Pilatus PC-12
Pilatus PC-12

Best Bang for the Buck

Many business aircraft deliver impressive speed, range, and reliability, along with well-equipped cabins. Here are an industry veteran’s picks for some that also offer particularly good value, based on the design, utility, and product support you get for your dollar.

Preowned Models

Bell JetRanger III
Bell JetRanger III

Bell JetRanger III (helicopter). Bell discontinued its Model 206 JetRanger light single in 2010. According to the company, more than 8,400 of its helicopters have been produced in a variety of configurations based on the 206. All variants combined, the 206 fleet has flown more than 37 million hours. The highest-time 206 has flown more than 38,000 hours. 

Over the years, Bell made numerous improvements to the helicopter, which it began delivering in 1967. The biggest came in 1977 with the advent of the JetRanger III, or Model 206B3, which features a Rolls-Royce engine that boosts maximum takeoff shaft horsepower by almost 25 percent, to 420 shp. Some of these aircraft are equipped with Chelton EFIS glass-panel avionics and Garmin GNS 530 GPS/navcom radios. 

By contemporary standards, the five-place cabin is tight—47 inches wide and, aft of the bulkhead behind the pilots, 40 inches long. The aft luggage compartment provides just 16 cubic feet of stowage. The cramped quarters aside, operators praise the 206’s forgiving flight qualities, simple design, and rugged construction. Prices for a 206B3 range from $340,000 for a 1978 model to $870,000 for a lightly flown 2007 model. 

Pilatus PC-12 (single-engine turboprop). The PC-12 isn’t the smallest, cheapest, or simplest single-engine turboprop. But it’s the one that does the most. Its capacious cabin is on par, size-wise, with that of a 200-series, twin-engine Beechcraft King Air. It handles rough and short runways with dispatch, and it features an aft cargo door large enough to swallow snowmobiles, dirt bikes, even whole-house generators. Plus, it provides pressurized comfort up to 30,000 feet in stylish interiors that seat six, and it cruises at up to 285 knots. And it can take a pounding: PC-12s have operated more than 1,000 hours per year in the broiling Australian outback and in the Arctic CirclePrices range from $4.6 million for a 2017 PC-12 NG down to $1.9 million for a 1996 PC-12/45. 

Beechcraft King Air 350i
Beechcraft King Air 350i

Beechcraft King Air 350 series (twin-engine turboprop). Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft King Airs continue to dominate their category, and the 350, the largest of the line, is arguably the best. Itwas built to more robust commuter-category standards than other King Airs; and its wing, known for its ability to carry ice and mitigate the chop from turbulence, was certified for infinite life. If an engine fails, the “auto-feather” system kicks in, turning the propeller edges from the dead engine into the wind to minimize drag and automatically boosting the rudder to negate the impact of uneven thrust. 

The 350 also sports good operating economics: for missions up to 600 miles, it gets you there within minutes of a jet for far fewer dollars. But the aircraft’s cabin—almost 20 feet long, five feet tall, and four and a half feet wide—remains the 350’s most popular feature for passengers, yielding more shoulder and leg room than most light jets offer. And the price is right:$1.2 million to $3.8 million for 350s produced between 1991 and 2007 and $3.9 million to $5.3 million for the 350i built from 2010 to 2017.

Hawker 400XP
Hawker 400XP

Beechjet/Hawker 400XP (light jet). The Beechjet features innovations not typically seen on a light jet design that dates back to the disco era: a supercritical wing with a 20-degree sweep to cut drag and increase speed; roll spoilers, which assist with high-speed turns; anti-skid brakes; and a no-life-limit airframe.The airplane, which requires two pilots, can accommodate seven passengers, offers a range of more than 1,400 nautical miles with four passengers, and has a top cruise speed of 465 knots. 

It is being remanufactured with many improvements by Nextant Aerospace as the 400XTi and by Textron Aviation as the 400XPR. Refitted with Williams engines by Nextant or Textron, range with four passengers increases to nearly 2,000 nautical miles, cruise speed bumps up 21 knots, and fuel burn reduces about 18 percent on trips of 300 to 1,000 nautical miles.

Prices start at $525,000 for a 1990 Model 400A with 10,000 hours; $2 million to $3.35 million for a rebuilt Nextant 400XTi; and around $2.5 million for a 3,300-hour, 1998 400A retrofitted with Garmin G5000 touchscreen avionics.

