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Every choice - each decision - all points of view; they generally support at least two perspectives- a pair of alternative views. If no alternative exists- you don’t really enjoy the luxury of choice- do you? So it’s no wonder that variety never comes up as a complaint in aviation: when it comes to airplanes - sizes and types- missions and powerplants - aviation’s got variety to spare.Aviation also ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st October 2009
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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The Propjets - never better as a cost-effective- strong option for business

Every choice - each decision - all points of view; they generally support at least two perspectives- a pair of alternative views. If no alternative exists- you don’t really enjoy the luxury of choice- do you? So it’s no wonder that variety never comes up as a complaint in aviation: when it comes to airplanes - sizes and types- missions and powerplants - aviation’s got variety to spare.

Aviation also boasts some thumb rules that seem to work years- decades- after their creation: you can go fast- or you can go cheap- but cheap and fast don’t exist. Another rule of thumb specifies that to be practical for same-day travel- an airplane needs to cruise at a minimum 180 knots.

Now- it’s in the nature of humans to seek out the next level of almost everything- with flying particularly susceptible to that phenomenon. That is- pilots (owner-pilots in particular) love “moving up” the food chain until they finally achieve a pair of balances – between the target territory and budget.

Stay inside an owner’s comfort level in budget- but get as much speed as possible for the bucks available - fly faster- spend less time traveling: One of the big appeals of business aircraft is the time equation; time required to fly the airlines is not efficient- not with 90-minute check-in recommendations- layover times and the time needed to get close to the actual destination.

Even a relatively slow airplane can compete with an airline flight when a plane change or two is in the itinerary. Private aircraft travelers move from point-to-point- direct - and they tend to get there faster even when utilizing a slower airplane. Make the airplane faster- of course- and they’ll make even bigger time savings.

This approach helps justify the intangible urge to fly faster against the very practical implication of how much ground you can cover in a day – or how much less-time you can use to cover a fixed area. 180 knots makes possible out-and-back trips covering 1-000 miles within even the short confines of winter daylight. 300- 400- maybe 500 knots enables you to head out- around a triangle possibly connecting Points A- B and C within a day. Up the ante to four nautical miles a minute and that territory expands to 1-300 miles – or alternatively 25 percent to 30 percent less traveling time for our original 1-000 mile trip.

You can see the progression; people in business aviation usually see it instinctively – that’s why in the past decade the OEMs delivered more than double the jets delivered in the prior two decades. But for the small matter of budget- even more jets might have sold; but for budgets and the answers to those budgets- the turboprop exists.

Up at- and above the four-mile-per-minute territory- today’s crop of single and twin propjets collectively deliver greater speed on less fuel for longer distances than even their predecessors in each lineage. And with the promise of the Very Light Jet finally at a stable resolution (for however long the stability lasts)- the propjets reflected here provide operators with a variety of choices in how they fulfill their missions – and in the costs and prices they command.

From a small pressurized single to a large- un-pressurized single- a crop of substantially sized singles and a handful of twins- the extreme variety matches up well with the broad spectrum of missions that aviation fulfills.

Whether in a tough- boxy utility aircraft providing lift into undeveloped bush-lands or a fast sleek single most suited to rapid- cost-effective individual flight- the turboprop as a segment continues to defy past predictions of its imminent demise. Smart- cost-efficient speed and lift never loses its appeal- and today’s propjet crop represents all those traits.

In the past- we’ve arranged this report along the lines of the ‘here-and-shipping’ models versus the ‘in-development-ready-someday’ machines. But the seeming collapse of several previously promising propjet programs leads us to believe it might make the report more useful to focus on the here-and-shipping models- split along the lines of engine numbers.

So we’ll first focus this piece on the singles- including any developmental efforts that still show viable life signs- followed by the multi-engine models – with the same caveat regarding the development programs. Even with this change- the report offers info on a large variety of airplanes suited to a major cross-section of mission needs.

As with most of general aviation- the propjet segment provides the variety necessary to make shopping a matter of matching up the mission to the viable birds – and then making a choice among the contenders. As you’ll see- variety and choice are alive and well within the turboprop segment.


Now equipped with the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit system as standard- Cessna’s two stocky propjet singles remain popular choices among pilots and owners from across a wide spectrum of operations. With an all-new anti-ice option available and the new panel- the Caravan remains one of Cessna’s strongest offerings a full 25 years after its certification.

