Four Seater: Ditching the Convertible
Pilots have a charmed life, soaring through the sky without a worry in the world. True freedom is found kilometres above the surface of the earth, gliding effortlessly through the endless blue to destinations unfathomable. Whether flying alone, or with a pretty companion by your side, as a pilot anything is possible.
But even with as much liberty as flying provides, there comes a time in every pilot’s life when the real world gets involved and that pretty lady (or man!) decides to bless the world with a rugrat or two. Or maybe the begging of friends who want a joyride becomes too much, and you’re forced to find room for them. Suddenly, a two-seater plane isn’t enough, and our adventurous pilot is sent off in search of something a bit bigger.
Fortunately, upsizing doesn’t mean giving up a life of fun and frivolity, because there’s a wide variety of zippy four-seaters that still sparkle with the spirit of adventure. Even better, these larger planes don’t have to bust the budget – after all, kiddies are expensive enough as they are, right?
There are a number of passenger-friendly RA machines currently on the market, with more on the horizon. The four-seater market is growing as a generation of pilots find that they need a little more space in order to fit their lives into their aircraft. For something a bit beefier, there are some seriously impressive GA hot rods that provide all the space, power and luxury a pilot could ever need.
From very light jets to light sports aircraft to larger, more luxurious machines, there are so many options for larger aircraft that offer all the room you could possibly want. It’s simply a matter of finding the features and price point that best match your evolving needs, so we’ll be taking a look at a diverse range of planes that will suit a wide range of sky warriors.
Life keeps marching forward, but the good news is that your aircraft of choice can evolve as your circumstances do. And the best thing is, needing a couple of extra seats is the perfect excuse to go shopping for a shiny new plane!
VERY LIGHT JETS
While the demands of pilots change, so do the specifications of very light jets. In the past, these tiny tornados were mostly two-seaters, but that’s certainly changing, with models that boast up to seven seats and plenty of space.
The benefit of purchasing a four-seat VLJ is that it’s still easy to fly and maintain, as well as being plenty of fun to swing around. These planes are the obvious choice for the pilot who needs a couple of extra spots in the back, but doesn’t want to give up what they love about their two-seater.
The Cirrus Vision SF50 kicks things off, and is a handsome plane built to emphasise comfort and performance, with all the fun being powered by the grunt of an FJ33-5A engine. It’s a classy aircraft noted for providing smooth and quiet flights, and has a top speed of 555km/h. With performance like that, you’re certainly not compromising by moving up to four seats.
Cirrus have made sure the SF50 is fun and easy to fly, so it’s the total package – all the speed you could ever need, while allowing you to truly enjoy the experience without having to fight against the controls. For the pilot moving up to something larger (but not too large), it’s a fantastic option.
The wonderfully-named Epic Victory has seen some production problems, but is a really classy plane that provides a world-beating experience for under $1 million. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW600 and featuring state-of-the-art avionics and a roomy, comfortable interior, the Victory is fast, yet economical. It is also looks really good – it might be small, but it looks like the sort of thing a successful businessman or famous movie star would get around in.
You might have a bit of trouble tracking one down because production is currently suspended and there are only 16 of them in the wild, but it’s believed that more will be built in the near future. Hopefully that’s the case, because it’s a really great plane.
An equally exciting aircraft that remains under development (with, unfortunately, no set date of release) is the Sport Jet II. The designers have been tinkering with it for the past decade, and if it’s ever released it’ll be come with a Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D turbofan engine and a whole heap of impressive features.
It’s unfortunate that the SJII might never see the light of day, because it would make a perfect family aircraft. It’s safe, fast and reliable – the perfect four-seater of the future.
Another great plane that is stuck in development hell is the Eclipse 400, which was tragically cancelled after Eclipse Aviation went bankrupt a few years ago. The 400 was publicly unveiled in 2007, and was intended to compete with the SF50, and the Victory in the single-engine jet market. It’s a sad state of affair, because a really good aircraft is sitting alone and unloved when it really should be spearheading the current growth in popularity of four-seaters.
While Eclipse Aerospace, who bought the original company’s assets, has not chosen to restart the project yet, there’s a lot of hope that they will do at some point. One thing’s for sure, the number of four-seaters in the very light jet category is sure to grow rapidly in the near future!
LIGHT SPORTS AIRCRAFT
Moving up a class brings you a bunch of planes that are a bit bigger, a bit faster, and a bit more expensive. But they’re also very impressive, and the category is getting better all the time. Light Sports Aircraft have long been built around a four-seat design, so they have a pedigree when it comes to providing just a little bit more space. And if your wife sweet talks you into needing even more seats, there are options for that, too.
