The plan was simple. I would be transitioning from an unpressurized, high-performance single to a Piper Meridian. While I have a little experience in turbine airplanes, the idea was for me to make the leap in a week and to get to the point in that short time where I could handle the airplane on my own. Doable? I thought so, but still had some doubts.
Let's face it. There are some major differences between a Cirrus SR22, the type of airplane I regularly fly, and a Meridian, and all of them have to do directly or indirectly with the fact that the Meridian is a turbine airplane and a pressurized airplane on top of that. It has systems I wasn't very familiar with, and it operates in a section of the atmosphere that I'm not used to flying in. It really would be a whole new kind of flying.
Luckily I'd have help, in the form of SimCom's five-day initial Meridian training program. The company really knows the Meridian. It has, after all, been conducting training in the PA-46 for as long as the airplane has been around.
SimCom has training centers for a wide variety of jets, turboprop and piston airplanes all around the United States, but the one I'd be attending was conveniently located right at Vero Beach, the home of Piper Aircraft. As you might guess, SimCom's Vero location specializes in Piper training. There it provides courses for pilots brand new to the airplane, like me, and to those brushing up on the basics. The folks at SimCom are experts in the airplane, and they know how to help newbies make sense of strange new systems.
My instructor for the week was center manager Bill Inglis. I wasn't the first guy to show up at SimCom who would be making the big leap, and Bill showed a knack for helping me make sense of things like pressurization controls, quick donning emergency oxygen masks and turbine starting procedures that were all pretty new to me.
The facility at Vero is set up to teach all things Meridian (in addition to a handful of other Piper products) and to teach them well and quickly. There's a complex and realistic Meridian flight training device right on site. While it's no Level D simulator, it isn't meant to be. Instead it does an excellent job of teaching procedures and familiarizing students with a new platform. It has a wraparound color display, and the flight experience is convincing enough, but the real idea isn't to fly it, but to use it to do things effectively that you can't safely do, that you can't afford to do or just don't want to do in the real airplane.
While it's not an actual type rating course, SimCom's five-day and six-day initial courses in the Meridian sure seem like it. And while SimCom offers a shorter, stand-alone turbine transition course, it's hard for me to imagine a better transition than the Meridian program. Because it uses actual hardware, numbers, procedures and handbooks, none of it is theoretical.