10 Affordable Classics
Great news for pilots! Look at the airplanes you can buy for $30,000 or less!
8 Cessna 172
8Though most pilots think of the Skyhawk as a modern airplane, the basic design dates back to the mid-’50s. Born with a straight tail and fastback fuselage, the first 172s were little more than 170s with a nosewheel. Accordingly, they made do with the earlier model’s 145-hp Continental engine. Climb was listed as 660 fpm, and even that was optimistic. Drag wasn’t much of a concern in those days and, accordingly, early 172s weren’t very quick (108 knots). No one seemed to mind, as the Skyhawk’s combination of economy and utility would make it the most successful civilian airplane the world has ever seen.
Years Produced: 1956-1964
Cruise Speed (kts.): 108-114
Climb Rate (fpm): 660-730
Fuel Burn (gph): 7.3
Useful Load (lbs.): 875-940
9 Piper Cherokee 140
Piper’s mini-four-seater 140 represents one of the newest classics in our survey, a 1964 model exactly 40 years old. In fact, 140s all the way up to 1975 fall within our $30,000 guideline. Cherokee 140s were so easy-flying that some instructors criticized the type as too gentle. Stalls were total non-events in any power/flap configuration, 45 knots at the absolute bottom of the envelope. Cruise was 113 knots with the typical 150-hp engine (don’t ask) and service ceiling was only a little over 14,000 feet. Still, the 140 was one of Piper’s best-selling airplanes and it served as a template for many future models.
Years Produced: 1964
Cruise Speed (kts.): 113
Climb Rate (fpm): 660
Fuel Burn (gph): 7.5
Useful Load (lbs.): 970
10 Cessna 150
The Skyhawk’s little brother, perhaps the world’s most famous trainer, premiered in 1956 and was produced in essentially the same form through 1985 (though with 10 more hp and Lycoming power on later models). The 150 was an elegant little airplane with plenty of wing (157 square feet) that imparted good climb for the horsepower. In cruise mode, 150s managed 100 knots on a good day for those student cross countries. The narrow cockpit accommodated two folks grudgingly, but the delicate Cessna 150 was tougher than it looked, a strong machine to withstand the abuse of fledgling aviators.
Years Produced: 1959-1964
Cruise Speed (kts.): 104
Climb Rate (fpm): 740
Fuel Burn (gph): 5
Useful Load (lbs.): 535
While the following five candidates didn’t make it into our top-10 list of classics, we believe they deserve honorable mention. You’ll note that one is a two-seater, the rest are four-seat retractables and one is a waterbird.
PIPER J-3 CUB. Out of production for more than half a century, it remains a favorite of airplane enthusiasts who prefer basic stick-and-rudder flying. Many of the 14,125 Piper Cubs built since 1947 are still in service and their popularity has kept the resale value high. Sixty-five horsepower gives a 65-knot cruise, but the airplane is so much fun to fly that you can almost feel its tailwheel wagging.
BEECH 35 BONANZA. Walter Beech’s remarkable V-tail airplane was a revelation when it first appeared in 1947. Flying behind 165 continuous horsepower, the four-seat Bonanza outhandled everything else in its class and offered an easy 150 knots cruise, nearly the equal of the contemporary DC-3 airliner. The Bonanza also established a tradition of arguably flawed excellence that was to last for nearly 40 years.
NAVION 225. Believe it or not, the first North American Navions were styled after the P-51 Mustang, complete with a sliding hatch and legendary structural integrity. One slight difference was accommodation for four people. Subsequent models were produced by several other companies—Alon, Janox—and featured more horsepower (as much as 285), comparatively huge cabins and conventional passenger doors, but climb was poor with a full load and cruise rarely exceeded 135 knots.
PIPER COMANCHE 180. Piper’s first entry into the retractable market was the Comanche. The initial offering came in your choice of 180 or 250 hp, and was noted for a big cabin and 140- and 155-knot cruise, respectively. When fitted with the optional 90-gallon tanks, the Comanche 180 sported as much as nine hours’ endurance.
LAKE LA-4. A Lake Amphibian might seem an odd choice as a classic, but the early ’60s LA-4s sell today for less than $40,000. Those first LA-4s weren’t especially fast (110 knots) or roomy, and the back seat was mostly an afterthought, but they were the only airplanes in the four-seat retractable class capable of making more than one water landing.