Capable of operating from rough- unimproved strips- from snowy climes when equipped with skis or from the world’s watery runways with floats- the thousands of Caravans operating are familiar sights all across the globe.

The short-body standard Caravan offers seating for up to nine- plus the pilot-in-command- while the Grand- with its four-foot fuselage stretch- can accommodate a dozen. Caravans today share not only the Garmin flight deck- but the upgraded Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-114A powerplant producing a flat-rated 675 shp. The package delivers cruise speeds of up to 186 knots for the standard model- and 182 for the Grand version.

Carrying its full 2-224 pounds of fuel leaves the standard 208-675 with capacity to carry 900 pounds; the Grand ups the payload capacity by 400 pounds – not a small consideration for the many buyers looking for large-capacity lift.

A significant contributor to the Caravan’s continued success 25 years after its introduction is the optional Oasis interior package- designed by a Wichita-based design house and installed under an exclusive agreement by Yingling Aircraft across the airport from where the Caravans are built. The standard 208-675 fetches about $1.9 million- with the larger Grand Caravan going for a bit more than $2 million.

More information from www.cessna.com

TBM 850

As it approaches its 20th anniversary- the TBM single-engine propjet family is as modern as any competitor- thanks to a series of upgrades- enhancements and improvements undertaken over the past couple of years- starting when Socata was still a part of the European aircraft conglomerate- EADS.

As one of the Daher companies- Socata continues to make the TBM 850 as competitive as ever. Now standard on the TBM 850 is the Garmin G1000 integrated suite- sporting three screens – two 10.4-inch PFDs- and a 15- inch MFD – and all the other accoutrements the modern- savvy pilot desires- including the GFC 700 digital flight-control system- and integrated color weather radar- dual digital audio control panels- TCAS and TAWS.

Essentially- the 850 performs as you’d expect it to when stepping up from the TBM 700. It offers cruise speeds up to 320 knots at FL260- and the TBM 850 can climb direct to FL310 in as little as 20 minutes – with just a little help from Air Traffic Control.

With full fuel the TBM 850 can cover 1-400nm- yet still access 2-100-foot runways. Landing a TBM 850 for yourself will cost you about $3 million; based on the more than 500 TBM 700s and 850s sold- Daher Socata is finding plenty of takers at that price.

More information from www.tbm850.com


Extra Aircraft has been busy updating and refining its sole entrant into the world of personal travel- the EA-500 propjet single- working to keep this sleek composite machine competitive in a fast-changing market. New to the Extra this year is the Avidyne Entegra Release 9 glass cockpit- and an updated interior- configured to seat up to six - including the pilot.

Power for this svelte turboprop comes from a single Rolls-Royce 250-B17F/2 rated at 450shp. Transforming the turbine’s power into thrust is a quiet- five-blade MT composite prop that’s both featherable and reversible to help shorten landing roll. Approved to cruise at up to FL250- the EA-500 can reach speeds of 220 knots. The aircraft operates at its most frugal in the high-teen/low-twenties Flight Levels- burning 65 liters/h of Jet A-1- however- at no point will more than 80L/h be burnt in this aircraft.

You could opt for a more efficient cruise speed that allows for a range of up to 1-600 miles on a mere 900 pounds of its upgraded 1-220 pounds of fuel. The added fuel gives the EA-500 greater range and operational flexibility - something pilots and operators will appreciate since the new payload- with full fuel- is below 400 pounds. But with its high degree of fuel efficiency- fueling for shorter trips carrying more in the cabin takes nothing away from its speed and miserly fuel burn.

Expect to spend upwards of $1.3 million for the Extra EA-500- but worry less about maintenance and corrosion- thanks to the composite carbon-fiber airframe- propeller and sophisticated avionics.

Currently- Extra Aircraft is offering its EA- 500 only in Europe. Costly product liability insurance is forcing the company to delay selling the aircraft in the U.S. However- Extra assures us it is diligently pursuing all avenues and opportunities to start sales in the U.S. For now- though- all aircraft have to be purchased through Europe.

More information from www.extraaircraft.com

PC-12 NG

Today’s Next Generation PC-12 continues the heavy lifting- high-performance capabilities of the original - but with new avionics and updated power to enhance the aircraft’s performance and appeal.

