Flying the Piper Malibu


Looking for an airplane with more seats, more useful load, and good speed?  Look no further than the PA-46-310P Piper Malibu.  It feels like a corporate airplane, but this turbo charged piston single is good owner/pilot airplane for taking the family on vacation or using on business trips.

Piper Malibu Texas Top Aviation

The original Piper Malibu, which was manufactured between 1984-1988, is a great next step airplane for Cirrus owners, Saratoga or Lance owners, and Mooney owners looking to move up to a pressurized, 6 seat piston.  The pressurization has got to be one of the best parts of the Piper Malibu.  The ability to climb up to the low flight levels (the service ceiling is FL250, but the airplane performs great between 16,000 and FL190) to catch better winds and get a better true airspeed (the airplane gains about 2.5 KTAS for every thousand feet) without having to wear oxygen makes the ride much more enjoyable.

Equipped with six seats and a 4,100 pound gross weight, the Piper Malibu allows for a lot more carrying ability than a Cirrus or even a Saratoga.  Now, like most piston airplanes, you can’t take 6 average adults, bags, and full fuel, but here’s the great part:  the Continental TSIO 320 only burns 16.5 GPH in cruise at 75% power.  The plane will still fly 200 KTAS at 16.5 GPH.  With 120 gallon capacity, even taking half tanks still allows for a 2.5 hour range with an hour reserve.  At 200 KTAS, that’s 450 miles.  And, you gain an extra 360 pounds useful load at half tanks.  That’s not too shabby.

Piper Malibu PA-46 Texas Top Aviation

The Piper Malibu was designed to be comfortable, fast, and be able to carry some baggage.  There are two baggage compartments, one in the nose behind the firewall and one in the rear behind the rear seats.  The nose baggage is wide enough to fit golf clubs in, while the back baggage is large enough to fit rolling suitcases in (the front baggage has no problem with roller bags either).  Lots of weight in bags?  Again, no big deal.  Just plan on taking less fuel and still flying for 2.5 hours.

From a pilot’s standpoint, the Piper Malibu is a pretty straightforward airplane to fly, though it does require some specialty training.  A lot of PA-46s on the market right now have upgraded glass panels and digital engine monitors, making piloting the airplane that much more streamlined.  Most Piper Malibus are equipped with the KFC 150 autopilot.  Some have a yaw damper installed, others don’t.  Some have the vertical speed and altitude capture installed, others don’t.  It just depends on that specific airplane.  They aren’t like a Cirrus where they are all made the same.

Looking to upgrade to something with more seats, a higher service ceiling, but not a significant increase in fuel costs?  Look into the Piper Malibu.  You can get one in good shape from about $300,000.


Mooney Enters the Training Market with the Mooney M10


Earlier this week, Mooney announced they would be following competitors Piper (with their Archer DX) and Redbird (with their retrofitted 172 known as the Redhawk) into the training market with the Mooney M10 T and Mooney M10 J.  Mooney, which hasn’t manufactured a primary trainer since the Mooney M10 Cadet in 1970, is planning on putting Jet A burning Continental Engines in the new aircraft.  The mockup was unveiled at Airshow China.

The Mooney M10 T is a 3 seat, fixed gear trainer sporting a Continental CD-135 engine.  At 135 HP, the initial design data claims the Mooney M10 T will be able to cruise at 140 KTAS at 75% power, allowing the Jet A engine to burn between 4-5 gallons per hour while holding 42 gallons of fuel.  As with other Jet A piston powered airplanes, the Mooney M10 T will have a Fully Automated Digital Engine Control (or FADEC) system.  This leaves just a single power lever in the cockpit, allowing the pilot to set a percent power and the FADEC computer will set the manifold pressure, prop speed, and mixture.

The Mooney M10 J has a slightly bigger engine, the 155 HP Continental CD-155.  It also is equipped with retractable gear.  Initially, Mooney is predicting 160 KTAS at 75% power for the Mooney  M10 J.  The airplane will come as a two-seater, but will have a third seat as an option.  Mooney says that the Mooney M10 J will allow pilots to make an easy transition to the bigger and faster M20J that has been popular for many years amongst “Mooniacs.”

Mooney M10 Interior

In a new direction for Mooney, the Mooney M10 T Mooney M10 J will both be composite airplanes with side sticks, instead of the traditional sheet metal exterior with a yoke as Mooney aircraft have been in the past. Also venturing from the more powerful Mooney aircraft is the fact that the Mooney M10 T and Mooney M10 J will have two doors.  Remaining, though, is the swept tail that Mooney aircraft are known for.  Both airplanes will be equipped with Garmin G1000 panels, while the Mooney M10 J will also have the GFC 700 autopilot, marketing more toward aircraft owners rather than students.

The only downside that I read about was the time between replacements for the engines.  For the CD-135 engine in the Mooney M10 T, time between replacement is 1,500 hours, whereas the CD-155 only has a 1,200 hour replacement time.

Mooney expects certification and deliveries to begin for the Mooney M10 T and Mooney M10 J in 2017.

Mooney M10T and M10J

Information courtesy of AOPA and Mooney International.  Images courtesy of Mooney International.

Have You Got Your FAA WINGS?


The FAA started their Pilot Proficiency Award Program (commonly known as FAA WINGS) in 1996.  It is run by the FAA Safety Team, or the FAASTeam.  The intent of the program was, and is, to “improve the nation’s accident rate by conveying safety principles and practices through training, outreach, and education” (taken from  The FAA WINGS program, free of charge, encourages pilots to pursue recurrent training to enhance their overall knowledge of all the aspects of aviation.


