Airplane Reviews

May 1, 2005

Adam Jet Flight Trial

Think of it as a typical piston twin but with a heckuva lot more power. Still, owner-pilots will require serious training to fly it safely.

September 30, 2011

AeroTrek: 220/240: Bargain LSA

At AirVenture last July, a poster in the Aerotrek booth caught our eye: $69,850 base price. Huh? That can’t really be right, can it? What’s the gimmick? None, really. Although most of Aerotrek’s airplanes sell for about eight grand more than that, they’re still on the low end of the price spectrum. By our lights, a $70,000 airplane is by no means cheap, but if it costs barely half of its highest price competition, could there be some exceptional value there? We aimed to find out with a trial flight and a look at the company. Peeking ahead to our conclusion, we think these LSAs represent exceptional value, even if we wouldn’t necessarily call them plush.

November 1, 2004

Airvan Revisited

Gippsland Aero has big plans for the GA8 Airvan. Here’s how it’s holding up after two years in the field.

September 17, 2013

Akro for Under $100K: Wide Variety; Use Caution

There has long been a subset of pilots with a certain sense of adventure and the burning desire to own an aerobatic airplane. While most lust after an aerial hotrod such as one of the Extra 300 series or a Sukhoi Su-29, economic reality means putting something a little less impressive into the hangar.

December 1, 2004

Alarus Trainer

A re-do of the CH2000, this trainer is aimed at the IFR training market. It delivers on its design goal of being simple, cheap and easy to fly.

February 14, 2013

Arion Lightning LS-1: Not for the Masses

How about this for a challenging design concept? Start with a two-seat speedster with fighter-like handling, slow it down to meet the LSA 120-knot speed limit without excising any of the structure necessary for the stresses of the higher speed, then jump through the ASTM hoops to turn it into a production machine. That is exactly what Arion Aircraft did with its Lightning LS-1, an LSA that is finger-on-the trigger responsive in flight and among the fastest LSAs out there. The Lightning is one of the few LSAs that is not intended to be used as a primary trainer. “Although a very few buyers have learned to fly in their Lightnings, we did not design it for flight training,” explained Arion’s Nick Otterbach, one of the lead designers of the airplane.

August 22, 2012

As Cheap as it Gets: Legacy LSA ÷ 4

Even though I parked the Cubbie on a grass field for the beauty shot above, I’m really not much about the romance of flight. While I savor the fragrance of wet turf mixed with avgas exhaust as much as anyone, the thought of a $5500 annual—and I’ve paid them—tends to turn the rose-colored glasses into a darker shade of cynical. Not that I expect to ever pay a $5500 annual for the Cub, which is exactly the best reason for owning a legacy LSA—not the magic of slipping the surly bonds on rag wings, but the smug satisfaction of doing it for the price of a cheap date at Bob’s Big Boy. How to do that? Split the cost of an already cheap airplane two ways, three ways or four ways. If owning your own airplane increasingly sounds unaffordable, it’s much less so in a partnership to the point that the monthly cost can be well under even a modest car payment. There’s no pretending the capabilities are remotely similar, but if you want to fly or even own, there’s an affordable way to get there.

January 1, 2007

Atlantic Aero’s IO-550: Smooth, Fast, Expensive

Bonanza owners like to go fast. But, then doesn’t everyone? For years, Beechcraft’s venerable singles were the thoroughbreds of the single-engine non-turbo herd, cruising past 210s, Mooneys and everything in the Piper fleet short of a Malibu. The age of white plastic airplanes Cirrus and Columbia ended that, leaving Beech owners in their propwash with 180-knot cruise speeds.

September 17, 2013

Beech 36-Series

Since 1968, the 36-series Bonanzas has steadily built a solid record for workmanship, performance, handling and comfort. Prices on the used market reflect the high regard for the airplanes. Easy entry to the rear seats and club seating made them popular with passengers as well as pilots, even though the aft CG limit can make loading a challenge and some turbocharged models are a little light on useful load. Aftermarket mods such as turbonormalizing and tip tanks can turn a 36-series Bonanza into an airplane that can carry four people 1000 NM at 200 knots.

August 1, 2007

Beech A36 Used Aircraft Guide

Hawker Beechcraft is in the middle of its celebration of the 60th anniversary of production of the Bonanza. In one form or another, the Bonanza has been in continuous production since 1947, when the first V-tail was built—an astounding fact in itself. The 35 Bonanza was the first high-performance postwar single and was markedly different from the average light airplane of the day. Base price of the first models was $7975 ($79,477 in 2007 dollars). How times change.

September 1, 2005

Beechcraft Duchess

Among light-light twins, the Duchess is one of the better performers, with good slow speed traits and decent cruise speed.

August 1, 2005

Bellanca Viking

In an age of slick composite airplanes, Vikings are a wood-and-fabric throwback. But owners rave about good handling and sleek looks.

September 16, 2014

Bellanca Viking

In an era when the state-of-the-art aircraft have to be baked in an oven after being laid up in plastic sheets squished together in vacuum bags, it’s hard to imagine that a wood and fabric wonder like the Bellanca Viking still exists. But it does. And although there aren’t great squadrons of them around, the Viking retains a loyal, almost cultish following. [IMGCAP(1)] …

January 1, 2005

Budget Retract Step-Up

These days, $70,000 buys a lot of airplane. If you don’t mind an older airframe, P-model Bonanzas are a top pick. Pre-201 Mooneys are economy leaders.

February 1, 2006

Cessna Cardinal RG

Thirty years after emerging from the factory, these singles still look sleek and modern. Performance and market prices are respectable but to avoid headaches with the landing gear, shop for a later model.

January 1, 2006

Cessna 150

Cheap to buy and operate, the 150/152 series has proven to be a trainer for the ages.

May 1, 2005

Cessna 182 Skylane

The Skylane has endured because it offers a rare combination of affordability, ease of operation and utility.

March 1, 2007

Cessna 185 Skywagon

The term "working airplane" has an unmistakable connotation. They’re the pack horses of the GA fleet, hauling freight, towing gliders and banners, spraying crops and often operating from remote airstrips or lakes.Most manufacturers have a working airplane or two in their model lineups, but Cessna has been especially successful in the piston single realm with the 180, 185, 188 and 205/206/207, each of which has carved its own market niche

October 1, 2005

Cessna 195

An affordable, round-engine classic guaranteed to turn heads on any ramp. Although not stingy on gas, it’s practical for everyday flying.

December 1, 2005

Cessna 337 Skymaster

Although not the fastest twins, Skymasters have decent payload and spacious cabins. They stand out as among the most affordable twins to buy.

May 1, 2007

Cessna 414/414A Speed, Style, Class

They were the last of the pressurized, piston, 400-series airplanes Cessna developed, and pilots and mechanics will tell you that Cessna got it right with the Models 414 and 414A. Combining spacious cabins and relatively small, efficient engines, the 414 series can carry lots of fuel or a small crowd with their belongings—but not both. Also, the big Cessnas have safety records that are unmatched by any other light twin.

March 14, 2014

Cessna Cardinal

Although the design is more than four decades old, the Cessna 177 Cardinal—with its racy sloped windshield, wide doors and strutless wings—looks more modern than the newest Skyhawks coming out of Cessna’s Independence, Kansas, plant. Yet, sadly, the Cardinal is a poster child for why innovation and audacity in general aviation development has often met dismal results in the market. Despite high expectations for a design that would usher in new thinking in light aircraft, the Cardinal had a rocky start and was gone from Cessna’s inventory a decade after it emerged.

July 10, 2012

Cessna Grand Caravan: A Top Haul-It-All Option

Airplanes, like people, often start out being one thing but as they age, they become something else entirely. And so it is with Cessna’s now-venerable Caravan that began life as an unglamorous box hauler that few would ever see on the ramp in daylight. It then became a niche utility airplane for the bush, capable of hauling not just the fisherman, but their camp and a couple of boats, too. Of late, it’s finding yet another niche as a short-haul commuter airplane.

March 1, 2008

Cessna Grand Caravan: Practical Personal T-Prop

What do you get when you take Paul Bunyan out of the nort’ woods, force him to part with Babe the blue ox, exchange his wool shirt, boots and blue jeans for an Armani suit and bring him to a trendy cocktail party? A great-looking guy with muscles that fill the sleeves of his suit, who curses, spits on the floor, drains the entire punch bowl and, after offending everyone, staggers out with as much of the buffet as he can carry. Fortunately for Cessna, airplanes don’t behave like humans, so when it decided to dress up one of the most successful back country, dirt strip, beat-it-up-and-haul-anything airplanes in history, the result turned out to be refined, classy and welcome anywhere. Plus, it’s easy to fly and has a potty.

January 1, 2007

Cessna Hawk XP

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is, in many ways, the standard of reference for the fixed gear single. With more produced than any other type of civilian airplane in history, the market has quite effectively expressed its approval.

November 1, 2004

Cessna P210

[IMGCAP(1)] If you want to go fast in an airplane and still grasp a thin straw of efficiency, you’ll also need to fly high. And to do that, you’ll have to make a choice: stick an oxygen hose in your nose or pay for the convenience of pressurization. Of course, if pressurization were easy and cheap, every airplane would have it. Few do and in the single-engine realm, there are only two choices: Cessna’s P210 and the Piper Malibu.

Pressurizing anything, let alone a single, is fraught with difficulty. Part of it comes in the form of mechanical woes—the engines are short-lived, often don’t make it to TBO and they cost a lot to overhaul. Pressurization adds another complex system to maintain a...

September 1, 2006

Cessna R182RG

Turn a straight-legged Skylane into a retractable and you’ll gain speed yet lose none of the airplane’s roominess, range and utility.

August 22, 2012

Cessna’s New Diesel: SMA SR305’s OEM Debut

If SMA’s Jet-A burning piston powerplant looked promising when it appeared in 1998, it soon became the little engine that couldn’t. A decade ago, interest in aerodiesels was lukewarm at best and SMA found no major OEM takers, either. But at AirVenture 2012 this year, Cessna’s announcement to offer the SMA diesel in the Skylane might finally get the SR305 out of the starting blocks. We knew Cessna was interested in diesel engines because two years ago, then-CEO Jack Pelton told us the company had tested all of the above-ground diesels, which included the Thielert and SMA offerings and we’re sure they at least examined the Austro and Delta-Hawk. Although it seems obvious why Cessna picked the SMA in hindsight, it wasn’t always that way.

August 22, 2012

Cessna’s Reborn TTX: A Polished Performer

No one could blame the Cessna TTX for having a bit of an identity crisis. This latest iteration is the fourth name change for the aircraft (and is technically written TTX). It also bears a striking resemblance to the Cirrus SR aircraft, which outnumber it better than 10 to one. Today’s TTX started life as the Columbia. This was a certified aircraft from kit company Lancair, whose fiberglass aerial hotrods topped 300 knots on a like quantity of horsepower with wings the size of boogie boards. The Columbia leveraged that expertise, but was a clean-sheet design. The final results were impressive: Terrific low-speed handling with a 59-knot Vso while still topping 200 knots at altitude, and impressive crashworthiness (see www.niar.wichita.edu/agate/ and scroll down to the videos).

May 1, 2007

Cessna’s Mustang: On Time Performance

Cessna calls its Citation Mustang an "entry level jet" rather than the now ubiquitous very light jet appellation. That might be because Cessna has no pretensions about who will buy Mustangs: mostly individual owners rather than the corporate and charter world.

April 16, 2014

Cherokee 235/Dakota

When Fred Weick and John Thorp set out to design a less expensive alternative to Piper’s Comanche, it’s unlikely they thought the resulting PA-28 series would become so popular, so durable or so varied. Since introducing the Cherokee 150 and Cherokee 160 (PA-28-150 and PA-28-160, respectively) in 1961, Piper has stretched, T-tailed, turbocharged and reproduced that basic airframe tens of thousands of times.

November 1, 2006

Cirrus Number One: How's It Holding Up?

At 1146 hours and nine years, the airplane is wearing its age well. But it’s been far from trouble free.

February 1, 2005

Cirrus SR20

The new century’s aviation success story hits the used market. Look for good buys on relatively recent models.

November 20, 2013

Cirrus SR20

It wasn’t the first “plastic” airplane, but the composite Cirrus was far enough along the cutting edge to stir up the pilot community. Of course, some loudly asserted that no “real” pilot would want one of those things—it’s got a parachute, for crying out loud. Yet the SR20 and its offspring the SR22 quietly and effectively changed ideas of what a personal airplane should look like, how it should be used and how it should be equipped.

June 17, 2013

Cirrus SR22T G5: Fast, Efficient Traveler

The fifth-generation Cirrus SR22 isn’t an entirely fresh model. Instead, it’s a compilation of advanced features and improvements that Cirrus has added to the aircraft over the past few years. Whether it’s the new paint and interior styling options, more advanced avionics that come standard, or the bold new gross weight increase, Cirrus’ dedication to improving and advancing the product line proves why the SR22 has consistently outsold every other certified piston single. As we go to press, production order slots for the new SR22 G5 are sold out well into the fall of this year—encouraging in an otherwise declining aircraft sales environment. We recently visited Cirrus headquarters in Duluth, Minnesota, plucked a new SR22T G5 turbo model from the flight line and hauled it halfway across the country—a mission the aircraft easily delivers with comfort, efficiency and utility.

July 1, 2010

Cirrus SR22T: A Follow-On Turbo

When Cirrus went its own way and offered the Tornado Alley Turbo as an STC in the SR22, the market practically planted a wet kiss on the project. Now, with a new model called the SR22T, Cirrus is following up with a groundboosted rather than a turbonormalized system. This time, it did the engineering in-house rather than relying on Tornado Alley, although it’s clear that Cirrus took a page from the TAT book in terms of overall design, especially intercooling and leaning strategy.