Hawker 800XP
Hawker 800XP

Hawker 850XP (midsize jet). Midsize is the category that offers the best value; it’s also among the softest spots on the current market. But even on this congested side of the discount ramp, the 800XP model stands out. It isn’t the prettiest airplane in its class and, with a maximum cruise speed of 442 knots, it’s certainly not the fastest. But it’s certified to land on gravel, dirt, and grass, and its ability to take abuse and not break is legendary. 

This iteration of the venerable HS125 Hawker line was produced from 1995 to 2009, and it’s hard to find anything comparably priced that delivers the same range and payload numbers: with eight passengers and full fuel, you can fly 2,500 nautical miles from 5,000-foot runways with comfortable reserves. The typical 850XP cabin features five single executive seats and one three-place divan. (The 850XP is indistinguishable from the 800, save for the addition of winglets that boost range by 100 nautical miles and an upgrade to Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics.) Expect to pay less than $3 million for agood, 10-year-old 800XP.

Dassault Falcon 2000s
Dassault Falcon 2000s

Dassault Falcon 2000 (super-midsize jet). The airplane that invented the super-midsize category in 1993 remains best of breed thanks to its stand-up, seven-and-a-half-foot-wide cabin; good fuel economy; great range; pleasant flying qualities; and strong resale value. Gas it up, load eight passengers, and you can fly 3,400 miles. Since the 2000’s introduction, Dassault has debuted several enhanced variants, such as the 2000EX EASy and the 2000LX, but they cost considerably more, and the market for them is thin. For 1996–2002 model 2000s, prices range from $3.1 million to $7.2 million.

Bombardier 604 Challenger Photo: Barry Ambrose
Bombardier 604 Challenger Photo: Barry Ambrose

Bombardier Challenger 604 (large-cabin jet). The 10-passenger (typical) 600 series employs advanced aerodynamics, high-bypass-ratio jet engines, and a capacious, 1,150-cubic-foot cabin, the airplane’s most distinctive feature. It offers six feet of headroom and a flat floor that’s just over seven feet wide.The 604’s range (4,000 nautical miles with four passengers) exceeds that of earlier 600/601 aircraft by nearly 500 nautical miles. 

The 604 also offers larger General Electric engines, Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 avionics with the Precision Plus upgrade, and enhanced landing gear. With a comparatively low acquisition price and hourly direct operating costs just north of $3,000, the Challenger 604—which Bombardier built from 1996 to 2007—is hard to beat. For a 604 built from the late 1990s to mid-2000s, you’ll pay between $4 million and $6 million.

Gulfstream GV
Gulfstream GV

Gulfstream GV (large-cabin, long-range jet). Yes, you usually can get a comparable-year Global for less than you’d pay for a GV, and the Global has a slightly larger cabin. But when you’re operating a 6,500-nautical-mile-range airplane in some faraway place—presumably one of the reasons you buy it—and it breaks, you want to know you can get support before the shooting war starts or the cyclone hits. Gulfstream’s product support for older business jets is second to none. Other GV plusses include a nearly 50-foot-long cabin with big, oval windows and room for 12 to 14 passengers, and rock-solid Rolls-Royce engines. GVs produced between 1997 and 1999 are selling for about $8.8 million to $10.25 million.

Factory-New Models

Leonardo AW169
Leonardo AW169

Leonardo AW169 (helicopter). Thanks to the strategic use of composites, this $8.5 million medium twin is lighter than its main competitor, the Sikorsky S-76D; its passenger cabin is longer and wider, and its baggage compartment is almost 25 percent larger. The AW169 bests the S-76D in hover capabilities and ties it by nearly all other performance measures. Maximum speed is 155 knots; range with full fuel and 30-minute reserve is 366 nautical miles; and maximum useful load (passengers, bags, and fuel) is 4,350 pounds. 

The 222-cubic-foot cabin can accommodate eight to 10 passengers in utility configuration, eight in an executive design, or six to seven in a plush VIP layout.Dampeners inserted between the main rotor blades mitigate vibration and deliver a jet-smooth ride. While the AW169 lacks an auxiliary power unit to run air conditioning and cabin electricals, operating one of its two engines on the ground can provide current without engaging the rotors. 

The avionics feature three of the latest 10-by-eight-inch Rockwell Collins displays mated to touchscreen controls with modern capabilities, including night-vision-goggle compatibility, a four-axis digital automatic flight-control system and a dual flight-management system, digital maps, weather radar, satcom, traffic and terrain avoidance, dual radar altimeters, ADS-B aircraft-tracking technology, enhanced vision, and a health and usage monitoring system. 

