On Feb. 25, 2020, a story ran in this space titled The perfect airplane. It was a bit of a retrospective on a couple of the aircraft I’ve owned, how I came to own them and, in at least one case, my sincere regret at selling a fine machine I wish I’d kept.
Today, I am once again thinking of an airplane that might grace my hangar. But which one? There are so many to choose from. Classics, biplanes, taildraggers, zippy quick composite machines, and the stalwart aluminum monocoque models of the mid-20th Century all take up space in my imagination from time to time.
First things first, price matters.
As supportive as the lovely Karen has been all these years, she is not likely to react well to me plunking down a deposit on an aircraft that carries a price tag that lies north of our home’s purchase price. Considering my age and the number of years remaining until retirement, should I be fortunate enough to reach my golden years, it probably isn’t a great idea to be indebted to that degree at this stage of the game.
So, let’s theoretically put the top limit of our search at $100,000. Less would be ideal. Actually, a lot less would be ideal. Still, I suppose if the right opportunity came along I could go for something that cost me a thousand Benjamins.
Next, let’s consider the mission. As much as I loved the Piper Cub and the Air Cam, there’s no point in bringing another one of those airframes into my life if the mission involves trips of over 100 nautical miles on a regular basis, and flights of 1,000 nautical miles or so once or twice a year. That is the mission these days, and so it seems wise to be looking at aircraft that protect the pilot and passenger from the weather, have sufficient fuel stores to accomplish legs of more than 200 nautical miles, and clocks in with a cruise speed that accommodates an elderly gentleman’s bladder capacity.
Now, how many engines do we want to feed to get that performance? There are twins on the market that appeal to me in terms of purchase price, comfort, speed, and range. The Cessna 310, in particular, has been calling my name for more than three decades. I’d love to own one. However, there isn’t a hangar on my home field where I could store it and the thought of pumping 22 gallons per hour through the intake systems makes my heart palpitate in a way that would make my cardiologist look askance at my EKG.
So, a single it will be. But which one?
The Cessna 172 is an obvious choice. Solid, well-respected, reasonable performance, and a good fit for my wife and I to travel the continent. It can be a bit sluggish in the speed department, however. Perfect for time-building on a budget, but I’m well past that part of my career. I’m more interested in getting there than logging the time it takes to get there.
I used to belong to a flying club that had a Cessna 182, an airframe I consider to be one of the best all-around general aviation aircraft ever brought to market. They’ve gotten a bit pricey, however. I may circle back to that option, but for the moment I’ll consider alternatives.
The PA28R has been catching my eye. The Arrow uses the same fuselage as the Cherokee/Warrior/Archer/Dakota, etc. It’s a family affair, essentially. Retractable gear pushes the cruise speed up to an attractive level without requiring a massive increase in horsepower or fuel burn. With just two of us on board, along with a modest collection of luggage, the Arrow might be a good fit. As would its predecessor, the PA24 Comanche. I certainly don’t need to step all the way up to the 400 hp variant, but a 250 would do me well.
Of course, there are experimentals to consider. I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at an RV-6 or RV-7 or RV-9. The lower cost of parts, fantastic efficiency in flight and, frankly, the cool factor of these highly regarded machines all play a role in my thinking on this series of very impressive aircraft.
Oh, the choices. It’s almost mind boggling what can be found on the used market these days. And that’s to say nothing of Swifts, Cardinals, Centurions, Super Vikings, Navions, and Bonanzas.
Clearly, I’ve got some whittling down to do on my wish list as I get into serious shopping mode.
The order of operations for me looks something like this.
- Set a budget, select a method of financing.
- Find the aircraft.
- Confirm its value based on condition and installed equipment.
- Get an insurance quote for planning purposes.
- Negotiate a selling price that’s agreeable to buyer and seller.
- Confirm financing.
- Obtain a good pre-buy inspection using a mechanic other than the one used by the previous owner.
- Renegotiate the selling price if the pre-buy uncovers unexpected or undisclosed issues.
- Complete the purchase.
- Fill out and mail the FAA required Bill of Sale and Aircraft Registration Application.
- Lock in the insurance.
- Ferry the aircraft home.
Your process may vary, of course. Or it may be identical. We all have our own standards and requirements when it comes to making a major purchase.
