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.
Small-plane designers today love trying out new powerplants, and some of those experiments are big successes, though most fall short of expectations. The Cessna 175 Skylark, introduced soon after the 172 Skyhawk (which, ladies and gentlemen, needs no introduction), wasn’t simply a 172 with a different engine. It was just as Cessna envisioned it—a step-up plane for those wanting more speed, power and hauling ability than a 172 but less than a 182. It was exactly that, too, though it got little love back in the day, mostly because of that engine.
The 175 is actually built to a different type certificate than the 172, a rarity in GA then and now, and its engine, the Continental GO-300, was widely regarded as a failure, for some good and not-so-good reasons. Though for a failure, the 175 did well. Cessna built more than 2,000 of them, around half of which are still flying around somewhere—for some reason, a lot of 175s wound up in Europe.
The “G” in the engine’s designation stands for “geared,” and indeed the GO-300 features a reduction gearbox, allowing the prop to spin at happy-place rpm (2,400 rpm) while allowing the engine to do its reciprocating thing at better than 3,000 rpm, which, along with other design changes, upped the output of the GO-300 to 175, compared to 145 for the O-300 in the 172.
Many pilots, who back in the late ’50s were apparently creatures of habit, couldn’t get their paws around the idea of operating the engine at the recommended, higher-than-usual 3,200 rpm and instead throttled way back to “preserve” the motor, which had exactly the opposite effect, reducing the GO-300’s overhaul interval to even less than the recommended 1,200 hours, compared to the 1,800 hours of the non-GO-300s.
When operated correctly, the engine does pretty much what Continental said it would, and the plane is indeed faster than Skyhawks of the day, and, with its slightly beefier fuselage, it carries more load.
Today, with 180-hp direct-drive engines prevalent, the geared engine is obsolete, though many of them are still flying in 175s through the sheer force of economic necessity.
You can still find great 175 values, as they aren’t highly prized by flight school owners, who want slightly less old Skyhawks with their well-known engines. Still, prices on 175s are heading north, but you can find these birds for around $25,000, which is about half of what most Skyhawks are going for.
For that price, you get a good airplane, though one that has engine costs lurking and that isn’t cheap to maintain, as is the case with most machines that are 60 years old.Photo by Arpingstone