Beingthe best at anything-whether its world class poker, table tennis or making the best headset-requires a unique combination of resources, talent, circumstance and commitment. By far, the most critical ingredient in that recipe is the last: commitment. A determined competitor who may be short of talent or competing at a disadvantage can still prevail with sheer determination and undiluted will.And so it is with some of the products we review every year. Many of these come from small companies with microscopic staffs and limited capital, but with unlimited drive to succeed. In this report, our annual Gear of the Year focus on the best products and services weve seen during the 2006/2007 editorial year; its our goal to illuminate those companies. Herewith is a bakers dozen of aviation-related
products that we consider to be top drawer-the best of the best or at least the top value among like products.
product of the the year
Normally, our editorial world is defined by piston-engine aircraft and related products. But the very light jet phenomenon has attracted buyers from the upper crust of the piston realm because VLJs represent what many see as the first affordable jets for the common man. Thats why we think Cessna, with its Citation Mustang, deserves recognition as our product/company of the year.In our view, its not so much the airplane itself-although its impressive-but the achievement of
producing it on time, on budget and on the numbers. Cessna did what it said it would do when it said it would do it. In a VLJ segment dominated by slipped schedules, over-promised performance and a deafening cacophony of hype, the Mustang stands out as a dignified exception. Given Cessnas depth of experience, none of this should be surprising, but Cessna still had to stand and deliver and its management team had to steer the project through the inevitable shoals without delaying it or larding it up with unnecessary add-ons.
Moreover, Cessnas marketing expectations appear to be realistic-it actually demurs on the VLJ moniker, preferring instead to think of the Mustang as a downward extension of the Citation line. Makes sense to us and so does awarding the company and the airplane our product of the year tip of the hat.
best anr headset
bose headset X
The very idea of a headset costing $1000 rankles some buyers, so in our exhaustive review of ANR headsets, we were prepared to find that Boses vaunted Headset X was an overpriced underperformer. Our lab and flight trials revealed quite the opposite.
The Headset X blew away its competition by a wide margin and given that its now about $200 more than its nearest competitor, we also think its priced right. Either way, in our opinion, Boses claim that it makes the very best ANR, period, is well founded. Contact (http://www.bose.com/) and refer to the May 2007 issue for the full review.
best cylinder life extender
Deciding what to do about cylinders during an engine overhaul has the feeling of a crapshoot. New or overhauled? And if new, which brand? One thing that our owner surveys seem to say is a sure bet is nickel carbide treatment for the cylinder barrel surface. Only two companies provide this: ECI in San Antonio, Texas and Aircraft
Cylinders of America in Tulsa. Engine shops using nickel carbide seem to report universally favorable results, so we think the treatment is worth the modest expense of about $120 per jug.Nickel carbide seems to reduce wear and inhibit corrosion, the two leading enemies of long cylinder life that are both aggravated by limited use. For a detailed report on nickel carbide, see the February 2007 issue.
best value in charts
For at least 10 years-maybe longer-we have been futilely predicting the end of paper charts and the arrival of the paperless cockpit. It hasnt happened and were not sure you can even see it from here. So now were stuck with the worst of all worlds-the requirement for expensive electronic databases and the need for paper charts.
Of all the paper chart systems weve reviewed recently, Air Charts offers the top value. Its neither the prettiest nor the fanciest, but if all you need are enroute charts and plates to find your way around, you cant beat the price and ease of use. For more, see (http://www.airchart.com/) and the February 2007 issue ofAviation Consumer.
best portable gps
garmin gpsmap 496
Garmin has so advanced the state of the art for portable GPS that buyers have come to expect extraordinary performance and capability. The GPSmap496,
introduced a year ago as a follow-on to the hot selling GPSmap396, didnt disappoint, adding such useful features as enhanced terrain, taxi maps and an AOPA airport directory. Ten years ago-heck, five years ago-we couldnt have imagined this much capability in a portable navigator.
At about $2400 discounted, the 496 isnt cheap, but its a fair value given its featureset. For more, see the full review in the September 2006 issue and Garmins Web site at (http://www.garmin.com/).
best anti-theft device
Aircraft thefts have taken a dramatic nosedive since the mid-1980s, when they were all but commonplace. Still, if youre flying to Mexico or the Caribbean islands, do you really want to park your airplane at a remote airstrip sans security? Probably not.
