so it's something you might want to consider.
Budgeting the costs conservatively indicates that the annual Fixed Costs for the Saratoga will be $13,200.
The reserves you will have to create over the course of your flying will add up to the largest cost component of owning the aircraft. The largest one is for the overhaul of the IO-550 engine.
To be well prepared, the best way to decide on a reserve target is to consider the engine’s current health and chart out how far into the future an overhaul is going to require a full engine change.
It costs $44,000 to overhaul an IO-540K1G5 engine that has a TBO of 2,000 hours. The price of a new Continental IO-540K1G5 including installation can be as high as $60,000. You don't need to replace the engine at every overhaul interval, but it is safe to assume that every third overhaul is going to call for a new engine.
With that in mind assume two overhauls and one new engine every 6,000 hours. That works out to be $148,000 for 6,000 hours or $24.66 per hour.
You will also have to prepare for the overhaul of your prop that comes up every two years or 2,000 hours. The Hartzell prop costs $1,700 to overhaul and you can assume having to change out a new prop every 6,000 hours.
A new Hartzell prop can cost $4000 depending on if you stick to the original model that comes with the plane, or you choose to upgrade. Over 6000 hours that costs $7,400 or $1.23 per hour.
I mentioned earlier that you should always conduct a 100-hour inspection, regardless if you are renting your plane out. A hundred-hour on a Saratoga averages $800 which includes an oil change among other things, but will also include air filter changes and other inspections.
Since we have already captured the oil-change part of the cost we will calculate the 100-hour as $650 or $6.50 an hour.
You should also include a reserve for unscheduled maintenance. One of the things Saratogas are famous for is bottomed-out struts. You also have the occasional nicked prop or bald spot on a tire. Experience places this number at about $1200 a year.
Assuming you fly 400 hours a year, that’s $3 per hour.
Regardless of whether it's for rent or not, you will also have to conduct an annual inspection to be Airworthy. A typical Annual Inspection with the usual maintenance that calls for will cost you anywhere between $800 and $2000 for a Piper Saratoga.
This depends on where you are in the country and the kinds of prices your mechanic and the IA who signs off, are going to charge you. In any case, this works out to $5 per hour which you should set aside each time you fly.
You should also put aside $1 every time you fly for charts and maps.
Finally, you should paint your aircraft once every five years. If you plan to fly 400 hours a year, that coincides with your overhaul for the engine and the prop at around the same time. Having your aircraft painted at that time will also be a great way to rejuvenate your relationship with a trusted piece of equipment.
A good paint job for a Piper Saratoga will cost about $15,000 or $7.50 per hour.
In total, your maintenance reserve works out to be $48.89 per hour.
When we add the other two categories, we find that the hourly cost to fly the aircraft is $175.72.
How Fast Does The Saratoga Fly?
To get a feel for the Piper Saratoga, think of it as an underpowered twin. The idea behind this is primarily because the Saratoga is the same platform as the Piper’s relatives, the Seneca I and the Seneca II.
While there is enough power in the single-engine propelling the Saratoga, there is also not much room to be sloppy with speeds.
With one notch of flaps, aim to rotate at 65 knots when fully loaded. It wouldn’t hurt to be 2 or 3 knots above that on a hot, high-density-altitude day. Remember that the large, blocky wings of the Seneca and the Cherokee 6 were the templates from which the Saratoga draws its lineage.
Even though the Saratoga’s wings are tapered, their mean chord length and span and 6.2 aspect ratio have tremendous floating potential in ground effect. Nailing your speed on takeoff and approach is the key to managing this workhorse.
I don’t let the plane takeoff before time, as it inevitably wants to return to earth with a thud once it leaves the ground. Those struts are not like the hardy trailing-link landing gears of heavier airplanes and it's easy to bottom them out when slamming all that weight back onto the tarmac.
Upon rotation, pitch for Vx, 71 knots IAS. That should typically be about 8 to 10 degrees of pitch. Let the airspeed indicator rise comfortably to Vy which is 80 knots while keeping your throttle and RPM levers in the full forward position.
Once you get to your target altitude, your choice of cruise will determine your power setting. If you are in a hurry, a power setting of 75% at 7,000 feet will result in the highest possible speed you can get out of level flight - 147 knots IAS. Vne and Vno, the never exceed speed, and max normal operating speed, of 197 and 154, respectively, are not attainable in a typical cruise flight.
You can however hit 197 knots if you throw the plane into a nosedive. For something less drastic, you could get to 154 KIAS if you lean the mixture back to 50 degrees rich of peak. As for Vno, don’t attempt it without smooth air, and for Vne, don’t attempt it. Period.
The Saratoga stalls predictably. Set up the speed with full flaps and get behind the power curve to hold altitude at 3 knots above Vso. The stall horn should be protesting your move at this point, but that’s a good thing. Fully loaded the aircraft breaks predictably, at the bottom of the white arc. It won’t be precise, since, at that angle of attack, the calibrated airspeed varies considerably from the speed indicated on the ASI.
If you are new to the Piper Saratoga, you should also practice power on stalls, and when you do, be extremely mindful of your right rudder. When those three hundred horses come online in a power-on stall maneuver, there is going to be a powerful left-turning tendency that the Saratoga will demonstrate. But, not to worry, there is more than enough rudder to counter it.
What is The Piper Saratoga’s Fuel Burn?
The Piper Saratoga carries 107 gallons of fuel with 5 of those gallons being unusable, leaving you with 102 gallons of usable fuel in the fuel tank. It can take both 100 and 100 LL, the green and blue fuels, respectively. They both weigh 6 lbs/gallon.
Takeoff power at full throttle and maximum rpm of 2700, which should only be sustained for no more than five minutes results in 300 horsepower. The IO-550’s fuel burn at this power setting is 18 gallons per hour or 108 lbs per hour. Running this for an average of 3 minutes till you get up to about 1,000 feet AGL, or pattern altitude burns 0.9 gallons.
When you transition the Saratoga to the climb phase, set the power for 75%. Doing this at or just before the 1000-foot mark sets up your climb for about 1000 feet per minute and a fuel burn of 16 gph. Retard the throttles to 25 inches of manifold pressure and set the RPM to 2500 RPM to achieve this.
As you climb the manifold pressure will decrease since it is partially influenced by the external pressure that is decreasing at about an inch every 1000 feet. Leave the prop at a higher RPM since you are in the climb phase. Higher RPM at a climb (for a constant speed prop) will result in the lowest fuel burn per foot of climb.
You can retard the RPM to a lower RPM once you achieve level flight, this will further reduce fuel burn.
The Piper Saratoga is fuel injected but not turbocharged, so you can expect that the power the engine develops decreases with altitude. You have a number of pairings to choose from, based on density altitude.
The Piper Saratoga’s Continental IO-550 is easy to remember when it comes to fuel burn. Once you pass 11,0000 feet MSL, on a standard day, you won’t be able to generate more than 55% of max power which is 165 hp.
To get the best out of this setting, at the highest altitude you can get to, set the manifold pressure to 17 inches and the RPM to 2600 in the climb. This will give you a fuel burn of 11.9 gallons per hour.
To generate 65% power you will have to stay at or below 11,000 feet. The highest manifold pressure you can set the throttle to is 19 inches with the corresponding prop speed at 2600 rpm.
To take advantage of thinner air and winds aloft, getting above 11,000 feet and under 14,000 feet will only allow you to extract 55% of max power output. At 14,000 feet your manifold pressure should be set to 17 inches, and your RPM should be 2600. Anything less will give you reduced ground distance for the same fuel burn.
With two propeller choices, the three-bladed prop will result in lower fuel burn.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood