Stand by the wing of your PA46 and just gather in the view. It is a gorgeous wing, and truly the secret to the incredible performance of the PA46.
You might think this wing was a new-fangled idea from Piper’s R&D department, but that is not so. They didn’t so much design the wing type, but they decided upon the type of airfoil they wanted, and then designed the structure to support this airfoil in this installation. The wing on the PA46 is actually a very old-style airfoil that is known to be a fabulous airfoil for performance, but is a bit tough to build since there’s no parts that are duplicated (the wing tapers from root to tip, so no parts are the same). It can be found on a whole host of really cool (and really old) airplanes such as:
P-38 Lightning (The multi-engine fighter from WWII)
Meyers 145 (Fast, unpressurized GA airplane)
Vought 2B2U Vindicator (Dive bomber from WWII)
Vought V-310 OS2U Kingfisher (Catapault-launched floatplane)
Focke-Wulf Fw190 (German fighter early in WWII)
Globe Swift (really good-looking GA tailwheel airplane)
Vought F4U Corsair (yes, the one from WWII that has the “gull wing”)
VL Myrsky (Finnish WWII fighter…rare aircraft, but worth the look-up)
That’s an impressive list of airplanes! Think about the performance of those airplanes and you’ll know that the PA46 is in really good company in terms of wing design. In case you want to nerd out on nit-noid information, here’s a website that includes the wing design for many of the airplanes built: https://m-selig.ae.illinois.edu/ads/aircraft.html
The actual wing type in a PA46 is NACA 23015 (at the root) and a NACA 23009 (at the tip). Here’s a link to information on this wing design:
The wing of the PA46 is a true work of art, and is the secret to why the PA46 is a a great airplane. In order to understand why those early airplane designers chose this wing, we’ll have to talk about stall characteristics and speed.
Most of the aircraft listed above are carrier-based airplanes that demanded good slow-speed flight characteristics. When flying slow and approaching an aircraft carrier and the associated arresting system, a pilot cannot experience a severe wing-drop, loss of control, or other nasty stall responses. Slow-speed flight is critical for any aircraft approaching an aircraft carrier, but it is also important for a GA pilot.
Piper also wanted the solid slow-speed flight characteristics in the PA46. Piper knew that the PA46 might be flown by ham-fisted novices, the totally inexperienced, and those who “didn’t know what they didn’t know.” Any good GA airplane must be able to be flown by someone other than Chuck Yeager. The PA46 is not a hard airplane to fly, and the good slow-speed characteristics of the wing helps give it the flight qualities we’ve grown to love.
The stall characteristics of the PA46 are exemplary. I bet I’ve conducted more than a thousands stalls in the PA46, and not once have I noticed a nasty characteristic once the pro-stall flight control inputs were stopped. Will the PA46 stall and spin? Of course. We’ve proven time and again with horrible and fatal crashes that the PA46 will stall and spin if pro-spin flight inputs are held into the stall. But, there are no nasty stall characteristics prior to the spin and the airflow will reattach quickly from a stall once the yoke is pushed forward.
The other flight characteristic that was desired in the airplanes listed above is speed. There’s an interesting article which illustrates the focus of the design team for the F4U Corsair just prior to WWII. It is located here: https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/1995/february/designing-bent-wing-bird
In this article it is clear that the F4U Corsair design team wanted speed. Speed was king. A wing that exhibited low drag at the lower angles of attack in thin air was desired.
Basically, the Corsair design team knew they had the biggest, strongest, most powerful engine available in that day (the Pratt and Whitney 2800 Double-Wasp, twin row, 18-cylinder engine), so they had to extract as much speed a possible from that engine. They selected the same wing design as is found in our PA46, but they adapted the wing in a “gull wing” design that allowed for shorter landing gear to create clearance for the huge propeller on the massive engine. The wing on the Corsair is possibly the most recognizable wing in all of aviation, and it is the same wing as the PA46, just with a “gull wing” design.
The Meyers 145 evolved into the Meyers 200, and is considered to be one of the fastest airplanes with a tremendous power-to-speed ratio. It rivaled the Beechcraft Bonanza in every performance category, only being beat out in popularity. Even today, the Meyers aircraft have a strong following amongst the faithful for this well-designed and super strong airplane. Meyers wanted the same thing Piper wanted in the Malibu…good low speed behavior and fast cruise speed.
The P-38 Lightning is an unusual airplane for its time due to the twin-boom, twin-engine design, but is renowned for its spectacular speed, excellent maneuverability, and good behavior. Interestingly, the Lightning was so fast that early tests on compressibility were conducted with the Lightning. In the early production tests the test pilots had a hard time with “mach tuck,” a phenomenon where the center of pressure moves aft at super-high speeds. The designers corrected the problem with “dive flaps” that were eventually installed on the Lightning. If you want to have a neat personal home study, research the buffeting problems associated with the Lightning. It’ll give you a lot of comfort with the amount of testing that our wing design has experienced over the years.
Consider the Grumman Hellcat. Also with the same wing as the PA46, it is credited with shooting down more enemy airplanes for the allies than any other WWII fighter. Hellcat pilots love this fabulous airplane partly because of the raw power that it provided, but also because of the performance derived from the wing. The Hellcat could out maneuver a Japanese Zero, launch from an aircraft carrier, and return after taking a beating in battle. It was one impressive airplane. Interestingly, the Hellcat was the steed for 305 American Aces (5+ enemy combat victories), more than any other airplane.
Here’s my point with all of this wing discussion…the PA46 wing comes from a long line of research, development, and experience. It is not a new design, but rather a design that is known to have the characteristics that Piper wanted in a wing. It is a complex, difficult-to-build wing, but it provides the performance you’ve come to expect. As the owner/pilot of a PA46, know that your airplane is cousins with a spectacular family of airplanes. Your family lineage is one of the best!