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Reviewing the vast variety of aircraft on display at the 2004 EAA Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In back in April one conclusion seemed inescapable: The popularity of the propjet airplane remains strong.

Dave Higdon   |   1st July 2004
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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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Propjet popularity continued amid recovery defying predictions of light-jet dominance.

Reviewing the vast variety of aircraft on display at the 2004 EAA Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In back in April one conclusion seemed inescapable: The popularity of the propjet airplane remains strong.

Both EADS/Socata and Pilatus – both recent additions to the membership of the U.S. General Aviation Manufacturers Association – centered their displays around their very capable turboprop single piston engine aircraft for sale. In fact- Socata showed off two of its sleek TBM 700C2s along with some of the company’s piston singles- while nearby Pilatus let one of its brawny PC-12 singles dominate its exhibit stand.

Cessna Aircraft Company gave a prominent position to its latest Grand Caravan turboprop singles- as well. Even new-entrant Extra Aircraft touted its upcoming EA-500- the only single not flying on a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A powerplant. All of these business-turbine airplane models seemed to attract lines of prospects interested in talking about these owner-friendly machines. All had their fans.

Furthermore- future aviation events hold promise for even more exhibitors of business turboprop aircraft for sale- thanks to the approaching certification of a new single from the Czech Republic and the recent first flight of India’s first civilian transportation aircraft – yet another propjet single engine airplanes for sale.

This continued growth of- and attraction for- turboprop aircraft flies in the face of predictions of impending demise for the propjet airplane. Back about 15 years ago – but as recently as only a decade back – many crystal-ball gazers foretold of dwindling airplane sales of the propeller-driven turbine thanks to the emerging field of light entry-level jets represented by the Cessna CitationJet business jets or sale and the sino Swearingen SJ-30 business jets for sale.

Competitive in price with many of the dominant turboprops of the day- these small jets promised the utility of single-pilot IFR- higher cruise altitudes- faster enroute speeds and equal or lower direct operating costs. Yet apparently the purveyors of propjet planes didn’t get the message- because in the years since the choices available to business aircraft users has increased- not decreased.

Yes- there must be acknowledgement that in recent years the sales of twin-engine airplanes for sale have struggled- and yes- propjet sales in 2003 dropped compared to 2002 – by a meager 2.9 percent worldwide. However- in the first quarter of 2004- propjet airplane sales grew by one single unit to 32- a mere 3.2 percent gain.

The number of turboprop-powered aircraft flying in the U.S. actually grew in the early years of the new century. At the end of 2002- the U.S. business aviation fleet counted a total of 6-841 propjets- up from 6-596 at the end of 2001.

The number of propjet singles saw the greatest growth- to 1-108- a whopping 193 gain over 2001 or a huge 21 percent; by comparison- the number of turboprop twins grew only 60 to 5-703 by the end of 2002- a blip of a gain at 1 percent.

As we update the status of the current crop of business turboprops for sale and in development- the expansion and further refinement of the single-engine selections continues to drive the growth in propjet popularity. Because of that ongoing expansion of single-engine choices- this year we depart from our usual alphabetical progression to first examine the new models in the aircraft market.

Indeed- when we come back to this topic sometime in 2005- don’t be surprised to see yet more choices or further evolution of the existing models to systems comparable with higher-dollar jets for sale- thanks to payload and performance numbers that remain viable.

Extra Aircraft:
With its sights set on a niche currently unfilled by any competing airplane manufacturer- Extra Aircraft LLC offers the soon-to-be-certificated EA-500 turboprop. And typical of designer Walter Extra’s creations- the EA-500 departs from the pack on numerous levels.

Designed to seat six – including a pilot – the EA-500 seems squarely aimed at the owner-flown airplanes for sale market- as was its predecessor. In fact- the EA-500 shares its airframe with the EA-400 pressurized piston that came along before the original Extra Aircraft went into bankruptcy. Coming out of bankruptcy in the hands of U.S.-based Extra Aircraft LLC- the revived company opted to pursue the new business turboprop aircraft for sale and certification should come later this year.

