The new Piper Mirage not only has a new glass cockpit from Avidyne, it has a three-tube system with dual primary flight displays (PFDs) and a full-sized multifunction display (MFD) in the center. It is a true dual system with both PFDs operating independently with their own attitude, heading and static sources. The airplane has always had dual alternators and still has dual vacuum pumps, though they are now used only to operate the deice boots. The standby instruments are at the left edge of the panel and are electrically powered.
Even though this pressurized Mirage has all the trappings of a "new" airplane, the airframe is not so new. In fact, my first trip in a Malibu (its Continental-powered forerunner) was over Thanksgiving in 1983. At that time the Cessna pressurized 210 was still in production and a lot of observers thought the pressurized piston single would become a major player in the general aviation market. In fact, Mooney had already tried one of these airplanes with the Mustang that was certified and built for a while, and Beech had, in 1979, flown a T-tail Bonanza with the idea of making it into a pressurized piston airplane.
Of course, as is so often the case, we were all wrong. The Piper Mirage is the only pressurized piston single that is in production today and not many are sold each year. Extra certified the EA-400 but it has not been a player. More manufacturers, including Piper, scurried on to turbine power for their pressurized singles with props, and it now appears that there will be a new generation of pressurized singles without props.
The simple fact is that pressurization adds a lot of cost to an airplane. The Mirage is $1.1 million. Were the Cessna P210 to be built today, it would be close to that price, based on the relationship with new 206 model prices then and now and the additional equipment going into airplanes now. Pressurization also adds a little weight, about 100 pounds in the case of the P210 when compared with a T210 of the same vintage.
In that I am likely the pilot with more time in a pressurized piston single than anybody else, 8,800 plus hours over 27 years, I know as much as anybody about what they do for you. And I'll tell you this: Once you have had pressurization there is no way to go back. To me it is the single most valuable comfort feature we have ever put in airplanes. The neat thing about the Mirage is that everything my P210 will do, it will do better.
And while everything about the Mirage is not "new" it has become, with the new Avidyne glass cockpit, the most complete piston single that has ever been built. All it doesn't have is the full-authority digital engine control system that will probably come to the airplane sooner or later.
To appreciate what the Avidyne system does, look at the panel picture of the Mirage that we flew last year and compare it with the airplane as we flew it this year. Last year's airplane has a flight instrumentation system that portrays things on tubes but, as you can see, it is far from the new and slick three-tube system that incorporates all navigational, flight and engine information.
The latest turboprop Meridian, which shares an airframe and panel with the Mirage, has a new digital autopilot. The Mirage still flies with the S-Tec 55X, which is a rate-based autopilot. A lot of work has gone into the 55X to make it a proper autopilot for this class airplane and it fills the bill quite well. I let it fly a coupled ILS approach on a turbulent day and it did so very smoothly and without the wallowing about that you see with some rate-based autopilots.
The 55X is well integrated into the glass cockpit system with mode annunciations across the top of the PFD. The autopilot is simple enough to use, though it does require simultaneous button presses to achieve certain things. For example, if you want to intercept a localizer on a heading of your choice, you have to press heading and approach simultaneously.
The Avidyne system uses two Garmin 430s as navcoms, so anyone familiar with these is ahead of the game when checking out in a new Mirage. As with all the technically advanced airplanes, the checkout is important, as is recurrent training to make sure knowledge is retained. Operating any of these systems is definitely not like riding a bicycle.
As should be the case with an airplane like this, an active traffic system and terrain warning system is part of the package. There's also airborne weather radar, Nexrad, lightning and all the other weather information on the multifunction display, plus a full set of Jeppesen charts to display on the MFD. The price of the new airplane is largely unchanged from the previous model and but a few pounds are added with the new avionics/instrumentation system. Lycoming has a new publication that outlines conservative operating procedures for the Mirage engine. No more full-power climbs. Careful monitoring of the cylinder head temperatures to keep them below 400 degrees is called for, along with cruise power settings that are a reasonable percentage of the available power. The Avidyne's engine management page makes all of this easy to do. Actually I was able to do it all simply by following the procedure I use in my airplane, with the mixture set in reference to the turbine inlet temperature. I use 1,550 degrees on my Continental and that same number results in good cool running on this Lycoming.