Piper Aircraft president and CEO Simon Caldecott delivered a 1-2-3 punch of energy to the sub-6,000-pound general aviation market on April 13 when he introduced the M series of piston and turboprop singles (formerly the PA-46 series) and a new flagship at a celebration at the company’s 750,000-sq-ft manufacturing plant in Vero Beach, Fla. The M series starts at $1.1 million and ranges upwards to a little less than $3 million for a fully loaded top-of-the-line model.
First to be undraped was the M500, formerly the Meridian, featuring the leather interior (complete with USB andAC power ports) that Boston-based Blokx Design created for the full M series. The upgrade is in addition to the improvements announced in January. Those upgrades were necessary to bring it up to par with the two new M-series airframes. Each of the M series sports a full Garmin glass cockpit; digital capacitive fuel quantity sensors; digital pressurization; Aspen Avionics EFD1000 standby flight instruments; electronic stability control; auto go-around function; and stall protection. Iridium connectivity is an option.
Next to be unveiled was the smaller, piston-powered M350 (formerly Mirage), a six-seat, 350-hp Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A-powered single capable of 213 knots max cruise and a range of 1,343 nm for $1.15 million. Caldecott said Piper’s engineers have revamped this pressurized airplane by maximizing the functionality of its Garmin G1000 avionics. “We have added electronic stability protection, underspeed [stall] protection and automatic level mode… and both the M350 and the upcoming M600 can now safely fly unassisted to lower altitudes in the rare case that the pilot is non-responsive at high altitudes,” Caldecott said. (Because of a variation in the M500’s Vmo, its autopilot does not have the emergency descent mechanism activated.)
Some recent high-profile accidents were caused by hypoxic pilots who either flew the aircraft outside its envelope or simply fell unconscious and stopped flying the aircraft altogether. The M350 is often the first pressurized aircraft pilots fly into the flight levels, so Piper created a stability safety zone for it that is more than just a “level up” button on the panel (similar to the Garmin-based Cirrus Perspective product). Combating loss of control, the autopilot polices the aircraft envelope, insistently nudging it back into safe flight parameters. It won’t let the aircraft stall, either, taking over and pushing the nose down, which should inspire the pilot to add power. (Without input the aircraft will drift down in an unstalled, controlled state. There is no autothrottle.)
Hypoxia prevention is integrated in the G1000 with a pilot-worn pulse oximeter and a carbon monoxide warning system, but that is just the passive side of the mechanism. Above 14,900 feet msl, if the system does not “sense” the pilot at the controls every few minutes it cues the pilot with the question, “Are you alert?” If the pilot does not answer correctly the autopilot takes the aircraft to below 14,900 feet msl, then asks the question again, demanding pilot input. If it receives no input, it will complete the controlled descent to about 12,000 feet msl and ask again. A similar emergency descent mechanism (EDM) is an option on Cirrus aircraft equipped with the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot. Caldecott announced that the M350 received its FAA certification on April 13.
Finally, Caldecott pulled the cover off what he described as a clean-sheet airframe that will cap the M series properly. The Piper M600 turboprop is not a Meridian, but to look at it there is no question from whence it came. It is also clear at first glance, however, that the M600 sports a different wing: gone are the vortex generators littering the top surface; also gone are the extended swept-back leading edges at the roots; and new wingtips are twisted up into mini-winglets. Beyond that the new wing holds more fuel, promising more range. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A flat-rated to 600 shp, the M600 carries up to six people at a maximum cruise speed of 260 knots; max range is 1,300 nm with 45 minutes reserve. Its maximum payload is 1,200 pounds, and full fuel is 1,768 pounds. With all the seats filled it can still go 1,000 nm, a considerable bump over the M500, whose PT6A-42A is flat-rated at 500 shp and fed by a maximum of 1,156 pounds of fuel.
In the M600 panel there is a triple-screen Garmin 3000 suite paired with dual GTC 570 touchscreen controllers, backed up by the Aspen Standby 1000EFD. The additional performance provided by the wing and engine, combined with the safety features of the GFC 700 autopilot with enhanced automatic flight control system (AFCS), hypoxia prevention and EDM, ADS-B in/out and onboard radar, make the M600 a capable aircraft for a base price of $2.82 million. For passengers, its cabin comfort and richness are on par with larger aircraft. The interior features ergonomic seating with integrated lumbar support and some adjustability of the recline angle. Side panels hide retractable lightweight, laminated woodwork tables; oversized brushed-aluminum cup holders are ready to handle a Starbucks Venti. “Our customers and dealers asked for an aircraft with more payload and range,” said Caldecott during the unveiling. “We listened and we delivered. With the advent of the M600, we have given our customers an option to travel nonstop from New York to Florida,” he said.
Launch customer Scott Middleton, a businessman whose first aircraft was a Piper Seneca, told AIN, “This airplane is going to be a game-changer for my flying; I saw that halfway through the presentation, and I asked, ‘Where do I sign up?’”
Piper expects to receive FAA type certification for the M600 in this year’s fourth quarter, in time for deliveries to start next year. So far, the aircraft has logged 800 hours of flight-testing over 470 flights. “The first 12 months’ production of the M600 is fully allocated to our worldwide dealer network,” said Caldecott.