Considering Options

Considering Options

What options do you have in buying an airplane? When selecting general or private aircraft you have options regarding weight, power, seating, cruise speed, range, landing gear, propeller, and avionics (aviation electronics). The major decision you'll have to make is high wing or low. As you consider various types of sport planes you might be told that one is better than the other. There really is no "best" wing configuration. Instead, there are reasons why you should select one over the other — as well as reasons why "it don't matter."

High-wing aircraft offer better ground clearance and visibility for rough-field landings, and are easier to board (especially in the rain).Of course, high-wing aircraft offer a clearer view of the ground below and are a favorite with those who do aerial photography and sightseeing.

Low-wing aircraft offer better ground stability (because the center of gravity is lower), better visibility in turns, and greater ease when filling fuel tanks. Low-wing aircraft also offer greater crash protection if you ever have to land it where you shouldn't.

The other configuration opportunity offered in general aviation aircraft is the landing gear: tricycle or tail gear, fixed or retractable, or floats.Aircraft with fixed tricycle gear have two wheels below the cabin and one below the nose. This arrangement provides for greater visibility when taxiing and during the initial takeoff roll. The primary disadvantage is that the nose gear is more susceptible to damage than other types of fixed-gear planes. Aircraft with fixed tail gear (called taildraggers) have two wheels below the cabin and one below the tail of the plane. Because this configuration makes the cabin slope backwards it is more difficult to taxi in a taildragger. On takeoff, the tail soon lifts off the ground and gives the pilot better visibility. Meantime, the pilot taxies in an S-pattern to see the taxiway better. Tail wheels can take more abuse than nose wheels so are selected for rough-field landings. However, taildraggers are a little trickier to land than a tricycle-gear plane because the tail could swing around in what's called a ground loop. Retractable gear aircraft have main and nose wheels that can be moved up into the fuselage after takeoff -- and down before landing -- to reduce drag and increase speed. Float gear airicraft have pontoons or other gear that allows landing on water. Many aircraft floats also have retractable wheels that can be lowered for landing on pavement or grass airports.

Tricycle-gear aircraft are increasingly popular because they're easier to take off and land, but with a little training you can fly a taildragger just as well. Taildraggers are the configuration of choice for unimproved and barely improved landing fields.

One more factor about gear configurations: cost. With just a small pivoting wheel, taildraggers are a little less expensive to manufacture. Retractable gears are expensive as they mechanism must be well-engineered and of good quality to maintain effectiveness.

Wing Tips

The most expensive components on some aircraft are the avionics. Knowing how you will fly dictates how much avionics you will need. For example, you can buy a handheld nav-com radio and a GPS unit for under $1,500 —or you can spend more than $10,000 on a full dual-channel nav-com system with panel-mount GPS.