We've booked a number of turboprop flights this year. This post, from the summer of 2017, is a good primer on what to expect, compared to a jet:
We recently sent a client and his daughter to Aspen in a French-built Daher TBM 850. He normally flies, and will continue to fly, Lears and Challengers, but he was in no hurry and wanted to try something simple and reasonably priced. We sourced a new operator that I wanted to evaluate, plus, I wanted a co-pilot onboard when flying into a mountainous area on what is normally a single-pilot airplane, so I sat in the right seat. It was…different, to say the least, from my jet-centric flying.
I have always loved the looks of the TBM, and it flew exactly as I imagined – solid, powerful and fast. We’ve all flown King Airs, with two engines – the Suburban of the skies. These days, the most popular turboprops (simply put – a jet engine that turns a propeller) are the TBM and Pilatus, both of which are single engine turboprops. A reasonable question could be: is it safe to fly in a single engine plane? Answer is: Yes, modern jet engines tend not to quit, and modern turboprops share in that. Just this year, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA, the more stringent equivalent of the FAA), approved the TBM for nighttime, instrument flight rules (IFR), commercial flying. That’s a big deal.
Private jets tend to fly around 40,000 feet. TBM’s and Pilatus’s max out around 30,000 feet. On our flight we flew at 28,000 feet – roughly two miles lower than jets. Beyond the obvious, third-slower speed, and, more noise, the first thing I noticed is, there’s a lot more weather down there! Even high up, we still have to deviate around obnoxious thunderheads that push through the tropopause. But at 28,000, there are simply more dangerous clouds that you have to shuck and jive and look for openings to avoid getting seriously pounded, or, struck by lightning, etc.
As we approached Colorado, the buildups began. We had onboard Nexrad radar and our own radar dish. When the seasoned captain mentioned that the onboard dish did not supply the accuracy of the Lear that I fly, I whipped out my Stratus for an added radar dimension. It was a raw exercise in reading the visual clues of what we saw, blended with three sources of radar, and it tapped all of my years of aviation weather knowledge. We did it, but not without 30 additional minutes of airtime to skirt the rough stuff all around Denver, pass Aspen and come in from the west (deviations in a turboprop take longer to go around cells, and they simply cannot climb higher due to their service ceilings). Had we spent much more time deviating, we would have been looking for a place to stop for more fuel. In a jet, we would have looked down and scoffed, or, quickly zipped around or climbed above the trouble, then darted down to the airport.
All in all, the trip was fine. Happy passengers got to their destination. We’ll advise that single engine turboprops are right, for some missions. Preferably, shorter flights, and be hopeful the weather is not terrible. They can be flown single pilot, on good days and over simple terrain. In mountainous areas, nighttime or dubious weather, we want two heads in the cockpit.