Comparing Two Remarkable Airplanes

A new jet puts a trusted turboprop in perspective.

1980 Piper Cheyenne I
The 1980 Piper Cheyenne I that Dick Karl and his wife owned for 17 years.Dick Karl

OK, I've whined enough about the new jet. I've moaned about the speedbrake-spoiler failure that occurs every time I get above Flight Level 300; about the fact that I will have to pay Williams for 150 hours per year on the engine program even though I won't fly that much; about the ridiculous wait to get a letter of authorization for flight in RVSM airspace (how much fuel is wasted in the United States waiting for these letters as jets fly low, burning lots of jet-A?). Enough, already.

How is it that somebody can be so lucky as to be born in this country and to have enjoyed not one but two great careers (cancer surgery and Part 135 flying), at least two great airplanes (Cheyenne I and this Premier), be happily married and live in fabulous style and still complain? Get a grip. (On the other hand, having a jet doesn’t mean one can just accept these complications without some complaint; you’d be easy pickings if you didn’t push back.)

Now that my wife, Cathy, and I have owned our Premier 1 jet for seven months, I can begin to compare this airplane to our previous ride, the 1980 Piper Cheyenne I that we owned for 17 years. Though I can’t claim to know the jet as intimately as the turboprop, there are some obvious and some subtle differences.

Both the jet and the turboprop look, to me, imposing and stately on the ramp. The Cheyenne had those big PT6 engines, those shiny prop spinners and that elegant set of rear entry stairs. I never tired of admiring that airplane. The jet is bigger and has newish paint and sits up very high; the fuselage appears to be almost perched on the swept wing. The T-tail is massive and more than 15 feet above the ground. Large sculpted indentations of the fuselage adjacent to the engines (for “area rule”) and the swept wing make me think that this airplane was built for speed; drag was of little interest to Beechcraft. It does not look like a toy airplane or a mini jet.

Getting going was much quicker and easier in the Cheyenne. Check battery power, turn on the fuel boost pumps, arm the ignition and hit the starter, introduce some jet-A and you had just a few more steps before you were ready to copy the clearance. The Premier is a little like preparing the space shuttle. Several trim systems, firewall shut-off valves and fuel transfer switches must be checked before you even contemplate starting up. The start sequence is easy though, and there is an electronic checklist on the MFD once you get the generators online. There is a rotary test for spoilers, flaps, stall warning and stick shaker (and pusher), over-speed warning, gear horn and takeoff-out-of-trim alerts. I like all this — it feels like a real hefty, serious enterprise.

Taxiing the Cheyenne was easy; asymmetric power and rudder pedal input could turn you on a dime. The Premier is more ponderous, and the brakes are much more touchy, so it has taken me a while to get smooth on the ground.

Takeoff in both airplanes is a demonstration of raw power. The Cheyenne was no slouch. Rotation speed was 94 knots, and it would climb out at 1,500 to 2,000 feet a minute from a sea-level field without complaint. On the other hand, the Premier will climb out at 5,500 feet per minute and doesn’t complain either.

premier 1 jet
It is much easier to get a good landing in the Premier, even with fewer than 100 hours of experience, than in the Cheyenne.Dick Karl

Cruise altitudes in the Cheyenne were usually in the mid-20s depending on winds. These flight levels were good for almost all weather. We were usually above the clouds or between layers. At Flight Level 230, we’d be good for about 225 knots true airspeed and burn about 400 pounds of jet-A per hour (60 gallons). The Premier is fastest in the high 30s but most efficient at Flight Level 400 or 410, depending on direction. There we typically see a true airspeed of 430 to 440 knots and burn about 840 pounds per hour (125 gallons). The jet flies almost twice as high, twice as fast and burns about twice as much per hour. A recent flight from the Northeast to Florida at Flight Level 400 gave me smug satisfaction. The tops were 38,000 feet, it was relatively smooth above and the frequency was loaded up with airliners too heavy to climb above the mid-30s. They complained vociferously about moderate to “very moderate” turbulence. Ha. I would not have made the flight in the Cheyenne — not because I couldn’t, but because none of my usual passengers would have approved of the ride.

It takes a while to accommodate to the faster speeds and higher altitudes in the jet. Whereas I wouldn’t usually listen to the ATIS until 80 miles out in the Cheyenne, I find it possible to get clear reception up high in the jet even when 180 miles from the airport. Hey, it will be less than 30 minutes before we land.

Preparing the jet for landing is slightly more complicated, mostly because you might be assigned a speed “in the transition,” when the indicated airspeed reverts to knots from a Mach number. Below 10,000 feet, the 250-knot speed limit was never a consideration in the Cheyenne, but it is in the jet. That said, the approach speeds are very similar (120 knots), and landing speeds close (95 to 105 knots in the Cheyenne, usually 109 to 114 in the Premier).

The Premier has TCAS and will generate RAs, or resolution advisories. I’ve had three of these warnings, each at an uncontrolled field while on the approach. This has made me wonder how often I’ve come close to another airplane in the Cheyenne while oblivious.

It is much easier to get a good landing in the Premier, even with fewer than 100 hours of experience, than in the Cheyenne. Cheyenne owners will talk for hours about best speeds, power and flap settings to accomplish a smooth touchdown. With the Premier group, the topic never comes up.

It is, however, easier to slow the Cheyenne after landing. Just drop those huge props into beta and let the airplane settle. The Premier has a lift-dump system that uses multiple speedbrakes to increase brake effectiveness, but it still weighs 2 tons more than the Cheyenne and needs longer runways in general. There are some airports that used to be in play for us that have been deleted with the upgrade.

Taxi in either airplane always feels great. Both cockpits sit up high. You are not in a Baron or a CJ. The marshal is down there with her batons. In truth, both airplanes are intoxicating to taxi, fly and own.