Nowadays the sight of a PA-46 is not so unusual anymore, but when it was developed in the late 1970s there were few aircraft with this appearance, even though it is quite conventional. However, cabin class single engine aircraft were not around yet. The PA-46 is positioned between the single PA-32 and twin PA-31. It has in most cases a pressurised cabin, hence the cabin windows are like those on the Cheyenne, rectangular in portrait mode, with rounded corners. In the nose is a horizontally opposed piston or turboprop engine, driving a propeller with two to five blades. To allow sufficient ground clearance, the landing gear is relatively long. The cabin can be accessed via an airstair door that opens in two parts, up and down. For the rest there are no specific characteristics.
The different versions of the PA-46 family can be recognised by:
- the presence of cabin windows
- the shape of the dorsal fin
- the shape of the engine cowling
- the number of propeller blades
- the shape of the wing leading edge near the root
- the location of the weather radar
At first Piper developed a sort of proof-of-cocnept aircraft, dubbed PA-46-300T. It was a non-pressurised experimental aircraft without cabin windows, and with upward opening cockpit doors. The PA-46-300T had a three blade propeller. Furthermore, testing was done with a large dorsal fin, from the middle of the vertical fin leading edge down to the fuselage.
The first PA-46 model was pressurised and powered by a 310hp Continental engine, hence the designation PA-46-310P. This engine has two exhausts at either side of the nose gear. These exhaust have straight, triangular fairings. A two blade propeller is standard. The PA-46-310P has three cabin windows on both sides.
PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage/M350 & PA-46R-350T Matrix
As the Continental engine of the original Malibu proved troublesome, Piper developed a new version with a 350hp Lycoming engine. This engine has different exhausts, leading to more curved exhaust tunnels than on the PA-46-310P. Then engine powers a two blade or three blade propeller, but conversions with more blades are possible. For the rest the PA-46-350P is the same as the PA-46-310P, including the optional weather radar. With the introduction of the M-class for marketing purposes, the new name for the PA-46-350P became M350.
Another version that is externally the same is the PA-46R-350T Matrix. This is basically a non-pressurised version of the PA-46. However, this is not visible from the outside.
PA-46-500TP Malibu Meridian & M500
From the PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage the Malibu Meridian was developed by replacing the piston engine by a turboprop engine. It has two air intakes, left and right below the propeller spinner, and two exhausts on both sides of the nose, aft of the prop. For better handing during slow speeds, the wings have triangular leading edge root extensions, also called wing gloves. These are clearly visible on the top photo. Finally, the weather radar is still placed under the right wing.
In 2015 Piper introduced a new model name for the Malibu series, the M-class. The M500 is essentially the same as the Malibu Meridian, save for some avionics and interior upgrades.
The M600 is an improved version of the Meridian with a more powerful engine. At first a four blade propeller was standard, but this has since become a five blade prop. Compared to the previous models the wing gloves (triangular leading edge root extensions) are gone. Instead the wings with straight leading edges have a wider chord. The wings also have small winglets (more slightly bend-up wingtips) and the weather radar is now mounted in the right wing’s leading edge instead of underneath the wing.
The wings of the M600 have slightly bent-up tips. Moreover, the weather radar is located in the leading edge of the right wing. Not clearly visible is the wing root, another feature of the PA-46-600TP.
JetPROP DL & JetPROP DLX
The JetPROP DL and DLX are turboprop conversions of the piston PA-46-310P Malibu and PA-46-350P Mirage. You can distinguish them from the Meridian and M600 by the engine cowling, especially the single air intake directly under the propeller spinner. Also, the nose of the conversions is longer than on the factory new turboprop variants. Another difference between the PA-46-500TP and the Jetprop conversion are the wing gloves, as the conversions don't have them. This difference does not apply to the M600 though. The JetPROP DL and DLX differ only by engine subtype and power.
Other PA-46 turboprop conversions
Piper converted one PA-46 Malibu with a PT6A engine with a large single exhaust on the right side, but did not go beyond a flying prototype.
One Malibu was temporarily fitted with an Allison turboprop, which was removed after performance appeared to be too low.
Confusion possible with
This Russian single engine turboprop is more similar in appearance to the TBM series than the Piper. Even the cockpit side window looks much like that of the TBM. Look at the engine cowling, three cabin windows and small nose gear doors to recognise the M-101T.
The PA-46 can be distinguished from the Ae270 mainly by the six cockpit windows, the smaller, rectangular cabin windows (in portrait mode, so higher than wide), but also by the air intake(s).
This single turboprop can be distinguished from the PA-46 mainly by the typical cockpit side windows, the smaller, rectangular cabin windows (higher than wide), but also by the single air intake under the prop spinner.
This single engine turboprop has winglets, two large exhausts under the nose and a higher placed stabilo. That should be enough to avoid a mix-up with the Piper.
The Epic LT has two very characteristic curved cockpit windows and (nearly) round cabin windows. Also notice the nicely curved leading edge of the vertical stabiliser.
The Farnborough F1 (a.k.a. Kestrel JP10 and One Aviation K-350) is very similar to the Epic LT. Both have two very characteristic curved cockpit windows and (nearly) round cabin windows.
When you put a single turboprop in the nose of a Cessna 402 you immediately get a PA-46 look-al-like. However, the tip tanks, cockpit and cabin windows and tail are still clearly original to the Cessna, and as such key features for recognition. (photo Kevin Cleynhens)