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TBM’s long and winding road

What’s next for this storied manufacturer?

A while ago I got an email from Daher, manufacturer of the TBM and Kodiak series of turboprop singles. It touted 2022 sales of 40 TBM 960s and 17 Kodiak 900s, the result, Daher says, of the demand produced by those two new models.
Photography by Fabian Heckler
Photography by Fabian Heckler

As for total TBM deliveries, they passed the 1,100 mark since the first TBM 700 rolled out in June 1988. Then came another email, this one from Textron Aviation, saying it had recently delivered its 3,000th Caravan. Sure, the first Caravan came out sooner (1984) than the first TBM, but in the 1980s there was doubt about a single-engine turboprop’s market prospects. The skeptics were oh so wrong.

The TBM gained its popularity as a personal hot rod. In contrast, the Caravan is a load-hauler, and the Kodiak is, well, a smaller load hauler with appeal to the owner-flown market.

The TBM’s history dates to 1911 when the Aeroplanes Morane-Saulnier company began building wire-braced monoplanes, then fighters during World War I. In the 1930s the company built the M.S. 406, a fighter which saw action against the Germans in the early years of World War II. When the Nazis occupied France, they took over the Morane-Saulnier factory and built German warplanes. After the war, the company made the first of the Rallye series of four-seat piston singles, but was bought by the Potez company in 1962. In 1966, Socata bought the company, eventually building the TB series of piston singles—the TB 9, TB 10, TB 20, and TB 21. Next, a flurry of companies—EADS, Aerospatiale, Airbus—took leadership of Socata.

The TBM idea came from yet another development involving Mooney Aircraft Company, an outfit with its own tortuous chain of ownership. Armand Rivard, then-owner of Lake Aircraft, and Alexandre Couvelaire, a Paris Mooney dealer and founder of charter operation Euralair, bought Mooney, and Couvelaire became interested in a dormant six-seat piston single (designed by Roy LoPresti) that was promising a 301-mph maximum cruise.

The Mooney 301 never came to be, but a joint venture between Socata and Aerospatiale—TBM International—was formed to pursue the TBM series. (“TB” represents Tarbes, France, the factory location, and “M” stands for Mooney.) TBMs started coming down the assembly line in 1990, a new assembly hall and paint shop were built in 1992—with work interrupted after a sixth-century Merovingian sarcophagus was discovered. Daher approached Socata in 2009, and Socata merged with Daher in 2018. Daher bought the Kodiak line from Quest Aircraft in 2019.

Every aircraft manufacturer thinks about its next design, and it’s for sure that Daher has ideas. A few have tantalizingly peeked around the corner, then withdrawn from sight. The TBM design has been in production for 35 years. The time seems right for change, but then again “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may be the mantra for the near term. Several times I’ve asked Nicolas Chabbert, senior vice president of Daher’s Aircraft Division, when a new design might emerge. “When it’s time, I’ll tell you,” was the gist of his response.

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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