What Killed the Piston Twin?

What killed the piston twin? That’s easy. It was the piston single.

All types of piston airplane production have faded over the last 30 years but the piston twin has nearly vanished. Only the Beech Baron 58 and Piper Seneca V remain in production by the major manufacturers.  On the used market piston twin values have plunged.

Many blame safety concerns for the piston twin decline. There is no question that the pilot of a piston twin faces a more demanding control situation after an engine failure than does the pilot of a piston single. Insurance companies recognize this fact and demand a higher level of training and experience for the twin pilot compared to the pilot in a piston single of similar value and performance.

There is also the unavoidable higher cost of the twin. You need to maintain and feed that second engine. A twin doesn’t cost quite twice as much to own and operate as a single, but the difference is very substantial.

But cost and safety concerns are nothing new. The twin has always cost more to fly, and there were always the higher demands on the pilot if an engine failed. What has changed is that the single can now offer nearly all of the capability that was once exclusive to the twin.

One of the most important reasons to buy a twin years ago was to get ice protection. Most twins were available with deice boots and protection for the propellers, but on a single only a heated pitot—and maybe a heated prop—were offered.

In the late 1970s Cessna changed that when it installed ice protection on the 210 and certified the airplane for flight in icing. Anybody who has encountered significant ice in a 210 may wonder if the airplane really has enough ice protection, but the flood gates were open. Ice protection on a single was once unthinkable, but quickly became an option pilots demanded on any high performance single. And the weeping wing TKS system became more attractive and available than boots on many singles.

Another important reason for the twin was the availability of weather radar. The nose cone of a twin was the only available spot to put a radar and radar was the only thunderstorm avoidance technology available during the heyday of the piston twin.

The first dent in the twin’s lead in weather avoidance came when Paul Ryan introduced the Stormscope in the mid 1970s. The early Stormscope didn’t work all that well, but it was better than nothing which is what piston single pilots had been flying. And subsequent generations of the Stormscope were much better at showing pilots where lightning and thunderstorms were located relative to the airplane.

Then Bendix developed a small radar it called the WeatherScout RDR-160 that could be mounted in a pod located on the wing of a single. The pod added very little drag and gave the piston single pilot as good a view of the weather as available in a piston twin. Of course, satellite weather changed everything by sending down near real time radar to any airplane so every pilot can have up to date weather in flight.

Piston singles also gained performance with more powerful engines. Pressurization, once the exclusive purview of twins, also became available in singles. Air conditioning was another option once reserved for twins that found its way into singles. Plush interiors, cabin entertainment, even airstair doors, migrated from twins to singles.

What’s left exclusively for the twin is the capability to continue to fly under most conditions after one engine quits. When I say most conditions I mean the vast majority of every flight that takes place in the minute or so after takeoff. Will a piston twin be able to continue safely if an engine fails shortly after liftoff? Maybe is the only accurate answer. But climb to 1,000 feet or so and any reasonably competent pilot should be able to get a piston twin back to a runway if an engine quits.

But engine failure has faded as a pilot concern. When I started in this business almost 40 years ago the Lockheed JetStar was a favorite business jet among the old timers because it had four engines while the other bizjets all had two. For the generation that pioneered transportation flying you just couldn’t have enough engines. But it has been decades since even Boeing designed a new airplane with more than two engines, even though those twins are bigger than anything the old timers ever imagined possible.

So why do I still fly a twin? Well, because I own it and have for 23 years. It’s worth more to me than anybody shopping for used airplanes. And Lake Michigan is about one mile from my home airport. Engines don’t fail often, but over that dark frigid water once would be enough if you only had one.

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66 Responses to What Killed the Piston Twin?

  1. Eric7 says:

    I started flying a twin over a decade ago and will never fly another piston single. Most twin pilots do not want to go back to singles. That tells you something.

  2. bruce lisle says:

    Having flown a Seneca for 12 years, I will still handle the extra operating cost for the extra safety. Night, over water and mountainous terrain are perfect reasons to fly a twin. Your comment about after the first minute of flight is perfect. I’ve seen the wreckage of a VMC accident. If I lose one on takeoff, if it isn’t looking pretty to get any climb, I’m now a single, which is why I pick my departure runways carefully, what’s on the departure side?? Take the longest runway available. I flew to the ABC islands off the coast of Venezuela, crossing the southern coast of the Dominion Republic at 12,000′, 7:30 at night with 356nm of open ocean ahead, is no place for a single. I started flying a single engine warbird and knowing the location of the nearest airport came back into my flying technique, as with the twin its not as important as there are so many options not available to singles. At 27 GPH is an ouch, but what’s the marginal increase in fuel for one these big 540′s on a single with similar cabin/capacity. I can’t wait for the diesel engine guys to come up with a reasonably priced option for the Seneca.

  3. Stu Baxter says:

    I own a twin for about all the same reasons you do. Proud TC owner.

