So just what airplane to own?
So I have always thought about owning an airplane. But just what sort of plane? This installment of the series I’ll share what I first thought I wanted. In the next installment I’ll focus on what I concluded was my “mission” and the plane I bought to meet that goal!
When I starting thinking about owning a plane I was naturally thinking I would just build one. It didn’t seem much different than just a big model. So I’d buy every magazine or book I could find about what it takes to build your own plane. I even bought a set of plans for one. So I started thinking I was looking for something fast and that could fly long distances. So the first thing I thought I would build was a plane called the Rand KR-2. This really was like building a large model. It was designed around a Volkswagen engine. I could still imagine building one. Someday I still might! 🙂 Here is what a KR-2 looks like:
Here is a KR-2 someone is flying around the world! :
I joined the Experimental Aircraft Association and studied how to actually design and build a plane. I subscribed to Kitplane magazine and others. I will cover some of my thoughts and experiences related to experimental airplanes in later blogs.
And I even started the process of designing some of my own designs. I friend of mine got me interested in flying wing designs so I even have designed several of those. I’ll cover those in details in later blogs. Here are simple drawings of a few of my designs:
I also started teaching myself aerodynamics. In a way I pursued that education in aviation my dad wanted me to avoid. I developed my own airfoil software and some very useful spreadsheets to aid in basic aircraft design. It even lead to me doing some engineering on a very high profile unlimited air racer. Back in the early 2000’s I even had a very popular aviation web page. I do plan to make one of those again. Here is a snapshot of that site using the internet “wayback machine”. Who knows, maybe some of those links still work! My virtual hangar: Virtual Hangar
I do still hope to build my own airplane. Maybe several! But over time what I’ve really thought about doing is to revive this design. I will be blogging about that as well in the future. This is a plane designed in the 30’s that really was remarkable:
I also someday would like to build a replica of the early Boland flyer:
But for now these projects are going to have to wait.
It takes a lot of time and resources to build an airplane. So I decided I should buy an plane in the mean time. I now see that I needed to stop thinking we have an unlimited amount of time to get around to do things I dream of. I do have a lot of thoughts on building and/or designing planes. I will cover that sometime in a separate set of blog entries.
Lets talk about planes over time I thought I would like and maybe even could purchase. Again what I thought was important most of the time was speed and range. A bonus was given for “Classic” that might make it fun to bring to a fly-in or a warbird (ex military) for the same reason. I never cared about acrobatics though so that has never been a factor in my candidate lists. Finally everything about airplanes is a compromise.
Sometime the best plane is not the top plane in a single category. Sometimes the best is the right collection of factors. So at the end of the first installment of this series of blogs I shared planes I have flown. Some of those were planes I considered purchasing.
Finally airplanes can be expensive! Not always just what it costs to purchase them but what it costs to fly them and maintain them. When you look at the total cost of airplane ownership the initial airplane cost isn’t always the most expensive thing. For example you can buy and ex military jet fighter for less than $50K but it will cost you $250+ an hour to fly and almost $10K in fuel just to be qualified to fly it!
You can go to a lot of airports around the country and you will see a sad sight. Planes in various states of neglect. Sometime not so obvious but others with flat and rotten tires, clouded canopies or wind screens, obvious missing parts that show that they have not been flown in some time. Almost every one of those planes started out as someone’s dreams but along the way something happened to make the owner no longer able or willing to keep the plane flying. One thing leads to another and eventually the planes sit unused. Sadly often they reach a point where they are repossessed by the airport hauled away as scrap. Often the cost to put them back in the air is far past their actual value. Sad to see. All it takes is a bad discovery during an airplane’s FAA mandated annual inspection to create a financial crisis. For example the discovery that the engine finally needs to be rebuilt could produce a $2oK bill. Even a basically “normal” annual for a complex plane can be thousands of dollars.
I decided I wasn’t going to become part of that terrible cycle. I would make sure whatever I bought I could keep airworthy and regularly flown. This became a major part of my decision process.
We will look at what the average airplane will cost you over time a little further in the next installment. First lets look at planes I considered and what I decided were the pluses and minuses.
