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Aircraft Review : Piper PA-46 Malibu Mirage HD Series by Carenado

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Aircraft Review : Piper PA-46 Malibu Mirage HD Series by Carenado


Route : EDDL (Düsseldorf) to EGKB (Biggin Hil)


I sum up General Aviation aircraft usually into three categories. First is the golden age of American GA Aircraft in the 50's and 60's. Then the modern aircraft of the 70's, 80's and 90's, and finally the composite aircraft that have been produced in the new millennium of the 2000's and to date here in 2014.


In that context the Piper PA-46 Malibu is a modern aircraft as it first flew in 1982. But the Malibu story is really a story of two aircraft and not one design. The original version the PA-46-310P is the 1982 version that first flew in 1984. It was a clean sheet design for Piper Aircraft and after three years of development, the Malibu became the flagship of the Piper fleet. And in a small way the aircraft revolutionized personal aviation, as the the PA-46 offered many creature comforts and many of the capabilities that are usually found in small business jets, but at a small fraction of the cost.




For all its ambitions the first version of the Malibu PA-46 suffered a sudden string of seven fatal accidents, and the airplane became the unhappy target of an intensive investigation by the FAA and NTSB. The thought was that the airplane was somehow flawed and was breaking up in flight due to its advanced design problems. An airworthiness directive (AD) was issued by the FAA on March 1991 and it prohibited Malibu pilots from flying the Piper in instrument conditions, and most importantly it prohibited the use of the autopilot, also noted was the control wheel steering button and vertical trim control to change altitude. (The autopilot could still be used for level flight under the AD). Also the altitude preselect and vertical speed select was also targeted if it was installed, and if so they had to be physically removed from the aircraft. Finally, the AD stated that pitot heat and alternate induction air had to be used in all phases of flight except takeoff and landing. Then the FAA ordered a special certification review (SCR) of the PA-46. This SCR was perhaps the most comprehensive of any undertaken and required the most of a year to complete. The conclusion was that the airframe and the autopilots were in full compliance. As a result of the review, 60 recommendations by the FAA were put forward, many or mostly related to the autopilot. The main explanation of the review however was that the problem turned out to be pilot training. The study indicated that many pilots moving into a Mirage often do not have sufficient respect for the complexity of this type of high-performance aircraft nor the harsh environment of the flight levels. The whole mess caused Piper to file in July 1991 a voluntary petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. During the worst of this reorganization period, the company delivered just 41 airplanes.


During this dark period in 1988 Piper introduced the Malibu-Mirage with a Textron TIO-540-AE2A 350-hp Lycoming engine, and a new wing. In reality the choice between the original PA-46 and the Mirage is the choice in engines and it was not due to the ongoing investigation.


Once the aircraft was recertified by the FAA. The PA-46 became an extremely successful aircraft with its turboprop cousins the Meridian and the Matrix - and the series is still in production today at 1050 deliveries (in 2004).


Performance : Maximum speed: 234 kn (269 mph; 433 km/h), Cruise speed: 196 kn (226 mph; 363 km/h) at 55% power, Stall speed: 58 kn (67 mph; 107 km/h), Range: 1,555 nmi (1,789 mi; 2,880 km), Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,600 m), Rate of climb: 1,143 ft/min (5.81 m/s)


Carenado's PA-46 Malibu Mirage

The Malibu Mirage HD Series is the latest release in X-Plane from this outstanding developer of clever General Aviation aircraft. As always from Carenado the Malibu Mirage is an excellent quality aircraft. For me it was a perfect aircraft choice to fly from Dusseldorf (EDDL) to Biggin Hill in the South-East of the United Kingdom. At first you would think that to fly from Germany to the UK would be an extremely long flight. But in reality it is only 263.30nm in distance and the flight is easily completed in a few hours.




Departure is by Düsseldorf's RWY 05R, and takeoff is using full throttle and 2,500 RPM to gather the best acceleration, watch out for the pull of the single engined propeller thrust which here is quite pronounced, and you will rotate at around 80 knots. Gear up, then climb at 120 knots, and at 1,000 feet AGL reduce throttle and switch off the fuel pump. This configuration will give you about 1000 feet per minute. Direction to Biggin Hill is easy, it is directly west at 270º.




Panel and Interior

As with all Carenado's, the Malibu's panel is simply first rate. Highly detailed and finished with quality, it is quite crowded with instruments and dials. It is highly functional as well, as everything can be tuned or adjusted. Panel lighting is excellent with the tiny glow lights giving off the same reflections as the Cessna Caravan. First you will notice the lovely chunky Yokes, yes they can be hidden as well...  which is a good thing because they cover some some lower placed dials.


