SWEET SPOT
Flying|September 2021
Fly: Piper M600/SLS Halo A well-coupled turboprop wrapped in the latest safety enhancements
Julie Boatman

Two larger-than-life Flying covers grace the factory walls at the Piper Aircraft manufacturing facility in Vero Beach, Florida. The first, from March 2008, shows off the newly launched Piper Matrix, a nonpressurized version of the original PA-46 series made a little bit easier to manage by its relative lack of complexity, bringing a big-cabin feel to a single-engine piston airplane aimed precisely at the owner-pilot. The second, from March 2011, features a Piper Mirage looking as though it would power its way straight off the wall and through the hangar doors on the far end of the production line. The turboprop version of the Malibu, the Mirage went the other direction from the Matrix, bestowing its bigger performance numbers upon those pilots ready to step up.

Ten years later, the newest evolution of the PA-46 series— Piper’s M600/ SLS Halo—proposes to do both, delivering an envelope of protection readily managed by transitioning pilots while at the same time upping the ante in speed and payload. When the M600 update to the M500 first arrived on the scene in 2016, those dream numbers—the result of 100 more horsepower up front from a flat-rated PT6A-42A engine— really came true.

This year, with the Flying Innovation Award-winning Autoland from Garmin giving the M600 its Halo, Piper’s quest for an ever-higher level of GA safety got a serious boost. The folks at Garmin will tell you Autoland couldn’t have come to fruition without Piper, and the feeling is mutual. “The M600 SLS and its Halo Safety System with Autoland is the result of an unwavering commitment to safety as well as the desire to evolve our products based on market input,” said Piper president and CEO John Calcagno. “This standard feature brings peace of mind to pilots and their families.”

Chasing the Grail

When Flying first flew the initial M600 in market-survey mode five years ago—just hours before the FAA sign off on the type—we had a sense the PA-46 series had found its sweetspot, and the type has achieved great success. For the photo shoot for this article, we captured serial No. 173 in flight over the Atlantic Ocean, and I flew my demo flight in serial No. 163, currently in experimental mode, to test out several new goodies on board. Piper delivered 36 of the PA-46-600TP M600/SLS aircraft in 2020 and six in the first quarter of this year, to make a reported total of 161 out the door since its debut—with clearly more in the immediate pipeline.

Handling characteristics and performance make it comparable in some ways to half a Beechcraft King Air 200, according to pilots we talked with for this report. When Piper moved from the M500 to the M600, the extra 100 shp coaxed from the Pratt & Whitney PT6- series engines made all the difference in the world. In this case, they are the same 42s you find on King Air 200s from the early 2000s, but on the King Airs, they’re rated at 850 shp per side, while the M600 offers 600 shp. In the air, the M600’s wing makes it respond like the larger airplane, and the climb rate as high as 3,000 fpm stacks up well against the turboprop twin as well. Add in a range while carrying five passengers with light bags (a total of 1,000 pounds) of up to 800 nm—and the fact that it sips half the gas—this makes the M600/ SLS a compelling choice for owners who fit that use case.

A Protective Halo

The Halo-equipped M600/SLS debuted with Garmin’s Autoland as the premier feature in the model’s standard lineup beginning in 2020. But the well-rounded roster of capabilities that Autoland and its accompanying avionics, known collectively as Autonomi, pack onto the turboprop make it just part of an overall “safety system,” as Piper calls it.

To recap, in case you aren’t familiar with Autoland: The orchestrated suite of software and hardware directs the airplane to the nearest suitable airport in the event of pilot incapacitation. It does so by controlling the aircraft’s navigation, descent, weather and terrain avoidance, gear extension, flight-into-known-icing activation, flaps, braking, and all communication with ATC. While it’s designed for passengers to initiate with a guarded button on the panel, the pilot can start the sequence via that same button, or the airplane can initiate Autoland itself if the pilot is unresponsive in certain cases.

Hypoxia recognition incorporated into the emergency descent mode takes it one step further, monitoring the pilot any time they engage the autopilot above 14,000 feet msl. If the pilot is unresponsive to the system’s prompts, EDM will bring the airplane below 14,000 feet. After that descent, the system will initiate the Autoland sequence if no further response comes from the pilot after a set period of time.

Halo also includes Garmin’s electronic stability and protection, synthetic vision, SafeTaxi, TerminalTraffic (which syncs with ADS- B-equipped aircraft and ground vehicles), SurfaceWatch ( directing you to the runway before takeoff and to the ramp after landing), Flight Stream 510 to create a Bluetooth connection between the aircraft and your mobile device, and an autothrottle system.

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