After Surviving A Tough Year, We Think There Are Still A Few Things To Celebrate
Final Compilations by ANN Editor-In-Chief/Roving Aeronaut, Jim Campbell
Each year, we put our heads together, look over reader input as well as our own reports and other sources of info and try to recognize the VERY BEST aircraft in a number of pivotal categories.
This particular series will cover the aircraft we consider to be the VERY BEST of the whole breed. In the past, we have broken these awards into a number of categories but the plain fact of the matter is while there is much to be thankful for as far as 2012 is concerned (the survival of the industry, most of all), there are few categories in which there were products that distinguished themselves sufficiently to permit such an award. So... we're only going to offer awards to planes in categories in which there is a clear and pervasive winner.
But first, let's start at the top with our Plane Of The Year (The Best Of Them All -- Regardless of Category)
As this year came to a close, we made some tough decisions as to what constitutes a "Best of Breed" and how wide we wanted to cast the net. As noted in past years, it struck us that naming an overall "best" aircraft across the entire spectrum of general (or sport) aviation is probably no longer reasonable. Which isn't to say that we won't make a selection... but that we reserve the right not to do so if no specific aircraft steps up to deserve the title. There are simply too many aircraft that have distinguished themselves in too many outstanding ways for one to readily be called better than the other on an overall basis and too much junk cluttering the aero-universe (confusing the issue), to boot.. and worse than that, there are some exceptional aircraft out there that are now built by companies that (in our opinion) have proven that they can no longer be trusted -- and as good as their products have been in the past, the current state of the company leaves us no choice to but to discard ANY
consideration of their products. In the case of Cirrus Aircraft, for instance, whose problems have been extensively documented, we simply do not trust the company as far as we could throw any of their product line... and while their current products were principally developed some time ago by far more talented people (in our opinion) than are running the Chinese-owned ship at the moment, we simply believe that an aircraft that is built by a company we do not trust, can not itself, be trusted -- at least not with our family and/or friends on board.
Which brings us to the object of this year's award... a solidly built little four seater built by a trustworthy company that has weathered a fair amount of tough times without selling its soul.
We speak, specifically, of the Diamond Aircraft DA40 XLS -- an outstanding GA airplane with one of the most impressive safety records in recent times. With a modern glass cockpit and digital autopilot now available, the 150 knot DA40 XLS has a 720 nm range at 75% power, burning all of 10GPH -- and can easily handle 20 kt crosswinds (and more... as I have personally confirmed for myself). Delightful handling, excellent low-speed manners, phenomenal crash-worthiness (despite comparatively few crashes to test such an attribute), incredible visibility, and lovely styling make the DA40 XLS a winner... even in an awful economy when justifying one's flying dollars has become harder than ever.
We'd love to see a turbo-charged version (especially if Diamond can convince Tornado Alley to do some of their turbo-voodoo for the 180 HP Lycoming), and we have great hopes that the larger/faster DA50 may someday see the light of day. But until then, the DA40 simply is the best combo of machine, manufacturer and dollar value that we know of.
Best of all, though, the aircraft is built by Diamond Aircraft... a (principally) North American manufacturer (with European manufacturing outlets as well) -- a company that has proven the ability to weather many difficulties without themselves screwing over customers in the process. With solid management and uncommon vision, Diamond Aircraft is one of the few companies that we can say we trust... without serious reservation... and that's a comforting thought when you're loading up yourself and three people you care about for a day of committing aviation.
Further... Diamond should have a solid future ahead of it. With the upcoming DA52 (possibly one of the most exciting planes on the known 'piston' horizon), the eventual entry into the single-engine jet market (as tough as the economy has made THAT product line), and even better ideas on the drawing board, DA is equipped to survive and be around to support its customer base -- and should outlast some of the once-bright stars that have lost their luster by selling their souls and abandoning their faith with their customer base and development partners. Diamond is a winner... and in such tough times, and with such difficulties yet (as an industry) to be surmounted, we do not know of any company as well equipped to serve the GA market as Diamond Aircraft is today... Diamond and the DA40 XLS have our highest recommendation.
Coming In The Next Few Days... More planes that distinguished themselves in terms of value and reliability, more products that deserve serious kudos and our ever-so-controversial list of some of 2012's annual "Hero's and Heartbreakers" -- Stay Tuned!