Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Piper Mirage: Pistons, Pressure and Class


The most comfortable piston single in the sky


Piper Mirage: Pistons, Pressure & ClassJust as the Mooney 201 rescued its namesake company from oblivion in 1976, in the mid ’80s, the Malibu offered Piper Aircraft the only light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t a train. After the whirlwind uphill ride of the ’70s, general aviation sales were tumbling all across the board, but the Malibu was an instant success.

 

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Piper Mirage: Pistons, Pressure & ClassJust as the Mooney 201 rescued its namesake company from oblivion in 1976, in the mid ’80s, the Malibu offered Piper Aircraft the only light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t a train. After the whirlwind uphill ride of the ’70s, general aviation sales were tumbling all across the board, but the Malibu was an instant success.

Despite an initial sales price of $350,000 in 1984, Piper sold some 500 units in the Malibu’s first six years of production. That’s approximately $180 million worth. There was even a time (1989) when the revised Malibu Mirage had the unlikely dual distinctions of being the most popular and most expensive single-engine airplane in the world.

Today’s Mirage retains all of the talent that made those early Malibu/Mirage PA46s so popular, but now with the addition of a to-die-for avionics suite. The Avidyne FlightMax Entegra, one of the magic systems currently on the market, comes standard on all new Mirages.

Piper recently brought a new Mirage to town, and I spent a day with the PA46 and with Piper’s chief pilot, Bart Jones. For me, the Mirage’s overriding attraction has always been that it’s probably the most comfortable piston single in the sky. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but pure, blazing speed seems somehow less attractive if you’re not at least moderately comfortable.

By any measure, the airplane’s cabin is spacious and well-appointed, more appropriate to a twin than a single. Perhaps more than coincidentally, the cabin is almost exactly the same width and height as the old Piper Navajo cabin-class twin. The front office measures nearly 50 inches across and 45 inches tall, and leg room in back is generous enough that opposing aft passengers don’t need to overlap legs.

I’ve spent my share of time flying Malibus of various descriptions to and from Europe, Africa, Australia and Japan, and the airplanes make eminently comfortable long-distance travelers. It’s a plane in which you can easily spend a few hours or a few days without complaint. (The longest of those international hops was an 11,500 nm trip across both the Pacific and Atlantic from Sendai, Japan, to Düsseldorf, Germany, with the owner in the right seat part of the way. Though the trip took almost 70 flight hours, it was one of the easiest ferry flights I’ve ever made.)

Today’s Mirage may be identical in basic configuration to the original 1989 model, but changes to the panel have been exponential. The Avidyne Entegra system comes standard on all Mirages, and it incorporates all navigation and communication functions into a trio of 10.4-inch, flat-screen displays, twin PFDs and a center-mounted MFD. If there’s a downside to the Mirage’s avionic sophistication, it may be that it now takes longer to figure out the avionics than it does to check out in the airplane itself.




Labels: Piston Singles

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