Top 10 Fastest Single Pilot Aircraft

By Jason Zilberbrand

February 2, 2022 Educational

Single pilot aircraft continues to grow in popularity, and the current market is one of the hottest we have ever seen. One of the most popular questions everyone wants to know is, "What's the fastest single-pilot aircraft out there?" Maximum cruise speed varies between make and model. Therefore, we've compiled a list of the top 10 fastest single-pilot aircraft, both new and classic models, of 2022.

Defining A Single Pilot Aircraft

Because of extreme pilot shortages and the costs associated with supporting more than one pilot, single-pilot-rated aircraft is a growing segment in the industry. Single-pilot operation is all about flexibility and convenience. There may be some drawbacks, including higher insurance premiums, but the savings in single-pilot fixed operating costs should more than offset those premiums.

There have been many single pilot-rated aircraft, but the first to obtain the certification was the Cessna Citation ISP.

The Citation ISP and larger IISP (SP for Single Pilot) were certified for the single-pilot operation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was approved under the small airplane category in 1977.

The maximum takeoff weight being below 12,500 helped determine the rules of certification, but what Cessna accomplished with the ISP was convince the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)that the airplane had a low workload that a single pilot could operate safely. To fly the ISP with a single pilot, you had to have a boom microphone for hands-free communications and a fully functioning autopilot. There were other minor requirements as well.

In the case of the Citation ISP and IISP, the airplane was approved for single-pilot operations, not the pilot. There was only one type rating for the CE500 (Citation 500) that allowed a pilot to fly any of the Citation models at the time, including flying solo or as part of a crew.

The FAA's thinking started to change in the 1980s with a new commuter category. Several turboprops used in commuter flying at the time were bumping up against the 12,500 LB certification limit for small airplanes. It was impractical to modify these airplanes to the more stringent transport category rules to operate at higher takeoff weights, so the commuter category was created. To certify in the commuter category, an airplane has to meet many rules, but, in general, two pilots are required.

An early airplane approved in the commuter category was the Beech King Air 300, with a maximum takeoff weight above 12,500 pounds. Pilots flying the 300 need a type rating because it is in the commuter category, and they must observe balanced field takeoff requirements. But the cockpit and pilot workload of the 300 is virtually identical to the 200 that requires neither a type rating nor a second pilot.

The FAA recognized that the pilot, not the airplane, makes the difference when deciding how many pilots are needed. The answer the FAA came up with to was the single-pilot type rating.

The way an SP rating works is that the aircraft, i.e., King Air 300 series, Citation Jets, Beech Premier 1/1A, Citation Mustang, to name a few, are approved for single-pilot operation. Still, the pilot must have a type rating that qualifies them to fly solo, and the pilot must be trained and checked out under an approved program to earn the single-pilot type rating.

The FAA still begins with the assumption that a jet or airplane weighing more than 12,500 pounds will require a crew of two, and it's up to the manufacturer to demonstrate otherwise. Approval for single-pilot operation is one of the final steps in certifying a new business jet or an airplane in the commuter category.

Many of the requirements for single-pilot operation are apparent. For example, the landing gear handle must be easily reachable from the left seat, which is not always the case in jets. The design of the basic controls is also crucial. For example, it would be almost impossible to get single-pilot approval for a plane with tiller steering for the nosewheel. At essential times during takeoff or landing, the left seat pilot needs one hand for the tiller the other for the throttles, with nothing left for the flight controls. All other controls, switches, and essential items must also be located so a single pilot can easily see and reach them. And the autopilot must be fully and seamlessly integrated into the airplane and its navigation systems. The complete autopilot system must be functional for every flight with only one pilot.

After the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines that a pilot can physically manage the cockpit from the left seat, actual flight testing determines if the airplane will be approved for single-pilot flight.

So now that you know how to fly single-pilot, let's look at some of the faster ones built.

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The Fastest Single Pilot Aircraft In The World

The following is a more detailed list of today's top 10 fastest single-pilot aircraft.

Compare these and more single-pilot aircraft on VREF Online.

1. Citation CJ3+

You can't talk about light jets without discussing Cessna. The CJ3+ is fitted with Garmin G3000 avionics and a new interior, making it a more luxurious option. But the Citation CJ3 and updated CJ3+ are similar in speed and performance. Single-pilot turbine-engine aircraft is equipped with two Williams FJ44-3A engines and can reach a maximum cruise speed of 416 knots.

Manufacturer: Cessna by Textron Aviation

Estimated Price: $8,250,000

2. Citation CJ4

Introducing another contender from Cessna, the Citation CJ4 makes a list with its next-generation design, featuring an extra passenger seat and lengthened cabin. Compared to the CJ3+ 4.78-meter cabin, the Cessna CJ4 offers an interior length of 5.28 meters – there's even room for a two-seater couch. This model can reach a maximum cruise speed of 451 knots, powered by two Williams FJ44-4A engines.

