4 Best Private Jets for Pilots
by Crista Worthy
Want to start an argument in a hurry? Just tell a fellow pilot which four airplanes you think are the best. Still, there’s no doubt that a select few airplanes tend to rise to the top of pilots’ lists. It all depends on what you want to do with your airplane. We’ll look at four different missions and select both the best piston aircraft and jet for each mission.
- Longer Trips and Fully Instrument-Capable
If you’re making longer cross-country flights, then speed, automation and instrument capability will be high on your list of requirements. If that was my mission and I had the cash, I’d buy a Cirrus. Comfortable, easy to fly, with a max cruise speed of 183 KTAS, Cirrus Perspective+ by Garmin Cockpit, synthetic vision, autopilot stall protection and much more, the 310-hp, normally-aspirated SR22 starts at $629,900.
The turbocharged version’s max cruise is 213 KTAS for a starting price of $729,900. My two favorite safety features: the parachute and the magic blue level button. Put the plane in an unusual attitude, push the button and it gently levels the aircraft, a lifesaver if you become disoriented in the clag.
Another benefit of owning a Cirrus is that, should you want to upgrade to a jet, it’s an easy transition to learn how to fly the Cirrus Vision Jet, the most economical private jet available today. Of all the jets I sat in at Oshkosh 2018, the Vision Jet’s cockpit was my favorite. The visibility and comfort were astounding.
But if you’ve got the pocketbook and really want to travel the world in style, take a hard look at the Falcon line of jets. For this pilot, no other family of jets beats their combination of the best in wide-bodied passenger comfort, range, speed, and state-of-the-art avionics and flight management systems.
- Backcountry Bound
Even though I prefer tricycle gear airplanes, I’ve spent enough time in the backcountry with other pilots’ taildraggers to acknowledge that a tailwheel (aka conventional gear) aircraft does give you more options when dealing with short and/or rough airstrips. A Cessna 180 or 185 Skywagon will haul a lot more, but if you have just one or two people, nothing beats a Super Cub or its derivatives, the Aviat Husky, CubCrafters Carbon Cub, or Super Legend. These little taildraggers all have plenty of power for mountain ops. Tandem seating (one behind the other) means that you can see equally well out of both sides of the aircraft.
I earned my float rating in a Super Cub in Alaska, and I thought it might be difficult to transition to a center stick, with the throttle on the left side. It took less than 5 minutes to feel at ease, and I have never had more fun in an airplane than in a Super Cub on floats. These airplanes are equally at home on skis and tundra tires, too. The secret to owning one of these babies and not getting yourself killed is to remember that, just because the airplane can do it, doesn’t mean you always should. Operating safely in remote areas requires special training, so make sure you get that training and always carry a PLB or satellite tracker.
But backcountry pilots aren’t limited to tiny taildraggers. The Swiss company Pilatus Aircraft, Ltd. offers two rugged, backcountry-capable aircraft that can carry up to 10 passengers or an armada of off-road vehicles and equipment, thanks to their enormous cargo doors. For short-field landings, the 1,200-hp PC-12NG turboprop stalls at only 67 ktas. Its take-off distance over a 50-foot obstacle is only 2,602 feet, yet it can fly up to 30,000 feet MSL. And yes, you can even take a jet into the backcountry: the PC-24 is the world’s first Super Versatile Jet. Engineered from the beginning to be “off-road” compatible, it combines the versatility of a turboprop with the cabin size of a medium-light jet, and the performance of a light jet. It offers outstanding short-field performance (2,930-foot takeoff) – even on rough, unpaved runways – offering pilots an incredible level of mobility.
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- Most Affordable
Many people assume that anyone who owns an airplane must be super-wealthy. Sure, bizjets cost millions and even a brand-new Cessna 172 will run you well into six figures, but the truth is that there are a number of vintage aircraft that go for under $25,000. I’ve seen nice little Cessna 150s for as low as $15,000. Other good values are the Aeronca Champ, Luscombe, Beechcraft Skipper, and Ercoupe. But possibly the best all-around bargain airplane is the Cherokee 140. It’s an easy-to-land tricycle gear, and the 150-hp 140-4 can be configured for four seats. It can haul around 950 pounds 465 nm while cruising at 108 knots. Not bad for as little as $21,000.
If you’re looking for an affordable jet, this is an incredible time to buy a used jet. Prices have cratered to the point that you can find, for example, a 1996 Gulfstream IV, a plane that cost $36 million new, for just under $2.5 million!
Why? Part of the answer has to do with the upcoming FAA ADS-B mandate. To fly in controlled airspace, all aircraft must be ADS-B – “out” equipped by January 1, 2020. Equipping a jet can cost around $150,000 (prices vary of course), and some jets aren’t equipped yet. Still, the Gulfstream example mentioned above represents a fourteen-fold reduction in price, even after complying with the ADS-B mandate. The other reason older jets can be such a bargain is that many of them are equipped with “steam” gauges or older “glass” panels, instead of newer glass panels that can include synthetic vision, terrain mapping, fly-by-wire, heads-up displays, and more. Caveat: watch out for jets that will soon need total engine overhauls. You’ll need to find out what the engine overhauls will cost to determine if it’s still a bargain buy.
- Best All-Around
My candidate for best all-around airplane is also the next airplane we intend to buy: a Cessna 182 Skylane. It’s stable, reliable and was produced in such high numbers that parts and qualified mechanics are easy to find. It’s got a good safety record. If you need extra speed, buy the turbo retractable version. If you plan to use it on short, unimproved airstrips, add a STOL kit and vortex generators. The 182 provides good short-field performance as is, but you can add a larger engine or go with mods like the p-ponk, which add extra horsepower. It’s hard to find a Cessna taildragger that has never been ground-looped—that should tell you something. Galen Hanselman, author of “Fly Idaho!” the indispensable backcountry flying guidebook, flies a 182 and it gets him everywhere he needs to go. You can’t beat a Skylane for a reliable, all-around family airplane.
Best all-around jet? That might just be the Embraer Phenom 300—the world’s best-selling light jet for seven years, with no sign of giving up that title. The new 300E offers highly intuitive next-generation avionics, generous cabin space, plush interior, an industry-exclusive upper technology panel, and best-in-class cabin altitude combined with good range and affordable operating costs. It can carry up to 11 occupants and can be flown by a single pilot!
There you have it—plenty of food for thought about different types of airplanes. If you’re thinking about buying one, this article and all the articles linked within it should give you plenty to chew on and help you decide which airplane best fits your needs. Then keep it protected in a hangar, so it’s always ready to go when you are!