Daher TBM-930 Record Setting Flight Reviewed at EAA AirVenture
Dieter and Phil during their EAA AirVenture presentation about their record-breaking flight.
On March 9, 2019, two aviators rewrote a world speed record for a trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Dierk Reuter and Phil Bozek, both owners of Daher TBM very fast turboprops, flew a TBM-930 from the Westchester County/White Plains, New York airport to Paris, France’s historic Le Bourget airport in eight hours and thirty eight minutes, eclipsing the old speed record by almost forty nautical miles per hour (knots). Here’s a report of how they claimed their prize, what they had to do behind the scenes to do it, and a bit of background about the plane and pilots.
First, here’s some history. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale – the international organization that would oversee and certify the record – recognizes a Class C-1e (speed over a recognized course), which is for turboprop aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 6,000 kilograms/13,200 pounds. The previous record holder was none other than “Chuck” Yeager in 1984, while flying a twin-engined Piper Cheyenne 400LS.
Planning for the flight began exactly a leap year prior to it – 366 days to be exact – when the two pilots began acting upon their idea to break that speed record.
Dierk Reuter had begun flying the TBM series of aircraft more than a decade earlier, owning a TBM 850 before moving to the modernized TBM 930 version. His experience in flying more than 2,200 hours in the TBM family of aircraft brought in-depth knowledge of the aircraft’s systems and performance. Before the record attempt, he had flown to Antarctica the previous year (including a long stretch of flying over some very cold water) as well.
Phil Bozek had flown over 800 hours in his own TBM plane, and according the Daher company, was the youngest TBM owner at the time. He is proficient in aerobatics, and owns and operates warbirds too. Together, both of the owner/operators had close to 8,000 hours of flying time combined, with around 3,000 hours in the TBM family of aircraft.
Daher’s aircraft line has expanded with the Kodiak 100 joining their TBM series of turboprops.
It has been more than thirty years since the first TBM 700 took to the skies for the first time. SOCATA, and then EADS SOCATA has become Daher, as the manufacturer is now known. Since the first flight, the original airplane model has been upgraded into the TBM 800 series of aircraft, and finally today’s latest TBM 900 family of “very fast turboprops”, as the company calls them. Very recently, Daher acquired the Quest Aircraft Company of Idaho, maker of the Kodiak 100 turboprop.
The TBM 930 used for the record flight was modified, with close attention by the FAA, to carry a double fuel load, when compared to a standard aircraft. A 300 gallon fuel bladder was inserted in the fuselage after the rear seating was removed, and a dozen straps, each with a capacity of 2400 pounds, were used to fasten it to the fuselage. This arrangement would keep the bladder in place for up to 9 times the force of gravity. As a matter of fact, on the eve of the record flight’s departure, the aircraft encountered severe turbulence, with no ill results. The gross takeoff weight that the FAA allowed increased to 9200 pounds, up from the 7,398 pounds of a normally certified airframe.
Inside the cabin, the front seats for the pilots were moved full forward to accommodate the bladder. Luckily, little discomfort was caused by this arrangement, although conditions were somewhat cramped for the two airmen as exposure suits were worn throughout the flight in case of an emergency water landing. On the plus side of things, mounting the fuel bladder where it ended up was fortuitous, as much of the extra fuel’s weight was positioned at the rear of the plane’s center of gravity limits. This aerodynamically allowed for an additional five knots of airspeed for the trip, as aft CG at cruise is a desirable trait.
Other out-of-the-ordinary situations were needed to be planned for. With 600 gallons of fuel aboard, Pratt and Whitney officials were contacted to see what the optimum use of fuel anti-ice (actually called a fuel system icing inhibitor – the trade name Prist is one such product) would be needed to combat ice and water so the engine wouldn’t cough and fail over the Atlantic at some very cold altitudes. The highest mix ration of additive to fuel was recommended, and carried aloft.The flight plan for the trip was custom – designed specifically for the trans-Atlantic flight. Weather was an important factor that would aid the record attempt, as a tailwind would be needed to assist with the speed of the aircraft. Weather forecasts were carefully scanned by computers on a daily basis, and there were only a few days notice when the exactly “right” conditions were met.
