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Sun, Jan 02, 2005

ANN Names The Most Notable Planes of The Year: Certificated Aircraft

We made some changes this year in the manner in which we name the most notable aircraft of the year. Normally announced at Oshkosh, we decided to fold these announcements into our Year-End Wrap-Up in order to take advantage of the rest of the year's events and input, as well as to make such an announcement truly representative of the full year. We've also spread out some of the goodies... with special awards to Certificated as well as SportPlanes, an award for the Most Notable manufacturer, a "special" award for the best SpacePlane of the Year (like there was a lot of competition... eh?), a round-up of the Duds and Disappointments, and a look forward to what looks promising for 2005.

Sit back, check it out and let us know what you think of our choices for the year.  

Certificated Aircraft Nominees

Cessna T206

OK... the high-wing Cessna singles are not the most imaginative designs on the GA marketplace... but when backed by the most prolific GA manufacturer in the business and coupled with real-live 21st century avionics like the Garmin G1000, Cessna's heavy-breathing, heavy-lifter T206 deserves a strong look when noting the best birds of the year.

Cessna's 310HP Turbo Stationair is an all-metal, six place, high-wing, single-engine airplane equipped with tricycle landing gear and designed for "general utility purposes," though what it will really do is haul a heckuva load in very primitive settings without so much as a grumble. This is a rugged bird. With six on board, and excellent STOL manners (a 1500 foot runway is child's play to a 206... take my word for it -- I've personally put one down in less than 700 feet with a pretty good load), the T206 will still do 164 kts (75% power at 20,000 ft), which is boogying right along for a bird of this category. Best of all, though, is the advent of the Garmin G1000 system, which really updates a classic airframe in surprising ways, adding additional versatility and capability to one of GA's most talented workhorses.



Cirrus SR22-G2

We've loved the Cirrus line since day one... a thoroughly new design that is barely a decade old, this bird has it all... looks, speed, comfort and safety features that were but science fiction a few years ago. Best of all, it is produced by a company that is learning well what it takes to sell and support one of the most popular GA birds in the world. Yeah, we like the airplane a lot... almost as much as we like the company... which has set the GA world on fire for as long as they've been a player. Where Cirrus leads, most of the industry has been forced to follow.

The Cirrus SR22-G2 is the second generation of Alan and Dale Klapmeier's humma-humma hot-rod. The wonderfully heavy-horsed 310 HP SR22 is a great rowdy ride. The lovely kick in the ass you get when you drop the hammer on all those ponies is certainly worth the price of admission. It's got it all... speed, style, technological sophistication and all the equipment needed to be a versatile and dependable transportation system. This 310-horsepower brute will scoot upwards with a 1,000 feet per minute climb rate through 12,000 feet, and get you 1,000 nautical miles down range with little hesitation. It's as solid an IFR transportation system as any single engine aircraft, it's a product of (truly) modern technology, and it's backed by a company that is taking over as the king of the general aviation world. The Cirrus SR22-G2 is a class act... and a classy way to get around. But... we really want a turbo'd version... and two more seats would make this an unbeatable bird.



Diamond DA40

Few companies populating the GA market right now seem to be making more inspired development decisions than Diamond Aircraft. While Cirrus and Lancair are (justifiably) taking bows for the exciting performance and sales numbers they're pumping into the GA landscape, Diamond Aircraft has crept up from a point of near-obscurity to claim a place as a leader in the General Aviation market… and if our intuition is at all accurate, a shot at the top spot within a matter of two-three years.

Ya know... the first time I flew a DA40, I didn't really like it... it seemed unfinished and capable of so much more. For a change, I was right. The production DA40 is a joyful little airplane that is easy on the eyes, the pocketbook, and the pilot in command.

Not all the remarkable changes in the GA world have been REVolutionary... some were EVolutionary... such as the constant maturation of an already outstanding airframe, the Diamond DA40. Not the fastest of the four seaters, the design came on the scene very quietly and has, over the years, matured into a first-class cross country bird, family flyer and advanced trainer (especially the FP version... a GREAT training bird).

