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.
Back in the ’70s, a lot of companies wanted to be in the two-seat trainer market (unlike today, when none of the former Big Three manufacturers offer a two-seater). Piper’s mid-’70s attempt to get in on the purpose-built trainer gold was called the Tomahawk. It looked nothing like any previous Piper, or subsequent one, for that matter, and flew like nothing that came out of Vero then or now.
Looks-wise, the defining feature of the PA-38-112 (the “112” in the designation is for its Lycoming O-235 engine’s horsepower rating) is its T-tail, which adds to its visual appeal while giving it odd, light-at-all-the-wrong-times handling on takeoff and landing. Piper at the time of the Tomahawk’s introduction (late ’70s) was infatuated with T-tails, as the company spread them Oprah-like around its fleet—“You get a T-tail, and you get a T-tail!”
Now, one of the ideas behind the Tomahawk sounds really odd (there’s that word again) to many pilots today: The plane was designed to be harder to recover from a spin than its competitors.
The idea was that it would allow instructors to show students how to get out of a spin better than planes like the 150 and 152, which were far more docile in their spin characteristics. We’ll never know how many spin accidents the “improved” flight handling prevented, keeping pilots safe later on in their flying careers, though “zero” is a fair guess. We do, however, know that it caused numerous fatal spin accidents during that training that was being done to prevent later spin fatalities.
There were, in fact, so many such fatal accidents resulting from spin training gone horribly awry that the FAA looked into it and found that Piper had modified the wing post certification in order to cut weight, which resulted in cutting both weight and stiffness, which accounted, many claim, for the plane’s unpredictable spin behavior. The FAA mandated a fleet-wide AD to add stall strips, which seemed to do the trick. Today the Tomahawk’s safety record is comparable to or slightly better than its competitors.
On to the good stuff, of which there’s plenty.
The Tomahawk is sporty, has great visibility, has a great engine, the O-235, and is kind of cute. It’s not fast, but then again, what two-seat trainer is (yes, the T-38, but besides that one?).
And they’re still cheapish on the used market. You can still find them for less than $20,000, though purchase prices are climbing, possibly due to flight schools looking to get their hands on cheap trainers before they all disappear. So on the upside, if you decide to move your Tomahawk after a couple of years, it’s likely there will be a ready market for it.Wikipedia Public Domain