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Tue, Jan 23, 2007

Final: ANN Names the 2006 Plane Of The Year--E-LSA Kit Category

Enough Of The Excuses... Here Are Our Final Decisions On The Best Birds Of The Year

OK... as is our habit, we'll do just a little more quibbling and then FINALLY get to the meat of the matter...

Each year, we put our heads together, look over reader input, our own reports and other sources of info and try to recognize the VERY BEST aircraft in a number of pivotal categories. Each year, the choices get tougher. Worse; we tend to also make it more difficult by tightening the reins on the decision making process so that it gets harder and harder to make the cut as the best in any category, much less wind up at the top of the pack.

As 2006 came to a close, we also made some additional decisions as to what constitutes a "Best of Breed" and how wide we wanted to cast the net. As previously noted, it struck us that naming an overall "best" aircraft across the entire spectrum of general (or sport) aviation is probably no longer reasonable. There are simply too many aircraft that have distinguished themselves in too many outstanding ways for one to truly be called better than the other on an overall basis. One man's perfect high-speed Hot-Rod, for instance, becomes the expensive "way too hot to handle" mistake of another pilot whose mission requirements may differ markedly. So... we're going to cop out -- just a bit, mind you. From here on out, we will name the best aircraft in individual categories, and reserve the right in the future to whittle down those categories as necessary. But, the fact of the matter is that no one airplane is all things to all pilots, and within the spectrum that we have decided on, these are the aircraft selections that truly impressed us in each of five categories. Please also note that we envision the addition of new categories for 1007, especially in regards to the burgeoning VLJ and Personal Jet markets.

Let me also note that while aircraft that previously were named Best Of Breed in any category, or overall, are eligible for inclusion in this year's list, we have decided to make it more difficult (in our judging protocols) for a previous winner to take the top spot in our judging criteria, so that a repeat winner truly earns the distinction.

So... here we go, let's review our final selections for the category of E-LSA Kit Category and then we'll tell you who won top honors... and why.

RANS S-7S

Also available as an S-LSA, the RANS S-7S (known as the S-7LS in RTF S-LSA mode) is a very exciting two place tandem bird that deserves immediate attention both for its capabilities, as well as the company that produces it. The S-7S cruises all day long at 110 mph, uses only 325 feet for takeoff, less than 400 feet for landing, and climbs at 1000 fpm. More than that, its got all the panache of a Piper Cub, but with a more modern look and manners that have few equals... event when the Kansas winds kick up with a vengeance.

With side doors that may be left open in flight, standard center control sticks and excellent taildragger manners (demonstrated, personally, in winds exceeding 30 knots), the S-7S has a useful load of 532 pounds and a 341 mile range.

What may be most attractive to the builder who wants to have a hand in crafting their aircraft, without making a career out of it, is the availability of a $7500 (additional) Quick-Build kit that offers assembled wings with fuel tanks installed -- covered and ready for paint; an assembled and covered tail; and an assembled and covered fuselage. The QB kit takes a 500-700 hour kit and whittles the construction time down to an estimated 250 to 350 hours.

The base kit price for the S-7S is $18,900, without engine and avionics, but even when all the bills are paid, the S-7S presents an uncommon value for the sport flyer... and one of our favorite taildraggers in the LSA arena.

FMI: www.rans.com

Sonex-Ltd Sonex

John Monnett's little Sonex does a little bit of everything well... as it should, since it represents the most recent design work from a guy who has spent decades serving the sport aviation industry with a plethora of popular little sport aircraft. The Sonex is an intensely adorable little two place, side-by-side, aero-scooter available with either taildragger or trike gear. All metal, the Sonex is designed to be built from a kit, and no RTF (Ready To Fly) versions are yet available.

Powered by either the four or six-cylinder Jabiru, or Sonex' own VW 'Aero-Vee' conversion, the little 1100-1150 pound Sonex is capable of light aerobatics and is right at home on grass strips. Using 80-120 HP, the Sonex has a sea-level cruise speed of 130-135 mph, uses 250-400 feet for takeoff, and boasts 480-530 pounds of useful load. ROC is 800-1400 fpm, and landings need but 500 feet. The Sonex community is well-supported by the company with a series of builder seminars, plenty of expert phone-in customer service and excellent drawings and builder documentation.

A basic Sonex kit takes 1000-1200 hours to build and is available for $13,495 (sans powerplant, instruments and the like) and the company is confident that a reasonably equipped Sonex can be completed for as little as $25,000 (using the Sonex Aero-Vee engine). Our flights in the bird have provided some serious grins, and the overall control harmonies are responsive without being twitchy... the low-speed behavior is particularly sweet.

And... if the Sonex doesn't quite ring your bell, there is a very exciting little V-Tailed version called the Waiex, and a motorglider variant named the Xenos. Talk about having it YOUR way...

FMI: www.sonexaircraft.com

Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey

Sometimes a design stakes a pivotal position in its market and just won't let it go -- such is the Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey.... one of the sweetest sport Amphibs to ever grace the airways.

It's another "classic" design that continues to thrive in an industry that has seen far better days and circumstances. The little two place SeaRey pusher amphibian is one of the most delightful offerings in all of sport aviation. While barely a 100 mph cruiser, the Rotax 912/94 powered SeaRey is a gentle flyer with excellent stability and control properties, amazingly good water manners, and is one of the more forgiving taildraggers extant. It has a 550 pound useful load, and climbs 700-1200 fpm (depending on which Rotax is used and whether flying solo or dual).

The SeaRey is pretty much alone in its class... no other Amphib does as much, as well, or as pleasantly as the little Florida flyer. Backed up by a family operation with decades of experience in the sport aviation business, the customer service record is good, the kit is well done and the bang for the buck is the best you can find in a water-capable aircraft.

But most of all, the SeaRey is fun -- a lot of fun -- and I gotta tell you that one of my favorite memories of all time is bootlegging a step turn across a little pond in Central Florida with a pretty red-head giggling next to me as we flew off and hop-scotched ourselves across a dozen little lakes and ponds in as many minutes. The SeaRey is a gas -- and a pretty consistent choice on our 'Best of Breed' lists. Highly recommended.

FMI: www.searey.com

 

OK... No More Stalling, The Winner Is...

The second of our five categorical choices (covering GA Piston Single, GA Piston Twin, SA Experimental Kit, E-LSA Kit, and S-LSA Ready To Fly) for the "Best of Breed" of 2006... a heckuva good year for aviation, is... 

Sonex-Ltd's Sonex

OK... fairly easy choice this time, despite this category being populated by some truly outstanding aircraft. While the RANS S-7S and the Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey are some of the sweetest birds to ever take flight, John Monnett's Sonex series has endeared itself to hundreds of frugally minded flyers for its simplicity of construction, playful nature and foremost -- its amazing affordability.

This well-tested and increasingly popular design is available only in kit form... but even with the cost of major components added in, it is possible to build a flying Sonex for as little as $18-32K. We know people who have spent twice that much, alone, on their engines for some SportPlane projects... but to get a whole two seat E-LSA bird for that kind of money, even though you'll need the better part of 1000 hours to put it together, is an unmitigated bargain.

The bird is a ball to fly, lavishly supported by a growing builder community and an extremely well-regarded manufacturer, cute as a button... you get the idea. It is a winner in oh-so-many ways, and this year, it is also a winner of our Best Of Breed category for E-LSA kit aircraft. The Sonex is a truly superlative value for the sport flyer.

FMI: www.sonexaircraft.com

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