Make The Upgrade to Pressurization


Are oxygen cannulas rubbing your nostrils raw?

Is turbulence giving you back problems?

Would you like to be above the bumps, breathing without tubes stuck up your nose or a mask on?  Would you like a quiet ride?

Sounds like you need pressurization.  Need more convincing?

What’s that you say?  You don’t have a multi-engine rating?  You don’t want to spend the money on a turbo prop?

Have no fear, there are options galore for you to choose from in the single engine piston marketplace, both certified aircraft and experimental.

A word of caution, though; once you go pressurized, you don’t go back….

Here is my review of the certified, pressurized single engine piston options.

Piper PA46 Malibu/Mirage/M350

In 1983, Piper shocked the world with an amazing airplane.  The pressurized, Continental TSIO-520 (310 HP) powered PA46 Malibu hit the market in the fall of that year taking the piston world by storm.  A six seat, cabin class, pressurized single engine piston that easily cruised at 190-200 knots while only burning 16-17 GPH. It was awesome.  It even had an air stair door that felt like getting on a private jet.

I love the original Continental powered Malibu, specifically the ’86-’88 models.  Piper initially had hydraulic flaps, which were clunky and had several issues (most notably, the hydraulic system would randomly kick offline while the flaps were in motion at very in-opportune moments).  Piper switched to the electric flaps in ’86, making the ’86-’88 year models very desirable.

Unfortunately for Piper, the Continental TSIO-520 was not the engine manufacturer’s best product.  There were several Malibu crankshaft problems and engine failures, so much so that Piper decided to go with the Lycoming TIO-540 engine in 1989, creating the Malibu Mirage (all the current Malibu’s operating the -520 engine have been overhauled many times over, so there are no safety concerns with the -520 engine).  The Lycoming powered Mirage (350 HP), cruises a little bit faster than the Continental powered Malibu, but burns about 5 more GPH.  Piper still makes the Mirage, now dubbed the M350, complete with the Garmin G1000 NXi panel.

The 4 seat, cabin class back seat is very roomy (unlike a Bonanza or Saratoga).  There is plenty of rooms for bags, both behind the back seat and in the handy nose compartment, which is wide enough to fit golf clubs, minus the driver.  The 1600 pound useful load (880 pound payload with full fuel), allows for a lot of people and gear to be loaded on board.  The airplane is a little stingy on CG, though.  You do not want to have a CG that is out of the rear limits.

The airplane is fun to fly.  It has a heavy elevator, similar to a Bonanza, which requires a lot of trim on landing.  It’s very long wings cause it to float a bit on landing if the pilot comes in too fast.  It’s very docile in stalls and extremely comfortable for cross country flying.  The air conditioning system works very well, though it is still hot on the front seats when sitting on the ramp on a Texas July afternoon.

Many of the airplanes have upgraded to glass panels.  Most are still equipped with the King KFC 150 autopilot, some with a Yaw Damper, some not.  The KFC 150 is a good autopilot, but when Garmin certifies their GFC 600 for the PA46, that will be a popular retrofit.

If I had my pick, I would buy an ’86-’88 Malibu with an upgraded Continental TSIO-550 engine.  Climbs a bit better and does a bit better in cruise than the original -520 engine.  See why here.

I would rate the PA46 line as the best pressurized single engine piston option out there.

Cessna P210 Centurion

The P210 was introduced by Cessna in 1978.  It also came with the Continental TSIO-520 engine that the Malibu was certified with.  Climbing at about 700-800 fpm (equal to the Malibu), the P210 cruises at around 190 KTAS as well, burning around 17-18 GPH.  Like the Malibu, the P210 had a Continental TSIO-520 power plant, but, unlike the Malibu, the P210 makes the pilot work to keep the CHTs cool.  With smaller cowl openings and a tighter cowl, cooling isn’t as good as the Malibu.

Even though the P210 has six seats, the forward facing, Cessna style 3 rows aren’t quite as comfortable as the Malibu.  The single door on the pilot’s side makes loading and unloading a bit of a chore (especially compared to the air stair door in the Malibu).  The third row of seats isn’t extremely useful, as the ceiling is lower and the proximity of the second row of seats decreases the amount of leg room, making it uncomfortable for a full size adult.  Most operators remove the pilot’s side second row seat to add an aisle to get to the back row for people and bags.  It also has a smaller cabin then the Malibu.

There is less baggage in the P210, with the singular baggage compartment accessed through a baggage door behind the cabin.  The Air conditioning system is also not as good as the Malibu.

It’s hard to get the P210 out of CG and overloaded.  A useful load of 1500 pounds (with 90 gallons of fuel, it drops to only 960 pounds) allows the airplane to be loaded to the gills without being overweight.

There are some engine upgrades out there for the P210 (the Silver Eagle conversion puts a Rolls Royce turboprop on it).  The best piston conversion is the Vitatoe Conversion that swaps the engine out for a Continental Turbo-Normalized IO-550, which is a much better engine than the -520.  You still have to monitor the CHTs, but cooling is less of an issue.  These are much higher priced on the market, though.

