Great Performance, Good Value in Turboprop Airplanes

With more speed and range than previous PC-12 models, the PC-12NGX is a top-of-the-list choice for just about anything you can throw at it. Pilatus Aircraft

New turboprop aircraft are one of the most exciting market segments for 2020 and beyond, with plenty of innovation being delivered in current and future models. While the General Aviation Manufacturers Association reported 525 turboprop shipments in 2019—down from the 601 turboprop units delivered in 2018—new models and upgrades to existing models point to continued interest from buyers.

It is easy to see why many owner-pilots are drawn to this category of airplanes. The proven dispatch rate of modern turboprop engines delivers exceptional dependability while producing plenty of power to carry sizable loads over long distances. This collection of airplanes can be a smart choice when an owner-pilot needs a personal airplane that carries several family members or friends, or when a business needs to move executives on medium-range trips without the high cost of operating a business jet.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most exciting turboprops either on the market now or coming soon.

The single-engine-turboprop market is one of the most competitive spaces in all of aviation, with new, clean-sheet designs chasing existing legacy models for the buyer’s order. In a segment that offers everything from exceptional cargo haulers to sleek “very fast” designs, as with all airplane purchases, it all comes down to the desired mission.

For complete versatility, look no further than the Pilatus PC-12 series, the highly capable airplane that redefined the single-engine-turboprop space when the company launched this successful model in 1991 and delivered more than 1,700 PC-12s. During the week, the PC-12 can serve as a well-appointed luxury business airplane that will economically carry executives to close their next deal before hauling anglers or hunters and a tremendous amount of their gear to a backcountry lodge on the weekend, landing on an unimproved grass, dirt or gravel strip with ease.

Pilatus’ latest version, the PC-12 NGXi, offers interiors from BMW Designworks plus advances to the flight deck such as their advanced cockpit environment for ultimate control and increased situational awareness, an emergency descent mode, and an optional autothrottle system that, according to Pilatus, has been ordered on 95 percent of NGX models delivered. With more speed and range than previous PC-12 models, the NGX raises the bar even higher to make this a top-of-the-list choice for just about anything you can throw at it.

It’s apparent that Textron Aviation engineers had the PC-12 buyer in mind when they began with a clean sheet and designed the Cessna Denali. This new single-engine- turboprop model is designed to perform generally close to the PC-12 NGX and features a similar large rear cargo door, the latest flight-deck technologies and a luxury interior that rivals many business jets. The Denali is powered by a high-compression GE Aviation Catalyst engine—itself a brand-new, clean-sheet design—and utilizes the Garmin G3000 touchscreen avionics suite and dual-channel fadec single-power lever with detents and digital propeller control for simplified operation. However, delays in the program push the Denali’s entry to the market well into the next two years, with the first Catalyst engines expected to be delivered to Textron late this year.

With a 333 ktas maximum cruise speed, the Epic Aircraft E1000 is one of the fastest in the segment. Epic Aircraft

Another model claiming orders in the single-engine-turboprop segment is the Epic Aircraft E1000, an all-carbon-fiber, six-passenger luxury airplane that is the result of a seven-year effort to transition Epic’s experimental Epic LT kit model into a fully certified design—the original E1000 received type certification from the FAA in 2019. With a 333 ktas maximum cruise speed, it’s one of the fastest in the segment. A full Garmin G1000 NXi avionics suite in front complements a well-appointed cabin in back, and an airframe design that wins plenty of style points helped the E1000 to jump to the head of the class. An updated version, the GX, has debuted this fall.

If your mission has “be fast” as the top criteria, Daher’s TBM 940 readily competes. With a maximum speed of 330 kias, this latest version of the venerable 900-series single-engine turboprop is a market leader, with the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D engine producing a thermodynamic rating of 1,825 hp to launch an extremely aerodynamic airframe between distant city pairs with ease. The TBM 940 has one of the most advanced avionics suites in the segment based on the Garmin G3000 integrated flight deck, with TBM’s E-Copilot functions such as the recently certified HomeSafe’s Garmin Autoland—which can land the airplane without human intervention in the event of a pilot-incapacitating emergency—and linked autothrottle and autopilot contributing greatly to reduced pilot workload while increasing safety. Add the luxury of a highly customizable interior plus a lengthy nose-to-tail warranty with TBM’s Total Care Program, and the 940 should rise to the top of a lot of buyers’ lists. For a choice sure to give you plenty of room and performance to carry large loads into small strips, look no further than the Daher Kodiak 100. Originally marketed as the Quest Kodiak, the newest version (offered after the line was purchased by Daher) needs just 934 feet of ground roll to get off the runway. A maximum speed of 183 ktas is achieved on just 45 gph offering medium-range STOL capability for delivering up to 10 people or lifting 3,535 pounds of useful load.

We’ve been talking single-engine turboprops, but a look at any turboprop segment would not be complete without a mention of the Beechcraft King Air C90GTx and the new King Air 360. The performance of the entire King Air family is legendary, and while the C90GTx is the smallest in the current lineup, it punches well above its weight in many categories. Plenty of power is provided by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-135A engines, each producing 550 shp, and a full Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion avionics suite offers simplified single-pilot operation. This smaller King Air still features Beechcraft’s popular square-oval cabin design with 26 tuned vibration absorbers to keep the area quiet and comfortable for up to eight people.

Originally founded in 1927 as the Taylor Brothers Aircraft Manufacturing Company, what became Piper Aircraft Inc. has over the years produced some of the most iconic aircraft in the sky. Their current big hit is the Piper M600/SLS (for safety, luxury and support), a refined six-seat turboprop that features one of the most technologically advanced flight decks available in the segment. Based on the Garmin G3000 suite, the M600/SLS presents lucky owner-pilots with the Halo safety system, an array of safety enhancements, including Garmin Autoland. Other features of the Halo system include hypoxia recognition with automatic descent mode, which monitors pilot activity when the autopilot is engaged above 14,100 feet and brings the aircraft to a lower altitude to aid recovery from hypoxia.

Behind all the functionality of the flight deck is a selection of rich interior choices in the M600/SLS that make this exciting model from a legacy manufacturer a must-see for single-engine-turboprop buyers. Who knows? Just like the J-3 Cub, maybe the M600/SLS will someday become one of those Piper products that once again earns the title of iconic.

This story appeared in the November 2020, Buyers Guide issue of Flying Magazine

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

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