This (now) very mature design has superb handling and customer support, great visibility and is one of the most efficient birds in its class. The DA40 also offers convenient back seat access with a separate door, and is incredibly maintenance-friendly. Finally; the new G1000 panel is one of the best overall EFIS installations we've seen… especially due to positioning of backup instrumentation. It's also a very good short field airplane -- better than any other four seater of this type. Best of all, the G1000 equipped DA40 lists for all of $229,500. A heckuva good deal. You can't go wrong with the DA40.



Lancair Columbia 400

Few aircraft were as breathlessly awaited in 2004 as the Lancair 400... the ONLY new turbocharged hot-rod to come down the pike in a few years and a bird that has even given 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 beastie five miles high and were amazed at how 'boring' the whole process was... no rude excitement, no control issues... just easy flying, good handling and (darn!) some bitchin' cruise speeds. 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 started building in early 2004 and hasn't EVER quit since. 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 asserting their place as a serious force to be reckoned with... especially in the top echelons of the high performance single-engine GA Piston hierarchy. Now... if only this thing was either a six-seater... or pressurized.... or both.



Mooney "Freedom Edition" Ovation 2 GX and Bravo GX

You'd a thought that the boys and girls from Texas would have had to learn to wake the dead to bring Mooney back from the brink... but they've not only reinvigorated Mooney Aircraft, they're looking to come back as a major player in the GA sweepstakes for the coming 2005 flying year.

Their latest smart move (of several) is the arrival of a "Freedom Edition" aircraft. This limited version features a host of widely-sought options and is available for 2005 models of the Mooney Bravo GX and Ovation2 GX -- at 2004 pricing. I thought that might get your attention.

Each aircraft is equipped with a Goodrich WX-500 Stormscope, the Garmin G1000, a custom N-number, a 115.7 cubic foot oxygen system, extended range fuel tanks that increase total capacity from 89 to 102 gallons (useable) fuel, and are the first GA birds to offer AMSAFE inflatable (airbag) seatbelts for the front seats.

The Ovation 2 GX offers a platinum engine (with precision balanced components), and a five-year new engine warranty... not to mention a Platinum Level Aviator Services Program that is free for the life of the engine. The Bravo GX also includes REIFF engine preheat and two Bose headsets. The Freedom Edition of the Ovation 2 GX will sell for $409,950 while the Bravo GX will have a suggested list price of $459,950.



Piper 6X/6XT

When it first showed up, everyone snickered and figured that Piper had mis-stepped with their announcement of a new generation of airframes. Yes; it's absolutely a barely-disguised refinement on the Cherokee 6/Lance/Saratoga line that dominated the 6 place market for so long with excellent manners and "reasonable performance," but the 155-165 KT 6X and 6XT shows that going back to the drawing board and sharpening one's pencil is the right thing to do when a tough market (literally) demands it.

A new 3600 pound (GW) 6 seat Piper 6X will set you back some $365,000 ($413K with the Avidyne system) and the Piper 6XT all of $387,100 ($443K with the Avidyne system) -- but deliver as much as 1440 pounds of people and go-juice as far as 804-850 (X/XT) nm down the road at cruise speeds of 148 KTs/154KTs (6X/11K/Long-Range Cruise, 6XT/15K/LRC). Both the Piper 6X and the Piper 6XT are powered by 300 HP Lycoming engines giving the aircraft top speeds of 155 kts and 165 kts respectively.

The aircraft is a solid value... it's GOT payload, its GOT speed, and its GOT room. It's also a nice solid (notice that word, SOLID... again) ride that is going to be a fast favorite for the obligatory parents, kids and family dog in search of a weekend adventure. Couple this with some pretty impressive developments in the manufacturing end of things, the availability of the Avidyne EFIS system, and you have to tell those ready to plant Piper 'six feet under' that they need to go elsewhere to find bad news.

Mind you, this is not your Father's Piper... this is something better, a Piper (the 6X in particular) that truly understands that this is a difficult market, with a need for tightly defined mission-capable airplanes that people will actually be able to operate and own affordably and safely. The 6X is a heckuva good step in a post-9/11 aero-unfriendly world. It's a roomy, rugged family flyer.



Next... ANN enumerates our choices for the BEST bird in each of the categories we've examined over the last few days... don't miss it!

FMI: Comments? Tell Us What YOU Think!


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