If the idea of a cheap airplane sounds too good to be true, we’d agree—it is. At least in most cases. If you want to fly in the flight levels at 180 knots, the term “cheap” isn’t very useful.
But if you have more modest aims for your flying fun, then there are truly some cheap options available, as you’ll see.
As Bob Dylan said about used planes way back when, “…the times they are a’ changin’.” And maybe he wasn’t singing specifically about planes, but the point stands. For the past 40 years, there has been an abundance of used planes, overflow from a time when Wichita et al. were cranking out 10,000-plus planes a year. And since we now know that most planes last if not forever then for a long, long time— longer than a pilot’s flying career, in many instances—that great overabundance kept used prices down. It was win/win/win. You got a cheap, good-quality plane that wasn’t too expensive to keep in flying shape. The advantages of buying used greatly outweighed the negatives and were too great for most of us to pass up.
Two things have happened to change that sight picture. The first is that those older planes aren’t as numerous as they once were. While some are lost to accidents and natural disasters, a large number go away for lack of use. Others become obsolete, and yet others become orphans, with the type certificate owner no longer in business to supply replacement parts.
So with fewer planes on the supply side, higher prices were bound to come and they have. Many models, especially high-performance planes, have increased in value at a rate far exceeding that of inflation. In the past 10 years alone, typical asking prices for many GA singles with bigger engines and constant speed props have doubled in price. Many others are close to that. And with the used fleet shrinking with no end in sight, there’s no mechanism in place to reverse that trend.
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The other thing that’s happening is that there are fewer secrets, fewer great planes that haven’t yet shown up on the radar of prospective buyers. Several of the planes in our lineup here fit that bill, planes that were unwanted or unloved for years but today are getting some attention. We might be partially to blame for spreading the news about these models, but the forces of the marketplace in the age of the internet are unstoppable. If there’s an underappreciated plane out there, the story is going to get out.
Another thing about our new lineup: some of these planes have long had a bad rap, often deservedly so. But as with the Piper Tomahawk, which suffered a spate of spin accidents early in its production life, the cause of the problem was in every case understood and fixed. Not buying a Tomahawk, or any plane, for that matter, because of a problem in its past makes no sense to us. Is it a perfect plane? Even if there were such a thing, the Tomahawk would not be it. But it’s a fun plane to fly, cheap to buy and cheap to own. We think a lot of pilots would be willing to overlook a few flaws for that deal.
So with this as a reminder and without further ado, our lineup of 10 (More) Cheapest Planes In The Sky.
Backwoods taildraggers are all the rage these days as more and more pilots are putting big tires on their taildraggers and heading out to mountain strips and gravel bars far and wide. Consequently, planes that used to go for cheap aren’t anymore. Super Cubs are six-figure airplanes, Maules sell within a week of listing, and even Kitfoxes, the star of the 1980s and early ’90s kitbuilding boom, are hot sellers today. Still, there are a few good old-fashioned tube and rage taildraggers out there that you can still get for pennies on the Super Cub dollar, though that supply is running thin.
After Piper realized that it couldn’t exist forever selling the J-3 Cub, it started making variants. The first of those that got the “PA” designation is the PA-12 Super Cruiser, a three-seat (two side by side in back and one in the front) update to the Cub that you fly solo from the front seat.
The PA-12 came out of Lock Haven a simple airplane, though it did boast a metal spar and a whopping 108-hp Lycoming O-235 four-cylinder engine. Piper built 3,760 of them between 1946 and 1948. Over the years, many of the remaining PA-12s have gotten wing flaps, and more than a few have gotten metal covering, though bush pilots prefer fabric for its light weight and easy repairability.
Super Cruisers are surprisingly plentiful, and while you could pay better than $150,000 for a tricked-out model with big tires and a 180-hp engine conversion, you can still find mostly stock PA-12s for around $30,000, though $40,000 or thereabouts is more likely. They’re easy planes to work on, though as with any plane built in the late ’40s, you need to keep an eye on the metal structures, all of which, like the Super Cruiser’s skin, can be replaced.
Photo by Flickr user Joe Ruscoe