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.
The Stinson 108, built by Stinson Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1950, is a secret hiding in plain sight. Stinson built more than 5,000 of the planes, but it has what is largely a niche following. That could be because of what some describe as ungainly looks.
A fabric-covered, steel-tube fuselage taildragger, the four-seat 108 can cruise at better than 110 mph and can operate comfortably from unimproved strips, though its short-field performance with the stock Franklin 165-hp engine isn’t as sprightly as some of its competitors. Still, the 108 packs an impressive useful load of 1,100 pounds, and it has proven a popular plane among float and ski operators in the bush, with many remarking how much better-looking the 108 is when it’s airborne or on skis or floats.
Many 108s have been modified with larger or non-Franklin engines, and a good number have been “metalized” with sheet metal instead of fabric over the original tube-built fuselage. With its ability to carry four FAA-sized passengers, full fuel and a good amount of cargo on top of that, the 108 arguably competes with the Cessna 182 and Piper 235, two planes that are popular and command much higher prices than the 108.
Both are faster by at least 15 knots, but neither can boast a wood paneling interior, popularized on the most iconic model of the 108, the “Flying Station Wagon.” And all of the 108’s competitors cost a lot more. You can find nice 108s for anywhere from between around $28,000 up through around $38,000, and many of these planes have been not only updated but also taken care of like the prizes they are.Photo by D. Miller - CC BY 2.0/Flickr
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