Monday, February 4, 2008

Piper Meridian Test Flight

Note: I took a demo flight in a Piper Meridian on Nov 2, 2007. This is my PIREP.

Flying Characteristics:


Startup is straightforward. The avionics, including the AHRS, come up before starting the engine, so there is less wait time on the ground. Before the fuel page, the MFD reports if there have been any prior overload conditions. The big Avidyne engine monitoring page provides plenty of information to monitor the startup.

Taxiing is easy. You leave the prop in beta and steer with the movable nosewheel. Brakes are hardly necessary. The parking brake is easy to set without stomping on the pedals.

While being docile with a new demo plane, the Meridian didn't quite jump off the runway. Vr is 85 KTS and the first 1000' were slower than expected.

Departing from runway 11, there was slow traffic immediately in front us transitioning along route 128. We needed a sharp turn to the left which was handled well by the plane.

It's very easy to exceed Vne in level flight below 20,000'. You get a warning horn and the PFD airspeed indicator flashes red. There is no yellow arc.

Climbing to 16,500' took about 12 minutes taking into account leveling off under the Boston Bravo. We were at altitude by MHT and did airwork between MHT and LEB.

Steep turns require two hands on the yoke for heavy back pressure. The feel of the plane is solid throughout, including dirty slow flight, like a sportier version of the PC12.

Avionics:


The Avidyne / Garmin 430 combination is almost identical to the Cirrus. I felt immediately at home. The second PFD/AHRS is reassuring given the number of previous PFD failures. There are tiny backup gauges in the top left which are less usable than the backup Cirrus gauges but at least the attitude indicator is independently battery backed up. The two PFDs are slaved but could be decoupled.

The STEC 1500 attitude-based autopilot is significantly better than the cheap 55X in the Cirrus. However, it isn't as well integrated with PFD. All altitude presets, airspeeds and VSI are set directly on the autopilot. The right side softkeys of the PFD are useless except for the altimeter.

The MFD is slightly different. Each of the two knobs contains an inner and outer dial, which is easier to use than the sometimes overloaded single knob in the Cirrus. Onboard radar is a separate page and controlled directly by the MFD. There are no electronic checklists, which I never use anyway, though the emergency checklist would have been useful. The rest is the same: moving map including engine monitoring, TAWS, CMax, Trip/XM weather, Nearest and Engine.

There is Skywatch and optional IHAS. Dual transponders are an option. This plane had every option except the European avionics.

Cabin and Comfort:


The seats are very comfortable, on a par with a luxury car. The cockpit feels spacious. Forward visibility isn't as good as the Cirrus, though certainly more than adequate. Side visibility is better as the pilot is further forward in front of the wings.

Getting into the cockpit is easier than getting out. There's a three point safety belt instead of four. It'd be nice to have an AMSAFE option especially without a parachute. Getting out of the cockpit is tight and awkward. You end up falling over the rear facing seats.

The cabin is more comfortable than expected. A tall person can certainly stretch out and have excellent visibility. Opposing faced adults would certainly jostle their legs but fit. There's a cheap plastic fold out table which is too far away to put a laptop. With a bed, your dogs would likely have plenty of space on the floor. Passengers would certainly be more comfortable here than in the Cirrus.

There are six standard headset plugs, but no LEMO connectors. There are no power outlets, but this is commonly added by an avionics shop. There's an optional radio/CD storage bin combo. XM music channels are not available.

It was a pleasant day so we didn't really exercise the environmental systems. It was always comfortable, never breezy and the pressurization went unnoticed. The turbine is of course much smoother than any piston.

Baggage space is a problem. Like the TBM, the only space is accessible by folding down the rear seats. The limit is only 100lbs. You can buy a golf club net for a mere $2100. With the seats folded down, you can lay flat a bike or two.

There are two little external cubbies. One in the empennage for storing rags, and another is behind the weather radar for slow cooking a chicken.

Sound Measurements:


Pilot ear level: 89 dB

Rear facing left and right seats: 88

Forward facing left seat: 86

Forward facing right seat: 91

I measured these twice to be sure and have no explanation for the big gap in noise between the two seats. It would be possible to keep headsets off in the cabin without too much discomfort, but conversation would be difficult. The turbine has a pleasant steady whine rather than the pounding of the pistons.

Market and financials:


This new plane is available now for $2M. It’s unsold inventory. A new custom configuration has a 60-90 day lead time. An early ’06 model, which is when the Avidyne was introduced, ranges from $1.5M-$1.7M. There are plenty on the market and aren’t selling apparently. According to Vref, prices for both the Meridian and the TBM are neutral or falling. In contrast, the PC12 is increasing.

For my missions, the Meridian would be adequate. I can’t justify the additional $1M for a new TBM’s additional range, payload and speed. The G1000 TBM is not available for a year. One option still to investigate is 700B model with steam gauges.

Summary:


For the Cirrus pilot, the Meridian is the shortest path to turbine flying. The avionics are basically the same. I'd likely feel comfortable with the new systems, including the turbine, within 10-20 hours. It would take more time to get used to high altitude weather and flying in occasional icing.

4 comments:

Mungo Jerry said...

So the S-Tec 55 X is cheap. Uh, ok, lmao. Yep, 20K sure is cheap. Have another cocktail on me will you.

David Wihl said...

Well, it's a part that represents just 1% of the plane's cost, yet is used 95% or more of flying time. It's simply not as good as newer alternatives like the Garmin 700, which fortunately Piper chose for new Meridians now.

If someone is still buying these planes at $2.1M new when you can get an almost new Mustang for about the same price, they must be enjoying their drinks too.

Bart C said...

I can think of thousands of reasons to choose the Meridian over the Mustang even if the purchase price is the same; I am referring to the thousands of dollars in operating cost you will save flying the Meridian. The Mustang consumes more than double the Jet A per mile than the Meridian, additionally maintenance, insurance, engine overhauls and training costs are all significantly higher with the Mustang. To suggest that purchase price alone is the only or most important consideration for an airplane purchase is to put it kindly, naïve
The Cessna Mustang is a great airplane, and sexy to. We all want to be a Jet Jockey. So if you have the money fly one. But to suggest that if someone buys a Meridian over a Mustang they must be drinking is just a stupid statement. I hope you don’t use the same reasoning when you fly.

Christmas said...

Autopilot Buyers