  4. Josh Johnson says:

    I cut my teeth flying night freight in 310′s a few years ago. I recently have started flying a couple Bonanza’s, and it’s amazing how well they perform in comparison on half the fuel burn (165 kts on 13-15 gallons per hour vs the same speed at 30 gallons per hour in the twin) I have a customer with an A36 and all the mods on it that will run 175 – fast enough to dust most piston twins out there on half the fuel burn.

    I’m not sure I’d be 100% comfortable flying over the great lakes at night like I used to do, however once I get to 8,000 feet or so in the single I get lots and lots of options. Add in an engine analyzer and avionics that I could only have dreamed about with datalinked weather and I’d guess the safety margin is getting really close.

    I did have a private pilot client of mine look at buying a 310 – basically to get any sort of affordable insurance rate he was looking at 200 hours multi. Makes the A36′s and Cirri out there look really, really attractive to new purchasers. The insurance climate has made it really really tough for a business owner/pilot to move up into a twin, but pretty easy to go from say, a Bonanza to a TBM or Meridian.

  5. Marc Rodstein says:

    I spent 32 years owning and flying twins and I trained often and kept proficient in them. Twice I was the unhappy recipient of an engine failure in a twin and both times I made a fairly routine landing at the nearest airport. One of those occasions would definitely have resulted in an off-airport landing had I been flying a twin.

    For the past nine tears I have flown only singles, and although I miss the security of that second engine, I just cannot justify having a twin with today’s fuel prices, maintenance costs and insurance cots. I am pretty comfortable flying singles but I am constantly looking for a forced landing site, something I did not have a need to do in twins. And I no long feel comfortable flying at night.

    It’s all about the cost. If money were no issue I would definatly choose the twin.

  6. SkyGuy says:

    As usual…the $$$$…..which is killing all GA now.

    At my airport the hangers are emtey….used to have a waiting list….20 years ago.

    Very little fight activity anymore.

    • Mint City Kid says:

      I agree with you and Erich Rempert (above) the cost of avgas (and other expenses) is killing GA. I fly an older Mooney and can get 8 to 9 gal/hr. going 135 to 140 kts. at altitude. But even at that meager burn it is still getting hard to afford the $100 hamburger. If you want to breath a bit of life back into GA… start by doing something with the price of gas! (not sure that will happen w/ the current administration in Washington). I remember the days when hangars were full and waiting lists were long. I remember the days when I would go out to the airport and there were actually people flying… Oh… how I long for the good ‘ol days!

  7. Jeff Culwell says:

    From conversations with current pilots and a lot of family & friends that fly with me often, it is the Cirrus has single-handedly killed the light twin market (fuel prices never have helped twins). When I moved up to a Twin Comanche, my wife was no longer comfortable with her ability to land safely if I went Tango Uniform. But she was impressed with “pulling the big red handle” on the Cirrus we test flew. Same response from non-pilot friends – we don’t know how to fly, but we have read about Cirrus’ parachute & would feel fine flying to an airport then pulling the handle in case of an emergency.

    I currently fly a Baron due to the long overwater flights. I was happy flying behind a new-engined Bonanza all over the Caribbean until I looked down and saw the waves breaking across the bow of a 900′ freighter – ditching didn’t seem like such a hot idea if I had to do it then. Nor would coming down under a parachute a la Cirrus into 25′ seas.

    I love Nexrad, but I still appreciate radar-in-the-nose available in my twins. I’ve had both radar tube failures and Nexrad failures to load (ever notice the delay is especially long when there’s a lot of weather to show?). I like having both for the weather we have here in the Southeast.

    Other nail-in-the-coffin is the high price of insuring a twin vs. single. Fortunately my Baron insurance costs within 10% of what I paid on my Bonanza (same hull values), but the TC insurance quotes were twice what I’m paying for the Baron – and I have 1,000 hours in a TC. That buys a lot of extra fuel.

  8. David Pavlich says:

    There is an alternative twin and that’s the Diamond DA42 with its twin diesel/Jet A engines. Not real fast, but the cost of fuel would be a lot lower. But the airplane isn’t cheap when purchased new. Admittedly, I’m new to this and am not a pilot, but this seems like a viable twin alternative.


  9. Don Griffith says:

    ATP & Instructor in a C310, owned a B95B55, and instructed in most GA twin models. YUK after flying my P210 like 240knots over the ground @ 19.5 alt, and 16gal\hr. from time to time. Never an engine out but alt. gives you choices. Also disagree on the early storm scope. Saved my huevos several times. Try it you’ll love it – and quiet too!

  10. Dave P says:

    I think you’ve prematurely written off new twins because you left out another GA “major manufacturer:” Diamond Aircraft. Their new DA42-VI (“dash 6″) with 15 knots faster performance is so popular that you have to get on a waitlist and then can’t get one until at least May.