September 1, 2007

Citabria and Decathlon

A significant fraction of the aviation community is made up of pilots who are less interested in getting rapidly from Point A to Point B than they are in just going aloft to enjoy a fine day and perhaps being able to top off the flight with a loop and a roll or three. Rather than fantasize about bigger engines, retractable gear, turbocharging and glass panels, they dream of an airplane that will let them enjoy the sky by doing more than flying straight and level while still being able to go somewhere at a reasonable pace. The explosion of the homebuilt, ultralight and the budding Light Sport industry in recent decades is testament to the demand for simple, inexpensive airplanes suited to the pure joy of flight. Unfortunately, for those who prefer factory-built airplanes, the choices are limited, especially if one has the desire to enhance that joy with the sensuous pleasure of aerobatics.

July 1, 2005

Columbia 400: Tops Cirrus in Speed

It’s fast enough that owners will need sharp skills to stay with it in the flight levels. An efficient TSIO-550 gives it a range edge over Mooney’s Bravo.

May 21, 2009

CubCrafters LSA Cub: Stunning STOL

As applied to airplanes, the word "performance" has a multi-tiered meaning. We’d guess most pilots think of speed first, then payload or climb and then maybe short or rough field capability. The light sport segment bollixes up the usual logic because none of them are very fast, although they vary in payload and runway capability. On that last point, a new LSA offering from CubCrafters promises to reset the scale on what short takeoff and landing capability means, so much so that there are going to be some envious Super Cub pilots in Alaska drooling over this thing. The airplane is called the Super SportCub and it was unveiled just prior to Sun ‘n Fun. Had it not been for an item in the press announcement, we would have said that this airplane is simply another entry in what is turning out to be just way too many LSAs than the market will ever support. But that one thing was the engine: a 180-HP O-340 four-banger loosely based on Lycoming’s O-320, but stroked and modified as an experimental engine by Engine Components, Inc. But wait a minute…doesn’t the airplane still have to meet the 1320-pound LSA gross weight limit and can it do that with that big engine? It does and, evidently, it can.

September 16, 2014

Denali Scout: Power, Handling, Fun

Let’s begin with the conclusion: American Champion’s decision to add 30 HP to the long-serving, 180-HP Scout, to make what it calls the Denali Scout—created the stud brute of the two-place, backcountry airplane set. It keeps the honest handling and excellent ground manners of the Scout while notching up the climb rate from very good to nearly breathtaking. There are some shortcomings that we’ll outline—they are all carryovers from the original Scout and not safety of flight matters.

May 14, 2014

Diamond DA40

We’ve watched the evolution of the Diamond DA40 series with interest. Our first reaction to what would become the Diamond Star was to be less than impressed. We thought the canopy was a marketing ploy that would make emergency egress difficult, and the cabin looked small and uncomfortable.

June 24, 2009

Diamond DA42-L360: Lycoming Reborn

When Diamond was hard into its certification of the DA42 Twin Star in 2005, it knew it was taking a big chance on the untried Thielert 1.7 diesel engines. But it also hedged its bets by running a near parallel certification effort of the same airplane fitted with Lycoming’s angle-valve IO-360, a well proven powerplant. It back-burnered the Lycoming project once it appeared that the diesel engines were both preferred and were gaining ground in the market. It now appears as though the Lycoming hedge is paying off, by necessity. As is well known by now, the Thielert diesels turned out to have a spotty service record at best, a disastrous one at worst. The engine required numerous periodic replacement parts—mainly gearboxes and clutches—but also lots of unscheduled (and expensive) maintenance that all but tanked the 1.7 diesels as serious contenders. As we go to press this month, Diamond is finishing certification details on the resurrected Lycoming project under its new version of the airplane, the DA42-L360. (The trade name Twin Star has been dropped because of a trademark dispute with a helicopter manufacturer.) The Lycomings will be offered as an option in place of the newly certified Austro AE300, which Diamond also brought to fruition by launching a company just for that purpose. The new engines will be available for both new aircraft and owners of existing Thielert diesel models who may wish to convert. (We suspect many will.)

May 21, 2013

Diamond DA52: A Six-Place Diesel Minivan

When Piper morphed the Apache into the Aztec in 1960, it was a precursor of sorts for an idea yet to be invented: the minivan. You could say the same of the Seneca, but whichever analogy appeals, Diamond Aircraft’s new DA52 VII goes to the same place. It’s meant to be a people or thing hauler capable of high cruise speeds, but with a fuel economy and speed Piper could only dream about. But the minivan comparison goes just so far, for the DA52, when certified sometime next year, will be an expensive ride.

May 26, 2010

Diamond HK36: Gliding and Flying

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Germany stunned the world by fielding the most advanced and competent air force on the planet. And it did that despite Draconian post-war treaty restrictions that all but prohibited combat aircraft development. But the pilots came from a different tradition—a passion for gliding and soaring. That continues yet today with most of the world’s glider production centered in Europe, including the re-introduced HK36 Super Dimona motorglider from Diamond Aircraft. "New" doesn’t exactly apply to this airplane because it has been in and out of production for 20 years. In fact, the design is really responsible for much of the way Diamond airplanes look, feel and fly for before it was a powered airplane company, Diamond’s predecessor, HOAC, was a motorglider company, with antecedents extending to 1980.

August 1, 2005

Diamond’s Twin Star: Are the Engines Ready?

Dozens are already flying in Europe. Success rests with engine life and serviceability, but in the U.S., a Lycoming-powered version may win the day.

June 23, 2011

Eastman’s CH650: Son of Zenith

For taxonomy purposes, the aviation press seems to sort light sport aircraft into two broad categories—fun flyers and cruisers or "go-places airplanes." Ostensibly, the divider is speed. Fun flyers like the Cub clones cruise a little faster than 100 MPH and the cruisers seem to manage as much as 125 MPH. Not a huge difference to be sure, but enough to make short VFR cross-countries tolerable, if not expediently routine. Another way to look at the sorting of LSAs is sports car versus utility vehicle. Into this marketing equation, Eastman Aviation has inserted its CH650 low-wing LSA, a cruiser that’s decidedly on the sports car end of the spectrum. If you’ve noted a certain sameness in the look of low-wing cruisers, there’s a reason for it. Against the limitation of a 132 MPH limit, there are only so many places a design can go and the CH650 has been there—for years.

May 25, 2011

Eastman’s CH750: Super STOL LSA

If the world of manufacturing offered such a thing, it would have to issue a special award to the light sport aircraft industry for sheer, blind tenacity in the face of hopeless market conditions. Dozens of companies persist in peddling so-so designs with no chance of achieving enough volume to survive, much less prosper. The smarter companies are figuring this out and are re-jiggering their business plans into hybrids whose sales rely not just on flightschools and owner operators, but other business lines entirely.

March 12, 2013

Eclipse 550: A Jet for a Niche

The Eclipse 500 lives at two ends of the same spectrum. At one terminus, it’s the over-sold, overpromised underperformer that traditional jet operators love to hate. At the other, it’s a nifty little high-tech jewel that a small cadre of owners rave about. Somewhere in the vast gulf between, the new Eclipse Aerospace hopes to mine some jet sales.

August 1, 2008

Eclipse Owner Views: Warts, Yes, But Still Sweet

Further straining any attempt to nail down an evaluation of the Eclipse is the company’s rubbery delivery promises. It has slipped schedules so many times, made volume predictions that haven’t materialized and, in our view, delivered an airplane short enough of its original promise that it’s tempting to focus solely on these shortcomings rather than the airplane itself. Eclipse has been masterful in promoting itself but, in our opinion, reluctant to let the aviation press see what the airplane will really do. Curiously, some owners are nearly as secretive. With Eclipse refusing press demos, we asked several owners for test rides. Only one agreed, because he loves the airplane and wanted to show that it could strut its stuff. Other owners agreed to speak to us but only if we promised not to use their names. Why such worries? One owner said he was worried that Eclipse wouldn’t deliver on promised upgrades if he beefed about the airplane in public; another said he just didn’t want the hassle, but would answer all of our questions. One fleet operator did speak to us on the record.

April 16, 2014

Epic E1000: Big Power and Speed

To date, the single-engine turboprop market has been a classic economic model of independent niches—the players don’t compete directly. The Pilatus PC-12, Daher-Socata TBMs, Cessna Caravans, Quest Kodiak and Piper Meridian target different mission and load needs; there’s not much to encourage price competition, although the TBMs are so fast they do go head to head with some jets.

October 22, 2013

Ercoupe/Aircoupe/Cadet

Everyone knows the Ercoupe was designed to be super safe by making it stall and spin-proof, yet few know it racked up a number of firsts including first successful production GA airplane that had a nosewheel or that had a fully cowled engine—making it faster than most of its contemporaries. Even fewer are aware that its design means it can handle a crosswind of double the velocity that can be dealt with by almost any other airplane.

October 27, 2010

Expedition E350: A Refined Workhorse

Every aircraft design has an underlying mission it’s designed to and best suited for. Human owners rarely have so narrow a need, however, so one of the greatest challenge of choosing an aircraft to own is finding a design whose perfect mission falls in the fat part of the bell curve for the range of missions you plan to fly. Expedition Aircraft’s E350 is a backcountry load-hauler first and foremost; it’s a big crate with a fat wing and gobs of power. Load it up with the full 100 gallons of fuel and you can still toss in another 800 pounds of payload.

January 1, 2013

FK12 Comet: Sporty, Aerobatic

Not to be too cynical about it, but at a distance, one high-wing light sport aircraft looks about like another and it’s no surprise they fly alike, too. In a world dominated by polished composite sameness, how to stand out? FK Lightplanes’ formula is a diminutive sport biplane it calls the FK12 Comet, which no one would ever mistake for an Evektor or a Remos at any distance.

January 22, 2009

Fun-Size Floatplanes: Options for Most Budgets

According to seaplane instructors, the most commonly uttered phrase by a landplane pilot following the first seaplane lesson is: "My Gawd, this is fun. Why didn’t I do it sooner?" The second is often, "I want one of these things." With the hook firmly set, let’s look at what the truly smitten goes through in determining how much fun he or she can afford and what kind of seaplane to buy. We strongly suggest that the first step in such a process is to join the Seaplane Pilots Association. It’s an excellent organization for those who want to have anything to do with seaplanes. Its forums contain a wealth of information on specifics of seaplane ownership and operation. What constitutes a fun seaplane? We consider fun seaplanes as ones where the idea is to fly purely for pleasure; in which the owner wants to knock around the sky and explore the waterways that are suitable and legal for seaplanes to alight; to take at least one passenger and enough stuff for a picnic or to go fishing or maybe stay overnight at a remote cabin or campsite on the shore. Fun seaplanes are for the aeronautical version of the sailor’s "gunkholing." The airplane is not going to work for a living, need to haul a lot of stuff, travel great distances or handle particularly rough water or weather. We opine that fun seaplanes have but one engine that develops less than 200 HP, but we recognize that such a cutoff is arbitrary. The 145-HP Aeronca Sedan and 150- to 180-HP Piper Super Cubs and 180-HP Huskies are often serious, working seaplanes hauling cargo and people on a day-to-day basis.

July 21, 2014

Garmin Flight Stream: Portable Connectivity

Garmin’s Connext wireless interface provides a two-way data stream between tablets and certified panel avionics, breathing new life into the GNS530/430.

February 13, 2012

Gippsland GA8TC: Flies Sweet, Hauls a Lot

The heavy-hauler aircraft niche is such a sub-specialty that not many dedicated models exist, with Cessna’s Caravan being the most obvious success story. Piper’s Saratoga and the 200 series from Cessna qualify, but none are devoted purely to the lots-of-people or the lots-of-boxes role. That certainly can’t be said of the Gippsland Aeronautics GA-8 Airvan, an aircraft that’s unabashedly devoted to hauling stuff. A lot of stuff. We were first introduced to the Airvan 10 years ago, just after it appeared as what we might now call the leading edge of the world or international airplane. Built in Australia, the model hasn’t been a huge seller, but with about 170-plus flying, it’s gained a foothold.

February 1, 2007

Globe Swift

Once the would-be airplane buyer gets past the notion that owning an airplane is rarely a rational decision and all of us must reach that point he can then enter the darkened cave of deciding which airplane to buy. If practicality and utility aren’t on the wish list, the choices narrow down to sport flyers, aerobats, warbirds and the ever alluring classics.

April 17, 2013

Globe/Temco Swift

The original Swift wasn’t. With but 85 HP, the post-war, two-seat, tailwheel retract would barely climb out of its own way. However, its fighter-like handling, good looks and aerobatic ability, plus a management decision to almost immediately certify a model with 40 more HP, generated an enduring core of aficionados. Globe and its follow-on manufacturer, Temco, created a true sport airplane that is demanding of its pilots, rewarding to those who can fly rather than drive, and proved to be amazingly amenable to being extensively modified.

August 19, 2014

Great Lakes Biplane: Docile, Sporty and Fun

Economists have a name for things that are in daily use despite having been designed multiple decades ago: persistent technology. Biplanes fit the definition, although pilots don’t call them that; they call them fun, an even mix of nostalgia and unique performance characteristics. That more than anything explains why biplanes have been in and out of production since the 1930s and the latest one to go into production is the Great Lakes 2T-1A-2, a modern revision of the classic biplane made famous by barnstormer Tex Rankin.

May 2, 2011

Great Lakes Revival: Docile and Glass Smooth

There aren’t many airplanes that feel precise and balanced in flight without being twitchy and solid without being heavy. The Bonanza 33/35 series qualifies and some say the Cirrus line is close. We recently discovered one that has the middle of this lane nailed down. Improbably, it’s the Great Lakes classic biplane, which Waco Classic is now reintroducing as a sport aircraft. (Not light sport, but certified, mind you.) Just as improbably, it filled up its order book with at least a year’s backlog at the Sun ‘n Fun show in April and the year is barely a quarter old. What the heck is the appeal of a 80-year-old open cockpit throwback to the Depression era? If you have to ask, you can’t possibly understand, but we’ll try to explain it.

June 1, 2005

Grumman Tiger

Sprightly speed, sporty handling and a canopy you can open in flight has generated fanatical loyalty.

