Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Seneca In The Fifth Generation
Long on fuel economy and lean on sticker price, New Piper’s twin carries a big bunch of admirers
Old home week, I reminisced, as I sat in the left front seat of the 2005 Seneca V. Well, perhaps not exactly. The panel of the new Seneca V has about as much resemblance to my old company airplane’s as does a new Ford Thunderbird’s to a Model T’s.
Still, I couldn’t resist flashing back to those happy days of the late 1970s when I operated a Seneca II for three years and 500 hours. Despite the airplane’s niggles (and there were several), I came to respect the little twin as a valuable business tool.
In 1979, the corn at the end of the runway in Fort Atkinson, Wis., looked to be at least six feet tall, but I had no major concerns as I turned the company Seneca into the wind and pointed the tapered nose down runway 21. The abbreviated grass strip was, by far, the closest to the home office of Johnson Hill Press—in those days, one of the world’s largest publishers of corporate magazines and my part-time employer.
A summer rain shower had stormed through the night before, and the grass was still wet, so I’d need a soft-field takeoff. I held the brakes at the very threshold of the runway as I pushed power through 35 inches, then released the binders and felt the airplane lumber sluggishly forward. The grass runway was only 1,900 feet long, but at light weight, I knew I’d need far less than that to lift off on the short hop down to Janesville, Wis., for fuel on my way back to California.
I watched the corn grow in stature as the airplane accelerated down the strip. Must be at least 15 feet tall, I thought. Passing 55 knots, I pulled up on the floor-mounted Johnson bar to lever in flaps and improve short-field performance, but I was a little too enthusiastic. I had planned to add only the first two notches of flaps, worth 25 degrees. Instead, I wound up pulling the handle to its maximum deflection—40 degrees.
Bad idea. Although I was already holding some back pressure to keep the nosewheel off the grass runway, the Seneca reacted instantly as the big flaps deflected. The airplane lifted its main wheels off the grass and wheel-barrowed forward onto the nosewheel, plunking it back down hard into the grass. I was lucky to be flying light. I yanked the yoke full back, the twin leaped off the runway and vaulted over the corn in an ungraceful, elevator-like ascent, and I made a silent promise to always set the flaps prior to takeoff in the future.
Flying the new Seneca V out of Oshkosh, Wis., a few months ago was far less dramatic, but it was like revisiting an old friend—only better. Perhaps predictably, everything about the new Seneca is improved over that airplane I flew 25 years ago. The configuration is still the same with the Hershey-bar wing, aft-left cargo doors and familiar counter-rotating Continental TSIO-360 engines. Beyond that, the Seneca V is a dramatically revised airplane.
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Labels: Piston Twins