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 Seneca’s attraction begins with the big cabin, essentially identical to that of the fixed-gear Cherokee Six single, recently revived as the New Piper 6X and 6XT (turbocharged). You can read about the dimensions in the specs, but the Seneca’s passenger enclosure offers roughly the same width as the cabin-class Navajo, now long out of production. There’s plenty of room for six full-sized people, although the airplane is payload-challenged. More on that later.
The double cargo doors at aft left are another big drawing card. In addition to admitting passengers, freight, a stretcher, a coffin or a piano, they’re sometimes employed to let people and things exit the airplane—sky divers, bales of hay, emergency supplies and things like that.
The removable doors also have less obvious advantages. In a previous life, Plane & Pilot and Pilot Journal magazines used a Turbo Saratoga SP (the predecessor version of the current Saratoga HP) with the doors removed as an air-to-air platform, and it was one of the best airplanes imaginable for that role, offering a phenomenal range of photographic pan and tilt, including the ability to shoot nearly straight back, straight up and straight down. Those were the days.
Even in standard trim, Senecas come well-equipped for VFR and IFR, fitted with a full package of Garmin avionics—430/530 COM/VOR/ILS/GPSs and the popular 330 transponder that enables traffic uplink—plus an S-TEC HSI and 55X autopilot/flight director. Unlike the bad old days, when airplanes featured standard equipment that barely made them operational, the new Seneca makes an excellent IFR platform at its base price.
Naturally, it gets even better, and much more expensive, when you start adding options. Fitted with the FIKI (flight into known icing) package ($28,455), the latest PA-34 is a reasonable winter or spring traveling machine, willing to handle most modest icing situations. The Seneca, however, employs old-fashioned rubber boots rather than the more effective, “weeping wing” TKS system, so don’t even think about taking on serious icing conditions.
Other popular options include the Meggitt/S-TEC MAGIC Electronic Flight Display System ($65,555), Honeywell Bendix/King Avionics Enhanced Situational Awareness package that includes weather radar, IHAS, Stormscope and a KMD-850 multi-function display to play it on ($101,350), air-conditioning ($14,500), oxygen ($8,410), three-blade props ($9,310), prop sync ($3,640) and unfeathering accumulators ($4,520). Put it all together, and you’re facing a list price well north of $850,000.
What that buys you, in addition to electronic talent, is good operational performance with both mills turning true and acceptable numbers with one engine shut down. Specifically, plan on at least 1,300- to 1,400-fpm climb at sea level in multi-mode and a single-engine service ceiling higher than any mountain in the contiguous 48 states. Single-engine climb, however, is only 253 fpm at gross, and it’d be a long climb if you needed to clear those mountains. Critical altitude (the maximum height at which the engines can develop full power) is 19,000 feet, and if you opt for max cruise at that height, you’ll see 195 knots or better. Down at 10,000 feet, expect more like 180 knots.
The obvious benefit of the relatively small engines is a low fuel burn, roughly 14 gph per engine at high cruise. The wings hold 122 gallons, so endurance at high cruise is about 3.5 hours—4.0 hours at normal cruise (12 gph per engine).
The bad news is that at 4,750 pounds gross, the Seneca V is a little short on payload. Top the tanks in a standard airplane, and you’ll have little more than 600 paying pounds available to distribute between six seats. Yes, you can trade fuel for payload, but only up to a point. Max zero fuel weight is 4,479 pounds, so you’re obliged to fly with at least 42 gallons in the tanks if you’re operating at gross. In that loading configuration, you’d have just over 1,000 pounds of payload available. There’s also a maximum landing-weight limitation of 4,513 pounds. If you depart at gross, you’ll be obliged to burn down 39 gallons before returning to land.
In stock trim, Senecas aren’t truly STOL twins, but they do very well in short-field performance. The short, grass strip at Fort Atkinson was always a challenge, but it was near sea level and there were no obstacles (if you discounted the corn at certain times of the year). I flew in and out of Fort Atkinson (now long since paved and extended) several dozen times and thoroughly enjoyed my 500 hours in a Seneca II, and now that Piper has addressed most of my complaints, I’d be happy to spend another 500 hours in a Seneca V.
For more information, contact New Piper Aircraft at (772) 567-4361 or log on to www.newpiper.com.
SPECS: 2005 New Piper Seneca V
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Labels: Piston Twins