Buying an existing production airplane
First the Cheap(ish) and easy to fly
The Cessna 150/152
- Easy to fly
- Average cost $20K but can be found as low as $10K
- 100 HP
- 100 MPH
- 2 place
- Very easy to fly
- Hangar not required (but I have two hangars already! 🙂 )
- I have already flown them a lot
- Not going to stand out at a fly-in
A lot of pilots have learned to learn to fly in one of these. There are a lot of these planes around. It is a smaller two place airplane and not particularly fast. A little over 100 MPH. But simple to fly and low cost to own and operate. This plane remained on my list for most of my search for a plane.
I have to say for a brief period of time I was sort of soured at the idea of buying one by something someone I respect a lot said about them. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone would consider buying one just to fly. I was younger when I was told that and I did sort of think I wanted something faster and “sexier”. To do more than “just fly”. Now I think a bit differently.
I should also include a couple of variants. The picture above is an acrobatic version of the 152. I don’t have any interest in acrobatics so that wouldn’t matter. The other is the plane that Cessna built that was the “first version”. That was the Cessna 120/140. The 120/.140 plane had a conventional landing gear with a tail wheel which makes it a bit trickier take off and land. While I have flown a plane with this type of landing gear I would have to take some additional training to get the FAA “endorsement” to be able to legally and safety fly that type of plane. The Cessna 140 family of planes are considered “classic” which does appeal to me. By the way I should mention a couple of things that can be done to the Cessna 150/152 planes. They can be converted to tail wheel landing gear. The engine can also be upgraded to one with more HP. Some folks call the tail wheel version the 152 a “Texas Tail Dragger” . Here is what that looks like:
Bonus edition, the original “straight tail version of the 150 is in my mind a little cooler. I almost bought a nice one of those at a bargain price several years ago but decided it was a little to claustrophobic for me. That particular planed had been named “The Puppy” and I hope the current owner is really enjoying it!
Here is a “straight tail” 150:
Everything I said about the Cessna 150 but this as well:
- A nice one will stand out at a fly-in
- Trickier to take off and land
- More training required to get the tail wheel endorsement
- Some have fabric wings (maybe I don’t care that much)
- 120s don’t have flaps (flaps can be desirable)
There is a great book that inspired me when I was young about a lawyer who found flying a great way to deal with a midlife crisis. He stared in a Cessna 140. A great read: Weekend Pilot His Cessna 140:
Summary – Hard to go wrong but not enough “stand out” for the most part except maybe the 120/140.
- Fun to fly
- Cheap to operate
- 40 HP to 200 HP
- 70 MPH to 120 MPH
- You can put it on floats!
- A nice one will stand out at a fly in
- Almost every pilot says that they want one at some point in their career
- I have flown one a bit
- You can fly one into and out of most anywhere
- Fabric covered
- Can be expensive to purchase
- Tail wheel
- Purchase price – as much as $100K
The Piper Cub is the basic airplane a lot of folks think of anytime they think about a small plane. The “Cub” has been around since the late 30’s. It started out with only 40 HP. More modern versions have much larger engines. The plane is entirely covered in fabric so you are going to want to store it at a minimum covered but ideally indoors in a hangar. These planes have a following and as a result they are expensive. They also in the “Super Cub” version which appears to be the same plane is actually not the same as the original design is a very popular plane for flying to more challenging destinations. They can be excellent “Bush Planes”. So if you want to fly out to camp or hunt/fish or just land on a short runway the Super Cub is going to be a great choice. While I like the Cubs I never really thought of them as worth the money for me anyways. The Super Cub also is a great planes to put on floats:
Summary – Not a bad choice. Maybe a little to pricey to acquirer. Popular.
Short wing Piper’s
- Cheap to acquire – Cost to acquire $12K to $35K
- Cheap to operate
- Easy to fly for the most part
- 2 to 4 place
- From 65 HP to 120 HP
- A nice one will stand out at a fly-in
- 70 MPH to 120 MPH
- Fabric – Some have been metalized
- Tail Wheel
- A lot of run down aircraft to pick through
- Often fitted with an add on wing tip I hate (silly, I know, same true for some Cherokees too!)
