The recipients of this year’s Flying Editors’ Choice Awards, for the first time, comprise four airplanes — two from the piston world, and two jets that quickly are assuming spots at the top of their respective markets. That should come as no surprise since new airplanes are likely to attract extra attention from the judges, who know they’ll have the chance to fly the contenders — which honestly is the best part of our jobs.
In flying these four remarkable airplanes, we came away impressed by various attributes of each. They are unique; to say they serve vastly different audiences and markets is an understatement.
There is also an innovative avionics product that made the list, surprising perhaps only because avionics is the hottest area of the industry right now and so we might have expected more cockpit products to take home trophies. Alas, we cap our Editors’ Choice winners at five awards, and this year the airplanes ruled.
Each of these five winners now vie as nominees for our overall prize, the 2019 Flying Innovation Award, which we’ll crown at Oshkosh this summer.
Garmin TXi Flight Displays
Garmin’s TXi line of touchscreen flight displays brings flexibility to the cockpit by allowing aircraft owners to make upgrades, mixing and matching a variety of screen sizes that can transform older steam-gauge-equipped airplanes with panels that truly look as though they belong in this century.
We chose Garmin’s TXi 500 and TXi 600 systems for this year’s Editors’ Choice Award for several reasons. For starters, the touchscreen interface works great. These products also represent a leap forward from the G500 and G600 retrofit cockpits Garmin introduced a few years ago. The TXi touchscreens incorporate fast dual-core processors and provide extra features we like a lot, such as optional animated Nexrad weather graphics and integrated engine information.
The TXi line is offered with an exceptionally bright 10.6-inch touch display, a 7-inch portrait display or a 7-inch landscape display, or any combination of the three. For engine indication, an integrated EIS strip on a split screen can be integrated with the 10.6-inch PFD, or buyers can choose to add a dedicated 7-inch horizontal or vertical engine display.
The TXi 500 system is certified for Class 1 and 2 Part 23 airplanes weighing less than 6,000 pounds, while TXi 600 is for larger piston and turbine airplanes. Both are compatible with Garmin’s GTN navigators and retrofit autopilots, and offer an optional built-in backup battery, the ability to save pilot profiles, HSI map on the PFD, standard synthetic vision, VNAV with vertical profile guidance, and the ability to send your flight-plan data from an iPhone or iPad using Garmin Connext wireless gateway technology.
A business jet that incorporates a huge rear cargo door and is approved to land on dirt strips? It’s practically a shoe-in for an Editors’ Choice Award, but then they don’t call the Pilatus PC-24 the “Super Versatile Jet” for nothing. When Pilatus considered a successor to the highly successful PC-12 single-engine turboprop, a twin turboprop was briefly considered. Instead, the Swiss company settled on the idea of a twinjet, but one quite unlike anything the market had seen before. The PC-24 combines the operational flexibility of a turboprop with many of the performance attributes of a light jet in a cabin that belongs firmly in the midsize category.
With room for 10, plus plenty of gear in a 90-square-foot baggage compartment, this is a jet that was tailor-made for buyers moving up from the PC-12. Single-pilot capability means it will fast become a favorite of the owner-flown crowd where Pilatus has made its name, as well as with corporate flight departments and air-taxi operators. But to truly appreciate the PC-24, you have to fly it. Once you do, you’ll be hooked.
Gulfstream has long held a reputation as one of the world’s finest purveyors of business jets, and the G500 is certain to cement its spot at the top of that list for a long time to come.
This airplane, to put it plainly, is a technological and engineering marvel. The cockpit features cutting-edge fly-by-wire technology that commands the autopilot, autothrottle and auto-braking system for unprecedented levels of control. At the flight crew’s fingertips are 10 touchscreens arrayed throughout the flight deck. The space is a welcoming blend of fine leather and brushed nickel reminiscent of a luxury car.
The cabin is whisper-quiet, with the ability to hear conversations among any of the up to 19 passenger seats. Performance of the G500 is exceptional. It boasts a max cruise speed a few knots below the speed of sound, a max altitude of FL 510 and range of 5,200 nm.
Remarkably, cabin altitude at FL 510 is just 4,850 feet, making for a decidedly relaxing environment for passengers to work, play or rest. Summed up, the G500 is the ultimate private jet.
Vashon Aircraft surprised everybody last spring by introducing the Ranger R7 LSA as a fully type-approved model that was ready for handover to buyers. Just as startling was the company associated with the venture, avionics maker Dynon, which has made quite a name for itself in the Experimental market. With its tried-and-true Continental O-200 engine, beefy landing gear and base price of less than $100,000, the Ranger is an airplane that fulfills the promises made when the light-sport aircraft rules emerged well over a decade ago. Even the base model comes with a full Dynon panel (no surprise there), two-axis autopilot and full ADS-B rule compliance. It’s a perfect Cessna 150 replacement for a busy flight school, or a fun two-seater for a sport pilot to take on adventures of a lifetime.
Kitplane maker Lancair bills the Mako as a four-place alternative to the Cirrus SR22 that sells for a fraction of the price. When you dig down into the specs, it’s hard to quibble with that assertion. The Mako offers a BRS full-airframe parachute, icing protection, air conditioning and a Garmin cockpit with all the latest technology, such as synthetic vision, integrated three-axis autopilot, active traffic, ADS-B In and Out and FlightStream wireless flight-plan transfer technology, all for about half the price of a new Cirrus. The Mako is a kit, so you have to build it or pay Lancair to help you do that job. Even with most of the cost of building the kit included, the turbo Mako has a base price of $385,000. That’s a deal for an airplane that can cruise at 225 knots, fly 1,100 nm and take off from 2,000-foot runways. For buyers who can get past the fact that it’s a kit, the Mako is an airplane that delivers a lot for the money (including its automatically retracted nosewheel), which is why we picked it as an Editor’s Choice Award winner.