When I said "standards" I meant essentially what you're looking for. And let me see if I can simplify the lingo down the best I can, forgive me if I fail or seem condescending because of it.
Well, first thing's first, I'll answer your last inquiry by saying I don't know. I don't know much about lighter-than-air travel. I know that most blimps have an operating cost about about $3,000 an hour. I know next to nothing about hot-air balloons, sadly. Sorry, man.
When it comes to over all operating costs, it's hard to beat the Autogyro. I can't give any real exact numbers, my expertise is with mostly fixed wing. Their advantages are:
-Extremely short take off distance. A lot of the higher end gyros power their main rotors for a take off hop and performance comparable to a helicopter.
-Fuel efficiency. They don't need a lot of power to get aloft.
-Safety. Lose the engine and you're already in auto rotation. You should try and keep your RPM at the same speed you usually land and you touch down like normal.
-Compact. You can trailer an Autogyro and stow it in garage.
-Durability. You really need to watch those fabric wings on an ultralight or the chute of a powered chute. Autogyros obviously lack those frail components, so last much long.
The biggest downside to the Gyro is the simple fact that it's not the best working vehicle. You really can't go far with it, either. Most are made to be simply toys.
Now, since you expressed interest in general aviation, I can defer some wisdom to you, as well. Gonna be blunt to begin with: No such thing as a cheap helicopter. The Mosquito is about as close as it gets
http://www.innovator.mosquito.net.nz/mbbs2/index.asp Here's it's website.
As for airplanes, go here for the PDF:
And, really, the best thing to do would be to find a local airport and call them to see if they have a flight instructor and he'd be more than happy to explain to you what you need to do in order to obtain the proper licensing. Instructors are more than just people that are here to teach you how to fly and then cut you loose; we're here to help. Which, brings me to your next question of suggesting models. Price depends a lot on the avionics, time on the engine, time on the airframe, and condition. If you're thinking about buying your first airplane, I can't stress this enough but get your most experienced flight instructor to come with you. He will tell you if it's a good buy or not. I'll give you some expected prices, though. And, think of an airplane more like a house than a car. They can appreciate in value if taken care of well. They will last for decades upon decades as they don't get subjected to much abuse during operation.
The most economic production aircraft for the guy that wants a reliable and safe flight that I can think of are:
-Cessna 150/152. Two seat high-wing Cessna powered by either a 100hp or 110hp engine respectively. It's a very VERY popular airplane that will have lots of after market parts and such. Expect to spend between $15,000-$30,000 on one.
-Cessna 172. This IS the ubiquitous Cessna. 43,000 manufactured and still counting. About 80% of my hours are in 172s. They have a fantastic safety record and seat up to 4. If you're proficient, you can get them down to about 7 gallons per hour in fuel burn. Expect to pay $25,000-$50,000.
There is a good alternative to the 172 and it's the:
-Piper Cherokee. It's very similar to the 172, usually same sized power plants, but this one's a low wing. However, it doesn't enjoy the popularity and demand of the 172, so you see them for between $15,000-$30,000. It is, in my opinion, the best value aircraft you can get.
One last one I can think of is:
-Alon Ercoupe. They're small, they're cheap to fly, and surprisingly fun. They have this very warbird-ish feel to them. That's a plus for me, cause I'm a warbird guy. Good ones I've seen range between $15,000-$28,000.
The model years to look for are from mid 60's to late 70's on all of these. These are some fairly generalized recommendations, though. Aviation markets are microcosms, with different makers and models being more accessible in different regions. You'll get a feel for what is and isn't while you learn.
Some other random bits I can give are:
-If you see an airplane with low over all time on it's engine and it's only a few thousand more, it might be a better idea to go for that.
-Clean your airplane. People that give annual inspections have to do this anyways, so you can shave some serious cash off of your costs if you do this simple thing.
-HANGAR. Yeah, you can save lots of money by not hangaring and tying down, but do you REALLY want to subject your investment to the elements? So, with that in mind:
-BIG hangar. Don't feel shy about getting a nice big hangar. It can actually turn out cheaper than a small one. Why? Simple! Hangarmates! You're going to meet people and make friends when you get a license, so splitting the costs with someone else and sharing a hangar is definitely an option.
-Keep a nice flight bag with the following items
*First aid kit
*Swiss Army Knife or some other similar survival utensil
I like to also keep a small portable stove and a lighter just in case.
-Avoid bigger airports. Really, there's no reason to be flying out of major fields. A lot of them have insane disembarkation fees and very high hangar costs. In addition to that, fuel prices will also be much higher.
And there's still one more option: Rent. Renting a little Cessna 150 from a local school shouldn't come out to more than $80 an hour.
So, I hope I helped. If something still needs to be answered, please tell me, I'll do my best to answer it!