Plane & Pilot
Thursday, December 1, 2005

New Piper Meridian

Entry-level turbine with an all-glass cockpit

piper meridianThe newer generation of pilots may not remember that Piper had a proud tradition of building turboprops long before the advent of the company’s current flagship, the Meridian. As far back as the mid-1970s, Piper was selling Cheyennes, and true Piper trivia buffs like to remind us that the company also built a turboprop version of the P-51 Mustang called the Enforcer. Piper attempted to market the fire-breathing Enforcer to U.S. and foreign governments as an economical, military ground-pounder. (The Enforcer mounted a whopping 2,455 shp Lycoming turbine out front and could carry a range of ordinance.)
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The Meridian continues to reflect the design philosophy of Jim Griswold, the aeronautical engineer who led the team that conceived the original Malibu 20 years ago. Cabin room is generous, but there’s no unnecessary wetted area aft of the rear seats. Griswold used Boeing’s practical approach as his guide.

“Airframe weight is critical in airliners. When you’ve enclosed the passengers and baggage,” he told me, “you stop trying to create a work of art and stick on the tail. You don’t taper the aft empennage, and you minimize weight and drag by keeping the fuselage as short as possible.”

The Meridian’s wings employ the same high-aspect-ratio airfoil as the Mirage, but they feature a tapered leading-edge root section designed to improve lift at high altitude and help the airplane meet the 61-knot stall rule. The result is slightly more wing area and a reduced wing loading. A proliferation of vortex generators are standard equipment, bonded to the wing’s upper leading edge and the tail’s lower surface. The conventional horizontal tail (no stabilator here) is 37% larger in area, as well. The result is better lift at high altitude, important for turbines that must operate in the flight levels on practically every flight to optimize speed and range.

One of the great joys of turbine-powered aircraft, be they prop or jet, is that once you have the engine(s) running, there’s little left to do but fly. Speeds are definitely higher, and it’s important to adjust your brain to stay ahead of the airplane, but systems are actually simpler than on a typical piston model. The Meridian is very much a checklist machine, but if you’ve succeeded in getting the engine started, pretakeoff checks are similar to the old CIGARSR/LCA, except that you can pretty much forget the first “R” for “run-up.” Drop 10 degrees of flaps, ease the left lever to about 1,250 pounds of torque and hang on. As the airplane accelerates to liftoff speed, power will rise to the 1,330-pound limit.


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