Few single-engine pistons are as well built as the Piper Malibu Mirage. It is a six-seater, single piston light aircraft with an impressive interior design.
The Malibu Mirage belongs in a class of its own. Very few single pistons can boast of the comfort and reliability it offers, performance-wise. Owning a Malibu Mirage is like having a cabin-class aircraft without spending as much on operating costs.
First flown in 1989, Piper Malibu Mirage is a darling of the aviation industry. It is beautifully built and can function like a big plane without the high maintenance costs. It runs on a Lycoming engine, has a pressurized cabin, and has a classy cockpit design.
The Piper Malibu Mirage is quite popular. This is due in part to its functionality and to its rather complicated history, which has been well documented here. Its predecessor, the Piper Malibu is quite similar in many ways. However, this guide is more about Piper Malibu Mirage.
This guide will tell you everything you could need to know about the Malibu Mirage - specifications, history, and performance summaries. You'll also learn about Piper, the company that produces the aircraft, and understand how its history influenced the production of the Malibu Mirage
A (Brief) History of Piper
It is difficult to talk about the Malibu Mirage without properly understanding its company, Piper. Piper has one of the most intriguing stories in modern aviation, with a rich history of triumph, heartbreak, and failure.
William Taylor had no aviation experience when he joined the board of directors of the Taylor Aircraft Company in the 1920s. He was an oilman from Bradford who had invested $400 in the company. He, however, had a degree in mechanical engineering from Harvard and some military experience fighting in the Spanish-American War.
In addition, he was also a good talent identifier, recruiting Walter Jamonea, who eventually conceived the idea of Piper's J-3 Cub. To underline his importance in the project, the J in J-3 Cub stands for Jamoneau.
After coming on board, Taylor and Piper realized they had differing ideologies on how they wanted the J-3 Cub to be developed. Their clashes became more and more frequent that Piper eventually paid Taylor $250 monthly for three years to buy out his stake in the company.
That was followed by a fire incident that forced relocation from Bradford to a silk mill in Lock Haven. There, the company became known as Piper Air Corporation. The Lock Haven factory produced 77,000 aircraft 50 years before the aviation boom entered a decline in 1948.
The demand for private aircraft suffered a reduction during this period. Still, while many aviation companies folded up, Piper concentrated its efforts on transforming its most popular plane at the time - the Cruiser. The planes produced in this period were the Vagabond, Pacer, and Tripacer.
Tripacer became the first Piper aircraft with a tricycle landing gear, for until that point, all their aircraft had conventional landing gears.
Piper's Switch to Twins
Piper produced Apache in 1954, the company's first all-metal aircraft. The name celebrated Bill Piper's American Indian roots and was the first in a long line of Piper's models with Native American names. Apache was a resounding success, enabling the company to establish a research facility in Vero Beach, Florida.
Eventually, the company opened a manufacturing facility in Florida, where the PA-28 Cherokee series was developed and produced. The PA-28 series included Dakota, Warrior, and Archer, eventually stretching into the PA-32, starting with the company's first six-seater, the Cherokee 6. That was the first step toward the development of Malibu.
In 1967, Piper rolled out the Navajo P-38. It was the company's first cabin-class twin and the second step towards developing the Piper Malibu Mirage. The Navajo was rolled out as a business aircraft, followed by the Navajo Chieftain, Mojave, and the Cheyenne series.
The company would later go on to suffer some unfortunate series of events. On the back of seven fatal accidents, the company became the subject of intense scrutiny and investigation by the FAA and NTSB. With the decline in sales, the company filed a voluntary petition for reorganization in 1991. They delivered just 41 planes during this period.
Piper's economic and technical woes were complicated and dragged on for quite some time. There were bans, prohibitions, protests, and recertification. The Malibu Mirage Pilots and Owners Association was founded during this period. However, we won't go into all that since it is not the focus of this guide.
Recertification was the most important step in developing the modern Piper Malibu Mirage. It took nearly a year to complete, one of the most comprehensive reviews ever undertaken by the FAA. The results were just as impressive, producing 60 recommendations. They were mostly related to autopilot. Pilots had already addressed some.
