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Turbine engines and props missions make for cost-efficient mission combos. A steady flow of business aircraft for sale pass over my neighborhood- something easily noticed when sitting outside my office- working on a notebook computer and enjoying the best of the spring weather.

Dave Higdon   |   1st July 2002
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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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Buying turboprop aircraft makes for cost-efficient investments. A steady flow of business aircraft pass over my neighborhood- something easily noticed when sitting outside my office- working on a notebook computer and enjoying the best of the spring weather.

With four factories in town and production-flight-test operations running full steam- it’s not too tough to learn to distinguish between certain models of business-turbine aircraft. And the easiest of all to discern are the business turboprops powered by a turbine engine turning a propeller – still a significant motive force in the world of aviation.

Just look at the information from the NBAA Business Aviation Fact Book 2002. At the end of 2001- business turboprop jets – or jetprops or propjets – constituted 45.3 percent of the world’s business-turbine fleet. According to figures developed by AvData here in Wichita- the global fleet of propeller-driven turbine aircraft totaled 9-785 aircraft; 11-799 jets accounted for the remaining 54.7 percent. And the largest single segment of business-turbine aircraft? The medium turboprop: 41 percent and 8-881 of the total.

In the United States alone- the percentage remains equally strong: 6-251 propjets- 42.1 percent of the 14-837 total business-turbine aircraft registered; 8-586 jets accounted for the 57.9 percent balance of the business-turbine fleet. Again- the medium turboprop accounts for the largest single share of the fleet- at 39.3 percent- or 5-831.

In 21 of the 50 states- turboprop numbers hold either parity with or superiority over jets. Clearly- jets dominate the total; but light jets- the closest category after medium turboprops- amount to barely more than one in every four business-turbine aircraft at about 27 percent.

Just as clearly for many missions- need profiles and operating environments- the oft-maligned propjet remains the conveyance of choice. The superiority may be in one- a few or several areas that include purchase costs- DOC- runway requirements- cabin space- lift capacity- hot-and-high performance.

Obviously- those needs keep several turboprop manufacturers happily building turboprops today- while encouraging several newcomers to angle for their own share of the market with something new. In the early 1990s- some pronouncements predicted the propjet’s impending extinction at the hands of a new generation of entry-level jets. This hasn’t happened and- from the look of the market- won’t ever happen.

Winners: These propjets hit their marks with operators
Just as with business jets- anytime an airplane efficiently fills a niche or fulfills a need- the market usually keeps it around. The inventory that follows consists of the winners in today’s market along with a couple of hopefuls.

A few common notes: for the moment- the only engine in strong use is Pratt & Whitney Canada’s venerable PT6A; unless we make a point of noting something different- all these birds fly behind – (or in front of in one case) – the power of this classic powerplant.

With one exception- which we’ll note- all models are pressurized; with the same exception- all are retractable. Beyond that- each is as distinct as the maker and the mission for which it was made.

Cessna Aircraft Company:The Caravans
Approaching two decades in production- Cessna’s brawny workhorse single continues to capture a significant segment of the utility and owner-flown markets thanks to a combination of traits that never go out of favor among operators. Efficiency is one of those traits- while other traits include simplicity- durability- reliability and cost-effectiveness.

So diverse is this easy flying propjet- that two years into its delivery run the original Caravan got a younger- bigger brother in the form of the Grand Caravan- a four-foot stretch of the already imposing original. Together- these two set a standard for value – a trait we neglected to group with the others.

My first demo flight in a Caravan – a Grand- at that – ended with me flying minimum-controllable-airspeed approaches to the second half of a 2-500-foot country airstrip in Benton- Kansas. Earlier that same morning the factory demo pilot nearly needed to drag me to the runway midpoint for a short-field take-off demonstration – even though seconds earlier the Grand Caravan let me put her on the arrival threshold and stop well before that aforementioned midpoint.

Something about putting 1-300 feet of perfectly good runway behind the tailcone felt wrong- I guess. After a half-dozen circuits around the early morning Kansas sky- the Grand Caravan proved to me that even a green amateur at the condition lever was no excuse for flying it badly – it was just that easy and predictable.

Though several other encounters that followed over the years- the Grand Caravan again and again demonstrated the sort of good manners- solid strength and impressive overall performance that keeps it in production today.

At a nominal executive-finished price of $1.48 million ($1.59 million for the Grand) you get a 175 knot performer that flies as easily and forgivingly as Cessna’s world-sales leading piston-single- the little 172 Skyhawk. A Skyhawk on steroids- was how it was described – an apt description.

The difference is- the Caravan cabin stretches a vast 12.7 feet- room enough for up to 10- including the single pilot required for VFR or IFR flying; the Grand goes out four feet to 16.7- enough for 12 folks with luggage.

Payload at full fuel is 987 pounds; enough to carry four people and a couple hundred pounds of gear on an 800-plus nautical miles trip that ends with plenty of fuel in reserve. Drop the fuel load about 20 percent- up the load to six plus gear- and the Caravan can still carry you an easy 600 nautical –in about 3 hours 20 minutes.