February 21, 2014

Grumman Tiger

Ask a Grumman Tiger owner what they like about the airplane and you’ll likely get an earful of energetic praise. Most owners gush over the Tiger’s snappy handling, healthy climb performance and slide-back canopy that allows for open-air flight. There’s arguably lots of appeal to these little cruisers. Non-Grumman enthusiasts (and even some mechanics) just won’t understand. Some call them silly little airplanes.

December 1, 2010

Kitfox LSA: Taildragger or Trike?

We’re running out of ways to explain why what was supposed to be the shining salvation of aviation—the light sport aircraft industry—has thus far failed to deliver a three-run homer. Would-be buyers continue to complain that no one has produced a decent $40,000 LSA, but someone has produced a good one for a little more than twice that: The Kitfox. As a kit company, Kitfox has been around since the early 1980s in various iterations and its basic design idea has evolved through a number of variants and one European knockoff. And the big idea? A conventional welded-tube structure covered with fabric and with expansive clear plastic doors, a glass roof and a huge baggage compartment.

October 11, 2012

LSA Accident Survey: Low Fatals, High Overall

When the light sport aircraft rule was busy being born a decade ago, it was intended to be a poster child for inspired innovation driven by reduced regulation. While there’s no argument that LSA has ignited a bushel of new designs, not much has been said about safety and crashworthiness. Is it reasonable to assume that a 1320-pound airplane will be as safe as one weighing 300 or 500 pounds more?

July 20, 2009

LSA Amphibians: Two Good Options

Amphibious LSAs are like a cold ice cream cone on a hot summer day: Nobody really needs one, but once you’ve had a taste, you really, really want one. But practicality is a matter of perspective. Having the option to drop in on a lake or river and pull up to the local fish shack for lunch makes for some serious recreation. Having the option to use most any airport for, hangaring, refueling or maintenance is seriously convenient. You’ll pay for that flexibility with a slower cruise and some added complexity of retractable gear. Hey, you can’t have everything. Kerry Richter, president of Progressive Aerodyne, started building hang gliders in high school and was working on ultralights by the late 70s. The first Searey (known as the A model) was available as a kit in 1992, with the B and C models following in 1996 and 2002. The latest model is the Searey LSX / Sport. The LSX is the kit version. The Sport is a ready-to-fly S-LSA. The Searey still looks a bit like an ultralight, in our opinion. This image is dispelled once you get your hands on the aircraft. Aileron, elevator and flap controls are all pushrod and torque tube. Many of the connections are exposed for easy preflight. The wing is cloth over aluminum for weight savings, and ease of detailed inspection and repair should you run it into a dock piling. Other nice pluses are standard LED lights and an electric bilge pump. We liked the heavy switches and clean panel layout. It even has cabin heat, despite the distance to the engine.

November 1, 2006

Lake Amphibian

Unless you’re going to fly off the water, there is no reason in the world to consider buying a Lake Amphibian, the one and only production flying boat still made in the United States—barely.

January 1, 2014

Lake Amphibian

The bad news is that, no matter how cleverly you design it, putting a boat hull on an airplane does not make for efficient aerodynamics. You also wind up with a complex airplane that has all the costs of maintaining a retractable landing gear and constant speed prop, plus the expenses of keeping a boat alive and well. There are those who assert that you should combine those costs and then square the sum to get an accurate number for owning an amphibian. Oh yes, and you get to own an airplane that can sink.

March 26, 2010

Legend Amphib: Fun-to-Fly Eyecatcher

If you park a Cub on a ramp, you’ll soon draw a crowd. If the Cub is on floats, you’ll need crowd control and that, in a nutshell, describes what may be American Legend’s best marketing ploy. At the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, last winter, Legend introduced the amphibious float version of its popular LSA Legend Cub. By dint of sheer size, it drew a constant stream of attention—the airplane towers over the typical diminutive LSA and it’s one of only a small number of LSAs being sold as purpose-built amphibians. (We covered two others, the Searey and the Seamax in the August 2009 issue, both flying boats.) While we initially thought the Legend amphib was a conversion kit available for any existing Legend, it turns out not to be. That’s not to say a Legend couldn’t be fitted with floats, but the airplane we flew is a purpose-made amphib and owner Dick Parsons told us he doesn’t have land gear for the airplane. (That’s an option.)

August 23, 2011

Load Hauler Bargains: Pipers Have an Edge

Hauling half a ton without feeding two engines is just the ticket for air taxi, small cargo outfits and families of five plus a dog. The number of makes is actually surprising if you look worldwide and count antiques, and it’s growing with aircraft like the Piper Matrix, Expedition (Found) Aircraft E350 and Gippsland Airvan. The used market, however, is still dominated by four venerable models that have been around since the '60s: Piper’s Cherokee 6/Lance/Saratoga line, Beech’s 36-Series Bonanza, the Cessna 206/207 and the Cessna 210. This is likely where you’ll find a good deal, although we’re told well-priced six-seaters don’t last long, even in this economy.

August 1, 2006

Maule’s Taildraggers

A family owned business endures at making utility airplanes that owners love and at prices that everyone can afford.

March 1, 2007

Mooney Acclaim: Fast and Flexible

As an aircraft company, Mooney has been down and out and resurrected more times than a dried-out Betty Ford graduate with a reserved parking space near the door. Nothing, it seems-not frightful market conditions, not inept management and not even great clouds of plastic airplanes-can drive a stake though the heart of what has to be the scrappiest airplane company in the universe. That’s due almost entirely to one thing: Mooneys are a fundamentally sound design.

July 1, 2006

Mooney M20 (Pre-201)

Known for strength, economy, speed and a sports-car fit, the basic Mooney airframe endures.

April 1, 2005

Mooney M20K

Few airplanes fly as fast or as far on as little gas as the K-model Mooneys. The 252 is the most refined version of the line.

April 1, 2007

Mooney M20M/TLS/Bravo Series

Mooneys have always enjoyed a reputation for being fast, easy-to-fly cruisers with average payload and a somewhat tight cabin. But the reality is that they’ve been more efficient than fast. Bonanzas and Cessna’s gas-thirsty 210 outrun most Mooney models but on balance, no airplane company has managed to squeeze as many knots out of as few horsepower. The sore-thumb exception to this is the Mooney M20M/TLS/Bravo series.

July 1, 2008

Mooney Type S: Ludicrous Speed*

Just as there will always be an England, there will always be airplane buyers to whom nothing else matters but raw speed. Forget cabin size, payload, range or safety—let’s just go faster than anyone else. And for these buyers, Mooney has just the airplane—the new Acclaim Type S, which appears to us to be a no-kidding 240-knot-plus airplane, making it the fastest single-engine piston currently in production—no arguments. Although speed is the antithesis of efficiency, the Type S can, nonetheless, deliver its blazing speed at relatively economical fuel burns. Mooney got into a marketing spat last year with the then Columbia Aircraft (now Cessna) about who had the fastest single. We think we settled this in our October 2007 report in which we found the Mooney Acclaim easily got past the Columbia in a two-way speed trial. If there was any doubt then, there isn’t now. At realistic cruise speeds and equivalent fuel flows, the Type S is solidly 20 knots faster than the Columbia and maybe a bit more than that over the Cirrus SR22 TN.

November 1, 2004

New Piper’s 6X

With an Avidyne glass panel, the 6X brings the Cherokee Six to state of the art. Load carrying and comfort are excellent but we pine for electrical back-up.

March 1, 2006

North American Navion

A big, beefy retractable that traces its lineage to the P-51 Mustang. Although cheap to buy, watch for basketcase airframes needing expensive restoration.

June 1, 2007

Old Yellow Classic: Piper J-3 Cub

In the peak of Piper’s Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, glory days, William T. Piper was rightly seen as a visionary. But no one could have imagined how enduring that vision would be, to the extent that 70 years later, several companies are building brand new Cubs that clearly trade on the mystique of the old yellow classic. Look elsewhere in this issue for our review of two LSA Cubs to see what we mean. The only reason that "Piper Cub" is no longer the standard generic name for every little airplane flying is that the generation that made it so has been displaced by younger folks to whom flying holds little attraction, much less romance.

March 1, 2005

PAC 750XL

This New Zealand import aims to take on Cessna’s Caravan. Its performance is impressive but the company needs a service and support network to succeed.

September 1, 2006

Parachute? Or Second Engine?

That’s where Diamond would like to move the debate in selling its Twin Star against the Cirrus SR22. But does the argument stand up?

January 24, 2011

Paradise P1 Lexus in Waiting?

Buyers of light sport airplanes say they want cheap, basic models, but when the check is to be written, what they really buy are upscale airframes with glass panels and whatever creature comforts can be gotten into the airplane. That’s why the top LSA sellers aren’t the lowest priced models, but nearer the highest. The Paradise P1 fits this mold, more or less living up to what the company’s sales manager, Chris Regis, calls the Lexus of LSAs. He’s not far off the mark, given the airplane’s detailing, price point and the degree to which you can customize the panel. But we would make another comparison: It’s a modern Cessna 150. We’ll get to why in a moment.

October 22, 2013

Pilatus PC-12 NG: Aviation’s Utility Infielder

Don’t let the advertisers lie to you—every design involves compromises. Attempting to optimize any one aspect of a vehicle means accepting less-than-optimal outcomes for other aspects. Ever since the Wrights, trying to come up with an airplane that does everything well has driven more than a few aeronautical engineers around the bend or into other occupations.

November 1, 2007

Pilatus PC-12: Tops in Range, Payload

When contemplating a Pilatus PC-12, you can’t help but think of someone who went out to buy an all-terrain vehicle and came home with a luxury, all-wheel--drive motorhome that could go off-road. You have to look past the BMW-designed interior to discover that the Swiss-made turboprop was originally created for use in the Third World. It was thus conceived to be a utilitarian vehicle that was tough and capable enough to operate from short, dirt runways, could tanker lots of fuel because availability might be questionable and still carry on if something broke out in the bush.

November 1, 2005

Piper Archer

The PA-28-180 series is one of the most enduring GA designs. It’s a bit faster than a Skyhawk and carries more load, making it an ideal budget family airplane.

January 1, 2013

Piper Arrow

A sensible, well-behaved, moderate performer that never goes out of style.

March 1, 2005

Piper Aztec

Although not cheap to operate, the Aztec is exceptionally affordable to buy. Some models boast a ton of useful load.

October 1, 2006

Piper Cherokee PA28-140

It started life as a trainer and lives on as a budget cross-country flier for one or two people; mods can even make the 140 modestly peppy.

August 9, 2013

Piper Malibu-Mirage

When it first appeared in the mid-1980s, the Malibu rocked the GA world. Here was a pressurized, high-flying luxury ride capable of 200 knots and with impressive range to boot.

November 15, 2012

Piper Matrix: Speed Sans Complexity

As of 2012, the Matrix is in its fifth model year and although sales for all the OEMs have tanked, the Matrix and its pressurized stablemate, the Mirage, continue to be strong sellers for Piper, accounting for more than a third of its total sales by units. In 2008, the introductory year, the Matrix outsold the Mirage five to one because, dealers say, it had a substantially lower price. So much for price sensitivity.

August 26, 2008

Piper Matrix: Strong Performer, Good Value

The Piper Matrix is un-American. The rules clearly state that automobiles and airplanes are to get bigger, heavier, more complicated and less efficient as the production years pass. Go look it up. Cars outgrow garages and airplanes lose useful load. Simplifying an American vehicle is not acceptable. Increasing an airplane’s efficiency and useful load is probably a federal offense. The offender—Piper—has created a very good airplane that’s selling as fast as it can be built. Piper took a risk in creating a simplified, unpressurized version of its decades-old Malibu/Mirage. To the extent market history exists for such a decision, it’s lousy. In 1980, Cessna produced an unpressurized version of the Model 340A, the 335, which did poorly and was dropped after only one year of production. In the new Matrix, Piper didn’t make Cessna’s mistake of reducing performance of an existing model and it kept the same 350-HP Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A that the Mirage has. Piper also spent money on market surveys to assess demand for the proposed airplane as well as the right price point. Despite the current economic downturn, it appears the decision was a winner.

January 1, 2005

Piper Navajo

An affordable cabin-class twin made in wide model variation. Watch for a long AD list and high maintenance costs.

June 1, 2006

Piper Seminole

The sole survivor from a 1970s experiment in marketing, a step-up light twin is still in demand and still built by New Piper.

July 1, 2007

Piper Seneca

Piper’s venerable Seneca is what we think of as a "full-circle airplane." Would-be twin owners often consider it as their first choice, but then shop around for a Baron, or a Skymaster or maybe an Aztec. They then come full circle back to the Seneca for several good reasons, the leading one being that as twins go, the Seneca is eminently practical. It does nothing exceedingly well—it’s not fast, nor a joy to fly nor will it turn heads on the ramp—but it does a lot well enough.

May 1, 2006

Piper Super Cub

Although Cub nostalgia keeps purchase prices high, the world’s premier utility aircraft is also a terrific fun flyer.

April 1, 2006

Piper Twin Comanche

Twin-engine reliability and safety at single-engine prices. Although long in the tooth, the airplane is still supported with parts and mods.

July 1, 2005

Piper/Ted Smith Aerostar

Got speed? The Aerostar certainly does, in abundance. Although its too-hot-to-handle reputation is probably undeserved, it is by no means a cheap ride.

July 21, 2014

Piper/Ted Smith Aerostar

T he Aerostar—with plenty of ramp appeal and utility—has a deserved rep for being blazingly fast with good range. And unlike most piston twins, it has enough power to actually climb on a single engine.

