We made some changes
this year in the manner in which we name the most notable aircraft
of the year. Normally announced at Oshkosh, we decided to fold
these announcements into our Year-End Wrap-Up in order to take
advantage of the rest of the year's events and input, as well as to
make such an announcement truly representative of the full year.
We've also spread out some of the goodies... with special awards to
Certificated as well as SportPlanes, an award for the Most Notable
manufacturer, a "special" award for the best SpacePlane of the Year
(like there was a lot of competition... eh?), a round-up of the
Duds and Disappointments, and a look forward to what looks
promising for 2005.
Sit back, check it out and let us know what you think of our
choices for the year.
Certificated Aircraft Nominees
OK... the high-wing Cessna singles are not the most imaginative
designs on the GA marketplace... but when backed by the most
prolific GA manufacturer in the business and coupled with real-live
21st century avionics like the Garmin G1000, Cessna's
heavy-breathing, heavy-lifter T206 deserves a strong look when
noting the best birds of the year.
Cessna's 310HP Turbo Stationair is an all-metal, six place,
high-wing, single-engine airplane equipped with tricycle landing
gear and designed for "general utility purposes," though what it
will really do is haul a heckuva load in very primitive settings
without so much as a grumble. This is a rugged bird. With six
on board, and excellent STOL manners (a 1500 foot runway is child's
play to a 206... take my word for it -- I've personally put one
down in less than 700 feet with a pretty good load), the T206 will
still do 164 kts (75% power at 20,000 ft), which is boogying right
along for a bird of this category. Best of all, though, is the
advent of the Garmin G1000 system, which really updates a classic
airframe in surprising ways, adding additional versatility and
capability to one of GA's most talented workhorses.
We've loved the Cirrus line since day one... a thoroughly new
design that is barely a decade old, this bird has it all... looks,
speed, comfort and safety features that were but science fiction a
few years ago. Best of all, it is produced by a company that is
learning well what it takes to sell and support one of the most
popular GA birds in the world. Yeah, we like the airplane a lot...
almost as much as we like the company... which has set the GA world
on fire for as long as they've been a player. Where Cirrus leads,
most of the industry has been forced to follow.
The Cirrus SR22-G2 is the second generation of Alan and Dale
Klapmeier's humma-humma hot-rod. The wonderfully heavy-horsed 310
HP SR22 is a great rowdy ride. The lovely kick in the ass you get
when you drop the hammer on all those ponies is certainly worth the
price of admission. It's got it all... speed, style, technological
sophistication and all the equipment needed to be a versatile and
dependable transportation system. This 310-horsepower brute will
scoot upwards with a 1,000 feet per minute climb rate through
12,000 feet, and get you 1,000 nautical miles down range with
little hesitation. It's as solid an IFR transportation system as
any single engine aircraft, it's a product of (truly) modern
technology, and it's backed by a company that is taking over as the
king of the general aviation world. The Cirrus SR22-G2 is a class
act... and a classy way to get around. But... we really want a
turbo'd version... and two more seats would make this an unbeatable
Few companies populating the GA market right now seem to be
making more inspired development decisions than Diamond Aircraft.
While Cirrus and Lancair are (justifiably) taking bows for the
exciting performance and sales numbers they're pumping into the GA
landscape, Diamond Aircraft has crept up from a point of
near-obscurity to claim a place as a leader in the General Aviation
market… and if our intuition is at all accurate, a shot at
the top spot within a matter of two-three years.
Ya know... the first time I flew a DA40, I didn't really like
it... it seemed unfinished and capable of so much more. For a
change, I was right. The production DA40 is a joyful little
airplane that is easy on the eyes, the pocketbook, and the pilot in
Not all the remarkable changes in the GA world have
been REVolutionary... some were EVolutionary... such as the
constant maturation of an already outstanding airframe, the Diamond
DA40. Not the fastest of the four seaters, the design came on the
scene very quietly and has, over the years, matured into a
first-class cross country bird, family flyer and advanced trainer
(especially the FP version... a GREAT training bird).
