Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Piper Meridian: Everyman’s Turbine

Piper’s Meridian is the least expensive, production, single-engine turboprop in the world, still the leader of the Piper tribe

The double-clamshell airstair door provides entry to a luxurious and spacious cabin, furnished in leather.
Turbines are relatively bulletproof, but just as with piston engines where the worst abuse is simply to start them, the starting process in a turboprop is one of the few areas where you CAN mismanage the engine. Even then, an overtemp or "hot start" is unlikely, as the little Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A is so simple, you'd have a hard time hurting it unless you tried to start without sufficient electrical power.

Takeoff is enthusiastic, with 500 shp to propel only 5,100 pounds of airplane. The Meridian vaults uphill at an initial 1,500 fpm, and it will hold that rate for the first 10,000 feet, tapering off to 1,200 fpm at 17,000 feet. You can plan a climb from near sea level to FL200 in about 15 minutes.

Cruise In The Flight Levels

Strong climb is important in a turboprop, as high altitude is where the airplane is happiest. If the winds are willing, you'll fly high in the Meridian to realize the airplane's maximum speed and economy. Even the middle flight levels can offer occasional jet streams of 50 to 100 knots. For maximum efficiency and optimum comfort, most trips will be flown at 26,000 to 28,000 feet, weather permitting. (The Meridian's certified ceiling is 30,000 feet, but operators are unlikely to spend the $100,000 or so necessary to certify the airplane for RVSM operation at 29,000 or 30,000 feet.)

For better or worse, most trips are two-way. Not all flights are eastbound, where the wind is most often a push, and you may wind up having to fight strong Westerlies at times. Even if the breezes aren't going your way, the trade of speed for fuel may favor the high road. At 27,000 feet, the airplane burns about 240 pounds/hr (36 gals./hr) in exchange for 255 KTAS. Slog along at 20,000 feet, and speed drops 20 knots while the fuel burn actually increases. If the wind at 27,000 feet subtracts more than the benefit in true airspeed and the weather is willing, you may have to fly lower.

The Garmin G1000 includes a pair of 10-inch diagonal PFDs that feature synthetic vision and a single 15-inch MFD.
Managing The Load

If the Meridian has an Achilles' wing, it's probably payload. Like the derivative Mirage, the Meridian is challenged to carry full fuel and six folks. That's not a big surprise, as nothing else in the class will do that job either. The typical, well-equipped Meridian features a useful load of 1,700 pounds. Subtract 170 gallons (1,139 pounds) of fuel, and you're left with about 561 paying pounds, three very small folks and toothbrushes, or two real people and some cargo (considering the rising weight of Americans).

The good news is that with 170-gallon tanks, you have the flexibility to carry a light load a long way (nearly 1,000 nm) or leave some kerosene behind and haul more paying pounds. Better still, you could leave from the airport nearest your home on your own schedule (without hassling with TSA), keep your shoes on and carry whatever you wished in your baggage, knowing that all your belongings would arrive at the same time and place you do at no extra charge, and you wouldn't need to manhandle suitcases from a carousel.

If the stage length is shorter, you could fly with, say, 120 gallons instead of 170 gallons, and cabin payload would increase to almost 800 pounds. That would allow short business trips of two-and-a-half hours, 600 nm in zero wind. That's as long as many people are willing to sit in an airplane anyway, even one as comfortable as a Meridian.


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