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.
Taxi pressures are heavy with the weight of that big, 300-hp Lycoming IO-540 over the nosewheel, and the airplane responds best to pilots who treat it more like a miniature airliner than a heavy single. The trick is to add breakaway power to get the mass moving—then, avoid using differential brakes for directional control or stopping unless necessary. Taxiing is ponderous at best, with heavy rudder pressures required to hold the centerline.
Climb starts off at 1,100 fpm, but it’s down to half that at 8,000 feet. The service ceiling is listed at 17,200 feet, but in truth, the 6X isn’t a high-altitude machine. If you plan to operate at consistently high-density altitudes, you might want to consider the 6XT, the same airplane with the AiResearch blower installed.
Like its predecessors, the 6X is stable as a table in the air, a happy IFR platform just heavy enough to plow through clouds and turbulence with minimum disturbance. I once delivered a new Saratoga from Vero Beach, Fla., to South Africa in some of the worst weather I’ve seen; yet, the airplane made the trip seem less frantic and imminently more sensible than it probably was. Although the Saratoga was loaded about 800 pounds over gross with ferry fuel, it flew the same as normal in the African heat, went where I pointed it and got me to Capetown, South Africa, pretty much on time.
One key to the 6X’s personality is that it seems to fly better with an aft loading than a forward CG. Indeed, in ferry airplanes, we had to resist the temptation to burn off too much aft fuel too fast to avoid pushing the CG too far forward.
Most pilots don’t buy a heavy-hauler and expect big cruise speeds, but the 6X’s performance is nothing to be ashamed of, considering its drag profile. Expect 145 knots at high cruise, 140 knots at 65%, the more reasonable trade of fuel for flight.
If your own loading configuration allows carrying the full 102 gallons, you could plan 4 ½-hour flights at 65% and traverse well over 600 nm of sky. If fuel availability is a problem and you must throttle back to 55%, expect 130 knots at 10,000 feet, burning only 14.5 gph. The turbocharged model delivers more cruise at higher altitude, but demands another 2 gph for the privilege.
Whichever model you choose, you’ll be buying handling more reminiscent of a Peterbilt than a Porsche, and contrary to what you might think, that’s not all bad. At a gross weight of 3,600 pounds, you wouldn’t logically expect quick, light control response, and sure enough, you don’t get it. Personally, I find the 6X and its predecessors offer handling appropriate to their mission. Nothing happens very fast. Aileron and elevator response are both slow and heavy, and it’s absolutely vital to keep the trim moving with any significant change in power or pitch.
Page 3 of 4
Get 11 Issues of Plane & Pilot for only $14.97! That's 77% off the cover price!