The EA-500 tips the scales at 4-696 pounds at its maximum gross-take-off weight- about 400 pounds lighter than the next closest contender. Credit for that svelte weight belongs to the sleek composite fuselage. Made predominantly of molded carbon fiber- the EA-500 airframe sports a high wing and a fluid- teardrop-shaped fuselage with minimal resistance to the airflow.

The EA-500 also stands alone in the pack for its powerplant- a version of the diminutive Rolls-Royce/Allison 250 that makes 450 shp. Long popular among helicopter makers- the Rolls-Royce 250 numbers in the thousands- with millions of operating hours and widespread support from both the manufacturer and a number of after-market vendors.

But the engine’s light weight (about 200 pounds) and compact dimensions (about 45 inches long- 19 inches across) work almost perfectly with the aerodynamically enhanced- lightweight airframe. Working together with an MT Propeller five-blade prop- this airframe-powerplant package gives the EA-500 respectable performance and high efficiency.

For example- at about 16-000 feet – much lower than efficient for most PT6A-powered airframes – the EA-500 can make about 220 knots true on about 30 gallons an hour of fuel. Take the EA-500 up to its maximum ceiling at FL250- though- and you lose only about 10 knots or so- but you gain about 10 gallons an hour in fuel efficiency as consumption drops to just over 20 gph.

Now- there are a couple of piston singles that can operate above 20-000 feet and make 210 knots or more – but at fuel-consumption rates of 18 to 22 gph- the costs per mile is higher- thanks to the higher cost of aviation gasoline.

Credit for this combination of speed and fuel efficiency is shared as much by the airframe as the engine – with particular credit due to the natural laminar-flow wing and the clean lines of the design. At a mere 1-400 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle- in fact- the EA-500’s airport numbers beat even some piston singles popular as trainers and private airplanes for sale. No doubt- the EA-500 offers the greatest runway flexibility of any business-turbine airplane flying.

Similar to many others in its class- though- the EA-500 does suffer from payload limitations when fueled to its maximum 176 gallons of Jet A. Yet- even at this fueling- the EA-500 should deliver nearly 500 pounds of payload- plenty for a pair of travelers and their gear on a trip approaching 1-600 nautical miles.

Eschew filling the 56-gallon long-range tank- though- and use only the standard 123-gallon main tank- and you pick up about 375 pounds of useable payload – another two people and their gear – and you can still fly nearly 1-100 nautical miles non-stop. Fuel for a 700-mile trip and you can pretty much fill the cabin.

Furthermore- you can make the trip with one of aviation’s newest avionics panels - the Honeywell Apex integrated system. Honeywell and Extra Aircraft LLC announced the decision in April- at EAA Sun ‘n Fun. Certification should come later this year and the line is growing.

National Aerospace Laboratories of India (NAL):
A scant couple of weeks ahead of this writing- the world’s largest democracy expanded its presence in the civil-aviation field- and the vehicle chosen is a new propjet design named for crane native to the subcontinent – the SARAS.

Among the business-turboprop airplanes for sale fleet currently available- the SARAS is singular: A pusher twin configured similarly to most twin-turbofan business turboprop jets for sale- with the engines mounted on the aft fuselage.

The SARAS represents the first new twin to enter the propjet arena since the Beech Starship and Piaggio P.180 Avanti (two other pushers) first earned their flying papers more than 10 years ago. However- the SARAS differs from both the now-extinct Starship and the Italian Avanti in that the Saras engines are not mounted on the main wing and the new plane from India lacks a forward wing- an airfoil both other pushers sport.

Development of the SARAS started in 1991 with initial design and construction coming along steadily until a 1998 U.S. technology ban nearly halted progress completely. The ban came about as a response to India’s live test of a nuclear bomb that same year.

Nonetheless- progress has obviously picked up as evidenced by this crane’s first tentative test of its wings. Flying from HAL Airport in Bangalore- the SARAS climbed to nearly 7-500 msl and flew at speeds of around 150 knots during the 20-minute trail (see World Aircraft Scene for more comment).

