Piper Seneca
6 min read

I recently added a multi-engine rating to my commercial certificate and it was one of the most fascinating experiences of my 30+ year flying career.

I want to share the story because I’ve always wanted to write something for Air Facts. I’ve read the blog since its launch and, like many of you reading this, I’ve gathered a great deal from the pilots who have shared their experiences – especially Richard Collins, who for many years in various publications and books has informed my approach to flying in a transformative way. I am thankful for Air Facts and want to give back in some small way.

Obtaining the rating was a bucket list thing. In light of the time available to me for flying, I chose to do an accelerated program held over a weekend to minimize the impact on my work schedule. I thought it would be easier to carve out a few days for concentrated training as opposed to a more traditional nights-and-weekends approach. A flying mentor had recommended a long-established school based in Groton, Connecticut, which was within several hours drive of home. By the time the training weekend arrived a good friend decided to join me. We would do the program together.

Piper Seneca

Time in the airplane is expensive, so time spent preparing on the ground is a good investment.

Because the schedule is so compressed, the school sent a packet to be studied prior to arrival for training. Besides a POH for the training airplane, they sent along a list of normal and emergency procedures, great introductory articles to flying twins and an open book exam. On several pages of the material were the words, “You must memorize this!” This proved to be good advice since emergencies require the correct combination of thought and action in a short period of time – especially in twin-engine airplanes. As the weekend approached, I spent increasing amounts of time reviewing the procedures and “chair flying” the emergency procedures – mostly focused on engine outs.

We began the adventure first thing on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning in early May with a briefing on the process we would follow that weekend, a ground review of the exam, and document review that would become our form 8710, the FAA application for a new rating.

Our first flight was that afternoon in a 1974 vintage Piper Seneca I. Preflighting a twin was the immediate start of the “this is really different” moments over four days. Two engines, two alternators, two vacuum pumps, eight fuel sumps, six seats, two of every engine control, two somethings called cross feed. Oh my! But that was only the beginning.

Ground handling of the airplane was a clumsy affair at the start. Trying to move two throttles together, learning to turn while taxiing (using differential power is very helpful) and just trying to stay on the centerline of the taxiway smoothly consumed most of my brain at the beginning. To say that the airplane felt different is an understatement! Frankly, I was a bit surprised at how awkward it was at the beginning and I hadn’t left the ground yet.

The first takeoff seemed to occur so quickly that the airplane was in the air and my brain was still on the ground. The liftoff was at 85 MPH with a climb speed of 105 MPH (blue line). As I think back on it, a number of factors conspired against me at the beginning: a very different sight picture from the majority of my time flying high wing, single engine airplanes, the recency of giving instruction from the right seat and lot of flights in G1000 glass cockpits. The Seneca was totally an old school six-pack instrument layout complete with separate CDIs for the nav radios. I found myself repeating the mantra, “aviate, navigate, communicate” to the guy sitting in my seat at first because I was so overwhelmed! First: fly the airplane!

The first flight was all about familiarization. We went out to the practice area and it was there that the real fun began. Flying at minimum controllable airspeed, stalls and steep turns were similar to their single-engine equivalents. However, there were new ones to be learned, like something called a Vmc demo which explores the condition when a twin flying on a single engine runs out of rudder authority.

We simulated engine failures and quickly learned to appreciate the technique of “identify and verify” to make sure that we were sure of which engine was inoperative before taking further action. We learned to do a precautionary engine shutdown. We then returned for a landing.

Seneca panel

The old school panel with lots of levers and buttons means one thing – fly the airplane first!

What struck me at the end of the first flight was how fast we flew the pattern. Our downwind speed (120 MPH) is quite close the cruise speed of the Cessna 172 in which I teach. Speed on short final is 90 MPH so still we’re moving right along before touchdown. Landing (not bad), debrief with the instructor, dinner, study, an adult beverage and the first day was in the books. Wow, it went fast. But we had two more instructional days to go and much to learn before the flight test.

As any good instructional program, we spent the next two days building on and refining the skills we were learning. We practiced everything, including our engine failure checklist (perhaps more than anything else), flew a number of single-engine IFR approaches under the hood, and a healthy dose of pattern work to polish our skills. I was encouraged that I didn’t feel so behind the airplane after just a few hours of flying it. Principles of safe twin flying were reinforced too. Careful attention to critical airspeeds like “red line” and “blue line” (also known as Vmc and Vyse) and planning for what happens after an engine failure in cruise flight in high terrain. Lots of “what ifs” to prepare for the oral portion of the flight test.

