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Piper PA-46 Malibu


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Piper PA-46 Malibu

The Piper PA-46 is a family of light aircraft manufactured by Piper Aircraft of the United States. The aircraft is powered by a single engine and has the capacity for one pilot and five passengers. Early Malibus were all piston-engined, but a turboprop version, the Malibu Meridian, is also available. The piston powered Malibus may be converted to turboprop with the Jetprop DLX conversion.

The aircraft is the third pressurized cabin class piston powered aircraft with only one engine to ever reach the market (the Mooney M22 and Cessna P210 Centurion being the others). It is sold mainly for civilian customers; small airline s (such as air tour companies) may also use this aircraft.


Work on the PA-46 began in the late 1970s, with a prototype (the PA-46-300T) first flying on November 30 1979. The type was announced in November 1982, apparently to compete with Cessna 's newest creation of the era, the P210 Centurion . Like the Centurion, the Malibu was to feature cabin pressurization (5.5 psi), a feature not included on the prototype.


PA-46-310P Malibu

The first example of the initial production version flew in August 1982, and FAA certification was obtained in September 1983. Deliveries started one month later. 404 aircraft with Continental TSIO-520 engines were built before this model was replaced in production by the 350P.

The PA-46-310P is powered by a Teledyne Continental Motors TSIO-520BE engine rated at . The PA-46-310P has lower fuel consumption, greater range, and the ability to cruise at "lean-of-peak ." The PA-46-310P has a maximum cruising range of 1550 nautical miles (with reserves), while the PA-46-350P initially had a maximum cruising range of only , although now increased to ..

The PA-46-310P Malibu has set several world speed records: Seattle to New York set November 23, 1987 at 259.27 mph; Detroit to Washington, DC set January 4, 1989 at 395.96 mph; and Chicago to Toronto set on January 8, 1989 at 439.13 mph. All 3 records were set by Steve Stout in his 1986 Malibu N9114B..

The Continental-powered Malibu was discontinued in 1986 following a series of incidents and accidents attributed to engine failures. One such accident resulted in a settlement in which Teledyne Continental Motors paid over USD$32,000,000 to a pilot injured in the crash of a Malibu. Some attribute the poor record of the original Malibu to improper engine operation. Unlike virtually every other Continental engine in production at the time, the TSIO-520BE was designed to be operated with mixture set to the lean side of peak TIT ("Lean of Peak"). However, many pilots chose to operate with the mixture on the rich side of peak TIT ("Rich of Peak"), which is how most other airplane engines were operated at the time. On that engine, such operation caused excessively high engine temperatures and cylinder pressures, and led to premature failures.

PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage

Production of the Malibu Mirage commenced in October 1988. New features included a more powerful Textron Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A 350 hp (263 kW) engine and a new wing. This model remains in production as of 2008. Various changes have occurred over the model years. Earlier models had an all King panel and later this became largely Garmin . The Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit is now standard in the Mirage with the Garmin G1000 optional.

In 1995, the pilot's windshield became a glass assembly (earlier it had been acrylic glass with a heat strip overlay). In 1996, numerous switches were moved to an overhead console. In 1999, the Mirage gained the strengthened wing designed for the turboprop Meridian. The base price for a 2008 Malibu Mirage is USD$1,141,500.

PA-46-500TP Malibu Meridian

In 1997, Piper announced its intention to market a turboprop-powered version of the Malibu, and flew a prototype the following year powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A of 500 shp (373 kW). Certification was achieved in September 2000 and deliveries began in November that year. Changes made to allow for turboprop power include larger wings and tail surfaces. In 2009, Piper began offering the Meridian with a three screen version of the Garmin G1000 including the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot as a replacement for the Avidyne Entegra system.

PA-46R-350T Matrix

In October 2007 Piper announced the Matrix, an unpressurized version of the Mirage. It seats six and its base price is $819,000 (2010 USD ). The new model has been designated as the PA-46R-350T, indicating retractable landing gear, , and turbocharging.

