Going Direct: 5 Reasons It’s Crazy To Buy An Old Plane

There are five reasons only because I ran out of room for the other 95.

As many of you know, I own an old plane. A senior citizen. A bucket of bolts. A golden oldie. The flying jalopy in question is a 1964 Cessna Skylane, which I bought last February. It’s 53 years old, which is five years younger than me, which still makes it an antique. Which leads to the question that a saner person than I would have asked before he bought the plane and not afterward: was I crazy to buy an old plane?

The best answer, as is too frequently the case in aviation and in life is: maybe. With all that nothing said, here are the five big reasons why my decision was such a dubious one and, hence, why I’m an idiot.

  1. An older plane is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma wrapped inside an aluminum monocoque fuselage. And that’s the truth. As good as our best efforts at due diligence are, there are things that we’ll miss and there are things that will surprise us. I wasn’t surprised, for instance, that the plane’s radios were ancient treasures (and as such, probably should have buried somewhere long ago). I was surprised, however, that two of them stopped working within two weeks of my getting the plane home. It’s not cheap to replace a radio and it’s not easy to…
  2. …fix old radios. That’s the problem with mechanical products, not that they weren’t good when they were built but that they don’t last forever, and seeing that products are made of parts, and that it’s those very parts that are the things that don’t last forever, we’re looking at the need to get new parts for a very old thing. Well, because of the way commerce and technology intersect, the company that made my old flip flop digital display nav/comm, Bendix/King, hasn’t made that same product for decades. And they haven’t supplied parts for it for almost as long. And if they did still have parts for it, well, you’d probably be better off buying a new one or a decent older one instead of trying to fix it. Which is exactly what I did because...
  3. .  . . upgrades to old airplanes will often cost more than the airplane is worth. And such is the case with putting what I really want into the plane. That is, a new flat-panel avionics system. The most likely candidate for this is the Garmin G500, which will set me back something close to $30,000. The Aspen Evolution Flight Display is nice and relative bargain, but then I’d need a new multifunction navigator, which would set me back between $15K and $20K installed. Which is why I haven’t upgraded the single-axis STEC System 20 autopilot in the plane yet, either. And don’t even get me started about engines and props. Not only that but...
  4. .  .  . sometimes you can’t even get the parts you need for your plane. Case in point, I tried to get some new interior panels for my Skylane at Oshkosh this year...out of luck, I was told. The folks who make replacement panels for my vintage 182 don’t make those panels for my vintage 182. I can send my used ones to them, and when they get around to it, they’ll make some new ones using my old ones as a guide… I’m just glad I didn’t need a new step for my plane because...
  5. . . . some guy on the 182 Facebook Group needs a new step for his old 182. He asked, in fact, if anybody in the group had one, and it took all my willpower not to answer, yeah, we all have two of them and, no, you can’t have mine. I haven’t looked into how much Cessna might charge for a step for a 1964 Skylane, or if they even have them, but I’m not sure I’d want to know even if they did. Heaven forbid I needed a new flap or tail. Because I do know that Cessna has those in stock and I do know how much they want for them. So I’m extra careful with my flaps and my tail.

All that said, there are reasons for people to buy older airplanes, a lot of really great reasons, reasons that easily overshadow all of the “con” viewpoints presented above. And don’t say it’s because we’re cheap. That would be a low blow. The reason why older airplanes make so much sense is...

  1. . . . because we’re cheap and can’t afford to buy a new one. Oh, we’ll tell ourselves there are a hundred reasons why we love our older airplanes better than a brand new one, how they’re beautiful and better than the new ones in a number of ways and that they have an air of experience and history about them that make them something special and cause us to fall hopelessly in love with them, and here’s the big secret behind that story….It’s all true.