Because of the size of the cabin and the true reputation the P210 has of being a maintenance hog, I would rate it below the PA46 line.

Extra EA-400

There are 3 pressurized, single engine piston airplanes out there today: the Piper PA46, the Cessna P210, and the Extra EA-400.  Extra is the famous German aerobatic aircraft manufacturer that created the Extra 300 and 330.  In the early 2000s, Extra tried it’s hand at the pressurized single market with the EA-400 (Extra also tried to get into the single engine turbo-prop market with the EA-500, but the project fizzled before much progress was made).  Sadly, only 27 EA-400s were built before the company ran into financial trouble.

The concept sounds cool.  A fully composite, pressurized, liquid cooled, cabin class piston.  The engine was the Continental TSIOL-550, liquid cooled power plant.  Liquid cooling means no concern about hot CHTs while you are climbing.  The problem with the engine is that there are so few liquid cooled Continental engines out there, finding a mechanic familiar with one could be an issue.

I have never flown an Extra 400, but there are several floating around out there.  Most have steam gauges and the STEC-55x autopilot.  The price on the only one on Controller right now is comparable to the P210N but above the Continental powered Malibu.

If you are in the market, an Extra 400 might be fun to test fly and who knows, you might fall in love with it!

Experimental Options

There are a handful of experimental pressurized singles out there.  I have not flown any of them, so I can’t be a good resource on recommending them.  Here is the list, however.

Lancair Evolution Piston

Lancair IV-P

Lancair ES-P

Lancair LX7

As far as availability on the market goes, there are 8 Malibus on Controller (1 1986 model) ranging from $315,000 and down, 24 Mirages ranging from $705,000 (equipped with the Garmin G1000) and down, 25 P210s ranging from $405,000 and down, and 2 Extra EA 400s, priced at $369,000 and down.  Check out the available Experimental Lancair options here.

Have you decided to upgrade, but don’t know what to buy or how to buy it?  Check out Texas Top Aviation’s Acquisition Services.  We’ll get you the best airplane for you, your mission, and your budget.  Contact Us today to find out more information.

2018 Great American Lancair Rally


A brand-new event for Lancair owners, the 2018 Great American Lancair Rally will be a multi-stage “grand tour” of the Western US.  Starting and ending in Central Texas, the Rally will take place September 24th through October 5th 2018.

The Rally will begin in Uvalde, TX (KUVA) on September 24th at the Lancair headquarters.  There will be 6 legs, with stops at:

  • Sedona, Arizona (KSEZ)
  • Paso Robles, California (KPRB)
  • Redmond, Oregon (KRDM)
  • Spanish Fork, Utah (KSPK)
  • Taos, New Mexico (KSKX)
  • San Marcos, TX (KHYI)

At each stop, there will be food, drinks, and fun for everyone.

Lancair plans on making instructors available to pilots who would like any kind of training along the way.  Hank Gibson from Texas Top Aviation will be one of the instructors available.

Lancair plan to make the Great American Lancair Rally an annual event, with the 2019 Rally spanning the eastern half of the country.

The Great American Lancair Rally is open to all Lancair owners, potential owners and interested aviators. Fly a different airplane?  All makes and models are welcome!

For more information & to register, check out the 2018 Great American Lancair Rally’s website.

The Importance of Density Altitude


Density Altitude:  Pressure Altitude corrected for non-standard temperature.

That’s the book definition of density altitude.  The problem is, that definition leaves a lot of general aviation pilots scratching their heads.  What really is density altitude?

All airplane engines rely on air and fuel mixing together, then that mixture is ignited to create combustion. Normally aspirated piston engine airplanes get their best performance at sea level, where the air is nice and thick, allowing plenty of air molecules to get sucked in the engine intake.  As a normally-aspirated airplane climbs, the ambient air pressure drops with an increase in altitude (the air gets thinner, less dense), thereby reducing airplane takeoff, climb, and landing performance.  There just isn’t as much air at higher altitudes, to put it simply.

Turbo charged piston engines assist with this air density problem.  A turbo charger boosts the air coming into the engine and fools the engine into thinking it is at sea level pressure all the time.  The higher the altitude, the faster the turbo charger spins, spinning the compressor faster, which compresses more air to continue to give the engine sea level pressure air.  This gets faster cruise speeds the higher you go.

Both normally aspirated & turbo charged engines do experience longer takeoff rolls and reduced climb rates at higher airport elevations & higher altitudes.

How does this all relate to density altitude?

When the outside air temperature rises, the air becomes thinner, less dense.  This means that when an airport elevation is 1,000 feet, but the density altitude is reported as 3,000 feet, the airplane engine thinks it is at 3,000 feet.  It won’t accelerate as fast.  The airplane’s climb rate will also be reduced.  That means that the normal climb pitch attitude a pilot is used to seeing won’t be accurate at higher density altitudes. It will lead to slower indicated airspeeds, slow enough to potentially lead to a stall if a pilot isn’t paying attention.

