Cessna 182 Skylane
Traditional wisdom has it that most light airplane buyers purchase two seats more than they need. I guess I’m pretty traditional. I’ve owned six airplanes, and all but one have been four-seaters. My first, a Globe Swift, was the only two-seater; during the six years I owned it, there were just two or three times when I needed four seats. I’ve had my current airplane, a 200 hp Mooney, for the last 20 years, and I’ve carried four people no more than a half-dozen times.
Still, there’s little question that four-seaters have a definite attraction that transcends their seat count. Pilot Peggy and I can top the tanks and load up all the miscellaneous stuff most people lug on trips, and not worry about CG or weight. In those rare instances when we do need to transport a quartet, we can leave some fuel behind and launch without fear of being over gross.
In truth, four-seaters have become the standard of the industry and among the most popular models for most manufacturers. Here’s a look at the current crop of four-place singles.
Cessna 172S Skyhawk (photos by Scott Slocum)
Cessna 172S Skyhawk ($297,000)
Despite the recent emergence of the Cirrus SR22 as a best seller, the venerable Skyhawk continues to reign as the world’s most popular trainer. Cessna builds only one Skyhawk these days, the 180 hp S; the 160 hp R model has been dropped. Skyhawks are revered for their slow-flight capabilities. Stall with the large flaps deployed is 47 knots, slow enough to allow approaches at 65 or even 60 knots. Such slow speeds allow for the use of short runways, making Skyhawks popular in places that are ill-suited for other types. If there’s a need to cruise cross-country, the Skyhawk does so at 122 knots.
The Garmin G1000 flat-panel display and GFC 700 autopilot are standard equipment on the Skyhawk, Skylane and Stationair, making avionics management (like the airplane itself) almost silly simple, once you learn the system.
Cessna 182 Skylane ($384,500) & Turbo Skylane ($418,000)
Some pilots feel the Skylane is the world’s best all-around four-seat single. It’s not hard to understand that sentiment. The 182 offers typical Cessna simplicity, reasonable climb and cruise, good useful load and parts availability practically through your local Pep Boys.
Skylanes employ either a normally aspirated or turbocharged, 235 hp Lycoming IO-540 and constant-speed prop to lift 3,100 pounds of gross weight. Older 182s were famous for lifting full fuel and four people, though inevitably, the modern versions are heavier and can’t quite manage the same trick. Climb is better than 900 fpm in both models, and cruise speed runs 145 knots in the standard airplane, 159 knots in the turbo machine (at 12,500 feet).
Perhaps best of all, though, Skylanes of all ages and descriptions have earned the almost universal respect of pilots. They’re forgiving machines, willing to ignore all but the most major indiscretions and still bring you home safely.
Cessna Corvalis (photos by Chad Slattery)
Cessna Corvalis ($550,000) & Corvalis TT ($635,000)
The former Columbia 350 and 400 singles continue to live on as Cessnas. That might seem an unlikely marriage, since the traditional Cessna singles are all-metal high wings, and the Columbias are state-of-the-art, composite, low-wing designs, but Cessna hopes the Corvalis line will keep it in the hunt for the high-performance-single dollar.
Both Corvalis airplanes utilize the same big Continental IO-550 engine rated for 310 hp. The blown model TT features twin turbochargers and twin intercoolers for a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet and a cruise of 235 knots. Max cruise spec on the basic Corvalis is promised at 191 knots.
Diamond Star DA40 XLS
Diamond Star DA40 XLS ($334,950)
Diamond’s four-seat single has a qualification that’s rare among four-seaters: a back door. That’s certainly not its main talent, but it’s unusual among four-seaters. (The Maule M-7-260 also offers a rear door.) Like the old Grumman American Tiger, the Star is an efficiency expert, capable of speed in the 145-knot range with fixed gear below and only 180 hp under the cowl. The Star comes in two versions: the CS and the top-of-the-line XLS. The CS is the more basic machine, geared more toward flight schools, while the XLS features a three-blade MT prop, an autopilot, a Power Flow exhaust and a number of other improvements.
Maule MXT-7-180 ($183,020)
Family-owned and -run Maule Air of Moultrie, Ga., continues to live on despite recessions and the lack of a huge corporate sugar daddy. Maule has a variety of engine, door and gear options available; we cover the two most popular options here.
