The plan for my flight was to climb to 30,000 up to the Wichita VOR to do something I’d never done before, an RVSM check. I won’t get into the details of it here, but suffice it to say Grant was busy with taking notes as I flew the airplane. Once having completed that check, we asked for and got a climb to FL 380, a common long-range cruising altitude for the P.180, which has a ceiling of 41,000 feet. I could see why 380 is a preferred altitude. At that level we were seeing 380 knots or Mach 0.664 on 600 pounds of jet-A per hour, not per side but total. That’s slightly less than 100 gallons per hour, a figure light jets simply can’t touch.
After we’d checked figures at 380, we headed down briefly to FL 320 on the way back to Dallas. Once level, we were rewarded with what was nearly the top speed of the P.180, which was consistently 395 knots bumping up to that magical 400-knot figure on a couple of occasions, those figures at around 800 pounds per hour total. We were light and it was slightly colder than standard, both of which help boost true airspeed numbers by at least a few knots. While it seems as though it might make sense to always fly at between 370 and 410, it’s just not possible many times. This is another advantage of a turboprop. The fuel penalty for flying in the 20s is not as extreme as it is in turbofan airplanes.
The Avanti II gets its best range figures, up around 1,500 nm, at higher altitudes and lower fuel burns, and Grant told me that the range is real, commenting that he has never had to make more than one fuel stop going from any one point in the continental United States to another. This kind of range makes the P.180 a great bet as a regional airplane or one that’s based in the Midwest. Of course, with higher operating weights you won’t be able to carry as much fuel or, hence, get as much range, though the truth is that most flights in a 400-knot airplane are less than 1,000 nm anyway, and with a thousand-mile range as the target, you can liberally load the P.180.
This, along with the airplane’s great cabin and operating economies, has made the Avanti II the airplane that has helped create the remarkable success of charter and fractional operator Avantair, which operates 57 Avantis. In fact, Avantair late last year took possession of the 100th Avanti delivered in the United States, which has been far and away the model’s best market.
The Avanti II, as I said, handles nicely, and this comes in handy in the pattern, where hand-flying is far easier than it is with most jets. The Avanti feels very stable and is easy to maintain altitude in while hand-flying compared with other airplanes in and around its class.
Landing the P.180, as I’d heard previously, is interesting in that the attitude is very flat. Considering the shape of the nose in front of you, this is handy, because the runway stays in easy view the entire time. The approach speeds are very fast by turboprop standards. You fly final at around 120 knots; when you pull back on the power as you land, the nose rises slightly, the mains touch, and you relax back pressure and prepare to get stopped, a job that is greatly aided by big carbon brakes and extremely effective prop braking. At sea level under standard conditions, the Avanti II needs almost exactly the same amount of runway to land as it does to take off, just over 3,200 feet.
When Flying first flew the Avanti in 1990, we predicted that its great fuel efficiency would be a big selling point, and that has been true. What we didn’t fully realize is that over the next 20 years no light jet would emerge that could challenge the P.180’s remarkable combination of speed, fuel efficiency and cabin size, a trifecta of strengths that has made it a popular transportation airplane with operators for whom efficiency, comfort and high style are the hallmarks of having arrived.