They say that when one door closes, another opens. The trick is to stop looking at the closed door long enough to see which door is ajar. For Piper, the closed door was the abortive Altaire single-engine jet, an airplane many likened to a mini DC-10 with its Williams turbofan engine integrated weirdly into the tail. The door that opened, meanwhile, was a new version of the Meridian turboprop, which Piper would end up naming the M600.
In October 2011, with the aviation industry still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession, Piper’s new CEO, Simon Caldecott, announced the “indefinite suspension” of the Altaire jet despite the program essentially being on time and on budget. The market for very light jets appeared less certain than it had in the midst of the real-estate-bubble- fueled frenzy prior to 2008, and so the big question for Piper at the time was: What the heck do we do next?
The answer turned out to be a further evolution of the Meridian turboprop single that would make it stand out against a backdrop of pricier turboprops and a new crop of light jets. To pull it off, four big changes were needed. The first, and the most important, entailed designing a new wing. Piper also decided to add the latest Garmin touchscreen avionics, boost the new model’s flat-rated horsepower and improve the interior.
Piper took some of what it learned from the Altaire program and applied it to the design and manufacturing of the M600. This latest iteration of the PA-46 now features a clean-sheet wing, Garmin G3000 avionics, an extra 100 shp compared with the M500, and stylish interior enhancements that elevate the airplane well above the original Malibu Meridian introduced to the market almost 20 years ago. The changes also now put the M600 in rarefied territory within striking distance of some pricier turbine options.
The M600’s new wing isn’t the same as the Altaire’s, but Piper engineers who were involved in the jet program applied their experience with wing design to the latest PA-46 model. Piper started the process in late 2011 by asking dealers and customers what they wanted from the Meridian. The consensus was that it needed to fly farther, carry more and go faster — and really, what else would they say? The hard numbers many asked for included a range boost to at least 1,000 nm, a payload of 800 pounds or better and a 250-knot vmo.
With the M600, Piper not only met those goals, it exceeded the parameters while also making other noteworthy improvements. Boosting the available power of the airplane’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A engine to 600 shp in the M600 helped to increase performance, but engineers knew that a limiting factor in achieving more dramatic improvements in payload and speed was the original PA-46 wing. Not only would a clean-sheet wing designed using new computer load analysis lead to performance improvements, a bigger wing could also hold more fuel — it turns out, the M600’s new wing carries an impressive 90 gallons more jet-A compared with the original.
The extra fuel coupled with the improved wing translates to a welcomed increase in range, from 1,000 nm in the M500 to 1,484 nm in the M600 at its long-range cruise speed of 184 ktas (with a 45-minute reserve). At the M600’s max cruise speed of 274 ktas, range still stretches to more than 1,000 nm. Most impressive to me is the M600’s ability to carry 1,000 pounds worth of people and bags on 800 nm legs. Since there’s no option for an onboard lavatory, that’s about as far as most owners will want to travel before a pit stop, anyway.
Flying the M600
The day of my demonstration flight, I arrived at the Piper factory in Vero Beach, Florida, in pitch darkness for our planned 5:30 a.m. wheels-up time. This ungodly hour was chosen to capture first light for the gorgeous air-to-air photography that accompanies this article. Boy, was it worth it. As the sun gradually began to paint pale hues in the morning stillness, I strolled onto the ramp with Piper chief corporate pilot Bart Jones for my first in-the-flesh look at the M600. Instantly, I could see this was no stock Meridian. The new wing, with its slightly upturned tips and thick chord line, looks right at home on the PA-46 airframe. The M600’s leading-edge cuffs, with integrated deice boots and a new in-wing radar pod that houses Garmin’s GWX 70, finish off the look.
Another reason for the early start was that the FAA was scheduled to fly the M600 later in the day before granting Piper its final production sign-off. The planned handover of the first customer airplane was scheduled for the following day. I was disappointed to learn during our preflight briefing that we would be limited to an altitude of 17,500 feet because the transponder check on the airplane I’d be flying was out of date. That seemed like an odd oversight. My host ensured me, however, that Piper test pilots had really flown all the performance numbers listed in the POH, and if anything the figures err on the conservative side.
