Very few might be aware of the Altaire single-engine jet from Piper. The aircraft, which had a Williams turbofan engine integrated into the tail, was likened by many to a mini DC-10.
The project was on time and within budget, but the project was still turned down and the reason was the Great Recession during 2008. The announcement for the “indefinite suspension” of the Altaire jet was made by Piper’s new CEO, Simon Caldecott.
The market for very light jets was predicted to be less certain than it was during the real-estate-bubble prior to 2008. Piper, somehow, was not able to launch this project commercially and that aircraft soon went into history books.
Piper was left with no project for that moment. The aircraft manufacturing company gave answer of its failed project in the form of a Meridian turboprop named, the M600.
The objective was to create a Meridian turboprop single which can stand out among the new fleet of light jets and pricier turboprops. In order to make this happen, four big changes were required.
The first and foremost was to design a new wing, boost the flat rated horsepower of the new model, add the latest Garmin touchscreen avionics and improve the interior.
Piper used its Altaire program experience in designing and manufacturing the M600. What was realized was a PA-46 that had a clean-sheet wing, an extra 100 shp compared to the M500, Garmin G3000 avionics and stylish interior.
The final product was an aircraft that was much better than the original Malibu Meridian which was launched in the market nearly 20 years back.
The evolution of Piper M600 brought this aircraft closer to some pricier turbine options. The new wing of M600 were different from the Altaire, as the Piper engineers used their experience from jet program.
Piper started by asking its customers and dealers as to what they want in the Meridian. The research concluded that they want the airplane to carry more, fly farther and go faster – really, what else can they ask for?
Some of the numbers that were put down from research analysis were boosting range to at least 1,000 nm, a 250 knot VMO, and a payload of 800 pounds or better.
Piper not only fulfilled its objectives with the M600, it also surpassed them along with making some remarkable improvements. With Canada’s Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A engine, the airplane’s power was increased to 600 shp.
Engineers tested the new wings on new computer load analysis software and and the clean sheet design they created not only improved performance, but was able to carry 90 gallons more fuel as compared to the original one.
These two factors resulted in increased range from 1,000 NM in the M500 to 1,484 NM in the M600, with a reserve of 45 minutes and a long-range cruise speed of 184 KTAS.
At its max cruise speed of 274 KTAS, the M600 can fly to more than 1,000 NM. The aircraft can fly 800 NM in one go with 1,000 pounds worth of bags and people. It doesn’t have a lavatory on-board, so this is as far someone on the plane can go before asking for a pit stop, anyway.
Lets Take The M600 In Air
As I looked around the new M600, its new wing had thick chord line and slightly upturned tips. The leading-edge cuffs of M600 had integrated deice boots and and a new in-wing radar pod the encased the Garmin GWX 70.
During pre-flight briefing I was told that this aircraft can be taken to a maximum of 17,500 feet as the transponder was out of date on this. The feel of the M600 is heavier than the original Meridian, due to its bigger wings and the fact it is a heavier airplane as compared to its predecessors.
The controls of the Piper M600 are in excellent harmony even at low speed. One will not have any complain flying M600 once they get used to the controls after flying for few hours. To throw the airplane around one does need the extra heft.
The POH of M600 says the aircraft can climb from sea level to FL 280 in just 31 minutes at a temperature of ISA +15 and max gross weight. This impressive climb times is provided by the increased flat-rated horsepower at lower temperature and weights. The new wing design provides better performance at higher altitude.
The fuel burns at around 39 GPH at reduced power setting, which is quite competitive in its category. TBM 930 from Daher, for instance, is around 60 knots faster than the M600, but this achievement comes at a cost. TBM burns 60 gallons of fuel in an hour and costs $1.5 million more.
Budget-constrained buyers of TBM have a good option in the form of Piper M600. It carries a price tag of $2.853 million and is a sensible alternative to speedier and pricier TBM aircraft from Daher.
Even if you put in some famous options in Piper M600, it will cost just above $3 million, which is much lower than the $4 million plus price tag of TBM 930.
