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Long live the turboprops. Despite past pronouncements of the imminent demise of the prop-and-turbine powerplant as a competitive choice- the advent of new light jets in the 1990s did not kill off the venerable turboprop.

Dave Higdon   |   1st July 2003
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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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More models and model upgrades combine to give buyers more choices in propjets.

Long live the turboprops. Despite past pronouncements of the imminent demise of the prop-and-turbine powerplant as a competitive choice- the advent of new light jets in the 1990s did not kill off the venerable turboprop.

Oh- for sure the popularity of the propjet as a type suffered from the changes of the last decade. Other changes- most of them in the past six years- helped buoy the segment- though- by equalizing rules for operating single-engine turboprop flights for hire during night IFR conditions.

From a fundamentally unenforceable previous requirement that these flights be able to descend to VFR and be assured of a 1-000-foot IFR ceiling- the rules evolved over a series of steps to now allow essentially unrestricted IFR flights-for-hire by these singles.

Still- it’s rare today to see a turboprop model selling better than a year ago.

Between prices and capabilities and the promise of even smaller- lighter- less-expensive jets- there’s no question that the collective pool of available propjets is struggling for sales more today than at any time in decades- (see Mike Potts’ accompanying review of today’s turboprop market.)

But there are bright spots. Between the launch of new models- the return of models discontinued in the 1990s- and the continued improvement of still others- the turboprop field continues to serve up alternatives for operators.

Some need to fulfill some specific mission needs; others- often owner-pilots- can’t or won’t wait on some new jet - to give them the speed- reach and payload they want now. And other users simply find the size- space and mission profile of a propjet a perfect fit for their flying needs- relative to a faster jet that may be smaller- more expensive and more runway hungry.

These days- with new investment tax advantages to help boost struggling sales- some manufacturers are making deals that make the venerable business turboprops for sale an attractive choice. And with the safety record of even single-engine propjets statistically even with that of twins- it appears that business aviation is a long way off from foregoing the strengths of turboprops in business.

With that in mind- let’s explore the options available now and in the near future.

Cessna Aircraft Co:
The Caravans

Now two decades in production- Cessna’s muscular single engine aircraft for sale remains a significant player among utility and owner-pilot operators thanks to a blend of strengths and abilities that seem to forever remain in favor – among them; efficiency- simplicity- durability- reliability and most of all- value.

Today’s Caravans still come in two flavors- the original Caravan and a bigger- brawnier brother- the Grand Caravan sporting four feet more cabin than the standard version. Together- the Caravan and Grand Caravan set a standard for ease of use and simplicity unmatched by any competitor in production today.

Demo flights show the Caravans capable of operations from some of the shortest strips in aviation- with 2-500-foot runways offering nearly double the pavement needed for launch and landing.

And pilots who take a turn piloting either of the Caravans usually come away impressed with its easy- friendly flying manners. My first exposure to flying the Caravan left me wondering how Cessna engineers managed to build in flying traits nearly identical to the company’s legendary Cessna 182 Skylane in a plane so much larger- heavier and more powerful. A later flight – one preceded by some time in the Cessna 172 Skyhawk – left me feeling that the Caravan was little more than a Skylane on steroids.

Through later encounters flown in later years- the Caravan never failed to reveal the sort of easy flying- billet-like strength and impressive performance that keeps it in demand still today.

Of course- size does matter – and the Caravan delivers- with a cabin that stretches a vast 12.7 feet- room enough for up to 10- including the single pilot required for VFR or IFR flying; the Grand’s cabin adds four feet for a length of 16.7 feet – big enough for 12 and baggage.

The Caravan delivers 987 pounds of cabin-payload capability with full fuel – load enough to lift four passengers and a couple hundred pounds of gear across a leg covering 800-plus nautical miles (with lots of reserve fuel). Fly with 20 percent less fuel- bump the load up to six people with luggage- and the Caravan still flies you 600 nautical in about three hours.