This (now) very mature design has superb handling and
customer support, great visibility and is one of the most efficient
birds in its class. The DA40 also offers convenient back seat
access with a separate door, and is incredibly
maintenance-friendly. Finally; the new G1000 panel is one of the
best overall EFIS installations we've seen… especially due
to positioning of backup instrumentation. It's also a very good
short field airplane -- better than any other four seater of
this type. Best of all, the G1000 equipped DA40 lists for all of
$229,500. A heckuva good deal. You can't go wrong with the
Lancair Columbia 400
Few aircraft were as breathlessly awaited in 2004 as the Lancair
400... the ONLY new turbocharged hot-rod to come down the pike in a
few years and a bird that has even given the mighty Cirrus SR22 a
solid run for the loose change. As fast as they come, the Lancair
Columbia is a helluva flier... we've flown the beastie five miles
high and were amazed at how 'boring' the whole process was... no
rude excitement, no control issues... just easy flying, good
handling and (darn!) some bitchin' cruise speeds. This bird
simply does not know the meaning of the word, "WHOA."
Solid handling, great creature comforts and a great cockpit
(thanks to the novel portrait mounted Avidyne Entegra... an
orientation we love for the MFD and are not crazy about in regards
to the PFD), allow the C400 to truly deserve the excitement that
started building in early 2004 and hasn't EVER quit since. Few
aircraft are building as much excitement over their debut as the
Columbia 400. With 350s rolling off the line with increasing
rapidity, and with Lancair obviously gaining some steam now that
their financial doldrums are pretty much over, they
are asserting their place as a serious force to be reckoned
with... especially in the top echelons of the high performance
single-engine GA Piston hierarchy. Now... if only this thing was
either a six-seater... or pressurized.... or both.
Mooney "Freedom Edition" Ovation 2 GX and Bravo GX
You'd a thought that the boys and girls from Texas would have
had to learn to wake the dead to bring Mooney back from the
brink... but they've not only reinvigorated Mooney Aircraft,
they're looking to come back as a major player in the GA
sweepstakes for the coming 2005 flying year.
Their latest smart move (of several) is the arrival of a
"Freedom Edition" aircraft. This limited version features a host of
widely-sought options and is available for 2005 models of the
Mooney Bravo GX and Ovation2 GX -- at 2004 pricing. I thought that
might get your attention.
Each aircraft is equipped with a Goodrich WX-500 Stormscope, the
Garmin G1000, a custom N-number, a 115.7 cubic foot oxygen system,
extended range fuel tanks that increase total capacity from 89 to
102 gallons (useable) fuel, and are the first GA birds to offer
AMSAFE inflatable (airbag) seatbelts for the front seats.
The Ovation 2 GX offers a platinum engine (with precision
balanced components), and a five-year new engine warranty... not to
mention a Platinum Level Aviator Services Program that is free for
the life of the engine. The Bravo GX also includes REIFF
engine preheat and two Bose headsets. The Freedom Edition of the
Ovation 2 GX will sell for $409,950 while the Bravo GX will have a
suggested list price of $459,950.
When it first showed up, everyone snickered and figured that
Piper had mis-stepped with their announcement of a new generation
of airframes. Yes; it's absolutely a barely-disguised refinement on
the Cherokee 6/Lance/Saratoga line that dominated the 6 place
market for so long with excellent manners and "reasonable
performance," but the 155-165 KT 6X and 6XT shows that going back
to the drawing board and sharpening one's pencil is the right thing
to do when a tough market (literally) demands it.
A new 3600 pound (GW) 6 seat Piper 6X will set you back some
$365,000 ($413K with the Avidyne system) and the Piper 6XT all of
$387,100 ($443K with the Avidyne system) -- but deliver as much as
1440 pounds of people and go-juice as far as 804-850 (X/XT) nm down
the road at cruise speeds of 148 KTs/154KTs (6X/11K/Long-Range
Cruise, 6XT/15K/LRC). Both the Piper 6X and the Piper 6XT are
powered by 300 HP Lycoming engines giving the aircraft top speeds
of 155 kts and 165 kts respectively.
The aircraft is a solid value... it's GOT payload, its GOT
speed, and its GOT room. It's also a nice solid (notice that word,
SOLID... again) ride that is going to be a fast favorite for the
obligatory parents, kids and family dog in search of a weekend
adventure. Couple this with some pretty impressive developments in
the manufacturing end of things, the availability of the Avidyne
EFIS system, and you have to tell those ready to plant Piper 'six
feet under' that they need to go elsewhere to find bad news.
Mind you, this is not your Father's Piper... this is something
better, a Piper (the 6X in particular) that truly understands that
this is a difficult market, with a need for tightly defined
mission-capable airplanes that people will actually be able to
operate and own affordably and safely. The 6X is a heckuva good
step in a post-9/11 aero-unfriendly world. It's a roomy, rugged
Next... ANN enumerates our choices for the BEST
bird in each of the categories we've examined over the last few
days... don't miss it!