Here is a 2000+ word blog post on 15 different types of small planes:
Small planes play a big role in aviation, offering a diverse range of aircraft types that cater to various applications. From single-engine piston aircraft to ultralights, gliders, and amphibian planes, the world of small planes is absolutely fascinating. These aircraft serve personal, recreational, specialized, and utility purposes that are essential for general aviation.
In this guide, we will explore 15 different types of small planes, looking at their unique features, sample models, pros and cons, and applications. Understanding the characteristics of these aircraft can help pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and curious learners discover the versatility that small planes have to offer.
1. Single-Engine Piston Aircraft
Single-engine piston aircraft are one of the most common types of small planes. As the name suggests, they have a single piston engine that drives a propeller for propulsion. Their simplicity, reliability, and versatility make them popular for personal flying, flight training, and recreational aviation.
Some notable examples include:
Cessna 172 Skyhawk – The most produced aircraft in history. Known for its forgiving flight characteristics, making it a top choice for flight training.
Piper Cherokee – A family of single-engine aircraft popular for their spacious cabins. The Piper Cherokee 180 and Archer are favored for flight training.
Cirrus SR22 – A modern single-engine plane with a composite airframe and glass cockpit. Popular with personal pilots for its comfort and technology features.
- Relatively low operating costs
- Easier to maintain compared to multi-engine aircraft
- Excellent for flight training and honing piloting skills
- Maneuverable and able to access shorter runways
- Limited range and payload capacity
- Only one engine, so a failure can be catastrophic
- Performance limitations in high altitudes and adverse weather
Applications: Flight training, personal flying, recreational aviation, some utility roles
2. Light Sport Aircraft (LSA)
Light sport aircraft (LSA) are a category defined by aircraft weight, speed limitations, and simple operation. Their accessibility and efficiency make them well-suited for sport and recreational aviation.
Notable LSA models include:
CubCrafters Carbon Cub – A rugged backcountry LSA with stellar STOL performance.
Flight Design CTLS – A sleek, modern LSA popular for its responsive handling.
Tecnam P2008 – A metal low-wing LSA known for its spacious cabin.
- Simplified pilot licensing process with sport pilot certificate
- Lower cost of operation compared to larger certified aircraft
- Increased fuel efficiency due to lower weights
- High maneuverability well-suited for sport flying
- Speed and range limitations
- Maximum takeoff weight restricts usefulness for some missions
- Vulnerable to turbulence and wind due to light airframes
Applications: Sport and recreational flying, flight training
3. Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft
Experimental amateur-built aircraft encompass a fascinating segment of the aviation world. These are planes constructed by individuals or groups, allowing freedom to explore innovative designs and concepts.
Well-known experimental models include:
Van‘s RV-series – Kit aircraft known for aerobatic capabilities and a loyal following of builders.
Lancair Legacy – A kit-built 6-seat experimental popular for its pressurized cabin and long-range capabilities.
Sonex – Lightweight kit aircraft designed for ease of construction and exhilarating flight.
- Creative freedom to build a custom aircraft
- Option to use advanced materials and unconventional designs
- Strong community of builders sharing knowledge
- Process develops hands-on skills
- No oversight from certified designers or engineers
- Maintaining airworthiness is the builder‘s responsibility
- Limited support infrastructure compared to factory aircraft
- Resale value and insurability concerns with homebuilts
Applications: Recreational flying, personal transportation, aerobatics, air racing
4. Ultralight Aircraft
Ultralight aircraft prioritize simplicity, affordability, and thrilling flight. They cater to pilots seeking the pure joy and adventure of flying.
Notable ultralight models include:
Quicksilver GT500 – One of the most popular ultralights ever produced. Favored for its lightweight simplicity.
AirBike – A unique ultralight design with a push-propeller configuration. Offers open cockpit flying.
CubCrafters Carbon Cub EX – A high-end ultralight with impressive capabilities way beyond typical ultralights.
- Lower purchase and operating costs than certified aircraft
- Minimal training requirements
- Unrestricted visibility and thrilling open-cockpit experience
- Operate from small spaces due to slow landing speeds
- Less robust structure than certified planes
- Limited weather flying suitability
- Lower top speeds than traditional aircraft
- Short range
Applications: Sport flying, recreation, flight training
Gliders and sailplanes rely solely on natural energy sources like wind and thermals for flight. This silent and serene way to fly remains beloved by soaring enthusiasts.
Notable glider examples include:
Schleicher ASK 21 – A popular side-by-side two-seat trainer glider.
Schempp-Hirth Discus – An advanced high-performance sailplane used widely in competition soaring.
Let L-13 Blaník – An all-metal glider known for its simplicity and ease of handling.
