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- The Piper M500 is the last word in luxury, high-performance general aviation aircraft.
- The M500 bridges the gap between GA aircraft and larger business turboprops.
- State-of-the-art technology makes the M500 an extremely safe aircraft that is a pleasure to fly or travel in.
Let’s get to know the Piper M500, a high-end general aviation airplane that is well suited to both business and personal use.
The Piper M500 is a more powerful, higher-cruising sibling of the M350, and is second in her range, behind the autoland-equipped M600/SLS. The M500 combines impressive performance with a luxurious interior. With a price tag of $2.3 million new, she is the Cadillac of the general aviation skyways.
Please join me - an experienced pilot and aviation enthusiast with firsthand knowledge of this aircraft - as we dive into the details of this superb aircraft.
Piper M500 Overview
The Piper M500 is a single-engine, low-wing, six-seater aircraft with retractable landing gear. The M series is an evolution of the earlier PA-46 Malibu and Matrix, which first flew in 1979. Distinguished from those two by her turboprop power unit, the M500 debuted in 2015 and is still in production today.
The M500 appeals to executive business travelers who need to go places in a timely manner, perhaps while entertaining VIP guests in the comfort of her opulent, pressurized cabin. Pilots appreciate the power and climb rate of the 500 shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42 engine, and the familiarity of the G1000 glass cockpit.
Piper had to wait around twenty months, until the summer of 2016, to secure European Safety Agency Safety Certification for the M500, widening the market outside the USA. The company website lists the M500 in both its Business and Personal product ranges.
The M500 fills a gap between GA aircraft and larger business turboprops like those made by Daher. Non-business users with a large budget are also drawn to this compellingly attractive aircraft. The M500 holds her value remarkably well, with early examples still changing hands for over $2.1 million.
Facts and Figures
The Piper M500 combines remarkable performance with a capacious, well appointed cabin environment.
As mentioned, the purchase cost of the M500 is high. What about the other costs, such as fuel, maintenance and storage? According to aircraftcostcalculator.com, and based on a fuel price of $7 per gallon, you can expect to fork out an annual budget of approximately $502,000.
Assuming you log 450 hours over the year, the per-hour cost comes out at $1,116, so the M500 is definitely not a bargain-basement airplane, even though she is economical considering she is a turboprop. So, is she worth the bucks? Let’s take a closer look.
On the Ramp
As you complete your walk-around check, you will notice the sleek lines and uncluttered wings, together with the signature twin exhaust stacks on either side of the nose cone engine cowl, beneath which sits the 500 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A. You will also spot the wing vortex generators.
The vortex generators - small, diagonally placed bars on the trailing edge of the wing - come as standard on the M500, having been part of a gross-weight upgrade kit for the ancestral PA-46. The vortex generators improve wing efficiency by preventing uncontrolled turbulence as air passes over the wing.
The Hartzel 4-blade, constant-speed, full-feathering, reversible propeller sits proudly on the nose cone, ready to deliver the kick-in-the-back performance that makes the aircraft so popular with pilots. Over 80% of M500s are owner-flown, a sure sign of her hands-on appeal.
From a distance, you might mistake the M500 for an earlier PA-46, but then you’ll spot the extended leading wing roots (which increase fuel capacity) and the larger empennage that mark this airplane out as the later variant. The radar pod under the right wing is another recognisable feature.
In fact, the entire wing has been redesigned since the days of the M500’s predecessor, the PA-46. The new wing is a clean, high-speed airfoil, able to carry 170 gallons of fuel, and capable of cruising at 260 knots.
In the Cockpit
It may be a squeeze to reach the pilot’s seat, entering via the cabin door. That said, once you are in and seated, you will find no shortage of space. The Garmin G1000 glass instrument panel comprises two 10.4 inch primary flight displays with a central multi-function display (MFD).
By now, the sheer allure of this aircraft will be working its magic on you. Having experienced the eye-catching exterior lines and the sumptuous passenger accommodation, you now have the state-of-the-art glass cockpit before you, with its well-presented instrumentation layout.
Should there be any issue in flight with the Garmin instrumentation, backup is provided in the form of an Aspen EFD1000 standby instrument, located to the left of the pilot’s primary display, providing essential information to maintain safe control of the aircraft. The autoflight controls are above the MFD.
The twin control wheels, for pilot and copilot, are compact and ergonomic, giving a good view of the panel displays behind them. The two overhead panels house the aircraft’s engine start, lights and ice protection controls.
In the Cabin
Piper’s website shows seven optional combinations for the color scheme of the cabin decor and upholstery, each promising a luxurious leather experience for all who enter. The four passenger seats are arranged in club configuration, with two separate seats facing rearward, and a two-seat, forward-facing bench at the back.