The FAA WINGS program has evolved over the years, but with the current structure, pilot’s accomplish tasks, both knowledge and flying, for credit that adds up to the equivalent of a flight review.  Pilot’s must accrue three knowledge credits and three flight credits to complete a phase, and each phase acts as a flight review.

FAA WINGS has three levels, the basic, advanced, and master level.  Under each level, you accomplish different phases.  The basic level is “designed for pilot’s [desiring] a higher level of proficiency than … a normal flight review” (  The flying tasks in the basic phase are based on the private or commercial pilot PTS, depending on the airman’s certificate level.  The knowledge courses revolve around many different areas, all of which can be viewed on the FAASafety Team’s website.    Most are free, but there are some courses that have a cost associated with them.  In the advanced and master phases of the FAA WINGS program, the tasks have higher standards, challenging pilots to hold themselves to those higher standards.

One unique aspect of the FAA WINGS program is the opportunity to attend a safety seminar for credit. Throughout the year, there are many different safety seminars that take place in the different FSDO areas. The FAA WINGS seminars range from a study of accidents, to GPS usage and anything in between.  You can even get FAA WINGS credit for attending the Bonanza BPPP or the Cirrus CPPP programs.

As an instructor, I highly recommend to all my customers to enroll in the FAA WINGS program and use it. This keeps pilot proficiency at a high level, which in turn keeps safety at a high level as well.  Plus, you get to learn a lot too!

If you’d like to enroll in the FAA WINGS program, visit to create an account.  Then, find a good instructor and start working on those phases!

Weather Avoidance


I began flying a Piper Malibu earlier this year.  For those of you not familiar with the original PA-46, a Malibu has a Continental TSIO-320 engine, with 310 HP.  It’s pressurized and cruises at about 185-200 KTAS.

A few things are introduced to the equation when pilots start flying higher, faster, and farther.  When you start flying over longer distances, weather becomes more of an issue.  On a quick hop from, say, Austin to Dallas, you can be pretty sure of what the weather will be since it’s a short trip.  When you fly from Austin to LA, leave in the morning, land once along the way, and arrive in the afternoon after spending six and a half hours in the air, weather can change a lot in that amount of time.

A must for any pilot flying high and over long distances is some kind of Nexrad system, whether it be a Garmin 696, or it shows up on your GPS or MFD.  Having this situation awareness is very helpful when planning ahead as to what to do about weather.  A stormscope is also a handy tool, since you can see where the lightning is with it.

Cold fronts can be pretty nasty, depending on how strong and how fast they are moving.  A strong, fast moving cold front usually has a lot of convective activity associated with it.  The tricky thing with storms associated with fronts is that storms form in lines, most of the time.  If you’re trying to cross a front in the morning, you can usually get high enough over the clouds with a pressurized airplane since the temperature is still relatively low to get clear of the cumulonimbus clouds.  The cloud tops will only be around ten or twelve thousand feet.

CB CloudCrossing fronts in the afternoon when daytime heating is pushing the tops of the CBs up to the 20-40 thousand foot range, it’s best to land, have a meal, stretch your legs, and wait till the sun starts to go down before pushing on.  Do not, under any circumstances, try and go through the cumulonimbus clouds associated with a cold front in a small airplane.  Not only is it uncomfortable (the turbulence bounces you around pretty good), but you’ll get ice, scare the passengers, and, if you’re in the heart of a storm, the plane could come apart.

When crossing mountains, the weather is always highly unpredictable.  If it’s a clear day, no matter your altitude, you’ll probably pick up some turbulence from all the rising air off the peaks.  If there is moisture in the air, there are going to be isolated to scattered thunderstorms in the summer time.  The advantage of flying high when there are isolated or scattered storms is you can utilize the see and avoid method.

See and avoid is simple.  When the storms aren’t embedded in other clouds, it’s actually rather easy to spot the big, rising clouds and go around them.  The same concept holds true when avoiding those pesky pop up thunderstorms in humid areas like Houston and Florida.

Rain ShaftsOne thing that I learned this summer was this.  Sometimes, with an area of closely grouped storms, the cloud base is actually quite high (some storms I went underneath in New Mexico had cloud bases of 15,000 MSL).  The thing to do here is just stay below the bases of the clouds and go around the areas of rain.  These will be visible and you’ll be able to navigate around them.  With bases even as low 9-10 thousand feet, it’s a much better idea to stay below the clouds, sacrifice some speed, and dodge the rain shafts.

The most important concept to take away is don’t fly into a thunderstorm.  If there are a bunch of really high clouds in front of you and you don’t see a safe way around them, descend down and land, wait it out, and then continue on your way.

HondaJet Nears Production


We have all been hearing about the HondaJet for quite a while now.  It’s been in testing for a number of years, but it sounds like certification and deliveries will commence early in 2015.  Honda says they expect FAA certification in the first part of 2015 and deliveries will commence soon thereafter.

For those of you in the San Antonio area, if you’d like to get a glimpse of the first production HondaJet, it will be at Landmark Aviation at KSAT on Wednesday, October 29th.  Cutter Aviation is hosting the event, as they will handle the regional sales for Honda.  No flights will be conducted, but folks are welcome to walk around the airplane, climb inside, and give it a good once over.

For those planning on attending, RSVP is required.  Contact Lisa Harris at Cutter to RSVP either by phone (602-267-4054) or by email (  Drinks and snacks will be served.  The event runs from 5:30pm-8:00pm.