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Bush planes are one of the most unique types of planes out there, designed to go places no other planes can go. What are the different types of bush planes?
Different types of bush planes are better than others depending on the situation. The best bush planes in the world today are the Piper PA-18 Super Cub, Cessna 206H Stationair, Cessna 208 Caravan, Kitfox Series 7, Zenith STOL CH750, Rams S21 Outbound, and the Aeroprakt A-22 Foxbat.
If you’ve ever flown a bush plane or if you’re starting to get some interest in flying in the bush, this is the article for you. You might have a general idea of what a bush plane is (or maybe you’re brand new to the field), but many people don’t know about the different types of bush planes available. As you’re looking to learn more about bush planes and being a bush pilot, consider this your one-stop shop for all you need to know!
At SkyTough, we pride ourselves on providing our readers with the most accurate and most informative content on the web. To ensure everything you read in this article is accurate, we’ve combined our own extensive knowledge in the aviation industry with opinions and discussions with other pilots (including bush plane pilots!). So rest assured knowing that these are the main types of bush planes you’ll find out there.
What Is A Bush Plane?
Bush planes are planes that are capable of handling terrain that other planes cannot operate in. These planes are some of the most versatile in the world and are the only ways to reach certain remote areas across the planet. Be it rough land, water, or even snow and ice, bush planes can handle the terrain and transport passengers and cargo like nothing else can.
If you’re interested in becoming a bush pilot, then you probably want to know as much as possible about bush planes. For more general information on what a bush plane is, check out our full article on the topic here. But for in-depth details about the different types of bush planes and to learn about some of the best models out there, read on!
What Are The Different Types Of Bush Planes?
For all intents and purposes, there are two major types of bush planes — ultralights and experimental. But further within these two broad categories of bush planes, the most telling factors that differ between bush planes are the passenger capacities (and seating configurations) and the wheel configurations (and tire types).
So let’s dig into each of these four categories in just a bit more detail.
Ultralights (Commercially Produced)
Ultralights typically refer to a specific type of aircraft that meet certain speed and weight criteria. But in the case of bush planes, this typically is just a quick way of saying they are commercially produced (i.e. built in a factory). These are the bush planes that you’ll see being produced and sold by some of the major names in the aviation industry.
These will include some of the major players in the game, such as Cessna and Piper with their wildly popular planes. But this also includes companies that produce specifically bush planes, such as Pilatus and Aeroproto name a couple. Since these types of planes are often just sold as-is and then modified into a bush plane, you can get your hands on some of these for a pretty good price!
Experimental (Kit Built)
Trust me, I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would you ever want to buy — much less fly — an experimental aircraft? But don’t worry, experimental bush planes are not actually experimental aircraft in the normal sense of the word. So you won’t be out there flying your own prototype that nobody really knows whether or not will be able to actually fly successfully or not.
Of course not! In the field of bush planes, experimental simply refers to the fact that they are built from a kit. Just like kit cars (such as the ones from Factory Five Racing), you buy a kit for experimental bush planes and then build them yourself or pay someone else to build it. Since you’re handling the build process yourself rather than buying the plane ready to fly, they’re referred to as experimental.
Landing Gear Types
Arguably the single biggest component of one bush plane that makes it different from another is the type of landing gear that the plane has. Since bush planes are designed to operate, fly, and land in areas of the world that standard airplanes cannot, the landing gear needs to be able to handle the difficult terrain. And that’s why bush planes come with all different kinds.
For most bush planes, the type of landing gear you’ll see most commonly is tundra tires. These tundra tires are large and low-pressure, which enables the planes to handle far rougher terrain than standard landing gear tires. The lower pressure provides greater cushioning and the large diameter helps the plane to be able to handle gravel, rocks, dirt, and other forms of terrain.
Other types of bush planes will have special landing gear instead of wheels and tires that are more suitable for the specific conditions they fly in. Bush planes that land on water will typically have floats instead of tires. For those that operate in the snow and ice, large skis are fixed to the bottom of the plane instead. In all, landing gear is the most telling difference from one bush plane to another.
Passenger Capacity and Seating Configurations
One of the other biggest delineations between different types of bush planes is the seating configurations and how many people can fly. For many of you, you might be completely happy with a plane that carries nobody but you as a single pilot just flying for recreational purposes. Or maybe you’re planning on becoming a commercial pilot that flies bigger bush planes loaded up with passengers.
Whichever camp you fall into, or anywhere in between, there will be a bush plane out there that fits your needs. Recall that many bush planes are just other types of planes that have been modified to fly in the bush. While you won’t see commercial aircraft like a Boeing 737 used as a bush plane, you’ll find ones capable of carrying up to nine passengers (plus a pilot), if not even bigger.
Furthermore, bush planes can have all sorts of seating configurations to help you decide which one is best for you. Two-seater bush planes, like many of those listed below, can have either tandem seating (front seat and back seat) or side-by-side seating. Then as planes get larger and carry more people, you can have multiple rows of varying amounts of seats.
