Like the Cessna Skyhawk, the Piper Archer, a member of the prodigious PA-28 family, has become the epitome of the modern trainer. A 180 hp Lycoming IO-360-powered single with a fixed-pitch prop, the Archer is a classic Piper low-wing all-metal design. Its four-seat roominess and good power-to-weight ratio make it a practical, easy-flying training platform that works well in environments where lower-powered models struggle to perform. Like the Skyhawk, the Archer started life as a personal transportation plane, but as pilots’ expectations have changed, it became a trainer. The low-wing design has a big advantage: it takes better advantage of ground effect for easier and more predictable landings, a real benefit in the training world. While still close to its roots, the Archer features the G1000 flat-panel suite to give pilots-in-training a modern experience from the get-go.
Base Price: $359,900
Competitors: Cessna Skyhawk, Tecnam P2010, Diamond DA40
Learn more at Piper Aircraft.
Cessna 172 Skyhawk
What can you say about the 172 that hasn’t already been said? It’s the most produced airplane in history (and still going), a great trainer, a passable transportation airplane, a wonderful plane for a small family, a great beginner’s airplane, but one that can last many pilots a lifetime of flying, and has one of the best safety records in light GA. Today’s Skyhawk is powered by a 180 hp Lycoming IO-360 engine with a fixed-pitch prop for easy engine management. At 124 knots, it’s not a super-fast airplane, but for most short to mid-distance jaunts, it’s fast enough. It has remarkably pleasing flying characteristics, it’s a great IFR airplane, easy to land, and uses very little runway (a landing roll of 575 feet when you get on the brakes). With the disappearance of the two-seat 152 in the mid-’80s, the 172 has become the world’s most popular trainer.
Niche: Four-seat, fixed-gear trainer/utility
Base Price: $369,000
Competitors: Tecnam P2010, Diamond DA40, Piper Archer
Learn more at Cessna.
It’s the 25th anniversary of the first public appearance of the Diamond DA20, then called the Katana. The DA20 was a revolutionary airplane, all-composite with a huge glass canopy and the great flying manners you get from a high-aspect-ratio wing. Remember, this was at a time when the Cessna 152, Piper Tomahawk and Beech Skipper were all out of production. But the training world would soon move to more powerful four-seaters for primary instruction, and the DA20 never became a huge star, just the steady performer it still is. The current model, the DA20-C1, features the conventional Continental IO-240 of 125 hp, and continues to give student pilots a big glass window on the world. For training operations that want to go with a two-seater, the DA20 remains the go-to solution in the Part 23 market—it’s an easy-flying, easy-landing, reliable platform that makes money for flight schools that use it.
Niche: Two-seat trainer
Base Price: $234,800
Learn more at Diamond Aircraft.
Cessna 206 Turbo Stationair HD
While the 182 is a rugged performer, the true backcountry star of Cessna’s lineup is the Turbo Stationair HD, a six-seater powered by a 310 hp Lycoming TIO-540 six-cylinder. The Stationair can wear many mission hats. It has a huge useful load (1,623 pounds), a big cabin with a big side-loading door and great short-field capability. It also comes with high-tech enhancements, including the G1000 avionics suite, crashworthy seats and improved lighting. It’s not slick, but the Stationair is plenty fast, 161 knot top cruise speed, and with a 700 nm range, it makes an excellent cross-country platform. For commercial operators, that combo is pure gold. Load up the plane with passengers and bags, and with slightly reduced fuel loads you can routinely fly trips of 400 to 500 nm. The Stationair is one of the most popular floatplanes on the planet, too. It comes standard with float attach points.
Niche: Fixed-gear heavy hauler
Base Price: $645,000
Competitors: Gippsland Airvan 8, Maule MT-7-260
Learn more at Cessna.
