Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Most Affordable Singles

We examine some of the best buys In general aviation

Diamond DA40
10 DIAMOND DA40 STAR: An outgrowth of the two-seat Diamond Eclipse, the Star is the Austrian company’s current four-seat, everyman’s single. In addition to joystick control and an ultimately maneuverable, nonsteerable nosewheel, the Star has an aft left entry door for rear-seat passengers. Like the beloved Tiger, the Star delivers a 1,000 fpm climb rate and uncommon speed on only 180 hp, about 140 to 145 knots. The cabin is larger than the Tiger’s, however, and the Star will carry additional weight. Stars appeared on the market in 2000, and airplanes through 2007 have price tags below $200,000.

Mooney Ovation
11 MOONEY OVATION M20R: Mooneys of every description always have been renowned for their speed and efficiency. The Ovation represents perhaps the supreme compromise of horsepower/fuel burn with cruise speed, meanwhile offering the long cabin of the Porsche Mooney, TLS/Bravo and Eagle. Yet, the Ovation flies faster than any other normally aspirated production model. I delivered 10 of the type to Australia in the ’90s, and I could count on an easy 185 knots at normal weights. Better still, the Ovation can be throttled back to deliver 170 knots on about 12.5 gph, another benefit for long-distance flyers. Mooneys from 1994 to 1998 typically sell for $200,000 or less.

Piper Archer
12 PIPER ARCHER PA28-180: It seems that Archers have been around forever in one form or another, and they’re being reintroduced for 2010. The type is perhaps the world’s easiest-flying and most benign fixed-gear airplane. Even Skyhawk fans acknowledge that the Archer’s stall may be the gentlest in the industry. Instructors have even criticized it as being too benign, as if any airplane could be too safe. Cruise is a reasonable 120 knots or so, but the Archer’s major achievement is a usable four seats, if with reduced fuel. Archers from 1985 to 2006 most often sell for $200,000 or less.

Piper Arrow
13 PIPER ARROW PA28-200: Put the wheels to bed on an Archer and add a constant-speed prop and 20 more hp, and you have an Arrow. The original Arrow’s claim to fame was an automatic gear-extension system that was decommissioned a few years later (you guessed it: a lawsuit). In addition to a relatively foolproof gear system (originally), the Arrow added about 10 to 15 knots to cruise, but more important, it provided a step-up airplane for pilots trained in Pipers (i.e., aviators who preferred low wings without struts). The premise was to prepare pilots for the six-seat Cherokee Six or Saratoga. Arrows from 1985 through 2005 are priced at $200,000 or less.

14 PIPER SARATOGA/SP PA32-300(R): Probably the best economy six-seater on the market, the Cherokee Six/Saratoga/HP was a stalwart of the Piper line for more than 40 years. The primogenitor of the Seneca, a twin-engine version of the same airplane, the original PA32 boasted oodles of elbow room in the cabin, plus a nose baggage compartment to help balance the load. The original Cherokee Six became the Saratoga and Turbo Saratoga, and the Saratoga HP was a Cherokee Six with retractable gear. The 6X offered a 145-knot cruise, and the Saratoga HP added 15 knots. All models in the PA32 line could carry six folks with large double aft left cargo doors to help load the aft four. Saratogas through 1995 usually are priced at or below $200,000.

Diamond DA20
15 DIAMOND DA20: Diamond’s interpretation of the ultimate aviation teaching machine is a slightly smaller version of the four-seat DA40 Star. The DA20 Eclipse (yes, Diamond had it first) uses the same 125 hp Continental IO-240 engine as the Liberty XL2, though not the FADEC edition. With its wide, comfortable cabin, excellent visibility and a stall speed well below 50 knots, the Eclipse makes a capable trainer as well as a reasonable traveling machine. Cruise is an impressive 135 to 138 knots. The airplane is certified in the utility category. It’s spinnable, so students can train for spin recovery if they choose. All models of the DA20 Eclipse (except the 2010 version) are available for less than our $200,000 target price.


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