Plane & Pilot
Monday, March 1, 2004

Getting Better All The Time

With an increase in useful load and some refinements to the avionics, Piper’s turbine Meridian continues to evolve

piperWhen New Piper first took the wraps off its Meridian, they set some rather lofty performance goals for their first single-engine turboprop. They needed to. Their target buyer was someone who would be moving up from either a high-end piston single or twin. They also wanted the Meridian’s performance and capabilities to attract owners who were already flying older turboprops, like King Airs and Cheyennes, but who may be in the mood for a new airplane that gave them the performance they were used to, while cutting their fuel and engine-maintenance bills virtually in half.
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When Piper introduced the Meridian, it had made some lofty promises for the airplane’s performance capabilities. And like just about every other new model, it fell a bit short on a couple of points.

“There are three things I’d like to have improved on my Meridian,” Catalano says. “Useful load, the autopilot and the availability of a fuel-heater.”

Catalano isn’t alone in his critique of the Meridian’s shortcomings and New Piper has been fixing those problems. Beginning with the 2003 Meridian model year, the company announced a couple of significant improvements, including a 5% increase in the airplane’s useful load and an updated Meggitt Magic automatic flight-control system.

Suma explains that, while increasing the useful load, 5% may not seem like much. In this class of airplane, that equates to an additional 242 pounds of useful load that a Meridian pilot now has at his disposal, translating to extra carrying capability that he or she can use for more fuel—which would address the range—or more passenger weight—which would address load-carrying.

“The ability to load another 242 pounds into their airplanes is a significant increase,” adds Suma. “And an increase of that magnitude dramatically enhances the usefulness of any airplane.”

Piper was able to achieve this through a combination of aerodynamics and structural changes. They included adding vortex generators to the wings and underside of the airplane’s horizontal stabilizer and making modifications to the stall strips. Those changes will be the hard-core plane-spotter’s clue as to which Meridian he or she is looking at.

Unfortunately, pre-2003 owners, like Catalano, can’t have the added useful load upgrade done to their airplanes. Piper has decided not to offer it as an option—maybe someone else will down the road. “The payload can be an issue, but rarely on my missions,” says Catalano.

Catalano also says that he was happy that Piper had upgraded the Meggitt autopilot and he expects that fix to be available soon. “That’s the only shortcoming of the entire avionics system,” adds Catalano. “The displays and capabilities are incredible and surprisingly easy to use, but the autopilot does have a tendency to ‘wonder’ in some situations.”

Nitpicking aside, for Catalano and, probably, the majority of other Meridian owners, the airplane has proven to be a very solid, capable and reliable means of business and personal transportation. And that doesn’t even come close to the fact that the airplane is just a big-time pile of fun to fly.

And while the very fortunate few of us will ever have the chance to fly the real Meridian, New Piper does, at least, offer the opportunity to enjoy a virtual experience. Just log on to the company’s Website at and click on the “Meridian” button. Once there, you can download a really cool Meridian flight-simulation program that will let you “fly” the New Piper’s pride and joy from your computer.

SPECS: New Piper Meridian N5361A


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