The Husky is the airplane that, given other circumstances, the long-out-of-production Super Cub might have become. It’s powerful, with either the 180 hp Lycoming O-360 or 200 hp Lycoming fuel-injected IO-360. The more powerful engine provides additional speed, but the Husky is remarkably fast for a tube-and-fabric bushplane—with standard tires you can see a 75% cruise of 122 knots, which is faster than some comparably powered retracts of an earlier generation. The tandem-seating plane needs next to no runway to take off or land. In fact, it needs no runway at all. With tundra tires, any cozy field or sand bar will do. But the Husky is also a modern airplane, with a range of avionics options from a VFR panel with a portable navigator plugged in to a full-up IFR panel that might make you forget you’re in an airplane that might need 200 feet of ground roll to land, if you’re rusty.
Niche: Two-seat taildragger
Base Price: $242,509
Competitors: CubCrafters XCub, Maule MX-7 180
Check out Husky pilot reports,experimental versions and more in our Aviat Archives.
Learn more at Aviat Aircraft.
One of the highlights here is a brand-new, certificated design, the XCub from CubCrafters. A traditional tube-and-rag design, but with optimized aerodynamics, the XCub shares almost nothing in common with its Super Cub inspiration, save the general spirit of the bird. Available with either spring-steel or traditional bungee-style gear, the XCub can adopt multiple personalities. Sporting a 180 hp Lycoming O-360 with the composite Hartzell Trailblazer constant-speed prop, the XCub can cruise at around 125 knots with a range of around 800 nm, or around 1,000 nm at reduced power and airspeed. When it comes to landing and takeoff, CubCrafters publishes a figure of 170 feet (demonstrated) for each, figures we’ve verified. With a useful load of 1,084 pounds and a cargo capacity of 230 pounds, the XCub is a capable machine, too. Expect to see it with big tires, skis and floats before long, too.
Niche: Two-seat taildragger
Base Price: $305,800
Competitors: Aviat Husky, Maule MX-7 180
Learn more at CubCrafters.
If you’re confused by the many varieties of Maule aircraft available, you’re not alone, but remember that the sheer variety is a sign that Maule is committed to making its customers happy, and that they do. Boasting one of the highest resale values of any airplane, Maules are valued by owners for their ability to get the job done. The lightweight, rugged, tube-and-rag design has a huge side door for loading cargo. The M7-235B stalls at 40 knots, cruises at 138 knots, climbs at 1500 fpm and has a useful load of nearly 900 pounds. Maules are often put on floats, and with their great power-to-weight ratio and high-lift wing, they perform admirably on the water, in the bush with big tires and on skis. Maules are the rarity in having only steam-gauge flight instrumentation available from the factory, though you can get fully IFR-equipped airplanes with autopilots and Garmin panel-mount navigators.
Niche: Four-seat utility
Base Price: $170,200
Competitors: Cessna 182 Skylane
Learn more at Maule Air.
Without much doubt, the most unusual airplane in our lineup is the Stemme S12, the latest version of the high-performance sailplane that doubles as a capable cross-country cruiser. With a wingspan of 82 feet, the Stemme can get around the ramp because it can fold its wings electrically; the folded span is just 37 feet. The S12 is powered by a 115 hp Rotax 914 turbocharged engine spinning a folding prop; with the engine shut down, pull a cord in the cockpit, and it folds down and neatly tucks away into the nose-bowl. The S12 can launch itself for long soaring flights, get back to the airport every time even when the lift dies, or conversely go a long way under power—up to 950 nm on just 31 gallons of fuel at 140 knots. That’s almost 35 miles (statute) per gallon or about three times better than your SUV and approximately 1,000 times the fun.
Niche: High-performance motor glider
Base Price: $369,000
Learn more at Stemme.
One of the most exciting programs going is the Mooney M10J, an emerging design that takes a minimalist approach to transportation flying. Mooney hasn’t announced firm plans for first flight or certification for the model, but it has detailed what it expects the final airplane to look like. It will feature an all-composite airframe, a 155 hp FADEC Continental turbo-diesel engine, retractable gear (a Mooney hallmark, but unusual in new-design light airplanes these days), Garmin G1000 avionics and a cruise speed of around 160 knots on around 5 gallons of Jet A per hour.
Niche: Two-seat retractable gear
Base Price: Pricing TBD
Learn more at Mooney.