And with 675 flat-rated horsepower available to ISA plus 27 degrees celsius- runway considerations seldom arise. At gross weight- the Caravan needs less than 2-100 feet of runway at sea level; at 5-000 msl and 25 degrees celsius- the runway needed grows less than 900 feet. Make the plane a Grand Caravan- and the numbers are 2-420 at sea level- 3-600 in hot-and-high conditions.

Remember- these are maximum numbers; fueled appropriately for the stage length and load- Caravan runway numbers often drop 25 percent- 30 percent- even 40 percent below maximum- which means the overwhelming majority- upwards of 90 percent- of the nation’s 7-000 public landing facilities provide more than enough runway. This- in turn means accessibility few other business-turbine aircraft can match. By making the tires heavy duty- or putting skies or floats on either Caravan- you can gain even more operational area.

EADS Socata: TBM700B
This is the senior member of the turboprop community’s high-speed single-set and its applications only continue to grow 12 years after its introduction - for good reason too. This 700-horsepower single tops out in high-speed cruise at an exceptional 300 knots true – besting not only every other model in the single-propjet pack but all but two twin propjets- as well.

It is speed like this – combined with solid all-around numbers and good single-pilot traits – that prompted EADS Socata to develop a freighter version for the medical-testing firm Quest Diagnostics. Introduced last November- the TBM700 Freighters revolutionized Quest’s flight department- cutting costs and improving dispatch reliability even- as they improved on payload and cut flight times.

Configured for up to six- the Socata TBM700 business turboprop aircraft for sale uses a 700 shp version of the PT6A that keeps specific fuel consumption among the lowest in its class.

Carrying four people- and fuel for 1-000 miles- the Socata TBM700 turns in legs of 3 hours 30 minutes on a mere 1-100 pounds of fuel – pretty impressive considering the sleek French flying machine carries as much as 1-887 pounds of fuel. Using that maximum fuel- the Socata TBM700 aircraft for sale can still carry nearly 300 pounds of payload while covering nearly 1-500 nautical miles – and land with more than 250 pounds of fuel remaining- nearly an hour’s worth at 280 knots.

The equipped price of $2.5 million includes EFIS- a multifunction display- BF Goodrich traffic-alert- terrain-avoidance systems- and more. A solid- single-pilot- owner-flown airplane with the fit- finish and finesse to act the part of an executive transport.

Piaggio Avanti P-180
If business aviation has a Grand Prix model- then it’s only fitting that the label should hang from the forewing of this distinctively rakish airplane- ironically now operated by members of the Ferrari family. This is one bird that announces itself with a voice as distinctive as any race car ever to wear the black horse rearing up on a yellow badge.

Resurrected two years ago- the P-180 is again winning converts for its combination of quality finish- good looks- roomy cabin and pure- unadulterated speed.

The unique tri-wing design and a steeply sloped nose give the Avanti a profile as unique as its signature exhaust note. The pusher configuration of its two 850-shp PT6A-66 powerplants puts the props in the exhaust flow- which gives the Avanti a low growl distinctive enough to recognize after only one exposure.

The Piaggio Avanti business turboprop for sale sports a canard on the nose- a main wing amidships- and a high- T-tail aft; the low- fuselage-mounted landing gear give the bird a low- squat appearance also akin to many racing cars. The combination shows its advantages when hand-flying this aircraft- imparting a sense of stability and nimble handling akin to the best racing cars on the circuit.

And that stability works in your favor when doing what the Avanti does best - covering ground- as quickly as possible. With a high-cruise speed near 400 knots- the P-180 wins the high-speed prize hands down.

That speed doesn’t come at the expense of fuel efficiency- as it does on some other propjets. On our benchmark 1-000-mile cross country- the Avanti turns in a time of 3 hours flat while burning only 1-526 pounds of Jet A. The closest competitor in speed needed at least 30 minutes more and still consumed in excess of 1-300 pounds. The lowest consumption for the leg was about 900 pounds – but the low speed needed to make those numbers pushed the enroute time to 90 minutes longer than the Avanti’s time.

Throw in a wide- roomy cabin- state-of-the-art avionics with high speed and fuel efficiency- and it’s easy to see why many buyers consider the $4.7 million price tag a value leader.

Pilatus Aircraft- Ltd: PC-12
Blend the workhorse traits inherent in the Cessna Caravan with the sleek looks of the Meridian and the high speed of the TBM700- and you get a propjet single like none other – the fast and frugal Pilatus PC-12. This is an airplane with dual personalities- equally at home as an executive transport or utility mount- thanks to its sturdy airframe- high 1-200-shp PT6A-67B and- most of all- aft access that works as either an air-stair or wide cargo hatch.

Able to top 270 knots- cover as much as 2-200 miles carrying nearly 1-000 pounds- and operate from fields as short as 2-300 feet- this bird should be illustrated next to the word “Versatile” in every aviation dictionary.