    With twin Mercedes (Austro) diesels, it’ll cruise at 190+ knots at 16 gph, or at 175 knots at a more reasonable 12 gph total. FADEC engine controls, air conditioning, FIKI, built-in O2, etc. The security of a 2nd engine costs only about $100K more than an equivalently-equipped new Cirrus Turbo or Cessna Corvalis. No parachute will help when you have to ditch in cold water or rough seas, and Diamonds with protected fuel tanks don’t catch fire like Cirri.

    My friend’s beautiful Baron sits in the hangar because he can no longer afford its fuel costs. In contrast, fuel costs for a DA42 twin are no higher than my single-engine DA40.

    What “killed the piston twins” is that they’re mostly 50+ year old designs.

  11. Murray Feddersen says:

    After an engine failure at 9,000ft at night in my Seneca when a valve stem broke and the valve hit the piston it will be hard to prize me out of a twin despite the extra fuel burn. The hardest part of the resultant flight was taxying on one engine after landing. Whilst there is a small window of exposure on takeoff when I effectively have a single engine aircraft, there are a lot more options in a twin for the rest of the flight.

  12. Karl says:

    I am currently flying a DA42NG in the process of getting my ATP rating. It is a very nice airplane for its design. A Garmin G1000 avionics suite and the twin Austro engines is a nice package. When you start looking at the utility of the airplane, you realize it isn’t that great. For approximately 3/4 of a million dollars you get a four seat aircraft that can’t fill four seats and full fuel. While the aircraft I rent does have the TKS ice protection, I’m mot aware of any radar options for that airplane. It is a nice flyer and it is a very fuel efficient. Contrasting that to my Stinson 108, I can carry full fuel, my entire family, and limited baggage for approximately $30,000. I’m not fast, have ice protection, nor the G1000 avionics. However I can do everything I need to do for far less money.
    I think this is another reason that twins are declining. Why pay big money for an airplane that at best is a three person airplane when for much less money, you can have a three person single.engine airplane. For those aeronautical engineers out there, design a twin that has a capabiility that I can’t get in a single and you will have hit the sweet spot.

    • Jason Depew says:

      Great article!

      I can fit my family of 4, full fuel and our bags in my 63-year old C-170A. With a Android tablet or iPad I can get situational awareness would cost me tens of thousands in a certified new piston single or old piston twin. I like Karl’s final thought: “For those aeronautical engineers out there, design a twin that has a capability that I can’t get in a single and you will have hit the sweet spot.”

      That being said, I’ve spent a lot of time flying PC-12s over cold oceans and bad-guy country for the USAF. It’s an awesome and reliable airplane, and I’m confident that I can safely land it on 900′ of relatively flat dirt. However, most of those times I would have preferred to have a second engine.

      I just got the Feb 13 edition of AOPA Pilot and it has the Velocity V-Twin on the cover. I was interested to see that he chose the same motor that’s in the TwinCo that’s getting so much love in the comments here. 175 kts at 12 GPH for 1400nm. Maybe he’s heading in the right direction…?

  13. Tom Helm says:

    I agree with the security of the Sirrus and its emergency chute, most of the time. However, in my airline career now retired, I know of two different pilots talking to controllers during engine out descent into Lake Michigan, in the winter. Neither survived. One of them I listened to on the ATC frequency while enroute to my destination. That still makes me cringe when I think about it.
    Other things have happened to me over my career that I wished had never happened, some preventible. In those preventable cases I had said to myself, “why did I do that”. The worse thing I can think of is having my family on board, with an engine failure over Lake Michigan and saying to myself “why did I do this”. I now consider that statement anytime a decision is required before proceeding on a questionable activity.
    The only single engine airplane I would consider safe to fly over any of the Great Lakes would be one of the turbo props that could get to sufficient altitude to give some landing options on closest side of the lake, not just to the shoreline. Some single engine recip pressurized aircraft could get high enough but take to long to climb to that altitude.
    I have explained my position several times to pilots that fly across Lake Michigan in 172′s or Cherokee’s, neither of which can go much above 10’000. Their reply and justification is always, “well I am only out of gliding range to land for a few miles”. Yep, they are right!
    Oh, I just remembered a single recip engine aircraft that could do it, a motorized glider.

  14. Kristin Winter says:

    I have a Twin Comanche because I would rather have two little Lycomings than one big Continental. I fly mostly out west and use the aircraft to get places when I need to get there. There isn’t much of California that I would be happy making a deadstick landing at night. I would only be somewhat more comfortable popping a chute than deadsticking over much of the state. Popping the chute over the Sierras looks like it would just mean you died more slowly, perhaps while being dismembered as the wreckage slide down a boulder strewn ravine.

    Mike, I disagree that the engine is most likely to quit at V1. With modern engine monitors, you are likely either to get some indication that all is not well on the take off roll, or something will start to go wrong later in the flight.

    ATP, A&P/IA

  15. Gary Black says:

    I’ve crossed over Lake Michigan dozens of times in a Cirrus. Even in a SR20 I can cross at 15,000 to 17,000 on O2. The lake is only 50 miles wide between Manitowac and Ludington. After 20 years of flying in the Navy, seeing water under me is pretty normal though.

