To the privatepilot flying through the clear air of a summer day, the horizons of his worldseem as limitless as the view through his cabin windows. Detached from earth,he hangs apparently suspended in a timeless bubble. In the hour since histakeoff from his home field, he has covered some 150 effortless miles—three orfour times the hot and dusty distance he might have set himself had he beencontemplating a trip by car. His destination lies a couple of hours or so aheadof him—it could be anything up to 600 miles. That far he can travel easily in asingle morning—with an afternoon, an evening and another entire morning of hisweekend to pursue whatever sport or pleasure he is seeking before he starts thejourney home.
Thus has the50-year-old dream of private flying become a reality for thousands ofAmericans. And with it, after 50 years of hopes, plans and two major, almostruinous disappointments, the boom in private flying is really under way.
It began slowly,almost unnoticed, some three years ago. In 1955 there were 58,000 privateairplanes registered with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the governingbody of all civilian flying in America. In 1956 there were 64,000. In 1957there were 70,000. By this summer, with some 500 planes per month beingregistered, private flying's fleet had grown to 73,000, and there is everyprospect that 1958 will set an alltime high in new planes in the sky.
All this had beenenvisioned, for the first time, nearly 40 years ago. The first World Wardeveloped the aircraft industry in giant strides. By 1920, dreamers andpractical businessmen alike foresaw the era of the "flivver plane"which every man could fly. But the expected boom never materialized. Flying wasstill a tricky and adventurous business, and the industry settled down tomaking it safe by developing the airplane's reliability and endurance.
August 24, 1958
After World WarII, light-plane manufacturers guessed that the thousands of young men trainedfor flying against Germany and Japan would want to fly for fun when they gothome. In happy anticipation they tooled up and produced 33,257 airplanes in thefirst postwar year—only to see them go begging. By an all too human quirk, thecombat fliers almost to a man were anti-airplane—they had had enough of flying.War surplus planes further undercut the market, and within three yearsproduction figures in the light-plane industry had dropped to around 2,000,with most of those produced only on written orders.
Thus the small,light, cheap, one-or two-place single-engine pleasure airplane became at best asideline on the production lines. The emphasis was put on four-or-more-place,fast, cross-country planes for businessmen—the Beech Bonanza and the Navion,followed by the Piper Tri-Pacer and Apache, the Cessna 310—planes with powerfulsingle or twin engines, some with retractable landing gear, the final word incomfort and the final word in price—from around $10,000 up.
Comfort andreliability characterized these planes, but two specific devices actuallytouched off the boom and made the 50-year-old dream come true at last. Thefirst was the tricycle landing gear. This simple development, which put on thefront of the airplane a nosewheel that was steered by the control column justlike a car, revolutionized the two trickiest moments of flying: the time beforebreaking ground on take-off and of touching down again on landing. Not only didit give the pilot a positive, firm grip on the runway at all times while theplane was on the ground, it eliminated entirely the bugaboo of cross-windlandings—whereas a conventional plane at the instant of contact might easilyground-loop with an inexperienced pilot, a plane with tricycle gear, once onthe runway, is as instantly and positively controllable by the steering columnas an automobile on the highway.
The seconddevice, by the same token, made the once mystical business of finding one's waythrough the sky as simple as, or simpler than, navigating the nation's oftenpoorly posted highways. Introduced by the CAA in the early 1950s, it is knownas the Omnidirectional Radio Range System or, colloquially, Omni.
The importance ofOmni is threefold. For one thing, it operates on very high frequencies that arevirtually free of the static which often drowned out the signals of theearlier, low-frequency range beams just when the pilot needed them most—in badweather. Secondly, it substituted for the low-frequency system's limited"highways in the sky" (which had to be followed by ear and requiredgreat skill and training to find and use) a simple, clear-cut and visualnavigation system of converging beams, or radials, any one of which could beused to lead a pilot to his destination.
Omni made italmost impossible to get permanently lost. A pilot simply rode the radialshome. If he wanted to find his exact position, he had only to take bearings ontwo different stations, noting their compass headings on his bearing selector,and then establish a fix by simple triangulation on his maps.