Complying with the FAA paperwork is the easy part. Finding the right airplane that not only fits our mission but also falls within the limits of our financial capabilities? That can be the trick.
If not for that limitation, I might be shopping for a Cessna Caravan or a DC-3 with turboprops, because…well, why not? Just like you, I’ve got big dreams.
Right now, my big dream is to get through the dozen steps I’ve outlined above and bring home a new to me airplane that will allow me to enjoy the privileges of my certificates for the next few years.
Wish me luck, will ya?
chase burnett says
I flew a C310Q for several enjoyable years, and can state that the
22gph(58% power/175ktas) fuel flow was not the biggest expense.These babies have a complex fuel & landing gear system(ex.fuel selector valves get used so much that they are practically a “consumable”; gear requires $$ rerigging yearly).
The “systems support” was many times the direct hourly operating costs. Buyers need to keep this(along with their mission) in mind when considering this steed.
On the other hand, with full deice, weather radar and plenty of climb into the teens,I considered this most capable plane & its comfortable cabin a superb cross country traveller. Every bit as rugged as a Baron. ChaseBurnett
Better hurry, JB. Oshkosh is rapidly approaching !
Steve R says
The C182, Piper Dakota, and the Tiger are all good choices for speed, load, and reasonable economy. Great thing about them is the fixed gear……lower insurance and maintenance. One last point, consider ease of ingress and egress………depends on a person’s flexibility as we age (nothing personal, just a thought/consideration). You do have a lot of choices. Good luck. Let us know what you finally pick.
Interesting and informative article
Economical, simple design and great relative performance, my favorite and not mentioned much in aviation articles is the Tiger AG-5 (Grumman/ general Aviation).
P Townsend says
Why not consider a Grumman Tiger…reasonably priced, abundant parts availability, simple, speed of many single retracts or 182 at 10gal/hr and fun to fly. Great ventilation and visibility.
I love those airplanes…. very fond memory of them when available to rent up here in CYYJ.
Drew Forray says
Take a look at the Rockwell Commander. 112 TC, or the 114.
Derek Johnson says
Sore subject! I sold my Dakota at the start of the pandemic, thinking we were headed into the Great Recession II. (Didn’t realize there were gonna be ten bazillion dollars in hot checks passed out.) Regretted losing that plane ever since. Piper’s 182, but better IMHO. Sure wish all y’all with a PA28-236 would sell now so the prices can come back down to earth. Good luck in your search, JB!
Good luck Jamie but it sounds to me that you are daydreaming! The Mooney is the best of the bunch as to price versus performance ! Very hard to beat a Mooney but also it’s maintainability is dear!
I always enjoy your articles.
We have owned our PA30 Twin Comanche (N17MB) for only 16 months now and have flown it 400 hours during that time. It has helped two young pilots build their multi-engine time, and has permitted us to fly over mountain obscurations, overwater, and at night with no worries, unlike our past singles. With operating numbers much like our previous F33A Bonanza, we flight plan 160k TAS at 17.5gph TOTAL fuel flow.
Find a nice one and you’ll be a happy pilot. A really nice one will cost over $130k today.
Gus Putsche says
I voted for a Mooney just before I retired. Good distance legs per gallon of fuel. Fast enough to keep me from wishing I went the 22gph C310 route (I like them also since I did my Multi single/com/CFI in one) I have a M20K the turbo is nice for getting up in a hurry on hot days, but if you only fly lower altitudes the M20E-F-&-J is just as fast below 15k. Prices in the range you were looking at with ok avionics. With glass a bit over your target, but the positive attributes make me smile every time I look at the ground speed and fuel flow.
Mary Margaret McEachern says
Mooney M20J, 200 hp…Nice examples can be had for around 100K. They make terrific IFR platforms, are as fast and agile as an RV with direct linkage and rudder authority that gives you confidence even in ground effect. And at about 10 gals/hr, very economical with good range. No ADs on the airframe, and the single spar wing is rare in a GA airplane. The cockpit is protected by a steel roll cage. An extremely sturdy and fun to fly little aircraft!
