sidebar - by Dick Karl
I squirmed around in my seat to see the instantaneous vertical speed indicator declare 6,000 feet per minute. Down. Portions of the Florida landscape filled most of the windshield. Both the pilot and copilot remained calm. The center controller kept asking for us to say our altitude. "22,000," came the reply. About 30 seconds later the same controller made the same request. "17-five," came the response. The altimeter unwound like a dizzy clock in an old movie. Our rate of descent had paralyzed the center's computer. We were "coasting."
I was sitting in the sumptuous back-facing seats of a brand new TBM 850. In the front sat Mac McClellan of Flying and Alan Griffin, TBM's chief pilot. I was joining Mac on a visit to Socata in North Perry, near Fort Lauderdale. While I was falling out of the sky, I was falling for this machine, the new souped-up TBM.
We had started with some preflight explanations about the differences between the TBM 700 and the 850, most of which went over my head. Then four of us hopped into this speed demon for a test flight. Mac sat in the left seat. In the back I admired the opulent surroundings, noted the adequate headroom and thought of our Cheyenne, with its nice interior, turbine reliability, but 25-year-old systems. Though the TBM felt marginally smaller in the back, it was roomier up front. And it is impressively faster and more economical to operate.
I had long thought that a TBM would be the perfect airplane for me. Fast and efficient, it can easily carry four with luggage and go a very long way. With no business associates to transport, I don't need the size of a King Air. At more than 300 knots, a TBM is close to the projected speeds of most of the VLJs, burns less gas and has a greater range. Just what I need.
After we landed at Lakeland, Florida, I was offered a go at the left seat and I jumped at the chance. The feel on takeoff was different than our airplane. It had been a long time since I'd flown a single-engine airplane of any type and the TBM has a long snout with a lot of power in the front end of it. I squirreled down the runway and rotated at about 85 knots, got the yaw damper on, flaps up and inertial separator stowed just in time to see 1,500 feet go by on the altimeter.
We turned downwind. I say "we" because Alan was doing everything but the flying-and he was probably doing most of that, too. On base I deployed approach flaps and pointed the nose down as instructed. The view was alarming compared to the deck angle of our airplane. It looked like we were going straight down. Alan cautioned me not to flare too early and I rewarded his instruction by ignoring it. I just couldn't help leveling this multi-million dollar airplane approximately five feet off the ground, where I sat transfixed as I ran out of airspeed and ideas at the same instance. Whomp. Alan said something about TBM's certification process for testing the gear strength, but I didn't catch it as we were on the go again.
The next landing was marginally better. We followed that with a balked landing (easy, plenty of power and airspeed), then headed up to 17,500 feet for the VFR trip back to Fort Lauderdale. We climbed at 2,000 feet a minute, leveled off, and found ourselves devouring Florida farmland to the tune of 345 nautical miles per hour. The glass/electronics were superb and too soon we were started down with North Perry in sight. Though Runway 9R is only 3,000 feet long, we turned off easily on a taxiway before the end.
What to say about such an experience? I know of no other airplane with this combination of attributes and these are exactly the characteristics I long for. The interior is beautifully done, the airplane is fast-fast, and the fuel burn is amazing considering the performance. The easiest way to explain my feeling as I got out of the pilot door is to say this: I want one.