February 25, 2010

PiperSport LSA: Sleek, Comfortable

For the established manufacturers, the light sport evolution has presented an opportunity and a dilemma. The opportunity is that LSAs might gin up the market for certified aircraft by offering buyers a low cost of admission. The dilemma? How to capitalize on that. Do you leave LSAs to the upstarts or build your own? Cessna built its own, Cirrus stuck a toe in the LSA water and withdrew it—or at least delayed the plunge—and now comes Piper with the announcement that it will offer the former Czech Aircraft Works SportCruiser as a rebranded PiperSport. The announcement came at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in January in Sebring, Florida. Piper’s new CEO, Kevin Gould, explained that buying and marketing someone else’s design made more sense than spending hard-to-come-by developmental dollars to ultimately build an airplane that’s not much different from the dozens already out there. Point taken.

June 17, 2014

Pipistrel Panthera: A Retrac for the New Age

How about this for an overused cliché? “It looks fast standing still.” It’s been applied to everything from cars, to boats and the occasional airplane, with arguable truth. But when Pipistrel’s exotic Panthera appeared as a prototype two years ago, it was mobbed at the Aero Expo in Friedrichshafen and none of the people waiting in line to see it were heard debating its sleek good looks.

April 18, 2012

Pipistrel Virus SW: Not Just Another LSA

Little white LSAs seem to flow from eastern Europe in such a steady trickle that we’ll admit to thinking that one is mostly like another. Indeed, a peek under the cowl reveals the same engine (a Rotax 912) that yields unsurprisingly similar performance. But one that’s a standout, at least in speed, in a undistinguished field is Pipistrel’s Virus SW. Pipistrel has gained some note for having run away with the NASA Green Flight Challenge three times with various iterations of its product line, including a purpose-made variant of its Taurus motorglider. All of the Pipistrel airplanes are unique for having evolved from gliders, so they have slender, exceptionally light fuselages, high aspect-ratio wing planforms and low drag.

January 17, 2014

Pitts Special

Until the advent of the Pitts Special, aerobatics was a horizontal affair, even in the hairy-chested, fuel-sucking, 450-HP Boeings and Wacos. Practitioners pirouetted under the stern God of Energy Management—gravity and drag meant vertical maneuvers were brief events.

November 15, 2011

Premier’s XLS Upgrade: Improving the DA40

The aircraft mod business isn’t what it used to be. Hell, nothing’s what it used to be in a world where aircraft sales are struggling back from the abyss. In the heyday of mods, dozens of companies offered all sorts of upgrades—fuel tanks, intercoolers, wingtips—were available for new airplanes, but lately not so much. One new mod that caught our eye recently was Premier Aircraft Sales upgrade to the Diamond DA40, a popular entry level cruiser that also has legs as a trainer and personal transportation aircraft.

January 1, 2014

Pristine Airplanes: Not Like New, But Close

No matter how extensive the refurbishment process, there’s no feasible way to rebuild an existing aircraft back to new condition. To do that, every component down to the last rivet and strand of wire would need to be removed and replaced. But an extensive refurbishment process could be the next best option. It’s also an alternative to buying a so-called wash-and-wax resale.

September 17, 2013

Redbird's Redhawk: Like New at a Used Price

For at least two decades, the airframe manufacturers have relegated new trainers to the “why bother?” category. The market is so moribund that the last truly consequential trainer, other than LSAs, was Diamond’s DA20 Katana, a 1995 intro that was a lukewarm seller at best. Sooner or later, this was going to be fixed and in Redbird’s new Redhawk Skyhawk diesel conversion, maybe later has actually arrived, at least as an incremental step forward.

August 23, 2011

Remos NXT: Slick, Sophisticated

In the not-that-rarified world of LSA marketing, Remos enjoys a spot in the top 10, thanks to modest penetration in the training market and the fact that the company has been around the block a few times. At a distance, a Remos may look like just another white composite LSA, but up close, it struts some different stuff. These are exceptionally carefully crafted airplanes and despite their relatively high prices, they’ve sold rather well in the U.S., occupying a spot behind Tecnam and Legend, according to LSA guru Dan Johnson’s research. With the announcement of the GX-NXT, the company is into its third generation design and although they haven’t exactly re-written the design brief, the newest airplane has some significant improvements on what was already a refined product.

January 13, 2012

Renegade Falcon: Lycoming on the LSA Map

If there’s anything surprising about light sport airplanes, it’s that there isn’t much surprising about light sport airplanes. Bolt a 100-HP Rotax to a 750-pound airframe and you get something that climbs about 500 FPM, cruises about 110 knots and ranges to 500 miles. Will that be high wing or low wing? Amidst this calm sea of sameness, does opportunity lurk? Renegade Aircraft, a small startup you’ve probably never heard of, thinks so. Renegade is marketing an upscale, sporty LSA that represents the sharp wedge of handful of LSAs powered not by Rotax, but by Lycoming’s new O-233 engine.

August 19, 2014

Robinson R44

Pilots looking for a used aircraft usually have a mission in mind: Carry a specific payload over a certain distance in a minimum amount of time. And if you need to get to and from remote locations while mixing it up at nearby Big City International, you might have overlooked the helicopter.

November 20, 2013

SAM Aircraft LS: Modern Nostalgia

he light sport market is supposed to be about simple, affordable and fun flying, isn’t it? While a handful of models come close to hitting that mark, including versions from Legend Aircraft, Cub Crafters and now, SAM Aircraft with the SAM LS, CC and STOL models, it’s the affordability thing that always seems to get in the way.

August 19, 2010

Silver Eagle P210: A Turbine That Works

The turbine engine is impossibly alluring. No thrashing pistons, grinding cams, clicking valves—just far fewer exquisitely balanced parts all whirring in the same direction. But turbines are expensive and they guzzle fuel, which means that with very few exceptions, they don’t work well in small airplanes. One of those exceptions is O&N Aircraft’s re-engining of the Cessna P210 and 210 with the Rolls Royce (formerly Allison) 250-B17F/2 turbine engine, a powerplant that’s been around awhile and one that Rolls is trying to evolve into more GA applications with the advent of a new version, the RR500. Mooney expressed interest in that engine, but thus far, the project hasn’t materialized and it may not for the same reasons that turbines have stumbled before: difficult-to-manage fuel specifics and small airframes with no place to put the fuel.

December 1, 2006

Socata TB-10

It may not be fast, or carry a lot and although it hasn’t been a stellar seller in the U.S., say this about the SOCATA TB-10 Tobago: It’s a good looking airplane, perhaps one of the best looking ever built.

June 17, 2014

Socata TB-20/-21 Trinidad

It may not be the fastest airplane to sport a big Lycoming, but on pure style points, it has no equal.

May 1, 2005

Spam Can or Used Kit?

Pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, a used Experimental might be faster and cheaper than a certified airplane. But there are good reasons not to buy one.

July 12, 2013

Stemme S6RT: Aviation’s Crossover

Attempting to combine two genres in one aeronautical vehicle requires compromises that have historically generated less than stellar results. The mating of airplanes and cars has, for generations, given us offspring that were eminently forgettable performers as airplanes or cars. Flying boats have proven a little better—although, on the water, they are fragile beings requiring great care and, in the air, pay a penalty in fuel burn, speed and payload for shoving the weight and shape of a boat hull through the sky.

September 25, 2012

Super Legend: Lycoming O-233 Debut

Other than having wings, an engine and a tall sticker price, certified and light sport airplanes don’t have much in common save one thing: People who buy both will pay for higher performance. And that’s the idea behind the new Lycoming O-233-powered Super Legend. After a fashion, the Super Legend is to the standard Legend as the Super Cub is to a J-3. The Super Legend is based on Piper’s venerable PA-18 and, according to Legend’s Darin Hart, some of the parts are directly interchangeable. (That’s true of the O-200 Legend, too.) With the Super Legend, American Legend is going after that strata of the market to whom performance, features and cache matter more than price. That turns out to be the dominant share of buyers, according to LSA market summaries. When we visited Legend’s Sulphur Springs, Texas factory in late August, it was in the final stages of LSA approval for the Super Legend. Hart told us despite the higher price tag, every other buyer is opting for the Lycoming version over the Continental O-200 model. In this report, we’ll take a look at how the O-233 (and flaps) transforms the Legend airframe.

March 12, 2012

TBM 850: Fast, Comfortable, Manageable

When you put a sharp pencil to it, a 20-knot speed advantage for one airplane over another really isn’t squat. It amounts to 12 minutes on a 500-mile trip. But how about 50 knots or even 100? On a 1000-mile trip, that’s the difference between landing just in time for dinner or arriving early enough for a round of golf and cocktails. Above 300-knots cruise speed, the space-time scale shifts and that’s where the Daher-SOCATA TBM850 lives. The airplane is a no-apologies, uncompromised high-altitude personal transportation aircraft that enjoys, if not high-volume sales, a loyal following and an improved market thanks to the lukewarm blooming of the very light jet market.

June 1, 2007

TBM 850: Who Needs a VLJ?

All but obscured by the lava flow of VLJ hype is this simple reality: For more than a year, one of the most conservative and oldest airplane manufacturers in the world has been delivering a single-engine turboprop with the performance, legs and load-carrying ability to make any would-be VLJ buyer think twice. The EADS Socata TBM 850 whistles along at a max cruise of 320 knots at FL260, only 20 knots slower than most of the VLJs advertise. It goes further with a load of passengers and burns a lot less fuel. For the owner-pilot, the speed, operating costs and the allure of limiting insurance-mandated training to three days a year rather than nearly two weeks for the VLJ means that the 850 is a contender. We were surprised by the numbers, frankly.

December 1, 2004

Taylorcraft

A classic taildragger straight from the 1930s, but with modern antecedents. Even later models are relatively inexpensive and the airplane remains in production as a light sport offering.

March 30, 2011

Tecnam P2008: No-Apologies High End

The relatively lackluster sales of new LSAs has proven one thing: There’s not much room at the bottom of the market. Although there are sub-$100,000 LSAs out there, the top 10 sellers are above that price tier. Some are well above it. And that’s where Tecnam’s newish P2008 comes in. The base price is $154,999, but equipped with the glass panel package most buyers would probably want, it invoices at about $170,000. Regardless of how would-be buyers might view this, the P2008 isn’t a no-frills entry level LSA. If you want one of those, the Kitfox we reviewed in the December 2010 issue is a good starting place.

April 1, 2006

Turbo Cirrus: A 200-knot Cruiser

Cirrus has been slow out of the gate with a turbocharged SR22. Tornado Alley’s turbonormalized conversion makes it competitive with Columbia.

June 1, 2008

Turboprop Singles: No One-Size Solution

EADS-Socata, Piper, Pilatus and Cessna have been building single-engine turboprops for several years now, and their assembly lines appear at or near capacity as there are healthy waiting lists for new airplanes. Pilatus and Cessna originally built their airplanes for cargo, bush and military operators but found, to their delight, that owner-pilots got in line to buy. On the surface, these four airplanes are quite different. Despite all being powered by a version of the PT6, cruise speeds and cabin sizes differ noticeably, as does the ability to carry a load. Yet the series seems to attract a certain kind of buyer: one who wants the reliability of a turbine, doesn’t want the hassle and expense of a type rating and more than one engine; who desires an airplane that can go in any weather the pilot is personally capable of handling, and will either go fast or carry a big load. (We recognize that there are a few other single-engine turboprops, such as the new Quest Kodiak and the PC-6 Turbo Porter, but we are limiting our comparison to airplanes currently built in bulk for the owner-flown market.)

July 1, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Aeronca Champ

Flying low and slow with the occasional whiff of honeysuckle through the open cabin window is what flying an Aeronca Champ is all about. There’s a certain romance tagging along with a rag-and-tube two-seater that’s left over from the post-World War II heyday. Moreover, the Aeronca Champ is perhaps one of the few remaining inexpensive-to-buy, inexpensive-to-own, tandem-seaters on the market. You can even buy a new one—more on that later. It’s also an LSA so sport pilots can fly it.

May 2, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Aerostar

When you tell a fellow pilot what kind of airplane you fly, the list of responses that will elicit more than casual, feigned interest is short. But the Aerostar is on it. It has a deserved rep for being blazingly fast with good range. And unlike most piston twins, it has enough power to actually climb on a single engine. But bring a VISA with high limits. The airplane’s Lycomings are somewhat thirsty and although it’s hardly a maintenance hog, the Aerostar fleet is aging and getting expensive to maintain. But for owners who can afford it, the model is hard to beat for getting from A to B faster than anything that doesn’t burn Jet A. The Aerostar is the product of famed aircraft designer Ted Smith, whose name is attached to such classics as the A-20 twin-engine bomber and the Twin and Jet Commander lines.

October 20, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Aviat Husky

Utility airplanes occupy an interesting market niche. Like any other airplane, they take off and land, cruise at altitude, carry a payload and offer some creature comforts. Naturally, just about any spam-can does that and probably can do it faster, more economically and with more pampering of the pilot and passengers. But unlike most other airplanes, utility airplanes are optimized to use short, unimproved fields without drama or damage, carry lots, require little maintenance and be field-repairable, just a few of the features with which the typical tricycle-gear, all-metal single has trouble. Over the years, types like Piper’s Super Cub, the Maule series and the American Champion Scout have come to exemplify a utility airplane. All three were originally designed decades ago and have changed little since, fully depreciating their design and engineering costs. Too, there’s little "wrong" with these models: They ain’t broke, so they don’t need fixin’. Put another way, the basic piston-powered utility airplane is mature technology. Into this niche came the Aviat (formerly Christen) Husky, unapologetically designed with the Super Cub firmly in mind. The result is a Part 23-certificated, well-built and good-performing airplane successfully competing against its forebears. In fact, its success is all the more remarkable since it was designed and certificated in the 1980s, something of a dark age for new general aviation designs. Utility airplanes, of course, are put to many different uses, including romantic bush flying, plus more mundane pursuits like pipeline patrol, ranching and even training. By all accounts, the Aviat Husky tackles all these challenges with equal aplomb, making it worth consideration by anyone looking into buying a utility airplane.

