A review of the best of used turboprops recapitulates my day at work with striking fidelity. That´s to say that when I should be working, I´m surfing the internet looking at used turboprops for sale, then checking their prices and performance in the Aircraft Bluebook – Price Digest, and finally, when I´ve spotted one I´d love to have, I look up its recent flight history on flightaware.com. Does that thing really go as fast and as far as they say it does? Is that asking price anywhere near average retail?
This obsession with turboprops is not new and my affection for them is not evanescent. Since my wife and I bought a Cheyenne I in 2000, I´ve become an ardent proponent for just the reasons cited in the accompanying piece. You´ll note that Mac has referred to our airplane as a “value” airplane with a cloudy resale future and a modest cruise speed. I´ve also heard it called a “K-Mart King Air.” But for my money ($ 600,000 seven years ago), it is a very good deal and most likely the pinnacle of my 36 years of airplane ownership.
Here´s what I learned in over a thousand hours of ownership and hundreds of fun flights.
First, those PT-6s are very reliable. When compared to a piston twin, where operators become accustomed to an occasional shudder, like a dog shaking to dry off, when one engine falls out of synch with the other, turboprops do not waver. Set the power and it will go; there is never a needle flicker. Second, turboprop engines aren´t bothered by shock cooling, you can just pull the power back to idle and descend comfortably at 2,500 feet a minute. Third, reliable power breeds security and respect. I find myself tackling flights and weather that I´d shy away from in our old Cessna 340. The Cheyenne is faster at circumventing weather and I just don´t worry about those engines. They say if you can get them started, they will run forever. Fourth, reliable power means fewer trips to the shop. I usually go to Bartow, Florida, from Tampa (39 nautical miles) just for an excuse to see our mechanic, Bill Turley, and get some air in my tires.
There are some downsides. Though more efficient than a jet, our turboprop sucks 62 gallons an hour and that is at altitude. The engines are much more efficient up high, so flights into the wind are usually conducted at Flight Level 180 or higher even if there´s a gale. Lowest groundspeed ever? 124 knots heading southwest bound over Kennedy at Flight Level 260. Of course, my first airplane, a Musketeer, was lucky to do 124 knots on descent. The “TBO” on a PT-6 is 3,500 hours, but there is a “hot section” inspection at the halfway mark. One of those ran $ 38,000 last summer. An overhaul can be $ 125,000. Those engines may not need much attention, but when they do, it can be expensive.
These costly shortcomings notwithstanding, a Cheyenne like ours will deliver an honest 230 knots, carry six people and baggage and be very comfortable. I have some personal minimums that include a takeoff distance of 3,000 feet when it is hot and we´re at gross. I land with 400 pounds of fuel minimum. That´s about an hour at reduced power. Longest legs have been Oakland to Sioux Falls, a distance of 1,250 nm, and Sioux Falls to Tampa, about 1,210. Both were conducted with a tailwind and left us with 600 pounds of jet-A.
Many of the airplanes that Mac has mentioned are far more expensive to buy and operate than our airplane. I´m always amazed that we can play in the flight levels and burn jet-A for the price we do. We may be the bottom of the ladder, but heading northeast-bound at FL 250, lots of people and baggage in the back, I feel like the luckiest man alive.
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