Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Piper Matrix: The Pressure Is Off

Piper unveils its take on a turbocharged, four-place single—with two extra seats

piper matrixMarathon 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.
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piper matrix
Because it doesn’t require the implements associated with pressurization, the unpressurized Matrix offers an additional 200 pounds of payload over the pressurized Mirage.
Today’s updated Piper Mirage continues as one of a kind—currently the only pressurized, piston, single-engine model available. Walter Extra’s innovative, water-cooled Extra 400 took a brief run at the market a few years ago (I ferried the first one to fly across the Atlantic in 2004), but retired after only a year. Step up to turboprop singles, and there are a trio of models to choose from.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the Mirage’s success, Piper knew that many Malibu/Mirage pilots didn’t always use the airplane’s pressurization unless they were flying tall on long trips. The Vero Beach, Fla., company also was aware there wasn’t always a need for six seats, and impressive sales of four-seat turbo models such as the Columbia (now Cessna) 400, Cirrus SR22 Turbo and Mooney Acclaim suggested there might be a market for an unpressurized Mirage.

Enter the Matrix (without Keanu Reeves) PA46-350. Technically, the project was relatively easy, a simple matter of leaving out all the hardware and structural components necessary to inflate the Mirage’s cabin to a five-pound pressure differential. Without any weight or aerodynamic changes, certification demanded a minimum of flight testing, avoiding the myriad of spin tests. There was a slight CG shift from the removal of about 200 parts, however, so the Matrix didn’t exactly get a free ride from the feds. (The good news is that removing the pressurization hardware actually expanded the CG envelope so much that’s it’s difficult to imagine any reasonable loading scenario that would push the airplane outside its limits.)

One most obvious and immediate benefit of an unpressurized Mirage is the total reduction of pressurization cycles. A pressurized airplane’s life is at least partially measured in cycles—the number of times the airplane is pressurized and depressurized—which causes the fuselage to flex, expanding and contracting ever so slightly. The Mirage employs a relatively mild 5.0 psi pressurization system that doesn’t stress the pressure vessel unduly, but the Matrix obviously doesn’t stress the cabin at all.

Similarly, leave out all the plumbing and hardware associated with pressurization and you pick up almost 200 pounds of additional payload. In fact, payload has always been one of the Mirage’s minor shortcomings. The pressurized Mirage is a plush, comfortable, six-seat cruiser, but with a standard package of options and full fuel aboard, it can’t carry more than a pilot, two passengers and toothbrushes. Leave 60 gallons in the truck and you’re up to five folks total, but you’re also down to two hours of endurance plus reserve.

Conversely, the Matrix’s lower empty weight increases the standard full-fuel payload to more like four plus toiletries rather than three. Reduce the fuel by only 30 gallons and you’re up to five folks.

Another not so obvious benefit of leaving out pressurization is that the air-conditioning gets a major boost in power. It’s the same system used in the Mirage, but it’s far more efficient without having to drive pressurization. Turn on the switch, and the AC is almost automotive in nature. Even on a hot day in Florida, cold air comes pouring out in short order. If you’re based in Arizona or Florida, you’re almost guaranteed to love the Matrix A/C system.

Labels: Piston Singles


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