The SARAS approaches the passenger capacity of Cessna’s Grand Caravan with seating for up to 14- so this is a sizeable aircraft. Unlike the Cessna- however- the SARAS employs a low-wing configuration with a pressurized fuselage capable of maintaining a comfortable cabin at altitudes up to 25-000 feet. The SARAS’ two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66 pusher engines sport five-blade composite props for a powerplant package designed to deliver cruise speeds approaching 300 knots.

With the ability to operate from runways as short as 2-000 feet- the SARAS seems amply suited for the variety of missions envisioned by the developers – high-density short-haul- freight and short-haul cargo- as well as a variety of other utility missions. None of these conflict with the SARAS’ potential to serve as a business aircraft capable of seating six to eight in a corporate-configured cabin.

With the nation behind the program- the SARAS’ prospects in its home market seem strong. However- with the program running anywhere from one to three years behind schedule – depending on what previous timetable you reference – there seems no firm timetable for producing a corporate variant. Nonetheless- NAL seems to be wasting no time now- with the SARAS’ second test flight following the first by only nine days on June 7.

With the SARAS designed to employ a state-of-the-art integrated panel- the biggest question about this program is: How important is developing an international market to India?

Ibis Aerospace:
This program could stand for the 'Most Improved' prize- if- indeed- we offered such a laurel. In reality- though- achieving final certification early next year is likely the prize most-coveted by the manufacturer- Ibis Aerospace of the Czech Republic- developer of the five-passenger/two-crew Spirit- the corporate variant of the basic 10-seat Ae270.

Ibis is a partnership of the Czech Republic’s Aero Vodochody and AIDC of Taiwan- with much of the precision-parts production performed on the Asian island and airframe construction and final assembly in the European nation. You can find a full profile and program update on the Spirit elsewhere in this issue (p116)- so we’ll keep this a brief snapshot of the program and its status.

Essentially- the manufacturer expects to win certification early in 2005- with deliveries starting right after approval. The program already holds about 80 firm orders- with commitments expected to grow upon certification.

What makes the Ae270 Spirit a serious contender in the single-turboprop market are its numbers: nearly 280 knots cruise- a service ceiling of 30-000 msl- an IFR range exceeding 1-300 nautical miles- and the ability to operate from runways as short as 1-800 feet.

With a price under $2.5 million- the Spirit is well positioned between the smaller- less-expensive New Piper Meridian and the larger- costlier Socata TBM 700C2.

TBM 700C
The TBM 700C- introduced last year is a direct result of EADS Socata’s philosophy of continued product development to meet customer needs. Amongst other enhancements- the TBM 700C has reinforced central spar and wing attachments to permit a significant increase in the aircraft’s useful load.

Two versions of the TBM 700C are currently available- the C1 aimed at the European market with a 6-613 lbs. maximum ramp weight- and the heavier C2- approved by aviation authorities in the Australia- Canada and the United States at a maximum weight of 7-428 lbs.

At the recent EBACE business aviation gathering in Switzerland Socata unveiled the latest enhancements to the TBM 700Cs- improvements that give the propjet single expanded capabilities.

First- EADS Socata became one of the first aircraft makers to offer as standard equipment- a Mode S transponder. The Mode S makes the TBM 700C compliant with Eurocontrol requirements for Mode S in order to fly in European airspace for all aircraft with a cruising speed above 250 knots after March 31- 2005.

The planemaker also completed approval of new equipment that meets requirements for Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) flights above FL290. With a certificated service ceiling of 31-000 msl- RVSM compliance retains the full range of operating altitudes available to TBM 700 operators.

Otherwise- the TBM 700Cs continue to offer the strong capabilities that have generated more than 280 airplane sales since the program began- and the combination gives the planemaker cause to expect more strong aircraft sales this year.

Piaggio Aero:
P.180 Avanti
Now in the third year since its revival by Ferrari- Piaggio Aero’s P.180 Avanti airplane sales continue steadily- thanks to the planemaker’s improved marketing and updates to the speedy twin turboprop that continue this year.

