When they’re looking for a good used plane to buy, many would-be owners gravitate to the best-known models. That makes sense in a way. The chances are good that a model that is well-loved will live up to its billing and deliver a fantastic flying experience. The market is changing, fast, but there are still some bargains to be had, though your wallet will need to be a bit fatter than before to make that purchase.
The crowd favorites are that for a reason. They’re great planes and, hence, wind up selling for more. It’s about as simple a case of supply and demand as you can get. The Cessna 182 Skylane and the Beechcraft Bonanza are two cases in point. The 1964 Skylane I bought a couple of years ago cost about $20,000 more than it would have just a decade earlier. And when a good used Skylane shows up on the market, it doesn’t last for long, and buyers typically get their asking price, or more. Today, that same cream puff Skylane I later sold for $65,000 would fetch even more.
But in the case of the Skylane or Bonanza, there are alternatives that aren’t as popular or as pricey. Sometimes this has to do with speed or utility. Mid-’60s Bonanzas cost a lot more than late-’50s models do, and not just because they’re new but also because they’re faster. For those buyers who are willing to be 10 or 15 knots slower, there are excellent alternatives to the Bonanza, and sometimes that might mean an older Bonanza. Alternatives.
Before you start looking for a plane, it’s important to be clear about what you’re going to use it for. You might want a used Cirrus SR22, but if your most common trips are going to be 400-mile jaunts or less, then you’d probably do just as well with a used, lower-cost and lower-upkeep model like an older Mooney M20 that will get you to your 250 nm destination a little later and with less room but for pennies on the dollar. I could go even further and say that many pilots would be wise to consider a good used two-seater. It’s no secret that pilots who have four- or six-seat birds overwhelmingly fly with a bunch of unoccupied seats. A two-seater, many will find, fits the bill for shorter, fun flights or even for the occasional longer voyage.
There are a few other factors to weigh when you’re narrowing your search terms. First, remember that buying the airplane is only part of the cost of owning a plane. How much fuel it burns and how expensive it will be to maintain are equally important factors to consider.
Another big question is, how readily available are parts? Interestingly, this is not always closely related to how old the plane is; some older planes are easy to get parts for, and some newer models are tough. And consider cost, too.
Finally, the condition of the plane you buy is critical to the purchase decision. If you were to get a plane with unknown or unrevealed problems, you could spend a lot of dough getting it back up to snuff. Engine and prop are a critical part of that calculus. The flip side is, if you’re willing to fly a plane with older paint and a less-than-chic interior, you could save a huge percentage of the purchase price because of factors not directly related to the flyability or mechanical soundness of the plane.
With all that in mind, check out our list of 10 great used planes that are not on everybody’s radar. There are a couple of well-known models that are readily available and cheap to buy, and there are some oddballs you might not have given a second thought to, until you looked more closely. In some cases, those birds can be the Avis Rent-a-Car of used planes, the number-two choice, like a Champ compared to a Cub. Sometimes there’s a lot to love in the path less traveled.
You might find it odd that we’re grouping these two classic Cessna singles, as the 170 is a taildragger and the 172 a tricycle gear plane, but the two share so much in common it’s fair to say that they are two sides of the same coin. The 170 is, of course, the immediate predecessor of the 172. That first tricycle gear plane was little more than a 170 with a nosegear bolted on. Still, despite the similarities, the personalities of the planes are very different.
One is a fun, sporty grass strip time traveler, and the other is a utilitarian jack-of-all-trades that’s equally at home as trainer, IFR platform, short-haul transportation plane or just a weekend fly-thing. Both have their limitations, but for pilots who don’t need more than they offer, it’s hard to beat the value of an all-metal (or in the case of early planes, mostly metal), proven, supremely easy-flying four-seater with great visibility and a heritage that would make any owner proud. Earlier 172s and all 170s came with a Continental six-cylinder engine, the O-300, up until 1968, when Cessna switched to Lycoming power.
Cessna discontinued the 170 in 1956, shortly after the introduction of the 172, which would go on to become the most-produced plane in aviation history with upwards of 50,000 built, mostly in Kansas. The 170 has soldiered on as a beautiful (its rounded vertical tail is pure flying perfection) alternative, one that borders on being an antique but still has a clean, modern look to it that attracted pilots 60-some-odd years ago. And both planes are quite affordable, in part because of their sheer numbers. You can find decent examples of either plane starting at around $27,000, a price that many owners in waiting can afford and that is sure to hold steady or increase in value over time even as you fly them, be it from a remote grass strip or the less-romantic-but-more-convenient paved runway of the local airport.CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr
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