In this guide, we will explore the history of light aircraft manufacturing as well as the top light aircraft manufacturers.
Ever since the first light aircraft flight in 1903 by the Wright brothers, aviation has exponentially progressed year over year to what it is today.
Modern aviation is full of incredibly designed aircraft that are pushing the boundaries of aircraft in meaningful ways. Thanks to better designs, light aircraft are more efficient than ever, and owing to the economies of scale, they are also cheaper than ever before!
The global aviation industry is valued at a whopping USD 20.5 billion and is expected to steadily grow every year due to an increase in demand and the fact that more people are taking an interest in aviation for both career and leisure purposes.
Another big reason why people are gravitating towards aviation is also that light aircraft are more accessible now than they were a few decades ago.
This accessibility has allowed almost anyone to enrol in flight programmes and train for private and commercial licences – and at the heart of this accessibility lies the tiring efforts of light aircraft manufacturers.
In this guide, we will explore the history of light aircraft manufacturing as well as the top light aircraft manufacturers that you should know about!
The Pre-Flight Era
The story of light aircraft manufacturing can be traced back to a few individuals and manufacturers who invested in the future at the right time, thereby completely changing the world for the better.
To understand the history of light aircraft manufacturing, we must go back to the 18th century. During the early years of aviation, engineers and scientists were working non-stop to come up with a viable design that could sustain flight.
The problem at the time was twofold. The first problem was that the scientific community at the time did not understand the principles of flight and how to sustain flight over a long period. While there were a few rudimentary and unmanned flight tests, none of the designs were able to achieve flight for longer than a few minutes.
The second problem was weight. In order for an aircraft to fly, it must overcome its weight and be built using an aerodynamic design. Due to the limitation of resources, engineers struggled to find a suitable material that could provide the right power-to-weight ratio to achieve flight.
The Birth of Aviation
The first problem of achieving flight was eventually solved by the scientific community based on Daniel Bernoulli’s principle that described the effects and pressure zones of a fast-moving fluid, like air, on bodies.
This discovery eventually led to the creation of a new field of study called aerodynamics. Armed with the right mathematical equations, scientists and engineers had the blueprints for creating aerodynamic aircraft that could fly efficiently without losing control.
The second problem was realised to be just a limitation of resources. The thing is, back then, the field of metallurgy was still developing and the only abundant and strong material that could be used in aircraft was wood - but there were a lot of problems with simply building a wooden aircraft. This problem persisted until the end of the 18th century. However, during the late 1880s, two self-proclaimed engineers were trying to approach the problem in a different way.
These engineers were the Wright brothers who noticed that a mix of a rigid structure with a contouring material like fabric could be used to fly aircraft for longer. The brothers started working on the design of the aircraft and by the end of the 1890s, they had come up with a viable design that could sustain flight.
After a few iterations of their design, the brothers finally unveiled their first flight-capable aircraft affectionately named Kitty Hawk. This light aircraft was designed using timber which provided just the right power-to-weight ratio. The wings of the plane were covered with fabric and the aircraft was powered by a newly built combustion engine.
Kitty Hawk took its first successful flight in 1903 which also marked the beginning of the pioneering era of aviation.
Manufacturing the Future
Once word got out about the successful attempt by the Wright brothers, everyone started to take notice of the practicality of aviation. See, before this flight, aviation was looked at as a novelty field that had very limited applications since there was no way to fly airplanes or control the flight, but after the Wright Flyer took off, everything changed.
This new wave of interest sparked international interest in aviation – and since everyone had a successful starting point and the blueprints for a viable aircraft design, they started to get working on improving the original design which led to a series of amazing aircraft that truly shaped aviation for the better!
Here are all the pioneering light aircraft manufacturers that you should know about:
Piper Aircraft is an American manufacturer that produces a wide range of aircraft, including bespoke light aircraft that are designed for trainers and high-performance enthusiasts.
Founded in 1925, the company has been a cornerstone in aviation and is behind some of the most famous aircraft designs in the world. The company is especially known for producing the iconic Piper Archer and Piper Arrow, two highly efficient aircraft that pushed aviation forward.
The Cessna Aircraft Company is another American-based aviation manufacturer that is based in Kansas. The company was founded in 1927 by aviation pioneer Clyde Cessna.
The company started by manufacturing a variety of light aircraft powered using a proprietary single-piston engine that provided high performance and fuel efficiency.
Cessna cemented itself as one of the biggest players in aviation with the introduction of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk and the Cessna 182 Skylane. The company has grown to become one of the most respected and well-known aviation brands in the world.
Known for producing both jet-powered aircraft and single-piston planes, Cirrus is one of the global leaders in light aircraft manufacturing. The company started in 1984 and has since pioneered aircraft design. Cirrus is known for developing the Cirrus SR22 and its Vision Jet.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this company is that they invest quite a lot in research and development which allows them to push the boundaries of what is possible in aviation. For example, Cirrus is known for developing the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, which is designed to deploy in emergencies, but instead of parachuting just the pilot, the system works to save the plane too!
