BY J. DOUGLAS HINTON, For General Aviation News
What company would build a single-engine, cabin class, unpressurized aircraft when virtually every other airframe in its class is pressurized?
Piper Aircraft would, based on extensive interviews with customers and a “comprehensive market research study second to none,” according to Kevin Gould, president and CEO.
“We talked with thousands of people, from existing and prospective customers to dealers, suppliers and pilots,” he said. “As a result, the market niche that the Matrix fills is one that people identified as a vital, unfulfilled segment in general aviation.”
So in late 2007 the Piper Matrix was developed, certified and offered to the public with an initial 100 orders placed by excited buyers, selling out production for the next few years. So far, 139 have been delivered.
The six-seat Matrix offers a lot for these buyers: Cabin class comfort with a stowable table in a club seating arrangement; an airstair entry door; retractable gear; air conditioning standard, as well as oxygen; a full fuel range of 1,345 nautical miles at maximum operating altitude of 25,000 feet and a speed of 215 knots, or, perhaps more practically, at 12,000 feet, a cruise speed of 188 knots with a range of 831 nautical miles while carrying a payload of 800 pounds. On the flight deck, an Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit is standard equipment, including an MLB700 Datalink Receiver for WSI InFlight weather service and a SIRIUS Satellite Radio. Also included is Avidyne’s MultiLink two-way datalink service, EMax Electronic Engine Instrumentation System, and CMax Jeppesen JeppView electronic chart display. Finally, the TAS610 active traffic system and the TWX670 Tactical Weather Sensor are available as options. The Garmin G1000 system also is available as an option for $50,000.
Also available as options are flight into known ice, boots, hot props and a heated windshield for $56,400. This added to the Matrix base price of $819,000 should have you flying in all kinds of weather.
When I arrived at Vero Beach, Florida to fly the Matrix, I was met by Chief Pilot Bart Jones. After a brief tour of the facilities, which were heavily damaged in the hurricanes of 2004, Jones and I headed out to the plane.
During the walkaround inspection, he pointed out the flush riveting, the Cleveland brakes, the 120-gallon wet wing, the nose baggage compartment (100 lbs.), the three-bladed Hartzell composite propeller, the nose wheel, which swivels to a flat position upon retraction, the chesty, dual turbocharged 350-hp Lycoming TIO540E2A engine with a TBO of 2,000 hours, and the optional speed brakes, which allow pilots to make steep, high-speed descents while carrying some power to avoid thermal cooling of the engine. This is useful when operating into and just past mountainous terrain.
Entering the cabin via the airstair door, one is treated to a luxurious four-place interior in a club arrangement with some baggage space behind the rear seats (100 lbs). If only three passenger seats are needed, a refreshment center can be installed in place of one of the forward seats.
Then it was onto the cockpit for engine start. I asked Jones about training. “It’s included in the price of the airplane,” he said. “We have an arrangement with SimCom.”
With nothing of note about cranking the Lycoming or taxiing to the runway, we were ready for takeoff. With the outside air at 91°, I didn’t expect book performance even if we weren’t at the gross takeoff weight of 4,340 lbs. Transponder on, controls checked, engine runup completed, emergency fuel pump on, no flaps for this takeoff and we were rolling at full power. Rotate at 80 knots, let the speed build to 110 knots for best rate of climb and we were leaving the Earth behind at 1,200 feet per minute. Then we flattened out to a cruise climb for better visibility ahead.
Leveling at 12,000 feet, I set up max cruise settings of 32 inches of manifold pressure and 2,500 rpms. True airspeed settled on 187 knots. Reducing power to normal cruise settings of 30 inches and 2,400 rpms, we were still scooting along at 176 knots, burning 19 gallons per hour.
Then it was power back for slow flight, doing gentle turns at 80 knots. Aileron response was excellently effective. Since we were slow anyway, next came a dirty stall. The gear can be lowered at 165 knots (but must be retracted by 126 knots on takeoff) as can be 10° of flaps; 20° of flaps at 130 knots; and 36° (full flaps) at 116 knots. At approximately 65 knots the airplane experienced a mild buffet until it paid off at 58 knots, mushing straight ahead with no wing drop.
On the way back to the airport I asked Jones which aircraft were competitive to the Matrix, as well as who the company was targeting as potential customers.
“Probably the Beech G35 Bonanza and the Cessna 206 would be the closest competitors,” he said. “But it’s older technology and we think we have the better product for the money, both in terms of performance and value. As for those looking to trade up into a Matrix, we focus initially on Saratoga and Cirrus owners. Historically, they’re the ones who seem most attracted to a large cabin with airstair entry, but without a loss of performance.”
Back at Vero Beach, I set up the approach for landing with 80 knots on short final, bleeding off to 70 knots on the flare. Since I surprised myself by greasing the landing, there was no need for a second try.
The Piper Matrix is obviously not for everyone. But for those who have never had pressurization, who have a limited budget, and who can enjoy exactly what they’ve been doing, but with greater performance, comfort and safety, this niche product may just be the answer.
For more information: Piper.com.