Piper Aircraft is marketing the Matrix as a cabin-class aircraft for Cirrus SR-22 and Cessna 400 owners to step up to.

Standard equipment on the Matrix includes a built-in oxygen system, Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit, S-Tec 55X autopilot and air conditioning.

Major options on the Matrix are a de-ice system, an "Enhanced Situational Awareness Package", speed brakes, an avionics package featuring the Avidyne TAS610 dual antenna traffic advisory system., GWX-68 Weather Radar, and, beginning in 2010, the Garmin G1000 avionics system with twin 10" PFD's and a 15" MFD.

The Matrix's powerplant is a turbocharged Lycoming TI0-540-AE2A producing . The aircraft's performance includes a cruise speed of 215 knots at , at 17,500 and at . Maximum take-off weight is 4,340 lb (1,970 kg) and an empty weight of 2,937 lb (1,332 kg) giving a standard useful load of 1,421 lb (645 kg).

Matrix deliveries began in early 2008.


A Love/Hate relationship with the PA-46 Malibu Mirage

I will never forget when Piper first announced the Malibu as a pressurized, six place 310 horsepower high performance single. To me, it made my dream airplane, the Pressurized 210 Centurion, looks like an airplane designed in the 60''s...which it was. \r\n\r\nA P210 as the dream airplane? I was a private pilot with a single engine rating, so to me, the P210 would be an airplane I could fly with the certificate I currently held. I dreamt about flying the Centurion in the flight levels, above the hot summers air, where the air was cool and smooth. The pressurization not only providing a way not to use oxygen, but the quieter and smoothness of a more rigid cabin was an extra bonus.

There were a few things about the P210 that I wasn''t too crazy about, like the back seats being a little on the small size, and the instrument panel looked like it was stuffed together with no room to spare. I also didn''t like the restricted visibility, but overall, the airplane was quite capable. Compared to most light twins of the day, the P210 was an impressive airplane, it just didn''t have as much room as most cabin class twins, and I really did like the club seating feature most cabin class light twins had at the time.

Then along comes the Malibu, which was the engineering evolution of the heavy single. Likes...there were a lot of them. The one thing Piper had in the Lance/Saratoga/Cherokee Six, was a forward luggage compartment. I always thought that was a great idea for providing flexibility in weight and balance loading. Second, the airplane was good sized, with a club seating configuration, nice sizable windows for viewing the land from above, and a huge instrument panel.

I read about the Malibu, but for years it seems they were a very rare airplane, and I didn''t have a chance to see but a few over the first few years. Before I knew it, Piper introduced the Malibu Mirage, a 350 horsepower upgrade from the 310 horsepower airplane. I thought it was a great idea to put the extra horsepower up front, as a pilot, I always liked more power, and this seemed to be a great airplane for the additional 40 horsepower available.

My first flight in a Malibu Mirage was with an owner who needed an instrument competency check. I was about a 600 hour flight instructor, and to me, I just marveled at the airplane as we did the walk around. Back then, a 152 was a little worn out and beat up, a Skylane was usually a nice step up for low time flight instructors, and the Malibu was the king of the single engine lineup.

It was a blustery day, and rather turbulent out, but I enjoyed the Malibu Mirage, as it seemed comfortable, quiet, and also to be a rather good instrument platform. The fuel burn seemed a little high, but in my mind, taking six people along in that kind of comfort, it was worth the price. The autopilot was used for a lot of that flight, and it was my first exposure to managing a system, over the simple motor skill of flying an airplane.

Fast forward 10 years. I now have over 5,000 hours logged, about half of that time in light twins and King Air''s. I met a developer who was flying a 414 and the maintenance of the older Cessna was eating his lunch. As always, I offered the right seat to any passenger, saying that they are welcome to it, and if they want to see what is going on, this is the best seat in the house.

