Piper's latest single-engine turbo-prop is classy, fast and proving an appealing option for owners wanting that bit more. John Absolon reports.
The latest in the PA-46 line of aircraft that includes the -310P Malibu, -350P Malibu Mirage and -500TP Malibu Meridian, the M600 continues Piper's success with high performance singles.
During a demonstration tour of the M600 in Australia, Australian Flying was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fly the demonstration aircraft when it visited Archerfield.
The demonstration flight included a flight to the Darling Downs and back at 10,000 feet while truing out at a respectable 240KTAS. This flight ably exhibited the M600’s ability to be used as an executive transport aircraft or family high performance touring aircraft seating six adults in comfort.
Looking it over
This particular aircraft had been fitted with the optional five-bladed composite propeller, which provided smooth performance with a marginal increase in thrust and therefore performance over the standard four-bladed Hartzell propeller. That extra blade also means a slightly smaller diameter and therefore increased ground clearance.
This was the first striking feature I noticed as I walked up to the aircraft outside Archerfield’s Jet Base hangar. With the PA-46’s long nose accommodating the 600 horsepower flat rated PT6A-42A, the aircraft looks similar to the older models until you look much closer.
The M600 has a totally new designed wing from previous PA-46 models that results in reduced drag while being able to carry a total of 996 litres of Jet A-1 in two internal wing tanks.
Each wing leading edge is equipped with pneumatic boots for de-icing and along with a small LED light on the fuselage side below each cockpit window to enable the pilot to observe if any ice is present at night. The vertical tail and horizontal tailplane are also similarly equipped with leading edge boots.
Entry into the Piper M600’s cabin is via a single two-section door located at the rear left side of the cabin. The bottom section when lowered, houses the stairs for boarding while the locking mechanism is in the top sill. Integral within this lower door are the air ducts to aft cabin.
Once inside, the rear of the M600’s cabin has four seats in pairs facing each other just aft of the main spar that protrudes slightly on the floor.
All rear cabin seats have access to emergency oxygen masks, which are housed in a drawer under each seat. They are the airliner style nose and mouth mask. The two front seats have EROS quick-donning masks located in their boxes behind each seat facing inwards towards the access-way into the cockpit.
Moving forward into the cockpit is not without some difficulty. For the larger pilots amongst us, the cabin ceiling is quite low and after bending over and then lifting one foot over the main spar, you are able to slide forward into the cockpit seats. Once seated the flight deck is very comfortable with all controls falling easily to view and hand without effort without any extended reaching. Similarly, the view over the long nose is not limiting for all operations.
Above the windscreen is located the main switch panel with mainly electrical, avionic master and other systems switches nearest to the command pilot on the left side. This may pose problems for those pilots using multi-focal glasses looking upwards.
The five screens of the Garmin G3000 GNSS/SBAS Avionic System dominate the main area of the panel. The visible components of the Garmin G3000 system comprise three main display screens and two GTC 570 Touchscreen Controllers.
The three main screens display most of the information required for IFR flight with the two outboard screens primarily displaying the Primary Flight Display (PFD) information using vertical tape displays of airspeed, altitude and VSI with a full 360 compass rose at the bottom.
The centre Multi Function Display (MFD) screen shows the engine indications vertically on the left with the moving map on the major area of the display. Alongside these primary engine indications are the ancillary indictors for cabin pressure, electrical loads, pitch trim, flap and landing gear.
The MFD also displays the Electronic Flight Bag using the appropriate Jeppesen charts. Below the centre MFD screen, are the twin touch-screen controllers. Each screen allows the pilot to enter the required frequencies on either of the twin VHF radios, transponder codes, navigation waypoints as part of a flight plan, control the charts selected on the MFD, allows the selection of various aircraft systems displays, accesses satellite weather information as well as planning aircraft performance. They truly are the control heart of the aircraft.
Outboard to the left of the pilot’s PFD is the Aspen Avionics standby instruments. This consists of a single flat panel colour display of attitude and heading with tape airspeed and altitude indications.
Situated below these display controllers are the engine controls consisting of the power lever, condition lever and the manual pitch trim wheel. To my liking, the power lever is mounted a little too low and sits just slightly lower than the height of the front seat bases. This posed a slight problem later during the flight.
Located either side of the centre touch-screen controllers are the landing gear switch to the left and the three-position (up, t/o and lnd) flap switch to the right. Outboard on the left, are the various engine bleed air controls and the air-conditioning.
The various Auto-flight mode controls are located above the centre MFD. These control the heading bug, navigation course (CRS) selector, flight director On/Off, altitude selector, yaw damper and vertical speed selector (V/S).
Flying the beast
Our flight was planned to depart YBAF on an IFR flight plan at 10,000 feet for a short flight up to Warwick on the southern Darling Downs and back to Archerfield.
