Line up on centerline and hold the brakes. Take a deep breath and focus. Things are going to start happening fast. Slide the power lever forward with your right hand to max takeoff power, 1,313 foot-pounds of torque. Listen as the turbine winds from a low-pitched whine into a throaty howl. The airplane absorbs the force of the four-bladed Hartzell prop biting into the air, compresses the nose strut and pitches down a little. Feel the plane straining against the brakes, hunkering into a sprinter’s crouch as if waiting for the starter’s gun. Your eyes make a last check of the annunciator panel—it’s dark as it should be for takeoff—and of the engine readouts on the multi-function display (MFD), which show that it’s fully ready, willing and able. It’s time to fly, so roll your toes back off the brakes while readying your right foot for action; you’re going to be managing some 500 horses of Pratt & Whitney PT6A during the takeoff roll.
The smooth, slingshot acceleration shoves you into the leather seat as the airspeed numbers on the primary flight display (PFD) begin their upward race, and you find that the nosewheel steering is absolutely solid, sure and so intuitive that staying on the centerline seems only to require thinking about applying pressure to the rudder pedals.
|The Piper Meridian cruises down the Atlantic shore, near Piper’s factory in Vero Beach, Fla.|
In moments, 85 knots appears on the airspeed readout, and you give a brief tug on the control wheel, then almost immediately relax the pull to finesse the nosewheel just clear of the runway. The airplane rolls for a second or two longer, then makes it utterly clear that it’s finished with the ground and begins clawing its way skyward. Positive rate of climb established, you snap the gear selector up, mindful of the 129-knot maximum speed for retracting the gear as the airspeed passes through 100 knots indicated, heading for the 125-knot best-rate-of-climb speed.
This is Piper’s latest iteration of the Meridian (www.piper.com), aviation’s personal hot rod, and right now it’s kicking hard, right in the seat of the pants, and I can’t help but think about the Shelby Mustang I used to play around with. It sure couldn’t match this ride.
Nailing Vy, I watch the rate of climb settle at about 1,400 fpm, even though I have the airplane right at gross weight. I’ve got a full load of fuel in the wings, 1,120 pounds (170 gallons) worth, enough to take me over 1,000 nm with VFR reserves at max cruise once I get up into the flight levels where the engine moderates its appetite for jet fuel.
Leveling off at FL250 (max operating altitude is FL300), I select max cruise and watch as the true airspeed on the Avidyne display settles down at 263 knots, three knots faster than what Piper promises in the POH. The club seating of the cabin can fit four passengers and includes such high-end amenities as reclining seats and a beverage cabinet. With the S-TEC autopilot taking care of things, there’s ample time to look around the elegantly understated cabin of the Meridian.
On the remarkably uncluttered panel in front is the flat-panel Avidyne FlightMax Entegra. Its two PFDs flank an MFD that seamlessly integrates the dual Garmin GNS 430 GPS/COM and the S-TEC digital autopilot. Pilots can pick and choose how they want to display information on the screens, which feature satellite weather, detailed engine operation data (engine information may be downloaded by your maintenance technician for trend and condition monitoring), traffic alerting, large-scale moving maps, airborne radar and charts and approach plates. You can use Meridian’s flight-into-known-icing capability when passing through ice-bearing clouds on the climb out. It’s safe to say that not only is the Meridian aviation’s personal hot rod, but it also has weather capabilities that make it an ideal personal transportation machine.
|The Meridian’s club seats can fit four passengers who will travel in an elegantly understated cabin with amenities like a beverage cabinet and reclining seats.|
Targeted at the owner-flown market, the Meridian’s systems were designed for redundancy and simplicity. The 28-volt electrical system is powered by a 200-amp generator with a 135-amp alternator backup; should both of these quit, the system ultimately reverts to a 38 amp-hour battery. The fuel system simultaneously feeds from both wing tanks and automatically takes care of any imbalance. The hydraulically actuated landing gear free-falls and locks should the hydraulics fail, and the pressurization system is largely “set and forget.” The P&W PT6A-42A has the capability of 1,090 shp, but it’s derated to 500, allowing it to run very cool and maintain its full 500 shp up to 27,000 feet, depending on temperature. One advantage to all that derating is that it doesn’t require a ram-air intake to make power, so air comes into the nose through nonicing NACA ducts. Thus, there’s no need for actuating an inertial separator to prevent ice damage to the engine in adverse weather. Because there’s no inertial separator to forget to actuate as the workload rises with bad weather, the pilot doesn’t risk destroying an engine that’s worth a good fraction of a million dollars.
|Powered by a 1,090 shp P&W PT6A-42A and propelled by a four-blade Hartzell, the Meridian provides a powerful and responsive ride. Vortex generators help to further improve the aircraft’s performance.|
True, there’s but one engine, but the reliability of PT6-series powerplants is nearly legendary; indeed, the FAA has certified single-engine turboprops for Part 135 IFR operations, something no piston engine has achieved. Should the unthinkable happen and the engine take the day off, the combination of a feathered prop and the high-aspect-ratio wing translates into the ability to glide 72 miles from FL250, not a bad radius of action.