  16. Neil says:

    Anyone who thinks a single is safer than a twin is just kidding them selves. Worst case scenario of engine failure shortly after take off if you are too low and slow just pull the good engine back and you have exactly the same situation as if you were a single. I can go further, ( almost 1900 miles) faster ( 165 knots) using less fuel ( 13 gallons an hour total) than any of my big engine single friends. The only thing that would get me out of my twin Comanche would be a turbine that burns kerosene.

    Neil ATP ( 20,000 plus hours) A and P / IA ( 50 years)

  17. Stephen says:

    The obvious killed the piston twin, fuel price. Then there is pilot workload versus the single-engine mouse pad. Name a piston twin that’ll do 1000 fpm @ gross with one inoperative, maybe the Riley Rocket 310 on a cool day. The Twin Comanche has all beat here for efficiency, cruise, and range. It’s simple, straight forward to fly, and not that bad on one-engine. Insurance is another matter unless you have PPL, Comm, MEL, and ATP. The Aerostar out-runs most piston twins in cruise, but be ready to fly it slow and be good at it..

  18. David Taylor says:

    Taking all the negatives into consideration about flying and owning a twin and wanting to preserve the positives, I installed 2 Corvette engines (LS7s) in a Skymaster and renamed it “Skyvette”. It uses economical unleaded auto fuel, has no trouble taking off on one engine and climbs and cruises like a rocket. This was, of course, a very expensive and timing consuming solution, but I frequently fly over water and didn’t want an unscheduled swim. I did loose and engine in over Lake Michigan in the winter a few years ago in another plane, so I know it can. PS you can see it on Skyvette.com

    • Paul Johnson says:

      I would love to be able to talk to you about your conversion. I am thinking about doing something similar.

      Paul Johnson

  19. Peyton H. Robinson says:

    I seriously considered the DA42 before buying my Columbia 400. I live in Salt Lake City, and mountains are an obvious issue (like crossing Lake Michigan, an off-airport landing would not be fun). But the darn cost of the twin engines is comparatively huge, versus the risk of an engine failure in flight.

    Plus, I can cruise up to FL25, and hit 235 knots if I wanted to (though more typically 190 knots in cruise). I can haul ass on 15 gph. To do this in a twin would require some serious $$$$$.

    Twin-schmin — would love to own one, maybe the extra engine would increase the safety margin (and a parachute is a huge safety increase) the Barons are lovely planes, but I agree with the post: “For those aeronautical engineers out there, design a twin that has a capabiility that I can’t get in a single and you will have hit the sweet spot.”

    • Charlie Calkins says:

      In the fifites, abusiness man use to fly a Bonanza into our airport (South Haven, Mi.) from St. Paul, Min. going to somewhere in Ohio. He stated that we were halfway and would fuel up coming from and going back to St. Paul. He flew across Lake Michigan on an angle. Once I asked him if it worried him to fly a single across the lake, especially on an angle. He chuckled and stated he flew fighters off a carrier during WWII in the Pacific and Lake Michigan was just a pond to him. So I guess twin engine or single is all relative.

  20. Ed says:

    Another thing to consider is the very important non pilot wife comfort factor since she ultimately can derail any airplane ownership. Flew singles and argued with wife about the joy and benefit of flying for years. Finally got smart and got a nice older air conditioned, pressurized, wide twin with a toilet in. Paid about 1/3 the cost of equivalent single. Extra cost for fuel, maintenance and insurance is relative to the fixed price of owning a nice plane. Having a happy wife who wants to go places in it…priceless.

    • Richard says:

      This basically seals the deal. When it comes down to it the non-flying public is just more comfortable with the above situation.

  21. Mac says:

    Ed, you make the most important point. I can’t think of anything that has grounded more pilots and their airplane ownership plans than an unhappy spouse.
    Mac Mc

  22. Ramiro Silveira says:

    In the turboprops niche I see the market divided, Caravan, TBM and Malibu have a relative success when compared to twin competitors.
    Tell me why this does not happen with light jets?
    Why single jets like Cirrus SJ-50, Eclipse 400 and others projects went to the shelves?
    Removing the other jet engine would make a strong reduction in costs, while not impacting safety that much…

  23. Duane Swing says:

    Hi Mac,
    It is strange that the V-Twin by Velocity solves almost all the problems associated with the demise of the twin engine airplane and yet the EAA and Sport Aviation is the only association who haven’t ask for a photo shoot or a pilot report on this home built airplane.


  24. Gerry Parker says:

    Good points – but… I like the extra fan in IMC conditions, at night, over water or mountains. I have had three engine problems in twins and one in a Bonanza. In the case of the twins, I flew to a nearby airportof my choice and landed. In the single engine Bonanza I landed in a cotton field – airplane undamaged, but what if I had been somewhere else, in low IMC conditions, at night, over water or over rough terrain?

