Enough Of The Excuses... Here Are Our Final Decisions On The
Best Birds Of The Year
OK... as is our habit, we'll do just a little more quibbling and
then FINALLY get to the meat of the matter...
Each year, we put our heads together, look over reader input,
our own reports and other sources of info and try to recognize the
VERY BEST aircraft in a number of pivotal categories. Each year,
the choices get tougher. Worse; we tend to also make it more
difficult by tightening the reins on the decision making process so
that it gets harder and harder to make the cut as the best in any
category, much less wind up at the top of the pack.
As 2006 came to a close, we also
made some additional decisions as to what constitutes a "Best of
Breed" and how wide we wanted to cast the net. As previously noted,
it struck us that naming an overall "best" aircraft across the
entire spectrum of general (or sport) aviation is probably no
longer reasonable. There are simply too many aircraft that have
distinguished themselves in too many outstanding ways for one to
truly be called better than the other on an overall basis. One
man's perfect high-speed Hot-Rod, for instance, becomes the
expensive "way too hot to handle" mistake of another pilot whose
mission requirements may differ markedly. So... we're going to cop
out -- just a bit, mind you. From here on out, we will name the
best aircraft in individual categories, and reserve the right in
the future to whittle down those categories as necessary. But, the
fact of the matter is that no one airplane is all things to all
pilots, and within the spectrum that we have decided on, these are
the aircraft selections that truly impressed us in each of five
categories. Please also note that we envision the addition of new
categories for 1007, especially in regards to the burgeoning VLJ
and Personal Jet markets.
Let me also note that while aircraft that previously were named
Best Of Breed in any category, or overall, are eligible for
inclusion in this year's list, we have decided to make it more
difficult (in our judging protocols) for a previous winner to take
the top spot in our judging criteria, so that a repeat winner truly
earns the distinction.
So... here we go, let's review our final
selections for the category of Sport Aviation
Amateur-Built/Experimental Kit and then we'll tell you who won top
honors... and why.
AAI/GBA Sparrowhawk II
The AAI/GBA Sparrowhawk filled a need... a need postulated by
the original RAF 2000 gyroplane. What the sadly-lacking RAF 2000
promised -- stability, dependability and performance-wise, the
Sparrowhawk sought to deliver. Better yet, after pioneering a
laudable development and production effort with the Sparrowhawk I,
GBA has followed up on this program not too long ago with the
much-updated Sparrowhawk II.
The Sparrowhawk II gyroplane is a two-seat, pusher gyro
that can be constructed as an Experimental-Amateur-Built gyroplane,
in which case it requires a minimum of a Private Pilot license (in
Rotorcraft/Gyro for passenger-carrying privileges), or as an
Experimental Light Sport Aircraft, in which case it requires a
minimum of a Sport Pilot license with a Gyroplane rating.
The bird offers up a useful load of 650 pounds, a 70 knot
cruise, ground rolls of 100-500 feet, and a solid 500 fpm ROC. The
new Sparrowhawk II has a lower empty weight, and some improvements
in construction procedures. The difficult-to-assemble cruciform
tail is now preconstructed at the factory (previously a popular
$948 option, selected by about three quarters of Sparrowhawk
builders) and the landing gear has been simplified, eliminating
some of the most difficult and frustrating assembly steps.
BTW.... much to their credit, the company continues to offer a
stability and control enhancement kit for RAF 2000 gyroplanes.
However, not all Sparrowhawk parts retrofit to AAI-modified RAFs.
For example, the Sparrowhawk cabin cannot be used on an RAF 2000,
even with the AAI modifications (Groen Bros. and AAI are not
affiliated with RAF).
Glasair Aviation Sportsman 2+2
This is not your Father's GlaStar... it's something even better,
and the 2006 season has been even better to this aircraft with the
advent of a revolutionary factory build program that can get a
builder set up to taxi his or her bird in just a few weeks after
opening the box.
Fly this with your eyes closed and you'll swear that you're
flying a GlaStar… which is a really good thing… but
open your eyes, and see all the extra room and payload, and you'll
know that the seemingly perfect little GlaStar SportPlane has
finally been topped… by it's own kin.
The Sportsman 2+2 gives its pilots reason to brag about 155-161
mph cruise speeds (180-200 hp), and a Vso of only 48 mph... making
the S2+2 an easy STOL performer needing as little as 375 feet for
takeoff and 260 feet for landing. Climb rates range from 1950 fpm
(solo) to 1000 fpm (gross). At 65% power and standard tanks, the
S2+2 will get you 886 sm down the road. It has 1000 pounds of
useful load, and a small bench seat behind the two front seats
(good for an adult or two small kinds... or an amazing load of
crap, uh, gear). Its up to you, because even if you fill both seats
and gas it all the way up, there's still 300 pounds of useful load
The stretched and tweaked Sportsman 2+2 is every bit as good as
the GlaStar was (high-praise--it was on my Top Ten list for
years)... and maybe just a little bit nicer, in terms of
load-carrying, and overall stability and control (the very tight
static/dynamic pitch profile is even better defined... which we
weren't sure was possible til we flew it). A solid company backs
this bird and the value is exceptional... especially when you add
in the availability of their new builder's program and financing
packages. One final note... on a set of Montana Float Company's
amphibs, this thing is absolutely amazing. Highly recommended.