The MXT-7-180 is the company’s entry-level, fabric-covered machine: a four-seat single with a nosegear out front and a 180 hp Lycoming engine for motive force. The 180 hp Maule’s primary claim to fame is simply economy. It’s probably the least expensive four-seater you can buy, operating costs are low, and the airplane is so simple, maintenance shouldn’t be a major concern. The baby Maule mounts 73-gallon tanks in the wings, enough for a full six hours of endurance (plus reserve) at normal cruise. At a reasonable 115 knots, that works out to a range of 680 nm.
Maule M-7-260 ($221,420)
The big Maule may be the only conventional-gear airplane in our survey, but its performance is far from conventional. The top piston Maule (there’s a turboprop version available on special order) mounts 260 hp on the nose, and it has a talent for landing and leaping back out of places where only snowmobiles, dune buggies and dog teams go. An experienced Maule pilot can do things with the airplane that no one else would try in anything short of a Helio. The type boasts a near-legendary reputation in the bush country of Canada and Alaska. Short-/soft-field performance is so good, it’s hard to quantify. Maules have won short-field takeoff/landing competitions in Alaska, and the type continues to be popular with bush pilots around the world.
Piper Archer III ($299,500)
Production of the Archer was temporarily suspended last year, but it’s being reinstated for 2010 to compete with the Cessna Skyhawk S. The revived Archer will be an enhanced edition with standard leather interior, AC, Garmin 600 PFD/MFD, S-Tec 55X autopilot and Nexrad.
The Archer remains one of Piper’s long-term winners and is an easy step-up from the Warrior. With only 180 hp under the pilot’s palm, the Archer offers a 128-knot cruise for four hours, adequate for cross-country trips as far as 500 nm. Piper hopes Archer buyers may be induced to purchase an Arrow or Seminole, comparable step-up, two-engine airplanes with similar powerplants and retractable gear.
Piper Warrior ($290,000)
The Warrior has been Piper’s entry-level airplane for more than 30 years. Son of Cherokee, the Warrior competes more or less head to head with the Cessna Skyhawk, though the Piper flies with 20 less horsepower. Climb is about 750 fpm and cruise is 115 knots, but the typical training mission doesn’t depend on high altitude or quick cruise speed. Stall is only 44 knots, even lower than the Skyhawk’s bottom number, placing the Warrior in the same performance class.
Some instructors believe the Warrior is even easier to fly than the Skyhawk (if that’s possible), and it’s certainly true the Piper is difficult to stall and almost impossible to spin. Student pilots like the Warrior’s low wing, and the airplane is so simple to operate that the quest for the private license is an easy road.
Cirrus SR20 GS
Cirrus SR20 GS ($332,900)
Brothers Dale and Alan Klapmeier (now, sadly, no longer business partners) created the world’s best-selling airplane in 1998 and began selling it later that year. As Alan put it so succinctly, “You have to be dumb enough to start [in this business] and smart enough to finish.” The Klapmeiers have “finished” about as well as anyone in today’s economy. The Cirrus family of aircraft are collectively the most successful in general aviation, and the SR20 was the first model introduced in 1999. An all-composite design, the SR20 features 26-G, energy-absorbing seats, a CAPS full-airframe parachute, seat-belt air bags and a variety of other safety features, many unavailable with the competition. The SR20 sports a 165-knot max cruise following an 800 fpm climb with only 200 hp on the nose. In combination with a comfortable cabin and 56 gallons of usable fuel, the SR20 manages to offer a reasonable traveling machine for trips out to 750 nm.
|Cirrus SR22 G3 (photo by Chad Slattery)|
Cirrus SR22 G3 ($441,050)
For a fixed-gear machine, general aviation’s most popular airplane offers performance that’s more typically associated with retractables. Cruise with 310 hp on tap is a substantial 185 knots, nearly up to pace with the Mooney Ovation. Perhaps equally important, the SR22 has a generous-size cabin that will easily accommodate four folks; it’s 49 inches wide by 50 inches tall. The Klapmeiers designed the cabin around the dimensions of the BMW 5 Series. Twin side sticks provide pitch and roll control, and the Perspective avionics, complemented by synthetic vision, make IFR as easy as it gets. The airplane’s 92-gallon tanks allow range in excess of 1,100 nm. The newest innovation at Cirrus is the Tornado Alley turbonormalizing system that allows speeds as high as 219 knots at 25,000 feet. The SR22 GS Turbo should find favor with pilots who need its excellent high-density altitude performance.
|Mooney Ovation2 GX ($449,000) & Ovation3 ($474,900)
Mooneys always have boasted the best economy of anything in production ranks, and the Ovation2 and Ovation3 are the latest of the economy champs. I ferried a dozen or so Mooneys, mostly Ovations, to Australia in the ’90s; the type’s speed and efficiency make it one of the most worry-free airplanes I’ve ever flown across the Pacific. These days, Ovations come in two varieties, the Ovation2 and Ovation3. The Ovation3 is the identical airplane but upgraded to a 310 hp version of the Continental IO-550-G that turns a 2,700 rpm redline rather than 2,500 rpm. On a good day, with all the biorhythms on high, the Ovation2 will cruise at 186 to 188 knots, while the Ovation3 will manage more like 193 to 195 knots.