A fold-out table graces the right side of the cabin area, opposite the airstair door. The expanse of carpeted floor between the facing seats confers an airy sense of space. There are ample cup holders, USB charging ports, arm rests and storage cubby holes that make use of every cubic inch.
The Flying Experience
Punching your flight plan into the Garmin 1000 will already be a familiar process to anyone who has experienced the system before, in reality or on the simulator. On the M500, the cabin pressurization system takes its data directly from the destination you set.
Checks completed, you are ready for engine start. If you are transitioning from a piston aircraft, there are some differences to get used to. Here is a guide to getting the shaft spinning.
Piper has aimed for simplicity when designing the engine controls.The M500’s condition lever is a simple on-off fuel switch, so there is none of the juggling and balancing that some turboprops need, to match atmospheric conditions and adjust idle speed.
There is no need for a prop lever on the throttle quadrant. Automation controls the pitch of the blades and keeps the propeller turning at a constant 2000 rpm once the engine has started satisfactorily. The only power control is the throttle.
Overall, engine start is a breeze compared to other turboprop aircraft, thanks to the auto start feature installed on the M500. Turn the fuel pumps and igniter switches to manual, engage auto start and the engine will begin to spool up.
At 13% NG (gas generator speed) the igniters fire and the starter engages at 56% NG. Switch the fuel pumps to auto, and turn off the igniter. That’s all there is to it. Your engine is running and you are good to go.
The before-takeoff checklist includes the generator, alternator, avionics, cabin pressurization and bleed air (which is turned off during engine start). All that completed, and clearance received, you are ready to taxi to the runway holding point.
Lined up and cleared for take-off, advance the throttle manually to take-off power (there is no FADEC), rotate at 85 knots, retract landing gear and flaps on schedule, and climb out at 125 knots, to give the best climb rate (expect around 1700 feet per minute, depending on gross weight).
You can expect the flight controls to feel reassuring and reliable, without too much resistance. The flight director bars will guide your pitch and roll inputs
Monitor torque during the climb and advance the throttle manually as required, to keep torque between 1250 and 1300 pounds. When leveling off, reduce torque to approximately 1140 pounds and the airspeed will stabilize at around 230 knots.
Remember your ceiling is FL300, so you have plenty of scope to climb above the weather and cruise at an economical flight level, keeping your fuel burn down. Even if you encounter headwinds at cruise level, that’s unlikely to undo the economic advantage you gain from higher, thinner air.
If you do get all the way up to FL300, you can expect fuel burn to be in the region of 37 gallons per hour, and the airspeed will reach a maximum of 260 knots.
Fuel balance is automatic, so there is no need for you to take any action if an imbalance arises. An automated pump will transfer fuel from one side to the other until balance is restored.
At top of descent, throttle back and watch the barber pole on the airspeed indicator as you descend, staying under the indicated maximum speed. Approaching destination, the excellent visual representation on the large Garmin display enables you to get set up on final with relative ease.
With the glide slope captured, extend flaps and lower the gear on schedule. If you need to fly a missed approach, the autopilot has a coupled go-around mode. Press the TO/GA button on the side of the thrust lever, add power, retract gear and flaps, and let the autopilot fly.
On short final, trim for about 80 knots in landing configuration and touch down gently. If you need a quick runway exit because of following traffic, engage reverse via the thrust lever, and the variable pitch propeller will slow you down in short order.
Taxi to stand and shut down, enjoying the sense of having flown a quality machine. Your ride was a safer one than you might think, thanks to the wealth of safety features that the M500 can boast.
“Have a safe flight,” we always say to someone who is about to travel by air, even though we know commercial aviation is way safer than driving, something we do without thinking. Safety is a live issue in general aviation too, because we are a long way from the ground, possibly alone.
It is reassuring to know that the Piper M500 is designed with safety at the top of the priority list. Here are some of the key features that keep pilots and passengers safe in the air.
No, not extra-sensory perception. The M500 doesn’t bend spoons or read the backs of playing cards. ESP stands for Electronic Stability Protection.
The M500 is a low-wing airframe, designed for performance and speed, as well as safety. She is not a high-wing Cessna; thus she lacks some of the inherent stability that comes bundled with the latter’s simpler design. To help pilots transition, and to enhance safety overall, the manufacturer added ESP.
ESP operates through the Garmin interface. If you have driven a modern road car with ‘lane assist’, you have surely experienced the tug on the wheel from the vehicle’s ‘autopilot’ if you start to drift, or if you try to change lane without first giving a turn signal.
On the M500, you feel an opposite force on the controls if the aircraft deviates from normal flight attitude. At 45 degrees bank angle, ESP will kick in and stiffen the control wheel to discourage you from banking further. The resistive force increases steadily, operating up to 75 degrees bank angle.
