The search for the perfect plane is as old as personal flying itself. The difference between today and 1930, to use a random year as an example, is that instead of being limited to a handful of models, there are choices galore for pilots looking to get into a good pair of wings.
A surge in flying and airplane building throughout most of the 1960s and 1970s is largely to thank for the tremendous supply of good used airplanes, as is the fact that airplanes, unlike many hard goods, can be fixed and updated much the same as houses can. Examples of perfectly restored planes from 1903 to present around the world are proof that good airplanes don’t fade away if there’s someone willing to put the effort and investment into fixing them up.
That one word, “investment,” is key here. We know that pilots have different budgets and different needs, and since it’s impossible to catalog every model, we decided to offer a greatest hits of used planes running the gamut from an entry-level choice at $20,000 to a million-dollar dream ride. We know we’ll get a lot of emails from our readers pointing out that we missed an obvious choice for one niche or the other, and we welcome it all. Please tell us what favorite used model you think we should have included and why.
For those pilots just looking to get into ownership, this is a great place to start.
Super Cubs are special to me, as my first flight in an airplane back in the last century was in a Super Cub on skis, though it would hardly qualify as “super” by today’s standards. The one-hour search-and-rescue mission was in a basic J-3 Cub in Alaska when I was 13, and the engine recently had been upgraded from the stock 65 hp Continental to an 85 hp mill.
The Cub began life as a do-everything utility aircraft—bush flying, flight training, crop-dusting, pipeline patrol, animal control and a variety of other tasks fit the Super Cub perfectly.
Those early Cubs employed the USA35B airfoil, and today’s pseudo-PA-18s continue with the same wing. The tube-and-fabric Cub may seem an anachronism, but if it’s a dated design, it hardly needs any updating.
Piper Super Cubs made the switch to 150 hp in the late 1950s, and as you might imagine, the transformation in performance was dramatic. Abbreviated takeoffs were outstanding. The extra power was just what the PA-18 needed for bush operation, allowing a Cub to levitate off virtually any hard surface in less than 200 feet, and the 37-knot stall speed allowed PA-18s to land in half that. The bigger engine was especially useful for leaping out of high mountain strips or for float flying out of short stretches of river or small lakes.
Cubs offered transport for two humans, one pilot and a pair of Huskies or a pilot and as many supplies as could be crammed into the back portal.
Despite the airplane’s obvious utility value, Piper had long since stopped producing any other wood-and-tube-and-fabric airplane by 1994, and the company finally discontinued production of the Cub. Shortly thereafter, CubCrafters of Yakima, Washington, long a provider of spare parts for the PA-18, assumed responsibility for construction of new Cubs under license from Piper. CubCrafters was awarded its own type certificate in 2004 and continues building the popular bush bird.
Those who claim nostalgia isn’t what it used to be need look no further than the continuing popularity of the basic Cub design for proof to the contrary.Price: 1960 – $51,500; 1994 – $95,000