Old but good: The classics are worth considering

There are new Light Sport Aircraft and then there are classic Light Sport Aircraft.

The classics aren’t truly Light Sport Aircraft, but they qualify to be flown under the companion Sport Pilot rules, while remaining certified. Once a Marine, always a Marine; once certified, always certified. (The word is, in fact, certified, not certificated, which is clumsy bureaucratic pretension with no legal definition.)

Judging from the action around Light Sport Aircraft exhibits at air shows this year, there is a lot of interest in this more-or-less new breed of cat, but there is some price resistance, too. One of those classics might be just the answer to the price problem.

Why pay $75,000 or more for a new LSA-qualified airplane, some ask, when a perfectly satisfactory Aeronca, Ercoupe, Luscombe, Piper, Taylorcraft, Interstate or Porterfield usually can be had for far, far less?

Good question.

It isn’t as though the classics are in short supply. At last reckoning, 34 different Aeronca models can be flown under Sport Pilot privileges; 10 Pipers, ranging from J-2s to PA-17s; five Luscombes, 8 through 8D; 14 Taylorcraft models; Ercoupe 415Cs and 415 CDs; and four models each of the rarer Porterfields and Interstates.

Aeroncas typically sell for $20,000 to $25,000 in good condition. The highest price noted recently was $35,000 for a superb example, the lowest was $12,500 for an airplane that could use some touching up but passes its annuals.

J-series Cubs tend to be more expensive, probably due to demand, but currently range from less than $15,000 to around $35,000 toward the high end. On the other hand, $20,000 will get you a nice Taylorcraft, first cousin to a Cub.

Good Luscombes fall into the $20,000 to $30,000 range but are somewhat trickier to fly than, say, a Cub because they are shorter and more prone to ground-loop. But one of the easiest-flying airplanes ever designed, the Ercoupe, typically sells for around $20,000 and is great value for the money.

The big difference is that most of these airplanes are on the pure-and-simple side, compared to the 21st century entries with more bells and whistles; and most are tail draggers, which can be off-putting to people who lack confidence in their skills. Historically, an awful lot of pilots learned to fly in tail draggers and few of them seem to regret it.

A very big plus for the classics is the fun factor. These are airplanes that are a joy to fly, relatively undemanding, simple to maintain, easy on gas. A Bonanza pilot’s $100 hamburger is a Cub driver’s $20 lunch, once he gets there, and if your time is that valuable, you shouldn’t be thinking about Light Sport Aircraft in the first place.

You can fly a Cub with its side wide open, with a superb view. You can fly an Ercoupe with the canopy slid back and imagine yourself a World War II fighter pilot, if you have enough Walter Mitty in your generic makeup. You can land most of these classics in the proverbial cow pastures, on many beaches, and on just about any flat piece of ground in the southwest. In some places, you can putter along, low and slow, and converse with people on the ground.

The classics, in other words, are airplanes for adventures — tame adventures, to be sure, but adventures that are beneath the dignity – and capabilities – of most modern airplanes; adventures for one alone or for two, which adds to the romance.

Don’t dismiss adventure and romance. They are the factors that bring far more people into aviation than practical getting somewhere. Five years into the 21st century, these classic little airplanes enable you to meet this country personally, more comfortably than in a car, with better scenery than you’ll find on most highways, up where the air is cool, but down where you can see the world’s details as they pass beneath you. It is personal flying at its best.

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