The review found nothing wrong with the integrity of the Piper Malibu Mirage, with the aircraft passing most of the tests in flying colors. The review also discovered that some of the issues with Piper Malibu Mirage stemmed from a lack of respect by the pilots for the complexity of the aircraft and the harsh flight environment.
With these new developments, Piper Malibu Mirage was back just in time for the revival in general aviation that was becoming obvious by the mid-1990s. In 1995, Chuck Sema, the company's CEO, oversaw a takeover of the old company's assets. This move saw the rebirth of the company as New Piper Aircraft Inc.
The revival was remarkable, going hand-in-hand with the general aviation boom. Within three years, the company had rolled out 295 aircraft and produced over 300 annually. There were significant enhancements as well. They included new engines, avionics, fuel management systems, as well as new smart boots and autopilots.
Given the authorities' clean bill of health, the Malibu Mirage became an attractive purchase once more, positioned as the company's flagship piston single-engine aircraft.
Malibu Mirage Specs And Performance Summary
Piper's PA-46 series began with the Malibu in 1984. Some years later, the company began adding new features to the aircraft. In 1989, they decided to make a new model. Malibu Mirage was born, and while it remains a rave to date, subsequent variants have been rolled out, even as recent as 2015. Let's do a quick comparison of all three variants below.
Piper Malibu Mirage
Piper Malibu Mirage is the only Piper aircraft series that was not modeled after a previous product. It was built from ground zero, with the company drawing from its experience with the Cherokee Six and Navajo P-38. It was especially evident in the newer versions of the aircraft.
Despite being piston-fitted, the Malibu and the Piper Malibu Mirage are two of the sweetest aircraft on earth. Their biggest selling point is their ability to function as a big aircraft— but you spend a lot less. Sometimes it's hard to find the perfect category for them.
To give it a try, they fall between unpressured country pistons, bigger multi-engine, and pressurized aircraft. That's a really sweet position to occupy in the aviation market.
The planes have superb pressurization, FIKI operations, above 1000nm range potentials, and cabin-class comfort for passengers. To bolster that, the PA-46 possesses a strong control harmony, giving it a reliable IFR platform.
Competitors have had to model their products after it, making the Piper Malibu Mirage a niche.
The aircraft was originally named Piper Mirage, but we'll adopt this popular nickname for this guide. When Piper started making this plane in 1988, it was touted as one of the planes pioneering the new generation of light aircraft. It was before the recession, and the introduction of aviation laws nearly crippled the GA industry.
Also, it was only the third pressurized piston single engine to be introduced into the market, behind Cessna P210 and Mooney M22. Piper Malibu Mirage is the only one of the three still in production today. The prototype was designed using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and was first flown in 1979. As an experimental model, it was unpressurized.
Piper's Malibu Mirage was designed to take advantage of a lapse in the market in the late 1980s. One of Malibu's biggest competitors, Continental, suffered from engine quality control issues. Piper saw this and moved to change its engine manufacturer.
Textron Lycoming was waiting in the wings to offer its turbocharged TSIO 540 engine for the newly designed Piper Malibu Mirage. The engine, driving a two-blade Hartzell propeller, is fuel injected, flat-six piston. It has a 350 HP capacity, making it look instantly superior. It was unveiled in 1989 and had a brand new interior design and heated windshield (the older aircraft had a hot plate instead).
The company had high commercial hopes for this new offering, and they were not disappointed, at least not initially. Sales increased considerably, but there was a fire on the mountain performance-wise. Even with an additional 40 HP, the new engine did not translate to better performance.
The Pilot Operating Handbook suggested 'Lean to peak' as the preferred setting for the Turbine Inlet Temperature, resulting in a fuel flow of 19gph. However, the TIT created is way too much for premium engine longevity. The early Piper Malibu Mirage owners had to adapt to continuous cylinder failures caused by excess heat.