    If you fly in day time and with decent ceilings, not over water or mountains, singles are great. Otherwise, I want the twin – and I think it is a lot safer for such operations. All the parachute does over water is postpone your drowning.

  25. Matt Hurley says:

    For the record, Vans production of piston kits has increased over the last 30 years – this is an EAA not ‘Flying’ blog after all!!

  26. N505CM says:

    Don’t forget the high performance twin will outdo any piston single when it comes to storage and loading. I have yet to see a Cirrus or any piston single at Mammoth Lakes unload 4 passengers, skis, baggage and 4 grown men after flying over 200nm.

    • N505CM says:

      meant to say including 4 broad shouldered men “comfortably”.

      Now how many pilots have that kind of payload requirement? Probably not many but I am one of them and the Cessna 310R is the only machine in my price range that can do the job.

      • Mac says:

        You’re right about capacity and payload in the twin vs. single. Most twins have a nose baggage compartment and that allows loadings that would put the CG out the aft end in a single. A Baron can carry 300 bounds in the nose, and there is enough room for golf clubs to fit. And when you leave out fuel to increase payload in the twin you make gains in a hurry. If the fuel flow is 30 gallons per hour, leaving out one hour of fuel gains a full 180 pound passenger of payload.
        Mac Mc

  27. Dan Nelson says:

    Mac, interesting reading here. A lot of good points. Some trepidation on night flying, water flying, mountain flying all feeding into a personal comfort factor. Everyone of us has different levels from each other. All personal limits aside. The cost of operation is a huge factor. Twin owners must admit that even the gained saftey of the extra fan is limited by cost. If saftey is paramount then twin turbine has it over the twin piston and probably the turbine single. So we have to find the best compromise for ourselves. At Airventure I see the passing of the torch. The round engine fellows with crankcases full of gallons of oil and fuel burn of these old singles that can more than match the thrist of more conventional twins. Now we have fantastic plastic with “welded on gear”, I like that term, that are pushing the 40-60 yrs birds like Bonanzas and Barrons along side the Staggerwings and Twin Beeches, just for examples, I fly a Bonanza. Diesel engine technology with lower fuel consumption and better than matching performance has the ability to bring back flight time even all the way back to retrofitted Twin Beeches perse. The cost of retrofitting will have to be sane though. This would still be the next stepping stone until Diesel fuel prices start to soar and then we have to look to hybridization. We may not be able to get that far down the runway, by then government regulations will have quelled flying by that time.

  28. Rob says:

    Everything said here is true but one thing has been missed… There is a generational change happening. The guys flying the twins are as old as the twins plus. The figures on new pilots tell the story. Flying is boring to many of the later generation when they now have so much cheap technology to choose from, cars are so cheap and luxurious, and air travel is so cheap. Also there is not the ‘effort ethic’ that existed in our day. There is not the ‘need’, not the ‘interest’ not the ‘mystique’, not the ‘over the fence’ interest, not the uniqueness, not the money and not the desire. If the young can’t do it with an ‘electronic’ gadget from an armchair they question its purpose and usefulness. Society has disconnected from itself. Ever heard of ‘Facebook’, ‘Twitter’ “tweets’ etc etc.? I owned a PA31 for 22 years after flying every single in the book. Greatest aeroplane on the face of the earth. But I sold it. Why? Just getting old (me), and no one in the younger generation had the time and interest to either keep it going, or come along for the ride. So I see it as like the Roman Empire, the rise and fall of grass roots private middle class aviation. Will it come back? Not in this cost and society interest environment. The wheel will have to be re-invented for a new generation, maybe right back to simple open air rag and tube. No hassle, no bureaucracy, when the values that we grew up with and understood are rediscovered. Maybe never…

    • James says:

      Excellent point Rob — I’m one of the ‘older’ guys that started flying in 1970. The world has changed. Modern plastic airplanes are like electronic toasters. We’re in the next era of aviation.

  29. Bob Turner says:

    How about a dose of reality? Notice how every one of the twin owners here invoked the word “safety”? And yet, year after year, the NTSB records show the fatal accident rate for twins is no better than high performance singles, and is worse than all singles. People can rationalize all they want, but the facts tell the story.

    • Kristin Winter says:

      That statistic is flawed to as it doesn’t compare apples to apples. To get a better comparison, you would have to compare twins and singles that come from the same airframe, i.e. Bonanzas and Barons, Single and Twin Comanches, etc. Then you would look at aircraft that are presumably flown on more similar missions by similarly experienced pilots. To lump a C-421 into one group and compare it to a group containing Cubs, etc. renders the “facts” meaningless. This statistic is also flowed as it does not track the number of times that I twin gets to an airport safely after a failure that would bring a single down.

      • Bob Turner says:

        Once again, this is wishful thinking. Look only at twins vs ‘high performance’ singles, e.g., singles which are comparable in speed and payload. Their fatal accident rates are the same. If a twin comes home on one engine, or a single makes it into a cornfield, either way no one died. The reason their accident rates are the same is simple: engine failures account for a statistically small fraction of the fatalities. Throw in a few Vmc accidents each year and twins look the same as singles.

