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.
Today’s version of the old Six that we all grew to know and love reflects well on what went before. The fuselage is approximately the same, although the small, aft side windows (that looked out from the baggage compartment) have been omitted as an economy measure. The gear is the Cherokee Six’s tough oleo system; the wing is the semi-tapered airfoil used on the Saratoga HP; and the basic, twin scoop, axisymmetric cowling (sans provisions for the retractable nosegear) also is borrowed from the HP.
Best of all, the Six’s considerable talents remain outstanding. Just as in the 1960s when the original Cherokee Six was designed to compete with the Cessna 206, the current 6X is targeted at the new Cessna Stationair, another essentially intact revival. Both airplanes are utility models, both are tough, tractable designs, both are capable of carrying big loads at reasonable speed, and neither is that picky about where it flies.
Hard or soft field, long or short runway, the 6X can probably handle it, carrying more weight than most other types. At sea level, the 6X can operate from 2,100-foot strips with room to spare and even clear the ubiquitous 50-foot obstacle.
It seems most airplanes, like most people, gain weight with age. To partially offset that problem in reviving the Six/Saratoga, New Piper embarked on a weight-reduction program, installing lighter vinyl interiors and generally trying to economize on pounds wherever possible.
As a result, the 6X offers a useful load of about 1,400 pounds. Useful load is the more operative term on utility airplanes, as models in this class often trade fuel for payload. Full fuel is 102 gallons, so it shouldn’t take a nuclear brain plumber to figure out that payload is around 800 pounds.
With six seats relatively unrestricted by CG, you can leave some fuel in the truck in exchange for more weight in the cabin. That’s an option 6X buyers may be more likely to execute than owners of other types. The door at right front and double cargo doors at aft left provide the 6X with uncommon loading flexibility, and buyers use all the portals to maximize advantage. The illusion of comfort in the back is greater than the reality, as the aft four passengers must overlap legs, but the airplane makes a super-comfortable four-seater with built-in footrests. With four folks in the front and rear buckets and only three hours of fuel plus reserve aboard, for example, you could bring along 300 pounds of baggage.
New Piper’s 6X even provides convenient stuff stowage in front of the firewall and behind the rear seats to help balance the load (limit 100 pounds each, so you would need to stow the last 100 pounds on the center seats). One fringe benefit of using the nose baggage compartment is that placing cargo up front helps soundproof the cabin. Also, you can be fairly certain any baggage placed just behind the engine will stay warm, no matter what the altitude or temperature.
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