December 22, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Beech 33 Debonair/Bonanza

Beechcraft’s Model 33 Bonanza was one of the few piston singles to survive the great general aviation slump of the 1980s. The quintessential doctor/lawyer single, it even outlived the previous archetype, the Model 35 V-tail Bonanza, by 12 years, only succumbing even as the landmark product-liability-reforming General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 became law. Ultimately, the six-seat Model 36 proved more popular than the four/five seat 33s. Since both reportedly cost about the same to manufacture, it’s a wonder the 33 held on as long as it did. But the four-seat, straight-tail Bo remains popular today. Owners love its flying qualities, performance, cabin comfort and sturdy construction. While many pilots, however, have words on the high cost of parts and maintenance supposedly typical of Beech aircraft, owners generally report a well-cared-for example needs very little. There are a few things to be careful of when operating a Bonanza, whether a 33 or V-tailed 35.

August 23, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Beech Baron

Anyone who has flown a Beechcraft will have come away impressed with the line’s quality and, especially, the handling qualities. All the way down to the lowly Musketeer, Beech just took pains to get the airplane’s handling qualities a cut above everything else, and that applies in spades to the Baron series. Even so, every aircraft company has to make compromises. In the 55 Baron, for instance, what many find to be pleasant handling characteristics can prove to be a handful in poor weather, or when the air turns green with turbulence. And nothing comes for free. No one mistake the Barons for being cheap to own or operate, although thanks to a perennially soft market for twins, they’re no longer ruinously expensive to buy. In fact, there are some real bargains out there on 55s.

July 18, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Beech Model 19/23

The concept of "training" and Beechcraft go together like ketchup and ice cream, which is to say you know about both, but Beech airplanes don’t spring to mind when you think of cheap-to-fly entry-level airplanes. Nonetheless, during the heady days of GA in the 1970s, Beech did dip its toe in the trainer market. The model 19 and 23 series Beechcraft, the Musketeer, Sport and Sundowner, were Beech’s answer to Piper’s Cherokee line and if not the 150/152, then the 172 from Cessna. Beech didn’t exactly set the world on fire with sales, but the two models did acceptably well. They’re neither the fastest nor sleekest looking of the GA lot, but they’re better built than the competition and there’s no question that these airplanes—really, all of the Beech line—are the best handling light GA aircraft.

July 26, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Bellanca Viking - Quirky But Cool

In an era when the state-of-the-art aircraft have to be baked in an oven after being laid up in plastic sheets squished together in vacuum bags, it’s hard to imagine that a wood and fabric wonder like the Bellanca Viking still exists. But it does. And although there aren’t great squadrons of them around, the Viking retains a loyal, almost cultish following. Why? Because there’s nothing quite like it, that’s why. The Viking’s performance isn’t stellar, but it’s credible with most of its contemporaries, the aircraft handles well with few gotchas and it’s so strongly built that owners still delight in showing the famous factory picture of a dozen cheerleaders standing on the wings. "Try that with an aluminum airplane," goes the advertising tag line.

October 21, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 120/140

The U.S. military trained thousands of pilots during WWII, pilots many aircraft manufacturers naturally assumed would continue flying once they returned home. But the hoped-for "an airplane in every garage" buying boom was never able to sustain itself, even if huge numbers of new airplanes were manufactured. Piper was building Cubs and, soon, Cruisers and Pacers pretty much as fast as it could. With a few exceptions—Beech’s Bonanza, for example—most offerings were taildraggers. The first of Cessna’s to be built in volume was the diminutive Cessna 120, followed in short order by a fancier model called the 140. At the time, the Cessna 120/140s were perfectly serviceable and practical two-place airplanes. They were reasonably priced to buy and economical to own. Although some had fabric wings, they were made mostly of metal, avoiding the periodic need for recovering. The good news is the qualities making them popular in the late 1940s are still present. Today, what little they give up to Piper’s Cubs in panache, they more than make up for in reduced acquisition costs and arguably more-forgiving handling qualities. The 120’s model history is rather short, since it was produced only for four years, from 1946 to 1950. Since Cessna had the training market firmly in its sights, the 120 sold for a mere $3245. That amount is equivalent to slightly more than $34,000 in 2007 dollars. Try to find a new, FAA-certificated, all-metal trainer for that kind of money today. Cessna made the 120 about as simple as airplanes get, with side-by-side seating, yokes rather than sticks, no flaps and no rear window. Standard equipment did not include an electrical system, although a generator was available as an option. Whether they left the factory with one or not, most 120s have an electrical system these days.

February 14, 2013

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 120/140

During WWII, tens of thousands of Americans were either taught to fly by the U.S. military or were exposed to the routine use of air transport to cover long distances quickly. Aircraft manufacturers naturally assumed this fertile crop of newly released soldiers, armed with the recently enacted G.I. Bill of Rights, would generate a sales boom of staggering proportions. It did. While it was of far shorter duration than even the most pessimistic forecasts, huge numbers of new airplanes were manufactured. Piper was building Cubs and, soon, Cruisers and Pacers pretty much as fast as it could. With a few exceptions—Beech’s Bonanza or the Ercoupe, for example—most offerings were tailwheel machines. The first of Cessna’s to be built in volume was the diminutive Cessna 140, followed a month later by a stripped-down model called the 120. At the time, the Cessna 120/140s were perfectly serviceable and practical two-place airplanes. They were reasonably priced to buy and economical to own. Although they all initially had fabric wings, they were made mostly of metal, avoiding the periodic need for recovering.

September 30, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 150/152

On the cover of Aviation Consumer’s July 2010 issue is one of the most forlorn photos we’ve ever published: The nosegear of an LSA sitting in the middle of a lonely runway, having dropped out of the airplane after takeoff rotation. Although we didn’t intend it that way, the photo ended up as a testament to another airplane entirely, the Cessna 150. The reason? Venerable old 150s are still flying side-by-side on the rental line with new-age light sport designs and the older airplanes, despite decades of abuse, still hold up better than some of the newer designs and often require less maintenance. The harsh lesson here is that despite advances in materials and computer-aided design, the 1950s engineers who designed the 150 knew their way around structure and half a century later, what they built still remains serviceable for the foreseeable future. The airplane that trained thousands of pilots endures.

December 1, 2007

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 152

If any airplane can be considered economical, the Cessna 152 probably makes the cut. A "modernized" version of the Cessna 150, the 152 was first delivered in 1977 as a 1978 model and quickly found its way into training and rental fleets around the world. But its production run ended a short eight years later when the bottom fell out of Cessna’s piston-aircraft market in 1985 and all production ceased. Although Cessna restarted piston-aircraft production in 1996, the 152 wasn’t part of that revival. Over its eight years of production, 7584 examples of the 152, including A152 Aerobat and French-made Reims Aviation variants, were built. Today, the FAA shows more than 3800 copies presently wearing an N-number; many others are overseas, soldiering on alongside competing contemporaries from Piper (the PA-38-112 Tomahawk) and Beech (the Model 77 Skipper).

September 22, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 172 Skyhawk

If there’s an airplane that still makes even the slightest economic sense to own and fly, it’s probably the Cessna 172 Skyhawk. While it’s a dated airframe that won’t turn heads on any ramp, the Skyhawk delivers enough for the money to earn its keep. On the used market, there are oodles of models from many vintages to pick from. Even if you bottom feed and end up with a project airplane that begs for mechanical and cosmetic attention, chances are it will take only a modest sum to bring it to airworthy status.

May 26, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 182 - Still a Load Hulling Standard

By all measure of logic, the Cessna 182 should have passed out of production years ago. Given its horsepower, it’s slow and in an age of $5 avgas, it’s hardly economical. It handles like a truck. But it’s that truck part that explains why, in 2008, Cessna sold 223 new Skylanes, making it essentially tied with the Cessna 172 in sales popularity. Sales tanked in 2009, but that was true for the entire market. Still, in the teeth of a vicious recession, the airplane retains relatively good values on the used market, although not many are selling. The reason for this, we surmise, is that the 182 will haul about anything you can throw at it, it has good dispatch reliability and hardly any handling, except for nose-first landings. All that adds up to one thing: Buyers are comfortable with Skylanes and for many, it’s as far up the pecking order as they’ll go in their flying careers. These days, you can buy a 182 with a full G1000 glass panel and a luxe interior for a price in the low $400s. A big investment, to be sure, but less money than a new SR22 from Cirrus.

August 22, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 185 Skywagon

In an age when the majority of new airplanes are made of plastic and equipped with glass panels and envelope-protected autopilots, it’s hard to imagine that as recently as 1985, at least one company was still making a popular taildragger. But it was. That company was Cessna and the airplane was the 185. It’s no stretch to say that if the Skywagon was popular then, it may be even more in demand now, given the prices the latest models fetch on the used market. Cessna 185 owners don’t just like these airplanes, they rave about them. It’s not hard to understand why, either. No newer airplanes will do what Skywagon can, in terms of load hauling and taildragger ruggedness. You’ll see Cherokee Sixes plying gravel strips in Alaska, but you’ll see many more 185s. There are lots of other working airplanes, but the Cessna 185 is perhaps unique for its reputation as the airborne version of a four-wheel-drive, three-quarter-ton pick-up truck, easily able to haul heavy loads into and out of short, unimproved strips. With plenty of power and two front cabin doors, it’s also a prized floatplane. And for all of that, some owners just like them for fun flying.

February 13, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 195

How many classic airplanes can combine useful basic transportation utility with the panache of a big, belching radial engine? We can think of only one: The venerable Cessna 195 Businessliner. (Cessna named it that for a reason. It really was one of the first business aircraft.) Many vintage aircraft are indeed works of art, but the 195 is actually a practical classic. One owner refers to his 195 as “a Cessna 206 that gets preferred parking at the fly-in breakfasts.” A direct descendant of the 1934 C-34 Airmaster, the C-190 series represents a lot of Cessna heritage—it was the first all-metal Cessna and the first to fly with the Wittman spring steel landing gear, and the last Cessna to be built with a radial engine.

November 15, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 206

It’s not fast, nor is it that slow, but it is stable, rugged, reliable, has six real seats and is remarkable for being able to carry a half-ton or so after the tanks are filled. You can put it on floats, turbocharge it, dump skydivers from it, and carry small packages or just your family. It has proven tough and reliable enough to be a fixture in the bush throughout the world, holding on even as turbines shoulder out piston-power.

April 19, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 310

New general aviation aircraft are as iconic as Cessna’s 310. Whether because of its aggressive ramp presence, its supporting role in a television adventure series or its suitability for a wide range of missions, the 310 is what many non-pilots recall when piston twins come up in conversation. Its arguably the first "modern" light twin and certainly a classic. While the 310 is all of those things, it’s also a complicated machine, production of which ended almost 30 years ago. The tall landing gear might be thought of as delicate and its systems demanding, both to maintain and operate. But it still offers substantial transportation value, and the many different variants that were built as the model evolved means it shouldn’t be hard to find the right one for your mission.

June 24, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 337 Skymaster

In the light-twin world, there’s Cessna’s 337 Skymaster push-me/pull-you design—plus a handful of Adam 500s—and then there’s everything else. Eliminating asymmetric thrust from the single-engine handling equation was what Cessna had in mind when it brought the Skymaster to market. It succeeded, since the airplane handles pretty much the same when one or both engines are turning. But some compromises were made along the way, many of which can hike maintenance costs. In an engine-out situation, conventional piston twins generally need to be handled with kid gloves lest the airplane get too slow and roll over on its back. Close to the ground, that can be very bad. Which is one reason Cessna aligned the Skymaster’s two engines with the airframe centerline, offering pilots the safety of a second engine without the penalty of adverse handling. If one quits, identify it, feather it and don’t worry about the dead-foot, dead-engine drill. The FAA even granted the 337 its own class rating, limiting pilots to centerline-thrust twins only. That part of Cessna’s plan worked, since there’s little question the Skymaster is easier to fly on a single engine than a conventional twin. But, since the VMC rollover accident doesn’t happen that often in the real world, the airplane’s overall accident record isn’t that much better than conventional twins.

January 24, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 340/340A

Although airplanes are often sold as business and transportation tools, the reality of ownership falls short of the ideal. While either lack the range, the carrying capacity or the ability to deal with real-world weather, thus an airline or a charter outfit gets the call. A serious business airplane needs a decent cabin, credible speed and the ability to hack it when there’s ice or thunder in the forecast. Pressurization is nice since clients don’t want to spend several hours with a plastic hose stuck up their noses. Family members aren’t that keen on it, either. Enter the Cessna 340. Although not without its shortcomings, most notably certain loading limitations and an overly complex fuel system, the 340 is an impressive, flexible and capable airplane.

November 15, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 421

Like the Lockheed Constellation, Cessna’s 421 Golden Eagle is an airplane of another age. Impossibly sleek, fast and comfortable, it’s hard to imagine such a thing ever being built at all, never mind again. But owners rave about the 421’s exceptional combined capabilities and even though many of them could easily afford turbines or light jets, they stick with their Golden Eagles for delivering the best value for the money spent. But that’s not to say owning a 421 is cheap. Far from it. The engines alone can amount to $50,000 or more each and with known ice, pressurization and even a lav of sorts, there’s a lot to maintain. Said one owner: “Don’t even ask what it costs to run it. That just shows you can’t afford it.”

August 20, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna 425 Corsair/Conquest I

For anyone alert and paying attention to general aviation during the 1970s, current offerings from the "big three" manufacturers—Beech, Cessna and Piper—must have seemed like an afterthought. Back then, all three companies offered a full range of propeller-driven aircraft, from two-seat trainers to mile-chewing turboprops. Heck, Cessna even began selling jets early in that decade. For most of us mere mortals, though, a turboprop was about all we could expect to ever try stuffing into a hangar. But even there, we had choices. Beech had been busy making its King Air line since the mid-1960s, while Piper gained FAA certification of its first Cheyenne model in 1972. Cessna, perhaps nodding to Beech’s preeminence in the market, leapfrogged turboprops altogether, preferring to put its development dollars into the Citation line, a move that’s paid off handsomely. But the ‘70s were almost ready to yield to the 1980s before Cessna type-certificated its first turboprop, the Model 441, in August 1977. Now known as the Conquest II, the Model 441 was an evolution of the Model 404 Titan, a piston-powered twin, powered by Garrett (now Honeywell) TPE331-8 Series turboprop engines. Confusingly, the Model 425—eventually dubbed Conquest I—earned its type certificate almost three full years later, and started life as the Cessna Corsair. Itself an evolution of the very successful Model 421, the 425 was powered by venerable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-112 engines. Before production of Cessna’s "Baby Turboprop" ended in 1986—along with a lot of other models from among the GA manufacturers—some 236 Model 425 Corsair/Conquest Is were produced.

