Marathon Key gleams in the late-afternoon sunshine. It’s like an emerald in Florida’s highway of island pearls, which dot Route 1 from Miami to Key West. Marshmallow cumulus graze on the rainbow of color beneath us. The Caribbean waters translate from jade and lime green to a myriad of blues—sapphire near the land to azure offshore to indigo and navy in the deep.
Somewhere down there, in fact, practically everywhere down there, the annual migration of “Great White-Backed Snowbirds,” from such northern climes as Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, splash suntan oil on each other in hopes of looking like tan gods and goddesses. ‘Tis the Christmas season, time for tourists in Florida.
Today, we fly to Marathon in style, aviating above swamp and ocean in the new Piper Matrix, a slightly different answer to the question of transporting six folks by sky. I guide the Matrix around the patch and perch onto Marathon’s wide runway without breaking anything. Flying Piper’s newest is like shaking hands with an old friend; it’s familiar, comfortable and confident, yet somehow different.
Yes, as you may have guessed from James Lawrence’s photos, the Matrix is based heavily on the popular Malibu Mirage, but we couldn’t have guessed that it would turn out to be much more than that.
The original Piper Malibu seemed almost a minor miracle when it was unveiled in 1984. The PA46-310 was a totally new airplane that had virtually nothing in common with previous Pipers except the marquee.
At the time, there was only one other pressurized single on the market, the Cessna P-Centurion, and the Malibu knocked it right out of the box for a year. Cessna shelved the P210 for 1984, though the Wichita company did come back with a greatly improved version, the P210R, in 1985 and 1986 before discontinuing all piston production in deference to the liability problem.
As Piper’s first all-new airplane since the short-lived Tomahawk, the Malibu has prospered in the 23 years since its introduction. It’s one of only two Piper models in continuous production through the tough times of the late ’80s and early ’90s (the other was the Seneca). In total, Piper has sold some 1,300 Malibus and Mirages, and demand is still strong enough to justify continuing production.
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