The 675 flat-rated horsepower of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-114A remains on tap to ISA plus 27 degrees Celsius – which means runway lengths are seldom considerations. The Caravan needs less than 2-100 feet of runway at sea level flying off at gross weight. Take the field elevation or density altitude up to 5-000 feet msl and 25 degrees Celsius and the runway needed remains slightly under 3-000 feet. For the Grand Caravan at gross- the runway numbers grow to 2-420 at sea level and 3-600 for the hot-and-high conditions.

Loading for the mission and balancing weight against fuel opens access to upwards of 90 percent of the nation’s 7-000 public runways. That level of access translates into utility matched by few business-turbine aircraft.

Of course- you can go with heavy-duty tires- skies or floats on either Caravan- greatly expanding the two models runway reach.

At a nominal executive-finished price of $1.575 million ($1.6 million for the Grand) you get a 180-plus knot performer with flying characteristics 180-degrees out of phase with its load-carrying capabilities – and that’s an attractive combination in any aircraft.

EADS Socata:
The TBM 700C2

With 13 years on the market- the TBM 700 stands as the eldest member of the turboprop community’s pressurized high-speed singles class. This propjet remains a major contender and currently leads all models in sales- thanks to a series of improvements EADS Socata introduced late last year to create the TBM 700C2.

This follow-on version of the prior TBM 700B model employs several structural changes to up its gross take-off weight to 7-394 pounds- a whopping 815-pound gain from the 700B’s 6-579 pounds.

With no aerodynamic refinements needed- the same reliable- 700 shp P&WC PT6A-64 engine used on all TBM 700s still delivers best-in-class high-speed cruise of 295 knots true at 26-000 feet. That speed not only betters all the other singles- but also all but two twin propjets.

It is the TBM 700’s combination of speed and excellent single-pilot flying qualities that induced Quest Diagnostics to seek the freighter version EADS Socata developed just under two years ago. And other customers with more-conventional needs find the TBM 700C2 an attractive alternative to the higher costs and lower reliability of many cabin-class piston twin jet aircraft  and other propjet options.

Configured for up to six- the TBM 700C2 has among the best fuel efficiency this class offers- needing but 1-100 pounds of fuel to fly a 1-000 nautical mile leg with four on board – in 3:30- landing with NBAA reserves.

Top it’s fuel tanks and the range grows to nearly 1-500 nautical miles- while the payload remains a hefty 910 pounds and reserves remain at about 250 pounds – nearly an hour’s cruise fuel.

Today’s $2.97 million equipped price includes EFIS and multifunction displays- traffic- and terrain-avoidance equipment- a higher payload and more.

Piaggio Aero Industries:
The Avanti P-180

Returned to the market just two years ago- the improved P-180 retains the mantle of speed champion among the turboprop set- thanks to a 390-knot ability that beats a number of light jets – current and future. And all that speed comes with a cabin that makes some existing jets seem small spaces - and some future jets appear strap-on planes- by comparison.

Thank the Ferrari family for the renaissance of this racy- three-wing machine- for it was their finances- manufacturing and marketing that brought it about. Serendipitously- the distinctive growl of this pusher-configured propjet fits perfectly with both its Grand Prix looks and the equally distinctive Ferrari badge that adorns the airplane.

But growls and lines aside- the Avanti again wins its aficionados through a unique combination of cabin space- finish quality- looks (of course) and unrivaled speed. The Avanti’s unique three-wing airframe helps balance the loads between the tiny- high-aspect-ratio wing – a mere 176 square feet – the small swept tail and the smaller fore wing.

A fixed airfoil – except for the flaps that deploy with the main-wing flaps – the fore wing’s location helps give the Avanti’s steeply sloped nose a catfish-like appearance as distinctive as the exhaust sound of the two 850-shp PT6A-66 powerplants.

Part of what makes that sound so unique and race car-like is the passage of the pusher prop blades through the exhaust flow; part is from the exhaust itself.

The Piaggio Avanti business turboprop aircraft for sale even appears to hug the ground like a Formula 1 car thanks to the short landing gear mounted in the lower fuselage.

But the combination of the bullet-like fuselage- the high tail- mid-wing and low fore-wing shows most when hand-flying the speedy Avanti. The P-180 feels nimble but stable – and the stability eases the work of either the pilot or flight director- whether maneuvering in the pattern for landing or streaking across the landscape at the high-speed cruise of 390 knots – a speed that doesn’t sacrifice range.