As to anairplane's general dependability, that is no longer a matter of question. Lightplanes with one or two engines are ferried regularly to distant places in theworld these days as a matter of routine. Max Conrad, of the Piper AircraftCorporation, for example, has flown the Atlantic 41 times in single-enginePacers and Comanches or twin-engine Apaches, and a Beechcraft Bonanza onlyrecently set a new nonstop record for light planes by flying 6,852 miles acrossthe Pacific from Manila to Seattle.
For the would-beprivate pilot it is no longer a question of whether to fly, but how to fly. Hecan fly, for instance, by renting a plane—the Hertz Corporation of Rent A Carfame has just recognized the growing market for this sort of flying byestablishing a nationwide Rent A Plane service. Or he can buy a plane, outrightor on instalments, paying 1/3 down, choosing a new one from the 22 differentmakes and models shown on the following pages. Aircraft companies are turningtheir attention to the private pilot once more—Cessna, for example, is offeringthe low-priced, two-place Cessna 150, of which it sold 600 on the day it wasannounced. Finally, he can buy a good, reliable used plane from a very activemarket which offers them from around $1,500 on up. Used planes, unlike manyused cars, can be bought safely because they have a recorded history—it is alldown in their logbooks and the CAA's required regular inspection sees to itthat there are no jalopies in the air.
If the would-bepilot buys a plane, he faces, depending on its type and how often he flies it,roughly the cost of a second car, be it a Ford or a Chrysler Imperial. SPORTSILLUSTRATED'S nationwide survey indicated an over-all cost of around 10¢ permile for an average medium-powered, single-engine, four-place airplane flown onabout as many weekend and vacation trips per year as might be undertaken in thefamily car and tied down at the airport instead of kept in a hangar. Hangarstorage can raise the cost in the same way as a garage in the city does for theupkeep of a car; it comes to $35 to $50 or as much as $150 per month as against$15 to $20 for tie-downs.
And what does theprivate pilot get for his money, his time and his newly learned skill? Acrossthe nation, the answer is the same: a recreational horizon broadened soimmensely that for many it amounts to a new way of life. To Claude C. Newbill,of Washington, D.C., a gas station owner who pilots a Navion, it means crab andshrimp feasts at the Maryland shore, the Orange Bowl and the Indianapolis"500" every year, pheasant shooting in South Dakota, a trip to Havanalast year. For Dr. John Lordan of Beverly Hills, Calif, it means fishing tripswith his wife to Baja California or the Kamloops area of Canada. ForMathematics Professor Harry Carver of the State University of Michigan (he is67, soloed in 1929 and rents a Cessna 172 at Ann Arbor Airport) it means goingto football games and track meets and rewarding his best students with rides.To the Ray Tidwells of Albuquerque it means a horizon broadened to include LosAngeles once every three weeks, trips to Alaska and Haiti. For Mrs. JackArrington, who lives alone and operates a hardware store in Atlanta, it meansflying to Daytona Beach for a dip in the surf or to Chattanooga for dinner witha friend after the store closes. "This," she says, "is the greatestthing in the world."
In every class ofplane, from two-place to twin-engine, one plane excels. Here are SportsIllustrated's six choices
This, the newest plane of the year, arrives on the market this October.Two-place, it flies in the face of the prevailing trend among manufacturers toadd planes with larger passenger capacity to their postwar fleets. But forCessna the move is already a success—the company took orders on 600 of them thefirst day they demonstrated the plane to their dealers, the most Cessnas soldin one day in the company's history. Many are slated for student training, forCessna dealers are aware that when pilots "move up," they generallystick with the manufacturer whose plane they first learned to fly. Many willalso be used by Hertz's new Rent A Plane service. The 150 is a good first planefor newly licensed pilots. Like all Cessnas, the 150 is all metal. It hastricycle gear; a 100-hp Continental engine; a cruising range of 520 miles at121 mph; standard model $6,995; trainer $7,940; commuter $8,545.