To take advantage of the low altitude jet stream and its speed – boosting tail winds (forecast to be round 160 knots), the final flight plan went some 300 miles further across the ground than the most direct route between the airports. But this made for a faster ground speed and at one point over Wales in the U.K., the ground speed readout showed a whopping 458 knots (nautical miles are longer than statute miles too), more than making up for the longer trip. Looking on a map, the flight path looked like a modified Bell Curve.
Airspace over the Atlantic ocean, at 30,000 (Flight Level 300) where the trip was planned, is controlled by multiple U.S., Canadian, and European air navigation providers, who were continually updated with the proposed flight plan. Even the arrival route to Le Bourget had to be specially approved. At this altitude and routing, you’re flying with jetliners and require special RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minima) certified transponder equipment to be able to fly within that airspace… and their TBM 930 was so equipped.
Just forty eight hours before the flight was to depart, the FAA made a determination that the specifications for the modified fuel system required some changes be made. These were hurriedly accomplished, and the aircraft would be filled with fuel and be made ready to launch early in the next morning.
The very early morning of March 9th, frost covered the wings of the TBM (it is a common occurrence in the northeastern U.S. in March), and close to two hours’ time was needed to thaw out the surfaces. With an aircraft being so much over its normally certified weight, no matter how many times numbers were checked, there was not much margin for error, and a contaminated airfoil – a condition resulting from frost and ice airfoil deformation of the wing surfaces, has caused crashes due to reduced lift.
The record holders are introduced…
Finally, the flight took off on the record attempt. All of the advanced coordination with the air traffic control services paid off, and there were no reroutes encountered during the flight. Upon reaching FL300, the crew flew the plane on its desired route, and didn’t have to descend for Le Bourget until about fifty to sixty miles from the runway. They were allowed to keep their speed up, and were still cruising at 170 knots at 200 feet above the ground, where they reduced to their 62 knot touchdown speed and quickly landed. Upon completion of their flight, Dierk and Phil still had some eighty gallons of fuel aboard, more than enough for their IFR alternate airport. They had averaged 364 knots on their flight, breaking the old mark of 325 knots by Chuck Yeager thirty four years earlier.
About the airplane: The Daher TBM 930 aircraft was launched with a Garmin G3000 touchscreen-controlled glass flight deck, the first instrument panel designed for light turboprop aircraft. Current versions are the TBM 910 entry level and the advanced TBM 940.
All have automated ice detection systems, the more advanced 940 variant has the first auto throttle system for aircraft in its class too. Many automated features are designed for decreasing pilot workload while enhancing situational awareness, like the Garmin Surface Watch ™ system for airport area situational awareness, and several vertical guidance assistance tools.
As Daher has called the planes their “very fast turboprop aircraft”, they are living up to their potential worldwide. At a press conference at the 2019 EAA AirVenture, it was announced that there had been 728 TBM turboprop aircraft built. More than 200 TBM 910/930/940s have been delivered to North America operators.
Speaking of fast, the arrival procedures at the EAA convention try to group aircraft together that have similar flight characteristics… the TBMs were grouped over the “Warbird Arrival” route, with performance similar to those like P-51 Mustangs and F4U Corsairs… if that makes sense to you. And, with light jet aircraft performance, like a groundspeed of over 300 knots on this record flight, the moniker of being a very fat turboprop is definitely earned.
Congratulations to Dierk Reuter and Phil Bozek on their new world record speed dash, and to Daher for building their TBM series of aircraft… which has proven that they are world record worthy planes too.
What’s next on the pilots’ slate? Well, in Oshkosh, not only was there was talk of an around the-the-world flight (at least 50 TBM owners have already done that), but challenging the record time via an approved routing too (less than 80 hours is the record, in a counterclockwise direction and the route must cross 75 degrees North and South latitude, so I‘ve heard). Who knows, in another year or less, we may be reading about that adventure too…