October 1, 2007

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna Caravan

Conceived as a next generation bushplane with turbine power, the Caravan was a huge risk for Cessna to take at a time when aircraft sales were collapsing and the selling price of a new turboprop would have to be multiples of the prices for the used, piston-pounding DeHavilland Beavers and Otters with which it was to compete. At $650,000 in 1985, the folks who worked airplanes hard for a living wore down a lot of sharp pencils trying to figure out whether Cessna’s new load hauler would also carry the debt load that wou ld come with it.

December 13, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna Cardinal RG

At EAA Airventure in 2006, a mysterious airplane made a low flyby, arriving unannounced. It turned out to be the Cessna NGP, the now-tabled high-performance follow-on to the popular 210 that Cessna dropped from the line in 1986. But at a glance, it was easy to mistake the airplane for something else: the Cessna 177 Cardinal RG. And many observers did. Although introduced 40 years ago, in 1971, the Cardinal RG remains one of the sleekest and most attractive highwing airplanes ever marketed. Despite its age, it retains a loyal following. It’s easy to see why. The RG is one of the best compromises for its class in terms of speed, payload, cost of ownership and economy.

April 18, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna Hawk XP

The Cessna Skyhawk has been in near-continuous production for over 50 years and there are over 40,000 of the model out there in the world. There’s a reason for that: The design simply works. That’s not to say Cessna hasn’t evolved the design and explored variations on the theme. One of these is the Hawk XP, essentially a 195-HP 172 with a constant-speed prop. Some people think of the XP as a Cessna 182 engine in a 172 body. It’s not. Others imagine it’s an aftermarket upgrade to a stock 172. There is such a thing, but the XP was a factory model. The Hawk XP is a 172 that carries more, climbs better and cruises a bit faster than standard 172, without giving up the predictable handling or maintenance. For some buyers, that’s exactly what they need.

March 30, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna R182 Skylane

Live the likes of new-age airplane companies like Cirrus and Diamond one thing: They have resisted the overwhelming urge to fit their airplanes with folding gear. But manufacturers of the 1960s and 1970s had no such resistance, including Cessna when it added retractable gear to the venerable 182. Was the effort worth it? It did add about 15 knots of cruise speed without too much of a hit in fuel burn. But it also introduced a complex, maintenance-hungry gear system that owners say will work acceptably well if looked after. Owners generally like the airplane and it sold well initially from its introduction in 1978 until the bottom dropped out in the early 1980s. By 1986, the model was gone, along with the rest of Cessna’s piston production.

July 10, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Cessna Skymaster

The idea of the push-pull twin makes such fundamental sense, that it has been applied to aircraft designs in one form or another for nearly 100 years and in literally dozens of models you’ve never even heard of. As recently as 2005, Adam Aircraft tried the idea again with the A500 push-pull piston twin. Like many before it, the airplane was gutted more by market reality than by a fundamental flaw in the idea. Then there’s the Cessna 337, arguably the most commercially successful push-pull attempt, at least in terms of numbers built. And although the 337 Skymaster isn’t the most popular twin ever marketed, it’s done all right for itself and has achieved its primary goal: eliminating asymmetric thrust and simplifying the pilot’s workload in the event of an engine out.

March 21, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Cherokee 140

In the largish universe of used airplanes, there are a handful that are often overlooked. One of these is Piper’s Cherokee 140, the modest but nonetheless seminal model that literally launched a lot more than a thousand ships. The baby Cherokee was a variant of a model that marked Piper’s no-looking-back departure from its rag-and-tube beginnings with the Cub. The basic concept proved a durable platform on which to build an entire company.

March 1, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Cherokee 235/Dakota

When Fred Weick and John Thorp set out to design a less expensive alternative to Piper’s Comanche, it’s unlikely they thought the resulting PA-28 series would become so popular, so durable or so varied. Since introducing the Cherokee 150 and Cherokee 160 (PA-28-150 and PA-28-160, respectively), in 1961, Piper has stretched, T-tailed, turbocharged and reproduced that basic airframe tens of thousands of times. Its original "Hershey-bar" wings eventually gave way to a longer, semi-tapered design, the landing gear has been folded and many different powerplants have been fitted. While much has changed, the design’s basic utility, systems, handling and reliability have remained. Three models remain in production—four, if you count the twin-engine PA-44-180 Seminole—almost 50 years later. While PA-28 Cherokees came in many flavors, the most powerful of them—the Dakota—isn’t the fastest but is perhaps the most flexible. It and earlier 235-HP Cherokees take advantage of the market’s affinity toward muscular four-place singles, a natural attraction proven popular enough to support two significant entries for many years: the Cessna 182 Skylane and Piper PA-28-235/236. The 182 came first and outlasted the 235/236: By any measure, it’s been a success. Like the Piper, it features a good combination of utility, roominess and performance. Piper’s version, however, never matched the 182’s popularity, even though it combines the Skylane’s chief attributes: decent performance, simplicity, and common, proven components. If your needs include a big dose of horsepower pulling a simple airframe, the most powerful PA-28 Cherokee is a very solid candidate.

January 20, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Cirrus SR20

Only 10 years ago, the idea of a certificated, "plastic" airplane had many old-timers shaking their heads in skepticism. It looks kind of interesting, but no "real" pilot would want of those things—it’s got a parachute, fergawd’s sake! Today, the Cirrus SR20—and especially its big brother, the SR22—have upended traditional ideas of what a personal airplane should look like, how it should be used and how it should be equipped. The SR20 could be thought of as the product that started changing how the industry thinks of a modern personal airplane. Those changes have been evolutionary, not revolutionary. For example, the early SR20s, in fact, retained the too-familiar vacuum-powered "steam gauge" flight instruments, albeit complemented by a large multifunction display. Today’s copies have eliminated the vacuum system and gone all-electric, with full glass panels; steam gauges are only there for backup. And even if the SR20 responds respectably for its horsepower, performance didn’t break new ground, either.

December 15, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Cirrus SR22

The Cinderella general aviation success story of the 2000s must be Cirrus aircraft in general, and the SR22 specifically. Since the company first morphed from a quirky kit supplier to a full-blown aircraft manufacturer in 1998, it has consistently proven that it got the vision thing right. The SR20 and SR22 in their various iterations have proven hot sellers and good performers, with unusually loyal customers. What explains it? We think there are several reasons. The airplanes perform well and generally deliver on the claim of being easy to fly for people new to the aviation game. Moreover, they offer the right combination of cutting-edge equipment and construction methods without becoming so weird or quirky that buyers are put off.

May 17, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Citabria and Decathlon

Owners who fancy a little light aerobatics—or even semi-serious competition—might lust after a Pitts S1 or an Extra 300. But then reality sets in. Those airplanes require no small degree of skill to simply fly safely and that’s before we consider the insurance premiums. And that’s why so many owners inevitably gravitate toward the Citabria or the Decathlon, starter aerobatic airplanes that turn out to have much more capability than many realize until they take a close look. These models have a lot going for them. They aren’t expensive to buy or maintain, they don’t have any serious gotchas and any pilot of average skill can learn to fly and land them safely. Moreover, they can double as respectable back-country flyers, which is something you’re not likely to do in a Pitts or an Extra.

November 26, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Columbia 300/350

Sizzle sells. If that sizzle is an all-composite fixed-gear single with a modern panel that’s faster than most retractables, it sells well. Just ask Cirrus. That sizzle is the premise behind the Columbia (neé Lancair) 300/350, normally aspirated versions of the company’s subsequent flagship, the turbocharged Columbia 400. The 300/350’s slippery airframe and the large-displacement Continental up front combined for 185 KTAS at 10,500 feet MSL when we first flew an early 300 10 years ago. A lot has happened since then. Speed was important when the Lancair/Columbia first hit the market, but the airplane’s greatest initial appeal probably had more to do with not being made of metal or wearing a Beechcraft, Cessna, Mooney or Piper label. It was one of the new-generation singles, spawned by NASA’s AGATE (advanced general aviation transport experiments) program and promised growing small aircraft use in inter-city transportation. The concept also brought forth the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, which proved more popular. The good news is a 300 or 350 will still outrun an SR22 by 10 knots or so, and they’re still rare enough to attract a crowd on many ramps. The bad news is—although both the Columbia 300 and SR22 have identical empty and maximum gross takeoff weights, according to the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest—the 300 gives up 150 pounds in full-fuel payload to the SR22, because its tanks are larger. It’s a little more sensitive in loading, too, and lacks the Cirrus’ airframe parachute system. More on weight and balance issues in a moment. And, of course, Columbia is no more, having been acquired by Cessna during Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

November 24, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Commander 112/114

It’s always interesting to contemplate general aviation’s boom-and-bust cycles. While exceptions certainly abound, it seems every other decade since the 1930s has included introduction of new aircraft or new technologies that further advance the state of the art. The 1970s were an upswing, avocado-green vinyl upholstery and Continental’s Tiara engine notwithstanding. In addition to the iconic taper-wing Piper Cherokees, Cessna’s original Citation and Beech’s Model 200 Super King Air, the 70s also ushered in the Rockwell Commander 112/114 series of four-seat piston singles. For years, what was then called North American Rockwell had been trying to find the right mix of ramp appeal, performance and features to enter the general aviation market in a big way. Early attempts—the Lark and Darter, and efforts to revive the Meyers 200—didn’t work out as the company hoped.

August 22, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Diamond DA20

The world of training aircraft has all but reinvented itself since Diamond introduced the DA20 to the North American market nearly 20 years ago. When the Katana appeared, Diamond reasoned that the fleet of ancient Cessna 150s and 152s was growing weary and operators would lust for replacements. What it didn’t anticipate was a couple of significant downturns, a glut of overproduction and the rise of the light sport aircraft market. The latter hasn’t exactly set towering sales records, but it doesn’t take many missed sales to turn a modest program into a struggling one. Nonetheless, Diamond has still found success with the DA20 as a basic trainer and as an inexpensive, owner-flown fun flyer that’s fast enough to fly the occasional cross country, albeit in VFR conditions only. Flight schools say customers like the DA20 for its sporty looks and handling, reasonable costs and expansive views from the airplane’s unique bubble canopy. Although many of those customers might not realize it, there’s something else to like, too: The DA20 has one of the best safety records in general aviation, hands down and with no asterisks.

February 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Diamond DA40 Star

The first time we clapped eyes on what was then the prototype of Diamond’s new four-place single—what eventually became the Star—we politely oohed and ahhed. But secretly, we thought the thing didn’t have a prayer. First, it was small. Second, it had a canopy rather than doors and last, it had that weird hatch for the rear-seat occupants. Who would buy that? Quite a few flight schools and individual owners, it turned out. The current FAA registry shows nearly 600 DA40s on the rolls in the U.S., with the total production now at about 1040 worldwide. Given its European roots, Diamond came at the DA40’s design as sort of hybrid between the sleek glass gliders the company started out producing when it was Hoffman Flugzeugbau and more traditional aircraft U.S. customers are accustomed to. This yielded what we think can fairly be called a world airplane.

October 11, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Diamond DA40 Star

We’ve watched the evolution of the Diamond DA40 series with interest. Our first reaction to what would become the Diamond Star was to be less than impressed. We thought the canopy was a marketing ploy that would make emergency egress difficult, and the cabin looked small and uncomfortable. Then we flew it.

September 19, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Diamond Katana

Climb into your WABAC machine and set the dials for the mid-1990s. Once the whirring sounds and flashing lights stop, get out and glance around at what was then your local airport. Very different from today, huh? A lot of all-metal airplane designs, which hadn’t changed much in 40 or so years, right? If you’re lucky—or if you mis-set the machine’s controls for a couple of years later—you might see a curiosity: A T-tailed, all-composite, canopied two-seater with sailplane-like wings pulling duty as a trainer. That’s Diamond Aircraft’s DA20-A1 Katana, a sleek little machine with unmistakable European roots. The early, 81-HP Rotax-powered A1 Katanas at takeoff sounded like a sport motorcycle with a stuck throttle. Transitioning students steeped in Cessnas carried way too much speed into the flare. Good times. Since then, the DA20—in its C1 version—has evolved into what some might consider a more serious contender, thanks in part to a Continental IO-240B sporting 125 HP. Today, the DA20 soldiers on, training the next crop of pilots in fleet situations and in the traditional FBO/flight school environment. Gone is the Rotax, which on hot days made climbing to altitude a time-building experience, although you can still find A1 versions powered by it. On the used market, its years of service and by-now well-known maintenance and pilot requirements make it a worthy contender among the two-seat, tricycle-gear competition for a personal airplane.

August 19, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Grumman Tiger

The Grumman Tiger owner culture is as unique as the airplane. To say these folks are enthusiastic about these airplanes is to understate the case. Most owners will energetically attest to the Grumman’s sports car-like handling, healthy climb and slide-back canopy that slides back for open-air flight. There’s arguably lots of appeal to these little cruisers. Non-Grumman enthusiasts just won’t understand. Some call them silly little airplanes. The population of Tiger airplanes is an aged batch—born in 1975, so owners were enthusiastic when the airplane went back into production in 2000 as Tiger Aircraft, LLC. It was a rejuvenated remake with some later copies sporting G1000 glass cockpits.

