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

Destinations are no longer limited to those with paved runways. Recently, Piper received approval from the FAA for operation into dirt strips, effectively opening up access to several thousand additional runways in the U.S. and overseas. Takeoff and landing distances remain shorter than 2,000 feet.
Turbines are made for the high road, and the Meridian will spend virtually all its time in the flight levels where traffic is usually light, weather and turbulence are most often well below and terrain isn't a factor.
And the Meridian is, above all else, a supremely comfortable machine. Piper's original 1984 Malibu introduced cabin-class comfort to the single-engine market, and the Meridian has only continued and improved upon that tradition.

The Vero Beach company learned a long time ago that performance is important, but comfort can be an end in itself. The double-clamshell airstair door provides entry to a truly luxurious cabin, sumptuously furnished in leathers and wools and generously proportioned, roughly four feet wide and the same dimension tall. That's bigger than any other Piper, and an excellent entry into the cabin-class single market.

For 2011, the Piper Meridian continues to offer the fully integrated Garmin G1000 glass panel. The G1000 has been around for several years on other Pipers, Cessnas, Beeches, Mooneys, Diamonds, TBMs, Pilatus and a plethora of other models, and we've probably written several dozen stories about it.

For that reason, we won't wave that same flag again. On the Meridian, the system includes a pair of 10-inch-diagonal pilot and copilot's PFDs and a single, central, 15-inch MFD. The two PFDs include synthetic vision (inevitably SVT), a far bigger benefit than you could possibly imagine.

Synthetic vision was introduced two years ago and presents a full-color, computer-generated image of the world, relying on a database that's nothing short of amazing. Technically, the database takes a terrain data point every nine arc seconds. That's 160,000 data points/square mile or about 570 billion (yes— with a "b") data points in the contiguous U.S. alone. Billions and billions served.

No matter what the weather is, synthetic vision projects a detailed image that's almost eerily accurate. The SVT database is worldwide, although it stops at 75 degrees north and south (in case you live in the town of Spitsbergen, Norway).

(During a test flight in the new Meridian, I was flying over a large lake east of Lakeland, Fla., in CAVU conditions, and I looked down at the shoreline and compared the real world out the window to what I was seeing on the pilot's PFD. The only difference between the two lakes was that the real one had boat wakes.)

The Meridian's application of the G1000 has been beautifully adapted to the airplane, with special applications to assist the pilot in engine start, overspeed and every other critical engine parameter. The Garmin avionics also includes the G700 autopilot, another system that's so smooth and seamless, it's almost transparent. If you can read the names on the buttons, you can learn to use the G700 in short order.

The Price Of Admission

The new 2011 Meridian in Garmin trim sells for around $2.1 million. That's $1.2 million less than the Daher-Socata TBM 850, and $2.3 million less than the Pilatus PC-12NG. In fairness, the latter boasts 1,200 hp, 11 seats and a 10,800-pound gross weight (more than double that of the Meridian), so it could be argued it's in a totally different class. Alan Klapmeier's Kestrel may be well on its way to certification, but it probably won't be available on the market for at least two years.

Several VLJ projects also may provide competition for the Meridian in the next few years. The Diamond D-JET, Cirrus Vision SF50 and Piper's own Altaire all hope to see daylight at prices only slightly above the Meridian while beating its performance significantly.

In contrast, the highly successful Cessna Mustang ($3.2 million) is hardly a VLJ, and the recently introduced Embraer Phenom 100 ($3.9 million) and upcoming Honda Jet ($4.4 million) are priced well out of the originally proposed VLJ market.

At a base price of $2,071,500, the Piper Meridian with Garmin avionics is here and now and offers a lot for the money. It's, by far, the world's least expensive turboprop.

With the possible revival of the Eclipse 500, Diamond's D-JET and Cirrus' Vision Jet in the offing, plus Piper's own Altaire a few years down the road, the Meridian may continue to bottom the market. In price, that is.


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