What Is the Best Personal Aircraft?

If you’re interested in being a pilot, you might ask, what is the best personal aircraft? This is not an easy question, nor is it two-dimensional. The best personal aircraft varies widely. If you are an aspiring commercial pilot looking to build hours, a Cessna 150 or 152 may be an inexpensive way to accomplish this goal. 

But if you routinely fly coast-to-coast, that Cessna is not very practical. A Beechcraft G58 Baron is a great light twin, but at more than $300 per hour, it isn’t affordable for everyone. So let’s look at the Top 10 best personal aircraft on the market so that you can make an informed decision about which one might be an option for you.   

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10 Best Personal Aircraft

We have compiled a list of the 10 best personal aircraft, a list that has been gleaned from years of real world experience at FLYING. All prices and specifications are for new aircraft based on the last manufacturer’s data compiled by FLYING.

Cessna 182 Skylane

This is a classic airplane, in fact, one of the classic personal airplanes. It looks like a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, but has much more in terms of carrying capacity and performance. Many are equipped with a 230-horsepower Lycoming IO-540 engine, so you have a useful load of roughly 1,110 lbs. This means that you may be able to load four full-size adults and their luggage and a full load of fuel in the airplane, depending on the model year and other equipment.

Link: https://cessna.txtav.com/en/piston/cessna-skylane

Pricing: Around $575,000 depending on options. 

Max Range: 900 nm 

Passengers: One pilot, three passengers 

Dimensions: 

Wingspan36’0”
Length29’0”
Height9’4”
Max Takeoff Weight3,100 lbs
Basic Empty Weight1,990 lbs

Features: This aircraft comes equipped with the Garmin G1000 NXi glass cockpit, giving you an avionics suite that will give you all the capability you need for cross-country flying.  

Texas Aircraft Colt

The light sport aircraft category has become a very popular route for recreational pilots to fly light aircraft (no more than two seats, among other restrictions). This is particularly useful for pilots who wish to no longer deal with flight physicals, as you can fly one either under BasicMed or under sport pilot rules using a driver’s license. 

The Texas Aircraft Colt is a high-wing monoplane with a 100 hp Rotax 912 ULS, providing a flight envelope very similar to the classic Cessna 150, but with a modern avionics deck, and added safety features like a ballistic airframe parachute. 

Link: https://usa.texasaircraft.com/home

Pricing: Around $140,000 (2020 pricing) 

Max Range: 831 nm 

Passengers: One pilot, one passenger 

Dimensions: 

Maximum Gross Weight1,320 lbs
Empty Weight835 lbs

Features: The Colt comes equipped standard with the Garmin G3X avionics suite, a full-aircraft parachute system, and a cabin that is a full 4 inches wider than that of the Cessna 150/152. 

Cessna 172 Skyhawk

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is the most popular training airplane in the world and one of the most popular personal aircraft ever. Since the Skyhawk entered production in 1955, more than 44,000 units have been produced.

Link: https://cessna.txtav.com/en/piston/cessna-skyhawk

Pricing: Around $450,000, depending on features. 

Max Range: 696 nm 

Passengers: One pilot, three passengers

Dimensions: 

Wingspan36’1”
Length27’2”
Height8’11”
Max Takeoff Weight2,450 lbs
Basic Empty Weight1,680 lbs

Features: The Skyhawk is an approachable aircraft for most pilots to fly, easy to maneuver, docile, and incredibly reliable. They come equipped with the Garmin G1000 NXi, like its big brother, the Skylane. 

Cessna 206 Turbo Stationair HD 

The Turbo Stationair HD is a real beast of a personal aircraft, seating six adults with a useful load of roughly 1,441 lbs. This is a true rugged hauler, famous for its extensive use as a backcountry airplane. This airplane is regularly equipped with floats, belly pods, and other bush kits to further enable its burly capabilities. With a payload of around three-quarters of a ton and a takeoff roll of roughly 1,060 feet, you will know this airplane means business when that throaty Lycoming TIO-540 engine powers up. 

Link: https://cessna.txtav.com/en/piston/cessna-turbo-stationair-hd 

Pricing: Around $760,000

Max Range: 703 nm

Passengers: One pilot, five passengers

Dimensions: 

Wingspan36’0”
Length28’3”
Height9’4”
Max Takeoff Weight3,789 lb
Basic Empty Weight2,348 lb

Features (2021 model): 

  • Standard Garmin Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP) and Under Speed Protection (USP)
  • Standard ADS-B Out and In
  • Optional wireless data base and flight plan loading
  • Garmin Connex Satellite Iridium
  • Optional Surface Watch for runway safety
  • Integrated VFR Sectional Charts
  • IFR High and Low Charts with Night Mode
  • Selectable Visual Approaches
  • COM frequency decoding
  • Vertical Situation Display

CubCrafters CarbonCub SS

The CubCrafters Carbon Cub SS has gained renown as perhaps the premier bush plane on the market today—because CubCrafters took the iconic Piper Super Cub design and turned it on its ear. The Carbon Cub weighs roughly 300 pounds less than its predecessor, making room for more features in this light sport aircraft.