The benchmark 1-000-mile leg takes a mere 3 hours to cover and only 1-526 pounds of fuel. By comparison- you need another 30 minutes to make the same trip in the P-180’s closest competitor – but you do save a couple hundred pounds of fuel.

Throw in a roomy cabin that stand 5 feet- 8 inches tall and nearly 5 feet wide along with the latest avionics and jet-beating speed and fuel efficiency- there’s little question of what attracts buyers to spend $4.995 million on this bird.

Pilatus Aircraft for sale:

Hauls like a truck and runs like a sports sedan; that’s Pilatus’ dichotomous PC-12 single. Equally capable as a utility or executive-level airplane- the PC-12 delivers on its dual personalities through the strength of a sturdy- clean airframe and the reliability and fuel efficiency of its P&WC 1-200 shp PT6A-67B.

The Pilatus PC-12 business turboprop aircraft for sale may come closest to do-it-all status thanks to its ability to use a 2-300-foot runway on a 2-200-mile leg trip at 270 knots with 1-000 pounds in the cabin. Move the field up to hot-and-high status and the PC-12 remains able to use 4-000-foot strips to start the same trip. And putting just what you need into that 1-000 pounds of cabin load is easy thanks to an aft-cabin fuselage door that operates either as a big cargo door or a people-sized air-stair hatch.

Maximizing the cabin load and putting in the available 925 pounds of fuel weight leaves the PC-12 still able to cover legs of 600 nautical miles in barely more than 2 hours- with NBAA IFR reserves fuel margins.

Working this airplane hard requires no babying- thanks to the strength of an airframe that boasts a maximum ramp weight of 9-965 pounds – like it’s range and payload combinations- the biggest in its class. And the PC-12’s performance compares favorably with most of the twins of the propjet class – except- of course- at the fuel pump and- in most instances- at the wallet.

The most expensive of the singles- the PC-12’s $2.97 million price beats all the twins but the King Air C90B airplanes for sale. And at the fuel pump- the PC-12 beats all the twins.

The New Piper Aircraft Co:

Soon- the Piper Meridian aircraft for sale will no longer hold the mantle as the newest member of the propjet pack. But it’s competitive position should change little from where it stands today- thanks to the performance New Piper achieved when evolving the Meridian out of the Malibu Mirage.

New Piper designed an airplane that can make a 270-knot 1-000-mile leg- while offering its pilot one of the first flat-screen EFIS systems to come to the prop airplane segment – the Meggitt/S-Tec MAGIC system.

Employing redundant AHRS units in place of mechanical gyro sensors- the MAGIC panel gives pilots a new degree of automation and awareness- a level that makes the Meridian among the easiest-to-manage business turbine airplanes in the fleet.

Sporting Garmin International’s GNS-530 and the sophisticated S-Tec System FiftyFiveX- the Meridian offers pilots a workload more manageable than many other models in its class. But it is the Meridian’s flying traits that inspire confidence when hand-flying this high-performance machine- a balanced combination of maneuverability- predictability and stability.

With a gross-weight increase last year- this $1.8 million single needs but 1-028 pounds of fuel to cover 1-000 miles carrying about 400 pounds in the cabin. And for most owner-pilots- this capability translates into a lot of flexibility for shorter legs with more in the cabin – but no more than 3-700 feet of runway required at the hot-and-high field- or under 2-500 feet down at sea level.

Raytheon Aircraft Co:
King Airs C90B aircraft for sale- B-200 jet aircraft for sale- B350- 1900 Executive

This is the 40th anniversary year for the venerable Beechcraft King Air line- which began in 1963 with the original 90-series model. With the longest run of any propjet in civil aviation- Raytheon Aircraft Co.’s line of King Airs still set the standard for multiengine turboprop business aircraft all these years later.

Remarkably- the line today still includes a 90-series – the C90B – along with two larger brothers- the Super King Airs 200 business turboprops for sale and 350- and an Executive/Corporate Shuttle variant of the venerable 1900D airliners.