- Vagabonds and Chief’s sometimes do not have an electrical system, I like radios and having and electric starter
So Piper built some other planes I considered. I sort of lump them all together. This include the Vagabond (a family friend crashed one in a local cemetery when he ran out of fuel 🙂 ), the Pacer/Tripacer , Chief and the Clipper. These are generally two place planes and fabric covered. Some have tricycle landing gear. They can be reasonable affordable. They are considered “Classic” for the most part. They are generally very basic airplanes. Some folks consider some models on the tricky side on the ground. I definitely have always considered these aircraft as worth considering being the one I eventually owned.
Summary – High on the “short list”. Maybe not enough fly-in cred. Some have a reputation of tricky on the ground.
- Affordable – I’ve seen them as low as $12K
- Tricycle gear
- Low wing
- Bubble canopy
- 100 HP
- 110 MPH
- Can be hot rodded
- Easy to fly
- Canopy can be opened in flight
- 2 place
- Known to not do well on short runways
- Easy to overload
- Concerns with de-lamination
- Not going to stand out at a fly-in
I have always liked this family of airplane. They actually started out designed as a kit plane from a fellow name Jim Bede. Grumman bought the rights and produced a great little trainer plane. These started out with the same engine as the Cessna 152 but many have had larger engines put in them. I think they are great looking little airplane. I like the low wing design and the bubble canopy. You can even open that while flying! They had two different airfoils over the life of the design. The first one was “faster” and often called the “hot” wing. The new wing was considered a better choice to train new pilots with. I really have always thought about buying one of these. Everyone says they fly great. They do have some things to be careful about. They are largely “bonded” together as opposed to “riveted”. And some aircraft have had to be repaired when the bonding failed. The possibility to modify these planes is great. As I mentioned some folks put in larger engines and even change the tricycle gear our for conventional gear. A “hot rod” version of this plane can reach speeds of over 195 MPH! Overall they seem like a pretty decent little airplane. The little Grumman stayed on my list right up to the end. In fact I could still see owning one. I haven’t made mention of the AA5 Grumans, they are 4 place and more horsepower. These include the Traveler, Cheetah and the Tiger I got checked out in them when I lived in Houston and I did think about buying one of them a little bit. Still I don’t need a four place airplane.
Summary – Decent practical airplane that I would have done well with. Not much fly-in appeal.
- Good flyer
- Tricycle gear
- Low wing
- bubble canopy
- Beechcraft quality
- $35K if you can find one
- 100 HP
- 110 MPH
- 2 place
- Hard to find
- Beechcraft prices
- Not going to stand out at a fly-in
I really like the Skipper. I hear it is a great little flyer. They just seem a little too rare and when you find one a bit expensive. Also anything Beechcraft builds is going to be expensive if you ever need parts. Still I bet they are nice little planes.
Summary – Decent practical airplane that is a little hard to find and maybe pricey for what it is. I would have done well with one. Not much fly-in appeal. Often confused with the Piper Tomahawk.
Misc. Airplanes I thought about but rejected
These are planes I considered but rejected as I think you might be able to find one occasionally at a bargain price but I rejected with why I did. This could turn into a bit of a “Goldilocks porridge” exercise. For some of these the reason for rejection may not be elaborated on much.
Aero Commander Lark (or Darter)
Pretty rare and all over the map price wise. Reasonable performance but not very efficient. I worried about parts. Probably a decent plane but a little to hard to find in the end. I did like the unique nature. In the end it really wouldn’t get noticed at a fly-in.
Summary – Rare with not much upside
Not to be confused with the Beechcraft Skipper. I just never liked this plane. No specific reason. I just don’t. I know some folks love them, just not me.
Summary – I just don’t like them
I simply love these!! I do however prefer the Rotax engine (they swapped those out for a Continental engine and eliminated the constant speed prop). They are just too pricey for me to have considered. If I was still able to rent one I would have never stopped flying and would be current today!
Summary – I love them but to expensive and a little hard to find with the Rotax
V Tailed Bonanza
I love them and there are some affordable ones out there. But they can be expensive to own and operate. They are also complicated to fly and have a reputation of being “Dr. Killers” as folks with more money than sense seemed to be attracted to them when they first came on the market. Turns out after a while a design “defect” was discovered that could cause the tail to break off at high air speeds so there was a fix designed for that. Largely the real solution turned out to be don’t fly into IFR conditions with no training or preparation then become disoriented and lose control. That is good advice for any plane. Still, what a sexy plane!
