Our next leg that afternoon was over to Buffalo, which is 400 miles distant, a pretty typical leg length for many travelers. And it's a distance where the Meridian really shines, as it has plenty of time to get up to altitude, hit its stride, and then get down the road. Again we hit light ice at our flight planned altitude of 28,000 feet, and again the deice equipment did a nice job of taking care of it. We were in the soup for much of the trip and flew a not-too-low ILS at BUF, all of which underscored the Meridian's big-metal capabilities in a little-metal package.
We took a day off from flying to spend time with family and friends in Buffalo and to sample the local specialties. The buffalo wings are rightly famous, of course, but don't miss out on trying a beef on weck sandwich at Charlie the Butcher's, just a block from Prior Aviation, the FBO at KBUF.
Piper PA-46-500TP The aircraft flown for this report is factory demonstrator Piper PA-46-500TP Meridian with typical equipment. In addition to the standard Avidyne FlightMax Entegra flat-panel three-screen (two PFDs) avionics suite, the airplane has a pair of Garmin GNS 430 navigators, the S-Tec Meggitt Magic 1500 autopilot, the Garmin GTX-330 digital transponder, L3 WX-500 Stormscope and the Bendix/King IHAS integrated hazard avoidance system (displayed on the Avidyne MFD) with terrain and traffic alerting. All figures are from the manufacturer and are for standard conditions unless noted.
Approximate price as equipped... $2,000,000 Engine... 1 Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A turboprop Horsepower... 500 shp TBO... 3,600 hours Propellers... Hartzell 4-blade, 82-in dia, constant-speed, full feathering, reversible Seats... 6 Length... 29.6 ft Height... 11.3 ft Wingspan... 43 ft Wing aspect ratio... 10:1 Wing area... 183 sq ft Wing loading... 27.8 lbs/sq ft Power loading... 10.2 lbs/shp Max ramp weight... 5,134 lbs Max takeoff weight... 5,092 lbs Standard empty weight... 3,417 lbs Standard useful load... 1,717 lbs Usable fuel (gallons/lbs)... 170/1160 Payload with full fuel... 557 lbs Max zero fuel weight... 4,850 lbs Max landing weight... 4,850 lbs Never exceed... 188 kts Maneuvering speed... 127 kts Ceiling (certified)... 30,000 ft Pressurization... 5.5 psi 8,000 cabin... @ 25,000 feet Max cruise... 260 kts IFR range, max cruise... 1,000 nm Rate of climb... 1,556 fpm
The trip from Buffalo to Austin, a 1,500 nm voyage, was, again, outside the range of the Meridian, so I picked a halfway point, St. Louis, and headed for the downtown airport (KCPS), an easy 2.5-hour trip. From there, Austin was just another 2.3, and I was back home. I reluctantly handed the keys back to Stan.
After six legs and 12 flight hours over a period of four days, in addition to SimCom's five-day initial course, I felt very comfortable with the airplane. Would I have loaded up my family and taken them off on a cross-country flight? Absolutely, though I doubt the insurance company would have approved until I'd gotten a few more hours in type. In fact, the airplane is perfectly suited for just the kind of personal and regional business use I need, and I couldn't help but compare it with all the piston singles I've flown over the years. Is it a fair comparison? Of course not. The Piper Meridian is bigger, faster, more sophisticated and at least four times more expensive. Did that stop me from wanting one in the worst way? Not a bit. It apparently has that effect on a lot of pilots.
Interestingly enough, the advent of very light jets, some of which are in the same price class as the Meridian, haven't done anything to slow PA-46-500TP sales. That might be explained by the fact that VLJs are still hard to come by-only two, the Mustang and the Eclipse, have earned certification, and there are long waits for them. The other explanation for the Meridian's continued success just might be that people just want the airplane. Even after the VLJ revolution has taken full hold, it's just possible that there will remain a place for the Meridian, a sophisticated, comfortable, solid and good performing airplane that does exactly what Piper says it will, and then some. And it will remain an airplane that pilots like me can transition to without much fuss but with a well-deserved sense of pride.