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.
But the problem is that the crowd favorites 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 earlier this year 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.
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.
If there’s a reason why the Ercoupe doesn’t look all that weird to us, it might be because it’s been around so long, since the mid-1930s, in fact. Over the decades, it was in off-and-on production by at least five different companies, including Mooney, which made a single-straight-tailed version of the Ercoupe, the M-10. Overall, more than 5,500 of the planes were produced. (We’ll refer to them all as Ercoupes here.) Any way you look at it, the Ercoupe was an odd bird. Created by the legendary Fred Weick, the plane was designed to be hard to stall and easy to fly, and to land.
The plane is all-metal, tricycle gear and, unusually, features two-axis control, so there’s just pitch and roll. So no worry about the rudders, because there aren’t any. This means you can’t slip it like you can a conventional-control bird, but they’re still surprisingly easy to land even in a slight crosswind. Many later Ercoupes do have rudder control, and as with many models, the Ercoupe got more power over the years, up to 90-hp, which helped its meager performance become modest.
With a cruise speed of around 90 mph, the 'Coupe isn’t fast, but it is pleasant to fly. Though there isn’t a lot of shoulder room in its narrow cockpit, you can slide the canopy back in flight and enjoy the breeze. This feature might sound quaint, but many owners love having their very own flying convertible. While Ercoupes have started creeping up in price, you can still get a nice one for $18,000 or less.CC BY 2.0/Flickr
If you enjoyed reading about some of the cheapest planes available, try these next:
Interested in regular updates from Plane & Pilot?
Sign up for our free newsletter to receive aircraft news, product information, pilot talk and more.