After thinking and reading long and hard about the tele side of things, and given my very modest budget, I've come to the conclusion that the most adequate and realistic option for me would be getting a used 70-300VR, and I've managed to find one at a reasonable price (europe-wise). Next week it will arrive, and I'll be sure to post my impressions once it does.
The other options I had considered were the DX 55-200/55-300 VR, and a second generation 80-200 2.8D (old and used, and even still more expensive than what I'm getting). Price was the ultimate factor, but I was quite hesitant between getting an f2.8 tele, or an f5.6 VR, since the only lens with both is way off limits. In the end, the slow VR won, because although I'm a sucker for wide apertures I know I'll be using this exclusively in daylight and handheld. The weight and confort factor is also very important, for when travelling with the family I am not willing to lug around a brick lens.
As to ultimate image quality... I'm not a pro, and do photography as a personal hobby. This is more a question of getting the pic, rather than getting the perfect pic. Going to 300mm is an added bonus for photographing of aircraft, and active VR should work nicely for shooting aboard helicopters.
I've been saving for some months now just to get this. Maybe in a few years I can afford and justify a 70-200 f2.8 VR... and an FX body... or not.
http://egozarolho.blogspot.com 1. Good content, good aesthetics and good tecnique. On that order. 2. Light is more important than glass and pixels. 3. In the digital photography process, software is as important as gear.