While this is a going machine, as with any turbine-powered airplane, fuel consumption goes way up at low altitudes, something that will be inculcated into pilots when they experience the SimCom (www.simulator.com) training class that’s part of the Meridian’s nearly $2 million price tag. In a Meridian, you can go high right away and stay there, rather than mess around at low altitude for any length of time. Plan on descents with power at idle and the airspeed up near the 188-knot redline, letting the pressurization rate controller keep the landing process comfortable for the passengers’ ears. Descents near redline are de rigeur in turbine airplanes, as they have no yellow arc on the airspeed indicator; the redline is at the top of the green arc.
|Up front, the Avidyne FlightMax Entegra’s two PFDs and MFD integrate with the Garmin GNS 430 and S-TEC digital autopilot, providing pilots with a classy and sophisticated avionics system.|
Flying the Meridian along the Gulf Coast, I canceled my initial instrument flight plan and leveled off at a few thousand feet to offer my passengers a brief tour of the area, a suitable excuse to enjoy the nicely responsive handling of the Meridian. The roll rate is crisp, and steep turns require a firm pull on the yoke to hold altitude. The stick force per G-curve is just right—the amount of back pressure needed for normal maneuvering is never unpleasant, and it means that stalling the airplane requires a lot of effort, minimizing the risk of an inadvertent stall. Yet, should the pilot stall the airplane, its behavior is gentlemanly at all times, with no tendency to roll off at the mild break. With the wide speed range of the Meridian, the electric pitch trim is the pilot’s friend, as is the rudder trim because increasing the power on a 500 shp engine gives enough left-turning tendency to make you pay attention. The ride, even in turbulence, is solid throughout, with no tendency to wag its tail.
|The airplane’s throttle is located in a center console. The Meridian climbs at 1,556 fpm and can achieve a 260-knot max cruise speed.|
While the Meridian pampers the passengers, it’s truly a pilot’s airplane. Whether hand-flying an instrument approach, mixing it up in the VFR traffic pattern or whistling down final at 160 knots to fit in with the pure jets, the responsive controls and the ability to drop the gear and first 10 degrees of flaps at 188 knots indicated means a well-flown Meridian is welcome at just about any airport. For a normal landing in a VFR pattern, select 10 degrees of flap once on downwind, then add about 600 pounds of torque and extend the landing gear. You’ll find that the Meridian flies along comfortably at about 110 KIAS. Abeam the spot where you wish to roll the wheels, pull the power back to 300 pounds of torque, go to 20 degrees of flap and let the airplane start to descend as the speed bleeds off to about 100 KIAS and you turn to base leg. There’s almost no pitch change with flap extension, so all that’s needed is a bit of nose-up trim to help scrub off the speed. Turning final, drop the last 10 degrees of flaps and hold 95 knots. Coming over the runway threshold, slowly reduce the power to idle and, as the wing enters ground effect, a bit of back pressure on the wheel is all that’s needed to flare to a smooth, nose-high touchdown. The Meridian is honest in all respects; after a little practice you’ll be rolling the landings and will have discovered that the very effective controls will handle a lot of crosswind.
Once the mains are on, fly the nosewheel onto the runway and pull the power lever up and back over the detent into beta, and then further into reverse thrust to help put the Meridian firmly on its wheels so you can start coming in with the toe brakes. Reverse thrust helps slow the airplane, but isn’t so powerful that it kicks up a cloud of dirt and debris from the runway, tearing up the prop. As a part of the “keep it safe for the owner-flown design philosophy,” a squat switch on the landing gear prevents the pilot from inadvertently selecting beta range on the prop while still in the air.
Taxiing in toward the ramp, finish up the postlanding checklist as your passengers remark about how eager they are to begin their holiday. They won’t realize that yours started a couple of hours ago, the moment you hit the start button and heard that big Pratt in the front of the Meridian begin to spool up.