Even at our hot-and-high standard- runway requirements still fall well short of 4-000 feet- giving the Pilatus PC-12 business turboprop aircraft for sale has access to a vast variety of airports. With a full payload and only 925 pounds of fuel available- the PC-12 can still manage 600-mile legs (with IFR reserves) in just over two hours block-to-block.

And these numbers appear even more impressive in the context of the PC-12’s size. Tipping the scales at a maximum ramp weight of 9-965 pounds- this is a substantial aircraft. In fact- its weight and overall length of 47.3 feet makes it the biggest single by far and as long as the longest purely business twin- the P-180 Avanti.

Yet compared to the twins on other performance fronts- the PC-12 more than holds its own in every aspect – except price. At $2.9 million- it’s the most-expensive single and equal in price to the littlest twin in our overview.

Nevertheless- the PC-12 bests the twins in every aspect except redundancy by flying the 1-000-mile leg faster and on less fuel than any of the twins.

The New Piper Aircraft: Meridian
The newest member of the propjet pack hails from Vero Beach- on the East Coast of Florida- the modern home of the New Piper Aircraft Co. In deliveries for less than two years- the Meridian emerged from development as something more than a Lycoming-powered Malibu Mirage converted to PT6A power.

The company redesigned the airplane significantly to achieve the Meridian- a 270-knot- 1-000-mile aircraft with a pioneering solid-state- flat-screen EFIS that dominates the panel.

The MAGIC system from S-Tec/Meggitt uses redundant AHRS units to drive the primary flight displays; solid-state engine monitoring provides the pilot with a level of alerts and automation that makes managing the Meridian an easy chore for most competent instrument pilots.

Garmin avionics - including the top-notch GNS-530 - work hand-in-hand with the highly capable S-Tec System FiftyFiveX- to keep the pilot workload more than manageable- regardless of the segment of flight involved.

Most-importantly- the Meridian’s hands-on flying habits help inspire confidence thanks to a happy blend of stability- predictability and maneuverability. In terms of cost- the Meridian sells at around $1.7 million with the most-common options.

Raytheon Aircraft: King Airs
At nearly 40 years in age- the original 90-series Beech Aircraft Corp. King Air remains one of the staples of business aviation and thanks to its senior-citizen status where production is concerned – the longest run of any propjet in history.

This fact by itself would be remarkable were it not for the fact that the original King Air shares space on the production line with two progenies. Along with the C90B- RAC in Wichita also manufactures the Super King Air 200 and Super King Air 350- the largest purely corporate propjet in production today. Even larger than the 350 is Raytheon’s Executive/Corporate Shuttle version of its popular 1900D 19-seat airliner.

My introduction to the C90B – and the discontinued C90SE – came during a series of demo flights shortly after introduction. It wasn’t difficult to discern some of the traits that keep the 90-series in serial production today.

First and probably most importantly- the 90 flies a lot like a Beech Bonanza- Raytheon’s flagship single piston engine airplane for sale and the record holder for production longevity. Of course- the straight line from the original 35-series V-tail Bonanza and the first 90-series King Air isn’t really straight- but the lineage is there.

And among the traits passed down are handling qualities that make the C90B a comfortable airplane for a solo pilot. Plenty of equipment to keep the pilot well informed- arranged for easy access and no surprises aerodynamically.

Make no mistake- though- this isn’t a sluggish airplane to fly. With two efficient 550-shp PT6A-21 engines at work- the C90B covers ground at a nearly 250 knots while consuming less than 600 pounds of fuel per hour; full-fuel range with four is right at 1-000 nautical. Like most business-turbine aircraft- King Airs spend more time flying legs between 350 and 500 nautical in length than maximum-endurance flights.

Normally configured to seat up to six – including a pilot – the C90B nicely compliments the eight-seat B200 and the 15-seat 350 Super King Airs. Prices increase accordingly- as well- with the 1-400-nautical-mile B200 going for $4.5 million and the 1-600-nautical 350 coming in at $5.6 million.

As for the hybrid 1900D Executive- that 19-seat propjet can cruise as fast as 275 knots true and cover as much as 1-400 nautical miles. The tab for this workhorse comes in at just over $5 million.

Developmental Models
These following airplanes are in the pipeline for future certification- so we thought it worth your time to read a little about their position in the market:

IBIS Aerospace: Ae270
Another big single- this Eastern European design fits nicely between New Piper’s Meridian and EADS Socata’s TBM700- in price- in performance and in package size. The 850-shp PWC PT6A-66A should give the Ae270 cruise numbers in the same neighborhood as the French entry – around 270 to 300 knots- with similar fuel efficiency.

Certification is pending; prices range from the bare-base tab of $2 million and rise to $2.37 million equipped with gear typical for business-turbine craft.

Pacific Aerospace: 750XL
Another contender in the expanding single-propjet field comes up from Down Under where New Zealand-based Pacific Aerospace is advancing the PT6A-powered 750XL toward certification.

First flown in September 2001- this aircraft nudges up against the Caravan in size and performance. After a delay to modify the prototype- flight tests resumed recently toward a completion of certification work.

Read more about: Turboprop Aircraft | Pilatus PC-12 | King Airs

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