Link: http://cubcrafters.com/xcub

Pricing: Around $350,000, depending on options and configuration.

Max Range: 450 nm

Passengers: One pilot, one passenger

Dimensions: 

Wingspan34’3”
Length23’3”
Height8’4”
Max Takeoff Weight1,320 lbs
Basic Empty Weight892 lbs

Features: This is a modern take on a timeless classic. Putting a new Titan 180 hp engine on a light, tandem airframe provides a lot of performance in a compact package, marrying a timeless design with a modern engine and avionics. 

Beechcraft G36 Bonanza

The Beechcraft Bonanza is a timeless aircraft, first introduced in 1947 at the Beechcraft plant in Wichita, Kansas. In fact, the Bonanza has been in continuous production longer than any other aircraft in history with over 17,000 units produced.

Link: https://beechcraft.txtav.com/en/bonanza-g36/ 

Pricing: Around $920,000 depending on equipment. 

Max Range: 920 nm

Passengers: One pilot, five passengers

Dimensions: 

Wingspan36’6”
Length27’6”
Height8’7”
Max Takeoff Weight3,650 lbs
Basic Empty Weight2,577 lbs

Features: The Bonanza is an elegant airplane, full of graceful lines, plush seating, and rich in tradition. It is a speedster that will get you and five of your friends comfortably to your destination quickly. 

Diamond DA40 NG

Tapping into the unparalleled strength and sleekness of composite materials, the Diamond DA40 NG has become a popular training and personal aircraft. Sipping on jet-A or alternative fuels at as little as 5.1 gph, the DA40 NG is very efficient and ergonomically designed. 

Link: https://www.diamondaircraft.com/en/private-pilots/aircraft/da40/tech-specs/ 

Pricing: Between $390,000 and $500,000, depending on features. 

Max Range: 940 nm

Passengers: one pilot, three passengers

Dimensions: 

Wingspan38’3”
Length26’5”
Height6’6”
Max Takeoff Weight2,888 lbs
Basic Empty Weight1,984 lbs

Features: The DA40 sets itself apart with the availability of an Austro AE 300 2.0l diesel engine, which uses jet-A or other fuels. This is an impressive feature that may appeal to a number of customers. 

Cirrus SR22T

The Cirrus SR22T is a technically advanced airplane made with the personal aircraft pilot in mind. It is fast, powerful, and loaded with advanced features right out of the gate. 

The Cirrus SR series has consistently been the best selling personal aircraft every year since 2003, with more than 8,000 having been produced since its introduction. It is fast, it is sleek, and it is very powerful. 

Link: https://cirrusaircraft.com/aircraft/sr22/ 

Pricing: Around $940,000, depending on features.

Max Range: 1,021 nm

Passengers: One pilot, three passengers

Dimensions: 

Wingspan38’4”
Length26’0”
Height8’11”
Max Takeoff Weight3,600 lbs
Basic Empty Weight2,354 lbs

Features:

  • Premium leather seating
  • USB charging ports
  • Storage pockets for pilot & passengers
  • Integrated headset strap
  • Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS)
  • Cirrus Perspective+ (by Garmin) avionics suite
  • Spectra Wingtip Lighting

Piper Archer LX

A modern take on a classic cabin aircraft, the PA-28-180 Cherokee, the modern day Archer LX takes the stately lines of its lineage but modernizes them with high-performance avionics and updated engine options. 

The PA-28 series is an easy-to-fly, highly stable platform to learn on with very mild-mannered flight characteristics. 

Link: https://www.piper.com/model/archer-lx/

Pricing: Around $475,000 

Max Range: 522 nm

Passengers: One pilot, three passengers

Dimensions: 

Wingspan35’6”
Length24’0”
Height7’3”
Max Takeoff Weight2,550 lbs
Basic Empty Weight1,688 lbs

Features: What the Archer LX offers is reliability. It is a proven airframe that does a lot of things pretty well. It is not blazing fast like the SR22, nor does it use composites for sleek lines like the DA40. It is a reliable, stable, easy-to-fly airplane. 