Cessna Grand Caravan EX
Cessna Grand Caravan EX

Textron Aviation Cessna Grand Caravan EX (turboprop single). Arguably the airplane Cessna should have been building all along, the $2.6 million EX is the factory 867-shp version of its venerable Grand Caravan (675 shp). Deliveries began in 2013. The increased power means that, for the first time, amphibious floats can be fitted to the factory-new aircraft. 

Changes from the Grand Caravan to the EX include a more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada engine, a new McCauley propeller with somewhat rounder edges, new air induction intakes (nosegear cooling fairing), different flap settings, engine torque limiter, and new ease-of-maintenance features. The new engine delivers a 40 percent increase in the rate of climb, about 10 knots of additional speed (to a maximum cruising speed of 195 knots), and somewhat better specific fuel consumption from a more efficient compressor. 

With more power, the EX is adept at getting in and out of tight spots: it requires a takeoff run of just 2,160 feet and can land in less than 1,900 feet. While the new engine has a standard time between overhaulsof 3,600 hours, that can be increased to 6,000 hours or 12 years for specific conditions with charter operators. The basic aircraft seats nine to 13 aft of the flight deck. The unpressurized cabin measures 16 feet, nineinches long; 64 inches wide, and 54 inches tall. Beginning this year, the EX features the new Garmin G1000 NXi glass panel avionics system. Options includeenhanced flight control and satellite data and voice communications. 

Beechcraft King Air 250
Beechcraft King Air 250

Textron Aviation Beechcraft King Air 250 (turboprop twin). Deliveries of the latest 200 series King Air began in 2011. Four years later, Textron Aviation started offering the model with the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion touchscreen avionics system. The $6.3 million King Air 250 incorporates Raisbeck Engineering's Ram Air Recovery System, BLR winglets, and lighter and more efficient all-composite Hartzell propellers. 

Compared with its predecessors, the six- to eight-passenger, twin-engine 250 gives you more of what you buy a turboprop for: the ability to haul bigger loads out of shorter runways and fly longer distances, albeit at slower speeds, than you could with a similarly sized jet. At maximum weights, the 250 can take off over a 50-foot obstacle in 2,111 feet at sea level; at a 5,000-foot elevation airport, it takes off in just 3,099 feet. Speed increases modestly to 310 knots. 

The cabin measures 16 feet, eight inches long; four feet, nine inches tall; and four feet, six inches wide. Entry is through an aft stair door opposite the single-place kibitzer that covers a chemical toilet. To the right you'll find 55 cubic feet of netted cargo area; to the left, the cabin with six comfortable swivel-and-recline single seats.

Pilatus PC 24
Pilatus PC 24

Pilatus PC-24 (light jet). Deliveries of the $8.9 million PC-24 are underway. Like its PC-12 turboprop sibling, it features a big rear door—51 inches wide and 49 inches tall—and is able to be flown single pilot and use short grass and dirt runways. It can take off from runways as short as 2,930 feet (paved) at its maximum weight of 18,300 pounds and can climb to its 45,000-foot maximum altitude in less than 30 minutes. Its maximum cruise speed is 440 knots at 28,000 feet, and range with four passengers is 2,000 nautical miles. 

Power comes from a pair of Williams International turbofans that have unique features, including automatic thrust reverse, quiet power mode in place of an auxiliary unit to provide ground power, integral pre-cooler to condition bleed air and reduce drag losses, and an anti-ice and noise-suppressing inlet. The customized avionics suite is based on the Honeywell Primus Apex system and features the latest advances.

The aircraft’s 501-cubic-foot passenger cabin provides more overall space than either the Cessna XLS+ or the Embraer Phenom 300 and has a flat floor. Layout choices include executive, commuter, combi, medevac, special mission, and quick-change configurations; you can also opt for an externally serviced forward or aft lavatory and any of several galley setups. The executive layout features comfortable seating for six to eight and the pressurization system will maintain a sea-level cabin to 23,500 feet.

Cessna Citation Latitude
Cessna Citation Latitude

Cessna Citation Latitude (midsized jet). The Latitude, which sells for $16.6 million, has a flexible, flat-floor cabin that’s six feet tall, nearly 22 feet long, and about six and a half feet wide. A standard seating arrangement, which can accommodate nine passengers, includes a forward, two-seat, side-facing couch; a club-four grouping of single seats; and two more single seats aft of that. The aft baggage hold provides 127 cubic feet of space. 