        • Kristin Winter says:

          I am not sure where you come up with those figures, but there are statistics for singles that crash in cornfields. Not so for twins that make it back. You also have to weed out disparate mission profiles to get more accurate statistics. I don’t know that data of that type exists, but it appears from my 34 years in aviation that twins have historically been out thrashing around in much heavier weather than singles. The fact is that the statistics are not complete enough to draw sweeping conclusions about the safety of singles versus twins.

          • Bob Turner says:

            Well, in fact there are no statistics for singles that glide into airports (which happens more often than one would think) or land in cornfields or highways with no damage, either. But, I specifically said “fatal accident rate”. The death rate is pretty well known, and tabulated by the NTSB. To answer your question about my source, I’m repeating what a well know aviation writer (and twin owner) wrote some years ago, but since I don’t have his permission to quote him I won’t mention his name. His article’s conclusions were: (1) for pilots whose typical (not occasional) mission was over cold open water or very rugged terrain, or (2) those pilots who emulated the airlines and underwent regular (6 month) simulator training (simulator, because the things needing practice were too dangerous to do in a real airplane!), then these pilots were a little safer in twins. But the typical twin pilot doesn’t fit either of these, and he would be a bit better off in a single with similar speed, endurance, load carrying ability. The real problem: no one wants to characterize themselves as “typical”; or “worse than average”, even though that term must apply to half of the pilots out there.

          • Kristin Winter says:

            I haven’t seen any source statistics that compared high performance singles of the same speed ratings with equivalents twins. The statistics quoted by Richard Collins over the years lumps all twins together and compares them with all singles. I just don’t believe that the statistics prove that the mere presence of a second engine makes the aircraft less safety. I will agree that if I look over the 4000+ hours I have flowns twins and compare with the 4000+ hours I have flown singles, I am sure that I was at greater risk in the twins. Not because there were two engines, but because I was flying all weather operations around the Great Lakes as opposed to VFR flight instruction which is the majority of my single engine time. Now that I am not flying for a living and don’t have to get someplace, I am sure that for any given mission, I am safer in my PA-30 than I would be in a PA-24, as the mission would be the same.

            My whole point is that the fatal accident rates are too generalized to say that any given twin is more dangerous than any given single.


  30. Bob Turner says:

    My RV-10 will make that mythical 200nm trip, land with an hour and a half reserves, and unload four 200 lb people, each with 30 lbs of bags. Yes, the skis will have to go down the center tunnel, but the trip will only take a bit over an hour and burn 14 gallons of gas. The extra roominess of the twin comes at a high cost.

  31. Remo De Feo says:

    Vulcanair Aircraft manufactures light twins. Many of our customers appreciate them because they are modern and with rather small engines so they don’t use much fuel and are easy to fly. Apart from fuel cost for which I agree, Twin engine aircraft are being “sabotaged” by the mainstream GA Manufacturers, because they don’t produce twin engine aircraft. They prefer focusing on Jets (they make more money) or single engine (they make more money). For some applications twin engine piston aircraft are still necessary. If and when fuel costs or new motorizations come to the market accepting Mogas or Diesel with a lightweight engine then my guess many people will have a second look at twin engine aircraft. In addition also for the young people out there. Twin engine aircraft are a central part of training. As a personal opinion if cost was not an issue I would rather be in a twin anytime over a single engine aircraft. So beware to sanction the death to things which are not dead yet.. Sometimes they come back. Especially outside the U.S. where other countries don’t have the infrastructure you have. Flying a single engine over the Amazon or over extended water will not make you feel safe even if you have a parachute.

  32. Richard Collins says:

    Kristen: I also developed numbers for individual types to address the question you raised.

    • Kristin Winter says:


      Were the statistics published any place? Were these derived from the NSTB database? I would definitely like to take a look at them.


  33. Peter H says:

    An interesting article.

    What I find curious are the comments about flying over water. As a SE (IO540) pilot with 1500+hrs, I always fly with a life raft on the back seat. That is a viable escape route; a good number of people have ditched successfully. And one is not that likely to be flying “light GA” in severe weather of the kind needed to produce massive swells, anyway.

    So take out the water crossings as a reason for a twin, and how does the picture change?

    And over land, most of the time, there are places one could get down.

    I fly in Europe, often straight over the Alps, without concern, because the exposure to an engine failure is relatively short.

    But I can understand that once you are a twin owner, you are unlikely to go back unless you can no longer afford the fuel :)

    The other big social change has been that standards and expectations have gone up; most people have surrounded themselves with stuff that looks nice, is stylish, etc. This is the result of increased material prosperity. But apart from the DA42, twins in production are near-WW2 designs and they look it even if bought brand new. The DA42 has suffered from engine problems and general build quality.

