Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Piston Singles Buyer's Guide 2014

Sixteen models that provide transport for two to six folks at speeds as high as 235 knots

Mooney Aircraft

Mooney Acclaim
Acclaim S
When Mooney was building the Acclaim S, the type was almost unquestionably the world's fastest certified production piston-engine airplane, regardless of the number of engines. I flew one of the last of the type before the shutdown (with the boarding step conveniently removed) and saw an average, two-way, GPS groundspeed of 239 knots at 25,000 feet. That's close to turboprop speeds. Late this year, a new Type S should be recording the same speed. The Acclaim's only competition is the Corvalis TTx, and the TTx is probably five to 10 knots slower at the same height (though, incredibly, the Corvalis scores its performance with fixed gear). Useful load on the Acclaim S is about 1,000 pounds. Subtract 100 gallons of fuel, and you're down to a 400 pound payload. Options include air conditioning and TKS ice protection. Price NA.

Mooney Ovation
Ovation II
Competition is good for any industry, and one of the long-time major players in aircraft production, Mooney, finally has secured funding to restart its production line. Mooney shut down aircraft manufacturing during the 2008 recession and has been in pause mode ever since. Meijing Group of Zhengzhou, China, announced the acquisition of Mooney last October, and company CFO Barry Hodkin is in process of rehiring employees and recertifying tooling in hopes of building new Mooneys in Kerrville, Texas, by mid-2014. Just as before the shutdown, the normally-aspirated Ovation is expected to be the company's anchor model, relatively unchanged from the final 2008 airplanes. Like practically everyone these days, the Ovation uses the Continental IO-550 engine, rated for 280 hp, and manages an easy 180-185 knots cruise. (I delivered a dozen Ovations from Texas to Australia during the 1990s, and I saw a consistent 170 to 175 knots on long- range power at 13.8 gph.) Like all post-2006 Mooneys, the Ovation offers the Garmin G1000 glass panel with the G700 autopilot. Prices had not been announced at press time.

Piper Aircraft

Piper Archer LX
Piper Archer LX
Piper's entry-level training airplane is perhaps too big for its mission, but it's also one of the gentlest machines you can fly. The Archer has always been renowned for its benign-handling, docile stall and forgiving manners. The company considered offering an LSA a few years ago, but finally settled on the Archer as its least expensive model. Numerically, the Archer scores about an 880 fpm climb and 130-knot cruise at 7,000 feet. It's a comfortable machine, fitted with the Garmin G1000 glass panel. It's perhaps best known, however, as an airplane that's almost impossible to stall. Some instructors even criticize it as being too easy to fly. Landings in an Archer make everyone look good, amateur and professional alike. Price: $341,900.

Piper Arrow
Piper Arrow
The Arrow is the model that knocked Mooney out of the top single-engine retractable spot in the late '60s. In those days, Piper offered an automatic gear extension system, but inevitably, it worked too well. It extended once when it shouldn't have, there was a lawsuit, and you can guess the rest. No more auto-extend. The Arrow has the distinction of being the only certified complex retractable trainer available on the new-plane market. Like virtually all the Weick/Thorpe wing Pipers, the Arrow's flight characteristics are benign almost to a fault, partially a function of the airplane's family resemblance to the Archer. It's the least expensive retractable you can buy with only 200 hp on the nose. In fact, it's the only one. If you're looking for a light production single-engine retractable, you've just found it. Price: $431,490.

Piper Matrix
Piper Matrix
Piper's logic was beyond dispute. They surveyed Mirage owners and found that many of them rarely flew higher than 13,000 to 15,000 feet, at least partially negating the need for pressurization. Why not, some clever engineer reasoned, simply remove all the hardware for pressurization and offer a new model that translates the saved weight into payload. As it turned out, the weight savings was almost exactly equal to that of one additional passenger. This meant a Matrix could carry a payload of four humans, whereas the Mirage was limited to only three folks. Forgoing pressurization also simplified parts count and reduced assembly hours, and the result was a price savings of about $140,000. The same power and weight with no additional drag meant the same performance, so the Matrix wound up with a max cruise of about 210 to 215 knots at 25,000 feet, a more than even trade for those willing to skip pressurization. Price: $939,950.

Piper Mirage
Piper Mirage PA46-350P
But not everyone was happy about losing pressurization. Many of the pilots in the income bracket to afford a Mirage bought one specifically because it allowed them to fly high and breathe low. Indeed, the Mirage's inflatable cabin provided what many regarded as the ultimate luxury, providing the option to leave the cabin near sea level while cruising at 12,000 feet. Whatever the motivation, the Mirage almost single-handedly kept Piper afloat in those tough days of the early '90s when the PA-46 was the only airplane Piper was building. At the time, it was also the only pressurized piston single on the market. Though it doesn't look that much different than the original Continental-powered Malibu, the Mirage's Lycoming boasts an extra 40 hp and an additional 200 pounds gross weight. Reliable cruise is 210 to 215 knots following a 1,000 fpm climb for the first 10,000 feet or so. Even for those who confine themselves to the bottom three-and-a-half miles of vertical sky, speed is close to 200 knots, usually well above the weather and most other traffic. Price: $1,078,875.


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