A single engine aircraft that can take off over a 50 foot obstacle in less than 800 m, cruise 1,730 nm at speeds of up to 330 knots at flight level 310, with occupants in pressurised, air-conditioned, leather seat comfort, is a serious machine. No wonder so many advertisements for the turbine powered TBM series appear in general aviation magazines!

When there is a need for speed, comfort, long legs, and reliability, then the TBM fits the bill. Aviation Trader was invited by Australian TBM representative Andrew Henderson, of AC Aviation, to fly with him in his TBM 850, VH-CEA, on a demonstration flight from Essendon airport in early July 2017. Our route was YMEN-MNG-YSHT-LACEY-COLDS-MONTY-YMEN, at FL150, in (mostly) IFR conditions.

First Impressions

Some aircraft are a surprise in the metal. On the ramp the TBM looks exactly as expected. It speaks “serious and fast with lots of room,” and certainly a step up the performance ladder from complex pistons. The large four bladed prop gives a sense of the power of the engine behind.

Immediately obvious are the high sitting low wing posture; convenient front storage compartment, suitable for golf clubs; the wide, easy access, electrically operated door, with fold down steps; the wide, long cabin, with comfortable leather seats, fold out table, and behind the rear seats storage; much more room than, for example, a Bonanza, which also has club seating; and small gap between the front seats, making it not too difficult to reach the pilots’ positions.

Gazing at the panel, pilots will see the reassuring and familiar presence of the now ubiquitous general aviation colour G1000′s, plus an additional large central screen containing a multi-function display. There are a few extra switches in all places, including overhead – not surprising considering the required jet fuel and pressurisation management systems.

Sitting in the front seats there is good panel, forward and sideways visibility. There is a large airline like pocket on the panel in front of each pilot, which make storage easy, and conventional control columns.

Pilots upgrading from high performance piston singles like the Bonanza, Cirrus or Cessna range will likely have two feelings – the first is familiarisation, and the second, slight trepidation at the increased complexity, concentration and precision required to for this fast, high flying, pressurised, turbine powered machine.

Start Up and Taxi

Start-up is quick and easy being very typical PT6 turbine. The aircraft is very quiet but as you would expect with an aircraft of this quality, the manufacturer supplies noise cancelling headsets for the crew. Passenger noise levels are low. Passengers will enjoy great views out the multiple large windows and plenty of room to work or play on the large fold out table.

The TBM is easy to taxi with its high pilot position and steerable nose wheel. Departing Executive Airlines we called for security to open the gate to a rare sight in Australia – an aircraft level crossing, as we taxi out for a runway 26 departure. Although Essendon is more expensive than other GA airports, it is not so busy, and we are immediately cleared as number one for take-off.

Take Off and Climb Out

With 850 hp up front, pilots will have an expectation of rapid acceleration to the rotation speed of 85 knots and the TBM certainly does not disappoint in this respect. Incidentally this is the same speed used for final approach. In these respects the TBM is not a big step up for pilots from high performance piston singles.

VH-CEA lifted off very quickly with just two on board. It seemed we were up and away is less than 400 m. Climb out at a best rate of climb speed of 124 knots, initially yielded over 2500 feet per minute, a noticeably higher rate of climb than conventional singles – a key point of difference, and we were soon way above the northern Melbourne suburbs heading for our first fix of MNG. Book figures to 31,000 feet are about 18 minutes.

Cruise

FL150 came up quickly as did a 280 knot TAS cruise speed. It was in the cruise that we reflected on the additional items that come with heading up this high – change from QNH to standard pressure; the cabin pressurisation and oxygen systems; ice awareness; and the greater sensitivity of the aircraft controls in the thinner air.

When asked about the best ground speed he had ever seen in his TBM850 Henderson said “420 knots up in Queensland.” (see the attached photo evidence). He also mentioned “Up at FL310 we once observed a fully loaded Airbus A380 crossing below us at FL250.” The TBM can and does sometimes foot it with the “heavies.”

Descent and Return to Essendon

Our IFR return to Essendon was routine. The freezing level was low that winter’s day and we quickly picked up icing descending through 8,000 feet. Henderson demonstrated the highly effective propeller, windscreen and wing boot systems which reassuringly got rid of it quickly. The inertial separator was selected for descent through icing conditions to ensure no foreign object damage occurred, for example, from ice off the propeller, ingestion, or engine damage.

We were visual at about 6,000 and enjoyed hand flying towards the city before turning right base for runway 35 at Essendon. It flies like it looks – a stable large single with good yaw, roll and pitch rates, with great visibility, in all phases of flight. The large side widows make visual turns easy.
The first stage of flaps were deployed and landing gear went down at 178 knots and the second stage of flaps was available from a relatively low 122 knots.

Approach was stable, and with gear and flaps it was easy to bleed off speed to the final 85 knots approach speed, and gentle touch down. We stopped in light single type distance.

Target Market

The TBM is a fast, well proven, high performance turbine single targeted at serious IFR rated flyers, be they private, corporate or freight runners. Available in multiple configurations, including a pilot’s door, the 2017 TBM offer includes both the TBM 910 with G1000 NXi and the TBM 930 with Garmin G3000 controlled by touch screens. Price for a 2017 delivery of a fully equipped TBM 910 is US$3.9m including the TBM Care program – 5 years or 1,000 hours maintenance coverage to match the extended 5-year warranty protection. For the same package a TBM 930 will cost US$ 4.1m.

The aircraft is perfect for those who must regularly go long distances, quickly, in Australia and want to be able to take passengers in comfort. It is also capable of international flight. Henderson flew VH-CEA out from France, and has taken the aircraft to Noumea. On the return flight the TBM easily flew non-stop Noumea to the Gold Coast.

Comparisons

The Pilatus PC12 and Piper M600 are two competitors buyers might also consider. Key statistics (in the order TBM930 – the latest variant available, PC12 and M600) are: maximum cruising speed (knots): 330, 285 and 275, giving the TBM a distant advantage; take off distance over 50’ (metres): 726, 793, and 803, where again the TBM come out tops; maximum range (nm) 1,730, 1,845 and 1,484 yielding a win for the PC12; useful load (lbs): 2,765, 2,704 and 2,400 – a close thing between the PC12 and TBM. Engine power (hp) is 850, 1,200 and 600.

In terms of number of seats the PC12, in executive configuration, has an extra two or three. Certified ceilings are about the same – the TBM at 31,000 feet and its competitors at 30,000 feet.

Summary

In summary the TBM is one of the fastest turboprops in the sky – marginally slower than the Dash 8 Q400. It is much faster than its competitors – a key factor over longer sectors, can take off on shorter runways, and carries a better load, albeit with less seats than the PC12.

Conclusion

The TBM is a serious turbine single with a light-jet-like top speed and range. It’s also very comfortable for pilot and passengers, with a proven performance history, and great international support. Its premium price reflects the quality of the product.

About the Author

Paul Southwick is a Melbourne based journalist, communications consultant, and pilot.

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