There are no speedbrakes on the 850, but the flaps and gear come in at 178 indicated, so there’s no real need. Mike counseled 85 to 90 on final, which you can do with a pronounced nose-down attitude, unlike on the Cirrus I regularly fly. The big prop on the Pratt is the world’s best speedbrake.
Another pertinent figure is 3,255, the length in feet of Runway 9 Right at North Perry.
With Runway 9R being the longest of four runways, they don’t get a lot of jet traffic at North Perry. The airport is home to a lot of Piper and Cessna singles, a few banner towing operations and a couple of flight schools.
Strangely enough, it’s also home to Daher-Socata North America, and a busy sales and service center. How many thousands of landings at North Perry TBMs have made over the years I can only begin to guess. It is an airplane, a 315-plus knot airplane, I might add, that feels right at home here.
As has been written countless times, you flare lower than you think you should. I was about 10 feet high but had a little residual speed. It was a firm arrival, nothing to write home about. A little beta, another huge advantage of the prop, and we were down and stopped with plenty of runway to spare without any brakes at all. It was immediately clear to me just how suitable cozy little North Perry is for the TBM.
VLJ Versus TBM
It’s a little hard to compare the TBM 850 with any other airplane. In the market, it competes with the Cessna Citation Mustang and the Embraer Phenom 100, though both of those airplanes are twinjets, require type ratings and, while inexpensive to operate in jet terms, cost more per hour than the TBM. They’re both faster too, and they both fly higher than the 31,000-foot ceiling of the 850. The Eclipse is a strong competitor to the 850, though it is not yet back in production. A more apt comparison might be with
single-engine jets, though, again, there aren’t any that have yet achieved certification. Once it’s on the market, the Piper Altaire might be a strong competitor, though turboprops have notable advantages over jets at altitudes below 30,000 feet.
Then again, the TBM might survive just fine, just as the Beech King Air has outlived by several decades predictions of its imminent demise. Besides enjoying low hourly operating costs, projected at just $450 per hour by Daher-Socata, the TBM 850 is an easy airplane to transition into. Sarsfield told me that the typical customer is a Cirrus or Meridian owner who wants to step up to a faster airplane that is still within his or her comfort level. The TBM fits that bill perfectly. A typical transition time is 15 to 25 hours, though some pilots, he said, are ready to fly themselves well before that.
Daher-Socata has worked to eliminate one big qualm that some prospects have, the lack of a potty. The company has introduced an optional potty, complete with privacy curtains, that replaces one of the rear-facing seats.
Sarsfield emphasized that once pilots get a TBM, despite it being “just” a turboprop single, they stop flying on the airlines.
“Even on a transcontinental trip,” he said, “door to door the TBM wins nearly every time.”
And this is coming from a guy who once flew nonstop from San Diego to Atlanta in an 850.
Trials and Triumph
After 21 years and nearly 550 TBMs, the airplane has approached what seems to be an extremely mature state.
The early reception was tepid at best, though not through any fault of the airplane. At the time there wasn’t any competition in the pressurized turboprop niche — the Pilatus PC-12 would come around a few years later and, if anything, help validate the concept. For several years the company built only a relative handful of airplanes before the market caught on. Ever since the mid-’90s, TBMs have been rolling off the production line at Tarbes at the rate of between 35 and 45 a year, with the high water mark being 85 a few years back, a rate of production that, de Villiers told me, took a tremendous investment to achieve. Even with the recession, the TBM has continued to sell well. Last year Daher-Socata sold 35 TBM 850s. At just over $3 million a copy, it’s a profitable business.
Thanks to advances in technology, the airplane will get better — this we know from experience — but that’s an article of faith: While you’re flying the TBM 850, it’s hard to focus on anything but the positives. It’s a very nicely optimized airplane, one that’s likely to command a substantial following for many years to come.
For a detailed look at 100 years of Daher-Socata airplanes, and more, download the May edition of Flying for the iPad.