Friday, October 1, 2004
Return of the Big Six
Piper recertified the 6X and 6XT last summer, and the company quickly cranked out 25 airplanes to fill the domestic and international pipeline. The basic PA-32 always has been a popular model overseas, especially in places such as Africa, Australia and South America where paved runways aren’t always available.
Settling into the New Piper 6X is a little like coming home for me. Although I’ve never owned a Cherokee Six, I’ve flown one or another of the type regularly for the last 30 years. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Sixes of various descriptions were popular international ferry airplanes, and I spent my share of hours driving Sixes across the Atlantic or Pacific, to Central or South America, or to some other allegedly exotic locale (heavy emphasis on “allegedly”).
Former Piper PR director Joe Ponte often loaned me a Cherokee Six 300 for my annual two-week vacations each Christmas, and I would sometimes fly my wife, parents and stepsister around Florida or to the Bahamas. Back in California, I had access to a friend’s nicely restored older Cherokee Six and flew it often when I needed six seats.
Today, I’m in the captain’s chair of a considerably evolved 2004 version of that original airplane. The new machine is still designated the PA-32-301, and it still looks and flies pretty much the same as it did in 1990 when Piper produced the last, fixed-gear Saratoga.
Piper recertified the 6X and 6XT last summer, and the company quickly cranked out 25 airplanes to fill the domestic and international pipeline. The basic PA-32 always has been a popular model overseas, especially in places such as Africa, Australia and South America where paved runways aren’t always available and airplanes are judged more for where they can go and what they can carry than how fast they can get there.
Bart Jones smiles from the right seat of the 6X. A Piper production test pilot for the last 20 years and now New Piper’s chief pilot, Jones shares my affection for the basic 6X, certainly the hardest working and one of the simplest of New Piper’s airplanes. Jones has flown pretty much everything Piper has built, right up through the Cheyenne 400, and he frankly acknowledges that the 6X, by any other name, is one of his personal favorites.
In fact, the original PA-32 was arguably one of the best ideas Piper had since the Super Cub. One paragraph of history: The original Six was born in 1965 with only 260 hp to protect it. Within a year, Piper bumped the horsepower up to 300, and although the 260 was to remain in production through the 1970s, the Six 300 became the dominant machine. In 1980, Piper mounted a stretched version of the Warrior wing, renamed the airplane the Saratoga and continued to build the model through 1990.
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Labels: Piston Singles