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Wed, Jan 03, 2007

ANN Names the 2006 Planes Of The Year: S-LSA RTF (Ready To Fly) Category

Each year the staff of the Aero-News Network attempts to name those aircraft that distinguish themselves in the previous year. This year, like previous years, has been a difficult one to judge from the standpoint of determining what we like to call the "Best of the Breed."

The general aviation industry, after several years of somewhat revolutionary updates, is settling into a more evolutionary path at the moment... one that eschews truly monumental upgrades, but still manages to demonstrate exciting progress and better products from year to year. And, as each of these products evolves and becomes better from year to year, it sure as hell makes our task a  whole lot more difficult in trying to distinguish one truly outstanding aircraft from another. 2006 represents the most difficult year we have encountered in attempting to not only name the best Plane Of The Year, but the best plane in a number of pivotal categories.

As a matter of fact, it strikes us that naming an overall "best" aircraft across the entire spectrum of general 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. 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.

  • GA Piston Single
  • GA Piston Twin
  • SA Experimental Kit
  • E-LSA Kit
  • S-LSA RTF (Ready To Fly)

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. Please also note that there are a number of new categories under consideration, covering other aspects of aviation, included the BizAv segment, but that we're going to wait until 2007 before we add those aircraft our annual judging criteria.

Herewith, our final selections for the category of S-LSA RTF...

CubCrafters CC11-100 Sport Cub

In the ready-to-fly sweepstakes-LSA category, fewer aircraft were as immediately recognizable as the CubCrafters Sport Cub. It's no secret to anyone from whence the heritage of this proud bird derives, but there's a reason the Cubs have survived and why well-built and well-maintained 40 and 50-year-old Cubs still command a pretty penny.

One of the true wizards of the Piper Cub repair and retrofit community has been a company called CubCrafters. What they don't know about Cubs is probably only known by William T. Piper himself. When they decided to pursue the LSA program with a new generation of Cub designs, they were well aware that they had to do something more than just play "Copy-Cub".

The result is a very tight, very well designed, and truly delightful modern iteration of one of the most beloved aircraft in the history of aviation. Supported by a company who knows Cubs like few others, and produced with an exquisite attention to detail, the Sport Cub gave us one of our favorite rides in all of 2006. The Continental O-200 powered Sport Cub climbs at 800 foot per minute, cruises at 105 mph, and can land and take off in under 300 feet.

Yes, we wish it was less expensive, but the $99,500 pricing is in line with what the rest of the LSA community is currently asking for ready to fly airframes, and the workmanship and specifications of this aircraft truly make it an aircraft worthy of your consideration... and an easy choice for consideration on our best-of-breed list.


Evektor SportStar

I admit it... sometimes I get a bit jaded when I see a number of new aircraft come onto the scene looking kinda like a lot of the other new aircraft that preceded it. Regardless of that, we try to give each aircraft its fair share of attention, because if we don't, we may come perilously close to missing out on a great little aircraft.

Such was the case last year when instead of running off to lunch with the ANN gang, I took a moment to take a flight in the Evektor SportStar, a cute little little low-wing Rotax powered two-seater that (frankly) looks like a lot of the other European aircraft that are coming onto the sport pilot-frenzied market.

The Evektor SportStar gave me an interesting ride. Due to the confines of a very tight pattern, I was required to fly the aircraft in a fairly aggressive manner right from takeoff through first touchdown, without the benefit of any time in type. Under most circumstances, that's just an inconvenience, because few of these aircraft fly poorly and most fly fairly conventionally -- what I was unprepared for was just how delightfully harmonized this aircraft presented itself.

The Evektor SportStar has outstanding control harmonies, excellent manners, an uncompromising stability and control profile, tremendous performance for such a small package, and is a delightful ride. You've got to like that. I did.

The Evektor SportStar cruises at 110 knots, stalls at 39 knots, climbs at 840 feet per minute, and can take off and land in under 600 feet. And as to the last, after negotiating a tight turn to final at Sebring, at low altitude, I can tell you that the 600 foot landing requirement is vastly overstated. Nicely done. The Evektor SportStar is available for $96,500.


Flight Design CT

The Flight Design CT is a previous winner in its category on ANN's best-of-breed list. That should make it more difficult for this aircraft to be included in this list, much less be in contention for a top spot. However, the lavishly engineered, and exquisitely crafted Flight Design CT virtually stands alone in its category.

One of the prettiest constructs in the LSA universe, the $92,900 Flight Design CT is a masterful representation of modern aerodynamic engineering... inside and outside. CT stands for Composite-Technology, a hint that the carbon fiber and Kevlar composite airframe allows for a very strong, light and aerodynamically clean design. The unique fuselage design of the CT minimizes drag and maximizes interior room for you and your luggage. The attention to detail and the cleanliness of the airframe allows for previously unheard of cruising speeds and range in this category of aircraft.

This bird has more curves than a Playboy centerfold (and will certainly be far cheaper to maintain…). Manufacturer Flight Designs boasts that the CT is built using over 90% carbon fiber and Kevlar composites in order to provide "superior pilot and passenger protection." Safety appears to be a major issue here in that four-point safety harnesses, and fuel tanks in the wings (not in the cabin) are standard features. BRS parachute systems are offered as options.

A 49 inch wide cabin means that real live people can sit side by side without worrying about having to skip meals in order to fit within. With a Rotax 912 (or the optional 912S), the CT is a solid 112 knot cruiser, boasts a 960 fpm climb and weighs (empty) only 659 pounds. Before you ask about sport pilot (no matter what form of the religion you presently worship), please note that the bird has a gross weight of 1320 pounds. It stalls at 39 knots (thanks to slotted flaps) and requires just under 300 feet for takeoff.

One of the main reasons we like this bird is the talent behind it -- especially here in the good ol' USA. Distributed and supported by Tom Peghiny's FlightStar/Flight Design USA operation... which is a class act in more ways than one (the fixed wing LSA ASTM project was led, ably, by Peghiny over several tireless years).

Be sure to check back with us in a few days to see which of these aircraft earned Top Honors as the "Best of the Breed" in this category!


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