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
The improvements are both a little surprising and totally necessary. “My” 1975 Seneca II was a wonderful machine that taught me many lessons about multi-engine airplanes, but like so many early versions of anything, it was in serious need of improvement.
Three model changes later, the latest Seneca offers updates in every area, and that has kept it competitive in a shrinking market. As this is written, there are only four piston twins in production, Piper’s everyman’s Seminole, the Seneca V, the Beech 58 Baron and the new Austrian Diamond Twin Star. At press time, the promising Twin Star wasn’t a factor, as it had yet to be certified for IFR. Even when it is, the twin-Thielert-diesel-powered twin isn’t liable to have much effect on the Seneca market, although it very well could have a more dramatic impact on Seminole sales.
Unless you’re looking for a multi-engine trainer (which the Seneca V definitely isn’t), the inevitable comparison is between the Seneca and Baron. Aside from mounting two engines out on the wings and seating a theoretical six folks, the two types couldn’t be more dissimilar. The Seneca V has consistently operated on the premise that less is more. Power is limited to only 220-turbocharged hp a side, compared to the Baron’s 300 normally aspirated horses on each wing. Gross weight is only 4,750 pounds, compared to the Baron’s 5,500 pounds. Even prices are far apart, $643,500 base for the Seneca V, $1,100,000 for the Baron.
One paragraph of history: The Seneca began life in 1972 as a normally aspirated, twin-engine, retractable version of the Cherokee Six with a pair of 200-hp Lycoming IO-360s on the wings. In 1975, Piper premiered the Seneca II and switched to early versions of the six-cylinder, Rajay-turbocharged, Continental TSIO-360s that survive to this day. The Seneca III introduced a 28-volt electrical system and three-blade props and upped power to 220 hp a side; the Seneca IV added optional de-ice, air conditioning and leather; and the Seneca V, announced in 1997, brought intercooling and a plethora of lesser improvements to Piper’s workhorse twin.
In other words, no matter how familiar it looks, the current PA-34 is a refined airplane in contrast to the original machine. Senecas of one description or another probably serve in more diverse roles than any other model in Piper’s fleet. As a result of their big cargo door, large cabin, fat, high-lift wing and turbocharged engines, Senecas are popular airplanes in the low lands and the mountains, the city and the country.
Specifically because of the PA-34’s unusual flexibility, the type is in demand all over the world and has been pressed into service flying more different missions than you’d believe. The Seneca V makes an excellent, comparatively low-cost charter airplane, a reasonable corporate transport, an effective air ambulance, a reliable businessman’s traveling machine, an economical check or mailer hauler and even a sometimes bush plane (when converted to STOL mode).
I’ve seen Senecas of all descriptions flying standard urban domestic missions, but I’ve also witnessed the type operating in the Alaskan bush, the Saharan and Australian deserts and the South American pampas. I’ve delivered probably a dozen of those international Senecas to destinations ranging from Cape Town, South Africa, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and from Singapore to Southampton, N.Y., so I can personally attest to their popularity in foreign lands.
As you may have guessed, I like the Seneca, and I’m not alone in my appreciation of Piper’s workhorse twin. Over the last three decades, Piper has sold nearly 5,000 of the type.
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Labels: Piston Twins