Taxiing out behind a Piper Seneca photo ship with its left door removed so that the photographer could capture the M600 in the soft morning light, we applied full power and were rolling on Vero Beach’s Runway 30L as a flight of two. We climbed out in formation as the sun appeared from behind vermillion pillars of cumulus clouds lazing offshore. Beckoning like sirens, the combination of the sea, clouds and early light served as an irresistible backdrop for our photo flight — a Florida postcard, made to order — which lasted about an hour before we thanked the Seneca crew for making us look good and got down to business putting the M600 through its paces.
The first thing I noted was the M600 has a heavier feel than the original Meridian, owing to that beefier wing and the fact that the M600 is, after all, a heavier airplane than its predecessors. I would have preferred a slightly lighter feel, but control harmony was excellent, as was low-speed handling, so I can’t imagine M600 buyers will complain much once they spend a few hours at the controls and become accustomed to the extra heft required to throw the airplane around the sky.
Climbing to 17,500 feet, I left the power up and watched the speed climb to 263 ktas at our midweight with the two of us aboard, plus 200 gallons of fuel and a temperature of ISA+15. Though I wouldn’t get the opportunity to experience it, the POH shows a climb from sea level to FL 280 at that temperature and max gross weight would take 31 minutes. The increase in flat-rated horsepower provides more impressive climb times at lower weights and temperatures, while the new wing enhances performance at altitude. You can expect to see a fuel burn of right around 39 gph at a reduced power setting cruising in the mid-20s, which compares quite favorably with the competition. Daher’s TBM 930, for example, flies 60 knots faster than the M600, but it burns 60 gallons an hour and costs about $1.5 million more to buy.
That’s one reason why I’d have no qualms labeling the M600 the budget-constrained buyer’s TBM. For a base price of $2.853 million, the M600 is a compelling alternative to the pricier and speedier TBM models from Daher. Popular options will put the M600 slightly north of $3 million, but that’s still well below the TBM 930’s $4 million-plus price tag. If you can’t swing the payments on the TBM, the Piper M600 isn’t a bad compromise.
Where Piper has upped its game considerably with the M600 is in the cockpit and cabin. Up front, there’s the Garmin G3000 cockpit similar to the TBM 930’s, and in back, the M600’s interior is a welcome improvement over the original Meridian’s. My initial impression as I climbed through the rear clamshell door into the M600’s passenger compartment was “wow, nice.” The first thing I noticed were the USB charging ports positioned within easy reach of all the seats. Next was the overall sleek look of the interior, which features nicely rounded table accents and lower side panels, and as Piper director of marketing Jackie Carlon pointed out to me, cup holders that can actually hold a can of soda, unlike those in earlier PA-46s.
The improvements to the cabin were made in the reverse order that manufacturers typically follow, but the positive results are undeniable. Piper hired an external company to build the M600 cabin mock-up, with considerable input from the internal marketing team. Once they arrived at a design they liked, the mock-up was brought into the interior shop in Vero Beach so that production specialists could figure out how to build each piece and assemble the resulting jigsaw puzzle — and then do it over and over again on the production line. (The M600’s new interior has proven such a hit that it’s being brought to the M500 as well.)
The inclusion of G3000 avionics was an easy choice, and it would have been the standard package in the Altaire jet had that program not been halted. The system includes a comprehensive complement of envelope protection features that are appearing on several other jet and turboprop models (such as the TBM 930, HondaJet, Cessna M2, Embraer Phenom 300, Cirrus Vision Jet and more). They include Garmin’s enhanced stability protection (ESP), which automatically returns the airplane to controlled flight if certain pitch and bank parameters are exceeded; overspeed and underspeed protections (USP), which automatically lower or raise the nose if speed decays dangerously low or climbs above vmo; emergency descent mode; and, of course, synthetic vision and ADS-B capability.
