August 1, 1993
In debuting the new Saratoga II HP, Piper Aircraft Corporation took a cue from the automobile industry: Give the customer something new, a reason to buy. Auto manufacturers have perfected the annual subtle grill and trim change and the addition of a new bell or fabric to attract buyers. Remember Chrysler's "rich Corinthian leather"?
Piper even went a step further. The 'Toga II not only looks different and smells new, it really is faster than the PA-32s of yesteryear. The 6- or 7-knot increase in cruise won't change your life much, unless maybe you're a Beech A36 Bonanza salesman, in which case, you may find formerly loyal customers taking a closer look at the Piper product.
Indeed, the A36 has owned the new six-place-single market for most of a decade now. Cessna stopped building 210s and 206s in the early to mid-1980s, at about the same time Piper's management problems and the withering marketplace quieted the Saratoga production line. Piper revived the PA-32 briefly in 1988, but only a few were built until the July 1991 bankruptcy filing, which shut down almost all of Piper for a few months. Since the filing, Piper has continued to build airplanes and parts, mostly filling backorders. The introduction of the new Saratoga is the company's first big marketing and production push under the leadership of President and Chief Operating Officer Charles M. Suma and owner Stone Douglass.
Piper chose the Saratoga for the facelift because market research showed a need for the comfortable load-hauler. The goal of the project was to improve the performance and comfort of the Saratoga and to give the customer a reason to buy new, according to David W. Schwartz, engineering test pilot — a goal met. The new II HP keeps all of the older machines' good qualities, like a stable ride and oodles of payload and fuel capacity, and adds a new panel and interior a la Mirage, a rakish new cowl, and lots of refinements throughout. Indeed, the II HP is what the PA-32 always wanted to be since it debuted in the mid-1960s as the fixed- gear, 260-horsepower Cherokee Six.
The design's evolution over the decades included an increase in power, to 300 hp, and retractable gear. Aside from the change to the double-taper wing from the straight "Hershey bar" wing in the 1970s, little about the exterior has changed since day one. Inside, too, the PA- 32 received only minor refinements over the years.
For the latest iteration, Piper engineers looked first at the cowl as a place to perhaps reduce drag and increase engine cooling. Help in testing new cowl designs came from the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory of Mississippi State University. The lab is a participant in a National Aeronautics and Space Administration research program studying the aerodynamics and cooling of horizontally opposed aircraft engine installations. Besides Piper and NASA, Lycoming and Hartzell also contributed funding and equipment to the project. Among Piper's contributions was an Aztec, which was used for flight testing of the "axisymmetric" inlet design. The large, circular inlets located close to the propeller hub replace the even larger oblong inlet on earlier Saratogas. According to Schwartz, the result is not only less drag, but also a better engine cooling margin. In fact, engine temperatures now rarely come within 70 degrees Fahrenheit of redline, compared to the 10- to 15-degree margin under the old design. Unlike the new airplanes, the older models did not have a cylinder head temperature gauge. But in many flights in earlier Saratogas, we've seen the oil temperature rapidly approach the redline during long climbs at high weights and ambient temperatures. During our test flights of the II HP, the CHTs and oil temperature both rested near the middle of the green arc.
To accommodate the cowling change, the propeller was moved 3 inches forward. Also, Hartzell provides a new, more efficient prop to bolt to the Lycoming IO-540-K1G5. Even the dash number of the engine is new, designating a change in the magneto configuration. This engine now carries two independent mags, instead of two mags sharing one shaft and case.
Also on the cowling, Piper changed the induction air inlet from a protruding scoop to recessed NACA inlet, further reducing drag. The landing light was moved from below the prop spinner to the nose gear. Wing-tip recognition lights, now standard, help others see the PA-32 when the wheels are stowed.
A new dual exhaust system now gives the Lycoming a pleasant, deep rumble. The two exhaust stacks are tunneled side by side in the bottom of the cowl, instead of the former tandem exposed stacks three deep on the lower right side.
Elsewhere on the airframe, Piper has added fairings and other aerodynamic cleanups. Among them is a fairing just aft of the main gear wells. The design of the fairing is supposed to smooth the flow of air behind an opening in the airframe. Aerodynamic guru LeRoy LoPresti, who formerly was associated with Piper, recently patented the design for a similar device. He was not involved in the Saratoga project, according to Schwartz.
The practiced Saratoga watcher will also notice that the wing attach bolt, formerly protruding on the bottom of the wing, has been covered. Also, Piper slightly extended the bottom skin on the trailing edge of the wing to close the gap ahead of the flaps.
Gone are the flap attach fairings and a few other fairings, which Schwartz says consumed many man-hours to build but resulted in a negligible increase in speed.
What's it take to get these seemingly minor aerodynamic changes blessed by the Federal Aviation Administration regulators? About 70 spins and a stack of paperwork 2.5 inches thick, according to Schwartz. Thus rests one of the reasons aircraft manufacturers have not been able to annually make improvements to designs like the auto industry does. Not only do the auto manufacturers not have to meet such stringent regulatory criteria, they can also spread the engineering costs of that new grill or headlight treatment over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of copies. An aircraft manufacturer these days would be lucky to spread the costs over 100 units.
Planning to take full advantage of its engineering dollars, Piper will soon move similar changes up the model line to the Seneca and eventually down the line to the PA-28 aircraft.
The enhancements include not only those airframe items developed for the Saratoga, but also the interior refinements. For the II HP interior, Piper management reversed the usual process and gave an empty Saratoga fuselage to the upholstery shop instead of the engineering department. Management's only instructions were to make an interior that lived up to the level of comfort and taste set by the trend-setting Piper Malibu.
