Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Old Stalwart Gets New Attention


Piper’s Seneca at work and play


With its access to the 5,506-foot runway at SCX (BSFA was among the handful of residential airparks the FAA visited before approving existing through-the-fence operations), there are no challenges to using the runway, as may exist at airparks with shorter, narrower or unpaved runways. We did, however, keep an eye on the Seneca's ground-maneuvering characteristics, which Mart likened to "the Queen Mary." There's no control tower at SCX; Jones quickly secured our clearance to Chattanooga and we back-taxied on runway 23 for departure.

Takeoff and landing speeds are akin to those of a high-performance single, so pilots stepping up should have a relatively easy transition. Rotation speed is 75 to 80 knots. With a best rate of climb speed of 88 knots, we aimed for about 98 for more margins in the unlikely event of an engine failure. But another big plus for the Seneca: The engines are counter-rotating, eliminating the critical engine limitations of other light twins, and making the Seneca easier to control in the event of an engine failure—a definite plus that extends far beyond the RAA world. At 1,000 feet agl we reduced power from 38 to 35 inches, and the rpm from 2,600 to 2,500, climbing at 110 knots and about 1,250 fpm to our assigned altitude of 8,000 feet, and emerging into sunlight at about 6,000 feet. Once en route with engines set for cruise power (30 inches and 2,300 rpm), we engaged the S-TEC autopilot and sat back to enjoy the Seneca cross-country experience. We were burning 22 gph and TAS was 168 knots. We could expect to gain two knots of airspeed with every 1,000 feet of additional altitude.

Approaching Chattanooga, the G600 installation demonstrated its value. The glide slope for the active runway, 20, was inoperative—not a calamity with the ceilings at 1,000 feet as they were today, but more importantly not a calamity at almost any ceiling with the digital avionics suite aboard. We requested the RNAV 20 approach, using the system's LPV (localizer performance with vertical guidance) capability to create a glide slope.


The Seneca's cabin features four leather seats in a club-seating arrangement, accessible via double doors on the rear left side. The rearmost seats can be folded forward to access additional storage space.
After spending as much time as it takes to taxi back to the active and receive the clearance for our return flight, we were back in the air. Jones, who has flown every aircraft in the Piper fleet produced in the last 50 years or more, reflected on where the Seneca fit in the Piper pantheon.

"It's really an underappreciated airplane—a beautiful airplane to take a trip in," Jones said. "When you first fly one, you don't go, 'Man, I love this airplane.' But when you fly it for awhile you say, 'Man, I love this airplane!'"

With its ability to keep the airplane out of trouble, the optional onboard weather radar could enhance that pilot's passion—as long as it's used properly. "It's a great tool for flying in weather, but you need to spend time learning how to interpret it," Jones said, particularly in mountainous areas where the ground can be mistaken for weather returns. "Sometimes it's hard to determine, 'Is that a buildup, or the side of a hill?'"




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