Keys to the success of all these propjets- from the C90B up to the Executive/Corporate Shuttle 1900D variant- are their sturdy Beechcraft-standard construction- predictable- harmonized handling traits and high-level utility.

First exposure to any of these capable turboprops usually provides convincing evidence of why these aircraft remain staples in the business-turbine fleet so many years after their introductions.

For example- the 90-series models behave much like the flagship of the Beechcraft piston line- the venerable Bonanza. In production longer than any other airplanes for sale in history- the Bonanza line provided the benchmark by which the early King Airs were gauged.

Imparting similar handling to the 90 kept the line one easily compatible with single-pilot IFR operations and encouraged generations of owner/pilots to make the step up to turbine power from the realm of piston platforms. What was true in the early 1960s remains true today and the C90B serves up no bad habits or troubling traits that are incompatible to solo pilotage- although as the models grow in size and weight- of course- two pilots become the requirement.

Nonetheless- even the 200 and King Air 350 aircraft for sale retain much of the control harmony and predictable feel needed to make hand-flying any airplane a welcome task. Add in the level of panel gear needed for efficient travel in today’s airspace- all arranged for easy access- and you have the recipe needed to produce a winner for a variety of missions.

The two PT6A-21 engines deliver 550 shp to drive the C90B to cruise speeds approaching 250 knots true on less than 600 pounds per hour of Jet A. Load four- top the tanks and the C90B covers nearly 1-000 nautical miles in a bit more than four hours on 1-800 pounds of the 2-573-pound fuel capacity.

Typical of most business-turbine missions- the nominal King Air missions fall between 350 and 500 nautical in length and give the crew vast options for loading passengers- cargo and fuel.

The normal six-place C90B interior provides buyers with a multiengine option available nowhere else- as well as a stepping-stone to the eight-seat cabin of B200 and the 15 seats possible in the 350.

Prices start at just under $3 million for the C90B- increase to $4.8 million for the 1-400-nautical-mile- 290-knot B200- and on to $5.8 million for the 1-600-nautical- 310-knot 350. The 1900D Executive delivers up to 275 knots cruise and a maximum range of 1-400 nautical miles for just under $5.2 million.

As we noted above- interest in the turboprop defies predictions of the demise of the type. The airplanes for sale we address here are- with one exception- in flight tests with plans to certificate either this year or in the next couple of years. Together they indicate that the combination of turbine power with propeller utility should remain a staple of business aviation for years to come.

Extra Aviation:
EA 500

First flown just a few weeks before this writing- the EA 500 represents more of the advanced thinking of Germany’s legendary designer- Walter Extra.

The EA 500 consists of the pressurized composite airframe certificated as the EA 400 pressurized piston single with a Rolls-Royce 250-B17F2 turboprop engine. The sole exception to the dominant Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A engines used by the other models listed here- the RR 250 choice helps the EA 500 deliver performance and efficiency sure to attract more than a few buyers. For example- the combination of the sleek carbon-fiber airframe and high-efficiency 450-shp engine delivers a six-seat single-pilot platform capable of cruising at 25-000 and 225 knots true on a sparse 134 pounds of fuel per hour – the most efficient of anything in our listing.

With a maximum fuel capacity of only 1-137 pounds of Jet A- the EA 500 covers a maximum distance of 1-600 nautical miles – while retaining a cabin-payload capacity of 437 pounds- pretty much on par with other single-engine airplanes for sale in the field at full fuel.

Just as fuel needs are the stingiest of the batch- runway requirements for the EA 500 are also the shortest of its class – and approaching the near-STOL performance of the Cessna Caravan. At max weight- the EA 500 needs less than 1-700 feet of runway; at lower weights- say for our benchmark 1-000-mile flight- the EA 500 requires only 650 pounds of fuel – plus reserves – and 1-300 feet of runway to launch on the 4:46 leg needed to cover the distance.

While the speeds and times may fall below the level of other- more-powerful singles- there should be few passenger complaints- thanks to an unusual high-wing configuration that avoids any spar intrusions into the six-seat cabin. And for the savings in money and fuel- the added time will be a small price for many operators.

Couple these highly desirable performance and efficiency traits with its lowest-in class price of $1.495 million- and you have the makings of a propjet that will make pilots’ heads turn and their wallets open. Expect initial deliveries in 2004.