Manufacturer: Cessna by Textron Aviation

Estimated Price: $10,750,000

3. King Air (360, 260 & 250)

Let's look at Beechcraft and highlight a few of its King Air models. We could give each of these models their spot on the list, but they perform very similarly to each other. Aside from differences in design and capacity, the 260 and 250 are equipped with two PT6A-52 engines and can reach a maximum cruise speed of 310 knots. Meanwhile, the King Air 360 has two PT6A-60A engines, which allows it to get a maximum cruise speed of 312 knots.

Manufacturer: Beechcraft by Textron Aviation

Estimated Price (360, 260, and 250): $7,900,000, $7,050,000, and $5,830,000

4. Pilatus PC-12 NGX

Also known as "the world's greatest single," Pilatus' PC-12 NGX is next-level technology and innovation. The PC-12 NGX is powered by a PT6A-67XP engine and has a max cruise speed of 290 knots, and its max speed surpasses that of its predecessor, the PC-12 NG, at 270 knots, equipped with a PT6A-67P engine.

Manufacturer: Pilatus

Estimated Price: $5,443,000

5. Citation M2 Gen 2

Another standout aircraft from Cessna, the Citation M2 Gen 2, is tailored for comfort and tech-savvy individuals. The Gen 2 variation is expected to begin delivery in early 2022. This aircraft comes with a Garmin G3000 flight deck with touch-controlled avionics made for a single pilot. Powered by two Williams FJ44 engines, the Citation M2 Gen 2 reaches a maximum cruise speed of 404 knots.

Manufacturer: Cessna by Textron Aviation

Estimated Price: $5,855,000

6. HondaJet HA-420 & ELITES

You're more likely to think about cars when you hear the name, Honda. But Honda expands its innovative designs and prowess to the aviation industry through its 2018 HA-420 and newest ELITES model, equipped with GE Honda HF120 and GE Honda HF120 engines, respectively. The HA-420 reaches a maximum cruise speed of 420 knots, and the ELITES reaches a max speed of 422 knots.

Manufacturer: Honda Aircraft Company

Estimated Price (HA-420 and ELITES): $3,500,000 and $5,630,000

7. Citation ULTRA

Announced in 1993, the Citation ULTRA received its FAA certification in 1994. The last of its kind, the 1999 ULTRA, ran on two Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5D engines and used Honeywell Primus 1000 EFIS avionics. The 1999 Citation ULTRA reaches a maximum cruise speed of 427 knots. In 1994, the Citation ULTRA was named in Flying Magazine's "Best Business Jet."

Manufacturer: Cessna by Textron Aviation

Estimated Price: $1,470,000

8. Embraer Phenom 300E

Embraer's Phenom 300E has been considered the best-selling light jet for more than nine years. It's also the fastest and longest-range single-pilot jet in production. Created for a better in-flight experience with added comfort and enhanced performance, the Phenom 300E reaches a maximum cruise speed of a whopping 464 knots, powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW535-E engines.

Manufacturer: Embraer

Estimated Price: $9,450,000

9. Citation Encore & Encore+

Cessna brings another single-pilot aircraft into the mix with the Citation Encore and Citation Encore+. While neither of these Citation variations is still in production, their max cruise speed makes it one of the better performers. A 2006 Encore is equipped with two Pratt & Whitney PW535A engines reaching a max speed of 420 knots. The final 2011 Encore+ model has two Pratt & Whitney PW535B engines and reaches a max speed of 420 knots.

Manufacturer: Cessna by Textron Aviation

Estimated Price (Citation Encore and Encore+): $2,415,000 and $3,675,000

10. Premier IA

This particular single-pilot aircraft was created in Beechcraft's Hawker division in 1994, made to compete with the Citation Jet series from Cessna. However, its FAA Type Certificate was not received until 2001. In 2005, Beechcraft unleashed its upgraded Premier IA variation with two Williams FJ44-2A engines with the capability of reaching a max cruise speed of 451 knots.

Manufacturer: Raytheon/‎Hawker Beechcraft

Estimated Price: $1,445,000

All Of The Current Aircraft Data You Need On VREF Online

Looking for more information? You don't have to sift through blogs to find everything you want to know about current and previous single-pilot aircraft. VREF Online allows you to browse thousands of aircraft, compare data, view specs, and so much more.

Keep in mind that a fast aircraft is no doubt plenty of fun. But what's most important is that when you're considering the purchase of an airplane, you buy the plane that fits your specific needs and requirements. Don't forget to get a trusted aircraft appraisal before you buy.

Please take a look at our list and get more intricate details about each aircraft by joining VREF Online.