July 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Meyers 200

There’s something about the Meyers 200 that doesn’t look like a 40-year-old factory airplane. Its bubble canopy and gently-tapered wings are reminiscent of modern, composite airplanes. Sweep the tail and clean up the cowling a bit, you’d start thinking Lancair had an all-metal retractable. Alas, the Meyers is a product of the late 1950s, with aluminum shells over massive tubular frames and heavy, hydraulic systems. The good news is its construction gives the airframe enormous strength. Meyers’ devotees note that the airplane’s center section required no beef-up when the 200 was transformed into a 300-knot turboprop (more, below). The Meyers can also keep up with just about anything in its class, even many of the current composite-construction speedsters. The only real drawback is a low useful load. Meyers owners find the airplane’s real beauty is in its quality. With few applicable ADs and almost no service-difficulty history, owners of this rare airplane are ecstatic about it.

February 25, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Mooney K-Model - Goes Fast, Sips Gas

Of age mellows people, the same thing might be said of airplanes, at least if the airplane in question is Mooney’s M20K series. The airplane arrived in the GA market at a time when turbocharging was relatively new and the demand for high flying aircraft was thin. Mooney didn’t get the M20K’s turbocharging system right on the first try and the airplane developed a reputation as a maintenance hog. Thirty years later, that reputation has been mostly burnished and the fact that the M20K bores along between 160 and 200 knots on relatively little fuel has improved the model’s used price. Still, the cabin is small and with a single door, hard to get into. For that reason and others, Mooneys have a bit of cult status to them. They are in no way everyman’s airplane in the way that a Cessna or a Piper is. But if cruising fast yet miserly is your wont, the M20K models—the 231, the 252 and the Encore—are strong contenders.

March 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Mooney M20R Ovation

Airplanes are compromises: They’re never large enough, fast enough or light enough for all potential customers. And going faster is always a popular upgrade. After all, we don’t fly airplanes to go slow. Of the two basic ways to increase top speed—clean up the airplane’s aerodynamics or stuff in a larger engine—each has their benefits and drawbacks. But when one method has been tried, or reaches the point where further refinement isn’t cost effective, designers turn to the other. Mooney’s M20 series is something of Exhibit A for this practice: The basic airframe had been cleaned up over the years and powered by different engines, resulting in iconic models like the M20J Model 201 and its turbocharged sister, the 231. But after those models saturated their markets, going faster still meant bolting on a different, larger powerplant. After all, there’s no replacement for displacement. In this instance, take a long-fuselage Mooney, trade its small Lycoming for a big-bore Continental, make a few other refinements, and the result is a comfortable190-knot speedster known as the M20R Ovation. Still in production today, the Ovation has seen its share of evolution.

June 17, 2013

Used Aircraft Guide: Mooney Ovation

Mooney aficionados tend to be clustered in the end of the gene pool that has “I want a fast airplane” in the DNA. For years, they flocked to the marque that promised and delivered speed while sipping fuel. Starting with the single-seat Mite, they were willing to shoehorn themselves into tiny cabins in return for not having to stay in them long when going someplace, while assuming a certain look of superiority over others due to miserly demands at the gas pump. Over the years, Mooney obliged its faithful with progressive aerodynamic clean ups, making quick airplanes steadily faster. However, Mooney eventually shocked the aviation world by tacitly admitting that they’d gone as far as was economically viable with aerodynamics, and it was time to accept that there’s no replacement for displacement when it comes to sheer speed.

March 12, 2013

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Apache-Aztec

Some insist it began production as the world’s largest flying sweet potato and evolved into Snoopy crouching as he waited for his supper. The original PA-23, the Apache, seemed almost round and had such modest powerplants that single-engine operation could be hazardous—just as with other twins with small engines. The last versions, the Aztec series, by contrast, are capable load-haulers with very good short-field performance.

March 26, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Archer

In the heady days of the 1960s and ‘70s, personal airplane manufacturers were heavily invested in marketing their products the same way Detroit had been selling cars: Get new owners hooked on an entry-level model, offer several step-up models and make annual but incremental improvements. Just as Detroit’s Big Three had dealer networks, Beech, Cessna and Piper had them also, offering everything from primary flight training to maintenance, rental and charter. Rarely would a new pilot trained in, say, a Cessna 150 look at another manufacturer’s product as a step-up airplane, because a larger, faster version of what he was already flying was readily available. Brand loyalty was important to general aviation’s Big Three back then, just as it was to Detroit. But times changed, models were eliminated and some brands went out of production entirely, at least for a time.

January 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Arrow

Piper’s Arrow isn’t the fastest, the roomiest or the most stylish single-engine retractable available on the used market. But—just as all cross-country airplanes are compromises-it has enough of those qualities to give it enduring popularity. And it might be the most economical, if you don’t mind giving up some cruise speed to others in its class, like a Mooney or Bonanza. It also has the advantage of not being an orphan—the Arrow is still being made. Since it’s little more than a retractable Cherokee, the Arrow is a logical step-up airplane for pilots accustomed to Piper’s fixed-gear four-seaters. Moving from one cockpit to the other, everything will be familiar, from gauge placement to systems to handling and procedures. That’s no accident, of course: Offering a full line of airplanes was the basic marketing model for all of the major manufacturers in the 1960s and 1970s. As they started out in two-seat trainers, pilots were encouraged to step up into similar four-place, fixed-gear models, then to retractables from the same blood line.

April 1, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Comanche

Aviation history is littered with "what-if" questions. What if Fred Noonan had been a better navigator? What if the Hindenberg hadn’t approached Lakehurst, New Jersey, with a thunderstorm nearby? What if the Susquehanna River hadn’t flooded Piper’s Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, factory in 1972—would the venerable Comanche still be a leading light in Piper’s line-up? Despite its relatively high parts count and labor requirements compared to, say, the Cherokee Arrow, there are many good reasons to think so. First hitting the market in 1958, the PA-24 Comanche was a radical departure for Piper—until then, the company had built mostly rag-and-tube taildraggers. Instead, the Comanche was a thoroughly modern design focused on speed and good looks, and targeting the high-performance piston-single market being tapped by the Beech Bonanza and Cessna 210, among others. Piper’s sleek, roomy all-metal design featured an oval-section fuselage, tapered laminar-flow wing and sharp-edged styling. The looks still turn heads today and a South African company is even building an all-composite look-alike for the kit-built crowd, the Ravin. More important for the discriminating used aircraft buyer, the Comanche lends itself to upgrading, and owners who bring the airplane up to the state-of-the-art tend to hang onto them forever.

July 20, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser

While much of the recent chatter among used-airplane market watchers involves the seemingly bottomless price plunges for plastic and metal cross-country platforms, the rag-and-tube market isn’t down nearly as much. Part of the reason, of course, is these airplanes never appreciated like big-bore singles. Another reason is constant demand for simpler, slower, inexpensive fun airplanes capable, in a [IMGCAP(1)]pinch, of actually going somewhere, albeit sedately and only in good weather. The steady growth in light sport aircraft popularity demonstrates the depth of a market for new low-and-slow airplanes, even if many of them first see service as trainers. But the price point for a new LSA can easily scare away the buyer in search of a simple, fun airplane, leading them to consider older, classic airplanes of relatively simple fabric and tube construction. Any time fabric-covered airplanes are considered, Piper’s classic J-3 Cub and PA-18 Super Cub usually make the list. Sometimes overlooked is the PA-12 Super Cruiser, which falls somewhere between those two icons, yet provides a low-cost entry into the world of utility and fun flying. For many missions, the Super Cruiser is a reasonable and less-expensive alternative to the Super Cub, affording greater speed, comfort and flexibility than the J-3. One downside, of course, is these early Pipers are more than 50 years old—while parts availability is still good, finding a competent mechanic familiar with tube-and-fabric designs to stay on top of mechanical concerns is critical.

November 1, 2007

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Saratoga and Lance

All airplanes are compromises. Since most of us lack an unlimited budget, we’re often forced to choose between going fast in a relatively small cockpit or dragging around a larger cabin more slowly. It’s simple, really: The "go-fast" airplane will get us to our destination sooner, but we might be forced to leave behind a few things, or a few people. The slower, large-cabin bird gets us there just fine, thank you, and lets us carry all the stuff we’ll need upon arrival.

March 12, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Saratoga and Lance

All airplanes are compromises. Since most of us lack an unlimited budget, we’re often forced to choose between going fast in a relatively small cockpit or dragging around a larger cabin more slowly. It’s simple, really: The “go-fast” airplane will get us to our destination sooner, but we might be forced to leave behind a few things, or a few people. The slower, large-cabin bird gets us there just fine, thank you, and lets us carry all the stuff we’ll need upon arrival. In the six-seat, retractable piston-single market, there are three basic choices: Beech’s Model 36 Bonanza, Cessna’s Model 210 Centurion or Piper’s PA-32R series, the Lance and Saratoga. The Bonanza arguably handles better than the other two while probably squeezing out a knot or two over the Centurion.

January 12, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Seminole

Of all the changes general aviation has gone through in the past 20 years, the piston twin arguably has borne the brunt. Fuel prices, plus improved engine and systems reliability, have made piston twins less desirable than in their heyday of the 1960s and 70s. And for the same money as a new piston twin, pilots these days often can find a used single or twin turboprop with plenty of time left on its engines. Operating expenses are higher, but so are performance, reliability and comfort. But the piston twin does live on, at least at Piper and Hawker Beechcraft. The latter still offers the six-seat Model 58 Baron while Piper will be happy to sell you a roughly comparable Seneca V. Cessna, despite once selling a wide range of piston twins, left that market long ago and shows no signs of returning. Meanwhile, other piston twins are available new from Tecnam, Diamond and Vulcanair, to name three. But, if you’re looking for a smaller, simpler twin, Piper also still makes the Seminole, sort of a double-breasted Arrow IV.

January 13, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Seneca

Most piston twins have carved themselves a market share for a few years, then vanished as market conditions changed. Piper’s Twin Comanche and Aztec are examples and so is the Beech Travel Air, Duke and Duchess. On the other hand, for various reasons, some twins have endured and Piper builds two of them, the Seminole and the Seneca. Both have endured for various reasons, although neither is made in much volume these days. It’s easy to see why the Seneca has endured. It does nothing exceedingly well—it’s not fast, nor a joy to fly nor will it turn heads on the ramp—but it does a lot well enough.

October 18, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Super Cub

While Alaska’s official bird is a pretty two-tone number called the Willow Ptarmigan, the state bird that works for a living is the Piper Super Cub. For reasons related to perfect timing, a marriage of the right powerplant to a robust airframe and sheer, stubborn staying power, the Super Cub has earned what seems to be a permanent home in bush community. Other aircraft can arguably outdo the Cub in payload capability, speed and cabin space, but the Super Cub simply holds its own in an economic combination of all three that’s hard to beat. And we’re told there’s more than one Super Cub beating around the bush with only one original part: the aircraft data plate.

August 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Tri-Pacer

There was a time when almost all light airplanes were taildraggers. Tricycle-gear airplanes were rare, mainly because taildraggers—or conventional-gear airplanes, if you prefer—generally were better at dealing with the unpaved runways at most airports. This common kinship among light airplanes continued into the early 1950s, broken only by such types as the Ercoupe, Navion and Beech Bonanza, to pick three. Up at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940s, the Piper Aircraft Corporation was making a wide range of airplanes, including the venerable Cub, mostly of fabric stretched over a wood or metal frame. Out in Wichita, Cessna and Beech were only beginning their transition to all-metal airplanes with tricycle gear, which must have made for some sleepless nights at Piper. While the company apparently couldn’t develop an all-metal airplane overnight, it could convert its four-seat, conventional-gear Pacer to the tricycle-gear configuration ahead of many others.

January 16, 2013

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Tri-Pacer

There was a time when almost all light airplanes had tailwheels. They were cheaper and lighter to build than nosewheel airplanes and, besides, “we’ve always done it this way,” has always been very powerful in guiding design decisions. In the little airplane world, save for a few non-conformists such as the Ercoupe, Navion and Bonanza, tailwheels ruled. By the late 1940s, the all-metal Luscombe had been around for 10 years, Beech and Cessna were going all-metal and the Piper Aircraft Corporation was seen to be lagging the field because it was still making its wide range of airplanes of mostly fabric stretched over a wood or metal frame. Piper had seen the popularity and safety of the few nosewheel airplanes that had been introduced and, needing to find a way to stay in the swim after the great post-war boom went bust, looked at what it could do with what it had. While the company apparently didn’t have the financial horsepower to develop an all-metal airplane quickly, it could convert its four-seat, conventional-gear Pacer to the tricycle-gear configuration, beating out the competing four-place designs from Cessna and Aeronca.

April 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Warrior

When considering basic airplanes, the 150/160-hp four-place, fixed-gear single is about as ubiquitous as one can get. The niche serves as the beginning rung of a market ladder where airplanes begin to be used as practical transportation tools. They won’t haul a lot of people or cargo, nor will they do it quickly, but they offer economical travel. They often serve as a pilot’s first "real" airplane after primary training, and the market demands they be reliable, inexpensive to operate and relatively easy to fly. Airplanes in this class are sort of like Toyotas: not terribly exciting or fancy, perhaps, but they do what you need them to without costing an arm and a leg. Cessna’s Skyhawk owns this market, of course, and used-airplane prices reflect that dominance. At least two of its mainstream competitors, the Piper PA-28-151 or -161 Warrior and AGAC AA-5 Traveler/Cheetah, are good, solid airplanes that can be had for less. (Beech’s entry, the Sport, is short on performance when compared to the Warrior and Cheetah.) The AA-5 went the way of the dodo in the late 1970s, and attempts to resurrect it (in the form of the Tiger) failed. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Piper, too, fell on hard times and was forced into bankruptcy, finally emerging several years (and a few abortive buyout attempts) later as the New Piper. In 2006, "new" was dropped from the company’s name. Unlike the Skyhawk, and with only one or two exceptions, the Warrior has been in production throughout, even if the number of airframes manufactured in each model year could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now in the "Warrior III" configuration, the model is marketed mainly as a trainer.