Mooney Acclaim S ($579,000)
Piper Arrow ($434,275)
The first Arrows featured a clever airspeed-activated gear system that extended the wheels if the pilot forgot to select gear down. Unfortunately, the system was too good. A pilot lost power, turned toward an airport and got too slow—the wheels extended and he didn’t make the runway. The inevitable lawsuit caused Piper to discontinue the feature.
What remains is a 137-knot airplane that serves as a high-performance retractable at several aviation universities. Climb is 800 fpm from sea level, and max fuel is 72 gallons, leaving a 540-pound payload, roughly three folks plus baggage.
|A Canadian entry from Parry Sound, Ontario, in conjunction with the former Found Aircraft (remember the Bushhawk?), the E350 is a semi-bush machine designed specifically for use in the outback…sort of. The airplane can be configured with either a nosewheel (the E350) or tailwheel (350XC). It’s technically a five-seat machine, similar in design to a Maule. Power is provided by a Lycoming IO-580-B1A, generating 315 hp. In combination with a large, 184-square-foot wing (10 square feet larger than a 210’s), the E350 sports a 1,250 fpm climb and a 160-knot cruise. But that’s not its primary claim to fame. The airplane is an especially talented short-field machine, leaping off in 800 feet and landing in just over 600 feet. Gross weight is 3,800 pounds, and a typical max fuel payload approaches 1,000 pounds. Ninety-eight gallons of fuel is enough for about 4.5 hours of endurance, worth an easy 650 nm range. The E350 is intended more for what it can carry and where it can fly than how far it can go.|
Buying With ClassG
Whether you’re buying a new or used aircraft, two major considerations are airplane type and where to buy it. Some pilots only have a foggy idea of the perfect airplane for their situation. Others have firm opinions of the type of airplane they’d like to own, but are unsure about the best choice for their budget.
Enter the Internet, of course. We recently came across a website that makes the task a little easier. ClassG.com, an aircraft search organization based in Salt Lake City, is designed to help both buyers and sellers in the aircraft sales business.
ClassG offers “comprehensive pricing information, detailed aircraft specs and performance information, operating costs, side-by-side comparison tools, photo galleries, videos, unbiased editorial content…all the information an aircraft shopper needs to make a confident buying decision.” ClassG.com simplifies the purchase process and makes sense of the confusing general aviation aircraft market. Visit www.classg.com.
THE QUESTION OF INSURANCE
If you’re planning to buy a new airplane, you’ll be interested in the cost of insurance. It makes sense to protect a purchase in this price class, and insurance will be required if you finance the purchase. Accordingly, we asked Jim Lauerman, president of Avemco Insurance (www.avemco.com), to provide rough quotes on six models. He looked at prices for pilots with the same total flight hours (500) and time in type, but one with an instrument rating and the other without. Here’s a summary of the results for four-place singles hangared in California. These rates are for $100,000 bodily injury, $1,000,000 property damage and per occurrence. By definition, these are generic rates with all the usual qualifiers, but they give some idea of the relative costs for coverage. Our thanks to Avemco VP of Underwriting Mike Adams for his work on the project.
|If you’re a retired fighter pilot and you’ve won the lotto, the Evolution may be just what you’re looking for. Currently, the Evolution is only available as a homebuilt, so you do have to build it, but if the market turns around, Lancair hopes to certify the model within three years. Either way, the Evolution offers performance that’s in the VLJ category. There are two engine choices available: a P&W PT6A-135A turboprop boasting 750 shp and a Lycoming TEO-540-E2 piston mill. The turbine version generates a 4,000 fpm climb and cruise of 330 knots, while the piston model vaults uphill at 2,000 fpm and zips along at 280 knots. Both airplanes are pressurized to 6 psi, allowing an 8,500-foot cabin at a max 28,000 feet. Lancair COO Tom Bowen says the company is proceeding with the certification program, but at a slow pace. The homebuilt Evolution kits continue to be delivered, and nearly a dozen airplanes have been completed.|