Daher TBM 910/930
Keeping a 30-year-old airframe design relevant is no small task, yet Daher has managed to do it with the single-engine turboprop TBM year in and year out, tweaking performance while adding features, functionality, and convenience typically found only in larger aircraft. As a result, the TBM continues to be a solid seller. The company sold 880 of them through 2017, and it plans to build 53 this year.
The numbers are all the more remarkable when you consider that, aside from Piper’s “M” Class, the TBM has the most cramped six-seat turbine cabin in the sky. Its cross-section is just under four feet wide. This is an airplane that was originally built for speed, not necessarily for comfort.
That is no surprise when you consider that what became the TBM started in 1973 after Mooney Aircraft Co.—a Texas manufacturer of single-engine piston airplanes notorious for skinny cabins and swift speeds—began working on another speed-demon model, the 301. But before that airplane could make it to market, a consortium of investors from France purchased Mooney, dropped the project, and formed a joint venture with Socata, a subsidiary of Tarbes, France–based Aerospatiale. Together they developed a 300-knot single-engine turboprop that used some of the 301’s design data.
The TBM 700 first flew in 1988 and was certified in 1990, when Mooney withdrew from the joint venture. The end product was a six-seat, 292-knot, pressurized aircraft that was mostly metal, but used some composites on the control surfaces. Mooney lives on in the model as the “M” in TBM (the “TB” stands for Tarbes).
Over the years, Socata modestly improved the design, with better environmental controls; vapor-cycle air conditioning; avionics upgrades; a small beverage cabinet; a wider main cabin entry door well-suited for loading outsized cargo; and an optional separate forward pilot’s door. Passengers sit in facing club-four seats and there is room for two pilots (although the airplane is certified for single-pilot use and most operators fly it that way). The passenger seat bottoms are 18 inches wide and have 22-inch-high backs. That leaves a really narrow 11-inch-wide aisle. A single club table deploys from the righthand sidewall and there are power outlets for laptops.
The cabin is quiet for a turboprop, but still noisier than a jet. The aft-located main door measures 3.5 feet high and 3.9 feet wide and swings up and out of the way on a pair of gas-charged springs. An electric motor drives it back down. Most baggage is stored behind a cargo net in back of the rear-most row of seats. A small baggage compartment with an external door in the rear fuselage will hold 77 pounds and is big enough for a pilot’s overnight bag or a tool kit. An even smaller forward storage compartment, also with an external door, typically holds the tow bar and the engine inlet and exhaust stack covers.
In 2006 the TBM 850 made its premiere with a more powerful and thirstier engine that boosted maximum cruise speed to 320 knots; however, because it cruises and climbs quicker, the 850 actually has slightly longer legs than the older 700.
French aerostructures company Daher purchased Socata from parent company EADS in 2008 and continued the campaign of TBM product improvement that led to the launch of the 900 model in 2014.
The 900 features a host of aerodynamic improvements, including a quieter five-blade propeller, sexy curved winglets, and a redesigned engine cowl and inlet crafted of carbon fiber that reduces drag and boosts cooling. The previously optional pilot exterior door became standard and its construction was much improved. In total, the conglomeration adds 10 knots to cruise speed (330 knots at 28,000 feet) and improves runway and climb performance: the 900 rotates off the runway and clears a 50-foot obstacle in less than 2,400 feet fully loaded—20 percent less distance than the 850 would require—climbs at 2,000 feet per minute, and can reach its 31,000-foot maximum cruising altitude in just 18 minutes, 10 percent faster than the 850. Range increases more than 9 percent to 1,730 nautical miles. The 850 could run close to some light jets; the 900 can definitely run with them. The cockpit was cleaned up and simplified as well, and the redesigned engine power lever is as close to idiot-proof as they come.
Indeed, the 900 was almost as optimized as Daher could make it. I say “almost” because beginning in 2016 the company started offering customers the aircraft with the Garmin G3000 touchscreen avionics system on a higher-priced variant labeled the TBM 930. The G3000 is the next-generation backbone for the avionics on some larger, faster jet aircraft such as the HondaJet and the Cessna Citation M2. The G3000 offers pilots reduced workload and new frontiers of situational awareness. In an aircraft like the TBM 930, which is routinely flown single pilot and can snap off the runway in a brisk nine seconds, easier avionics are a very good thing.
This is not an airplane that suffers fools gladly. Pilots may not need a type rating, like they do in a jet, to fly a TBM, but if they don’t bring jet discipline to the cockpit they are asking for the fates of physics to rise up and smite them. That said, a competent pilot can fly the TBM just fine with the standard Garmin G1000 glass-panel avionics, and opting for the latest version of that system shaves about $200,000 off the 930’s $4.2 million (nicely equipped) list price. New TBMs with the G1000 system are now badged TBM 910s. You can get all the same options, save the avionics, on the 910 that you can get on the 930. Daher says its customers are split about 50-50 regarding which of the two models they prefer.
One new crowd-pleaser first offered in 2016 is a toilet. Daher calls this the “Elite Privacy” option. For an extra $36,635 and the loss of the two aft-most cabin seats you get something never before available in a TBM: airborne dignity in your time of need. The toilet itself is your basic electric flushing marine portable variety shielded in a clever surround with a privacy screen with an illuminated mirror. The surround deploys at the touch of a button. When not in use, it converts to a passenger bench seat. The apparatus and surrounding structure can be installed and removed as needed, allowing the passenger cabin to be configured for three to four passengers behind the cockpit, depending on mission requirements.
Other new goodies on the TBM include better seat sculpting and cushioning, heated seats, Ultraleather on the seat fairings for better wear, seatbelt airbags for the cockpit seats, backlit cabin temperature controls, cabin USB charging ports, and an additional storage cabinet (albeit for $4,900). The standard color options have been expanded to 32.
It’s hard to imagine what else Daher could do to make this airplane more appealing. Well, OK, they could lower the price and punch out the fuselage a few inches. But they really have no reason to do so. Used TBMs hold their value better than light jets and the company expects to sell out just about the limit of its production capacity this year. After three decades, the TBM is more than relevant, it’s thriving.