Summary – Forbidden love. I worried I couldn’t afford to own and fly one. Maybe too much airplane for the “mission”.
A solid decent plane. Of course Beechcraft parts are priced like they are made out of unobatnium! Some folks say you can stall the flying stabilizer flaring on landing and damage the nose gear. No idea if that is true. The seem affordable and would be a not bad choice. But in the end I’d probably just buy a Cherokee if I decided this is the kind of plane I wanted. There is a great book about women hired by Beechcraft in the sixties to promote this plane. Worth a read!! The Three Musketeers!
Summary – Decent airplane but not perfect for the “mission”.
Again I love these planes but a little more expensive than I wanted. A little more complicated than I wanted. Still a favorite plane to be sure. At one point in the late 90’s I did almost buy a nice early model that had a wood wing. At one time I would have bet you I’d own one! These days, not so much.
Summary – Slightly too much of everything and not enough “stand out” at fly-ins
OK. there is so much I love about these planes. Hand built wooden wings and fabric covered steel tube fuselage and tail feathers. They are fast. Supposedly fly like a sports car. They are borderline affordable to buy but they are complex enough to be possibly costly to own and fly. While they should stand out at a fly in they really don’t. In fact most folks, even pilots know little about them. Quirky high performance plane that at times I have dreamed of owning.
Summary – A little to costly in the long run and not always much “sex appeal”
Triple tail Bellanca
The poor mans “Connie”. I really love these and I could end up with one some day. Just not now. They are fast and supposedly awesome to fly. A little quirky, for example the retractable landing gear is cranked up by hand (some have been converted to electric). They have that same wood wing fabric combination in the later Viking. They however came with an older Franklin engine. That worries some folks as there are no parts being made for those anymore. Since no one knows what they are they sometimes get missed at fly-ins. Because it is a retractable gear complex tail wheel airplane insurance can be expensive. There is a very rare later version with tricycle gear. So I love them but at this point in my pilot’s journey I can’t see getting one. Someday maybe!
Summary – Someday somehow!
Sweet little planes. Beautiful with a reputation of being a little tricky to handle on the ground. They are a little rare but when you find one it is very common to see the plane modified. Bigger engines, bubble canopies and other modifications are popular. There was even an attempt to being them back into production. A nice one will stand out at a fly-in. But pricey and I worried about insurance.
Summary – A beauty but at a cost. To much plane for me right now?
So much to like. In line seating, a control stick, war bird looks and affordable to own. At one time you could even rent one at the airport I learned to fly at. Looks are also a little misleading as its not a particularly high performance airplane. Although the in line seating seems cool I think I like sitting next to my passenger better. I just never could find one for sale. If I had I have no doubt I would love it. Of course as soon as I finished writing about the Kachina I googled and found one for sale at a decent price. Ugh! 🙂
Summary – Lovely but seemed to me as rare as hen’s teeth and can be pricey
Stinson 10A Voyager or (L-5)
So a lot to like. Supposedly a decent plane to fly. I didn’t find many on the market when I went to look for one. Some have Franklin engines which could be a problem. I really fell in love with them after seeing a decent one for sale at a fly-in. Some actually have a military past which is cool. All I’ve hear is they are nice to fly. They are rare enough that a nice one will stand out at a fly-in. Maybe I should have looked harder?
Summary – The road not chosen
Another plane I agonize about. There are plenty of these around. They are pretty capable and I hear nice to fly. Some have the same problem with the Franklin engine although many have had the engine swapped out. Some have been “metalized” which is to say some of the fabric replaced by thin metal. These can also be put on floats. In the end I really don’t need a four place airplane and I think I let the Franklin engine sour me on these. This type of plane could very well have been a great choice. Here is basically an abandoned one on floats near where I live.
Summary – I don’t need a four place plane and I am not sure about the engine
I mentioned a good friend has one of these and I had a chance to buy his old one for a bargain price. It’s a great plane for him as he has a family and they can all fit in it and go places. But in the end I decided I don’t need a four place plane. He even says he expects to “downsize” once his son has “left the nest”.
