What are the Most Common Types of Light Aircraft for General Aviation?

General aviation is a term that describes the general operation of aircraft and their use for non-commercial purposes. While there are many more pilots in general aviation than those in commercial airline operations, the aircraft used for general aviation flights are not as sophisticated or advanced as those used by commercial airlines. 

You may not be aware of it, but the US has a large community of general aviation enthusiasts, with more than 500,000 out of 600,000 American pilots flying this type of aircraft, according to a recent report by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

If you’re interested in learning about what common types of light aircraft are used for general aviation, read on to find out more.

Single-piston taildraggers

Also known as the conventional landing gear or tailwheel-type landing gear aircraft, single-piston taildraggers have two main wheels in front and a small wheel or skid to support the tail at the back. With its tricycle landing gear arrangement, the position of each part makes the aircraft lighter than a nose wheel aircraft. 

This fixed landing gear-and-tailwheel configuration gives the aircraft the advantage of being able to take off from shorter runways, making them more practical for smaller airports or fields. These types of aircraft are commonly used in ski operations and are also noted for their maneuverability, especially inside a hangar. 

Easy to fly and very stable in flight, single-piston taildraggers also have high fuel efficiency and low operating costs. These types of aircraft are arguably some of the most popular general aviation aircraft, as they are often used in movies as props and transport services.

However, one notable disadvantage of this aircraft is that its forward visibility is not as good as those nose-wheel aircraft. Additionally, it’s more prone to “nose-over” accidents, which happen when a pilot applies the brakes incorrectly. 

Some common types of single-piston taildragger aircraft are the American Champion Citabria, American Champion Scout, American Champion Decathlon, Aviat Husky, CubCrafters Top Cub, and Seabird Seeker. 

Single-piston tricycle landing gear aircraft

Another common type of light aircraft is the single-piston tricycle landing gear. These are characterized by a forward-mounted propeller, which is connected to the aircraft’s main rotor behind it. These types of aircraft have engine power provided by the aircraft’s engine and the power generated by its “tricycle” to drive the propeller. 

The tricycle design makes it simpler to remove and replace the propeller, which can be done in a matter of minutes. They typically weigh less than 2,500 pounds and have a maximum takeoff weight of near 1,000 pounds.

Tricycle landing gear aircraft are generally easier to land compared to other planes due to the altitude required to land on the main gear. When the tailwheel planes are on the ground, it causes the plane to naturally sit nose-up, which makes it easy to taxi or land on unpaved and dirt surfaces where debris may damage the propeller.

As a result, the majority of modern aircraft are fitted with tricycle gear.

However, tricycle aircraft can be susceptible to wheelbarrowing during takeoff or landing, which is an issue that may occur in an airplane with a tricycle gear configuration.

The most common types of tricycle landing gear aircraft include the Mooney M20, Beechcraft Bonanza, Cessna 206 Stationair, and Cirrus SR22.

Piston twin aircraft

The piston twin is a multi-engine light aircraft that was very popular in the 70s and 80s. But with the introduction of more energy-efficient and low maintenance light aircraft on the market, the piston twin’s popularity began to decline.

For a general aviation pilot, the piston twin-engine light aircraft was one of the most common types of aircraft. This type of aircraft has two engines that are mounted on the side of the fuselage and usually have fixed wings, which means they can’t be lowered or tilted. They are typically used for leisure purposes such as flying to fishing spots or to take a quick trip across states.

With two charging systems and vacuum pumps, as well as features like ice protection and weather radar, piston twins had a significant edge over singles at the time despite its relatively antiquated model. None of these features were available on singles until many years later.

Additionally, most piston twins back then were powered by two of the engines utilized in the biggest singles, which allowed them to climb and cruise quicker but not at a cost-benefit ratio.

Piston twins used to be a step-up market if the production of this model did not stop. However, the single-engine turboprop and the single-engine jet have eventually surpassed them. 

Popular piston twin aircraft include the Beech Baron, Piper Seminole, Piper Seneca, and Tecnam P2006T, among others.

Single turboprop aircraft

If you’re looking for a fast, fuel-efficient, and extremely reliable light aircraft, a single turboprop is an excellent option, thanks to its lighter framework (compared to jets) and an engine that consumes less fuel. 

A single turboprop is a propeller-driven aircraft with one engine that produces thrust in the rear and drives a single propeller. Some of the most popular types of this type of aircraft are light jets like Cessna and Beechcraft.

In terms of ground and air mobility, this type of aircraft has one or more gas turbine engines connected to a gearbox that drives a propeller. Additionally, this model can carry more people and cargo than piston-powered single-engine planes, and they can fly up to 35,000 feet, which is higher than pistons.

Turboprops can easily fly in congested areas, which is why they’re perfect for flying in cities and suburbs. They also have more speed than other types of aircraft. Turboprops are well-suited to short takeoffs and landings because they don’t need as much runway as an airplane would require. That’s why they’re often used by small airports that aren’t equipped with runways long enough for larger aircraft to use comfortably.

Turboprops can be used for both commercial passenger service or general aviation flights, depending on the needs of the company or individual pilot. This type of plane is fairly easy to operate and maintain, making it a great choice for those who are new to general aviation or want a second aircraft type to fly when their primary craft isn’t available.

Single-engine turboprops are typically regarded as among the safest aircraft on the market, outperforming even the twin-engine turboprops, according to recent data. Furthermore, single-engine aircraft have a far lesser environmental impact than twin-engine design models.

The Cessna 208 (Grand), Pilatus PC-12, Piper PA-46 M500/M600, and Quest Kodiak are some of the most common single turboprop aircraft. 

Twin-turboprop aircraft

The turboprop is a type of aircraft with two engines. They are commonly used for general aviation, offering superior performance at less cost than jets, although they cannot cruise at high speeds.

Considered one of the most popular, fastest, and most sleek-looking aircraft in general aviation, the twin-turboprop aircraft is easy to spot with its two propellers flanking the fuselage.

Twin Turbo Aircrafts can reach peak speeds 268 knots (309mph) to 402 knots (462 mph); however, it’s worth noting that certain single-engine turboprop planes can go faster than some twin turboprops.

Turboprops were originally developed for military purposes but were more recently adapted for the civilian market. Today, turboprops are used in both the United States and Europe. Twin-turboprop aircraft make up the majority of general aviation light aircraft in the United States, while single-turboprop models make up a significant portion of the European fleet.

Most twin-turboprop light commercial passenger planes have a seating capacity of 20 or fewer passengers and can be operated by one pilot. The most common commercial models are Cessna’s 152 and 172 Skyhawks, Beechcraft’s King Air 350ER and Super King Air, the Britten-Norman Islander, and the Piaggio P.180 Avanti Evo. 

A final word on the types of light aircraft (for general aviation)

General aviation, or GA, is the most common type of aircraft in the United States. It’s used by a wide range of individuals and companies for many reasons. From air racing to charter services, recreational flying to aerial photography, there are many opportunities to fly a plane without having to take an expensive trip. 

Light aircraft are not only used to transport people and goods. Thanks to better design and increased visibility and maneuverability, they are now used in many things including aerial firefighting, agricultural aviation, medical transport, overnight delivery, search and rescue, law enforcement, sightseeing, tracing reporting, and surveying and mapping. 

Whether you’re a seasoned pilot or an aviation enthusiast, knowing the most common types of general aviation could make you appreciate this amazing piece of a flying machine even more.