Speaking of airspeed climb, the Meridian for the past couple of years has featured the S-Tec/Meggitt Magic 1500 attitude-based autopilot in place of the underperforming S-Tec 55X rate-based unit that appeared on earlier Meridians. It's hard to say enough about the upgrade, as the 1500 offers more features, including airspeed hold mode, and an excellent yaw damper. And the performance, including much enhanced stability in all flight modes, is light years beyond the 55X.
As I said, on that first flight the idea was for me to get a feel for the airplane, and I did just that. A couple of weeks before my trip to Vero, somebody told me that it flies like a big Saratoga, and there's something to that. In spirit, the Meridian is a very honest airplane, easy to hand-fly, nicely responsive for an airplane with a 43-foot wingspan.
It was a pretty typical summer afternoon, and we dodged buildups on our way up to the mid-teens. Leveling out at 17,500, Stan and Bill talked me through the procedures for setting power and keeping an eye on speeds and temperatures. Unlike every piston airplane I've ever flown, the Meridian is very capable of exceeding its maximum operating speed (Mmo) in level flight. And Stan showed me what to look for in terms of torque and inlet turbine temperatures, two values I'm not at all used to keeping track of. In case you hadn't figured it out already, the Piper Meridian is not a fadec airplane. You need to set power and manage things yourself.
Even though school was out for the summer-FlightSafety International, that is-the traffic pattern back at Vero was busy. We worked our way in among trainers and twins and helicopters, and I found no surprises in the way the airplane flies. In fact, the Meridian flies at very piston-like speeds and with very piston-like behavior.
Landing the Meridian is surprisingly straightforward, though you do need to make sure the nose gear is straightened out before touching down. If you don't, the airplane can dart on you, an event I experienced just once, and let me tell you, it gets your attention. Luckily, it wasn't particularly difficult to get it going straight again.
As I briefly described, there are bonus features, too. Once you've got all three tires down, you can get the airplane stopped in a hurry by using the beta and reverse features on the four-blade Hartzell prop. With this, the field length required can be downright cozy. There are runways you could get into in a Meridian that you couldn't get it back out of. While it's restricted to paved, hard-surface runways, the Meridian can typically operate out from the same kinds of runways as high-performance piston singles, which greatly adds to the airplane's versatility and to the value proposition, even when compared with some significantly faster and more expensive airplanes.
Flying the Meridian for Fun and Profit
The idea for this evaluation was for me, after I'd been through SimCom's five-day initial class on the Piper Meridian, to go fly the airplane for a few days like a Meridian owner would. Stan was in the right seat, trying his best to let me do as much of the planning, flying and strategizing as possible.
The plan was to fly up to White Plains, New York, on Friday night, hop up to Westfield, Massachusetts, for a family memorial service on Saturday morning, then pop over to Buffalo, New York, for a quick visit with family and friends, before heading back home to Austin, Texas. All in all, the trip was composed of several discrete trips of varying lengths, which I hoped would provide a good test of the versatility and comfort of the airplane.
Our first trip was from Vero Beach to HPN, and it was a trip that I was pretty sure was at the outside limit of the Meridian's range, and I was right. But breaking the trip up into a couple of legs, with a fuel stop in Kinston, North Carolina, made the 1,200 nm trip only marginally longer than if we'd gone nonstop.