Improvement in Interior
It is in the cockpit and cabin of M600 where you will see the big change from Piper. There has been remarkable improvement in the cabin interior of M600 over the original Meridians. In the front, the cockpit is equipped with Garmin G3000 much similar to that of TBM 930.
USB charging ports have been positioned within comfortable reach from all the seats. The interior has an overall sleek look, including lower side panels and nicely rounded table accents, and not to miss are the cup holders that are big enough to hold a can of soda.
Piper followed the reverse order to make improvements to the cabin, and the positive results are clearly visible. An external company was hired to build the cabin mock-up for M600, along with inputs from the internal marketing team.
Including the G3000 avionics was an obvious choice, as it would have form part of the standard package in the Altaire jet had the project been completed. The system has a number of envelope protection features that are available on a number of turboprops models and jets.
Some of the features of G3000 include overspeed and underspeed protection (USP), which raises and lowers the nose automatically in case the speed climbs above VMO or decays dangerously; Enhanced Stability Protection (ESP) which brings back the airplane to controlled flight automatically if certain bank and pitch parameters are crossed.
The G3000 also has ADS-B capability, synthetic vision and emergency descent mode. One more noteworthy feature in Piper M600 is the coupled go-around, wherein the autopilot is kept engaged at the time of missed approach. It makes use of USP to avoid airplane stall in case sufficient power is not put in by the pilot.
The M600 also has a blue LVL button which can be used for upset recovery and the bring the aircraft back to controlled flight. There are three main flight displays that enables for almost countless configurations of data and information.
The PFD can be divided into 60 – 40 for example, which can show altitude and speed along with digitized Jeppesen approach plate. Two GTC 580 touchscreens are positioned below the primary displays in portrait format. The popular Aspen Avionics Evolution PFD serves as the backup flight instrument.
After trying a number of maneuvers including the power-on and power-off stalls, and steep turns, we turned back to Vero Beach for some takeoffs and landings.
I configured the aircraft for some RNAV LPV approach to Runway 12R. Using the flight director, I hand flew the aircraft. Piper M600 is a joy to fly at slower speeds. The landing was smooth at the conclusion of the approach. Adding the power, I decided to takeoff for some circuit flying.
The additional 110 horses are distinctly noticeable in the M600 during takeoff as it produces a max torque of 1,575 pounds on full power, as compared to 1,310 pounds created by M500.
Fine tunning the airplane for lower power setting requires a little bit of finesse with the throttle. Grasp the throttle a bit low on the handle by using just the thumb and forefinger and make small power adjustments.
The Piper M600 has only three setting for flaps: up, approach and landing, this trend is found on many airplanes these days. On reaching the pattern altitude, the power was pulled back to 550 pounds of torque, landing gears were extended, than the first notch of flaps.
On reaching the final, the power was reduced further and landing flaps were added. All of my landings were smooth, as I kept the M600 between 80 – 85 knots on short final. The brakes of this airplane are beefy and big, however, beta thrust is somehow lackluster.
Legacy Flight Training in Vero Beach was picked up by Piper for the initial training of M600. Customers will get training for five days, whose cost in included in the purchase price.
The aircraft engine comes with a warranty of seven-year from Pratt & Whitney, while the propeller, avionics and airframe comes with five years warranty. Even though the engine power is increased, its TBO remains to be 3,600 hours.
A number of options are available in the 2016 models of M600, including an Iridium voice and data transceiver for texting and calling worldwide, a Surface Watch taxi safety system from Garmin, TCAS I traffic collision avoidance system, among others.
Features that come as standard in Piper M600 include USB charging ports, deice boots, GWX 70 weather radar, envelope-protection safety and Aspen standby instrument.
With the M600, Piper has fulfilled much of its objectives and delivered what the market was asking for. It can be said to be a much improved version of PA-46. The cockpit and cabin of the aircraft has been upgraded to give tough competition to top brand airplanes.
Not to forget the operating economics which makes many other turboprop owners envious. There is no doubt in saying that buyers who have an eye on TBM will certainly consider the Piper M600 and will definitely take into account the trade-offs in performance are worth the savings.