Piston Performers

From singles to twins, there’s an airplane for everyone.

A Diamond DA50 piston single flies alongside a twin-engine DA62. [Photo: Jim Payne]

Though the dawn of electric aircraft rises in the east, we still rely upon piston-powered aircraft to form the backbone of the general aviation fleet. They serve as our primary trainers, recreational weekend flyers, and personal cross-country transport machines as they have since the Continental-powered Piper J3 Cub gained certification in 1938.

But as a sign of evolving times, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) aircraft shipment reports now collect electric aircraft under the single-engine piston heading. And in 2022, GAMA recorded a total of 1,366 singles delivered—piston and electric, with 17 of those the Pipistrel Velis Electro, under European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approval as it awaits FAA validation. That’s better than last year’s 1,261 and 2020’s 1,164. Just 158 twins left the hangar in 2022—but that’s up from 148 in 2021 and even with the 157 delivered in 2020.

Sporty Singles

Cirrus delivered its 9,000th SR-series aircraft in 2023. [Courtesy: Cirrus Aircraft]

Diamond’s certification of the DA50 RG under FAA approval announced at EAA AirVenture on July 25 takes the lead on news for the sector. The DA50 RG, reviewed in the June 2023/Issue 938 edition of FLYING, steps into the spot once held by the Beechcraft Bonanza. It’s a speedy, high-performing retract with an advanced Continental engine design—this time the diesel CD-300 rather than the IO-550. And it can haul a lot of people and gear with relative comfort felt in the backseats—though the total seats number five instead of the Bo’s six. The modern powerplant can run on sustainable aviation fuel, and it retains the inherent slow-speed handling characteristics for which the Diamonds stay famous.

That Bonanza remains in production—more than 75years later—though Textron Aviation saw just three of the G36 models delivered in 2022. Strength for the Wichita, Kansas-based OEM remains with its Cessna singles, the 172S Skyhawk, the 182T Skylane, and the Turbo 206 HD Stationair. Textron Aviation leveraged its position with flight school and aviation universities with 151 deliveries of the 172 to complement the 48 182s and 42 Stationairs.

Expect an enthusiastic response through the end of 2023 from Cirrus Aircraft to step up its bid to retain the top spot in overall piston delivery numbers. The Duluth, Minnesota-based OEM sent 100 SR20s, 159 SR22s, and 280 SR22Ts home with lucky pilots in 2022 for a total of 539 singles—in addition to the 90 SF50 Vision Jets it delivered. Cirrus has made incremental changes to the SR series for this year, including a bespoke model run celebrating its 9,000th SR delivery midyear. The real news will come as it continues to test a 100LL replacement in its big-bore Continentals. The OEM is working with General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) on its G100UL fuel in pursuit of a solution for the fleet as it faces the sunsetting of leaded fuel in the next several years. Every OEM running 200 hp or higher engines in its piston aircraft is in a similar position.

Tecnam's P2010 Gran Lusso was designed as a luxury model. [Courtesy: Tecnam]

Tecnam introduced its P2010 Gran Lusso single in 2022, aimed at the luxury four-seat market. It has resonated, as the company delivered 46 of the P2010 series last year. Other interesting piston singles run the gamut of missions—from aerobatics with the Extra NG and Gamebird GB1 (rumors of the GB2 remain unanswered) to backcountry utility with the CubCrafters XCub and NXCub and just plain nostalgic fun with the WACO YMF-5, profiled in our August 2023/Issue 940 of FLYING.

Piper also continues strong sales, particularly of its PA-28 series and PA-44 Seminole into training fleets worldwide. With 146 of the Pilot 100i and Archer III sold in 2022, Piper has also recently signed deals for its diesel version of the Archer, the DX, to flight schools in India, where 100LL is scarce and expensive. Ron Gunnarson, vice president of sales and marketing for Piper Aircraft, said, “In 2022 we delivered 232 aircraft, 14 percent higher than what we did in 2021. That increase was realized in both primary segments—the trainer class and the M class.” Piper is “comfortable” delivering 180 to 200 training aircraft, Gunnarson said.


Stepping Up to Twins

Tecnam unveiled the STOL version of its P2012 Traveller twin in 2022. [Courtesy: Tecnam]

Also moving strongly into the training sector is Tecnam, which debuted its P-Mentor two-seat, single-engine trainer at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this summer—and which we reviewed in FLYING’s July 2023/Issue 939 edition. While it awaits certification under the FAA, Tecnam continues to see success with its two piston twins—the Rotax-powered P2006T for flight schools and the Lycoming-powered P2012 Traveller for regional operators.

Piper’s Seminole meets the P2006T in the flight training world, with 21 of the light T-tail twins sent to training programs last year. But big questions remain for the future of Piper’s Seneca V and the Beech-craft G58 Baron—neither of which saw any deliveries in 2022.

What’s certain, though, is that you will see more of Diamond’s futuristic-looking twins, the DA42-IV and the DA62, whether you’re flying in North America or Europe. The DA42, which some organizations use for training, sold 45 units, while the more powerful cross-country DA62 delivered 53 units worldwide.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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