Back for a second year, AOPA’s popular aircraft challenge—the Best Aircraft Showdown—pits 64 aircraft against one another. The final list has been whittled from more than 300 aircraft and 2,500 member nominations.
Some pilots deemed their pride and joy the best by submitting their tail number. Others tried stuffing the ballot: One rabid Steen fan entered the Skybolt 59 times in six minutes, 26 seconds. For good measure the member returned two hours later to nominate it 13 more times. Other nominations included “the Batwing,” “the Millennium Falcon - It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs,” and “the one you’re flying.”
So, how did AOPA staff narrow the list to 64 competitors?
Last year’s winner, the P-51 Mustang, is officially retired and held in a position of honor. Sorry Mustang fans. Modern military aircraft that the pilots have no chance of owning or flying, bombers, and airliners were also excluded.
“We are a general aviation organization—airliners just didn’t feel right in the competition,” AOPA Vice President of eMedia Chris Ward, creator of the challenge, quipped. “That said, the Lockheed Constellation that several members nominated got a lot of sympathy from staff pilots. As for the bombers, the decision to exclude them was hotly debated. I hear some of the Best Aircraft Showdown committee members are still not talking as a result of this decision. Maybe next year.”
Each aircraft’s votes were tallied. Some aircraft were combined; for example, Piper PA-28s (Cherokee, Archer, Warrior, and Arrow) were given one entry. Then, the 91 aircraft with the most votes (excluding the airliners, bombers, and current military aircraft) were posted in the selection committee room where AOPA staff pilots selected and seeded the final 64 aircraft. About an hour and several lost friendships later, the finalists emerged.
Staff members then picked the match ups for the first round. Rather than have a bunch of head-scratchers like a warbird against a Vans RV-6 in the first round, the committee matched up some traditional rivals like the Piper PA-28s and the Cessna 172, and the A36 Bonanza and the V35 Bonanza.
In the end, 10 Cessnas, seven Pipers, six Beechcrafts, five warbirds, two helicopters, and one glider will be vying to be champion of AOPA’s Best Aircraft Challenge. Take a look at the matchups. Voting starts March 22 and runs through April 8.