Summary – reasonable but I don’t need a four place plane
I am mentioning this plane just because I flew one and liked it. Just too expensive and more plane than I need for my “mission”.
Summary – Nice but more than I want to spend or need
Boring and four place. A solid airplane but boring. I did consider an older “straight tail” one of these but again, four places which is two more than I need. If I need four places I’ll go rent one.
Summary – boring, maybe the “straight tail” would be better. I don’t need four places
Other Cessna models I passed on.
- C-182 – too much plane and pricey
- C-172RG – too expensive and four place
- C-175 – geared engine and rare
I like this line or aircraft a lot. You can buy one that really is for all practical purposes a two place airplane. That is the Cherokee 140. You can also buy these that are honest four place airplanes, even one that is a six place airplane. These are honest, mostly affordable and practical planes. I thought long and hard about buying one of these. In the end they just aren’t ever going to be fun to bring to a fly-in. By the way I am not calling out the later “taper wing” Cherokees like the “Archer” and “Arrow”. I’d probably want the “hershey bar” wing. No reason, I just like them better. Maybe I should have decided to buy a Cherokee 180, there was one in Houston I flew regularly that I sort of came to love.
Summary – Great practical planes but no “wow” factor. Maybe what I should have bought.
So If I ever decided I needed a more capable plane to carry a few people in this would be on my short list. They have a wider than typical cabin and are supposed to be comfortable to fly in. They sacrifice a little speed for that comfort. They are supposed to be nice to fly. But they are complex, more airplane than I need and too expensive I expect. Still I wanted to mention them.
Summary – A great airplane for a very different “mission” than mine and outside my budget.
A few more exotics I did ponder
DH1 – Chipmunk
I definitely thought a lot about one of these. They are supposed to be really nice to fly. They are real warbirds and fun at a fly-in. They are a little quirky in some ways. The brakes for example are a combination of a single lever and a cross bar for steering. They have a possible difficult engine to maintain. Finally the price to buy one would have been a stretch for me and there don’t seem to be many on the market.
Summary – Awesome plane that is a little out of my range and maybe difficult to own.
PT-19 through PT-23
I did think about one of these. It would have been a stretch to have purchased for me. I was also a little worried about flying one. They were original military trainers. I’ve heard conflicting things about them. Also open cockpit may not be ideal for flying in the PacNW where I live now. So worth considering but maybe not a good fit for “the mission”.
Summary – Fun and worth considering but maybe not a good first plane for me.
A very cool classic. Pretty rare though. There are some replicas around. Could be fun but I decided just a little too challenging to find for my first plane. I will keep my out for one and maybe in the future I will find one to acquire!
Summary – Cool plane but maybe too hard to find the right one.
So I am going to admit I knew nothing about these planes till a few years ago. I was camping at the local Concrete Classic plane fly-in with a friend and we were next to a beautiful example of one of these. It was for sale for around $20K but at the time I really hadn’t settled on a plan to buy a plane. The are either rare or common depending on who you talk to. I hear they are decent to fly. Maybe I should have looked into them more. At any rate they were near the top of my list right up till I found and bought the plane I did.
Summary – Unusual classic airplane I could afford and I think enjoy. A strong maybe.
So here is another plane I really didn’t know about till a few years ago. I first saw one in an wonderful air museum. The WAAAM Air & Auto Museum. If you ever get a chance to go there you should! Its wonderful! So I discovered the “Funk”. Originally these were powered by a converted Ford Model B engine!! Of course I don’t think there any flying with that engine anymore. In the end I decided against the Funk as I am concerned I wouldn’t fit in one and I was worried about the visibility out of one. If someone reading this has one and wants to give me a ride let me know. Because on some many levels this seems like a near perfect plane for me!
Summary – Awesome classic I maybe should have looked into more. Maybe I still should!
I thought long and hard about these. They seemed to check off a lot of boxes. Affordable, control stick, decent performance, classic. They however have a reputation of being tricky on the ground. One bonus a wonderful book was written by a woman about flying one around the country. That book was a lot of my inspiration for my current journey. Zero Three Bravo. If you get a chance its a fun read.
