Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Most Affordable Singles

We examine some of the best buys In general aviation

Owner Stories

Evan Green (left) uses his Liberty XL2 mostly for business travel, while Dr. Peter Spennato (right) flies his Mooney Ovation primarily for personal trips.
Cessna 172
Corporate pilot David Lawson of Van Nuys, Calif., purchased a Skyhawk a few years back for all the reasons that most pilots appreciate Skyhawks. Lawson flies Magic Johnson’s Gulfstream G3 for a living, and the Skyhawk is the latest of several personal airplanes he has owned for fun. “It’s an extremely easy airplane to fly, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a Skyhawk’s talents,” says Lawson. “I’ve owned several airplanes before this one—152s and Barons—and the Skyhawk is probably the best buy and the most capable of them all.”

The Gulfstream pilot says everyone in his family is a pilot—wife, son and daughter—and all appreciate the Skyhawk’s gentle flight characteristics: “Everyone flies it, and everyone loves it.”

Cessna 182
When zero-time student pilot Marty Whitton of Bakersfield, Calif., asked three experienced pilot friends for their recommendations for the best combination learn-to-fly/cross-country machine, the answer was unanimous: All three recommended the Cessna Skylane.

“As a result, I bought a normally aspirated 2004 Skylane from Tom’s Aircraft in Long Beach, Calif., and my friends’ estimation of the airplane’s talents was right on,” says Whitton. The paving contractor upgraded his avionics to the active traffic L-3 SkyWatch system and stepped up to synthetic vision, but other than that, he has left the airplane intact.

He uses the airplane for a wide range of missions, including business travel, new-job scouting, Sunday morning hamburgers and trips to the Bay Area to visit his daughter. Whitton has logged some 230 hours in his 182, and he has no plans to upgrade for some time: “The Skylane carries a ton of fuel, so I can fly for as long as I want. It’s not the fastest airplane in the sky, but I’m not in that big a hurry anyway, so overall, I’m very happy with my Skylane.”

Diamond Star
Colin Summers of Santa Monica, Calif., earned his license in a Cherokee in 2004, then began renting older, used airplanes. An architect with an architectural design company, Summers had projects in several states and needed a business airplane. “At the time, my company was working on projects in Nevada, and I began looking at airplanes that could fly me back and forth from the L.A. Basin to Las Vegas,” he says. “Rental aircraft were almost universally a poor choice. I looked at purchasing a nice used Cherokee, a newer Cirrus SR20 and even a new-generation Tiger, but the airplane that finally stole my heart was a Diamond DA40 Star.”

Summers purchased a Diamond Star demonstrator, and he has never looked back. “I fly the Star about 200 hours a year, and it’s very hard to beat, especially for trips to Vegas. My business partner and I can fly on our own schedule with all the luggage we want and not have to worry about the inconveniences of commercial airlines. Plus, it’s an enjoyable experience. I love the Garmin G1000, and operating costs are pretty reasonable with two people traveling most of the time.”

Summers also flies for fun about half the time. He and his family have been across the United States to Long Island, N.Y., and to Washington, D.C. Now instrument-rated, Summers says he never knows where he’s going next. “I really enjoy the Star. I’d love to have a Bonanza or Saratoga, but when I weigh the costs against the benefits, the Star wins every time.”

Liberty XL2
Evan Green of Calabasas, Calif., owns a Liberty XL2, and he’s convinced that it’s the easiest-flying two-seat single in the sky. “A friend and I were at Sun ‘n Fun about seven years ago, and we had been considering buying a four-seat airplane together for some time,” Green explains.

Green and his aviation partner had looked at a variety of aircraft, including a Warrior, Skyhawk and Cirrus, when they discovered the Liberty XL2. “It was exactly what we wanted: all metal, FADEC, single-lever control, low wing and comfortable cabin for two. We were impressed,” explains Green. After the Liberty was certified, the partners took delivery of their airplane two years ago.

“As a TV and motion-picture lighting specialist, I’ve flown the Liberty all over the United States, including to satellite offices in New Orleans and Atlanta,” says Green, “and though it’s not the fastest airplane in the sky, it’s very safe and simple, with push-tube controls, a single fuel tank and a wide, comfortable cabin. It’s also a stable platform with great visibility, and it’s very inexpensive to operate—only about 5.5 gph at high cruise.”

The Liberty is a two-seater, but Green says he and his partner call it a mini-Cirrus, the perfect compromise of efficiency, economy and size.

Mooney Ovation
Dr. Peter Spennato of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., is another newly licensed pilot. He was looking for a fast airplane to fly his family back and forth to their weekend getaway home outside Salt Lake City, as well as other destinations. “Speed was important to me,” says Spennato, “since it’s just over 500 nm to Salt Lake City. I wanted an airplane that would let me make that hop in roughly three hours, so I could realistically fly round-trip in a three-day weekend.”

After earning his private ticket in a Skyhawk, Dr. Spennato spent nearly a year looking at Piper Saratoga HPs, Beech G36 Bonanzas, Cessna Skylanes and other models before finally leasing a used Mooney Ovation.

“The Ovation offered the best speed of any normally aspirated airplane on the market, better cabin room than the Bonanza and enough payload to let me fly to Utah nonstop,” he explains. “Additionally, it’s an efficient machine, capable of 170 knots on about 14 gph, or the full 185 knots at 17 gph.”

In the near future, Dr. Spennato plans to add an instrument rating to his credentials to make his Ovation even more valuable: “The Mooney is the perfect airplane for me, plus I have the advantage of passing almost every other piston single in the sky.”


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