Plane & Pilot
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.

senecaAt 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.
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The Seneca V is quiet with minimal vibration and excellent ventilation (including air-conditioning if your budget will allow), and the cabin is so friendly, you’ll make the trip with minimal fuss. The PA34’s fat, untapered, high-dihedral airfoil is as gentle as on any twin (past or present); the Frise ailerons impart plenty of roll rate; and both engines turn inboard to offset the critical engine problem. The combination produces a stability and gentle controllability more reminiscent of the Saratoga HP than of a middle-weight multi.

At 4,750 pounds gross, stall speed is a highly predictable 64 knots, so approaches are silly simple at any speed between 90 and 110 knots. The Seneca makes an excellent instrument platform, too. In the 21⁄2 years I operated “my” Seneca II, I flew it into snowstorms in Calgary, torrential rain in the Bahamas and ice fog in Maine. The airplane forgave my transgressions and consistently delivered me from evil, no matter how poor my decisions or rusty my technique.

(One approach I made to Janesville, Wis., in the late ’70s certainly demonstrated the airplane’s docile nature. I was shooting an ILS in miserable conditions. Weather was right at minimums, and I was being beat around pretty good trying to maintain the glideslope. The airplane was going to Janesville for maintenance, and one of the squawks was the left electric fuel pump. The left engine-driven pump failed about three miles out, and so did the engine, but I was so busy just trying to hold the needles, I hardly had time to worry about it. I broke out over the runway, and touched down as the left prop windmilled to a stop.)

Landings in the PA34 also fall into the “if you can walk and chew gum at the same time” category. The now-electric flaps deflect to a full 40 degrees, allowing the Seneca to sneak into short strips with relative ease, and the long-stroke oleo gear cushions the actual touchdown. Also, unlike the vast majority of airplanes, the Seneca can leap off the ground in slightly less runway than it needs to land. Both numbers are well below 2,000 feet, and that may be one reason PA34s sometimes wind up working for a living on dirt or grass strips. Main-gear doors cover only the top of the wheels, so there’s plenty of ground clearance with little risk of damaging a door.

seneca(In operating out of the 2,000-foot grass strip at Ft. Atkinson, Wis.—long since paved and extended—I was sometimes intimidated by the tall corn at the south end. During one takeoff on a hot July day with the manual flaps set at the recommended full-up position, the corn was approaching way too fast. I reached down, grabbed the manual flap lever and pulled for one notch to get me into the air. Unfortunately, I pulled too hard and got two notches, and the huge flaps promptly rotated the lightly loaded Seneca’s main gear off the ground and balanced the airplane on its nosewheel. I hauled back on the yoke and cleared the corn by a few kernels. Won’t do that again.)

At $756,500 for the entry-level airplane, the 2007 Seneca V fills a niche that no other model can. The big cabin, easy loading and good short-field performance allow the aircraft to serve in a variety of missions: mail and check hauling, freight and corporate transport, charter and as many other jobs as you can imagine.

By any measure, the Seneca V is a flexible, talented machine, simple to fly and fairly easy on maintenance (compared to other twins). Add to that quick cruise and enough creature comforts for most normal-sized creatures, and you have all the ingredients that have kept Piper’s tough little Seneca in production for a surprising 35 years.

SPECS: 2007 Piper PA34-220T Seneca V

Labels: Piston TwinsSpecs


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