What Are The Best Bush Planes
Now that you have a bit of an idea about what bush planes are the different types, let’s get into the good stuff. Here are some of the best bush planes out there that you can get your hands on and take on some of the aviation world’s toughest terrain. I’ll separate these planes into being either commercially produced (ultralights) or being built from a kit (experimental).
Piper PA-18 Super Cub
Without a doubt the most popular bush plane in the world today is the Piper PA-18 Super Cub. The Super Cub has been modified and released with so many different versions and variations that there is almost no terrain that this amazing plane can’t handle. That said, it’s one of the many two-seater bush planes out there, so you won’t be able to handle too much cargo or use it for commercial reasons to make money.
One of the best perks about the PA-18 Super Cub is that it comes with the ability to take off and land with just 350 ft of space. This makes it capable of getting into and out of some of the most remote areas in the world that other planes simply can’t handle. With it’s smaller size compared to some planes, the Super Cub has an empty weight of just 930 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 1,750.
The PA-18 comes with a 150-hp Lycoming O-320 engine which propels the plane through the sky at a cruising speed of 130 mph. The small engine allows the plane to climb at a rate of 930 feet per minute and has a stall speed of 43 mph. With its 36-gallon fuel tank, the Super Cub can travel 460 miles between fill-ups.
Due to its popularity and demand, price remains somewhat high for the Super Cub, even in the used market. According to this survey, the average price for one is over $170,000 with the lowest-priced PA-18 coming in at $83,902. So you can certainly find a deal on one of these planes, but you should also expect to pay six figures when you start your search for your own PA-18.
Cessna 206H Stationair
As arguably the biggest name in personal aircraft ownership in the world, Cessna makes multiple appearances in this guide, starting first with the Cessna 206H Stationair. While the Cessna 205, Cessna 206, and Cessna 207 are all in the same family of planes and are just different versions of each other, I’ll focus specifically on the 206H Stationair here. But the general specs and description of this plane can be attributed to the other listed models as well.
As a middle-ground between the two-seater bush planes (like the PA-18 Super Cub above) and massive bush planes (like the Cessna 208 Caravan below), the 206H is capable of carrying six passengers and one pilot. This utility bush plane is the perfect way to transport passengers and/or cargo without having to shell out the big prices for something like the Caravan.
The 206H Stationair weighs in at 2,176 pounds empty and can handle an MTOW of 3,600 pounds. With the 300-hp Lycoming IO-540-AC1A engine, the 206H cruises at 163 mph with a stall speed of 63 mph. This plane can climb at a rate of 988 feet per minute and has a range of a whopping 840 miles thanks to the large fuel tank.
While this plane is cheaper than something much bigger, it will still set you back a decent amount to pick one up. On average in the used market, you should expect to pay around $350,000 or so to get your hands on one of these. So make sure you have a good business model in place to get your money back!
Cessna 208 Caravan
Remember up above when I mentioned bush planes that can carry up to nine passengers plus a single pilot? The single-engine turboprop Cessna 208 Caravan is one such plane and, in my opinion, is the best large-scale bush plane on the market. Newer C208 models come with a fully glass cockpit and an onboard GPS system to allow for the best visibility in the sky and to make navigation a breeze.
Designed to carry either passengers or cargo, the C208 can be built with standard seats or the fuselage can be left open and use a massive cargo space. Some of them actually come with the ability to carry both cargo and passengers, thanks to fewer seats, cargo space under the belly and a cargo hatch on the left side of the plane. This cargo hatch can also be converted into a roll-up door, enabling some of these planes to be used for skydiving purposes.
Due to its massive size and capabilities, the Cessna 208 Caravan sits at a staggering 4,730 pounds empty and is capable of carrying 8,785 pounds total. In addition, the Caravan can carry a maximum of 340 cubic feet worth of cargo. To power this behemoth, the C208 comes with a Pratt & Whitney PT6A engine, bolstering an impressive 867 horsepower. This powers the plane up to a cruising speed of 214 mph with a climb rate of 1,234 feet per minute.
To get your hands on one of these incredible bush planes, you’ll need to pay a pretty penny. New models cost more than $2.1 million to buy from the manufacturer. That said, you can get an older model (such as one from the 1980s) for about $450,000 - $500,000.
Kitfox Series 7
If you’re interested in an Experimental bush plane — meaning it’s built from a kit rather than being commercially produced — then the Kitfox Series 7 is the right plane for you. Like most kit bush planes (and even most bush planes in general), the Kitfox Series 7 is made using a steel tubing frame and uses a fabric fuselage and wing design.
As is the case with many bush planes, the Series 7 also comes with Alaskan bushwheels to take more abuse and allow you to operate in rougher terrain. And to top it all off, the Series 7 also has foldable wings to make storage significantly cheaper. So no need to have an expensive hangar rental space for this bush plane. It’s small size and foldable wings makes it easier to store in more conventional garage spaces.
