Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Piper Mirage: Pistons, Pressure and Class
The most comfortable piston single in the sky
Just 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.
In fairness, the Entegra system isn’t that complex once you adjust to the high level of integration. It does, however, represent a new way of evaluating the flying numbers by emphasizing digital readouts via rolling tapes rather than the more conventional analog gauges. For those aviators who have trouble making the adjustment, Piper has retained a trio of two-inch analog backups: airspeed, altitude and artificial horizon.
Piper mounts most electrical switches on the overhead, including the push button starter. In turbine-twin style, you don’t need a key for start. If you do it right, the big 350 hp Lycoming spools up gradually rather than in a rush, again more reminiscent of a turbine than a piston.
Not surprisingly, that’s also the way the airplane responds to takeoff power. At 4,340 pounds gross weight, the Mirage is by far the world’s heaviest production piston single. The feel is more reminiscent of a light twin than a single. At the Mirage’s heavy max gross weight, even the big 350 hp Lycoming can’t reduce power loading below 12.4 pounds/horsepower.
Push the throttle full forward for departure at max gross, and the Mirage takes a while to gather itself for the task. Once you’re off and flying with the wheels in the wells, the Mirage ascends at 1,000 fpm or better, and climb holds up well as you leave the earth below. I’ve operated Mirages at weights as high as 1,000 pounds over gross on ocean crossings, and even when they’re heavily overloaded, climb eventually settles at a reasonable number.
Piper lists max cruise at 213 knots at optimum altitude, but it’s unlikely that most Mirage owners run the airplane that hard. Piper’s Bart Jones and I lofted above the Los Angeles Basin to 17,500 feet on a reasonably standard day and saw just under 200 knots at max cruise power. With 120 gallons aboard and a burn of about 20 gph, you could plan on an easy 4.5 hours plus reserve, worth 900 nm between pit stops.
As usual, you can’t fly with both full tanks and full seats. Piper lists 3,121 pounds as a typical Mirage’s standard empty weight, so full tanks leave you with 500 pounds of payload for people and things. If you need to carry four folks, plan to leave behind about 30 gallons of fuel; if you plan to carry five, 60 gallons.
The Mirage is certified to FL250, but again, many owners prefer to operate at more modest altitudes, typically FL210 or 220. At this height, the Mirage will lift you well above most of the world’s weather, and you’ll generally cruise in smooth air and sunshine with the 5.5 psi pressurization system providing a cabin under 6,000 feet. Should you elect to stop the climb at 17,500 feet, below positive control airspace, the Mirage can maintain a nearly sea-level cabin. In other words, your body may never know you’ve left the ground. As one who’s probably killed millions of brain cells by operating unpressurized airplanes at 8,500 feet and up for 35 years, I can personally attest that pressure is better.
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Labels: Piston Singles