In the latest example- Piaggio announced at EBACE its move to equip the Avanti with the new T2CAS system from ACSS. The T2CAS system combines two types of hazard avoidance- a full-function Traffic and Collision Alert System (TCAS) and an equally capable terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS). ACSS is a partnership of L-3 Communications and Thales.

Otherwise- the eight-seat P.180 remains the fastest of the turboprop crop thanks to a blistering 390-knot maximum cruise speed that leaves most of the entry-level-jet pack trailing by 20 knots and more.

Capable of covering a 1-000-nautical-mile leg in a mere three hours on a highly fuel-efficient 1-526 pounds of fuel- the Avanti still delivers a spacious cabin measuring 5-foot- eight-inches tall and almost five feet wide. In addition- the P.180 can cruise even farther- up to 1-500 nautical- and still carry four at more than 300 knots.

At an equipped price of nearly $5.5 million- this stellar performance does come at a price – a price higher than all but the 10- to 15-seat Beechcraft Super King Air 350. Yet- with the ability to use runways shorter than 2-900 feet- none of the competition should ever beat an Avanti to a meeting- regardless of the price.

In fact- in early June a P.180 owner set three new world records in his Avanti- adding to the four records he already held. Pushing the airplane to its best speed- businessman Joe Ritchie flew three legs that ranged from 496.62 knots at the slowest to 498.5 knots- as certified by the National Aeronautics Association and the FIA – and he did it carrying eight passengers and their luggage.

Speed- range- flexiblity and capacity; the P.180 delivers solid measures of all four.

Cessna: Caravan & Grand Caravan
The grand old airplane of the propjet pack- the Caravan entered the airplane market two decades ago already a success on the strength of one gigantic order from Federal Express. Today- FedEx continues to depend on this workhorse as Cessna continues to attract buyers with variations designed for amphibious- utility and business applications.

Credit for this longevity belongs to the durability and flexibility of design- a sturdy unpressurized airframe designed to take its passengers practically anywhere.

Both the standard Caravan 675 and the stretched Grand Caravan received an engine upgrade several years ago to the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-114A- a powerplant as brawny as the airframe it propels. Flat rated to 675 continuous shp- the –114A engine improved the Caravan’s performance across the board- payload- climb rate and cruise speed- now in excess of 185 knots true.

With a still-air range exceeding 610 nautical miles with an executive payload- the Caravans provide plenty of reach for people on the move. Even with maximum fuel – and a range of more than 860 nautical – the Caravan 675 can carry upwards of 1-000 pounds in the cabin- while the Grand Caravan can carry more than 1-300 pounds.

Fitted with a panel that includes some of the best of both Garmin and Honeywell equipment- the Caravans can both be equipped with weather radar- as well as weather and traffic datalink gear to compliment its all-weather capabilities.

Additionally- both versions offer luxurious- leather-appointed executive interior configurations with options like in-flight entertainment gear. The Caravan 675 offers a four-place club seating arrangement that leaves plenty of room for luggage in the aft cabin; the Cessna Grand Caravan business turboprop aircraft for sale offers two additional seats for six in total.

In both versions- the cabin seating is in addition to the two flight-deck seats. And dual flight-deck doors make access easy- as does the wide combination cargo/passenger door in the aft cabin. However- what makes the Caravans click most with pilots are their friendly flying manners- characteristics that make either an easy step for anyone versed in airplanes like Cessna’s signature piston singles- the 172 Skyhawk or 182 Skylane.

At about $1.6 million- either Caravan offers plenty to the business operator with the need for high-capacity- short-haul travel at minimal expense.

New Piper:
Ever improving- this greatly reworked variant of the company’s pressurized piston single is enjoying special treatment this year as part of New Piper’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the original Malibu single engine airplanes for sale.

Unveiled in January- the 20th Anniversary Special Edition Meridian sports the now-standard Meggitt Magic EFIS panel- Garmin avionics- a special anniversary interior and exterior logos- and a package of goodies for owners and passengers. However- in the end it’s what the Piper Meridian business turboprops for sale offers as a flying machine that has made a popular business aircraft since its certification in 2000.

