Ready for departure: Piper Malibu N9127Z in Sarasota (FL) before crossing the north Atlantic on its way to Switzerland
Read the full story, why I bought this Malibu
History, Piper Malibu PA46-310P, N9127Z
At a stopover In Reykjavik, Iceland, he needed a refill, and somehow instead of oxygen, he got nitrogen in his tank on his way to Goose Bay, Canada. So, at altitude, he put on the mask, and shortly thereafter, he fainted mid-flight. The copilot still without his mask realized that there is something wrong, descended, and saved my friend's life. Since then, he loves to fly the pressurized Malibu and has made me think again.
Winter 2013 was a nice time to sail a boat in the Bahamas. St. Petersburg, Florida is not too far away, and there was a PA-46-310P Malibu to sell. So I decided to at least have a look. The salesperson and owner of the FBO, a former airline captain, was nice, helpful, and explained a lot. But I was not thinking of buying at all because this was the first Malibu I had ever looked at with buyer's eyes. At this time, I knew for sure that one should buy a 310P Malibu instead of a 350P Mirage. Better range, better payload, better engine, less fuelin a Malibu 310P, you have all the best of the Malibus. And both have the same airframe as the Mirage. Back on my vacation in the Bahamas, I tried to find other Malibus to buy and to compare whenever I could get Internet access. But no joy. Only three were on the market, all of which were in bad condition, worn-out at first look, or engine too close to TBO.
Also, back in Switzerland, where I live, there are no Malibus at all. So I called St. Petersburg, FL again. I also asked my Mooney/Malibu friend, who lives in the area, if he could have a look with a non-buyer's eye and give me some advice. I know you should do a pre-sale inspection for this class of aircraft, but whom can you trust? Who would give you an unbiased opinion? Now, I know Savvy Aviator (see links below). But at this time, I depended on my friend and the former airline captain in St. Petersburg, FL. The Malibu I considered also had a great advantage - the engine was still new, factory-overhauled with some 70 hours of flight time on it. This could compensate for the higher price because everything was new in front of the firewall.
So we came to a deal - A fresh, thorough annual and a slight reduction in price. This was clearly a mistake because you should never trust a salesperson, captain or not.
It took more than two months to settle everything and get the registration papers from the FAA. My last days there, I used the time to do some initial training on the Malibu at Legacy in Vero Beach, FL. They helped me a lot, and the SIM training was professional. Then, the day came to pick up the aircraft and do some actual flying with David, the Legacy Flight Training instructor. He checked the aircraft and realized that a lot of things did not work as they were supposed to. I asked him, "Why not? Did this aircraft not have the thorough annual I paid for?" So, for the next few days, we were busy in flight training and checking things that did not work. Each evening, we returned the aircraft to the FBO to get the following things fixed: non-functional HSI, attitude indicator, radar altimeter, landing light, strobe light, storm scope, and fuel flow; water running out of a bottom antenna (yes, you read right); warning lights for oxygen, and so on. Yes, they sold me a lemon.
After we fixed everything not working and finished the flight training, I was on my own and checked out some airports in Florida to build my confidence on this aircraft. My last stop was in Sarasota to pick up my friend to start the next day on our first leg to Bedford/Boston.
This happened to be an uneventful 6-hour flight. In Bedford, we got a rental car to drive to the Boston Harbor side and find a nice restaurant to get a huge lobster. Well, this could have been our last lobster, but we did not know yet.
The next day, after refueling and preflight inspection, we headed to Goose Bay, Canada. Everything seemed right. We were cruising at Flight Level 210 with clear skies, underneath broken clouds with outside temperatures below -30". We soon heard a loud bang and thereafter silence. Our one and only engine had stopped running.
This definitely got our full attention.
We tried to restart the engine, but no joy. So we declared emergency and asked for vectors to the next airfield. This was Bangor (KBGR), some 20 miles away. A piece of cake for a Malibu with 90 knots best glide speed. So we glided into the clouds and at 5,000 feet, we were free of clouds and could see the airport directly below us. Everything was fine, except the engine. But just shortly before touching down on the runway, the engine changed its mind and restarted. What a surprise! So we taxied over to the fire workers waiting and thanked them for taking care of us.
