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.
Even if you’re a longtime fixed-wing pilot, it’s possible you’ve never heard of the Flightstar line of ultralight and ultralight-style aircraft, but the company produced a lineup of light-sport planes for a couple of decades that’s among the best regarded in the very-light segment of sport aviation.
You can get Flightstars as single-seaters, true ultralights. In this case, you don’t need a pilot’s license, never mind a medical certificate, to fly it. The two-seat versions are Experimental airplanes, even though they’re built using conventional ultralight materials. The Flightstar IISC is as sophisticated an aluminum tube and sailcloth single-engine sport plane as you’ll find. Its enclosure keeps you out of the wind (largely, at least), and its simple construction and design (no flaps, for instance) means easy flying and reduced maintenance.
Regardless of which class of aircraft they fit into, Flightstars are built with aluminum tubing for the fuselage and wing structures, with the wings covered in sailcloth. These materials help create very, very light aircraft that are largely open to the elements. They are very slow—by law, ultralights can’t exceed 55 knots max straight and level speed, and the Experimental versions aren’t much faster. They also fly in a way, with much adverse yaw and sensitivity to gusts, that some describe as “kitey.”
The Flightstar II is like this to a degree. It’s not fast, and it has less-than-crisp handling characteristics, but because it’s outfitted with double-sided wings (meaning there’s both a top and a bottom surface), it has a stiffer, more responsive and less kitey feel than many comparable ultralight-style aircraft.
The most popular engines for ultralight-type birds are the Rotax lineup of two-cycle engines, which culminated in the Rotax 582, a liquid-cooled, two-stroke 65-hp engine with oil injection that weighs just 110 pounds dry. You can see the attraction. On some Flightstar IIs, you’ll find lower-hp engines, like the Rotax 503, which is less sophisticated but even lighter than the 582.
The Flightstar II comes standard with side-by-side seating with dual controls and three-axis flight controls. There are no flaps, which is okay, because the plane slips beautifully.
Planes like this aren’t for long cross-country flying. They’re slow, have limited range, and there are few creature comforts for the occupants. Instead, they excel at exactly what they were designed to do, go flying low and slow, the way all flying once was and the way, many feel, it’s best done to this day.
Flightstar Sportplanes delivered more than 300 two-place kits and planes over the years, and they do pop up for sale from time to time. Even the nicest ones can be had for around $15,000 with good sailcloth and low time, giving you a low initial investment, low maintenance costs and a sky-high fun factor.Photo by Jack Snell