Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Old Stalwart Gets New Attention

Piper’s Seneca at work and play

Scott County Airport (SCX) in Oneida, Tenn., was readying for its ninth annual autumn air show, and vendor trucks and booths were starting to fill the perimeter of the ramp. The buzz of excitement extended all the way into the Big South Fork Airpark (BSFA), which has through-the-fence access to SCX, and whose property owners typically gather from primary residences in locations stretching from the Dakotas to Florida to enjoy the air show and each other's camaraderie. The owners' eclectic fleet ranges from a Piper J-3 Cub to King Air C90, and includes composite, fabric and aluminum airframes, and both certificated and experimental aircraft. Obviously, there's no consensus here on the best Residential Airpark Airplane (RAA).

But just about any RAA needs to do several things well: have decent cargo-carrying capacity and commuting capability, be comfortable operating in remote areas, and provide simple, economical and reliable performance. A twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca V delivers all that with aplomb. But you can be excused if you didn't have this essentially 40-year-old model (the Seneca was introduced in 1971) on your short list of best RAAs. Even Piper hadn't given much thought to the Seneca in recent years.

"We took this airplane for granted," Bart Jones, chief pilot for Piper Aircraft, said as we admired the airplane after his arrival at SCX from company headquarters in Vero Beach, Fla. "We were still building it and selling it, but not really saying, 'Hey look, this is a nice airplane.'"

We repaired to BSFA's Welcome Center to discuss our evaluation mission. The rustic and stately edifice serves as the BSFA's clubhouse, and sets the tone for the fun and fraternity that permeate the development. The 450-acre development features richly forested land with plenty of privacy between the spacious home sites.

"Our vision has always been to develop an environment for an airpark where you had access to the world-class airport we have, but not feel like you're in an airpark," said B.A. Armstrong, one of BSFA's three developers. "You have a neighbor, but not see your neighbor."
If you hadn't given much thought to the Seneca lately, the aircraft will look like an old acquaintance you haven't seen for awhile, who seems smarter and more sophisticated than you remember.
The airpark is in its first stage of development. Most of the property owners plan to make this their permanent residence, but for now they commute—a common situation for property owners at many residential airparks. Thus, an RAA needs the legs to handle travel to and from, while also being unfazed by weather that may develop in the hilly or mountainous environments where a good number of residential airparks are sited—BSFA included. "I've noticed from flying up and down this area for years, there's always weather over these mountains," Jones said. "They're not very high, but these things are weather generators like you wouldn't believe."


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