2015 Flying Editors' Choice Awards

Celebrating the best of a very good 2015.

Each year, we at Flying select a small handful of products, companies or organizations that have had a positive impact on general aviation during the previous year. It's the stamp of approval pilots look for when shopping for avionics, making aircraft-purchase decisions, or trying to separate merely good products from great ones. But it's more than that. It is recognition of a job well done by teams of engineers, test pilots, marketers and other professionals who, working together, have taken bright ideas and turned them into certified realities. We hope that, in some small way, it also helps to spur competition, drive innovation and inspire the brilliant minds in aviation to dream of creating the next game-changing technology or product.

The airplanes we bestow the honors on this year are about as different as can be, yet they certainly fit the definition of game changing in the segments they represent. The avionics products we've selected also exemplify technology that pushes boundaries with new ways of thinking and presenting information. This year, we also recognize a charitable organization that is doing exceptional work to help get kids excited about aviation, a goal you'll see us putting a renewed emphasis on here at Flying as we enter the new year. So join us in congratulating this year's highly deserving 2015 Editors' Choice award winners.

2015 Flying Editors' Choice Awards | Icon A5
Icon A5Icon Aircraft

The California-born-and-bred Icon A5 light-sport amphibian is an obvious choice for a 2015 Flying Editors' Choice award. It's almost certain to be a controversial one as well.

With the A5, Icon Aircraft has introduced a different kind of airplane that is targeted primarily to nonpilot thrill seekers — a sort of flying Jet Ski that exists purely to bring joy to its owner. There's nothing wrong with that. But Icon has also worked hard to cultivate a bad-boy image with the release of videos and promotional materials that show A5 pilots performing the sorts of aggressive low-level maneuvers that have been getting people hurt or killed in airplanes for more than a hundred years.

But the simple fact is, the A5's flight characteristics are sublime, it meets FAA spin-resistant design criteria, and it comes equipped with cutting-edge safety features, including a full-airframe BRS parachute and angle of attack indicator. That it's also badass is a bonus.

When viewed through this wider lens, and by taking into account everything Icon has accomplished with the A5, we proudly bestow this honor on a company that achieved exactly what it set out to do, boldly and without apology, in creating an airplane that epitomizes what an LSA can and should be.

2015 Flying Editors' Choice Awards | Cessna Citation Latitude
Cessna Citation LatitudeTextron Aviation

Cessna's newly introduced Citation Latitude midsize business twinjet occupies a class all its own, combining the things buyers have long loved about the Citation brand — rock-solid reliability, low operating costs, exceptional takeoff performance and more — and adding many others they'll come to appreciate the moment they step on board.

The cabin, for starters, is surprisingly spacious with room for eight and a flat floor that stretches 6 feet to the ceiling, 6.4 feet wide and 21.75 feet long. Fuel-efficient Pratt & Whitney PW306D1 turbofans provide a range of 2,850 nm and a max speed of 446 knots. The general shape is reminiscent of the Citation Sovereign, on which the Latitude is based, but the new model is jam packed with extras, from the Garmin G5000 touch-screen avionics up front to the Clarity cabin entertainment system in the back, as well as large windows that let in lots of natural light and an airstair door that's generous in size. As a total package, this is a hard bizjet to beat.

2015 Flying Editors' Choice Awards | L-3 Lynx NGT-9000
L-3 Aviation Products Lynx NGT-9000L-3 Aviation Products

A transponder with a touchscreen would probably make the short list for an Editors' Choice award based on the mere fact it's such a cool idea. A Mode S extended-squitter transponder with LCD touchscreen, internal dual-band ADS-B receivers, WAAS GPS receiver and Wi-Fi interface for connecting it to a tablet computer is, in our opinion, a slam-dunk winner. And since it's our opinion that counts, we're delighted to present the award to the revolutionary L-3 Lynx NGT-9000.

The unit provides you with everything you'll need to comply with the FAA's 2020 ADS-B mandate, plus a whole lot more. There's an internal 1090ES ADS-B Out receiver/transmitter for rule compliance plus dual 1090 MHz and 978 MHz (UAT) ADS-B In links for receiving traffic and subscription-free weather information, which is displayed right on the NGT-9000's touchscreen. Swipe left or right to call up various map, traffic and weather pages on the screen, or you can output the signal to another cockpit MFD or to an iPad or Android tablet for overlay on popular apps such as WingX Pro7.

2015 Flying Editors' Choice Awards | Aspen Avionics AOA Indicator
Aspen Avionics AOA IndicatorAspen Avionics

OK, we'll admit that we were skeptical of this one when Aspen announced it earlier this year. Then we flew with the company's software-only angle of attack indicator and became believers. The reason we questioned whether it could really work as advertised is because there aren't any external sensors that you need to install to display angle of attack on your Aspen flight display. You merely upload the software, plug in airspeed numbers specific to your airplane, go up for a quick calibration flight, and you're in business.

How exactly does it work? The technology uses the accelerometers in the Aspen Evolution primary flight display and GPS track angle to derive angle of attack based on what the system sees. Developed by the Italian Space Agency and patented by Aspen, not only does the software provide accurate angle of attack indications on the PFD (even in an accelerated stall), but they are also theoretically more accurate than those supplied by permanently installed pressure-transducer-type angle of attack systems. The needles on the Aspen display provide fast-slow indications of margin above stall that are a huge improvement over what the airspeed indicator can tell you and provide more useful information than a stall-warning horn alone.

2015 Flying Editors' Choice Awards | Build A Plane
Build A PlaneBuild A Plane

Build A Plane is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting aviation by giving kids the chance to build real airplanes. The organization, founded in 2003 in a formal partnership with the FAA, solicits aircraft donations — often from home builders who never finished their project airplanes and who can claim a charitable tax deduction — which are passed along to high schools and youth groups across the country where kids get to work building them. It's up to the group to decide what happens to the airplane when it's completed. A number of students who built airplanes have gone on to learn how to fly them.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association partnered with Build A Plane a couple of years ago and ­invited high-school kids to enter a competition named the Aviation Design Challenge. The students were tasked with ­building a virtual airplane using the program's "Fly to Learn" curriculum, and then flying the airplane in a simulator using X-Plane software. The students with the most successful design got to build a Glasair Sportsman in Arlington, Washington. The Aviation Design Challenge is now in its third year. To learn more about the organization, visit buildaplane.org.