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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We stayed low for our photos, but descents from the Meridian’s more typical flight-level operating altitudes demand some planning. Even if winds aren’t favorable up high, turbine-powered aircraft must fly tall to realize acceptable speeds. For that reason, pilots of turboprops and jets like to start downhill at a minimum 1,000 fpm, 2,000 fpm if winds are good up high and you need to maintain the push as long as possible. Letting down from FL250 to near sea level, you’ll initiate the descent 12 to 15 minutes out, as much as 60 miles from your destination.

Idle power is just over 50%, so even if you ease the thrust all the way back to the aft stop for descent, the airplane retains its 5.5-pound pressurization differential. The bad news is that after you land, 50% thrust will still propel you down the runway with enthusiasm after touchdown. Accordingly, as with most propjets, the Meridian’s paddle-bladed prop is fully reversible, although there’s little cause to use reverse thrust during landing. Typical approach speeds are essentially the same as those for the Piper Mirage, 90 to 100 knots, and if you touch down at 80 knots, the manual suggests not to use reverse below 60 knots to avoid possible prop damage. That means you’ll only be in reverse for a few seconds should you elect to use it. Jones says he sticks to beta mode when he needs a little extra braking and prefers to stay away from full reverse altogether (that only delivers about 70% thrust anyway).

The airplane is a flexible machine, comfortable and stable if you need to shoot an ILS into DFW at 120 knots, but it will as easily accept an 80-knot short-field effort into an unobstructed 2,500-foot strip. There’s no reason any pilot with a modicum of time in Bonanzas, Centurions, Saratogas or the like shouldn’t adjust to the Meridian in a few hours.

At this writing, no one can guess what the emergence of the new very light jets (VLJs) will do to the general aviation jetprop market, especially the Meridian and TBM-700. (The 10-seat-plus capability of the PC-12 and Caravan may partially insulate them from the VLJ threat.) Cessna, Adam and Eclipse all offered impressive displays at the recent EAA AirVenture, but prices keep rising on virtually all the VLJs, and what was initially promised for prices as low as $1 million may eventually sell for $2 million or more. Visionaries such as Vern Raburn and Rick Adam very well could revolutionize the industry with their 340- to 350-knot VLJs, but certification is probably a year away at the earliest, and the first production airplanes may be even farther down the road.

Pilots with a yen for a high-performance turbine single can invest their $2 million in the slick, comfortable and imminently easy-flying Meridian, certainly one of the simplest propjets in the sky. Call New Piper at (772) 567-4361 or visit www.newpiper.com.

SPECS: 2005 New Piper PA46-500T Meridian





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