  34. Charlie says:

    I own a Piper Apache, fly a stock IGSO Beech Queen air and Robertson Cessna 421 corporate and Beech 18 with Skydivers all out of a 2000 ft strip. Not my first choice but it’s all I have. With some careful attention it’s possible. We’ve operated twins here since the first twin Comanche in 1960′s. Cessna 310Q and Twin Bonanza after that. All conditions and seasons. Even when the strip was grass. I’m much more comfortable landing the twins on this runway than a high performance single like a Mooney or Comanche. The twins land exactly where they are pointed with no float or fuss. The props make more drag to help slow down as soon as the throttles are chopped. My only crashes have been in singles and the engine failures in the twins have always been able to get me home. Catastrophic failures like thrown rods, blown jugs, broken master rod, swallowed valves, oil pumps case cracks etc. Then add in dual mag failure, single mag failure, carb venturi failure, broken engine mount… Had it all happen at least once.
    Yes the twin is vulnerable during takeoff, but after that it’s mainly a matter of pilot skill and planning to minimize the risk. A high performance single is vulnerable the entire flight. anything that needs more than an 80 mph approach speed I’d rather a twin. I feel perfectly safe with the family in the old 160 hp G model Apache. It’s the safest airplane I could buy. reliable high tbo simple carbureted engines. rubber bladder fuel cells behind the wing spar and outboard of the engines, Low pressure fuel system, low stall speed, double structure cabin (tube frame and aluminum) wheels exposed on the bottom, props forward of the cabin, tube engine mounts. Backup hydraulic hand pump and Co2 blowdown bottle. Dual vac pumps and generators which will self excite. High redline and green arc ratio to cruise speed. 1500 lbs useful load
    160 mph at 7500 on 16-18 GPH total and 56 mph stall at gross. I can trim hands off with one engine at high cruise and still indicate 125 mph burning 10 gph. Same speed with two engines is 11 gph. 108 gallons capacity.
    Compare numbers to a stock Cherokee 6 or 206. then compare purchase price.

    • Charlie says:

      Sorry it’s 115 mph on one. hit wrong key. 125 would be coming downhill. Thats at 4000 with full inboards (72 gallons) and 3 onboard. We were testing for an infrared camera install which would replace the nose. Seeing if I could climb out of a engine failure from the normal 65 mph survey speed. It’s not too bad. Just push the good engine up till you can’t hold it with rudder. feather the bad one, Add more power till it starts to swing, then dive a little, add more power until you are up to VMC. Keep adding power and get to blueline to climb. Even with the bottom engine failing during turns it was very recoverable and able to keep going. This is with no VG’s but an aftermarket small dorsal fin installed, Standard wing tips.

  35. Enzo marrucci says:

    two are better than one.
    I am flying a partenavia P 68 from 1976 with no problem and my thinking was that for a average pilot a single engine is less dangerus.
    Last years my son was going to take two engine abilitation with a instructor when a valve broken , with one engine he landed in a airport 20 miles away with no problem , from than my feeling is that on P68 two are better than one.

  36. Greg Baron says:

    I have flown my P337H for 26 years. It handles like a T210 on either engine. The single engine altitude is 14k on either engine. It will continue to climb on one engine on takeoff. The P337 is a great aircraft albeit some what unconventional in a safer manner.

  37. jmgarrett says:

    A twin like the Cessna 310 is less expensive overall as the purchase price of the twin v the purchase price of a cirrus will more than make up for the additional fuel costs. as pointed out the twin is safer an night, certainly night IRF, over water, over mountains with redundant systems (alternator, etc) oh and did I mention there is an extra engine? With GAMI injectors, my 310Q gets 185 knots at 14000 with 20 gph

    Between 2001 and September 2012 144 US-registered Cirrus SR22 aircraft crashed, resulting in 115 fatalities.[25]
    In 2011 the accident record of the SR20 and 22 was the subject of a detailed examination by Aviation Consumer magazine. its fatal accident rate is much worse at 1.6 per 100,000 flight hours, placing it higher than the United States general aviation rate of 1.2. For some reason, the accident rate of the Cirrus is higher despite the parachute etc

  38. Paul Osborn says:

    Just wanted to point out what nobody mentioned regarding costs:

    Overhauling two engines will cost more than overhauling one.

  39. Ali Azzabi says:

    Fuel and maintenance cost against safety what I am gonna chose safety.
    I believe that the American manufacturers were not serious about changing to diesel piston engines and I am sure if they did, a better US one would be in the market long time ago, and may be better than the existing Centorion diesel engine>that is for fuel cost.
    To reduce pilot load in case of one engine failure, why an auto feather system is not introduced for the twin piston engine?