A look over your shoulder will present a very highly crafted cabin, with high quality materials and the same comfort that you would usually find in a small executive jet.




It is all very luxurious, with a pull out table and excellent blinds that pull down over the rectangle sized windows. The lighting, set high and to each side is all separately switchable. At the very rear is a small baggage area, but there is no bag that is usually sitting back here this time from Carenado.




The slit like windows makes the cabin feel more spacious than normal, but it is an optical illusion as the size is 49.5 in. wide and 47 in. tall, with 38 in. and 37 in. of headroom in the front and rear seats. The glass reflections are first rate, very realistic. On the whole the cabin is a very nice place to be. The high front window shades drop down only and don't cover the side windows.




I climbed to 9,500 feet, The aircraft is pressurized and that can mean it can fly as high as 25,000ft. And that makes the Malibu Mirage very versatile for longer distances.


You are not short of instruments and information of the aircraft systems. There are more dials than you can absorb on the condition of the aircraft. On the pilots side you have the standard six instruments, but the Artificial Horizon and the Heading instruments are grouped together as one above the other  in a black panel. Two items (lower right, down) which is a gauge and a dial are related to the pressurization of the cabin, two other instruments left of the standard six, and going down are the Acceleration dial or G-Force dial and the VOR-OBS (VOR 2), clock and the ADF/NDB locator needle.


The left/center on the panel  is dominated by a set of ten dials in rows of two, these cover items of MAP, RPM, TIT (True Engine Temperature or sometimes Turbine Engine Temperature), FF (Fuel Flow in Gallons Per Hour), OT (Oil Temperature), OP (Oil Pressure), CHT (Cylinder Head Temperature), VAC (Vacuum Gauge), and the very lower two show the Fuel in the left and right tanks.


Above these combinations of gauges is the EMIS or "TRANSICOIL ELECTRONIC MODULE INSTRUMENT SYSTEM", which is a precision measurement and display system containing both analog and digital displays of engine related parameters. The EMIS is comprised of two parts: -- Dual Analog Module Indicators, and the Enhanced Digital Indicator (EDI) display. And you can switch through 5 modes. It shows mostly the same as the analog gauges set below the EMIS, but in a digital form.


The radio stack is split into two complete radio stacks with each set out at the top with a set of warning lights (left) and early (green) LED selection buttons (right) for the various cabin and de-icing functions. Early Malibu's had a mostly Bendix/king layout, but here in this aircraft it is the later GARMIN version. Top of the right stack is the standard COMM radio, Then a S-TEC 55x Autopilot system (which we will come back to in a moment) then two Garmin GNS430's (top is VOR 1, lower is VOR 2), On the left stack is at the top a modern Garmin GTX 327 transponder - then below an older Garmin GTX320 transponder?, then a Bendix/king KR 8T T50 ADF radio and finally a large Bendix/King weather radar  (later Mirages are fitted with a WX-1000 Stormscope™) that shows just the X-Plane default weather pattern. The Norton radar pod for the system sits on the right wing and is built just for the Malibu, it uses a 10 inch (10") radar antenna.




The S-TEC 55x Autopilot system (now Cobham Commercial Systems) is in three units, and it is also known as the  one is the main centre unit that has all the functions - HDG, NAV, APR, REV, ALT and VS. The VS (Vertical Speed) is adusted by the knob in 1, 2, 3 increments meaning 100ft, 200ft, 300ft...  and so on. There is a smaller readout display to show the mode up to your right. Just right of the readout display is the Altitude Selector, and you can select here the same button functions. There is no secondary ALT target to press, you just adjust the altitude and then the VS and when the aircraft arrives at the correct selected height it will just level off at that position...  very easy. This system is known as the Altitude and Vertical Speed Selector (AVSS). I found that adjusting the heading bug it was out by about 5º, but in later flights it corrected itself?


You turn the Autopilot system on or off via the rocker switch above the Artificial Horizon, A three way mode that gives you - OFF, FD (Flight Director) and finally both FD and AP.


The co-pilot has just the Standard Six instruments. And lower - central of the panel is an excellent pedestal with a single throttle lever, propeller pitch, mixture and the vertical (Elev) and horizontal (Nose) trim wheels.



