2014 Flying Editors’ Choice Awards

As is the case in aviation, each coming year brings technological advances and ­innovations that translate into aircraft and products that can do things we never before thought possible. This was just such a year, bringing to the fore an impressive array of new aircraft that can go faster, fly more smoothly and better engage fliers than ever before, along with new pilot gear that helps us overcome complicated challenges to fly more efficiently while making the journey more comfortable and fun.

As we usually find, the process of selecting Flying's 2014 Editors' Choice Award winners was a trying one, since the worthy candidates were too many to count. In the end we selected four winners that have brought remarkable new capabilities to the field of general aviation and raised the bar for tomorrow's aircraft and gear designers. As we have done in years past, we also took this opportunity to recognize one of the many amazing charities using flying as a means of positive change. With that said, we are proud to announce Flying's 2014 Editors' Choice Award winners. Congrats, all.

TBM 900 Faster than Ever

It's been more than 25 years since the original TBM 700 emerged on the scene and revolutionized general aviation with its ultrafast and ultraefficient design. Since then the single-engine turboprop has only continued to get better as it has evolved throughout the years. Daher-Socata's latest iteration, the TBM 900, takes the airplane to its fullest realization yet, thanks to the recent use of computational fluid dynamics to seek out and eliminate inefficiencies in the design.

Major changes include a redesigned cowling, the addition of winglets, a specifically designed five-blade composite prop from Hartzell and improved engine operation, among others. All of them add up to enhanced performance and a smoother flying experience in an airplane whose reputation for such was already tough to beat. The end product boasts a cruise speed of 330 knots, a figure that makes the TBM 900 competitive with light jets while offering something they can't — the economy of a 60 gph fuel burn as opposed to a heavy load of jet fuel. Not only is the newest TBM incredibly fast, but it also has better range and short field performance, making for a remarkable airplane well worthy of earning Daher-Socata a Flying 2014 Editors' Choice Award.

Lightspeed Zulu PFX A New Kind of Quiet

Lightspeed's new flagship headset, the Zulu PFX, has been years in the making, and the effort shows. The end product is the quietest headset we've used — ever. The secret is new technology designed by Lightspeed engineers that they call acoustic response mapping, which adapts audio to your unique ear shape and analyzes the environment to ­eliminate any ambient noise. The result is an incredible quiet that sets the landscape for the ultimate in crisp and clear audio communications.

On top of that, the Lightspeed Zulu PFX's large ear cups and soft seals make for a very comfortable fit, and at a weight of just 14 ounces, the headset's light feel makes it easy to wear on short and long hauls alike. Despite that lightweight construction, the Zulu PFX is made to last, and Lightspeed's five-year warranty backs that up. Ultimately, when it comes to a cockpit staple like the headset, it simply gets too much use to warrant anything short of the best. In that regard, Lightspeed's Zulu PFX, which is second to none, delivers the goods.

Embraer Legacy 500 A Fly-by-Wire Marvel

Embraer's new Legacy 500, first launched in 2007, achieved FAA certification this past October, and in the process set a whole new bar for midsize jets. The most revolutionary aspect of the jet is of course its full fly-by-wire technology, something that has never before been implemented in the midsize class. The smart system reads pilot inputs and in turn ­maneuvers the aircraft in the smoothest and most efficient way possible, making for an incredibly serene ride.

As innovative as that is, that's just the beginning for the Legacy 500. The jet also features a flat-floor, 6-foot-tall cabin with seating for eight and four fully berthable positions. Unlike other midsize jets, the Legacy 500 actually has the muscle to fill all eight seats and take those passengers on city-pair journeys such as New York to Los Angeles nonstop. The cabin is the longest and widest of any midsize jet on the market, and the interior — which Embraer took on wholly in-house to up the ante on quality — exudes luxury and comfort. Look for a full pilot report on the Legacy 500 in an upcoming issue of Flying.

Able Flight Helping Others Reach New Heights

There is no shortage of organizations using general aviation to effect positive change in the world, and the many that do so on an everyday basis in places near and far serve as a continual testament to the power and generosity of this great community of fliers and flying enthusiasts. While there are countless aviation charities that deserve recognition, we are proud to award Flying's 2014 Editors' Choice Award to Able Flight, an organization that helps disabled individuals pursue aviation training and in the process enjoy the life-changing challenges and fulfillment that come along with it.

Founded in 2006, Able Flight has helped dozens of people with physical disabilities receive their pilot's certificate. This past year was a particularly exceptional one for Able Flight, which awarded nine new scholarships to a group that included five veterans wounded in action, a woman born with a congenital spinal condition, two men paralyzed during auto accidents and one man with cerebral palsy. Four of those recipients received their wings during a ceremony at AirVenture's Boeing Plaza after completing pilot training at Purdue University earlier in the year. All now join the ranks of scholarship recipients who have had the chance to enjoy the power and rewards of aviation thanks to the great work of Able Flight.

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