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.
Are you an aviation enthusiast or pilot? Sign up for our newsletter, full of tips, reviews and more!
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.
Okay, so there are two American/Grumman flyers in this 10 cheapest roundup, and while the two-seater deserves a look, the star of this show is arguably the AA-5 series, including the Tiger, a four-seater that’s about as versatile a small plane as you’ll find anywhere. Fun to fly, fast enough, capable and affordable to own, the Tiger is a great first plane or forever plane.
Like many of the planes in this lineup, the production history of the AA-5 (there are AA-5, AA-5A, AA-5B and AG-5B versions) is long, harrowing and not particularly interesting if all you’re looking for is a good used plane, but do know that the later models are better in a number of ways, including having more easily removed cowlings, better ventilation and updated, 24-volt electrical systems. The bad news is, the marketplace understands these distinctions, and later-model AA5’s are fetching a pretty penny.
Like the two-seater, the four-seat Tiger boasts bonded skins, to eliminate lots of rivets and cut down on drag, making it, if not a speedster, then at least a respectable short cross-country flyer. The fighter-style canopy, which works well and seldom has issues, lets a lot of sun in, so it can get the greenhouse effect going. The vents on later models are decent, luckily, but on warm days you might wish you had a/c, which you won’t have. Another common gripe about the canopy is that the plane and everything inside it gets wet when you get in or get out of it in the rain. The best technologies for this shortcoming are old ones, umbrellas and spare towels.
With cruising speeds in the high 130s, the Tiger gets down the road, and this it does with fixed gear and the 180-hp O-360. Remember to use the carb heat when called for. Range is surprisingly good, too, at nearly 700 nm.
You can get a good used Tiger for less than $40,000, which might not sound all that cheap until you consider the alternatives. What plane will give you around 135 knots true, 650+ nautical miles of range, the ability to carry four and a sporty feel for that same price? We’re not coming up with many alternatives, especially when you factor in the reasonable ongoing maintenance costs of the Tiger. That said, the asking prices of many of the planes in this lineup have been creeping up in recent years, so you might have to do a little hunting to find the right plane.Photo by Flickr user Mike Burdett