The cabin of these airplanes started more than 20 years ago with the Cherokee Six. Originally powered by a 260-horsepower Lycoming, it evolved quickly to a 300-hp engine. And while the original airplane was brave, courageous, and true, it lacked sizzle. I owned one for several years, flying it well over 1,000 hours, and while the airplane’s capabilities were very much appreciated, I don’t recall ever looking back at it as I walked away, to savor the airplane’s lines. Though comfortable and a capable load carrier, it wasn’t pretty. The tapered wings, landing gear treatment and tasteful paint jobs on the new Saratogas have changed all that. The Saratogas have a long and graceful look that eluded the older airplane. This is especially true of the SP, which rests more nearly level on the ground.
And for those who feel that they can buy a used Six and have as good an airplane as a Saratoga, this is a misconception. The newer airplanes offer a great deal not found on the old ones, and at price that in relative terms is a bargain. The fixed gear Saratoga flown for this report was about $170,000 at the time and included: area navigation gear, a full autopilot, air conditioning, electric flaps, a fancy club-seating interior, and other amenities.
The hallmark of the Saratoga is its cavernous interior. What are the advantages to having an airplane with such a big cabin? It is like having a station wagon. You drive it by yourself much of the time, but it is big enough to carry that 4x8-foot sheet of plywood you need every four years. And when there are three or four riding along, it is spacious. More room than you need is the American way. I love it. A Saratoga has a lot of room for everyone and everything. True, a cruising speed price is paid for the wide body, but 10 knots won’t change your life as much as having all that room in your airplane.
The Saratogas, with all the options, are a little heavier than the old Sixes, but there is still weight allowance for people and baggage, and the fuel supply can be measured to fit the mission when a lot of people go along.
The seats in the Saratogas can be removed quickly to make room for cargo, and the low level of the large rear door openings makes it easy to load. It is true that high-wing airplanes have always found more favor with bush operators, but a Saratoga with big tires, or skies, would seem quite adaptable to bush flying. It was put on floats once, but that project was never a raging success.
The Saratogas have a distinct handling edge over the old Six. The tapered wing does wonders for the airplane. The airfield performance is good, especially at light weight; the Saratoga is as friendly at a small airport as it is on an ILS to acres of pavement.
The biggest dilemma would be in choosing between the retractable Saratoga SP and the one with fixed gear. When the two first came out, the SP was 30 grand more, which makes its eight- to 10-knot speed advantage the most expensive option on the airplane. But is it faster, more efficient, and better looking. The practical buyer would crunch the numbers and go for the fixed. The rest of us would probably take the sleek SP.
Richard L. Collins, AOPA Pilot, November 1988