If you want to fly around in a four-seater that’s as Australian as a Vegemite sandwich washed down with a longneck of Cooper’s, you can’t go past the Jabiru 430. This local hero is available either as a kit, or fully-built, and is powered by a 120 hp Jabiru 3300 six-cylinder, horizontally opposed, four stroke aircraft engine.
It’s simple and easy to fly, which makes it great for newer pilots, but also has enough zip to keep more experienced flyers amused. It’s built to handle the harsh Aussie landscape and conditions, so it’ll take anything you throw at it.
It’s not the roomiest plane of all time, and it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles that some of its competitors do, but it’s fun to fly, reliable, and, here’s the kicker, really exceptional value for money. This one’s for all those patriots out there!
The snazzy Tecnam P2010 brings together an advanced-technology all-carbon fibre fuselage with a metal wing to deliver a superlative single-engined experience that’s been designed by Italy’s most innovative design gurus. For those familiar with the Tecnam range, the P2010 can be viewed as the P2008’s larger sibling.
Wrapped around the proven and reliable Lycoming IO-360-M1A engine, this baby also has a huge fuel capacity of 240 litres, meaning that it can be flown all over the place without having to worry about stopping.
The seats themselves are like those you’d find in a car, with multiple adjustments for height and position, to ensure everyone onboard is as comfortable as possible. The leather interior trim is specced out at a quality level for those keen to keep that de rigeur luxury car feel. Access is as easy as it gets with two doors for jumping in up front plus an additional starboard door for hopping in the back.
The P2010 is a truly luxurious option, with a beautiful interior, an advanced avionics suite and, overall, decidedly tight handling characteristics and remarkable stability in flight all contributing to a reassuringly comfortable flying experience. A ‘weighty’ useful load also means you’ll be able to pile in as much luggage as you’ll need – this one factor alone makes the P2010 a four seater that demands to be added to the shopping list.
In terms of going the full hog and committing to two children before you’ve even road-tested the first one, then a new entry into the LSA category might just be for you. The Aerosport-distributed ONE is a delightful aircraft that has all the features, style, cabin room, luggage space and performance that’s normally reserved for more expensive GA aircraft, so it’s perfect for anyone finding that they need a little bit more room. And it comes in a 2+1 configuration, allowing the owner to retain that all-important sporty foot in their bachelor past whilst having room to fit a child up to 90 kg in the back. The configuration is the best of both worlds for aviators still unable to relinquish their ‘convertible’ past in exchange for a more sedate SUV future.
The ONE is among the best-performing aircraft in its class; the Rotax 914 turbo engine enables take-off in less than 200 metres and climb rate of 1000 ft/min. As well as being as fast as a frightened cat, the ONE is surprisingly economical. At the optimum flight speed, it uses only about 15 litres of fuel an hour, and a full tank will keep you airborne for more than nine hours and take you an astonishing 2,000 kms. That’s long enough for the ruggy in the backseat to watch half-a-dozen episodes of In the Night Garden and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Just make sure the portable DVD player has plenty of batteries!
There’s a new hybrid version heading our way in the near future that’ll come with an additional electric engine between the Rotax engine flange and the propeller flange, adding an additional 25kW of power for take-off and the climb phase of the flight. So if the wife (or husband!) is one of those environmentally-conscious types, that’ll keep him or her happy.
Another newer option is the Evektor Harmony LSA, which boasts outstanding flight characteristics, low operating costs, a resistant metal airframe and excellent reliability.
Based on the tried and trusted SportStar MAX, it has the same responsive handling, while the speed and performance have been enhanced by the fancy swept wing and tail. This extra crispness really makes it a plane worth looking at.
Comfort has been emphasised by providing more legroom for taller pilots, an improved design of the brake and rudder pedals to make them more accessible, and bigger ailerons for excellent crosswind capability.
The Alpi Aviation Pioneer 400 is a more unusual option that you might not have considered, but it’s definitely worth looking at. There are three very distinct variations available; the Ultralight model has a maximum take-off weight of 450kg, while the so-called Experimental model has the take-off weight increased to 750 kg. The Pioneer 400T is powered by a turbo-charged 113.5 hp Rotax 914 flat-four which raises the cruising speed to 256 km/h. They’re all great options and it’s all about deciding which one fits you like a glove.
The LSA category has always been big on planes that can hold four at a time, and it’s still growing. There are plenty of great aircraft soaring over the horizon, so keep an eye out for some exciting new makes and models in the near future.
