Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

20 Things You Never Knew About Your Airplane (Or Someone Else’s)

A few little known thoughts. Ever heard of the Cessna 620? Why T-tails? A Seneca Tri-Motor?

16 If you fly around the backcountry of Alaska/Canada, South Africa or Australia, you may be familiar with this aircraft. It's the last of the 400 Cessnas, and unlike the rest of the 400s that ceased production in the mid-1980s, this airplane continued through 2013 and may resume in the near future. The Cessna 406 was produced by Reims Aircraft of France, and it was a modified version of the 441 Conquest. The 406 was unpressurized and flew behind a pair of P&W PT6A-112 turboprop engines of 500 shp each. The aircraft was branded the Caravan II and was often configured for cargo, but it was approved to carry up to 14 people in passenger configuration.

17 Piper's original Seneca I seemed like a great idea. When it was introduced in 1972, it was regarded with that "Well, it's about time" smile. Basically a Cherokee Six fuselage with a pair of normally aspirated four-cylinder Lycomings under the bonnets, the Seneca seemed another excellent example of the company's mix-and-match engineering. There was just one slight problem. One of the targets for the Seneca was the charter market. With six seats and low operating costs, Piper hoped the Seneca could capitalize on its ability to bring charter customers to the airplane. Unfortunately, the early Seneca's single-engine service ceiling was only 3,650 feet, and the FAA required a charter aircraft to maintain a SESC of at least 5,000 feet to be eligible for charter. Piper corrected the problem in 1975 with the turbocharged Seneca II, but the Seneca I remained a disappointment in that respect.

18 Long before Socata introduced the first TBM 700 single-engine luxury turboprop, Beech was already experimenting with the concept of mounting a TPE-331-9 Garrett/AiResearch engine on a 58 Baron fuselage with model 36 Bonanza wings. The airplane was to be called the Lightning. Development began in 1982, and though Beech was enthusiastic about the project, even establishing a periodic newsletter tracking development, the economy was rapidly turning south. Eventually, Beech replaced the Garrett with a P&W PT6A turboprop, but it was too late. The company abandoned the project entirely after 133 test flights.

19 Some airplanes deserve better than they get. The LoPresti Fury was one of those. The late engineering genius, Roy LoPresti, father of the Mooney 201, Grumman Tiger and Cheetah, and a variety of other airplanes, designed the Fury around a familiar airframe, but the finished product was all original. Besides being a drop dead gorgeous design, the Fury offered a sliding hatch, quick, aerobatic control harmony, docile flight characteristics and excellent performance, 1,300 fpm climb and 180 knot cruise. The prototype mounted a 200 hp Lycoming IO-360, but the production airplanes were planned to use the 310 hp Continental IO-550. The Fury attracted 131 orders in the span of five days at the 1989 Sun 'n Fun air show and 370 more over the next few years. LoPresti hoped his partnership with Piper would bring the airplane to certification, but it wasn't to be. Piper filed bankruptcy in 1991, and the Fury joined the ranks of good ideas that almost made it.

20 Thirty years ago, I did a self-serving story in this magazine on my 1950 Bellanca Cruisemaster. Shortly after the story hit print, I received a note through the magazine from a gentleman down east reporting that he was one of my airplane's original owners. He thought I might be interested to know the airplane had once been mounted on water skis. Yes, water skis. The Bellanca apparently had been used to develop water skis for retractable gear Bellancas. Naturally, I was curious about the details, we exchanged notes, and he said they had flight tested (water tested?) the airplane in swells as tall as a foot. In flight, the gear could be retracted to streamline beneath the wing. For landings on solid ground, the wheels protruded beneath the bottoms of the skis, so landing characteristics were conventional. He assured me that as long as they maintained speed at 10-15 knots or more, the fuselage and wings remained high and dry. If speed dropped much below 10 knots, the airplane began to sink lower in the water. Obviously, an engine failure in the wet would have resulted in loss of the airplane, but fortunately, that never happened.


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