Where does this get dangerous?  High elevation airports.  Whenever the OAT creeps above 85 or 90 at an airport that is higher elevation (I would classify higher elevation as 2,500 feet or higher), the corresponding density altitude sky rockets.  If a pilot isn’t paying attention to airspeed or angle of attack (if the airplane is equipped with an AOA), a stall can come very quickly on climb out.

What to take home from this?  Monitor your climb speed and angle of attack, especially right after takeoff, when you hear density altitude on the ATIS or AWOS.

Building An Airplane


Randy Vanstory, a long-time customer of Texas Top Aviation, decided in early 2017 to build his own airplane. Randy currently owns a Mooney M20J and has been active in aviation for a number of years.  He took on the Vans RV 10, starting in February 2017.  He’s about halfway through right now, with an estimated completion of mid-2020.

A completed Vans RV 10

I asked Randy what gave him the desire to build his own plane.  “I love building things, learning new things, and working on things” he said.  “This satisfies those desires all in one project.”  Randy had a desire to work with his hands, to create something of his own, and building an airplane put several of his passions together in one project.

Lots of pilots out there dream of building their own airplane in their garage.  There is a certain cool factor to putting together an RV or a Lancair in a garage, then trucking it out to an airport, attaching the wings, then flying a personal creation for the first time.  An airplane unique to you, since there isn’t one quite like it any where else.

That’s the beauty of a homebuilt.

Here is a link to Randy’s build video done by Kobalt Tools.

BendixKing Throws It’s Hat in the Glass Panel Ring


Two pilots walk into an FBO.  “Nice airplane,” Pilot 1 says to Pilot 2.  “What kind of panel do you have in it?”

“I just went all glass,” Pilot 2 says.  “Put in the Garmin G500 TXi, a GTN 750, and upgraded to the GFC 600 Autopilot.  Even put in the Mid-Continent standby instruments.  It’s a pretty sweet set up.  What about you?”

“Wow, sounds like it!” Pilot 1 responds.  “I went a different route.  I liked all my old BendixKing instruments, so I stuck with the company.  I put in a BendixKing AeroVue Touch panel, a BendixKing KSN 770 touch screen GPS, kept my KFC 225 autopilot, got the ADS-B out compliant BendixKing KT 74 transponder, and finished it off with a King AeroFlight KI 300 Digital Backup instrument.”

Wait, what?  BendixKing?

Yes, my friends, BendixKing is still around.

We are all used to the latest and greatest Garmin products these days.  Don’t get me wrong, Garmin and Aspen make great retro-fit products for your instrument panel, while Garmin and Avidyne are at the top of the touch-screen GPS market, but don’t forget about BendixKing.  They are staying in the game too.

BendixKing announced in April the xVue Touch for experimental aircraft, with the STC for the AeroVue Touch for certified aircraft coming later this summer.  The xVue and AeroVue touch are pretty nifty units, comparable in features to what Garmin is doing with the G500 TXi and G600 TXi.  It will be difficult to claw back into a competitive market share with Garmin, but BendixKing might find a niche market of followers.

Let’s take a look at the unit.

BendixKing AeroVue Touch

Now, I have not used the BendixKing AeroVue Touch or the xVue Touch, only read about them.  But, what I’ve read sounds pretty cool.  The display has really good resolution (BendixKing brags it is the highest screen resolution available), synthetic vision that comes standard (Garmin & Aspen charge extra for synthetic vision), plus VFR Sectional Charts & IFR High and Low Enroute charts, making paper charts even more obsolete.

The display is 10.1 inches and can be easily swapped between a full screen instrument mode or a split screen setup as seen above.  Apparently, BendixKing has 3-D moving maps available on the AeroVue Touch too, which is standard.

The one thing Garmin has on the BendixKing AeroVue Touch right now is engine information.  The G500TXi has a full complement of engine gauges available; the AeroVue Touch doesn’t, yet.  BendixKing says it’s in the works, as well as radio information and autopilot control.  I’m assuming the future autopilot control software would mean you could remotely mount an autopilot controller and input all functions from the AeroVue Touch display.  The nice thing about these future upgrades is all the software updates are free through BendixKing.

The sticker price for the forthcoming unit is going to be about $12,600.  Garmin’s 10.5 inch G500 TXi is $16,000, while Aspen doesn’t offer anything quite that big.

BendixKing KSN 770

I’ve been keeping my eye on the BendixKing KSN 770 Touchscreen WAAS GPS for a few years now.  It never really has caught on quite like the Garmin GTN 750 or the Avidyne IFD 540.  BendixKing took the same route that Avidyne did in creating a hybrid touch GPS (or mini-MFD if you want to look at it that way) where a pilot can perform functions either using the touch screen or utilizing soft keys on the edges.  I like the hybrid touch approach as I have been bounced around in turbulence while trying to tap something into a Garmin GTN 750 and it can prove difficult.

Similar to the AeroVue Touch, BendixKing utilized split screen technology in the KSN 770.  It’s a full WAAS unit that is already certified.  It’s sticker price is $14,200, compared to the Garmin GTN 750 at $17,200 and the Avidyne IFD 540 at $15,000.

Other BendixKing Gadgets

Here are some other BendixKing Gadgets both available now and in the works: