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.
After we published our previous article on cheap planes we were not surprised to see readers give their suggestions on what we missed. Tops on that list was the Cessna 140.
Developed in the early 1940s, the Cessna 140 and the budget version, designated the 120, were the first in a lineup of mostly-metal (they had fabric-covered metal wings) light planes that would evolve into Cessna’s lineup of entry-level and better single-engine aircraft, some of which are still in production today.
The 140/120 was an immediate hit, and even though the post-war market was saturated with cheap airplanes, Cessna still managed to sell more than 7,500 of them over its five-year production run.
Powered by the Continental C-85 or C-90 of 85-90-hp, the little taildragger had pleasing and docile handling and decent (for a taildragger) landing behavior. The side-by-side seating is cozy, with a cockpit similar in dimensions to that of the 150, which is indeed an outgrowth of the 140. The C-85 and 90 engines, by the way, are cheap to get overhauled compared to other popular light plane engines of the day, and parts are still available through a variety of sources.
Understandably, some consider the Cessna 120 to be the precursor to the 140, but it’s actually just a budget version of the 140, lacking flaps and a rear window. On many existing 120s, all of those options have been added by later owners through the STC process, making the two planes identical for all intents and purposes.
There are lots of 140s still in the fleet, but not many regularly pop up for sale. Their owners love them.
You can find nice 140s on the used market for $25,000 or less. Ones in need of a little love (read: money and time) can be had for $15,000, but that might not be a bargain once you address the plane’s needs.
There are also a number of STCs available for more powerful engines, including up to 150-hp, which make the otherwise laidback 140 a real tiger.Photo by Flickr user Jack Snell