DREAMER 2 says
Jim Stark says
Your article describes my dilemma perfectly. I sold a wonderful Cessna 180 with a 300hp engine and, after four years, still suffer serious seller’s remorse. It was followed by a beautiful 172, 180hp, that is the sweetest/straightest flying airplane I’ve ever experienced. Landings are always near perfect…not because of me, but because the plane is so well trimmed and balanced. However, the 172 is SLOW! Nursing 110 knots out of it is a chore, comfortable as she is otherwise. I am seriously shopping for a Cessna 182, preferably with a larger engine and some STOL capability which will let me enjoy western off-road strips and have enroute speed to boot. Not a simple or easy quest!
Ken T says
110kts/126 mph is the best you can get out of a 172 with 180hp?? I would have expected better. I cruise at 118 mph in my Ercoupe with a C85!
I have a 180hp P172D with a CS prop. I flight plan for 115 knots. It would go faster if I didn’t have the super droopy wingtips, but then it wouldn’t look as cool!
Jim Stark says
Who’s STC do you have for the constant speed prop? I would like to do that to my 172!
JimH in CA says
The P172D was the last year of the Cessna 175 as a ‘C’ model, in 1962. It was certified with the 175 hp GO-300 and a c/s prop.
type cert. 3A14 rev 46.
I fly a 1961, C175B, with the same engine but a fixed pitch prop., and I plan on 125 -130 mph. But max cruise is 145 mph at 3,200 rpm.
Jim stark says
JimH in CA says
You are welcome.
The Cessna 175 is a much underappreciated aircraft.
The GO-300 has to be run between 2,600 and 3,200 rpm, but with the 4:3 gear reduction the 84 inch prop turns a max of 2,400 rpm.
At 3,000 rpm i see 130 mph at under 8gph,so the 52 gallon tanks allow almost 6 hours of flight.
It also climbs at 1,100 -1,300 fpm with me and full tanks, 2,000 lb.
The GO-300 has to be run watching the CHTs and cover part of the oil cooler to get the oil temps in the 160-170 degF range. [ the vernatherm doesn’t work properly].
sorry to ramble, but I do enjoy flying N8234T.
I have a warrior but the arrow sounds like the best choice or Comanche
John Keenan says
I bought my 1960 PA24-180 Comanche in 1966 and still have it. It checks all of your boxes. Two years ago I popped 2x the purchase price in Garmin goodies and I’m a happy camper. I hope to be able to fly it a few more years.
Jamie Beckett says
Stories like yours do my heart good, John. Thanks for sharing.
Dave Wilson says
Hi Jamie, always enjoy reading your writings. just sold a Beech-craft P-35 model; sadist day of mt life! Thanks for the above list of things to consider.
Gary Lanthrum says
Yeah, lots of mail is coming. I’m in my 4th plane, a 180 Hp Maule. It fits my current missions of a reasonable cost airplane for camping and flying my bicycles (both road and mountain bikes) to riding destinations too far for the car. With all of is plusses, the Maule flies like a truck, or station wagon. The controls are heavy so it doesn’t dance across the sky, and it isn’t what you could call fast. For now, those are minor concessions since it fits my mission so well. My first plane was a Grumman Traveller, AA5. It was fast on little power, roomy, cheap and wonderfully light on the controls. The higher Hp Cheetah and Tiger offer even more speed with still reasonable costs. Insurance costs are low with the reasonable hull values and fixed gear.. I’d definitely add one of these to your watch list. With Top Gun Maverick coming out this year, the sliding canopy will also feel like a plus on the ramp. I’m already thinking about my next plane, and a motorglider is sounding pretty nifty.
All the old planes listed. How about something a little more exciting and current? Like a factory built RV or RANS. Or even better, a Cirrus SR20 or SR22, Diamond DA40 or a Pipistrel Panthera?
Jamie Beckett says
Those are ambitious choices on a $100,000 budget, GBigs. But if you’ve got a line on any of those models selling in my price range, please share that contact information. I’d be interested.
You’re going to get a lot of mail
My search sounds similar to yours, but included a requirement that the power-plant be okay to run on mogas or 94UL. There are enough things to worry about while trying to fly “economically” without being dependent on the (non-)stroke of a pen or a foreign sole-source foreign plant producing TEL. I can’t afford the risk of a $100k airplane turning into a $0k airplane overnight.