Best of the Best 2008: Personal Aircraft

  • Mary Grady and Douglas McWhirter

The "S" in the name of the new Acclaim from Mooney Airplane refers to the craft’s most distinguishing attribute: speed. The Mooney Acclaim Type S (830.896.6000, www?.mooney?.com) reaches 278 mph, which is 6 mph faster than the previous Acclaim and unquestionably faster than any other piston-powered, single-engine airplane on the market. (By comparison, the Columbia 400, now produced by Cessna, achieves 270 mph.) To attain its top speed, the Type S must climb into the thin air above 25,000 feet. But at a more usual 16,000-foot altitude, it still delivers a vigorous 253 mph—fast enough to leave Chicago after breakfast and arrive in New York for lunch. With its roomy, hand-stitched leather seats and generous storage space, the $600,000 Type S provides a comfortable ride. —M.G.

The latest SR22 piston aircraft from Cirrus Design is not just a tweaked and spit-shined version of the previous SR22, which has been in production for almost eight years. Rather, the Cirrus SR22 Generation 3 (218.727.2737, www.cirrusdesign.com) represents a top-to-bottom makeover that incorporates nearly 700 changes. Taller landing gear provides extra prop and tail clearance for rough airstrips, and modifications to the wings and control systems have made the plane much more responsive to prompts from the pilot. In addition, the G3 has more fuel capacity, which translates to a range of about 1,350 miles, 17 percent greater than that of the G2. The aircraft reaches 243 mph and, when outfitted with an optional turbocharging package, flies at full power as high as 25,000 feet. In the cockpit, light and switch placements have been altered to make the controls easier to see and reach, and the airflow and heating systems have been improved. The G3 comes with standard Cirrus features such as big gull-wing doors, comfortable seats, and a parachute system that will lower the plane to the ground in an emergency. The aircraft has a base price of approximately $376,000. Cirrus offers air-conditioning with the popular turbocharging option installed, a combination not possible with the G2. —M.G.

In late 2007, Cessna paid $26.4 million for "select assets" of Columbia Aircraft, a bankrupt aircraft manufacturer based in Bend, Ore. Among the assets in question were two popular single-engine aircraft, the Columbia 350 and 400, which enjoy a following among pilot-owners. Strategically rechristened as members of Cessna’s piston line, the Cessna 350 and Cessna 400 (800.423.7762, www.cessna.com) live on as the fast, low-wing workhorses Columbia designed them to be—only now with the service-network backing of a financially sound major. Rugged Teledyne Continental engines power both planes. With dual turbochargers, the 400 reaches speeds of 270 mph, leaving almost all other piston-engine aircraft behind. Both feature all-composite airframes, Garmin G1000 avionics, and Garmin GFC700 flight-control systems. Each model seats four, but anyone over 6 feet tall will be in for a cramped ride. Despite this one drawback, the 350 and 400 offer solid values at $535,000 and $620,000, respectively. —Douglas McWhirter

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