- 28 Feb 2022
- Mike Chase
- Turboprop Comparisons
Though Piper has had a successful evolutionary approach to its turboprop aircraft since introducing the Meridian, developments for the Piper M600/SLS raised the bar to ‘revolutionary’, as Dave Higdon explains...Back to Articles
There’s been a lot of evolutionary and revolutionary change since Piper first moved the PA-46 Malibu Mirage from its roots as a pressurized piston single. In 1997, Piper announced its intention to market a turboprop-powered version of the Malibu, and flew a prototype the following year.
That prototype was the Piper Meridian, powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A offering 500shp, and certification was achieved in September 2000, with deliveries beginning that same year.
Changes were made to the Malibu’s airframe to allow for turboprop power, including larger wings and tail surfaces, and the Meridian proved an instant hit with the market.
Over the years, Piper evolved and adapted the Meridian, and in 2009 began installing a three-screen version of Garmin’s G1000 integrated avionics package into the aircraft – including the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot – as a replacement for the Avidyne Entegra panel.
As of 2015, Piper remarketed its Malibu and Meridian aircraft, rebranding them as part of its new M-series. The Malibu became the Piper M350, and the Meridian was named the Piper M500.
The M500 ultimately represented a further evolution on the Meridian platform, with Piper offering the updated Garmin G1000 NXi flight system which includes an automatic wings-level function and control override to prevent the aircraft from exceeding its flight envelope.
Keeping it in the Family
Yet the company didn’t stop with two family members for its M-series. 2015 was also the year when the company introduced the Piper M600 – a logical step-up model for customers seeking more performance and capability from their Piper aircraft.
For example, Piper equipped the M600 with Garmin’s highly capable G3000 flight panel, which includes autopilot, enhanced automated flight control system, and synthetic vision. Flight into known icing capability, and air conditioning also come as standard aboard the aircraft.
Options include a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), Traffic Advisory System (TAS), and Iridium satellite transceiver.
Though the aircraft has a cabin volume in common with the M350 and M500, externally the M600 offered a new, clean-sheet wing.
In terms of performance, the M600 shone, bringing increased fuel capacity over the M500 and, with it, almost 1,000lbs greater Maximum Take-Off Weight (6,000lbs). Capable of almost 500nm additional range (1,484nm) than the M500, the M600 also offers a slightly higher top speed (274ktas versus 260ktas) – all while utilizing the same, single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A engine.
Again, market uptake was impressive, especially among the owner-pilot community, with the Piper M600 providing a similar range to Daher’s TBM 900 (for example), but at a lower operating cost.
(Left) Piper's M600 was the first aircraft to have Garmin's Autoland certified in the cockpit, marketed as HALO aboard this airframe.
Evolutionary to Revolutionary
Four years after initial deliveries of the Piper M600, and never being a company to rest on its laurels, Piper introduced a truly remarkable development aboard its flagship aircraft in 2020.
The company was right at the front of the line when Garmin introduced a revolutionary piece of technology that, at the touch of a button, can be engaged in the event of a pilot becoming incapacitated. Once engaged, Garmin’s Autoland directs the aircraft to a suitable nearby airport (accounting for weather, terrain, approach, runway, and aircraft suitability), and automatically lands it there, with no human interaction needed.
Incorporated into the G3000 avionics aboard the Piper M600, Piper branded Autoland ‘HALO’, and in 2020 the M600 became the first airframe in the world that the system was certified for, with US FAA certification coming in May 2020 (EASA certification arrived the following year, in April 2021).
Some pilots of my acquaintance pressed me for explanations of why Piper put so much development effort into this safety feature. One Piper employee explained simply, “because we could”, adding, “pilots responded to the opportunity to fly a high-performance turboprop without feeling as though they were getting in over their heads”.
(Left) Piper M600 customers have options to personalize their cabins with the EXP package.
Safety, Luxury, Support
At about the same time as Piper certified HALO aboard the M600, it re-branded the model as the M600/SLS (Safety, Luxury and Support), making crystal clear the additional level of safety HALO brought, as well as the personalization package available for the interior (which had been available for the aircraft since 2017). That interior package offers the aircraft a truly luxurious feel in the cabin.
The EXP package, which is standard in the M600/SLS, enables owners to select from multiple interior color palettes, while customizing the interior design with stitching patterns and contrasting thread, as well as custom embroidery and badging.
Seats are clad in hand-selected, processed leather, and customers can choose from either a solid, or two-toned interior seating scheme. Capping the look and feel of the cabin is a veneer and trim finish, further enhancing the sense of luxury when flying aboard the aircraft.
Putting the cockpit sophistication together with the cabin luxury, it’s undeniable that Piper has produced a truly capable single-engine turboprop aircraft that appeals not only to the owner-pilot community, but the Business Aviation sector, too.
It lacks nothing in the way of desirable capabilities – and delivers on them well.
Best of all from this pilot’s perspective, the Piper M600/SLS’s flying mannerisms help average pilots improve on their skills, and deliver the performance boosts pilots expect in an aircraft priced at $3.3m (2021 model, per Aircraft Bluebook).
The way the Piper M600/SLS delivers on its capabilities helps keep the model a strong seller in today’s market.
More information from www.piper.com