Now, we had time to think and check. We restarted the engine, made a run up, and got an A&P Mechanic to look at the engine. Then we flow some traffic patterns close to the airfield. Everything was fine. Later on, we got the answer - we had a sort of vapor lock. That is when the outside air temperature is too low and the fuel cannot easily pass the fuel lines. For our specific Malibu, that number is -31"C/-24"F, as we had to experience. But this number is not mentioned anywhere and also varies, depending on the type of aircraft. It's even different for the same type of aircraft if the fuel lines get replaced. So we had lobster again in Bangor City.
The next day, we added isopropyl alcohol to the fuel and flew at the same altitude in the same cold temperature toward Goose Bay, Canada. No problems.
Narsarsuaq - Greenland, half way from Florida to Europe
In Bergen/Norway, our luck left as it did before, and we hit an object while taxiing with a follow me car in front of us. So we needed a new propeller!
If there were no TCM service bulletin SB96-11B, we could go on forever with this new propeller. But the service bulletin states clearly that you have to do a shock-loading inspection on the engine. They do not differ if the propeller is a wooden one or if the engine did not stop at all.
So, with the new propeller, we flew for a while and thought it was better to play it safe and take the engine out of for a shock-loading inspection. This was done by Ghönert in Germany, a fine shop with qualified people and a short turnover time. Of course, they did not find any damages on the engine from the propeller strike. But they found a damaged fuel line, loose nozzles, and a less-than-perfectly sitting rocker arm. These damages should not be found on a factory-overhauled engine.
While the engine was at the repair station, the Malibu specialist, Rieger, in Straubing, Germany had a closer look at the aircraft itself. They found a loose bold for the wing, overdue oxygen generators, parts that needed to be replaced 12 years ago, a not certified fire extinguisher from the hardware shop next door, and three more pages of squawks.
What about the avionic? Same story. All servos for the autopilot were worn out - that is why we never could fly an autopilot approach - with loose and squeezed wires, disconnected antenna cables, broken inverters, broken antennas, and again, three more pages of squawks. Do not spoil my day and ask me for the bill.
Now, however, the aircraft is really getting in shape. The engine and fuselage are in very good technical condition. Indeed, the only thing that has not been looked at is the landing gear, because it seems to be working just fine. We also used the time for some new installations.
With all of the qualified German labor that has been done, this aircraft now flies like a new one. We enjoy the deicing boots, the higher speed than that of our Mooney, and the spacious, pressurized, quiet cabin, which offers plenty of comfort. We do not need oxygen, and everybody says the engine is really running smoothly. Longer distances and higher altitudes are not as tiring as in the Mooney.
After flying for two and a half years (over 500 hours cross Europe), in autumn 2016 we encountered a problem that neither the previous owner nor the airline captain had mentioned. While on approach, the gear did not want to come out because a wrong ajusted hydraulic valve got stuck. The cause of this problem was unprofessional or missing maintenance by one of the previous owners. After having tried everything, we decided to make a very soft gear-up landing. Due to this landing, the belly of the fuselage was scratched and two propeller blades where damaged.
Two days later, I got a propeller replacement, and I flew the aircraft to the certified Piper maintenance company Rieger Pilotenservice in Straubing (EDMS). All damaged parts have been replaced by original new ones direct from Piper. In addition, the hydraulic system did finally get the attention it deserves and was completely overhauled. To be sure that everything is fine, I also decided for a full shock loading inspection at Norvic in the UK.
After all this maintenance I expect to fly this aircraft without any trouble for the next years.
Links, mentioned in this article:
http://www.piper-malibu.de/page3.php Comparsion Malibu 310 and Malibu Mirage 350
https://www.savvyaviation.com/ for Prebuy Inspections
http://www.legacyflighttraining.com Malibu Pilot Training
http://www.pilotenservice-rieger.de the certified Piper workshop, specially for Malibu's
http://www.norvic.com for engine overhaul, 46 years in business
http://ghoenert.com/ for engine overhaul
http://www.avionik.de/ for Avionik maintenance