Detailing of the left and right side panels is excellent and mostly fitted out with banks of fuses, Above your head is a row of switches, electrics on the left and lighting on the right. And also by these switches are two front overhead cockpit spot-lights with blue globes, they can switched (or dimmed) directly on the lights or by the knobs either side of the overhead switch panel.






From most points of view you realise the shape of the fuselage is different, from a distance the long thin single engined machine looks the same with the usual Piper nose. But this rear cross-section shape however is more common today in it being rounded and bulbous like on a small jet airframe and then viewed from the correct angles. So you can certainly see the modern forward step that was taken in this design in the 80's. And how smooth it it really is. This also highlights the excellent reflections in not only the fuselage but also in the very well created glass. Carenado do certainly do this sort of quality of depth very well.



You receive one (default) white livery and five others, four American and one Brazilian. A few European liveries would have been nice though? Quality is again very high in this High-Definition (HD) Series, the colour and depth is first rate and the frame-rate is very good considering the depth of the high-def textures.











Internally at night the Malibu is a nice place to be. There are those lovely spot lights along high along the cabin and all separately switchable. Those twin blue cockpit lights throw a wonderful glow over the front seats, that is compounded by the excellent panel lighting. Yes it is all very nice, but it comes at a cost. HDR off and the frame-rate is fine. HDR "on" and your frame-rate goes almost to zero if you have a low VRAM count like me (512mb), as the aircraft doesn't move below 630mb in VRAM, and so the HDR destroys it. With 1gb of VRAM you can get 22fr with the HDR on, which is out of your dangerzone, but just. Overall I had no issuses with great frame-rate flying the Malibu (41fr usually) but HDR on, 3fr was the average.





From the external view the cabin looks sublime with the blue and standard lighting mixing together. The other external lighting is also very good with beacons (two way switchable in beacon and anti-collision), Strobe (the new brighter flashing design), Nav and one taxi light on the front landing gear strut with two landing lights on the far out reaches of the wings.


Flying the Malibu-Mirage

You will hit a true airspeed in the Mirage of just over 200 knots, and burn 20 gph (Gallons Per Hour) in any of the flight levels at an engine speed of 2,500 RPM.  800nm is the max range at these settings and the PA-46 handles well above and below 18,000 feet mark. the handling and control is surprisingly good all the way up to FL250.

You won't let the TIT exceed 1650 nor the CHT 400 in any condition, and to avoid a fuel imbalance of more than 10 gallons per side, a switch between left and right tanks will be necessary during the climb. If you want to extend the range, go to 2,400 RPM, and the fuel burn will then be around 18 gph.


One downside of the long, high-aspect-ratio wings is a low maneuvering speed. In a normal descent, staying at or below Va is nearly impossible.  In descent at say starting at 20,000 feet, you would adjust the VS 120 miles from the destination using a leisurely 500 fpm rate and then reduce the power at a lower altitude.  The high aspect-ratio wings span 43 feet, making for a good high-altitude ride, but also making the plane a little bumpy in turbulence. Yaw dampers are certainly a must. Each wing contains 60 useable gallons - Note the very efficient De-Icing boots along the forward edge of the wing. On the real aircraft it uses the Smartboot™ system by BF Goodrich, which detects and measures ice buildup,and  indicates when to activate the de-ice system, and verifies that ice has been removed.




The landing gear is certainly an effective speedbrake, and be lowered at around 170 knots. Once down, the gear can be left out to nearly the top of the yellow arc (Vne). The PA-46 can dive with the best of them if necessary with your gear down and the flaps up. But lowering the gear at altitude is not advisable unless you need to get down to the ground quickly. The first notch of flaps (three stage) can be lowered at the same time as the gear for more stately descents.




As detailing goes then look at the underside of the aircraft with the wheels locked down. Carenado's design work on the undercarriage and inside of the gear bays is simply first rate. It is beautifully constructed landing gear.




Landing at EGKB is on RWY21 is conventional with no surprises. You intercept the localizer with 2,500 RPM at 120 KIAS. Gear down and first notch of flaps at your glideslope intercept will that give you a 300 fpm descent at 100 KIAS, right down the beam. Full flaps and 80 knots over the numbers set will set you up for a good landing. Stall speed is very impressive at only 59 knots.




I found the ILS not very consistent. I selected the heading bug directly in position, but when I pressed the APP, it then went slightly to the left (The ILS alignment is correct, I checked), several approaches gave me different positions on the beam, mostly all to the left.The main undercarriage track is quite wide, so you have to make sure the aircraft is very level before putting the wheels down, if not you can bounce on one wheel then bounce over to the other one. Once you are on the tarmac the speed drops away very nicely to a good taxi speed.