After checking that all the electrical and bleed controls were selected appropriate for an engine start, annunciator lights checked, the battery voltage was checked sufficient for an internal power start. After checking that the fuel pumps were selected on MAN, L and R fuel pump messages showed on, the ignition switch selected to man and the prop area was clear, a start cycle was commenced.
Selecting the start mode to auto, lifting the cover and pushing start there was an immediate whirring sound and the Ng % began to increase quite quickly. As it passed 13%, fuel is introduced to the engine by advancing the Condition Lever to run. The main limitation that we were looking for on the start, was a maximum of 1000°C, which is limited for just five seconds.
The only other limit that needs to be observed is that the starter has disengaged above 56% Ng.
While waiting for the obligatory warm up and checking of engine parameters, the avionics were selected on and the relevant weight and fuel data were entered or confirmed from fuel onboard and the flight plan route entered into the G3000, we were virtually now ready for taxy.
Of course the most important item for flight in this type of aircraft around SE QLD, making sure the air conditioning was selected on. Immediately cooling air was felt coming from the air outlets making for a comfortable flying environment.
Taxying the M600 required little extra power with our light weight, and the M600 quickly accelerated to a comfortable taxying speed. With the reversing propeller, taxy speed was easily controlled not by riding the wheel brakes, but by pulling the power lever back to the Beta position: zero pitch.
This is achieved by pulling the power lever slightly up and aft of the idle detent. Only momentary selections were required to control the speed before returning the power lever back to idle as we taxied out to Archerfield’s Runway 10.
Having a turbine power unit doesn’t negate the requirement for a propeller check. After entering the run-up bay and parking the brakes, the power lever was advanced to 1900 RPM for a propeller governor check followed by a reverse and Beta lock-out test.
After all the other normal pre-take-off actions, we were now to ready to move to the holding point, obtain our airways clearance and aviate.
With the flaps set to the T/O position, the power lever was advanced to around 1500 psi TRQ and the M600 accelerated rapidly towards an initial rotate speed of 85 KIAS. I found maintaining the centerline relatively easy with the powerful rudder design of the aircraft and direct nose-wheel steering at lower speeds.
The back pressure required at lift-off was a little higher than I expected, but provided positive response.
Initial obstacle clearance climb out speed of 95 KIAS is quickly achieved and after the gear and flaps had been retracted and the circuit area cleared, I accelerated the aircraft to a cruise climb speed of 145 KIAS at 1500 fpm. Best rate of climb is achieved at 122 KIAS.
During the climb, we only needed to monitor the engine’s limits in Torque, ITT and Ng. The pressurisation was being looked after for us automatically as we climbed towards our cruising level of 10,000 feet.
On the cruise
After negotiating through Amberley’s airspace, Thomas took the opportunity to show me many of the features and economy of the M600 including the ability to access satellite data communications to gain weather both wind and METAR information.
Normally, the aircraft would be cruised at around FL240-FL280 where it returns around 280 KTAS at approximately 1 pound-per-mile economy. At 10,000’, we were seeing 240 KTAS and 370 pph fuel flow.
During the airwork at Warwick, we experimented with the M600’s handling and ability to perform an emergency descent should the need arise. With the power lever back at idle, we were able to generate up to 4500 fpm descent as the speed increased towards the VNE of 251 KIAS.
I was also able to have a look at another important safety feature within the autopilot to help in single pilot operations. That is the Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP) system, which will provide a control force feedback when hand flying to deter the pilot from operating outside the aircraft limits. This operates in both roll and pitch.
As the aircraft reaches the various ESP thresholds, the system will engage the autopilot servos to provide a positive pressure back towards the normal operational envelope.
After our short flight to Warwick, we returned to a busy Archerfield circuit pattern and after a downwind leg that was extended for wake turbulence due to a couple of army helicopters conducting pre-Comm’ Games operations, we turned base with the gear and T/O flaps extended.
This suited me fine as it gave me a longer final approach to get a feel for the aircraft in the approach configuration. With the gear down and flaps set to lnd, a final approach speed of 95 KIAS was attained. It is easy to get too fast.
This required a TRQ of not less than 450 PSI, which is at the aft end of the power lever range, meaning that only very slight forward movements gave quite large power increases with associated speed increase. Also with the lever being located so low down, I almost felt as though my hand was down by my side.
To limit the size of power adjustments, I found that placing my index finger against the front of the lever on top of the lever’s slot, this allowed for smaller more accurate movements in the slight turbulence.
Normal approach and flare resulted in a reasonable landing and with the power lever back to Beta, I found there was no need to select reverse to adequately stop midway down the runway with only a little braking required to ensure the exit taxiway back to parking.
In all the M600 represents the latest in GA avionic technology with up to the present aerodynamics to deliver cost effective personal transport for up to six occupants.
My thanks to Nick Jones from Airflite Pty Ltd and Thomas Nielsen, M600 Demonstration Pilot, Piper Aircraft.