TBM850 takes off



EADS Socata couldn’t have asked for a better PR representative than John Hinshaw, the American customer who placed the first order for its new TBM850 six-seater turboprop aircraft. Hinshaw strode into a room full of (mainly French) journalists who’d spent the last couple of hours being bombarded with maximum cruise speeds and market forecasts, TBM850 baseball cap firmly clamped to his head, and spoke about his new toy with the zeal of a true believer. He chose the aircraft because of its ease and comfort to fly, and crucially because of its speed (467 km per hour cruising at 31,000 feet, incidentally), he said. This was the message Socata’s chief executive Stéphane Mayer had been trying to get across to us in the briefing and he looked delighted that he was being backed up so forcefully by this loyal customer. (Hinshaw already owns a TBM700 aircraft, of which the TBM850 is an upgraded version.)

Socata’s vice president of marketing Andrew Knott insisted that Hinshaw’s appearance at the press conference was merely a happy coincidence, not a “fix” – Hinshaw was in Tarbes, south west France, where Socata is based anyway, to see his “baby” progress along the final assembly line and had agreed to speak to us in return for dinner. (A lot of customers do this, apparently, and one even set up a chair in front of his new aircraft and watched the last two weeks of work taking place. Pretty nerve-wracking for the assembly-workers, I imagine…)

Hinshaw fits the usual profile of a TBM850 customer perfectly – 80% of sales are in the US, and the aircraft often appeals to customers over 50, with an entrepreneurial streak. Hinshaw runs his own company but flies the aircraft more for pleasure than for business, using it to visit his children who live in different states.

Later that day we got the chance to experience the aircraft ourselves, with a series of demonstration flights. I can confirm that yes, it is comfortable for passengers and that yes, it does go fast. As for whether it’s easy to fly, I’ve no idea, but our pilot didn’t seem to have too many problems, and for the passengers the views over the Pyrénées were spectacular.

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