I've been a bit perplexed by the seeming diminishment in the
popularity of the high-performance class of SportPlanes. Not too
many years ago, you were nothing if your bird couldn't flirt with
300 mph, and there seemed to be no lack of birds trying to give
that target a run for its money. Many of those birds are long gone
-- the Questair Venture, White Lightning, SX-300, and others...
It's a crying shame they're AWOL, since so many of them were
legitimately talented flyers that lacked for nothing --
except the requisite number of customers necessary to allow
the boss to keep the doors open.
One of the true survivors of this industry is the Lancair
Legacy, a fire-breathing two place hot-rod that is a very happy
camper with 200-260 HP and a maniac with 310 HP. Available in both
Fixed gear and Retractable, the RG version is a smoker... with a
310 HP Continental IO-550, the Legacy cruises 276 mph and still
stalls at 65 mph. With a service ceiling of 18,000 feet, the Legacy
RG can get off the deck in just 850 feet and touch down in 900'. A
65 gallon fuel system allows for a 1150 SM range, and the ROC
is a whopping 2700 fpm when flown solo (YEEHAW!).
The company offers extensive builder support programs, including
some excellent on-site factory assistance programs that can
significantly cut down on overall build times. The pre-preg
composite aircraft is kitted for $59,500 in "Quick-Build"
configuration, though there are 2 week and 4 week builder assist
programs (at extra cost) that can get the lion's share of the work
done under the supervision of Lancair experts.
The bird is a very responsive airplane but with proper
adaptation and orientation, we found that the general personality
of the bird was honest enough to transition the lion's share of
pilots with some high-performance aircraft time. Overall; the bird
handles very well, and we very much enjoyed both the high-speed
performance and the reassuring low-speed envelope.
Van's RV-8 QB
We're not prepared to just come out and say that Dick Van
Grunsven can do no wrong... but darn it if Dick Van Grunsven can do
no wrong... this two place tandem hot-rod is an excellent STOL
flyer, pretty much a rocket-ship in cruise (200 mph or so), as
mild-mannered as they come in slow-flight but with a rowdy soul if
ya gotta get acrobatic for a while. It rocks, it rolls... it makes
julien fries... NOT-- but what a hot-sh*t little airplane, we kid
The RV-8 accepts mills in the 150-220 HP regime, but gives you
back 680-733 pounds of useful load. This results in cruise speeds
of 195-210 mph, takeoff distances of as little as 250-300 feet
(solo), landing distances of 350-500' (solo/gross), rates of climb
from 2000-2700 fpm, and 940-103 sm range (55%/8000'). Those are
numbers ya gotta like -- and hundreds of customers have voted so
with their pocketbook.
Sleek, pretty and incredibly functional, the RV-8 is one of
Dick's best designs... though we beg all those who are interested
in the bird to stick to the taildragger persuasion... as God
himself intended, because a bird this cool and this rough and
ready, simply looks at a nosewheel as an insult (grin). Still, if
you want trike gear, the RV-8A trike gear version just might be
your ticket -- but mark our words... God WILL get you for this
The kits are exceptionally well-done (especially the quick-build
versions), customer support is well-executed, and the camaraderie
of OVER 4000 other RV builders is a benefit that can NOT possibly
be overvalued. Highly recommended, this is about as low-risk a
selection as there is in the sport aviation biz.
OK... No More Stalling, The Winner Is...
The first of our five categorical choices (covering GA Piston
Single, GA Piston Twin, SA Experimental Kit, E-LSA Kit, and S-LSA
Ready To Fly) for the "Best of Breed" of 2006... a heckuva good
year for aviation, is a REPEAT WINNER FROM
Glasair Aviation's Sportsman 2+2
Why, you may ask? Good question... especially when
you consider the massive effort that Van's makes each year and the
excellent customer service reports that they compile without
fail... and also when you consider how far Lancair has come in the
last few years... et al.
However; when you factor in the unique and
industry-leading 'Two Weeks To Taxi' owner
assist program, as well as the continual upgrades and customer
service initiatives they've undertaken, the winning slot could
only belong to Glasair Aviation... DESPITE the fact that they come
from one of the most hotly contested categories in the
In basic terms, under the 'Two Weeks To Taxi' program,
a customer will select the options they would like to see on a
Glasair Sportsman 2+2 and purchase the fast build kit option. Then,
schedule two weeks out of their lives and to travel to Arlington,
WA where they will build their own 2+2 under the watchful eye and
supervision of several Glasair technicians for the next two
If the syllabus is followed as specified, the customer will have
a brand new Sportsman aircraft in taxi-test condition upon
completion of the program. All that's left to do is paint, weight
& balance, and the FAA paperwork.
Wow... for many of those with a lack of time, skill or the
assurance that they can take on such a project; the Glasair
Aviation Sportsman 2+2 is too compelling a bird to pass up.
Congrats to Mikael Via and all the staff of Glasair Aviation for
their ingenuity and the continued innovation they bring to the
sport aviation world.