For example- when the new PT6A-67P powerplant is compared to the prior engine used - the -67B - it gives 20% more power initially in the climb (1-200shp versus 1-000shp)- and about 11% more power at maximum cruise from around FL200 till FL300. The selection of Honeywell’s fourscreen Primus Apex system for the BMWdesigned flight deck- meantime- improves the working conditions for the single pilot as well as two-pilot crew.

The 10-450-pound MTOW is unchanged but with the maximum 2-704 pounds of fuel an executive configured PC-12 NG can still carry a very decent 1-000-pounds-plus in the cabin. Maximum cruise comes at 280 knots and the PC-12 NG can cruise as high as FL300- putting it well above many of its competitors in the propjet category.

With three passengers and a pilot in this nine-seat propjet- carrying full fuel and cruising at its maximum speed- the PC-12 NG can cover legs longer than 1-500 nautical miles – with NBAA reserves. On the flip side- even at its highest weight- the PC-12 NG can operate out of 2-500-foot airports thanks- in part- to its 66-knot stall speed at Gross Weight. And the company claims direct operating costs of about half that of a comparably sized business jet.

The base price of the 2009 PC-12 NG is a competitive $3.48 million - but expect to spend about $4 million for a nicely equipped example. Regardless- you will get plenty for your money.

More information from www.pilatus-aircraft.com


Piper’s svelte Malibu Mirage step-up model- the single-propjet Meridian- enjoyed its own level of upgrade work to make it an attractive choice at about $2 million. Piper now offers buyers their choice of panels: a cockpit equipped with Avidyne’s Entegra system- or one fitted with the G1000 package from Garmin International.

Piper opted for a three-screen Entegra package- two PFDs and a large-screen MFD that shows weather- traffic- radar- navigation and moving-map imagery- as well as engine and systems information and alerts. The Entegra package is coupled with WAAS-enabled Garmin GNS 430 GPS/Nav/Comm radios and an S-Tec Magic 1500 automatic flight-control system. Color weather radar is standard and XM Satellite Datalink weather is a popular option.

The Garmin G1000 version also sports three screens- with a huge 15-inch MFD dominating the center of the panel that makes the two 10.4-inch PFDs look small in their spaces in front of the two pilot seats. Each PFD is paired with a control head to manage the avionics- while the fully integrated GFC 700 digital flight control handles flying controls with uncommon smoothness and command.

For business or personal missions- the Meridian works well and very competitively with other- higher-dollar machines – but without sacrificing operational flexibility- such as the ability to fly from runways well under 2-500 feet long.

It breaks down like this: Piper lists the Meridian’s take-off roll at 1-650 feet; clearing the test-standard 50-foot obstacle takes another 788 feet; the total- just 2-438 feet. Numbers like these open up the vast majority of the nation’s paved runways; the Meridian’s 1-000-mile-plus range opens up a staggeringly high assortment of airport pairings. Its excellent fuel efficiency makes the trip as frugal as they get- credit for which belongs equally to the sleek design that Piper engineers created- and the low fuel specifics of the PT6A-42A engine. Flat rated at only 500shp- this little PW&C powerplant retains that output up to ISA+55°C.

Piper’s goal when developing the Meridian was to offer the market an airplane more capable than the long-running Malibu - a pressurized piston single - that represented not just more airplane and performance- but that retained the flying qualities that make aviators label a machine ‘a pilot’s airplane.’ With 260 knots of speed available and a service ceiling up at FL300- the latest Meridian meets- and betters those goals.

More information from www.piper.com


It’s been a while coming- but a competitor to Cessna’s long-running Caravan is prowling the skies in ever increasing numbers- and winning converts in some of the world’s most-hostile operating environments. This outcome was part of the point when Quest Aircraft Co. went into business and started developing its new Kodiak propjet single.

Its large loading door- wide- flat floor and tall ceiling make it ideal for hauling off-size cargo to remote- unimproved strips. The PT6A-34 turboprop engine can make 750shp for a limited time and 700shp continuously. Cruising at 179kts true- the Kodiak can cover over 1-000nm with about 45 minutes reserve; NBAA reserves takes maximum range down to about 900 nautical – still respectable- and more than flexible enough to the operator. Fueled to its full 320 gallons – 2-173 pounds – the Kodiak retains a decent 927 pounds of payload capability.

