Once we were given the OK to climb, we had at it. With its additional power compared with the original Malibu's, the Mirage climbs well (and uses much less runway on takeoff). For our climb that day, from 4,000 feet to FL 200, we used a typical cruise climb setting — 125 knots in the airspeed select (the so-called "filch" button) on the GFC 700, 35 inches of manifold pressure and 2,500 rpm. That rewarded us with a rate of climb of around 1,000 fpm, though we were a bit light and it was a cold day, both of which, obviously, helped rate of climb.
At the airplane's sweet spot, between FL 200 and FL 230, you get very good true airspeeds at a reasonable fuel flow — we were looking at just over 200 knots true at 20.7 gph. If there's a big advantage to be gained (in terms of weather avoidance or to get a push) by climbing higher, the airplane does fine up to its ceiling of 250, though the fuel flow goes up a bit to manage the temperatures, especially on warm days. This is not, I hasten to add, an airplane for pilots who might occasionally venture up into the midteens or flight levels. It's all about flying high.
Mirage pilots have plenty of tools at their disposal for getting back down without chopping power. Gear speeds are high enough that typically even a slight reduction of power gets you down to first-notch deployment speeds, and approach flaps can come in at the same speed. There are also speed brakes, great for descending at a rapid clip without pulling back on the throttle too much. One of the toughest transitions for many pilots of high-performance airplanes coming to the Mirage as their first pressurized ride is getting used to using rates of descent that in nonpressurized airplanes would overtax their ears or those of their passengers. In the Mirage, it's not an issue. Those same devices — gear, flaps and speed brakes — give the Mirage pilot the ability to keep the speed up when ATC makes that request.
The Mirage lands like the cabin-class airplane it is. That is, you fly a stabilized approach to an attitude and landing, much as you would in a heavier, faster airplane. That said, many pilots new to the airplane, myself included, tend to want to approach a bit too fast, which was also my tendency in flying the Meridian. The Mirage flies very solidly at Cirrus-like approach numbers and actually lands more predictably and easily at those speeds than when flown a bit faster.
Just as it first did back in 1982, today's PA-46 makes a compelling argument that a pressurized piston single done right makes a lot of sense for pilots who want to go places with family, friends and co-workers and do it in pressurized comfort.
Piper is now offering the Mirage at a lower price. The specially equipped airplane (no radar, no active traffic) that I flew for this story was stickered at right around $1.07 million, around $150,000 less than it would have been just a year ago. The new lower prices made it nearly impossible for us to find an available airplane for me to fly and photograph for this story — the airplane pictured here was the only unsold Mirage in the country at the time. For more information, visit piper.com
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