Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Speedier And Sportier

TBM’s iconic turboprop undergoes a major makeover

The airport at Palatka (28J), a sleepy farming community in Northeast Florida, lies a scant 26 nm from historic St. Augustine's KSGJ. So the consternation in the briefer's voice, audible over the speaker phone as he read back our flight plan to 28J, was understandable: "TBM 900 Alpha Zulu—requesting flight level Two Eight Zero?"

With a range of more than 1,700 nm and a top speed of 330 knots—putting Aspen, the Hudson Bay and Bogota all within our reach from SGJ—a flight to Palatka in the TBM 900, the new, improved member of Daher-Socata's TBM single-engine turboprop family, might seem a wasted opportunity. But we were focused on the everyday business, rather than the glamorous pleasure side, of the TBM's mission capabilities. Introduced to North America barely a week before, this TBM had a full schedule of commitments and places it had to be—doubtless like the busy buyers of these airplanes. No time for the magical getaway an airplane like this makes possible. We weren't exactly going directly to Palatka, either.

Wayman Luy, demonstration pilot for Socata North America, headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., was filing a trapezoidal VOR-to-VOR route aimed at getting us cleared expeditiously up to FL280, the 900's optimum operating altitude, where we'd measure performance and explore handling characteristics.

TBM 900's American debut took place at Fantasy of Flight, Kermit Weeks' aviation museum cum theme park outside of Lakeland, an appropriate venue given the fantasies TBMs have sparked among pilots over the years. They've been considered the high-end luxury sports cars of the single-turboprop world since the introduction of the TBM 700 in 1990. The TBM 850, introduced in 2006, continued the tradition, but downplayed the sportiness of the brand for a slightly more businesslike demeanor. With the TBM 900, Daher-Socata has not only upgraded some 25% of the aircraft's systems and improved its performance, but also reclaimed the TBM's sports car mystique.
Daher-Socata has upgraded some 25% of the aircraft's systems, improved its performance and reclaimed the TBM's sports car mystique.
The 900's most obvious exterior changes from legacy TBMs—the five-blade prop and winglets—are as eye-grabbing as they are functional. "We wanted the aesthetics to look good," Philippe de Segovia, Daher-Socata's director of marketing, said during the walkaround on the ramp at SGJ, pointing out the winglets as an example. "We developed some winglets that were efficient, but we didn't like the way they looked," so the company continued development until they had a set whose appearance matched their performance. Up front, the predatory five-blade Hartzell composite prop drives air into the redesigned air inlet, acting like a turbocharger.

The composite five-blade Hartzell prop boosts performance—and appearance.
During the two-year upgrade project, the entire airframe was carefully examined using computational fluid dynamics to identify areas that generated turbulence—the main gear doors, tailcone and exhaust stacks among them—and engineers redesigned accordingly to reduce drag. Meanwhile, to emphasize the racing-car side of the TBM's personality, the company engaged French designer Hubert de Malherbe, known for his work with the LVMH luxury goods group, to "sportify" the interior, evident for example in the hand-stitching on the seats' fine leather and their race team-like TBM 900 logos. The seating/cargo space is completely reconfigurable. Any or all of the four cabin seats can be quickly removed as needed, or arranged in either club or the all-forward-facing commuter configuration. Fine wood trim remains a standard option, but the company is promoting a new carbon-fiber interior, available in eight standard shades, with 40 additional colors available as options.


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