Cruising home in the 414, we talked about various options to replace the 414. In his mind, it didn''t make very much sense to buy older airplanes, he thought it would be ridiculous to buy a car built in the 70''s and just continue putting a new engine and paint on every now and then. Truly, there weren''t many options, but the one airplane that would perhaps work, was a Malibu Mirage. Other than my 2 hour flight 10 years prior, I thought the Malibu was a pretty good choice. It had the pressurization that his 414 had, could fly in known icing because it had a heated windshield and de-ice boots, and the late model used selection was good, and the prices weren''t too far off from what a late 1970''s 414a model was going for.

We found a ''99 model in Philadelphia PA with just over 575 hours on the airframe and engine. It had the KFC 225 Autopilot, which was what everyone wanted over the KFC 150 autopilot some Malibu''s were delivered with. If you have ever bought a used airplane, you know that there are compromises based on other words, what is more important to you. We ended up with a nicely equipped airplane, the only thing lacking was a state of the art GPS. Ours had a King KLN90B, but we had an Argus color map on board, and it worked well. The aircraft also came equipped with a HSI-40, which is a King glass HSI. I loved that feature, it enabled me to pull the on-board radar into the flight plan course, to see what was ahead.

The aircraft checkout was extensive, and the insurance requirement was for some type of simulator training, or from a designated instructor that would conduct the training on-site. I just had a FAR Part 135 checkride in a King Air 200 30 days before, but the insurance company would not write a policy for use, unless we had a specific PA-46 checkout. We opted for the instructor to conduct on-site training, so we started out our Malibu operation with a $5,500 price tag for the 3 day school.

During the ground school, my thoughts on the airplane was that it wasn't that impressive of an airplane, based on aircraft performance vs. engine operation. If you are not familiar with the Piper Malibu, it has had some issues with high cylinder temperatures while operating at the higher altitudes. Originally, the Malibu was certified with a Continental power plant that put out 310 horsepower, and was approved for lean of peak operations. When the Continental engine had problems, the finger was pointed at this type of leaning of the engine, but after several operational considerations, the problem didn''t seem to go away. Piper sales began to taper off, so they decided to make the switch to the Lycoming TSIO-540 engine, which was rated at 350 horsepower, and had been used on the Piper Navajo for years with good reliability.

The extra power gave the airplane a better rate of climb, but still, the engine tended to run a little too hot. Some changes made to the Malibu in ''99, was larger air exits on the engine cowling. Piper never put movable cowl flaps on the Malibu, which I always wondered why they wouldn''t, other than if you forgot to open them in a climb, you could potentially damage the engine with excessive heat. My understanding was that Piper figured with the dual inter-coolers, the cylinder temperatures would always be fine during cruise. I never have been that big of a fan of the big 540 Lycomings, they seemed to have a rumble to them...a vibration that gave me the impression the engine was eating itself apart. Compared to the IO-520/550 that the Beech Bonanza has installed, there was no comparison, the Continental is so much smoother.

Back to the checkout, the instructor went over the engine operations, along with a very interesting profile. First, the engine produced 350 horsepower at 2,500 rpm at 42 inches of manifold pressure. After takeoff, the first power reduction was at 500'' agl., after the gear and take-off flaps were placed in the UP position. The power would be set at 35” manifold pressure, and 2,500 rpm, with a fuel flow of 33 gallons per hour. To keep the engine cool, the Lycoming supplement to the Piper manual, was to climb at 125 knots indicated airspeed...which gave you a climb of 500 to 700 feet per minute. It doesn''t take long to figure out if you are going to 20,000 feet, that it is going to take a while to get there, and it will burn a lot of fuel in the process.

According to the Piper Manual, you could set up for 75% power cruise, and have a fuel burn of approximately 18 gallons per hour. However, the turbine inlet temperature gage became the limitation, which Lycoming recommended 100 degrees rich of where the T.I.T gage peaked. The procedure was to level off, set the manifold pressure and rpm, which, the Malibu had a computerized gage that would show you percentage of power. Once this was set, you would begin leaning, paying particular attention to the tubine inlet temperature.

