Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The benefits of getting high

You don't have to live in the high plains or the mountains to appreciate the benefits of turbocharging. Pretty obviously, a turbo makes flying easier and safer for pilots who must transition above the Rockies or Sierra Nevada.

Even if you're primarily a VFR pilot living in the East Coast or Midwest, however, and only fly on CAVU days in late spring, summer and early fall, compressed power can be next to godliness.

Like many of you, I discovered turbos 15 years into my flying career. I learned to fly in the cheapest trainer I could find. The first was an Aeronca Champ and later, a Piper Colt, and supercharging in any form was something I only read about on military and airline aircraft.

I had to wait until I bought my fourth airplane, a new 1979 Mooney 231, to appreciate the benefits of a blower out front. After my first flight in it, I thought I had died and gone to Oshkosh. Everything about that airplane (except the payments and the maintenance) was right out of a dream.

Turbochargers do, indeed, change your perspective on flying high, and for many of us, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Unfortunately, any form of supercharging, like practically everything else worth else having, has a price tag.

Back in the day, prospective buyers could plan on spending an extra 10 to 15% to add turbocharging to a new airplane. In those halcyon times of the late '70s and early '80s, when the industry was selling at least 15,000 airplanes a year, a buyer had a huge selection of turbocharged models to choose from. There were more than three handfuls of personal aircraft available in both normally aspirated and turbocharged trim.

Piper had the Arrow and Turbo Arrow, along with the Dakota and Turbo Dakota, Lance and Turbo Lance, Cherokee Six and Turbo Six, Navajo and Aerostar; Cessna was selling the 182/182RG/210/206 and 310 in normal and heavy-breathing configurations; Beech had the 36 Bonanza and Baron with and without turbos; Mooney offered the 201/231, Socata sold the Trinidad and Trinidad TC; Bellanca was marketing the Viking and Turbo Viking; and Lake sold turbo and non-turbo versions of its little Buccaneer and Renegade amphibians. (Apologies to anyone I missed.) Indeed, it seemed turbocharging was the wave of the future.

Or not. Today, many of the models above are no longer in production, and most of those that survive are represented by a single version, usually the normally aspirated airplane. There's nothing inherently wrong with turbos—in fact, they're more reliable than ever—but the market has contracted and manufacturers have been forced to cut back.


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