  40. Jim Dondorf says:

    For what its worth my viewpoint on all this is a man flies what he wants to fly and has it outfitted the way he chooses. Either Twin or Single the debate will never end because there is no rationality to any of it. A twin guy on high doesn’t point down to a single below gliding silently to the best site possible any more than a single guy that just safely landed crossing water or Mountains points the twin on the ramp and says “see I don’t need that!”
    The AC we choose is a great thing to behold in itself. We all know the inherent risks in bicycling too/Fly what you want, keep yourself and your machine in the best shape possible and get on with the magic of seeing this great Earth slide by below at the rate/pace/useful load and bells and whistles that make you feel great.
    Hell that guy with the Stinson Gullwing eating a homemade sandwich at 5K ft is as happy (or happier) than the C310 cruiser above or the M20F express out there going where he be going. If your in it for the “safety margin” of twin vs Single splat statistics its all BS. They’re all fantastic beautiful flying machines in the best land there is to fly. Pick your magic carpet and keep the edge on training and make the bird all it can be and your doing the best you can. The lucky few that get to strap into those ramskin leather seats of turbines are indeed fortunate to experience what they do. It amazes me how much they snarl at another ho hum trip. Remember the poor SOB’s that delivered the mail in Jennies in the fog. We’ve come a long way and the fact is THERE HAVE NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO BUY AN AIRCRAFT OF ANY TYPE THAN NOW! Just look at the asking prices and selection and deals that can be made? It’s incredible. Get what you want, heck buy two.
    I think its one of the best times going to acquire a nice single, twin or antique.
    I disagree with that mindset that the young are bored with older planes. That sounds like a PR guy for expensive plastic parachute planes. The young are very much like you were then and know a nice air cruiser when they see one. They still have guts and dreams like we all do …so take one under your wing and give him some flight time in exchange for washing the girl and waxing her. Help them into the air world, share the knowledge. American Aviators are the finest group anywhere.
    Stop whining about fuel cost! Waiting for that miraculous Diesel engine retrofit is not practical, prudent or wise. Geez just throw more money at a tank full and take that trip. Stay at the controls, get the dust off you and her and get up there. It’s still the greatest thrill for the buck and you know it. You invested a lot in training and keeping your ac in top order…so get her there again and see the world. There’s always a willing youngster to keep you smiling. Take on a partner with one. Mentors are most in demand right now.
    Aviation isn’t dead its just our spirits and lack of ingenuity that has died. Its all still here though. So roll back the hangar -doors and let the light in. The Good ole days aint coming back. We have all these real nice ones just slipping on by though.
    Any thing you fly is the best you can have at the time. Keeping any AC airworthy is an honorable thing. In this country you can move up to whatever you want to experience.
    The biggest safety factor is your skills and experience. Buy what you want, Fly what you want but fly as much as you can. Overall its the best adventure going. Other than one of those parachute rides……yeeez! Think I like the cornfield Wentworth special approach more. Just walk out, learn from it and buy another one!
    FLY NAVY .Lake Michigan really is a big Pond!

  41. Binareo says:

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  42. Jon says:

    I need to upgrade from my Cardinal RG to a six seater because my family doesn’t all fit anymore (wife and 3 kids). I can’t leave town on an adventure if they can’t all come, so 6 is mandatory. My wife gets nauseated bouncing around in the cardinal but im fortunate because she tells me to keep flying and “get something that goes high, has club seating, and is safe.” Twin VS single debate has kept me paralyzed with the cardinal and flying locally, alone. I work in a local ER and last month took care of a 40yo man who died in beige Volvo complete with 12 airbags when a drunk crosses the center line and squashed him….. And I’ve seen plenty of 30 year olds who are otherwise healthy who’ve just had their first seizure. Neither of those two poor schmucks will be flying a twin or a single….. ever. Doesn’t matter what I decide, I may have my first seizure tomorrow or my family may be broadsided in our safe little mini-van by some strung out meth-head on the way to Dollar General for Cheetohs. What I am NOT GOING TO DO is sit around and NOT make a decision. I’m getting one or the other and if the shoe doesn’t fit, I’ll sell the danged thing and adjust fire, chocking it up to a lesson learned. I cherish every minute I’ve ever spent in every airplane and to not share that with my entire family would be…..tragic. Thanks to all who have contributed as this is a great thread.

  43. I had been flying a 252 Mooney across the Atlantic for 12 years, now since 4 years a Piper Malibu. I did fly a Piper Seneca for various trips, but there is no comparison to the comfort and speed of the Piper Malibu with a true airspeed of 200 in the higher flight levels. Flying a single with a good engine monitor and a good fuel flow system, there will be no sudden surprises of engine or fuel problems. So the better handling and performance make an appropriately equipped single a much safer aircraft.
    Some of my trips can also be seen here: https://www.pinterest.com/karlheinzz/

  44. Penni says:

    truly very good points here, just many thanks

  45. Lashawn says:

    Hey I am so glad I found your webpage, I really found you by accident, while I was
    researching on Bing for something else, Anyways I am here now and
    would just like to say thank you for a fantastic post and a all round
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  46. JohnM says:

    Can someone tell me what’s the operating cost, on average for a Seneca IV or V (practically the same ac)… ?

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