Plane & Pilot
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Piper Saratoga II TC: It’s All About Comfort

Forty years after the model’s introduction, the retractable Saratoga II TC is still a great way to haul a team of huskies in comfort at 180 knots

piper saratogaThe runway we had just landed on wasn’t bad by Alaskan standards: A combination of dirt and grass, probably 1,800 feet long, but mostly unimproved and pretty rough for anything but bush planes—or so I thought.
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No more: Turbos have gone legit. What used to be a maintenance nuisance is now little more than an extra item on the annual inspection checklist. These days, the new generation of exhaust-driven compressors are practically as reliable as the engines they feed.

Whether you’re flying one of the current nine-pack of turbo singles—Cessna 400, Stationair TC or Skylane TC; Cirrus SR22 Turbo; Mooney Acclaim; Piper Mirage, Matrix, 6XT or Saratoga II TC—turbocharging offers all the talents of compressed power without the maintenance downside associated with its predecessors.

piper saratogaTake, for instance, the aforementioned Piper Saratoga II TC, a defender of the type for more than three decades. Of the group above, only the Stationair has embraced turbocharging longer. The current retractable Saratoga, descended from the Lance of 1976 through 1979, is an airplane that continues to sell, if not well, at least consistently. There are few San Andreas–level faults left in an airplane this old, and if true airframe/powerplant innovations are few, the 2007 model PA32R-301T soldiers on into its fourth decade of production with a minimum of warts.

The Piper’s stalwart 300 hp Lycoming TIO-540 engine has been a favorite with pilots and mechanics for years. Putting aside the traditional Lycoming/Continental debate, the Saratoga II TC’s TIO-540-AH1A has a justifiably durable reputation. It’s a version of a similar engine previously installed in pairs in the Piper Aerostar 700, Navajo Chieftain and Mojave (not to mention the Mirage and Matrix) and rated for 350 hp in those applications. Just as with Piper’s twins and premier single, TBO is 2,000 hours, though it’s perhaps more regularly attainable in the derated PA32R-301T.

The current Saratoga II TC’s blower preserves the engine’s full sea-level power to the high teens, which means you can pull an easy 75% at 20,000 feet. More importantly, it means you’ll still have sea-level power available for any reasonable high/hot departures.

If high speed at high altitude is the most glamorous attraction of turbocharging, the ability to operate safely in situations where normally aspirated airplanes would be grounded is the primary operational benefit. Need to leap out of Leadville or Telluride on a hot July afternoon? The Saratoga II TC will oblige.

Over the years, we’ve flown a variety of PA32s that put the wheels to bed, and there’s little question that the current model is the best of the bunch, though it’s little changed from the original. Piper got it right the first time out of the box, and while the current airplane is a significantly improved machine with optional Garmin G1000 avionics, Piper Inadvertent Icing Protection System and enough other options to make an Airbus captain green with envy, the basic fuselage/airfoil shape remains essentially the same as that of the first semitapered-wing Saratoga of 1980.

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