Saturday, April 26, 2008

Buying: Which Type of Plane to Own

Ok. You have decided to buy a plane. But which one. Maybe you learned on a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer, but is that the one to get? You will be familiar with it, but there are a lot of others to consider. There are lots of tradeoffs and emotions come into play. Try to be practical; once you buy one, you will you have it for a long time. Here are my thoughts on some of the things to think about.

High Wing or Low Wing

This can be a big factor in the beginning. Many times people emotionally make this decision based on their earlier training experience. Or just what looks better on the ground to them. I would recommend flying in both to at least try it.

In a high wing, you can see the ground in normal flight easier which can be nice for sight seeing. But in the pattern, you cannot see the runway when you are making your turns. The visibility for seeing other airplane traffic is good looking down in altitude, but not up in altitude.

The low wing is the opposite of these items of course. The visibility is better in the pattern for the low wing, but not as good for sight seeing straight down. If you are doing long trips, this may not matter. Maybe forward visibility is more important which can vary independent of high wing or low wing.

Cabin Comfort

There are a three main items thing about here.

What is the plane like for entry and exit from the plane? When you are loading or unloading the plane, some planes are easier than others. You only need to do this twice per flight, but this can be important for non-pilots or even pilots. Having one or two doors can make a difference as well as high wing versus low wing.

How is the baggage area for your needs. Depending on what you are trying to do, the size and accessibility of the baggage area can be important.

What is it like inside for the hours of travel? Ease of entry exit and comfort inside. 1 or two doors. Cabin width and height. Plane and Pilot magazine specifications section lists many useful descriptions including the specifications for cabin height and width. Comfortability of back seat if needed. posture in the seats. Cessnas you sit more like in a chair, but Mooneys you sit more like in a sports car.

Weight Capacity

How many passengers and baggage is a big factor. You also want to get a plane that is suited for your normal trips. If you might once a year need a 6 place plane, it probably is not worth buying a 6 place plane. You pay a gas and maintenance penalty all year for the one trip you really need it. Maybe consider a 2+ passenger plane to own and rent the 6 place plane? Or will you really need the 6 place plane or is really a wish.

Fast or Slow

This may sound like an easy decision to make in the beginning, but many things come into play. Fast is great for long trips, but slower is needed for short fields or backcountry fields. Also faster planes can be more expense to maintain and insure. Retractible gear such as a Cessna 210 is often not even insurable by a non-IFR pilot. A Cessna 182 RG might be but it may be very expensive. Maintenance could be twice as expensive for retractible gear plane. Multi engine planes are often not insurable by pilots without a lot of experience in multi engine planes.

Gas cost is higher for fast planes, but you get their faster. So for long trips, the overall gas cost may not be too bad for a faster plane. But if you are not going on long trips all the time, the gas cost for going fast is a negative for all the local trips that slow is fine or desired.

What type of Airports

Moutains or plains. High altitude or not. Backcountry or paved runways. Short or long runways. IFR or VFR equipment. This all can factor into what planes make sense.


Trade a Plane and Plane and Pilot Magazine and Aviation Consumer has plane specifications.

Type Clubs

Look at the type clubs. Examples for type clubs. Cessna, Cessna 177, Piper, Mooney Owners, Mooney Pilots, Beechcraft. These can be a great resource for finding other people with the same plane (commeraderie) and helping solve problems.

Availability of Planes for Sale

There are a number of places to get an idea of what planes are for sale and how much they go for. ASO.COM, global plane search, trade a plane, My Plane, Aerotrader, Wings On-line are some on-line selling places. Sometimes people do not necessarily ask a reasonable price, so it is also good to check what is a reasonable price. AOPA has an estimator called Vref, NADA, and Trade-a-plane has the NAAA estimator if you subscribe.

Also keep in mind that having a reasonable number of planes to pick from can be a good thing for many reasons. The more planes that are out there, the easier it will be to find one you like. You also may not have to travel across the country to find one. Finding a mechanic who can work on it will be easier as well.

New or Old

Newer will be more expense to purchase, but will likely have a little less maintenance needed. But keep in mind that all planes need maintenance. An older better maintained plane might be better than a newer less maintained and less flown plane. Newer planes have nicer interiors and potentially avionics. Sometimes you find older planes with renovated interiors and this can be a nice alternative. Corrosion all planes should be carefully checked; new and old. A plane with a high time engine, but frequently flown can be good.


Try to rent the plane first for a while and others being considered. Maybe somebody in a type club can help you if rentals are not available. Look at the different planes at an air show or fly in. Ease of sale later. Availability of the plane for rental may be an indication of how easy it is to find.

For us, a 1974 Cessna 182 made sense. Reasons...

We wanted high wing with good downward visibility. We liked the cabin with two doors. We wanted something that had high power to easily go over the rocky mountains. We also did not want retractible gear since my wife was a student pilot. I also wanted a plane that I could go into Idaho backcountry strips with. 1974 was a reasonable year for age and equipment for us.



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