Among those traits are a cruise speed of up to 260 knots and a service ceiling of FL300- a maximum range approaching 1-000 nautical miles – with IFR reserves – and an executive payload range of about 700 nautical.

Meridian let general aviation into the realm of solid-state EFIS panels with the inclusion of the Magic system as an available option. The system proved so popular that New Piper quickly made it standard.

The 500shp PT6A-42A powerplant benefits from a flat rating that uses only a fraction of its thermodynamic capabilities- improving reliability and economy. However- it is the Meridian’s single-pilot flying traits that bring home many an aircraft sale. Far more than a Mirage with a turboprop engine installed- New Piper completely reworked the original airframe design to retain the balance and harmony that made the original Malibu a treat to fly- and the effort paid off.

Managing the Meridian throughout its flight envelope is as satisfying as any aircraft in its class – and easily as rewarding as many smaller- slower airplanes.

With a $1.8 million equipped price competitive for the airplane market- New Piper continues to find strong airplane sales for the Meridian- one that will likely again sell out for the year.

Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.:
PC-12 business turboprops for sale
At a maximum take-off weight approaching 10-000 pounds – and at its price of nearly $3 million – the Swiss-built Pilatus PC-12 stands as the biggest and most expensive of all the propjet singles. Make no mistake- though- this is an aircraft that delivers to degrees proportional to its size and price.

For some- the PC-12 equates to a big- heavy luxury SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle)- thanks to its ability to haul nearly 1-000 pounds with maximum fuel. Or- trade away fuel for payload and carry more than 2-700 pounds and still fly 600 miles at long-range cruise speeds and arrive with IFR reserves.

Credit for this degree of flexibility belongs to the sleek- amazingly rugged airframe and the power and reliability of the 1-200-shp P&WC PT6A-67B engine that powers the PC-12. In fact- of all the propjets flying- the PC-12 comes closest to the pack-it-in-and-top-it-off fantasies of many aviators.

For example- it can launch from a runway as short as 2-300 feet to fly a 2-200-mile leg at 270 knots with 1-000 pounds in the cabin. Launching from an airport up in the mountains or high desert on an above-standard day and the PC-12 can still make that same trip from runways as short as 4-000 feet in length.

While slightly more expensive than the granddaddy of all propjets- the ubiquitous Beechcraft C90B- the PC-12 still wins out in terms of speed- range- payload- runway performance and- best of all- at the fuel truck.

Raytheon Aircraft:
Beechcraft King Airs
Still in production after 40 years- the versatile Beechcraft King Air business turboprops for sale line remains the yardstick by which many aviators measure a business turboprop airplane- and for good reason. The three King Airs – the King Air C90 business turboprops for sale- the B200 and 350 – helped set the standard from the beginning with the first 90-series King Air way back in 1964.

Throughout their history- the King Airs have depended on P&WC PT6 powerplants- and that marriage remains as strong as ever with the world’s best-selling propjet engines still the standard on all King Air models. Ditto for the strength- durability and harmonious flying qualities of the King Air airframes.

The newest improvements to the King Air line include the latest in solid-state instrumentation to enhance the safety and efficiency of the flight.

In the C90B- Beechcraft now provides the Collins EFIS 84 solid-state flight-instrument system in place of the mechanical gyros- dials and gauges of the past. In the B200 and 350- Beechcraft went even farther- opting for Collins’ advanced Pro Line 21 three-screen fully integrated panel system.

The three different models mean that business operators can select the size that best fits their mission and budget. The six-seat C90B comes in at about $2.7 million equipped; the eight-place B200 goes for about $5 million- equipped; and the 10-place 350 tops the pack at about $5.8 million.

More information from:
Cessna Aircraft; www.cessna.com
Extra Aviation; www.extraaircraft.com
Ibis Aerospace; www.Ae270.com
New Piper; www.newpiper.com
Piaggio; www.piaggio.com
Pilatus Aircraft; www.pilatus-aircraft.com
Raytheon Aircraft; www.raytheonaircraft.com
Socata; www.eads.socata.net

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