Another notable safety enhancement is the coupled go-around feature in the M600, which keeps the autopilot engaged during a missed approach, utilizing USP to prevent a stall if adequate power isn’t added by the pilot. There is also a blue LVL button the pilot can press in case of an upset to return the airplane to controlled flight.
G3000 in the M600 features three main flight displays with split presentations that allow for seemingly endless configurations of information and data. For example, the PFD can be split 60-40 to show the primary view, with speed and altitude tapes next to the digitized Jeppesen approach plate. Below the primary displays are two GTC 580 touchscreens positioned in portrait format. The touch displays themselves are great, but I think I prefer them in landscape layout, since I had a hard time pressing certain areas such as the transponder buttons, which, in my opinion, are a bit too small. The backup flight instrument is the popular Aspen Avionics Evolution PFD.
After spending some time getting a feel for the M600 over Lake Okeechobee, which included a series of steep turns and power-on and -off stalls with the envelope protection systems turned off, we headed back to Vero Beach for takeoffs and landings. My first arrival was the RNAV LPV approach to Runway 12R, which I hand-flew using the flight director. At slower speeds, the M600 really is a joy to fly. I made a smooth landing at the conclusion of the approach, followed by an immediate application of power for a few circuits in the pattern. The extra 100 horses in the M600 are noticeable on takeoff, with full power calling for a max torque of 1,575 pounds versus 1,310 pounds in the M500.
At reduced-power settings, I found it somewhat difficult to fine-tune the setting I wanted to nail without a certain amount of finesse with the throttle. The trick that worked for me was to make small power adjustments by grasping the throttle very low on the handle with just my forefinger and thumb. At pattern altitude, I pulled the power back to 550 pounds of torque, dropped the gear, added the first notch of flaps, and then reduced power on final and added landing flaps (as is the trend in many airplanes today, the M600 has only three flap settings: up, approach and landing). Slowing to 80 to 85 knots on short final felt just right, and all my landings were smooth. The M600’s brakes are big and beefy, though beta thrust is somewhat lackluster.
The PA-46-600TP earned its type certification earlier this year, and a handful are now flying with customers. Piper has selected Legacy Flight Training in Vero Beach for M600 initial training. A five-day course is included in the airplane’s purchase price. Warranties on the airframe, avionics and propeller are five years, while the engine has a seven-year warranty from Pratt & Whitney. Despite the increase in power, engine TBO remains 3,600 hours.
Options available on the 2016 M600 include Garmin’s Surface Watch taxi safety system, an Iridium voice and data transceiver for worldwide calling and text, TCAS I traffic collision avoidance system, and a variety of bundled option packages. The GWX 70 weather radar, deice boots, USB charging ports, Aspen standby instrument, and envelope-protection safety features all come standard.
With the M600, Piper has met its design goals and then some. It delivers what the market asked for, which was a much-improved PA-46. With operating economics that are the envy of many other turboprop owners, and a cockpit and cabin finally on par with the top-tier competition, it’s not a stretch to say that certain buyers who are considering a TBM will also take a close look at the M600 and ask if the performance trade-offs are worth the savings. For some, the answer will undoubtedly be yes.
2016 Piper M600
|Base price||$2.853 million|
|Engine||Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A (flat-rated 600 shp)|
|Cabin length||12.2 feet|
|Max cabin width||4.1 feet|
|Max cabin height||3.75 feet|
|Wing loading||28.71 pounds/square foot|
|Power loading||10 pounds/shp|
|Max ramp weight||6,050 pounds|
|Max takeoff weight||6,000 pounds|
|Standard empty weight||3,650 pounds|
|Useful load||2,400 pounds|
|Max usable fuel||260 gallons|
|Payload (full fuel)||632 pounds|
|Max range||1,484 nm|
|Fuel flow (max cruise)||48 gph|
|Fuel flow (long range)||39 gph|
|Max operating altitude||30,000 feet|
|Max cruise speed||274 ktas|
|Stall speed (MTOW)||62 kias|
|Takeoff, 50-foot obstacle||2,635 feet|
|Landing, 50-foot obstacle||2,659 feet|