While incorporating more comfort and new technology, Cessna eschewed adoption of the relatively exotic, such as fly-by-wire actuation for the flight surfaces. The cruciform tail and tweaked airfoil are basically the same as those on the current Cessna XLS+. Cessna also went with the tried and true for engines: a pair of FADEC (full authority digital engine control) Pratt & Whitney Canada turbofans propel it to 43,000 feet in 23 minutes en route to a maximum cruise altitude of 45,000 feet. 

Like its predecessors, the Latitude has good short-runway capability: required takeoff distance is 3,580 feet at its maximum weight of 30,800 pounds. Range with four passengers is 2,700 nautical miles, and the Latitude cruises at 446 knots. The Garmin G5000 glass-panel avionics incorporate the latest safety features.

Praetor 600
Praetor 600

Embraer Praetor 600 (super-midsized jet). The Praetor 600 is basically an upgraded Legacy 500 with more range (to 3,900 nautical miles) and a new interior. For $20.995 million, you get greater fuel capacity, new winglets, and engines that are more powerful due to a software upgrade. The Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics have enhanced capabilities that include MultiScan radar and the world’s first synthetic vision guidance system for autopilot instrument approaches that enable the jet to land with ceilings of just 150 feet and a forward visibility of only 1,300 feet. The Praetor 600 is the only super-midsized jet on the market with full fly-by-wire flight controls. The new interior features restyled and more comfortable seats, more convenient passenger controls, and the Honeywell Ovation cabin-management system. Gogo Vision and Viasat Ka-band satcom are optional. 

Pilot Report: Embraer Praetor 600

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Pilot Report: Embraer Praetor 600

A flight in Embraer's new Praetor 600 super midsize jet reveals a host of noteworthy features.

Gulfstream G500
Gulfstream G500

Gulfstream G500 (large-cabin jet). The new G500 is wider, smarter, faster, and better than its G450 predecessor. Width and height both gain about half a foot, to 95 and 74 inches, respectively. The 41.5-foot-long cabin can be divided into three zones for seating up to 19, although 12 to 14 is standard. Natural light fills the cabin from 14 oval windows that are 16 percent larger than those on the 450, and the capacious 175-cubic-foot baggage hold can be accessed in flight through the aft lav. 

The $44.5 million airplane is packed with innovation. The passenger seats have been redesigned to maximize comfort and the galley can be equipped with cutting-edge appliances. The cabin offers the latest in Wi-Fi and connectivity, and you can order monitors up to 32 inches. 

The G500 is the first Gulfstream to feature full fly-by-wire flight controls and active sidesticks. Its Pratt & Whitney Canada engines are cleaner, quieter, and 10 percent more efficient than older-generation engines and require 40 percent less scheduled maintenance and 20 percent fewer inspections than other engines in their class. They continuously transmit condition to the ground via a health-usage-and-monitoring system. The G500 has a range of 5,200 nautical miles (with eight passengers and at Mach 0.85) and a blistering top speed of Mach 0.925, and it can takeoff from runways as short as 5,300 feet fully loaded. 

Dassault Falcon 8X  Photo: Mark Wagner
Dassault Falcon 8X Photo: Mark Wagner

Dassault Falcon 8X (large-cabin, long-range jet). The $59.3 million 8X features a 43-inch fuselage stretch and a slightly larger cabin than its 7X predecessor. The extra space translates into 7 percent more volume—enough to allow for a somewhat longer galley, a little more legroom between seats, or an optional steam shower in the aft lav. Thanks to nearly 1,700 cubic feet of space, you can choose from more than 30 layouts in three-zone configurations. 

Cabin altitude is just 3,900 feet at a cruising altitude of 41,000 feet. (The service ceiling is 51,000 feet.)The full fly-by-wire flight deck features the new EASy 3 glass-panel digital avionics, which are built around the Honeywell Primus Epic System and the Elbit head-up display, which combines enhanced and synthetic vision. The trio of Pratt & Whitney Canada engines have been optimized to offer 6,725 pounds of thrust each, with a 5 percent thrust increase and lower emissions. The aircraft has a range of 6,450 nautical miles (with eight passengers and three crew, at Mach 0.8), 500 more than the 7X. The reworked wing also keeps the 8X competitive: it needs 6,000 feet to take off fully loaded but can stop in 2,150 feet. 

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