My partner and I flew together, taking turns in the “hot seat.” One would be the PIC and the other sat in back getting the techniques reinforced by watching his partner perform all the same things. My strongest memory of this time was when my partner shut off the magnetos of the good engine while running the securing engine checklist for one of the first times. It got awfully quiet in that cockpit for a moment. Simply put, it was invaluable to watch somebody else do all of the training. It encourages me to look for ways to have others in the airplane while giving instruction in the future. There was also the camaraderie from doing this with somebody I know. We truly did this as a team and I can’t recommend strongly enough how helpful it is to work together when faced with such a tight time window and a big goal.

There were a few things that I learned along the way that I could have done better:

  • The importance of preparation. As I look back I should have been a bit more diligent in memorizing checklists, speeds and maneuvers.
  • There is great power in learning a new flying skill together. So glad I did this with my buddy.
  • Like every other certificate and rating that I have earned, this one is a license to practice.
Marty Sacks
4 replies
  1. David Ward Sandidge
    David Ward Sandidge says:

    Marty, nice article. Thanks for sharing your experience. Don’t know if your instructor or your examiner mentioned it, but if you’re planning on doing some twin flying with more than a couple of folks and baggage on board it would be very wise for you to check (FARs) Part 23 and get really familiar with the performance requirements most of these light twin airplanes were required to meet (or not meet…) before their certifications. You just might be shocked at the [lack of] performance numbers. That’s all I’ll say about it. Again, thanks for writing. Be safe out there…

  2. Ed Griffith
    Ed Griffith says:

    Great article! I got my multi rating in an old Cessna 310 with a straight tale which looked huge and very manly. Newer twin Cessnas may have better performance and safety features, but the old 310s were very impressive in appearance as to both size and sturdiness.

    One thing I remember is an article by Richard Collins on twin flying. He did an analysis and said the fatality rate with a single engine failure was significantly greater in a twin engine aircraft. Though counter-intuitive, he explained that in a single engine aircraft the pilot had no illusions about continuing to fly and usually concentrated on a survivable crash landing just as in training. Often times in a twin the pilot believes that because he paid more money for a twin, paid twice as much to overhaul the engine (2 vs. 1), that the twin was finally going to prove its worth. With high density altitude or heavy loading this often meant stalling and losing control with resulting fatalities. (At the University of Illinois aviation school one instructor said the four basics of flight were stall, spin, crash, and burn!) Richard Collins said twin pilots had to sometimes swallow their pride and make a survivable crash rather than die in a stall-spin loss of control accident.

    My father said that a twin had over twice the chances of an engine failure as a single. That there were two engines meant twice the chance of failure. Because there were two engines in the “safer” twin, owners sometimes skimped on engine maintenance which meant greater than twice the chances of an engine failure.

    It is true that twins are more expensive to maintain and do not go twice as fast or twice as high or twice as far as an equivalent single. And yet the awareness gained in getting a twin rating helped me in later single engine flying. It was even more valuable to me than being checked out in a tail-dragger conventional gear plane.

    Thanks again for a great story and bringing back some great memories.

  3. Richard K Phillips
    Richard K Phillips says:

    I don’t know that there is a way to know whether a twin on one engine is safer/not safer than a single with engine failure. Nobody keeps statistics of twins that land successfully with one engine inop! Those would need to be considered.

  4. Larry Baum
    Larry Baum says:

    Marty – great job getting your multi rating and a nice article.

    For several odd reasons, I finished up my multi-rating at the same outfit in Groton, CT, back in 1980. I had already been working on a multi-rating and was nearly finished, so I was able to do it in one day. They were also running Piper Seneca Is for their training aircraft back then. I thought those planes were old and tired in 1980, and they are still using essentially the same planes 38 years later! No, the specific airplane I flew is no longer in the fleet (I checked), but the plane that you trained in is definitely a cousin.

    I remember the day very well. By the time I got there (flew into KGON in a Piper Arrow), it was nearly 90 degrees in Groton and very humid. My instructor was a grizzled Air Force vet, who knew only one way to fly – his way. I quickly figured out not think too much, don’t ask too many questions, just memorize his procedures and fly. The only time both engines were making power was on takeoffs. The rest was single engine everything-even landed with one feathered a few times. (Yes, times were very different!) It was a lot of work and I was sweating bullets; not just from the temperature and humidity.

    By mid-afternoon, he turned me over to an examiner who ran me through nearly the exact same flight as the training runs. And I had my multi-rating. Fortunately, I had received very solid multi training and had plenty of left and right seat experience flying multi-engine airplanes with very well experienced charter pilots. (I said times were different), So, I felt I reasonably prepared. This one day just got me the piece of paper.

    I jumped back into the Arrow and dodged a line of thunderstorms all the way home. No onboard radar, no stormscope, no Nexrad, just “mark 1 eyeballs” and a bit of help from the radar controllers.

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