Plane & Pilot
Thursday, January 1, 2004

10 Affordable Classics

Great news for pilots! Look at the airplanes you can buy for $30,000 or less!

4 Ercoupe 415
Price: $10,000-$13,000

A supposedly unstallable airplane designed by Fred Weick (later to work for Piper on the Cherokee), the Ercoupe represents the ultimate simple approach. There are no rudder pedals (though there are rudders interconnected to the ailerons), the gear and prop are fixed, and there aren’t even any cabin doors. The airplane was actually designed to operate as much like a car as possible. Contrary to the advice of so many instructors, you do steer an Ercoupe on the ground with the yoke and the brake is a single foot pedal. The first 85-hp models offered cruise slightly under 100 knots and climb at only 500 fpm, but stall was virtually nonexistent, a gentle mush toward the ground, making the Ercoupe one of the safest singles.

Years Produced: 1946-1949
Horsepower: 75-85
Cruise speed (kts.): 96
Climb rate (fpm): 550
Seats: 2
Fuel Burn (gph): 4
Useful Load (lbs.): 567

5 Bellanca Cruisemaster
Price: $23,000-$23,500

Guiseppe Bellanca designed some outstanding airplanes and the Cruisemaster was one of the best. A boxy, compact, wood-and-fabric family cruiser, the first Cruisemaster used a Lycoming O-435 for power and the result was a 157-knot cruise, not bad for only 190 hp. (Later versions installed the Cessna 182’s 230-hp Continental O-470.) Unlike the earlier Cruisair that used a manual, bicycle-chain gear system, the Cruisemaster employed hydraulics for retraction. The wood wing was an aerodynamic marvel, imparting a stall speed of only 38 knots, providing the Cruisemaster with one of the best ratios of stall to cruise in the industry.

Years Produced: 1950-1951
Horsepower: 190
Cruise Speed (kts.): 157
Climb Rate (fpm): 1250
Seats: 4
Fuel Burn (gph): 9.5
Useful Load (lbs.): 1025

6 Piper Pacer
Price: $14,500-$16,500

In contrast to the later tri-geared Tri-Pacer (often referred to disparagingly as “The Flying Milkstool”), the earlier, conventional Pacer was generally regarded as a more graceful airplane. Fitted with 115, 125 or 135 hp, the Pacer could hold four in a pinch (literally) or two plus baggage more reasonably. While the Tri-Pacer was sometimes seen as ungainly, the Pacer was considered near the summit of Piper’s conventional-gear art. Even the 125-hp Pacers could race along at 100 knots with a full load, impressive performance for so little horsepower in 1950. Climb was a barely noticeable 500 fpm, but short-field performance was second only to the Super Cub.

Years Produced: 1950-1954
Horsepower: 115-135
Cruise Speed (kts.): 103-109
Climb Rate (fpm): 550-620
Seats: 4
Fuel Burn (gph): 6.3
Useful Load (lbs.): 795-930

7 Luscombe 8F
Price: $20,000

Luscombe’s remarkable little ’40s vintage puddlejumper is, most of all, a joy to fly. In contrast to the nearly glacial control response of many of its competitors, the Luscombe takes to the sky with the enthusiasm of a three-month-old puppy. There’s plenty of adverse yaw to remind you this is an old airplane and you need to keep the rudder pedals moving, and cruise is only about 85 knots (with the 90-hp engine), but few pilots complain in view of the airplane’s happy maneuverability. Best of all, a mere $25,000 usually will buy you a jewel.

Years Produced: 1948-1950
Horsepower: 90
Cruise Speed (kts.): 83
Climb Rate (fpm): 660
Seats: 2
Fuel Burn (gph): 4.5
Useful Load (lbs.): 530


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