Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Old Stalwart Gets New Attention

Piper’s Seneca at work and play

Now in VFR conditions, we pulled the right engine back to zero-percent thrust, simulating an engine out, but leaving the propeller unfeathered. Even so, handling was very docile, and very little rudder trim required to center the ball. "If you've got a little speed and a little bit of altitude, losing one [engine] is not a big deal," Jones said.

Basic instructions for entering the pattern: Pull back power, aiming for 140 knots, and put in a notch of flaps. Gear speed is 128 knots; after extending, put in second notch of flaps at 120 knots, reduce power to 105 knots. Jones recommends using only two notches of flaps when no passengers are in the back. Don't be harsh if the landing feels a little hard; Piper twins don't finesse themselves onto the runway, but once down they tend to plant and stay there, as couple of additional circuits confirmed.

Eager to explore Big South Fork that brings so many visitors to the area, we reviewed points of interest and planned a route over the landscape. BSFA has developed aerial tour routes to help introduce residents to the area, but we planned to hopscotch around in leisurely fashion—no point-to-point commuting on this flight.

The Big South Fork National Recreation Area encompasses the wildest and most rugged territory on the Cumberland Plateau, cut by 600-foot deep gorges and capped by massive escarpments. This is literally BSFA's backyard and a real distinguishing feature of the development. Residents have quick access to all its splendors, and regularly head out in groups on foot, four-wheeler or horse. BSFA, after all, has a stable and horses that can be saddled up and brought to residents' homes should they wish to ride. But the region can be enjoyed from the air, as well.

At 2,500 feet, or about 1,000 agl, the plateau appears like a carpet of trees veined by deep cuts with shiny ribbons at the bottom of each. From on high we saw waterfalls, a historic old railway bridge, the confluence of the New River and Clear Fork Creek that create the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, and even the now-shuttered Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, once home to a litany of notorious inmates. In the winter, when the leaves have fallen, flightseekers can view some of the hundreds of natural bridges found throughout the region, and see roaming wildlife. We yanked and banked, went hither and yon, and throughout, the Seneca acted like an oversized but very responsive kid—even though the fuel tanks were two-thirds full—happy to play along with us in the spirit of a wilderness explorer.

That night, BSAF residents who had come in for the air show gathered at the Welcome Center. Over the blazing fire on the deck fireplace, I solicited more opinions on the ideal RAA, and where the Seneca would fit on the list. Keith Petrie, who commutes to BSFA from Sioux City, Iowa, formerly owned a twin-engine Beech Baron, and highly approves of the twin-engine solution for an RAA—especially if it would be less expensive to fly and maintain than his Baron, which the Seneca undoubtedly would be.


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