While we first
discussed these choices in our Oshkosh coverage, it behooves us to
revisit our selection of these birds, and see if they still hold up
for the duration of the year as 2003 comes to a close.
While this year has actually produced several NEW aircraft on
the GA front, a number of other promising projects are finally
maturing to the point where you can step up, lay your money on the
table, and (sooner or later) fly your new bird to your
Herewith; our FINAL take on what REALLY impresses us as the BEST
of the available general aviation fleet for 2003.
Diamond C-1 Eclipse
The once-mighty aero-trinity of Cessna Beech and Piper is not so
mighty anymore--though we are starting to see some new signs of
life. With Cessna's lay-offs, Raytheon/Beech's lack of real
emphasis on GA, and only Piper starting to get feisty again; a
whole new generation of birds are stepping up to take a position of
prominence in the GA marketplace. While there is little question
that Cirrus is kicking ass and taking names, one company that
continues to astound us with some truly brilliant product
development is Diamond Aircraft. They have a kick-ass two place
line, a respected four place line (of which the DA40 is a NICE
ride, indeed), a truly revolutionary twin in development and a
speedy single engine jet on the horizon. These folks are serious...
but if you want to see the best they have, take a ride in a
Diamond C-1 Eclipse... but be sure to buckle your
seatbelt... this little baby's got cojones. And darned if it isn't
a BALL to fly.
New Year's Eve FINAL Addendum: We just
got back from a visit to Olathe, KS, where we spent an hour and a
half beating the bejesus out of a Garmin G1000 equipped DA40.
Folks; while it's yet to be certified (and not that far from it),
this is a hell of an airplane and panel.
The price is impressive, the overall layout beautifully done
(with one of the best back seats and door combos in all of SE GA),
and the bird is a sweetie to fly. If this thing was any sweeter,
you'd have to take it to the prom... it's that nice a bird...
and come 2004, it's going to be darned hard to beat the DA40/G1000
for a possible top spot in our selection of Plane of The
Still smarting from a bankruptcy and some bad vibes from a
number of issues surrounding the once-so-promising Extra 400, the
recently re-announced Extra 500 seems like a good bet. Based
closely on the Extra 400 airframe, we couldn't be happier to see
this highly accomplished airframe get a powerplant that the GA
world will have to take seriously.
If the company can get it's act together, meet the figures
quoted, and fly half as well as the 400 did, then this is going to
be a heckuva bird to fly... until the pricing paradigm changes over
the next few years with the introduction of a new generation of
more-affordable light bizjets.
New Year's Eve FINAL Addendum: So far, so good.
They're making all the right moves and repeating none of the recent
mistakes of the elder company. We feel good about this bird and its
When it first showed up, everyone snickered and figured that
Piper had mis-stepped with their announcement of a new generation
of airframes obviously based on the Cherokee 6/Saratoga line.
But... the Piper 6X and 6XT offer more seats and more capability
for those seats than anything else currently available. Sure, it's
not an exciting Mach 2 super-whizbang, but it is a solid family
airplane... a market that our sources indicate remains a solid
New Year's Eve FINAL Addendum: We're
damned if we didn't come away from the first published test flight
in this bird with a feeling that an oldie can still be a goodie.
The Piper 6XT is a roomy, rugged family flyer and with a new
generation cockpit/EFIS selection (yet to be made), the 6XT could
prove to be a heck of an offering in 2004.
Lancair Columbia 400
Not quite ready for prime-time, few aircraft are as breathlessly
awaited as the Lancair 400... the ONLY new turbocharged hot-rod
expected to come down the pike in a few years and a bird that will
given even the mighty Cirrus SR22 a solid run for the loose change.
As fast as they come, the Lancair Columbia is a helluva flier...
we've flown the prototype and even down low, this bird simply does
not know the meaning of the word, "WHOA."
Solid handling, great creature comforts and a great cockpit
(thanks to the novel portrait mounted Avidyne Entegra... an
orientation we love for the MFD and are not crazy about in regards
to the PFD), allow the C400 to truly deserve the excitement that is
building over this airplane and come 2004... do not be surprised to
see the C400 take top honors.
New Year's Eve FINAL Addendum: We stand by this
one. Few aircraft are building as much excitement over their debut
as the Columbia 400. With 350s rolling off the line with increasing
rapidity, and with Lancair obviously gaining some steam now that
their financial doldrums are pretty much over, they are about to
assert their place as a serious force to be reckoned with...
especially in the top of the high performance single-engine GA