When they’re looking for a good used plane to buy, many would-be owners gravitate to the best-known models. That makes sense in a way. The chances are good that a model that is well-loved will live up to its billing and deliver a fantastic flying experience.
But the problem is that the crowd favorites wind up selling for more. It’s about as simple a case of supply and demand as you can get. The Cessna 182 Skylane and the Beechcraft Bonanza are two cases in point. The 1964 Skylane I bought earlier this year cost about $20,000 more than it would have just a decade earlier. And when a good used Skylane shows up on the market, it doesn’t last for long, and buyers typically get their asking price, or more.
But in the case of the Skylane or Bonanza, there are alternatives that aren’t as popular or as pricey. Sometimes this has to do with speed or utility. Mid-’60s Bonanzas cost a lot more than late-’50s models do, and not just because they’re new but also because they’re faster. For those buyers who are willing to be 10 or 15 knots slower, there are excellent alternatives to the Bonanza, and sometimes that might mean an older Bonanza. Alternatives.
Before you start looking for a plane, it’s important to be clear about what you’re going to use it for. You might want a used Cirrus SR22, but if your most common trips are going to be 400-mile jaunts or less, then you’d probably do just as well with a used, lower-cost and lower-upkeep model like an older Mooney M20 that will get you to your 250 nm destination a little later and with less room but for pennies on the dollar. I could go even further and say that many pilots would be wise to consider a good used two-seater. It’s no secret that pilots who have four- or six-seat birds overwhelmingly fly with a bunch of unoccupied seats. A two-seater, many will find, fits the bill for shorter, fun flights or even for the occasional longer voyage.
There are a few other factors to weigh when you’re narrowing your search terms. First, remember that buying the airplane is only part of the cost of owning a plane. How much fuel it burns and how expensive it will be to maintain are equally important factors to consider.
Another big question is, how readily available are parts? Interestingly, this is not always closely related to how old the plane is; some older planes are easy to get parts for, and some newer models are tough. And consider cost, too.
Finally, the condition of the plane you buy is critical to the purchase decision. If you were to get a plane with unknown or unrevealed problems, you could spend a lot of dough getting it back up to snuff. Engine and prop are a critical part of that calculus. The flip side is, if you’re willing to fly a plane with older paint and a less-than-chic interior, you could save a huge percentage of the purchase price because of factors not directly related to the flyability or mechanical soundness of the plane.
With all that in mind, check out our list of 10 great used planes that are not on everybody’s radar. There are a couple of well-known models that are readily available and cheap to buy, and there are some oddballs you might not have given a second thought to, until you looked more closely. In some cases, those birds can be the Avis Rent-a-Car of used planes, the number-two choice, like a Champ compared to a Cub. Sometimes there’s a lot to love in the path less traveled.
The term “ultralight” is shorthand for the FAA’s Part 103 Aerial Recreational Vehicle (ARV). True ultralights are single-place, very, very light planes that don’t need any kind of pilot’s license to fly or even any kind of certification. They are essentially unregulated. That said, almost every “ultralight” out there today isn’t really an ultralight at all. It’s either an Experimental Category plane that’s regulated the same as a Van’s RV is, or an E-LSA, which you can build and then get approved, just like a Zenair.
The Quicksilver we chose as the poster child for this segment is a two-seater, versions of which are LSA and even Primary Category certificated. The prototypical ultralight is an open aluminum tube fuselage, with the wing and tail structures covered by heavy-duty sailcloth. The planes are mostly powered by Rotax two-stroke engines, which have been around for decades and are well known and well supported.
Ultralight-style planes are fun to fly, and that’s an understatement. They aren’t fast, but, again, that’s precisely the point. Low, slow and out in the breeze is the name of the game. And the entry level is very affordable, with new ultralight-style planes available for $15,000 and up, and used planes in flyable condition for not much more than $5,000. Be sure to get an expert opinion before you buy and expert training before you fly, because little about these machines is intuitive to conventional heavier-metal pilots.
If you enjoyed reading about some of the cheapest planes available, try these next:
Interested in regular updates from Plane & Pilot?
Sign up for our free newsletter to receive aircraft news, product information, pilot talk and more.