Friday, February 1, 2008
Seneca V: Little Big Twin
When most twins disappeared in the ‘80s, the Piper Seneca soldiered on. Twenty years later, it’s one of only five multis still in production.
At the risk of compromising my alleged objectivity, I have to confess a soft spot for the Piper Seneca. Back in the late ’70s, I spent two years with a Seneca II company airplane. I logged 500 hours in that twin, flying all over the States, Bahamas and Canada—operating solo or with six on board—and bouncing off strips from below sea level to America’s highest airport (located in Leadville, Colo.) at nearly 10,000 feet MSL.
One benefit of having spent several hundred hours with the old Seneca is that I have a special appreciation for the new one. I won’t bore you with the long list of improvements in an airplane that looks structurally similar to its grandfather, but take my word for it, the new Seneca V is several generations removed from that first turbocharged PA34.
For those pilots who’ve been living on the dark side of the moon for 30 years, the Seneca is essentially a Cherokee Six with retractable gear and dual 220 hp Continentals. Piper has always been one of the most innovative companies in adapting existing designs to new applications, and the original Seneca followed this formula.
The Lock Haven, Penn., company had a deserved reputation as a strong advocate of moderately priced, multi-engine airplanes. The bulbous Apache and Aztec of the late ’50s evolved into the Twin Comanche and Navajo of the ’60s. Senecas came along in the ’70s, and few would have guessed the airplane would survive the GA crash of the ’80s and march on into the next century.
Today’s Seneca V is one of only five surviving piston twins; it’s a considerably more refined and functional machine than the Seneca II I used to fly. The 2008 twin market includes the Diamond Twin Star, Adam A500, Piper Seneca V and Seminole, plus the Beech G58 Baron.
The six-cylinder Continental TSIO-360 engines, which have evolved from 200 to 220 hp, are now intercooled and employ automatic sloped controllers to maintain even power and avoid overboost. TBO has increased to its current 1,800 hours, and what was once a marginal powerplant has become envied and reliable.
Max takeoff weight has increased almost 200 pounds (a good thing since empty weight has gradually increased from 2,840 to 3,393 pounds), wing span has widened by two feet, and single-engine service ceiling has stepped up from 13,400 to 16,500 feet.
Page 1 of 4