The Garmin G1000 package in the Kodiak sports three 10-inch high-resolution displays- with the added safety of Garmin’s own Synthetic Vision System- as well as terrain avoidance with color coding to reflect the relative threat. Quest offers the Kodiak in three different interior configurations- and a cargo pod is an available option to up the Kodiak’s 248 cubic feet of cargo volume by an additional 62 cubic feet. Arguably the bargain bird of the propjets- the Kodiak fetches just under $1.5 million.

More information from http://questaircraft.com/

Today’s King Air line-up is the largest ever- with five models- two of those in standard and long-range versions. All models of the King Air today share in their use of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 digital integrated avionics suite- with accoutrements available all the way through as you go up the model scale from the smallest to the largest version.

All King Air models also employ PT6A engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada- with power variations according to the installation. Here’s a snapshot of the different models.

C90GTi & C90GTx
Sporting the same PT6A-135-A engines flat rated to 550 shp from 750 thermodynamic capabilities- today’s 90-series King Airs continue the lineage that began with the original King Air 90 back in 1963. Both the GTi and GTx can cover more than 1-300 nautical miles- plus NBAA reserves; and both cruise at 270 knots and fly at altitudes up to FL300.

The GTx- however- sports new composite winglets to reduce drag and improve climb- as well as give a higher gross weight that enables it a useful load of 3-310 pounds – 200 pounds more cabin-payload capability than the GTi. The entry price starts at about $3.3 million for the GTi- and higher for the GTx.

Long the middle child of the King Air Line- the B200 has faired well in the market thanks to its larger cabin and high payload capabilities. Now enhanced to the B200GT- this King Air flies on two new 850shp PT6A- 52 engines and gains higher cruise speeds and better climb performance than ever before.

The B200GT can make an above-respectable 308 knots- climb to- and cruise at FL350- and cover 1-800 nautical miles. Essentially- the B200GT retains the same sturdiness and off-tarmac capabilities that have long helped keep the King Air family popular with pilots.

KING AIR 350 & 350i
A true rarity among aircraft- these King Airs are two models that can handle everything you throw at them: fill the seats at eight in a double-club configuration; load up the luggage compartment; top the tanks- and go - loaded thus- these King Airs can fly more than 1-650nm. Drop the cabin load down to four and you can up the trip to 1-765nm.

The 350i incorporates the Collins Venue high-definition cabin-management system (CMS) to bring full office/entertainment capabilities to the cabin. Both King Airs retain the runway flexibility operators have come to expect from the Beechcraft propjet twins- with the 350s able to use runways as short as 3-300 feet. Buying a King Air 350 will costs about $6.35 million; for the 350i- the ante rises slightly to $6.57 million.

More information from www.hawkerbeechcraft.com

To the winner go the spoils. To the Piaggio P.180 Avanti II- a lot of spoils should go- because this distinctive business-turbine aircraft goes like no other propjet – and even out-goes some jets that cost considerably more to operate over the same distances… say- $3-000 less than a competitive light jet on a Palm Beach-New York leg- while giving up maybe a few minutes in travel time.

That’s the beauty of Piaggio Aero’s whisker-nose Avanti- a bullet-shaped airplane with a small forewing- a mid-mounted wing aft of the main cabin- a T-tail- and two P&WC PT6A-66B powerplants with five-blade props translating their 850shp- flat rated to ISA+28°C. Further- Piaggio mounts the engines as pusher powerplants- which puts the majority of the noise and structure well aft of where it might impinge on the passenger experience.

Not only does the Avanti II sport the largest cabin in its class- it delivers the hottest speed performance of any turboprop- regardless of engines or cabin size. The top cruise speed is a massive 400kts – upward of 100kts than its nearest challenger. In fact- the Avanti II’s long-range cruise of 318kts beats the top speed of everything else in its class.

Beyond its speed superiority over other propjets- the P.180 cruises faster than many light jets – while capable of cruising up in jet territory thanks to its service ceiling of FL410.

Up front- the flight deck sports Rockwell Collins’ proven ProLine 21 digital integrated avionics suite in a three-screen configuration. Satellite phone and TCAS I are also among the standard features. And the Avanti II is approved for single-pilot IFR operations- further contributing to its low operating costs.

As you might expect- however- performance and capability of the Avanti’s magnitude doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay about $7.1 million to buy into the Avanti II’s performance.

More information from www.piaggioaero.com

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