If the bank angle exceeds 45 degrees for 50% of the last twenty seconds, ESP will engage the autopilot and trigger a synthetic voice announcement to that effect. The autopilot will then make control inputs to bring the wings level.
You can override the protection if you need to, by forcing the control wheel against the resistance. You can also override the system via the Garmin AUX page, until the system is next rebooted. However, the resistance alerts you to the attitude of your airplane and you can correct it.
ESP is a great way to help a pilot maintain situational awareness. In an IMC situation, when the horizon outside is not available as a point of reference, a pilot may be distracted from the primary flight display for some reason, and the haptic feedback of ESP signals that something is awry.
Historically, there have been a number of airplane accidents, involving various aircraft types, caused by pilots losing situational awareness while preoccupied by some circumstance that has arisen. A simple warning system such as ESP can make all the difference, turning a potential disaster into a minor upset.
When the autopilot is engaged, the Underspeed Protection (USP) feature keeps the airspeed above the stall, by regulating pitch. USP becomes active when the pitch exceeds 17 degrees nose-up, reaching maximum nose-down force at 21 degrees pitch.
USP allows a missed approach to be flown with the autopilot still engaged. Should the pilot fail to advance the thrust lever, USP will lower the nose if necessary to maintain a safe airspeed until the pilot corrects the situation by adding power.
Once the pilot applies power, the autopilot will allow the aircraft to climb, to correct for the loss of altitude while the USP system is operating.
Overspeed protection activates at 17 degrees of nose-down pitch, with the nose-up input maxing out at 21 degrees nose-down. Overspeed protection disengages when the nose-down pitch lessens to 12 degrees and airspeed falls below 188 kias.
The Blue Button
‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ Although Captain Kirk and his crew rarely used the starship Enterprise’s transporter system as a way to opt out of trouble, I know I would be tempted to do so, if it was there. Well, the Piper M500’s Garmin panel has the next best thing - the blue button.
Every pilot knows it’s important to keep the blue side up. If you get into an attitude that’s going to be complicated to recover from, you can hit the blue LVL button and let the autopilot get the plane back into straight and level flight with zero vertical speed.
Pressing the blue button cancels all active and armed autopilot modes. Once your M500 has stabilized, you will need to reset your AP to resume your planned route and altitude or flight level.
If you run into a sudden IMC situation and become disorientated, the blue button is just what you need, freeing up your mind to focus on whatever else needs to be done, such as navigating your aircraft safely out of the weather, and avoiding any of those troublesome clouds with hard centers.
The M500 comes with the GTX 33 Extended Squitter Transponder as standard. Specify the optional GTS 825 Traffic Advisory System and you effectively have TCAS protection from other, similarly equipped aircraft, tracking up to 75 targets within a 40nm radius.
‘ADS-B out’ comes as standard with the Garmin G1000 on the M500. Your airplane is constantly telling others where it is. If you’re flying into Boston Logan and you get into conflict with a departing 737, the airliner will see you on TCAS and take avoiding action to resolve the conflict.
Upgrade to the GTS 825 and you get ‘ADS-B in’, which means your M500 can see aircraft that are near you, and you can plan accordingly. This is yet another feature of the Piper M500 that makes it one of the safest airplanes in the sky.
As mentioned, high terrain swathed in clouds can be extremely hazardous, especially during initial climb or on approach. The Garmin Synthetic Vision technology on the Piper M500 gives the pilot clear augmented-reality visibility despite the meteorological conditions outside the windshield.
The system draws upon several certified databases to provide accurate depiction of terrain, water, obstacles and airports, representing a major contribution to air safety.
The M500’s MFD can display weather radar, either from the aircraft’s on-board radar pod under the right wing, or from NEXRAD or a similar provider. This helps pilots avoid thunderstorms and hailstorms, both potential hazards to aircraft.
Staying in Touch
An optional extra on the M500 is the Garmin GSR-56 Global Satellite Data Link Iridium Transceiver, which enables pilots and passengers to make telephone calls, as well as sending and receiving emails and texts - a big advantage when our data, as well as our airplanes, reside in the clouds.
The M500 can play XM radio either throughout the entire aircraft or just in certain zones as required. The selection can be controlled from the cabin, which is good news for passengers. I doubt I’d want to listen to Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ while on a bumpy final into VNLK Lukla.
The maximum range of 1000 nm is rarely achievable in practice. To go that far requires a full load of Jet A, limiting the payload you can carry. If you want to carry five passengers with bags, that means less fuel, limiting the trip distance.
Access to the cockpit has to be via the single door located in the cabin, so the pilot has to pass the two rear-facing passenger seats to get to the controls. Baggage also has to come in through that same door, to be stowed behind the rear seats.
The makers claim that the M500 cabin is a low-noise environment. However, her power plant makes a lot of noise on startup, as evidenced by videos available on YouTube. Pilot and copilot would be well advised to use headsets to communicate.