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11 thoughts on “Going Direct: 5 Reasons It’s Crazy To Buy An Old Plane

  1. After owning a few antique planes, a 1946 and a couple of 1968’s I switched over to Light sport, fly a 11 year old plane with a glass panel.
    It works for me. By the way 5 gallons per hour, and I can use auto gas. My 74 skyline burned 13gph.
    Dave
    N601XP

  2. Quit your whining! Older planes are still a bargin vs new! The best route to fly is experimental airframe with a certified engine! A 182 is no problem to find used parts, be glad you don’t have a Stinson!

  3. Buying an older airplane is very similar to buying back your first car. There is anticipation in the search, tension in the negotiation and pure joy as you transport it home. Then reality sets in!
    Parts are readily available for the more popular classic cars but my first car was a 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 2 door hardtop with Corinthian white exterior and a beautiful green interior. Today it sports a faded blue exterior and a multi-colored interior.
    The search began for the necessary items to bring it back to the pristine beauty of its youth and the journey is filled with dead ends, eye-popping prices for used parts that are only slightly better than the one on the car and I began to find that I am not qualified to do much of the work required.
    The finished car is a thing of beauty but that $2,822.00 sticker price has now blossomed ten fold and I probably would have a difficult time recovering my total investment, but I do have a very cool feeling cruising along on Saturday night.
    Now I am looking at a 1968 Cherokee 235 and my wife continues to wave the receipts from the Galaxie in my face while she quitely mutters “reality check, reality check”.

  4. Yes, we all would love to have shiny new airplanes, but in reality how many people can drop $765,000 on a new Cessna 182. I am retired living on a pension, I fly an old 1975 Citabria, It has a new interior, and updated radios, engine was overhauled 9 years ago. But it has the original wood spars, and original fabric!! I don’t have the money to recover and paint the plane. I will probably fly it another year or two, then I will sell it on barnstormers, such is the sad state of general aviation today. It is just getting to expensive for most people.

  5. Ok, I expect to receive a check in the mail soon for that new airplane I should buy. Is there a limit? Or, is a Lear Jet out of the question?

  6. Your arguments aren’t a function of older aircraft themselves, look at antique cars to see how a vibrant aftermarket can keep really ancient vehicles on the road. The problem is the rules for maintaining and repairing old aircraft. In the experimental world, new or replacement parts are fabricated constantly, and you don’t read stories of accidents due to parts failures. Glass panels, ADS-B, auto pilots, auto fuel use, fuel injection and electronic ignition upgrades are comparatively easy for amateur built aircraft, with few bad outcomes. So, the only real reason old aircraft are problematic is that the rules prevent owners from alternative solutions that are proven in the experimental world. Add in tort reform so there are reasonable limits to liability for responsible parts and equipment suppliers, and you’d see a huge shift in upgrading an aging fleet, which might drive down the cost of new aircraft.

  7. I understand what you are saying, I was convinced at some point 2 engines are better than 1, so I am a proud owner of a beech travel-air, 1960 model. Actually I bought into it with my father. We gave about 48,000 for it and probably have sunk at least that much in it with garmin 430 waas nav/comm, and countless other maintenance issues, and guess what it is worth? About 40-50 !!!! Oh well on the plus side I obtained my multi-engine and instrument rating, and dad hardly ever flies, so wheels up!!!

  8. Yep, old planes and old cars, and no practical, cost effective, productive, blah blah reason to own them… except for the smile when that engine fires off…

  9. Well stated and fun article to read! One would be well versed and having a very qualified mechanic take a look at the entire plane before purchasing. Even if it cost $1,000 it would be cheaper than winding up with one that needs lots of expensive upgrades to stay current.

  10. I purchased my first plane a few years ago. What I could afford was a 1968 Cherokee 235. This aircraft has been amazing for me! When shopping around I chose to go with mechanical soundness over visually pleasing. That being said, I ended up with an aircraft that only had 2400 total time and about 300 hours on a factory rebuild. Very solid! The trade off – the paint job sucks!!!! But that’s okay, paint is not what keep it in the air. Im all for older aircraft.

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