A rule of thumb for remembering the general performance of the Piper Meridian is the rule of 250 cubed-it will deliver right around 250 knots at Flight Level 250 on 250 pounds of fuel per hour. With just less than 1,200 pounds of fuel available, that's around four hours with a 45-minute reserve. In real life it will often do better than that. Piper advertises a max cruise speed of 260 knots true, but we saw better than that on several occasions throughout our travels.
For the first part of the trip, Stan and I were accompanied by Bill Inglis, who was riding along on the first leg up to New York. With the three of us and our light bags, we were still able to fill the airplane with jet-A and keep it right at maximum weight. If we'd had another passenger along, we would have had to leave out some fuel.
As it was, that wouldn't have been much of a problem, as our two legs were each around two hours in length, which is less than half of its typical endurance. This is one of the chief criticisms of the Meridian, that it is range and payload limited, and it is. If you're looking to regularly fly maximum range trips with the seats full, this is not the airplane for you, and Piper will tell you as much. But if you're looking for a personal airplane that will fly shorter trips with the seats filled or longer ones with just a couple of passengers, the Meridian offers a lot of capability for a lot less than the competition.
The first leg of the trip, up to Kinston from Vero, was mostly flown in the clear at Flight Level 270, though we did have to divert for one particularly well-developed storm. At FL 270 you can often actually see the weather ahead. The airplane's ceiling, by the way, is 30,000 feet, though because of RVSM, for which it's not approved, that altitude is not typically available to it.
The Avidyne Entegra avionics system has been standard on the Piper Meridian for the past couple of years now. It is easily the best panel of any airplane in its class, though glass has been late in coming to turboprop singles for some reason. And buyers have the option of adding all kinds of safety options, including C-Max charts, TAWS, Stormscope and XM Weather and Avidyne's Narrowcast datalink package, all of which were included in the airplane I flew. And I'd be remiss if I didn't say just how beautiful the three-screen installation is, though more practical considerations, like its dual AHARS and air data computers and integrated engine monitoring capabilities, are what make it worth the money. Nice.
Heading out of Kinston up to New York, I had my first taste of summertime icing in a single-engine airplane. We were at 27,000 feet heading towards Norfolk looking at a ground speed of 311 knots when we started to pick up ice. Strange as it might seem, my first reaction was, "Cool." Not only did the July ice make it seem as though I was flying a real airplane, but there was finally something I could do about the ice. The Meridian is fitted with boots, it has a heated windshield, prop, static, pitot and stall, as well as a wing inspection light for keeping track of the ice at night. As it turned out, the light-to-moderate rime we were getting was no match for the boots, and as we flew north (go figure) we left icing conditions and had an uneventful arrival into the New York area.
Stan has a lot of time in all of Piper's airplanes, and one thing he mentioned that got me thinking was just how much more refreshed he always feels after a long trip in the Meridian compared to a similar trip in a piston airplane. And that's just how I felt after nearly five hours in the airplane. The difference, Stan offered, is the greatly reduced vibration of the turboprop compared to a reciprocating engine. Which is funny, as the greater vibration of the turboprop is often offered by the jet guys as a reason not to buy a King Air. As you can guess from historic King Air sales, the argument never worked very well.
After leaving Bill in New York, Stan and I continued on our way, popping up the next morning to Westfield, Massachusetts (BAF). The trip was interesting because it was really short, just more than 20 minutes. Since it didn't make sense for us to go up to the 20s for the leg, we stayed low, 17,500, and looked at some high fuel flows-turbines do much better up high than down low-though at least we were looking at them for a short length of time.