July 12, 2013

Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Warrior

The quest to come up with the perfect personal airplane, which would sell in droves, was probably the dominant force in the evolution of general aviation ever since the post-World War II boom and bust. It looked easy: it only needed to perfectly combine ease and cost of operation, ability to carry the right number of passengers and operate from most all airports in the country. Piece of cake. Aeronca, Luscombe, ERCO, Piper and Cessna, among others, all eventually came to the conclusion that the future for mass-marketing airplanes was wrapped up in something that had four seats and on the order of 150 HP. ERCO (the Ercoupe folks) never went past a prototype.

August 26, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Pitts Special

In many ways, the Pitts Special is responsible for the current state of amateur and professional aerobatics. First flown in 1944 (or 1945—sources vary) as a single-seat homebuilt with only a 55-HP engine, the type has developed into today’s highly refined and FAA-certified, two-seat, 300-HP aerial hot rod used for advanced training and—at least in lower categories—competitive aerobatics. Many different variants have evolved over the years, including factory-built and experimental versions, but there remain two main types: a single-seater and a two-holer. Today, you can buy a new, factory-built machine from certificate holder Aviat Aircraft, or get the plans and components for a single-seat version from Steen Aero Lab. Dominant in aerobatic competition during the 1960s and 1970s, the Pitts Special long ago ceded that position to more-modern monoplane designs from Extra and Sukhoi. Even Pitts himself saw the monoplane light: Before his death in 2005 at age 89, he designed but never built the Model 13, an enclosed "coupe." But the basic biplane design of the Special remains popular as a recreational and training aircraft, and still can be seen strutting its stuff at airshows, fly-ins, pancake breakfasts and private hangars throughout the world.

September 25, 2012

Used Aircraft Guide: Pre-201 Mooney

Owners who have the eventual need for more speed might eyeball the used Mooney market. The search might logically start with the M20J or 201, which first appeared in 1978. While lacking some creature comforts and panel space, these machines are known for having respectable cruise speed, fuel efficiency and simple systems, while delivering the flying sports-car appeal that pilots love about flying Mooneys. If you find an older pre-201 Mooney that’s been well maintained, has a low-time engine and the most popular mods, there’s a lot to love. But it’s not all roses. Since the biggest numbers of pre-J models were produced in the 1960s, age is a concern, as is Mooney’s serial bankruptcy and perceived economic instability, although most shops we spoke with have little trouble getting parts and support. The earliest models had wooden wings. Some of the rest had corrosion problems, fuel tanks with sealant trouble and an aftermarket bladder mod from O & M Aircraft that has an AD. Resale value is another issue.

December 1, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: Robinson R22

Dateline 1991: The aircraft economic climate was stronger than in the current world, and Frank Robinson’s tiny two-place piston helicopter outsold every manufacturer of general aviation aircraft in the U.S. That’s impressive since fixed-wing operations outnumber rotor ops at most GA airports. Helicopters can easily clobber the average operating budget and have limited mission profiles. They aren’t exactly simple to pilot, either. But the R22 is more than an entry-level and lower-cost machine. It’s versatile and up for the challenge to support numerous mission profiles including airborne law enforcement, aerial photography and personal travel missions.

June 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: Robinson R44

Pilots looking for a used aircraft usually have a mission in mind: Carry a specific payload over a certain distance in a minimum amount of time. And if you need to get to and from remote locations while mixing it up at nearby Big City International, you might have overlooked the helicopter. Until the early 1990s, anyone needing a personal helicopter configuredhad to go the turbine route; there were no piston-powered four-passenger helicopters. That changed in late 1992 when the Robinson Helicopter Company obtained FAA certification of its R44, a four-place rotorcraft powered by a Lycoming piston engine. While offerings from Enstrom, Schweizer, Brantley and even the venerable Bell 47 have proven popular, none of them seat more than a pilot and two passengers at most. Robinson’s R44, on the other hand, takes the standard two-plus-two seating configuration of the a personal airplane and gives it a vertical takeoff and landing capability. The result is a hugely popular four-seat single—Robinson sold 664 copies of the R44 in 2007—that just happens to have a rotary wing.

May 25, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Socata TB-20 Trinidad

When the so-called Caribbean line from Aerospatiale first appeared at the Paris Air Show in 1977, the U.S. general aviation industry was booming, building mainly tried-and-true, if staid, designs like the Cessna 172 and the Piper Cherokee line. Against that backdrop, the new TB-20 was a splash of cold water. It’s not that the airplane was terribly innovative—it wasn’t, sporting the same Lycoming engines we had all been flying behind for years. But it had something no Skyhawk ever did: a sleek and stylish European panache. Ultimately, this didn’t help much with sales, but the thing sure was—and is—good looking, what one aviation writer famously described as a Cherokee done over by Club Med. The Trinidad is the top of the line of a small family (five) of single-engine aircraft developed and built by Socata in Tarbes, France, from which the TB derives.

May 21, 2013

Used Aircraft Guide: Tailwheel Maules

Still the only production four-seat or side-by-side, conventional gear airplanes being built in the U.S., Maules have been attracting owners who march to a slightly different beat for over 50 years. In general, the airplanes are easy and forgiving to fly when in the air, yet not so much on the ground—the runway loss of control accident rate is distressingly high. They’re simple to fix, good at going slow but capable of decent cruise speeds, although the published speeds for many in the line are considered humorously optimistic.

April 15, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: The Beech Sierra

The normally aspirated 200-HP piston single is a popular niche, filled with a variety of aircraft types. Each, however, comes in the same basic configuration of four seats, a constant-speed prop and—except for the Cirrus SR20 and the much older Beech Musketeer Super III—retractable landing gear. For example, this is where the Mooney 201 resides, alongside most Piper Arrows and Cessna’s Cardinal RG, all of which were developed from earlier models with less horsepower and, except for the Mooney, originally equipped with fixed gear. Beech’s entry into this market—like its competitors’ offerings—was also a growth model, from the Model 23 Musketeer, in this case. Never a speed demon, the Musketeer and other models using the same basic airframe—and most any product from Beech, for that matter—are well-known for quality components and construction as well as comfort. The end result, the Model 24R Sierra, isn’t the sleekest of the 200-HP crowd, and it certainly isn’t the fastest. It might be the most comfortable, however, and perhaps the most reliable. Beech’s Musketeer was the company’s answer to the Cherokees and Skyhawks of the world. The first of that line, the Model 23, hit the market in 1963. Three years later, the Model A23-24 Super III debuted. With 200 HP and fixed gear, it wasn’t nearly as fast as the same-power Mooneys of its day (the Arrow and Cardinal RG hadn’t hit the market yet). In 1970, Beech made the decision to fold the A23-24’s landing gear, dubbing the result the Model A24R Super R. The Sierra name came with the B24R in 1973. Also, Beech one-upped Cessna, Mooney and Piper by making the A23-24 and the 24R models nominal six-seaters, if so ordered from Beech; they cannot practically be retrofitted with the aft seat, due to structural differences.

May 1, 2008

Used Aircraft Guide: The Cessna 206

These days, a cursory glance around the mall parking lot reveals many customers prefer a vehicle pregnant with flexibility, the sport-utility vehicle (SUV). Extremely popular with growing families, soccer moms and businesspeople spending lots of time on the road, SUVs have all but eliminated the station wagon from the automobile marketplace simply by expanding a theme. That need for flexibility is also present when considering a personal airplane. Some airplanes are optimized for speed, with little flexibility in loading. Some aren’t, their designers preferring to carry people and things reliably over long distances or into small areas. Compromises can be made, but the results sometimes please few customers. Perhaps the poster-child exception is an airplane like the Cessna 206 Stationair, which carries the station-wagon theme to one of several conclusions. It’s not fast, nor is it that slow, but it is stable, rugged, reliable, has six real seats and is remarkable for being able to carry a half-ton or so after the tanks are filled. You can put it on floats, turbocharge it, dump skydivers from it, and carry small packages or just your family. As one owner wrote us, "Cessna tried to market this airplane as an executive airplane. This is ridiculous. Everyone I know flies it as a utility airplane."

May 21, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: The Cessna 210 Centurion

The six-seat retractable single is a market niche to which many prospective owners aspire. And why not? They are as fast as many twins, can carry prodigious payloads, come with plenty of panel space to install any goodies the previous owner neglected and generally are easy to fly. The solo powerplant avoids a twin’s upkeep costs while most systems—with landing gear being a notable exception—are almost as simple as the trainer first soloed. Despite all that, there really are only three broad models from which to choose: The 36-series Bonanza, Piper’s Lance/Saratoga and Cessna’s 210 Centurion. Yes, Piper also has the non-pressurized, cabin-class Matrix—née Malibu—but it’s not really been on the market long enough or in great enough numbers to make most prospective purchasers’ lists. And if fixed gear is more your cup of tea, then both Piper and Cessna have other offerings making the cut. But the six-seat retractable offers a good mix of the things pilots with a need to go places and carry more than two people often look for: good range/endurance, loading flexibility, enough cruise speed that inevitable headwinds don’t prolong the agony that much and the ability to mix easily with the airliner flow into the larger airports.

September 22, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: The LSA Capable Taylorcraft

The years just after World War II must have been an exciting time to be involved in aviation. As the war wound down, manufacturers like Aeronca, Cessna, Piper and Taylorcraft were putting the finishing touches on new designs they were convinced would be market leaders. War-time training had turned out scores of thousands of pilots, most of whom it was thought would want something to fly when they got home. At the time, the state of the art for a personal airplane was a basic, two-seat traildragger of modest horsepower and tube-and-rag construction. Wood, as often as not, was a major airframe constituent and IFR was something not even all the airlines practiced. But, as it turned out, most returning pilots just wanted to settle down and raise a family; they’d had enough flying for one lifetime. While the hoped-for boom in demand for personal airplanes went bust, anticipated competition resulted in some classic designs: The Cessna 120/140, the Piper PA-11/12 and the Taylorcraft series come to mind, all of which remain popular today. And many—though by no means all—have seen a renewed interest, thanks to the FAA’s light sport aircraft rules, which were five years old this summer. Of them, the Taylorcraft is among the types with the longest production history, new, non-LSA-compliant models having been produced as recently as the 1990s. Though it’s unlikely any new Taylorcraft will be manufactured, parts are readily available, as is some level of factory support. More on that, below.

January 22, 2009

Used Aircraft Guide: The Mooney 201

Amazingly, even the latest speed champions from Kerrville—the Mooney Type S Acclaim—trace their heritage to the original Mooney type certificate. The basic airframe has evolved over the years, but the concept of a semi-monocoque rear fuselage mated to a metal-skinned steel-tube cabin, a long and slender tapered wing and distinctive reverse tail has endured. The J-model evolved most directly from the F-model, which was itself descended from the short-body C-models of the mid-1970s. The first J-model or 201—the number derives from its supposed top cruising speed in MPH—appeared in 1977. It sported a 200-HP Lycoming four-banger—the IO-360—improved landing gear and a sloping windshield, among other changes. All of these were the product of a concerted effort by Mooney to kick the model line up a couple of notches. The 201 is, to the surprise of many, very much the work of the late LeRoy LoPresti. LoPresti had a long aeronautical background, including a stint on the Apollo lunar program at Grumman. He became a near legend for his ability to get the utmost from an airplane through aerodynamic cleanups, which he’d done with success on the Grumman Tiger. Applying his magic to the M20F model, LoPresti and the Mooney team created the M20J. A number of changes were made, the most visible being a new cowling and a more aerodynamic windshield. The interior was addressed, too, with adjustable seats and a contemporary flat panel with organized electricals and circuit breakers rather than the typical dog’s breakfast arrangement of the 1960s and 1970s.

June 23, 2011

Used Aircraft Guide: Twin Comanche

Piper's Twin Comanche occupies a special status in the world of GA airplanes. When we last examined the model five years ago, we compared it to Diamond's new-age DA42 twin. Diamond may have stubbed its toe since then, but the Twinco has lost none of its luster. Owners prize the airplane for the same reasons that they always have. It's an affordable, economical and accessible twin with decent performance. In many ways, it's one of the few twins that can claim to be not much more expensive than a single to own and operate. Or so many owners say. Prices of Twin Comanches have softened in the last five years, but they haven't plummeted. It's possible to find one with a spiffed-up panel and new paint for around $70,000.

October 27, 2010

Used Aircraft Guide: V-Tail Bonanza

If Piper put general aviation on the map with the J-3 Cub, Beechcraft made it possible to actually go places on that map, thanks to the incomparable Bonanza. With antecedents dating to 1947, the venerable V-tail remained in continuous production until 1982, something no other model can claim. The Bonanza’s unique combination of good looks, cabin comfort, high performance and good load carrying capability earned it a loyal following that continues yet today. Indeed, some owners say the early models are among the best values on the used aircraft market, but we urge a dollop of caution. Unless those 50- and 60-year-old airframes have been well maintained, they can be, in the words of one owner, a money pit.

February 21, 2014

Van’s Aircraft RV-12: Factory-Built LSA

The way we see it, if there’s an aircraft manufacturer that could have an advantage in the LSA market, it’s Van’s Aircraft. For decades, Van’s has dominated the kit market with the proven and respected RV line. With over 8000 RV aircraft flying, homebuilt RVs have an earned reputation for excellent handling, decent ergonomics and plenty of fun factor.

March 1, 2005

Welcome to EuroSport

If the light sport aircraft segment promises to explode with choices, most of them may come from Europe. U.S. builders are waiting on the sidelines.

September 22, 2010

X-Air LS - A No-Frills LSA

It’s almost a law in aircraft sales that for each level—light sport, piston singles, biz jets—the majority of buyers want the top of that class. LSAs are no different and every manufacturer we talked to over the years has found the same: deluxe models with all the trimmings outsell the budget offerings. That’s why we see $150,000 LSAs out there with Italian leather seats and cockpit avionics rivaling new airliners. No problem for a pilot who managed to sell his Bonanza and has the cash, but wasn’t the whole point behind light sport the creation of options for inexpensive flying?