Luscombe Pilot Report
Summary – Good choice but maybe a little tricky on the ground. Always a favorite!
Interesting plane. Designed right after WWII. Some say it was the civilian version of the Mustang. I like the look of them. Sometimes you run across affordable ones. However its a complex airplane that could eat you alive financially while you own it and fly it. Also maybe not as fast as it looks.
Summary – Nice classic that is just too complex and expensive for my “mission”.
Rare, costly and complex. Sure is a beauty though. At one point it looked like it might be brought back into production.
Summary – Rare, complex and costly. Easy to confuse with a Navion
Other Misc. classic light planes.
I’m mentioning these for the sake of creating a complete list of things I considered.
- Aeronca variants – decent if slow and a lot don’t have an electrical system. Aeronca Champ Pilot Report
- Interstate Cadet – Great classic, can be a little expensive and again some lack electrics. A fun airshow act with a Cadet: Cadet Air Show Act
- Taylorcraft – decent if slow and a lot don’t have an electrical system. Taylorcraft Pilot Report
- Culver Cadet and variants – Interesting little wood airplanes. Used as target drones in WWII. A little rare. Maybe affordable. A cool classic for sure but maybe a mixed bag to locate and own. Maybe not.
- Mooney Mite – somewhat rare and single place. Mooney Mite Pilot Report
- Assorted homebuilt airplanes – I think there are some decent cheap options for getting into the air that folks built themselves.
Yaks in various forms
So these planes started being imported from China and Russia a while back. You can find them still in crates for $30K. That said you are probably going to end up spending some money to make them flyable. I had a friend buy a Russian one. It was fun but a little quirky. For example the engine is started using compressed air and turns backwards from most normal engines. Brakes are also operated using compressed air. The reason is batteries do not do well in the extreme cold these planes were expected to operate in. Very tempting I have to say. But in the end just too much everything for what I feel comfortable buying right now.
Summary – Cool planes that are tempting in the same way the Sirens of old were that led you to your doom on the rocks!
So I have to mention the Lake! How does this not look like the perfect plane for the PacNW? You can find them at affordable prices. I’d need to get a seaplane rating and they are supposedly quiet expensive to own. The Dr. that did my last flight physical owns one and says it costs him over $250 an hour to fly when he works out what the full costs are. Still, pretty cool!
Summary – Cool but kind of out of my budget.
Again, this looks like a perfect airplane for the PacNW! Sometimes they can be found for what seems like an affordable price. At one time these were really common in the Seattle area. A lot of the Dr.s bought them when they first came out . The well know Kenmore Air was know as “specialists” for them. These days they are pretty rare. They were built right after WWII by the folks that made the P-47 fighter! And they are built like it. They aren’t very fast but can taxi right up to a beach and then you can walk through the front and not even get wet. Then back off off the beach when you are ready to leave because the propeller can go into reverse pitch! They came with the Franklin engine many folks say to avoid. Over all these seem seriously cool but I think I would find it exceeding my budget to operate. Still I love it when I see one.
Summary – Awesome but not for my tax bracket.
OK, I can see myself building and owning one of these. Once you get one I think you can enjoy flying it and not go broke. I decided in the end however they are just outside my comfort zone price wise to purchase (for now). Someday I hope! Richard Bach wrote a wonderful book about buying one and then flying it from Florida to the Seattle area. Travels with Puff
Summary – Someday but a little too pricey to buy right now for me.
So that just about covers everything I gave any serious thought to while I dreamed of owning a plane. I left out some thing that were just to far out in terms of money, rarity, complexity or extreme in other ways to be considered serious options. I will have to do a “when I win the lottery dream planes blog sometime”!
So I’ve shared the stuff of my daydreams and even some of my early never executed plans. Now we need to move on to how my thinking evolved. I realized that settling on what I wanted to get out of any plane I bought was key. So the next entry into this series will be about clarifying the “mission” and the plane that clarity led me to purchase. After that I can start into sharing the process, the early promise, the disappointments, some curious discoveries, frustrations and the actual reality of buying my plane. There have been some interesting moment!
I hoped you enjoyed this and I hope you tune in the the next installment:
Flew the Coupe! – Part 3 – The “Mission” of My Dream of Flight