When the upholsterers finished, the engineers took the interior apart and made drawings from that prototype. The reverse engineering process drastically reduced the time to complete the project and resulted in an interior that's cheaper and easier to build because it was built by the same folks who actually construct the interiors day in and day out rather than the engineers. The fit and finish of the airplane we flew, N9203R, bound for Muncie Aviation in Indiana, a Piper distributor, is indeed impressive. The leather upholstery, comfortable seats, and attention to detail finally approaches that found in luxury automobiles, a standard airplane interiors have usually fallen well short of.
The cabin details include convenient overhead light switches located on the armrest at each of the four aft seats, a folding writing table, and new folding window shades instead of curtains. To accommodate the shades, which were adopted from the Malibu, the window line of the II HP was changed. The middle window now is more square than in earlier renditions.
When we last wrote about the Saratoga ("Toga Party," November 1988 Pilot), we harkened for a little plastic surgery on the old panel, commenting that it reminded us of the 1960s. Piper noticed, too. In updating the panel, Schwartz tossed out the plastic and went with a flat metal panel, again a la Malibu, but he didn't just replace the panel, he completely redesigned the layout to make operations more user-friendly.
Two rows of big, lighted, and easy-to-read rocker switches reside front and center over the throttle quadrant. They're even in a sensible order, with master, alternator, and fuel pump switches all in a row, just like you'd use them in the start-up sequence. The large manifold pressure/fuel flow gauge and tachometer are stacked high on the panel instead of nearly hidden low in front of the pilot's knee. Likewise, the separate small fuel gauges have been combined in a single larger display and moved into the scan area. The oil temperature and pressure gauges have been combined with the CHT into one display. A large exhaust gas temperature gauge makes leaning easy. The three or four simple annunciators on the earlier Saratogas have been replaced with a new panel capable of displaying nine messages.
An electric standby vacuum pump, formerly an option, is now standard, as is the 90-amp alternator. A 60-amp alternator was the previous standard. The electrical system can be monitored on a new digital ammeter.
The first 30 Saratogas, all to be built this year, come with a standard instrument and avionics package. The only option is air conditioning. Again, engineering did its homework and designed a standard package that fits the Saratoga's cross-country mission profile and takes advantage of the latest systems. All of the avionics are by Bendix/King; included are an audio panel, two nav/coms, KFC 150 flight control system, DME, transponder, ADF, slaved compass system, horizontal situation indicator, and KLN 90 GPS. Noticeably absent is the KNS 80 or 81, which for years were the standard in area navigation equipment for light airplanes. Instead, the VOR/DME area nav system has been supplanted by GPS, which the FAA recently blessed for IFR use. No filing "slash Romeo" yet for II HP pilots, but look for IFR-capable receivers to start showing up soon.
This standard airplane, with a choice of four interior colors and a variety of exterior color combinations, retails for $309,800. It is considered a 1994 model. Air conditioning adds $6,775 and 62 pounds.
The first additions I'd make to my new Saratoga panel would be a Stormscope, six-place intercom, and yaw damper, still leaving plenty of space for future enhancements.
Back in 1988, an airplane similarly equipped to N9203R, but with the KNS 80 instead of the GPS and with no second DME receiver, retailed for $205,293. Besides inflation, the one-third increase in price can be at least partially explained by considering the management practices of Piper five years ago. Then-owner Stuart Millar was offering the entire product line at fire-sale prices in order to attract business and spur interest. Such low-ball pricing practices contributed to Piper's financial problems and, ultimately, bankruptcy.
An average equipped 1993 A36 Bonanza retails for about $425,500, $441,500 with air conditioning. The II HP's aerodynamic refinements bring its 166-knot cruise speed to within 10 knots of the speedy Bonanza. Payload with full fuel is about equal between the competitors, but the Saratoga can lug around 102 gallons of usable avgas, compared to the Bonanza's 74 gallons. The extra fuel means the Saratoga may arrive first on long trips if the Bonanza has to stop enroute. Also, the ability to off load more fuel gives the Saratoga pilot additional flexibility in load- carrying, and the PA-32 has a larger center-of-gravity envelope, along with a nose baggage compartment. The Saratoga's 49-inch-wide cabin is 7 inches vaster than the Beech's. In addition, the Saratoga's Lycoming engine comes with a recommended time between overhauls of 2,000 hours, compared to the TBO of 1,700 hours for the Continental in the Bonanza.
From a handling perspective, the two are quite different. The Bonanza is a delight to fly. Light and well-harmonized control forces make it the benchmark that other aircraft have always strived for. But light stick forces may not be so desirable in instrument conditions. Here, the Saratoga wins. The Piper's control forces are heavier around all axes, especially in roll and yaw. Pilots may not yearn to rack the II HP around the skies on a pretty day, but when it comes to an approach to minimums, few airplanes can beat the rock-steady Saratoga.
N9203R is the second production II HP. As of mid-June, when we visited Piper, 25 of the 30 airplanes in this production block had already been spoken for by distributors, though the company hadn't yet prepared brochures or done any advertising to encourage prospective retail buyers. Nonetheless, two of the airplanes had been retailed.
This latest genesis of the PA-32 shows how a manufacturer willing to invest a little in its current designs can offer incremental improvements without busting the bank, perhaps spurring pilots to buy new rather than used. Most important, the debut of the II HP shows pilots that Piper is indeed alive and producing airplanes.
For more information, contact Piper Aircraft Corporation, 2926 Piper Drive, Vero Beach, Florida 32960; telephone 407/567-4361; fax 407/770-2237.
All specifications are based on manufacturer's calculations. Additional cruise information and service ceiling information still being calculated at press time. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.
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