Piper’s Meridian gets a makeover, Avidyne style

 - October 2, 2006, 11:13 AM

While buyers will undoubtedly welcome the switch in the Piper Meridian from previous Meggitt Magic avionics to the more capable Avidyne Entegra system, an unintended side effect of the supplier change could turn out to be the fits of jealousy it causes among current Meridian owners.

The sleek, six-seat turboprop single holds the place of honor as the top-of-the-flight-line model in Piper’s series of light general aviation airplanes. So it’s not surprising that new Meridians rolling out of the factory now come fitted with a standard three-display version of the Entegra integrated glass cockpit, similar to the baseline Entegra system that Piper offers in its PA-28 and PA-32 piston single lines, but with dual primary flight displays (PFD) and a host of optional upgrades.

The most noticeable change to the Meridian’s panel, obviously, are the big, bright, full-color Entegra displays, each measuring 10.4 inches diagonally. But the real improvements up front have to do with what’s behind the glass, where the computer processors and advanced software make possible a range of flight-management tools worthy of an airplane selling for a basic list price of $1.895 million. The Meggitt Magic system, conversely, with its much smaller EFIS screens, never seemed quite the right fit for the Meridian after Avidyne’s Entegra and Garmin’s G1000 glass cockpits arrived on the scene a few years ago.

During a recent demonstration flight from Morristown (N.J.) Airport (MMU) in the first Meridian to receive the upgraded cockpit (N3115M), Piper chief pilot Bart Jones explained that not only is the Meridian the first turbine-powered airplane to be certified with Entegra, but this is also the first time dual PFDs have been part of an Entegra certification and the first time a radar-equipped airplane has received the system.

The standard Entegra cockpit in the Meridian features pilot and copilot EXP5000 primary flight displays and EX5000 multifunction display (MFD). In addition to the typical flight-relevant information one would expect, the Entegra XP5000 displays are also capable of presenting primary engine instrument data, integrated flight director command bars, pilot-selectable moving-map flight plan data, horizontal situation indicator, an RMI pointer and digital RMI readouts.

Befitting an airplane that was designed for pilots moving up from a piston-powered airplane to a turboprop, the Entegra system has been developed to be extremely easy to learn and operate. Nearly all of its functions can be operated by clicking on a series of bezel soft keys that highlight the menu function the pilot is trying to access. Menus never go more than a page or two deep, ensuring that even those who are new to the Entegra system won’t get lost in a labyrinth of flight-management screens.

“We chose the Entegra cockpit over other options we looked at because we felt that Avidyne’s system was the simplest to learn and use,” Jones said. “So far, the reaction we’ve received from the pilot community has been extremely positive.”

The multifunction display in the center of the panel can show engine parameters for the Meridian’s 500-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A or be switched to a full-screen moving map showing GPS flight plan, topographic terrain, obstacles, major roads and rivers, and special-use airspace, as well as lightning (through the airplane’s Stormscope), traffic (through the Skywatch or a Garmin mode-S transponder) and terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) views.

The MFD also comes standard with the first implementation of the EMax engine instrumentation system for a turbine engine. Primary engine instrument capability displays and monitors torque, interstage turbine temperature (ITT), fuel flow and total fuel on the PFD. A fuel totalizer is standard on the MFD, showing fuel flow, fuel used, fuel remaining, time remaining (endurance) and economy in nautical mile per gallon.

In addition to torque and ITT, the Entegra system also displays and monitors propeller RPM, gas generator speed, oil temperature, oil pressure, outside air temperature and electrical system performance. The system even provides data-logging capability of critical engine performance parameters, which are downloadable to a laptop computer through a data port on the MFD.

Options to the package include Avidyne’s MultiLink datalink, XM WX graphical weather and FlightCenter services, which provide flight tracking and two-way air-to-ground text messaging, and CMax Jeppesen JeppView electronic chart display. A third full-screen page on the MFD can display information from the Meridian’s standard RDR-2000 color weather radar.

Flying the Meridian

On the day of the demo, a short hop from MMU northwest to the Wilkes-Barre, Pa. area, there wasn’t much weather to speak of, save for hazy cumulus clouds struggling to build beneath an enormous high-pressure system stretching from New England through the Ohio Valley. About 20 miles east of the Meridian’s route of flight out of MMU, one solitary, spindly column of white cloud somehow managed to reach high above the Meridian’s VFR altitude of 14,500 feet and actually produce a rain shower.

On the MFD, this solitary storm appeared in smooth contours of red, yellow and green, precisely where it should, thanks to the continuously updated XM datalink feed. (The Meridian also includes an Orbcomm satellite link, but the XM does the heavy lifting when flying in the continental U.S., allowing the standby system automatically to take over outside the U.S.)

Pilot situational awareness in the Meridian is aided by the inclusion of the large MFD moving map and a pair of Garmin GNS 430s. The map on the MFD is scalable from 1 to 1,500 nm, allowing the pilot to zoom in on present position or scroll out for a tactical view of a much larger area. This is an especially useful feature when the Meridian’s optional datalink weather sensors are in operation, displaying Nexrad images of storms across the continental U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.

On the PFD, airspeed and altitude are displayed in the sliding tapes that are familiar to many business jet pilots (and are becoming more common in general aviation airplanes as the Entegra and G1000 systems begin to flood the market). The PFD also includes a large vertical speed indicator to the far right, flight director cue, wind velocity pointer and a thumbnail view of engine instruments. The HSI on the lower portion of the PFD can be switched from compass rose to arc mode and can be overlaid with the flight plan as entered in the GNS 430.

Long List of Options

The Meridian’s Entegra system includes dual integrated solid-state air-data and attitude/heading reference systems (ADAHRS), which replace the original Meggitt air-data equipment. Each EXP5000 MFD is integrated with its own independent ADAHRS, although either ADAHRS may be selected for display in reversionary operations. Cross-comparators for the PFDs constantly monitor both displays and ADAHRS and provide visual alerting in the event of any discrepancy.

As noted earlier, each PFD is driven by its own independent ADAHRS, although a single ADAHRS may drive both displays for failover operation. A “pilot priority” switch also allows the pilot to prevent input from the copilot’s PFD when a nonpilot occupies the right seat. The PFDs in the Meridian can present both standard flight instrumentation and pilot-selectable moving-map flight plan data and an RMI pointer in the primary field of view.

Meridian buyers should be fairly pleased with the equipment Piper has included as standard on the airplane, but optional avionics can still add more than $100,000 to the base price. In addition to the standard Entegra avionics system, the Meridian also comes from the factory at no added charge with dual Garmin GNS 430 GPS/navcoms, Garmin’s TIS-capable GTX 330 transponder, Meggitt/S-Tec Magic 1500 autopilot and RDR-2000 weather radar. After that, pilots can select additional avionics from the options list.

At the top of the list is the $59,015 enhanced situational package, a selection of avionics that includes the Honeywell IHAS 8000 integrated hazard awareness system (including KGP 560 enhanced ground proximity warning system), WX-500 Stormscope and Skywatch traffic sensor. Other options include the $7,255 Avidyne Multilink System (providing the XM and Orbcomm weather links); C-Max electronic approach charts (for an extra $2,875); KRA 10A radar altimeter ($10,705); as well as ADF, DME and a second transponder.

Piper also offers the Entegra integrated avionics system on new airplanes spanning the Warrior III, Archer III, Arrow III, Saratoga HP, TC, 6X, and 6XT piston models. For owners of Meggitt Magic-equipped Meridians wondering whether a retrofit version of Entegra will soon be available, Piper had disappointing news. No such plans are in the works, Jones said.