Thursday, June 1, 2006
Battle of the four-seat speedsters
Contrary to what many people think, there’s little to support the idea that general aviation’s glass is half empty. Examine the last dozen or so years of aircraft development. In that time, at least six single-engine, four-seat airplanes—all capable of cruising near or even well above the magic 200 knots—have emerged.
5. Columbia 350
The normally aspirated Columbia does exactly what the 400 does, but at breathable altitudes. Down at 8,500 feet, both the 400 and the 350 will storm along at 190 knots. If your flying doesn’t demand a turbo, the all-electric 350 offers essentially the same talents without the higher acquisition costs. Without turbos to cool, the 350 also benefits from slightly reduced fuel burn.
If the turbo model can loft up into the flight levels with ease, the 350 manages fairly good high-altitude performance on its own. Service ceiling is 18,000 feet, so it’s not unreasonable to flight-plan for 12,500 or even 14,500 if there’s a need to top clouds or terrain. At 55% power, the Columbia 350 can cover ground at nearly 155 knots, and the result is a range of nearly 1,300 nm.
6. Cirrus SR22
Certainly one major contributing factor in the phenomenal success of the SR22 is its impressive performance. Despite an entry-level price that’s almost double that of a Cessna Skyhawk, the SR22 has outsold the 172 (and everything else in the industry) four years in a row, making it the world’s best-selling general aviation design.
At 185 knots following a 1,300 fpm climb, the Cirrus offers plenty of performance. In combination with its built-in ballistic parachute, the largest cabin in its class, and a list of options that would do Boeing proud, the SR22 is a serious cross-country traveler. Like the Columbia 350, the SR22 thrives at high altitudes and will turn in excellent speed through at least 10,500 feet. Fuel capacity is the least of the group, only 81 gallons, but if you pull back the left power control slightly, you’ll see a 1,000 nm range.
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