Moving up into General Aviation means an even greater range of four-seaters. These bigger and beefier aircraft provide heaps of space and plenty of comfort, but are also lightning quick capable of making astonishingly long trips.
Of course, they also come with a heavier price tag, but the added features and the overriding sense of quality ensure they are all worth the extra dollars (or a few million of them!).
The Cirrus SR20 is the plane that put the legendary American manufacturer on the map, and since launching back in 1995 it’s become a popular choice for pilots with a wide range of skill levels, and for good reason.
With more than 1000 SR20s sold, it’s one of the best and most popular four-seaters going. The engine is a Continental IO-360-ES, known for its dependability and power, and with easy controls (it’s a hit with flight schools) and a great avionics suite, it has everything you could ever need in a very neat package.
Earlier this year Cirrus introduced enhancements to the SR Series, including Bluetooth wireless connectivity, remote keyless entry, an improved lighting system, and an easy-access door latch, among other interior and exterior improvements. The SR20 also has a parachute to lower it safely to the ground in the unlikely event that something would ever go wrong – and that sort of peace-of-mind is invaluable when you’ve got the most valuable cargo in the world sitting in the back seats. The company really have covered all bases with this wonderful aircraft.
Cirrus also offers the SR22 and the turbo variant, the SR22T. Both are very fast and jam packed with all the bells and whistles you could ever need for a comfortable flight.
The base-level SR22 is powered by a Continental IO-550-N engine capable of shooting it through the sky at 338km/h. The turbo variant comes with a heavy-hitting TSIO-550-K engine, allowing it to hit 390km/h at cruising speed. Whichever model you prefer, you’re in for a safe and comfortable ride, thanks to a sophisticated design and impressive attention to detail.
The SR22 is such a brilliant aircraft that it played a very important part in a recent world record. In 2013, brave Aussie Ryan Campbell became the youngest person to fly solo (with three seats spare!) around the world, at the age of just 19. And if the SR22 is good enough for that, it’s good enough for anything.
Just as impressive is the fact that the SR22 has been the best-selling aircraft in its class for more than a decade, and we can’t see that changing for a while.
The Bonanza G36 is a tough competitor that’s been around in one form or another since 1947, with a jaw-dropping 18,000 sold over the years. Over the decades it’s been upgraded and updated countless times, leading to a very modern plane with an incredible pedigree.
The modern version is built very much on the foundations of its predecessors, and is fast, practical and stylish. The Bonanza’s riveted metal and low-wing design has stood the test of time, and is now paired with a spacious interior that your family (or bandmates, if you’re a world-famous rock star) will fall in love with. And the more fun they have while zooming about, the more trips you’ll be able to take in your delightful Bonanza!
This piston-engine powerhouse has been designed and built to be flown in the most rugged conditions, whilst providing the most comfortable experience imaginable. It also features Garmin G1000 avionics and a GFC 700 flight control system, which is sure to make every flight an enjoyable one.
Finally, there’s a newcomer from a very well known, yet very unexpected name – the HondaJet. It looks unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and flies like a dream, and is a brilliant first aeronautical outing from Honda.
This dream machine has a long history, with the first designs being drawn up in the early 90s, with two-and-a-half decades of painstaking trialling going into the finished product. It first went on sale earlier this year, and there have been rave reviews about how well it flies.
The HondaJet is pushed through the sky by two GE Honda Aero HF120 turbofan engines, with each producing an impressive 1,997 pounds of thrust. The HondaJet’s fuselage is made of carbon fiber, and its flight deck is built around Garmin’s touchscreen-capable G3000 suite. It has everything you could ever want in a four-seater, so it’s a brilliant addition to this list.
Honda has paid great attention to detail, with a beautiful interior, a large cargo area, and a very quiet flying experience. If this is what Honda can crank out on their first attempt, the future looks very bright indeed.
And last, but certainly not least, are a couple of winged wonders that have always been anything but a compromise – the Mooney Acclaim and the upstanding Ovation. For years these twin speed demons have been aspirational purchases for discerning aviators, less a case of settling for an extra pair of seats than graduating to the big time. And your timing couldn’t be better as Mooney have graced both their iconic craft with a succulent makeover since the start of this year. An extra door and a radical nose to tail refurb are the perfect next generation for your next generation.
As you can see, making the move to a four-seater isn’t a death-sentence to your ability to have a good time. In fact, with so many great larger aircraft out there, it might be time for you to find an excuse to upgrade!