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.|
|Over the last 30 years, the Seneca has benefited from numerous improvements: horsepower on each engine has increased from 200 to 220; TBO has gone up to 1,800 hours; and service ceiling is now 25,000 feet. |
Well, duh! It’s not as if you wouldn’t expect some improvements in 30 years. Fact is, however, the Seneca’s survival in a marketplace that hasn’t looked all that favorably on twins is at least a partial vindication of the airplane’s configuration and mission. (Perhaps incredibly, there were about a dozen piston twins in production at the end of the ’70s.)
The Seneca is one of only two Pipers that’s managed to stay in more-or-less continuous production through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The PA34 and Malibu Mirage were the only models to survive the partial shutdown of the company in the early ’90s.
The current Seneca remains essentially a multi-engine Saratoga. Considering that the Piper Seminole is pretty much a dedicated multi-engine trainer and the Beech G58 Baron is priced just over $1 million (nearly into entry-level VLJ territory), the Seneca V is virtually alone in its class. Base price of the Seneca V for 2007 is $756,500, and while that’s still a considerable sum, it buys an airplane with more talent than you’d believe.
Perhaps the most notable of these talents is simply the airplane’s large, comfortable cabin. Size matters, especially when you’re traveling in a machine that can’t be conveniently pulled over for a break. Airplanes, like people, tend to gain weight with age, but the Seneca’s cabin is a pleasant constant.
While payload has shrunk as empty weight has increased, cabin size is among the best in the industry. Cabin width is a spacious 49 inches, slightly wider than a Mirage and roughly the same dimension as the cabin-class Piper Navajo. The cabin does begin to taper toward the tail abeam the second row of seats, but there’s still enough room to load anything, from a coffin to a piano to people.
Piper loves to tout the Seneca’s excellent quick-change cargo capability, and it’s true the PA34 will accept a variety of loads. The reality is that the airplane will most often be used to carry people rather than things. Pilots board in the conventional manner via the right wing walk and luxuriate in the front office, but passengers relegated to the rear need not feel like second-class citizens.
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