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Best of the Best 2007: Personal Aircraft

Mary Grady

According to Dale Klapmeier, cofounder and vice chairman of Cirrus Design, customers are lining up to place $100,000 deposits on the company’s recently announced $1 million jet. Cirrus, which began selling kit planes in 1984 and introduced its first certified plane 10 years later, continually has incorporated innovative technology in small piston aircraft, including parachutes that will float a plane to the ground in an emergency. Last year, Klapmeier and his brother, Alan, announced that their new aircraft, “the-jet” by Cirrus (800.705.0246, www.cirrusdesign.com), will be a single-engine machine that is slightly larger than the company’s four-seat piston-driven planes. The jet will fly at about 345 mph for about 1,000 miles and is expected to be relatively simple to operate, providing a natural step-up for current Cirrus pilots. Like the company’s piston models, “the-jet” will be equipped with a parachute. Cirrus has not yet set a delivery date, but a design will be revealed later this year.

Epic Air, maker of the Epic LT and Dynasty jet-engine-powered turboprops, has announced its plans to produce a very light jet, the twin-engine Epic Elite (541.318.8849, www.epicaircraft.com). Starting later this summer, the six- to seven-seat jet will be available as an experimental kit plane, which owners must help assemble at an Epic facility. A certified, ready-to-fly version is expected to follow in 2009. The jet design utilizes the same carbon composite construction as other Epic aircraft, and it is equipped with powerful new turbine engines from Williams. Epic says the plane will cruise at 474 mph and cover more than 1,600 miles without refueling. The assembly-required version sells for about $1.6 million, and Epic is taking orders for the certified one at a price of about $2.35 million. The jet will be certified first in Canada, and Epic will seek U.S. and European approval afterward. An agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Canadian government will permit pilots to fly Canadian-certified Elites in the United States.

Diamond Aircraft has produced an attention-grabbing series of aircraft recently. Two years ago, the Austrian company shook up the light twin-engine market with the Twin Star, a sporty, sleek piston plane propelled by two beefy diesel engines. And Diamond’s light single-engine D-Jet has been flying since April 2006, while competitors’ designs are still on the ground. Now the company is developing a new five-seat, single-engine machine, the Diamond DA50 Super Star (888.359.3220, www.diamondair.com). Diamond says that the plane, which flew for the first time this spring, has a spacious cabin and a powerful turbocharged engine with full electronic controls. It is expected to cost from about $425,000 to $535,000, depending on the engine and options chosen. Production should start early next year, and the company is taking orders now.

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