The taxi is uphill from the end of runway at Biggin Hill, time to let in some fresh air. Sounds are very good and are 380º in a doppler effect, some nice throaty sounds are used on approach, but like many aircraft the cruise is slightly monotonous.






On the ramp after shut down of the engine you can have use of the (O) Options menu (Left-side of your screen), here you can select - Window Reflections, Static Elements, Passenger Door (rear), Instrument Reflections, Baggage Door (front). All are excellent extras, but still no bag in the baggage compartment... Which the forward baggage space just behind the engine is of limited use due to CG limitations anyway (100 lb max).




The other menu is the standard © Carenado Camera or views options.



So where do you place the Piper PA-46 Malibu Mirage in your hangar?  Even though it is thought as a propeller competitor to a small plush jet. It isn't because it is far too slow for that, but luxury it does have. It doesn't compete with the Caravan either because this aircraft isn't a workhorse like the Cessna, but it will fly very high (in smooth weather) and the range is okay for a longish sub-1000nm journey, but at that speed it will take a fair while for you to get there...  and yet the Malibu is a very nice cruiser and great for going point to point in sheer comfort, the good news is that you can spend more time in there doing so. The equipment set up is very modern and the autopilot is very good and simple, yet I miss a VOR2 range display that takes out the boredom of a long flight.


Being a Carenado. Then quality is always a given, and again the Malibu does not disappoint. It is beautifully created and comprehensive in detail. Certainly you are going to need 1gb of VRAM to get the very best out of the aircraft as it never dropped under 630mb in use, but that seems the current trend anyway in computer hardware nowadays. I had no real problems with 512mb, but there you do have accept there are limitations with scenery and the HDR because of that 630mb load.


It is a lovely aircraft to look at, smooth and regal even with that pressure vessel shape. And the the tail juts upwards to 11.3 ft. This plane sits very impressively on the tarmac. You can just picture yourself standing by the wing to have a photo done for the office wall, all proud and contented.


Good value...  Yes certainly, it is very good and you will find many uses for the Malibu-Mirage, It is a great aircraft and a great purchase.


The PA46 Malibu Mirage 350P is now available from the X-Plane.Org Store.


Price is currently US$29.95 : PA46 Malibu Mirage 350P HD SERIES


Documents and Install, Download is 238.10mb, that is unzipped to your General Aviation Folder of 310.70mb.




Developer Site: Carenado


Review By Stephen Dutton

15th March 2014


Technical Requirements:

Windows XP - Vista - 7 (32 or 64 bits) or MAC OS 10.6 (or higher) or Linux

X-Plane10.21 (or higher)

2.5 GHz processor - 4GB RAM - 1GB VRAM - 300MB available hard disk space

Version: 1.1 (Last updated March 12th 2014)


Review System Specifications:

Computer System:     

- 2.66 Ghz Intel Core i5 iMac 27”

- 6 Gb 1067 Mhz DDR3

- ATI Radeon HD 4850 512mb


- Mac OS Mavericks 10.9.2

- X-Plane 10 Global ver 10.22 (final)


- Saitek x52 Pro system Joystick and Throttle


- EDDL - Düsseldorf by Aerosoft - X-Plane.OrgStore US$27.53 (Airport Düsseldorf)

- EGKB - Biggin Hill by Chars  - free (EGKB - Biggin Hill (XP10))



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Yes I think you are correct Christophe...  I know that the Malibu does have extra range tanks, But one?  It did seem odd at the time in that in that there just being one fuel tank sitting on one wing which would unbalance the aircraft, correct  but I couldn't find what you have. I'll change that.  SD

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Yes, Dan Klaue noted that late last year, it is getting harder to make the different features exclusively for both platforms. There has to be a cut off point sometime and the Malibu may be it. Carenado also want to move over more products to X-Plane this year and the time required to just fill now a small market is also slowing down the process.

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  • 7 months later...
Guest Charles Roesch

I would disagree that the avionics are "very modern".  Tthey are antiquated.  Realistic, but 15 years old.  Another Carenado masterpiece, which it is, of obsolete avionics.  How about something modern from Carenado?  I'm sure all Mirage/Malibu airframes coming off the assembly line today have glass panels with color topographical GPS moving maps (Garmin 1000).

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