To combat this, owners could either sacrifice speed for power or enrich the mixture and cruise with a fuel flow of 21-22 gph at a normal cruise power setting. Eventually, the increased horsepower could not increase the aircraft's speed or climb compared to the Malibu. It, however, burns more fuel. Adding around 200 pounds to the interior didn't help the engine either.
Piper Malibu Mirage suffered from crankshaft troubles in the early 1990s. There were several high-profile accidents, and the company had to replace the crankshafts in every Mirage aircraft. More fatal accidents and the aircraft became grounded by FAA airworthiness directives. It led to the recertification mentioned earlier.
The company's emergence from this storm was as engineered by its technical brilliance as it was by the formation of the Malibu/Mirage Owners and Pilots Association. The association pulled its weight behind the company, saved it, and became a model for other OPAs in the industry.
Now let's take a brief look at the Malibu Mirage's predecessor and a subsequent variant.
Piper PA-46-310P Malibu
The older version of Malibu was first introduced in 1984. Compared to competing aircraft from manufacturers like Cessna and Beechcraft, this version was reasonably a success. The mid-1990s came with a rash of liability laws that piled up humongous legal expenses on manufacturers. Many companies had to cut down on production during this period. Some shut down altogether.
The plane has set several speed records. Most notably, Seattle to New York at 259.27 knots (298.36 mph) was set in November 1987. Another record is Detroit to Washington, at 396.86 knots (456.69 mph) which was set on January 4, 1989. Both records were set by a pilot named Steve Stout in a 1986 Malibu registered N9114B.
The original engine was a 310- HP, allowing it to carry out LoP operations easily. Few things are as impressive as a Malibu cruising 210 KTAS at FL250, sipping 15.5 gph. You can't beat that when it comes to efficiency, but it's piecemeal for Malibu.
Not that anyone would need to fly the Malibu at such an altitude anyways. For one, it takes a while to climb to that level, and the pressure on the engine's turbochargers is frankly unnecessary. From the lower 20s up to the upper teens, it's a different conversation. This is the best spot to fly your Malibu.
Flying regularly in this spot, you'll be able to reach cruise speeds of 195 to 200 knots (224 - 344 mph) burning only 15.5 gph at any cruise altitude when "normal power" is selected. With a 120 gallons capacity, Malibu can stay aloft for over seven hours at normal cruise power.
However, if you decide to fly an economy cruise, the fuel can extend that to nearly nine hours. I can't think of a piston aircraft that comes close, not even if it has an optional STC to accommodate 20 extra gallons of fuel. You can go even further if you want to test your posterior chain.
Takeoff performance for a Malibu is by no means the fastest, but you can be sure to get off the ground in no more than 1500 ft and, in 700 to 1000 fpm, complete a climb out. However, this also depends on certain factors, such as weight and density altitude.
New upgrades to the Malibu made it even better and stronger. Piper added a new hydraulic in 1986, but it wasn't until 1989 that the company made the most important changes.
Piper Malibu Mirage has undergone many changes over the years after it came out of that turbulent period. It still has the airframe and engine from way back, but interior design, styling, and avionics packages have taken on new dimensions. When prospective owners realized the authorities had given the plane a clean bill of health, they started buying again.
Piper renamed the aircraft M350, adding Garmin G1000 NXi avionics. As they continue to roll off the line at the Vero Beach factory, the M350 is today one of the world's most exquisite planes in its category. The Lycoming engine has earned a new reputation as a reliable and efficient performer, while the new avionics package is the industry's best.
The plane is designed with comfort and functionality as its focus. The company did superb work on the cabin design. The designers fitted it with power outlets, beverage holders, lighting controls, seat controls for every passenger, and a worktable. Passengers are treated to luxury, with leather seats and amenities like large cabin comportment. You can expect to have a comfortable trip, arriving relaxed and calm.
The new Malibu Mirage is a six-seat like the rest of the Malibus— five passengers and a pilot. It is low-winged and has a single engine and retractable landing gear. With its bleed air, you can reach cabin altitudes up to 8,000 ft flying at 25,000 ft.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood