I Love the Piper PA46


A lot of my customers ask me which airplane that I train in is my favorite.  The Cirrus and the Columbia both are very good airplanes, but if I had my pick, I’d go with a Piper PA46, specifically an ’86-’88 Malibu.

I love the Piper PA46.  6 seat, cabin class, pressurization, air conditioning, great ramp appeal, 17 GPH (in the Continental TSIO 520 or 550; Piper changed to the Lycoming TIO 540 in ’89, which you run rich of peak and burn 22 GPH, decreasing a little bit of the awesomeness).  What more can you ask for?  The interior is roomy, there is plenty of baggage space in the nose and in the rear of the cabin.  They are downright fabulous airplanes.  Plus, you can get into a nice one that has had some panel upgrades and a mid time engine for around $300,000.  That’s not bad.

Cessna tried to make a pressurized single with the P210, but it just doesn’t match up with the Piper PA46. The Piper has more room, more baggage space, a higher max differential pressure and service ceiling, and better air conditioning to boot!

Don’t know much about the Piper PA46?  It’s been called several things.  Originally, it was the Malibu, with a Continental engine.  Now the TSIO 520 was not one of Continental’s better motors.  However, most of the original Malibus have been upgraded to the much better TSIO 550C engine, which is a great product. Cruise around at almost 200 knots at FL200 and burn only 17 GPH.  It’s beautiful.

Piper changed to the Lycoming engine in 1989 and changed the name to the Malibu Mirage, later shortened to just Mirage.

Then, in 2016, Piper upgraded a lot of the avionics, cleaned up the panel, and dubbed it the M350.

Piper made the ill fated decision in the mid 2000s to quit making the Saratoga and instead make an unpressurized version of the PA46 called the Matrix.  It didn’t last long, only about 10 years or so, and hasn’t been very popular (see:  don’t buy one).  Piper took the best part about the PA46, the pressurization, and took it away, leaving an airplane that you still have to wear oxygen in to get the advertised high speeds in the upper teens and flight levels.  Who wants to be cruising around in a cabin class airplane with oxygen on?  Piper needs to bring the Saratoga back to give folks a low level, high performance option.

What would be my dream Piper PA46?  As stated above, an ’86-’88 model Malibu (Piper started off with hydraulic flaps in the ’84-’85 models and it wasn’t a very good system.  They changed to electric flaps in ’86) with a Continental TSIO 550C upgrade.  The Garmin autopilot isn’t out yet, so I’d go with the STEC 3100 Autopilot w/ a Yaw Damper (the airplane originally came with a King KFC 150, which is a really good autopilot, but most of them are getting old and are getting difficult to fix.  King’s replacement KFC 325 is still slogging through certification.  Garmin’s GFC 600 would be ideal, but that isn’t expected to be certified for the PA46 fleet till late this year).  A single Garmin 10.6″ G500 TXi with EIS tied to a Garmin GTN 750 GPS with a Garmin GTR 225 Nav/Comm as the number 2 radio.

Then I just put gas in it and go.  That would be my kind of airplane.

Merry Christmas 2018


So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son (John 1:14).

From the Texas Top Aviation family (Hank, Kelsey, Everett, Cooper, and Cord) to your family, we wish you a Merry Christmas!  We are thankful for how the Lord has blessed us this year.  We pray for blessings on your family this coming year.

Keep the wheel side down and the sunny side up!

Merry Christmas!

The Go Around Button


Back in the old days, when flying an approach in an early Cirrus SR22 (circa 2004; yes, in airplane technology, those were the old days), performing a missed approach procedure was a lot of work.  You were low to the ground and weren’t able to see the runway.  Then, you had to start climbing so you don’t hit the ground, then push a lot of buttons in order to get the GPS and autopilot set fly the missed approach procedure.  It was very easy to get distracted with button pushing, then forget to fly the airplane, putting yourself and passengers in very unsafe circumstances.  The go around button has changed all that.

Going Missed the Old Fashioned Way

Let’s stick with our example of the 2004 Cirrus.  The SR22 in 2004 was equipped with the Avidyne Entegra system, complete with dual Garmin 430 GPS units, and an STEC 55x Autopilot.  A very capable IFR flying machine (we could use the same example of a 2004 or 2005 Lancair Columbia 350 or 400 that was equipped the same way, except the screens were vertical instead of horizontal).

Avidyne Cirrus Go Around Button

We’ll use the ILS 15 at the Temple airport, KTPL, for our example.  You pass TPL, the outer marker at 1,683 with the glide slope already centered.  Everything is going well so far.  The number 1 Garmin 430 is set to VLOC and the autopilot is showing NAV and APR for the lateral guidance and GS on the vertical, tracking the glide slope.  The last weather report stated the clouds were Broken at 500 feet, so it appears like you’ll be able to get in on the approach.

As you get closer to the Decision Altitude, the clouds aren’t letting up at all.  You hit 1,000 feet on your altimeter, 120 feet above the minimums, and you still can’t see a thing.  Another 100 feet lower doesn’t change anything, so you elect to proceed with the missed approach.  This means things are about to get busy.

Here’s the process:

  • Fly the airplane first, meaning shut off the autopilot, pitch the nose up to about 7 degrees, TRIM, add full power, retract the flaps, and step on the right rudder
  • The Garmin 430 is now in SUSP mode, meaning the missed approach point is locked in as the active waypoint.  So, you have to press the OBS button to cause the GPS to cycle over to the missed approach procedure
  • You have to press the VLOC button on the Garmin 430 in order to change the CDI back to GPS
  • You have to re-engage the autopilot by pressing NAV twice (which engages GPS Steering mode)
  • You have to reset your altitude bug (if you hadn’t set it for the missed approach altitude previously)
  • You have to press VS and ALT on your autopilot to have the STEC continue the climb

That’s a lot of work, isn’t it?  Plus, that’s an extensive amount of head down time in the cockpit, with your eyes looking elsewhere other than the instruments while hand flying.  All very low to the ground, I might add.  Can you see how this can be dangerous?  (Note:  The Avidyne IFD 550 has made this a little easier with automatically switching from VLOC to GPS and automatically engaging the missed approach procedure in the flight plan)

The advent of the Go Around Button has streamlined the process, leading to safer operations where it matters most.  The functions of the Go Around Button vary based on the airplane, but here are three examples, the Garmin G1000 Cessna Corvalis TT, the Garmin G1000 Piper Mirage, and the Garmin Perspective Cirrus SR22.

Cessna Corvalis TT

We’ll take the above situation and swap out the airplanes.  Gone is the 2004 Cirrus SR22.  Insert a 2008 Cessna Corvalis TT, equipped with the Garmin G1000 suite and the GFC 700 autopilot.  The go around button is positioned directly above the twist in throttle.

Cessna Corvalis G1000 Go Around Button

When you push the Go Around Button, here’s what the system does:

  • Disconnects the Autopilot
  • Sets the Flight Director for 7.5 degrees pitch up (which is about your normal climb angle) and wings level
  • Switches the CDI back to GPS
  • Takes the GPS out of SUSP mode and cycles the flight plan to the first waypoint on the missed approach procedure

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Follow the flight director by pitching the nose up and TRIM
  • Add full mixture, prop and throttle (prop & throttle should be full already)
  • Retract the flaps
  • Step on the right rudder
  • Re-engage the autopilot, then press NAV and VS (or FLC) and set your altitude bug if it isn’t already set

Not too bad, eh?  Makes the whole situation streamlined and safer.

Piper PA46-350P Mirage

Same situation, different airplane.  You’ll notice the procedure for the Piper Mirage is almost exactly the same as the  Corvalis procedure.  The difference between the two airplanes is where the autopilot controller is.  In the Corvalis, the autopilot controller is positioned on the left side of the MFD, making it easy to scan back and forth while pushing buttons on the autopilot.

The Piper Mirage autopilot controller is positioned below both screens and in front of the power quadrant. With this positioning, the pilot’s eyes have to go a lot further to see which autopilot button he is pushing. In this case, it becomes very important to get the airplane climbing and trimmed before going down to engage the autopilot.

As in the Corvalis, here is what the Go Around button does:

  • Disconnects the Autopilot
  • Sets the Flight Director for 7.5 degrees pitch up (which is about your normal climb angle) and wings level
  • Switches the CDI back to GPS
  • Takes the GPS out of SUSP mode and cycles the flight plan to the first waypoint on the missed approach procedure

And here’s what you have to do:

  • Follow the flight director by pitching the nose up, then TRIM
  • Add full mixture, prop and throttle (prop & throttle should be full already)
  • Retract the flaps
  • Step on the right rudder
  • Re-engage the autopilot, then press NAV and VS (or FLC) and set your altitude bug if it isn’t already set

Cirrus SR22

Cirrus Perspective Go Around Button

This time, we’ll use the 2010 Cirrus SR22T with the Garmin Perspective and GFC 700 Autopilot. One thing I really like about how Cirrus configured their system is where the Go Around button is.  It’s actually on the throttle itself, making it much more intuitive.  This way, you can press the Go Around button while adding full throttle.

There is one major difference between the Garmin Perspective in the Cirrus and the G1000 in the Corvalis. When you press the Go Around button in the Cirrus, the autopilot actually stays on.

Here’s what happens when you press the Go Around button in the Cirrus:

  • Flight Director pitches to 7.5 degrees pitch up and wings level
  • AP Mode switches to Go Around mode, following the flight director
  • GPS comes out of SUSP mode
  • CDI switches back to GPS

All the pilot really has to do is add power, take the flaps up, then press NAV on the GFC 700 to get the autopilot following the missed approach procedure.

If you aren’t familiar with the Go Around button or haven’t used the one in your plane lately, it’s good to go up with a knowledgeable instructor and fly a couple of approaches where you perform the published missed approach afterward.  That way, he or she can assist you through the first missed approach, then give you pointers until  you get comfortable with the Go Around button.

Breathing…It’s The Difference in Engine Performance


The PT6 engine that’s found on the Jetprop and Meridian is designated a -21, -34,-35, or a -42A.  The Continental engine on a Malibu is either a TSIO 520 or a 550.  What’s the difference? Why should I care? Most pilots don’t understand the difference, but it’s pretty easy to understand…and it’s all about breathing.

Whether a piston or a turbine, the engine has a ratio of fuel/air that works best.  For a piston model, we can make adjustments to this ratio by adjusting the mixture.  In climb we use a richer ratio to help cool the engine, and in cruise we lean the mixture to save fuel since we don’t need the extra fuel for cooling (due to higher speeds which cools the engine). In the turbine, the ratio is set and there’s nothing that can be done about it…except climb to a higher altitude.  But, more about that in a second..let’s go back to the piston discussion…

Piston: A Continental 520 engine and the 550 engine are flown exactly the same.  On takeoff, both will develop 310HP (38″MP with the 520, 35.5″MP with the 550).  So, why would a pilot want a 550 in his airplane as opposed to a 520?  The answer is breathing.

A 520 is named appropriately because the engine displaces 520 cubic inches of air with each complete cycle of all 6 cylinders.  To determine the displacement, just figure the bore (diameter of the cylinder) and the Stroke (how far the piston travels in the cylinder) and plug the numbers into this formula:

CID = Bore X Bore X 0.8754 X Stroke X # of Cyl.

Here’s the bore and stroke of the Continental 520 and 550 engine:

TSIO 520:  Bore = 5.25″ and Stroke = 4″
TSIO 550: Bore = 5.25″ and Stroke = 4.25″

So, you can see the two engines are exactly the same except the 550 has a little longer stroke, and therefore displaces a little more air.  Said another way…it the sucks the air into the engine a little better.

So, with this knowledge, the ability for the engine to breathe becomes a little more clear.  Both a 520 and a 550 will perform exactly the same until the point that a 520 simply cannot suck enough air and begins to develop less MP as a result.  For most 520 engines, this will happen somewhere around 18,000 ft.  But, it is dependent upon a myriad of factors including: health of the engine, altitude, temperature, and atmospheric pressure. When the 520 hits this point, the throttle can be full-forward, but the engine will not develop full MP, but some number that is less.  I’ve seen a max MP at FL250 in a 520 Malibu to be about 31″MP.  So, you can probably guess that the rate of climb will correspondingly suffer as the engine develops less MP.  How do we fix this problem?  Enter the 550…

Since the 550 displaces more air, the engine will maintain max MP to a higher altitude.  When the 520 begins to develop less power at about FL180, the 550 engine will be able to continue to maintain 35″ at a higher altitude.  Make no mistake…the 550 will also hit an altitude where is cannot develop 35″MP, but this altitude will probably be nearly FL220.  So, the 550-powered Malibu will reach cruising altitude faster than the 520.

But, at cruise both engines are pulled back to 30″MP.  So, either engine will deliver the same cruise speed because they are both able to develop 30″MP at any altitude.  Does it really matter if you’ve got a 520 or a 550 engine?  Answer: not much.  Both are excellent engines and both will deliver the airplane to the destination, but if the chosen altitude is above FL180, the 550-powered airframe will probably arrive a few minutes earlier.  Which would I want if I were purchasing an airplane?  It’s not a big enough deal, IMHO.  I’d select the best airframe/engine/prop combination and not put much weight into the 520 vs. the 550.

Turbine world: So, how about the -21, -34/35, and -42A compare?  Here, there’s  big difference, but it’s still all about the breathing.  A -21, -34/35, and -42A are all derivatives of the famous PT6 family of engines, and all are designed to be 1000+SHP engines de-rated to fit the airframe.  For instance, the -42A engine is 750SHP when mounted on a King Air 200, but the same engine is derated to 500SHP when mounted on the Meridian.  Ditto with the -21 and -34/35 engines…all are de-rated.  So what’s the difference? Breathing…

At the lower altitudes all will develop their maximum rated SHP, meaning they will all develop maximum torque.  And, down low there’s plenty of air to breathe so the engine has no problem developing that torque at a low ITT.  But, as altitude is gained, the engine must suck more air to develop the same torque, and the ITT goes up.  At some point in the climb (depending upon altitude, temperature, pressure, and IAS) the engine will not be able to produce max torque without exceeding Max ITT.  At this point, the engine cannot breathe any more (suck in anymore air), and the power (torque) developed falls off.  With the -21 engine, the power falls off quite dramatically because the engine simply cannot breathe well.  It is a smaller engine and more air cannot be forced into the compressor section.  For the rest of the climb the engine is “ITT limited” and the performance will suffer.

The -34/35 engine is a little bigger and will develop maximum power (torque) to a higher altitude.  And, when the torque does drop off (as altitude is increased), the rate of decrease is less because it can breathe easier due to it’s larger size.  Guess what? The -42A will beat out the others and develop max torque to an even higher altitude.  With this decrease  in torque available also comes a welcome friend…less fuel burn.  Altitude is the friend of any turbine pilot, and he/she will climb to the highest altitude possible to save on fuel.

The end result is the -21 powered Jetprop will cruise at 238 KTAS (in the summer) with a fuel burn of only 28gph.  The -34 will have higher torque than the -21 and will develop more SHP and will have a higher cruise (260 KTAS in the summer) with a correspondingly higher fuel burn (32gph).  The -42A will be breathing easily at higher altitudes, and will develop the most torque, but with a fuel flow of 39gph.  The Meridian (with the -42A) will not out-perform the -34/35 Jetprop in cruise purely because the Meridian is much heavier.

Just remember…fuel flow in a turbine is always commensurate with its ability to breathe and a turbine’s ability to breathe is a function of the engine’s ability to breathe.

With this knowledge…let’s check your understanding.  Answer this question: Will a Jetprop cruise faster in the summer or winter?  Remember, cold air is more dense than warm air, and an engine will develop power according to it’s ability to suck in air.  More air available, more power available.  Answer: Winter.

A good analogy: I’m a Cross-fitter (meaning I do crossfit workouts a lot).  In the gym we have various workouts that test a person’s ability to perform.  Guess who usually does the best?  Right…the guy who can breathe the best.  A person is nothing more than an engine…we intake air and combine it fuel and burn it to develop energy.  In Crossfit, the person with the biggest engine (muscles that can develop power) that can sustain power (good aerobic capability) will win almost every time.  The only variables then are genetics (how well-made is the engine), flexibility (you’ve got to be able to get into the position), and skills (there are more efficient movements).  A good Crossfitter will work hard on mobility, skill, and try to increase the bodies ability to increase capacity through a tough workout.

To get maximum performance, the pilot cannot change the engines skill or mobility (at  least not without an engine change!), but a thorough understanding of the how the engine breathes will help him/her use the power that is available to the fullest.

Joe Casey’s aviation story began in 1990 with his first flight near Nacogdoches, TX in a Cessna 172. From lift-off, Joe knew he would have a lifetime passion flying just about anything that will leave the ground…He was completely hooked.

Along with being an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), Joe is an ATP/CFI-AHMG and Commercial Rotorcraft/Glider Pilot in the civilian world and also a UH-60/AH-64 Pilot-in-Command/Instructor/Examiner Pilot in the US Army Reserves.  His passion for the last 19 years, however, has been the PA-46 Malibu/Mirage/Matrix/Jetprop/Meridian. Has has amassed over 6,500 hours in various PA-46 airframes and believe it to be one of the finest flying machines available for the serious cross-country pilot with an eye for efficiency.

Now, Joe has flown more than 12,200 hours in just about every imaginable environment. Whether providing initial/recurrent training in the PA-46’s, TBM’s, instructing in NVG’s in a UH-60 Blackhawk, flying the King Air series of airplanes, giving tailwheel endorsements, or taking kids flying for the first time, he simply loves flying machines and the people who fly them.

Garmin GFC 700 Autopilot


The Garmin GFC 700 Autopilot is an amazing machine.  Fully digital and fully integrated with the Garmin G1000 glass panel, it makes a pilot’s workload a lot easier, especially in busy airspace.

I train a lot of pilots in airplanes that have the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot.  The Cirrus SR22, the Columbia 350 & 400, the G36 Bonanza, and the Piper Mirage and M350 to name a few.  The most common problem I see for pilots transitioning into the Garmin GFC 700 equipped aircraft is that it doesn’t act like other autopilots.

STECs and DFC 90 Autopilots function like this:  you push the button for the mode you want on the autopilot controller and that turns the autopilot on.

Not so on the Garmin GFC 700.  If you push the button for the mode on the GFC 700, then the flight director engages, but not the autopilot.  This confuses folks a lot who move up from different autopilots because their autopilot primacy side of their brain is telling them the autopilot is on whenever they push one of the buttons on the GFC 700 controller.

Here’s an example:  A pilot has just departed and is ready to turn on course.  In his old airplane with an STEC 55x autopilot, the pilot pushes the direct to key to go to his first waypoint, then pushes NAV on the autopilot controller and the STEC 55x comes on and starts flying on course.  Then he presses VS and ALT to initiate a climb.

With the same scenario and a Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, the same pilot (who is used to a 55x), pushes the direct to key, then pushes NAV on the autopilot controller and pushes IAS or FLC to initiate the climb.  He lets go of the flight controls thinking the autopilot is engaged.  The airplane starts nosing over and he starts panicking.

Why did this happen?  The pilot in the second scenario never pushed the AP button on the Garmin GFC 700 so the autopilot never engaged.  All he did by pressing the NAV button and IAS button was to turn the flight director on.

How to remedy this?  Get in the habit of checking your scoreboard.  On the top of the G1000 or Garmin Perspective PFD, there is an autopilot annunciation strip (or scoreboard as I like to call it).  In the very middle of the scoreboard is an area to show if the autopilot or flight director is engaged.  AP means the autopilot is on; FD means the flight director is engaged but the autopilot is not.

I teach pilots to be in the habit of checking your scoreboard each time you get done pressing buttons on the autopilot controller to ensure the Garmin GFC 700 is in the proper mode.  This saves some of those panic moments when it is supposed the AP is engaged, but it’s only the FD.