- Silent flight relying solely on natural energy
- Ability to fly long distances using rising air currents
- Lower operating costs than powered aircraft
- Soaring develops specialized piloting skills
- Need proper weather conditions for soaring flight
- Require ground launch systems like winch or tow plane
- Limited cross-country speed compared to powered aircraft
- Restricted capability departing and arriving at specific locations
Applications: Recreation, flight training, competitive and cross-country soaring
6. Electric Aircraft
Electric propulsion is opening new doors in aviation, with electric small planes at the forefront. Their clean and quiet operation is attracting interest.
Notable electric aircraft include:
Pipistrel Velis Electro – The first type certified electric plane, designed for flight training.
Eviation Alice – A 9-passenger all-electric aircraft under development. Aimed at regional flights.
Bye Aerospace eFlyer 2 – A two-seat electric trainer aircraft focused on sustainability.
- Zero in-flight emissions for reduced environmental impact
- Greatly reduced noise levels compared to combustion engines
- Lower operating costs by avoiding aviation fuel
- Reliability benefits of electric motors with fewer moving parts
- Battery technology limitations on range and payload
- Charging infrastructure needs development
- Higher upfront costs than conventional planes
- Power-to-weight ratio challenges with current battery densities
Applications: Flight training, personal flying, agricultural use; increasing applications as technology matures
7. Homebuilt Aircraft
Homebuilt or kit aircraft offer airplane builders the chance to personally construct their dream plane. Homebuilding allows customization and the rewarding experience of creating an aircraft.
Notable homebuilt models include:
Van‘s RV-series – The most popular homebuilt aircraft in history. Over 10,000 completed.
Zenith CH 750 Cruzer – An easy-to-build, low-cost homebuilt known for its short takeoff and landing capabilities.
Sonex – A family of homebuilt aircraft designed for speedy construction using simple tools.
- Freedom to build exactly the plane you want
- Option to create economical and efficient personalized aircraft
- Learn invaluable skills constructing your own airplane
- Strong community support among builders
- Significant time commitment for construction
- Restrictions on commercial use of homebuilts
- Limited support infrastructure compared to factory models
- Repair and maintenance duties fall upon the builder
Applications: Recreational flying, personal transportation, flight training, touring
8. Bush Planes
Bush planes are highly specialized utility aircraft designed for remote area operation. Their capabilities allow them to access rugged and challenging environments.
Notable bush planes include:
De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver – A legendary STOL bush plane renowned worldwide for its versatility and ruggedness.
Cessna 208 Caravan – A rugged single-engine turboprop capable of delivering cargo to short and unpaved runways.
Vans RV-14 – A popular homebuilt taildragger option for backcountry flying.
- Ability to takeoff and land in extremely short distances
- Operate in and out of small unimproved runways
- Designed for hauling cargo and passengers in remote regions
- Built with strength and ruggedness for unforgiving conditions
- Specialized pilot skills required for remote area operation
- Higher maintenance requirements than conventional aircraft
- Limited passenger and cargo capacity
Applications: Remote region access, utility transport, medevac/SAR, tourism
Seaplanes possess the unique ability to takeoff and land on water, allowing access to countless lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. Their versatility supports recreational activities and utility roles.
Notable seaplane models include:
De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver – The legendary bush plane is equally adept on floats.
Cessna 206 Stationair – A rugged high-wing single popular for wilderness utility transport on floats.
Icon A5 – A light sport amphibious aircraft at home on water or ground.
- Access countless bodies of water as landing sites
- Expanded reach to locales lacking runways
- Multi-surface capability with amphibious options
- Appeal for leisure activities like fishing trips
- Require specialized techniques and training for water operation
- Maintenance considerations for water exposure
- Limited performance compared to land-based equivalents
Applications: Recreation, personal transport, wilderness access, firefighting
10. Piston Twins
Multi-engine piston aircraft offer redundancy and increased performance. Twin-engine planes are valued for their safety margins and capabilities.
Notable piston twin models include:
Beechcraft Baron 58 – The fastest civilian piston twin ever produced. Well-suited to business and personal use.
Piper Seneca – One of the most popular personal twin-engine aircraft thanks to its cabin comfort and operating economics.
Cessna 310 – An iconic high-wing twin known for its balance of utility and performance.
- Engine redundancy improves safety
- Larger useful load and range capabilities
- Higher cruising speeds than comparable singles
- IFR redundancy allows operations in lower visibility
- Substantially higher purchase and operating costs
- Increased complexity compared to single-engine planes
- Specialized pilot training required
- Landing challenges if one engine fails
Applications: Business travel, personal transport, cargo, charter
11. Turboprop Aircraft
Turboprop planes leverage the power of a gas turbine engine to drive their propellers. The combination allows for the speed of a jet with the runway flexibility of a prop plane.
