Plane & Pilot
Sunday, February 1, 2004

An Unusual Seneca II

Piper’s trusty twin was just a starting point for this revitalized PA-34 modification

piperKim Bass is an unusual pilot with an unusual airplane. Bass is a Hollywood screenwriter who manages to survive in one of the world’s most cutthroat businesses. Bass has been writing TV and motion-picture screenplays for 13 years, taking scripts from concept to treatment to pilot and sometimes all the way to production. Amazingly, he has yet to file bankruptcy even once.
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At the opposite end of the trip, Bass reports his Piper makes a better-than-average short-field machine, especially with the benefit of the Robertson STOL conversion. Approaches are simple affairs that can be flown at your choice of airspeeds, from 70 knots (with the Robertson kit) if there’s a need to plunk it on and stop it short, all the way up to 130 knots if you need to stay ahead of the G5 on the ILS behind you. As with most twins, gear and flaps are the great airspeed equalizers that keep the engines warm, yet bring the speed down to manageable levels. Collectively, all the drag additives allow slowing the airplane for landing without having to shock-cool the engines.

Some pilots claim the Seneca, like the Twin Comanche, is a tough machine to land. My touchdowns in Bass’s twin weren’t exactly greasers, but experience with this airplane and several others over the years suggest the myth is just that. The type really isn’t that tough to return to Earth. The nose does get heavy at low speeds in dirty configuration, though. I keep the trim moving and the power up to try to cushion the actual touchdown, and most of my landings are acceptable, if not always worth bragging about.

Senecas are good instrument platforms, certified for icing if you are, and willing to take on just about any weather there is. They’re willing friends in a variety of conditions. In fact, flexibility may be their ultimate recommendation. The type are among the most versatile airplanes on the market—executive transport, family airplane, utility freighter or multi-engine trainer—though it’s hard to imagine allowing a new student twin driver to abuse those expensive turbos.

PA34s of any vintage aren’t picky about runway length or surface, asphalt or grass, and anything from 2,000 to 12,000 feet will do just fine. Though superbly restored and improved examples such as Bass’s are the exception, even standard examples won’t balk at lifting a piano in place of full leather buckets, and the wide double doors at aft left make it easy to load whatever cargo you choose.

In short, Kim Bass’s new/old Seneca II1⁄2 represents perhaps the best of the early turbocharged PA34s, an airplane happy to carry people or things over near or far horizons from where they are to where they need to be.

SPECS: 1978 Piper II-N521KB

Labels: Piston Twins

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