With multiple wing configurations available (offering both STI and standard configurations) as well as a few different engine and wheel choices to choose from, your Series 7 will be able to fly at around 90 to 115 mph. With an empty weight of around 660 pounds and maximum takeoff weight of just over 1,300 pounds, the Series 7 can climb at around 1,000 to 1,800 feet per minute.
If you want to build it yourself, you can expect to spend roughly 1,000 hours on putting the kit together at a cost of about $115,000 or so, depending on the options. To save yourself the time and effort of building it yourself, you can buy a factory-built option for about $220,000 or so. So get your pocketbook out if you’re interested in a Series 7!
Zenith STOL CH750
One of the other best kit bush planes available (besides my personal favorite, the Series 7 above) is the STOL CH750 from Zenith Aircraft. As the name implies, the STOL CH750 is designed for Short Take Off and Landing (STOL). Just like many of the other bush planes on this list, STOL aircraft are ideal for bush pilots that want to take advantage of the much more condensed runways and landing zones typically encountered while bush flying.
The CH750 is the successor of the wildly popular CH701 from Zenith and builds upon many of the great features that made the CH701 such a fan-favorite. With its all aluminum construction, the CH750 weighs in at about 770 pounds empty and carries a MTOW of about 1,320 pounds. So you can effectively carry about 550 pounds or so in this bush plane (including yourself!).
Much like what you’ll find standard on many bush planes, the CH750 uses rugged tundra tires to take on the toughest terrain. The wings also use leading edge slats to ensure better performance at low speeds. These slats help to, in part, reduce the stall speed to about 35 mph, allowing you to fly at lower speeds without risk of stalling.
With its Rotax 912ULS engine, the CH750 has a cruising speed of about 90 mph and will climb at around 1,000 fpm after taking off. And with a cabin width of over 40 inches, there’s plenty of room to stay comfortable. More affordable than the Series 7 from above, you can expect to pay around $100,000 to get your hands on a Zenith CH750 today.
Rans S21 Outbound
If you want to get your hands on the fastest experimental bush plane on this list, then the S21 Outbound from Rans is the kit bush plane for you. With its all-metal construction, the S21 Outbound weighs in at a whopping 960 pounds empty. But thanks to the powerful engine options (140-hp Rotax 915iS or 180-hp Titan x340), this behemoth is capable of flying at cruising speeds of around 145 to 155 mph.
Not only does the plane fly faster than the other thanks to the powerful engines, but it’s also capable of handling a MTOW of over 1,800 pounds, with a useful carrying capacity of nearly 850 pounds. Even with all this weight, the S21 Outbound is capable of climbing at around 1,400 to 1,500 feet per minute. So not only does it fly at high speeds, it gets you to cruising altitude quickly.
Like everything else on this bush plane, the gas tank is extra large and carries a whopping 50 gallons of fuel, enabling you to travel about 930 miles on a single tank of gas. This gives you the ability to fly for about 6 to 7 hours without needing to land a refuel. So you can fly around in your S21 Outbound all day with no trouble!
When you start looking to purchase the S21 Outbound kit, you might be surprised to see that it starts at just about $40,000. That’s relatively affordable, right? Heck yeah it is! Unfortunately, that base kit does not include the engine or any of the instruments. To build a complete S21 Outbound that’s ready to take to the skies, you can expect to pay closer to $130,000 to $140,000 and spend roughly 500 hours building it.
Aeroprakt A-22 Foxbat
Last, but certainly not least, we’ll round out our bush plane guide with the incredibly popular A-22 Foxbat from Aeroprakt. Produced in Ukraine, and with options to buy it as either factory-built or in a kit, the Foxbat is sort of a combination of the Zenith CH750 and Kitfox Series 7 above. This is because it has an aluminum fuselage like the Ch750 while sporting fabric-covered wings like the popular Series 7.
This combination of construction materials leads to an empty weight of just 575 pounds and a MTOW of 992 pounds. Powered by either an 80-hp Rotax 912UL or the more powerful 100-hp Rotax 912ULS that you’ve seen in a few of these kit planes, the Foxbat has a cruising speed of around 100 mph or so, depending on the choice of engine. With a climbing rate of just under 1,000 feet per minute, it climbs a bit slower than most of the other options here but it gets you there eventually!
One of the best aspects of the Foxbat that has helped its popularity immensely is the visual design. The small cabin is mostly surrounded by windows all around, giving panoramic views that you won’t find in many planes. And the long, narrow section of the fuselage connecting the tails to the cabin gives the Foxbat a unique look that fans absolutely love.
While its aesthetics has certainly helped to garner some attention from around the globe — especially in the United Kingdom and Australia — the Foxbat’s price is another reason that it has become so popular. In the kit form that you build yourself, you can find a Foxbat for around $65,000. Even if you would rather buy a turnkey version that’s ready to fly, you’ll only need to shell out around $115,000. For a brand new, ready to fly bush plane, that’s a great price!