The Tri-Pacer was the first low-cost, four-place, postwar plane with tricyclegear. Its appearance in 1951 enabled Piper to hold its position, establishedwith the prewar J3-Cub, as manufacturer of the Ford of the light-planeindustry. There are today 6,246 Tri-Pacers performing every type of flyingservice. It is rugged enough to be a rancher's workhorse; fast enough for thecommuting businessman or charter customer; safe, comfortable and economicalenough for the family; friendly to the novice, yet sufficient airplane for theinstrument student; and so at home in the air and on wheels or standard floatsthat it practically flies by itself. It has a back door to rear seats, whichcome out for extra cargo. Its fabric covering has Duraclad plastic finish. Its160-hp Lycoming engine delivers a cruising speed of 134 mph; range 536;standard model $8,595; custom $9,270; super custom $10,475.
The 180 is the ideal sportsman's plane. While other, smaller and less powerfulplanes convert to ordinary floats, the 180 is the only single-engine Americanplane CAA-approved for heavier amphibious floats. With more than enough powerto handle the extra drag, it lands and takes off easily on"back-and-beyond" lakes and strips. The plane, as much as any other,has changed the Idaho Primitive Area from pack-in country to a weekendinghunter's or fisherman's paradise. Without floats, the 180 is conventionallygeared. It has a 230-hp Continental engine; cruises at 160 mph, and has a rangeof 675 miles; $13,850. It has two sisters, the 182, a tricycle-geared versionwith much the same characteristics, $14,350; and the Skylane (see page 61). TheEdo amphibious floats, including cockpit wheel-retraction control andindicator, cost $9,950. Standard floats range from $2,570 to $4,585.
The Bonanza's debut in 1947 answered postwar pilots' dreams. Slick as afighter, it incorporated many wartime advances in design and efficiency in asmall, personal plane. Nearly 6,000 Bonanzas later, its basic design, uniquebutterfly tail remain unchanged. Although rising costs have more than doubledits price, it is still the most popular plane in its field. Each new modelincorporates the latest developments and improvements: the new J-35 has fuelinjection, eliminating the carburetor and providing greater engine efficiencyand fuel economy. Captain Pat Boling of United Airlines piloted a Bonanza tothe light-plane, nonstop world's distance record of 6,852 miles from Manila toSeattle. It's the fastest (cruises at 200), has the greatest cruising range(900 miles) and the highest service ceiling (21,300 feet). It has retractabletricycle gear; 250-hp Continental standard with auxiliary tanks; all-metal;$24,300.
Although twin-engine airplanes have been generally thought of as executives'vehicles rather than pleasure craft, many private pilots today are discoveringhow easy the step up to them has become. And because their horizons areexpanding, many private owners soon seek the greater speed, range and relativeweather immunity that two engines provide. In keeping with the Piper philosophyof offering a lot for a little, the Apache is the smallest, least expensive ofthe twins, but a big performer. More than 40 have flown the Atlantic. Suchreliability and long range make trips through the Caribbean, to Alaska, toSouth America routine. Because of its low stalling speed, short landing run,the Apache is at home on a small airport. It seats four or five in upholsteredcomfort; has twin 160-hp Lycoming engines; a service ceiling of 17,000; cruisesat 170 mph for 640 miles; $35,990.
The 310B is a big, slick airplane that bridges the gap between the Apache andBeechcraft's long-famous line of twins. It costs $24,000 more than the Apache,and here's what that extra money gives: 43 more miles per hour at cruising, 200miles more range; 3,500 more feet of ceiling and 400 feet per minute fasterclimb. In fine, extra money spent for an airplane buys extra power, performanceand efficiency instead of fishtails and chrome. The 310 is the top plane ofCessna's fleet, and the Air Force has placed orders for 160 of them in the lasttwo years. Its single-engine performance is excellent—rate of climb 415 feetper minute, service ceiling 7,750. Fuel is located in safety tip tanks at theend of the wings. Because of their big range, automatic pilots are ofteninstalled in the 310 and other twins. The 310 seats five; has two 240-hpContinental engines; cruises at 213 for 850 miles; $59,950.