ICON A5

The ICON A5 is futuristic and very unique. There are very few amphibious options available on the market, so the A5 capitalizes on the lack of competition by offering a supremely cool personal aircraft. 

The A5 is designed for the recreational pilot who wants the flexibility to fly on land or water. The cockpit is wonderfully simple and uncluttered, closer in style to a sporty sedan than an amphibious airplane. 

Link: https://www.iconaircraft.com/ 

Pricing: $359,000

Max Range: 427 nm

Passengers: One pilot, one passenger

Dimensions: 

Wingspan34.8’
Length23’0”
Height8.1’
Max Takeoff Weight1,510 lbs
Basic Empty Weight1,080 lbs

Features: Exclusively LED external lighting (again, closely mimicking fine automobiles in form and function), spin-resistant airframe, and fuselage parachute system. This airplane is remarkably well equipped and is probably the best recreational two-seat airplane on the market. 

Ten Great Airplanes, All Great in Their Own Way

These ten airplanes are all fantastic in their own way. However, none of them are one-size-fits-all. A Cub is great for flying in the bush, but poor if you are hauling four people and all of their gear to business meetings all of the time, where the SR22 shines.  

What you can absolutely count on is Flying Magazine to provide you with the best information on these aircraft so that you can make an informed decision on the best personal aircraft for your needs. 

What Is a Personal Aircraft?

A personal aircraft is just that: an aircraft that individuals for personal uses. This entails business travel, recreation, and sometimes building hours for career reasons (yes, it can be cheaper to own an aircraft and build hours that way over renting). 

Personal aircraft come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with radically different performance envelopes depending on your intended use. 

What To Consider With Personal Aircraft

To be honest, one of the biggest mistakes made in purchasing an aircraft is biting off more than the owner can chew. For instance, buying a twin when a larger advanced single would be adequate. 

A Cessna 182 looks like a beefed up Cessna 172, since it has the same seating configuration, but it is a lot more airplane. Also, if you fly solo a lot, you might not really need a six-seat aircraft; even a two-seater might be adequate. 

Affordability

There are very few prospective buyers who will not place this squarely at or near the top of their list of determining factors. Generally speaking, the more affordable the aircraft, the less features it will have. The reason for this is mostly due to expanded maintenance costs and upkeep. 

Landing gear and adjustable pitch propellers are more systems that must be inspected and maintained, which add to every flight hour. A simple, fixed pitch, fixed gear monoplane, namely the ultra-reliable Cessna Skyhawk, will always be the most affordable option, but the tradeoff is performance.

Maximum Range

Maximum range is a very important metric for the personal aircraft owner who intends to conduct cross-country flights often. It is critical to understand the indelible link between range and weight, though. 

As you increase gross weight with added passengers and luggage, you will end up reducing fuel, which reduces range unless you add more power, which reduces operating efficiency. It is a delicate balance. The only way to have extended maximum range is to either reduce fuel consumption, or reduce weight, or increase power and fuel capacity. 

Passengers

Sharing the joy of flying is probably the best part, and there is no comparing the intimacy of flight in a personal aircraft with that of an airliner. With that being said, there is also no comparing the speed and range of an airliner, or the luggage capacity unless you can step up to an ultralong haul business jet. Many personal aircraft cannot actually fill the seats with people, and the cargo area with luggage, and still carry adequate fuel, which is important to understand. 

Cruising Speed

Another critical factor in the decision making process is the cruising speed. For example: a flight between Laughlin/Bullhead International (KIFP) and Gallup Municipal (KGUP) is 284 nm. 

An aircraft cruising at 110 knots will make it in about 2:26, whereas one cruising at 140 knots makes it in 1:57. If you fly for business, cruising speed probably matters more than flying recreationally. Conversely, high cruising speed always equals higher operating costs. 

Extras (Comfort, Aesthetics & Amenities)

Some airplanes are made for function, some are made for fun, and some are made to travel. Here is the deal with personal aircraft: comfort is sometimes an afterthought. 

There is not any surplus room in most (if not all) personal aircraft because additional space and amenities equals more weight or mass elsewhere.

FAQ

What is the cheapest personal aircraft?

In this list, the Texas Colt offers the lowest purchase price, as well as hourly rates.

What is the easiest airplane to fly?

While this is a very subjective question, there is a reason why certain airplanes are widely known as good training aircraft. It doesn’t get much easier than the Cessna Skyhawk, or the Piper Archer LX. They are both highly stable, simple, and very docile airplanes that are designed to be forgiving

Is owning an airplane worth it?

It really depends on what you plan to do with it. If you are going to fly a lot, then yes. If you are only going to fly sparingly, it is probably easier and cheaper to just continue renting.

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