The maximum temperature was 1650 degrees, which if you leaned to that point, you would richen the mixture to a 1550 degree temperature, and that would correspond to a fuel flow of approximately 22 gallons per hour. At 65% power, which was typically 29” manifold pressure, and 2,400 engine rpm., I would typically lean to 1,550 degrees on the T.I.T., and have a fuel flow of between 20.5 to 21 gallons per hour.

Keep in mind the Malibu is a big heavy airplane, with a gross weight of 4,350 lbs. That explains the slow climb rate, but at cruise, the airplane was a consistent 185 knot airplane at altitude. I took the airplane to 21,000 feet only one time, I was by myself and the winds were very favorable at altitude, so I step climbed it up there. I didn't like to have cylinder temperatures above 400 degrees, although the book redline was 500 degrees. I was told that 420 was ok in the climb, and 400 and below was recommended at cruise. For the most part, I flew the airplane at the mid-teen altitudes, very seldom would I fly below 10,000 feet, due to that fat fuselage giving you a 155 knot cruise at altitudes 5,000 and below.

My love hate with the airplane, was that for a single engine airplane, it has a lot of capabilities. We seldom canceled a trip due to weather, and you could put 2 passengers and luggage, fly high, and cover a lot of ground. The airplane was a very nice flying airplane, with good handling qualities, very stable instrument platform, and a forgiving stall whether it was a departure stall or approach to landing stall, it never tried to bite you.

However, the aircraft was one of the most demanding aircraft I had ever flown also. It required more attention to airspeed in the pattern, as it was a heavy airplane and if you let the airspeed drop below normal, it took a lot of power to accelerate. If you were slow on final, the aircraft could drop in on you, and the stiff gear made consistent roll on landings difficult to perform.

In addition, you had to manage the engine in such a way, that you were constantly monitoring the CHT, oil temperature, and fuel flows. The TBO for the engine is rated for 2,000 hours, but there are very few Mirage aircraft that make that number. We had to complete a top overhaul at 700 hours, after excessive oil consumption made us take a look at what was going on internally. My understanding, is that when you take the airplane into the flight levels, the barrel for the cylinder will warp and become more oval in shape. This allows blow-by form the oil rings, and although compression will check ok, the oil turns black fairly quickly, and our oil consumption was about 1 quart per 3 flight hours.

I found out that the Malibu and the engine compartment in particular, required a lot of checking out and regular maintenance. As someone told me, it is like a Ferrari...when it is running good, there is nothing else like it, but when it is running bad, get your checkbook out. We had a maintenance bill of $22,000 for the top and turbo replacement, and some exhaust components. There was also the hydraulic gear reservoir that needed to be rebuilt, which was another $12,000 which didn''t sit well for the owner. Overall, we calculated an hourly operating cost of $350 per hour, which was about $100 less than the C414A we replaced it with.

I enjoyed flying the Malibu, and routinely flew the aircraft from South Dakota to Naples Florida in one day. It really wasn't that bad of a trip, flying about 7 hours each way, the aircraft and the pressurization made it a comfortable flight. I would typically climb to altitude, set the auto-pilot, and enjoy a turbulent free flight in the high teens and without a lot of traffic.



The JetPROP DLX is an aftermarket turbine engine conversion for the PA46-310 Malibu and PA46-350 Malibu Mirage. Originally certified in August 1998 with a Pratt & Whitney PT6A -34, conversions 90 and above used the P&W PT6A-35 when the -34 was discontinued. A lower cost JetPROP DL conversion became available in October 2003 utilizing the P&W PT6A-21. As of September 2008, 233 JetPROP conversions had been completed and delivered by Rocket Engineering of Spokane, WA. Twenty percent of the entire PA46 fleet have been converted.