Notable turboprop models include:
Cessna 208 Caravan – The popular utility turboprop renowned for its ruggedness and payload capabilities.
Beechcraft King Air – Iconic twin turboprops valued for their versatility, performance, and cabin comfort.
Pilatus PC-12 – A popular single-engine turboprop business aircraft with impressive capabilities.
- Jet-like speeds with shorter runway needs
- Powerful performance for high payloads and altitude
- Comfortable cabins with large windows
- High reliability of turboprop power
- Longer runways required than equivalent piston planes
- Costs more to operate than piston-powered aircraft
- Specialized maintenance requirements
- High pilot experience recommended
Applications: Charter, corporate travel, cargo, air ambulance, specialty missions
12. Light Sport/Ultralight Turboprops
A niche category, these aircraft leverage turboprop powerplants while staying under light sport aircraft limitations. Combining performance and accessibility.
Epic E1000 – The fastest certified single-engine plane in the world. Cruises at over 300 mph.
Piper M350 – Piper‘s newest entrant crosses a turboprop with docile training aircraft handling qualities.
Aeroprakt A32 – A high-performance light sport aircraft using a small turboprop engine for impressive climb performance.
- Turboprop speeds in an aircraft accessible to sport pilots
- Climb performance exceeds pistons
- Runway length not much greater than typical LSAs
- Simplified maintenance of integrated powerplants
- Very high acquisition cost for an LSA
- Fuel, maintenance, and insurance costs exceed other LSAs
- Limited range still ~3 hours maximum
- Low inertia of small props needs special piloting technique
Applications: Recreation, personal flying
13. E-AB Turboprops
Homebuilt and kit aircraft builders are also getting in on turboprop power. These owner-constructed turboprop planes deliver high performance in experimental aircraft.
Notable examples include:
Lancair Evolution – One of the few turbine-powered certified kit planes. Cruises at 340 mph.
Sonex SubSonex – Jet-like performance in a kit-built two-seat sport aircraft.
Glass Air T-90 – An Italian 2-seat kitplane using a small turbine engine for 300+ mph speeds.
- Turbine reliability with reduced complexity of integrated packages
- Much higher cruise speeds than piston or jet kitplanes
- Pressurized options for high altitude operation
- Strong performance while staying under max gross weight
- Very high builder skill level and construction time required
- Big expenses for kits, engines, and avionics
- Limited support infrastructure
- Restrictions on commercial use as homebuilts
Applications: High-performance personal flying
14. Aerobatic Aircraft
Aerobatic planes are specialized for performing rolls, loops, and other gymnastic maneuvers in the air. Purpose-built for an exciting flying experience.
Notable aerobatic models include:
Extra 300 series – The world‘s most popular certified aerobatic planes. Competition to thrill rides.
Pitts S-2B – A lightweight biplane Still dominates unlimited aerobatic competitions 60 years after its debut.
Zivko Edge 540 – High-performance low-wing aerobatic plane flown widely on the airshow circuit.
- Specifically designed to withstand stresses of aerobatics
- Powerful precision and maneuverability
- Exhilarating experience and pure flying enjoyment
- Aerobatic training improves overall aircraft control
- Very high pilot skill required to fly safely
- Specialized maintenance requirements
- Limited usefulness outside aerobatic flight
- Unable to carry much payload
Applications: Aerobatic training/competitions, airshows
Warbird aircraft represent lovingly restored fighter planes, trainers, and utility aircraft from past military conflicts. These planes honor aviation heritage through flight.
Notable warbird examples include:
North American P-51 Mustang – The iconic fighter of WWII, widely flown today at airshows.
Boeing PT-17 Stearman – The classic WWII primary trainer, immediately recognizable by its biplane design.
C-47 Skytrain – The militarized DC-3 transport plane remains airworthy in private hands decades after wartime service.
- Tangible connection to aviation history
- Rarity and unique experiences in vintage planes
- Improved reliability and handling through modern restoration
- Living tributes preserving military legacy in flight
- Very high acquisition and restoration costs
- Limited availability of spare parts
- Less utilization than contemporary planes
- Often excluded from aerobatic maneuvers
Applications: Collection, heritage events, commemorations
The Fascinating World of Small Planes
This guide has only scratched the surface of the diverse and exciting world of small aircraft. From simple flying machines to high-performance turboprops, small planes deliver capabilities limited only by the imagination of designers and builders worldwide. Understanding the pros, cons, and best uses of these various aircraft types helps unlock their full potential.