THE '58 FLEET
In addition to the six top family planes discussed in detail on the threepreceding pages, there are almost as many other manufacturers and models as inthe automobile industry. Here, with thumbnail statistics, are thein-manufacture models of 16 other planes most likely to be used by privateindividuals for their pleasurable pursuits. All prices given are for standardmodels, "fly-away-factory" (f.a.f.); all ranges and speeds are fornormal cruising operation.
Champion's high-wing tandem-seater is fabric-covered; tricycle gear; 90-hpContinental; 500 miles; 108 mph; $5,995. Two similar models of the Travelercome with conventional gear.
This all-metal two-seater has conventional gear; 90-hp Continental; 500 miles;120 mph; $5,995. The Silvaire is popular float plane. It has stick controls andside-by-side seating.
The baby of Piper fleet is conventional-geared tandem-seater; fabric-covered;90-hp Continental; 360 miles; 100 mph; $5,695. Model with 150-hp Lycoming; 460miles; 115 mph; $7,150.
Low-wing metal two-seater has tricycle gear; 90-hp Continental; 500 miles; 123mph; $6,995. It is spinproof; all controls coordinated into wheel and thereforethere are no rudder pedals.
Cessna's least expensive four-seater competes with the Tri-Pacer in both priceand performance. It has all-metal body; tricycle gear; 145-hp Continental; 519miles; 124 mph; $8,995.
As easy to fly as the 172, but with 30 horses more pep. Has new engine-noisereducing system; tricycle gear, speed fairings optional; 175-hp Continental;595 miles; 139 mph; $10,995.
Float version of Zephyr 400, like all Taylor-crafts, has Fiberglas fuselage andwings; extra door to rear seat; 225-hp Continental; 600 miles; 130 mph;$13,990; Edo floats $4,585 extra.
Cessna's top single-engine model is de luxe version of the Cessna 182 withfactory-installed radio and navigational equipment included; 230-hpContinental; 667 miles; 158 mph; $16,850.
Special wing and flap design give Courier controlled, slow flight, plus anearly vertical takeoff and landing; 260-hp Lycoming; 700 miles; 160 mph; seats5; $29,600. Floats are extra.
Certificated in 1957, the C-2IV is the only single-engine true amphibian nowproduced; all-metal body; shoulder wing; seats 4; 180-hp Lycoming pusher; 500miles; 130 mph; $21,780.
New entry into the Bonanza field has all-metal construction; 4 seats, 3removable for extra cargo; extra good visibility; tricycle gear; 240-hpContinental; 680 miles; 195 mph; $21,500.
MOONEY MARK 20A
This newcomer has metal fuselage; laminated spruce wings; gives more speed perhp than any plane of its price; seats 4; tricycle gear; 180-hp Lycoming; 630miles; 180 mph; $14,750.
Modern version of Giuseppe Bellanca's favorite plane has clean design,distinctive tail; is fabric-covered; conventional gear; seats 4; 230-hpContinental; 800 miles; 196 mph; $17,950.
Newest and smallest of Beech's several twins has lowest noise level; ruggedstructural design; seats 4; 270 pounds of luggage; twin 180-hp Lycomings; 1,100miles; 192 mph; $49,500.
This workhorse, model D50, carries 6 and 500 pounds of baggage; twin 285-hpLycomings; 830 miles; 203 mph; $77,000. F50 has two 320-hp Lycomingsupercharged engines; $88,000.
AERO COMMANDER680 E
The top of the private-plane field is also President Eisenhower's choice.Luxurious, efficient 5- or 7-place plane. Twin supercharged 320-hp Lycomings;1,400 miles; 226 mph; $94,500.
ABOUT THIS REPORT
This report on the new air age is a distillation oflengthy investigations by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reporters in 30 U.S. cities. Itwas produced by Associate Editor Fred R. Smith, with the expert counsel ofPilot and Flight Instructor Nancy Graham., the assistance of Reporter BabetteSkinner, and under the supervision of Articles Editor Percy Knauth.