IBIS Aerospace:
The Ae270

From Eastern Europe comes another large propjet single with its own model niche. In size- performance and price- the Ae270 from Ibis Aerospace falls neatly between the EADS Socata TBM700C2 and the New Piper Meridian- thanks to seating for a crew of two plus eight passengers. Ibis Aerospace is a joint venture of Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic and Taiwan’s AIDC.

Sporting a powerful P&WC PT6A-66A making 850-shp- the Ae270 is delivering high-speed cruise numbers approaching 280 knots while burning about 385 pounds of fuel per hour.

With a maximum fuel capacity of just under 2-000 pounds- the Ae270 can pull off legs as long as 1-610 nautical miles (with fuel reserves). For our 1-000-mile standard leg- the Ae270 needs just over 1-500 feet of runway- about 1-250 pounds of fuel and about 4:15 while cruising at 30-000 feet msl.

The Ae270 can also be configured for bulk cargo.

Flight-testing has greatly expanded in the past year with a conformal prototype – the fifth in the program – making its inaugural flight on February 25. Certification work is ongoing with final approval expected late this year and first deliveries in the first quarter of 2004. Estimated price for a typically equipped Ae270 runs to about $2.5 million.

Explorer Aircraft

A transplant to Texas- the Explorer 500 piston utility airplane won certification from authorities in its native Australia nearly two years ago and now the developers are working on a propjet-powered follow-on and a stretched version that also employs turboprop power.

The target markets for the 500T and 750T are utility operators of the type who so strongly embraced the Cessna Caravan. In fact- the 500T falls pretty much dead center between the Cessna 206 six-place single piston airplanes for sale and the standard Caravan – while the 750T will have its cabin stretched to about Grand Caravan size.

Power for the 500T now flying comes from the P&WC PT6A-135 engine de-rated to a mere 600 shp- providing substantial power and temperature margins for hot-and-high operations. The 750T- when it enters tests- will sport the PT6A-60A rated to 750 shp.

Speed and payload numbers are still in development- but expect speeds in the 170-knot range for the 500T. Certification is due by the end of 2004.

Pacific Aerospace

From New Zealand comes yet another competitor for the high-speed single-propjet market- Pacific Aerospace’s PT6A-powered 750XL.

First flown in September 2001- this derivative of the company’s piston-powered Fletcher-series aircraft nudges up against the New Piper Meridian in size and performance.

Modification work delayed flight tests last year- but the resumption of flight-testing has not moved the 750XL near to certification- which was previously predicted to come this year.

EADS Socata (USA); Tel: +1 954 893 1400; Fax: +1 954 964 0805; Website: www.socataaircraft.com. Explorer Aircraft; Tel: +1 409 489 1500; Fax: +1 409 489 1700; Website: www.exploreraircraft.com.

Extra Aviation; Tel: +1 717 394 9797; Fax: +1 717 394 5106; Website: www.extraaviation.com.

IBis Aerospace; (US) Tel: +1 830 257 8200; Fax: +1 830 257 8201; (Europe/Middle East/Africa) Tel: +420 25576 3242; Fax: +420 25576 3244; (Asia/Pacific) Tel: +886 4 2284 2861; Fax: +886 4 2284 2325; Website: www.Ae270.com

Pacific Aerospace; Tel: +64 9 575 6391; Fax: +64 9 575 2392; Website: www.aerospace.co.nz

Piaggio Aerospace; Tel: +1 864 277 3979 (US) or +39 010 64811 (Italy); Fax: +1 864 277 4378 (US) or +39 010 6481234 (Italy); Website: www.piaggioaero.com

Pilatus; Tel: +1 303 465 9099; Fax: +1 303 465 9190; Website: www.pilatus-aircraft.com

The New Piper Aircraft Company; Tel: +1 772 567 4361; Fax: +1 772 778 2144; Website: www.newpiper.com

Raytheon Aircraft; Tel: +1 316 676 5034; Fax: +1 316 676 6614; Website: www.raytheonaircraft.com

Read more about: Cessna Caravans | TBM 700C2

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