Previously, pilots had to eject from the plane due to a critical failure in the aircraft, and this almost always resulted in the loss of the aircraft, but thanks to this innovative system, the entire aircraft can be recovered!
This Austrian manufacturer produces everything from light aircraft to high-performance planes that are designed to break records. Founded in 1981, Diamond Aircraft is located in Winer Neustadt, Austria.
Diamond Aircraft is at the forefront of producing safe, reliable, and high-quality light aircraft. They are also known for their focus on using modern technology and opting for advanced materials to build their aircraft. Their most popular aircraft include the iconic Diamond DA20, the Diamond DA40, and the Diamond DA62.
Founded in 1939 and headquartered in Stand, Switzerland, Pilatus is a well-known Swiss manufacturer that is known for producing a wide range of light aircraft.
Their trainers and turboprop models are world-renowned for their extreme precision, high quality, and craftsmanship. Pilatus mostly focuses on niche markets and produces Short Takeoff and Landing aircraft (STOL). The company is celebrated for its iconic aircraft designs such as the Pilatus PC12.
Tecnam is a European aircraft manufacturer that produces everything from light aircraft to trainers, high-performance models, and even amphibious planes.
The company is headquartered in Italy and is well-known for reinvesting in research and development. Tecnam is renowned for its focus on innovative designs and the use of premium-quality materials.
Robin Aircraft is a French manufacturer that is known for producing very high-quality light aircraft. The company is focused on providing its users with aircraft that they will immediately love when they fly.
The company emphasises building aerodynamic light aircraft and even produces aircraft that are suitable for both aerobatics and general flying. Perhaps the most well-known aircraft by the company is the Robin 2160 which is an excellent aircraft to train on.
Zenith is a highly popular aircraft company that is known to manufacture light aircraft in a very special way. Out of all the companies on our list, Zenith is the youngest since it was founded in 1992 and was created to cater to the growing needs of private pilots for kit planes.
What are kit planes? In a nutshell, instead of a fully built plane, the company sends out a kit with instructions on how to assemble the plane on your own at your residence.
This do-it-yourself approach to building and shipping planes was seen as a genius idea by the aviation community. Now, the pilots would play an important role in the assembly of their aircraft which would give them a higher sense of ownership than flying a pre-built plane.
Zenith is located in Mexico, Missouri and the company is also beloved for its affordable light aircraft designs, which include the CH 750 Cruzer.
Learning to Fly Light Aircraft
If you want to step into the world of aviation, then your best bet would be to apply for a private licence. This licence is geared towards people who want to pursue flying as a hobby instead of a career. The Private Pilot Licence (PPL) is the quickest way to get inside the cockpit of a light aircraft due to its rather relaxed training requirements.
In order to obtain this licence, you will need to enrol at a good flight school, like Sherburn Aero Club. Flight schools play an important role in aviation because they not only train future pilots but also act as the bridge between aviation agencies and regular people.
For example, instead of just getting practical and theoretical training, a comprehensive flight school will also offer various other services like pilot medicals which are crucial in obtaining any type of pilot licence.
More importantly, flight schools can also help candidates apply for their licence which can otherwise be a very confusing and detailed process. If you truly want to experience the thrill of flying, then we recommend going with a flight school that offers a wide range of light aircraft.
There are mainly two categories of light aircraft: flex-wing and fixed-wing. Fixed-wing aircraft are designed for people who want to train for commercial purposes. These aircraft can be thought of as miniaturised versions of larger aircraft. These aircraft feature an enclosed cabin and a traditional fixed-wing design with a single, but powerful engine. These planes also feature a range of flight instruments that pilots can use for various certifications.
Flex-wing aircraft, on the other hand, are one of the most popular types of light aircraft for people who want to pursue aviation as a hobby. These aircraft feature a wing system made using fabric instead of carbon fibre or any other rigid material. This makes the aircraft lighter and nimbler too, but perhaps the biggest benefit of flying flex-wing light aircraft is that some designs also feature an open cabin!
This means that instead of an enclosed cockpit, you are only separated from the environment by a thin windshield. This gives the pilot a jaw-dropping and unobstructed view of their surroundings.
Additionally, this type of light aircraft also offers an arguably superior flying experience since you are connected to the environment and the pilot feels everything, from wind to temperature since they sit out in the open while in the sky!
WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB
Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.
For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran in various types of light aircraft.
The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.
If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.
With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we cater to brand-new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.
Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.
In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.
Call us at 01977 682 674, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us via our online contact form for more information on light aircraft, training requirements, licencing procedures, as well as experience flights and pilot training at Sherburn.