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Fri, Aug 21, 2009

Best of Show! The Very Best (And Worst) of Oshkosh 2009! (Part One)

Compiled By The Staff and Readership of the Aero-News Network and Aero-TV

For quite a while, we have recognized the highs and lows inherent in the general and sport aviation community. There are but a few places where that is more a propos than at a major event like the recently completed Oshkosh Fly-In.

It's hard to know what really is going to make a difference and what really qualifies as exceptional unless you've been watching this industry carefully for several years... as we have.

Over the last few years, ANN readers remarks have been heavily incorporated into ALL aspects of this report, and not just the Aircraft awards and such. Their contributions have been carefully considered and (in many cases) incorporated into our annual summation.

Our Annual Best Plane of the Year Selections (tentatively announced after Oshkosh and finalized at year's end) will await the end of the year but we will announce the nominees at this point, with the proviso that our opinions may change as the year develops.

So; here are our picks for the Best and Worst of this year's Oshkosh... and why we think so...

Best Aircraft of Show (Overall):

Diamond DA42-L360. While the piston single market has gotten a lot right in the last decade, the piston twin market has been a thin one... and not without its share of controversies. Diamond's revamp of the lean and curvy DA42 gets everything JUST right and produces an airplane that makes for both an outstanding cross-country machine as well as a spectacular twin trainer. Kudos to Diamond for seeing this through -- if this bird had been around when we bought our Cirrus, it would have been a really tough choice. 

Best Ultralight/Ultralight Trainer:

No award... if a real-live 'quality' ultralight still exists, it was pretty much ignored by the establishment at Oshkosh.

Best "Affordable Flyer":

Sonex -- by a mile. Two seats and this much performance for under $20K including engine and avionics? Top that!

Best LSA:

Flight Design CTLS. With the Cessna SkyCatcher just a few months away from commercial reality, its nice to see that the "little guy" is still in a position to give them a run for their money. The Flight design CTLS is a truly polished airframe, and backed by a US distributor that keeps their word. That's a solid combination.

Best High Performance Kit Aircraft:

Van's RV-10. Sometimes "high" performance simply means getting more out of a bird than anyone else can... and Van's first and only four-place design is proving to be a truly great flyer. Excellent support, exceptional performance and "RV" style attributes make the RV-10 one of the best bets in the kit-built market.

Best Rotorcraft:

We have to go with the world's only remaining airworthy Pitcairn Autogiro PA-18. It won the Antique Reserve Grand Champion award for Jack Tiffany & Jim Hammond of Spring Valley, Ohio, and the distraction presented by this stunning 1932 ancestor of the helicopter made it tough for other presenters in the vintage area to conduct outdoor programs.

Best Certified Aircraft (At Oshkosh):

Diamond DA42-L360. The hands-down favorite for ANN's Plane of the Year nod for 2009, Diamond got EVERYTHING right with this aircraft. After many months of turmoil over the Thielert insolvency and the amazing effort undertaken to develop their own diesel engine program, Diamond did not forget the folks who really wanted to fly a more conventional powerplant selection until their Austro program proves itself. The DA42-L360 has some outstanding handling qualities and the single-engine properties are simply the best in the business. The L360 program has produced one hell of a good airplane.

Best GA Jet:

Cessna Mustang. At one time, this was a crowded category, but 2009 was a tough year for those trying to field VLJs or other small jet aircraft for the GA or small BizAv market. Epic is toast (and frankly, lasted far longer than we expected), Cirrus is still under development, Piper has a few years left to bring their bird to market, Diamond is still working on D-Jet certification, Adam is a distant memory (though supposedly about to be reborn... again), and Eclipse was killed off by the atrocious and broken promises of a Dutch money man who really screwed the pooch.  That leaves very few players, and for the moment, the uncontested best of the breed, the Cessna Mustang.

Oshkosh Show Stealer:

Airbus A380. It stole the show and dominated the flightline. It may be the first time an aircraft has been visible from just about everywhere on the grounds, including the far reaches of the North 40. The aircraft and its appearance defined why we all go to Oshkosh - to see the biggest, the best, and the most unique things in aviation. The A380 did not disappoint us!

I Gotta Get Me One Of These:

The "Sub Sonex" JSX-1 single-engine jet kit. I'm not sure whether it was the audacity of mating a single-engine jet engine from the R/C model world to an clean, narrowed, mono-geared Sonex fuselage with Waiex V-tail, or the tongue-in-cheek reference to 240 knots at 30 GPH as "economy cruise," or maybe just the self-deprecating humor exhibited at the unveiling, but the whole package, promised in kit form at $40-50K if it becomes an actual product, had me smiling for days.

Best Construction:

Piper's G1000-Equipped Meridian. This is about as slick a package as there is these days... not exactly what you'd call "inexpensive," Piper eases the pain of turbo-prop ownership by building a lovely aircraft that is about as polished as it gets these days... and the G1000 integration is truly inspired. 

Best Panel/Flight Deck:

ANYTHING with Avidyne's R9. We are blown away by what Avidyne has accomplished with "Release 9." Mind you, will be several more months before it can match the feature set of Garmin's highly-acclaimed (and rightly so) G1000 glass panel program, but NO ONE has ever built a Glass panel that is as intuitive, easy to use and boasting such a productive methodology as Avidyne has done with R9. For the moment (and until Garmin shows up with their obligatory next-gen system), this is the best Electronic Flight Deck in the business. Period.

Best Upgrade:

Tornado Alley Turbos' Turbo-Normalization Retrofit. We are almost as blown away by TAT's TN upgrade capabilities as we were with Avidyne's R9. We've put over 100 hours on the SR-22 version, listened to the many plaudits for the Bonanza and Cessna upgrades and have been particularly impressed with the service and support reports we get from very impressed owners. TAT is a class act.

Funkiest Aircraft:

Chinese Yuneec E430 LSA. Looks a lot like the RC models the company has its base in, and with a price of $89,000 it is hard to imagine the aircraft succeeding in the current economic and geo-political climate. One only needs listen to the controversy surrounding the Cessna SkyCatcher LSA to wonder how this can possibly succeed.

FMI: Comments? Complaints? Additions? Let us have it!

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