A current production, typically equipped Meridian weighs in at around 3,390 pounds. With a max ramp weight of 5,134 pounds, that leaves a useful load of just under 1,750 pounds. Fill the 170-gallon tanks with jet fuel and you have just over 600 pounds of payload available for people and baggage. And that's fueled for a four-hour trip with IFR reserves. Leave out an hour's worth of fuel and you can fill the seats and still fly 500 nm and longer trips.
The other big improvement new to the Meridian this year is the Meggitt Magic 1500 autopilot in place of the original S-Tec 550 system. The 1500 autopilot is the first from Meggitt/S-Tec that uses attitude information, as well as rates of change in rate of turn and air pressure, to fly the airplane. Using attitude information to fly the airplane is the way most other autopilots function and the way all other turbine airplane autopilots operate, and it works well, and so does the new Magic 1500.
The highest praise I can bestow on the Magic 1500 system is that I felt no need to study the operating manual before using the autopilot. Its modes of operation and its annunciations are what any pilot with experience in turbine airplanes would expect to find. Mode selection buttons, altitude assignment and all annunciation are included in the autopilot control panel mounted in the center of the instrument panel where it is easy to see and use.
To take a look at how the Magic 1500 flies the Meridian, we launched into a relatively low IFR day at Westchester County Airport in New York headed for Bradley Field in Connecticut. The 1500 system is part of the full glass panel Magic electronic flight instrument system that has been standard in the Meridian from the beginning. The dual electronic displays are backed up by independent attitude, airspeed and altimeter instruments mounted in the center of the panel.
I selected go-around mode, and the flight director command bars on the primary flight display (PFD) provided target pitch angle for rotation. Go-around mode was missing on the original autopilot. Climbing through 800 feet on the Westchester One departure I engaged heading mode and cranked the heading bug around to 320 degrees, a big turn from the 160-degree runway heading. The 1500 is an aggressive autopilot, rolling smartly into a 30-degree bank and holding that angle all the way through the turn. That's steeper than the 20 degrees or so most autopilots would bank at Meridian airspeeds, but the bank angle control was precise, and you sure can't argue with the rate of turn it delivers.
Like the best turbine autopilots, the Magic 1500 altitude alerter is automated into the system. When you dial a new altitude into the alerter, the 1500 is automatically armed and ready to capture that new altitude without any other button pushing or knob twisting to arm a capture mode. I can't remember which autopilot introduced this feature, but it's great. Why would you ever want to climb or descend through the assigned altitude you have dialed into the alerter? You don't. So why force pilots to arm altitude capture? The Magic 1500 does not, and it's great. You'll never fly through a target altitude without the autopilot capturing it, or the flight director commanding a level off if you are hand flying.
The Magic 1500 has a built-in aural alert system that uses a female voice to announce events such as approaching an assigned altitude and so on. The voice callouts are helpful under most circumstances, but they can be intrusive in very busy airspace where the controllers talk nonstop. In that case, it's easy to silence the callouts.
The Meridian is a strong climber with its full-rated 500 shp available to about 25,000 feet, and the Magic 1500 has the smarts to anticipate the level off and altitude capture smoothly without any abrupt attitude or vertical speed changes. The autopilot's control of the airplane is precise at all airspeeds and it smoothly handled some turbulence we encountered descending through a cloud layer.
The controllers at Westchester gave the Magic 1500 a real challenge by vectoring us through the localizer and then back to intercept about two miles outside the outer marker. I had told the controller I didn't mind a close turn on to the ILS and he needed to get us spaced behind an American Airlines Fokker 100 ahead.
The Magic 1500 showed its stuff on the intercept, and its 30-degree bank capability came in particularly handy to nail the localizer without any S-turning after the needle centered. I let the autopilot fly the Meridian below decision height, and its tracking of the ILS was smooth and precise all the way.
Most of the time the Magic 1500 uses roll steering outputs from the standard Garmin GNS 530 navigation systems to smoothly track the desired course. The roll steering is smoother than tracking needle deflection as previous autopilots have done, and it allows for smooth turns at leg changes as the Garmin navigator calculates and commands a leading turn to stay centered on course during leg change.