One thing that might add a measure of peace of mind is the Prop Club, at $189.95 to $196.95 from (http://www.aircraftspruce.com/). The Prop Club is well made, easy to use and covered in durable plastic to prevent prop damage. Read the review in the
November 2006 issue for the details.
best lightweight headset
lightspeed mach 1
As headset testers, we sometimes forget that having a rubber-lined plastic vise clamped over an ear with the force of a hydraulic ram isnt everyones idea of a good time. Thus, we have lightweight headsets, which fit into rather than around the ear.
These are, to be sure, an acquired taste, since they dont have ANR capability and you have to tolerate having stuff stuck in your ear. Nonetheless, lightweight models enjoy a following and our trials revealed that LightSPEEDs $499 (discounted) Mach 1 is the top performer. Its comfortable, has good audio quality and is exceptionally well made. (See the August 2006 issue for more and (http://www.anrheadsets.com/).)
best dry vacuum pump
aero accessories tempest
As our April 2007 report revealed, theres more competition and R&D in the vacuum pump business than you might realize. all aimed at producing better pumps. Aero
Accessories has done much of it, yielding the Tempest line of vacuum pumps, which pioneered the idea of the wear port. It allows a visible inspection of the pump vanes for proactive wear assessment.
Tempest pumps are expensive and not always the best choice for an airplane that isnt flown much or isnt flown in serious IMC. A rebuilt Rapco pump, for example, may be the best economy choice.
But Tempest pumps do represent the ultimate refinement of the dry pump builders craft and theyre designed with longevity in mind. For many owners, thats more important than price. See (http://www.aeroaccessories.com/) for more.
best pfd value
Between the aviation and marine markets, there are dozens of personal floatation devices to pick from. For our October 2006 review, we sampled products from both markets, the logic being that unless a marine model has autoinflation, it should work as well as any aviation PFD at the simple task of keeping a person afloat after a ditching. That turned out to be true. Our top choice for performance and value is the Crewfit 150N, a marine design that, although lacking Coast Guard approval, is
perfectly suitable for aircraft use. We found it comfortable to wear in the airplane deflated and with plenty of buoyancy and comfort in the water when activated. At $150, its mid-priced. (See (http://www.crewsaver.com/).)
Fire in the cockpit is one those terrifying things most of us would rather not think about, but those of us who do think about it probably want to prepare for it with a smoke hood. Theres not much competition in the field but of the three hoods we tried, the high-priced ($198) Parat-C from Draeger performed best and did a good job of protecting against deadly carbon monoxide. Contact (http://www.saferamerica.com/) and read the review in the November 2006 issue.
best paint shops
dial eastern states
Try as we might, we couldnt pick just one best paint shop. Its a dead tie for first between Dial Eastern States in Cadiz, Ohio and KD Aviation/Reese in Robinsville, New Jersey. Were not equivocating here, its just that weve seen work from both shops and, frankly, the quality is to die for.
Neither shop is cheap, but customers rave about the results and we havent heard
so much as a whisper of a complaint about either shop. For more, see the December 2006 issue, (http://www.kdaviation.com/) and (http://www.desapi.com/).
best g1000 trainer
Garmins G1000 all but dominates the world of OEM glass panels, but no one weve talked to who has flown it has called it readily learnable. Pilots with Garmin experience-GNS430s or 530s-have an easier time of it, but thats not to say easy in the absolute. Several companies have developed multi-media training programs to teach the G1000 and after trying them all, we found that King SchoolsCleared for Flying the Garmin G1000 is the best, most complete program, although at $249, its not the cheapest by any means. For more, see (http://www.kingschools.com/) and the December 2006 issue of Aviation Consumer.
best engine dehydrator
A couple of times a year, we get e-mails asking about engine dehydrators, those quirky little devices that purport to reduce engine corrosion by pumping dry air into a stored engine. Can these possibly work?
Yes, they can and they do. We were quite impressed with how dry these gadgets
keep the guts of the engine. Even in our humid Florida hangar, the Engine Saver yielded desert-like dry conditions in the engines cylinders, crankcase and exhaust. For $285, its a relatively cheap accessory. See the September 2006 issue for more and contact (http://www.flyingsafer.com/).