Cheap Sh*t Bargain Birds
(titles you won't see in magazines)

Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot, January, 2003

Low buck birds that may not be pretty but they fly

Editor's Note from 2007: prices have naturally gone up since this was written, but not as much as you'd think. This group of airplanes still represents a huge bang for the buck. Add 15%-25% to the prices here and you'll have it covered. Enjoy!

Any of us who have been around aviation for than a couple of years have read, written, heard-about or contributed to a dozen articles in the vein of “…The Best Airplanes Under (Insert your favorite number here).” It doesn’t seem that long ago that the goal was to identify the best airplanes under $2,000. No, really! In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s you could buy a lot of airplanes for less than that.

This time around we thought we’d try a different approach: rather than set a specific limit, we’d cut right to the bottom line and try to find the cheapest airplanes available. We laid down no limitations. If it was a real airplane (no ultralights) and was flyable, we put it in the list.

We had to rely on Trade-a-Plane and a couple weekends of airport cruising to come up with real-world, low-buck pricing rather than the Aviation Blue Book because some of the airplanes we were looking for were either so old or so cheap that the normal reference guides did carry information on them.

How Low Can You Go?
You’re probably wondering what surfaced as the cheapest airplane. Bear in mind that we didn’t count anything but an airplane that was licensed and flying. No derelicts allowed.

The absolute cheapest was a Bower’s Fly Baby homebuilt at an asking price of $7900.
1980 Bowers Fly Baby, 705 TTAF, 705 SMOH,
65 hp Continental, metal prop, sliding canopy,
flies good, has heat, yellow. Lost Job. $7900.

In the pictures it is a good-looking airplane and, since it has 700 hours on it that means it’s a good flying airplane. Airplanes that don’t fly well don’t accumulate flying time. 700 hours also means you’re not likely to live long enough to use up it’s remaining engine life.

The cheapest certified airplane was an Ercoupe at $10,500
Ercoupe, 415C/D, 85 hp, metal wings, Bubble windshield,
hail dimples, all AD’s complied, TT2180, SMOH 830, $10,500 takes all.

Hail dimples! That’s why the airplane is a solid $4,000 less than most of its brethren. But at ten-grand, who cares?

It should be mentioned that when we were airport cruising we found a number of certified airplanes that were priced less then $10,000. There are always some local airplanes for sale that never find their way into Trade-a-Plane. Some of these can be real deals. We ran across a fellow who had been badgering a long time owner to part with a Luscombe 8A he’d had staked down on his farm for a million years. The old guy finally sold it for $8500. It had a 500-hour engine plus it had the original aluminum wheel pants on it that are worth a small fortune by themselves.

Regional bargains pop up all the time but fortune favors he who regularly haunts all the small, local airports.

What Makes Them Cheap
There are a number of factors that drive an airplane’s value into the basement. They are:
Condition – Beat-up airplanes will always be at the bottom of the stack.
High Time engine – With an engine that’s within a couple hundred hours of TBO, an airplane is likely to be an orphan until the price is low enough.
Un-popular type – Some airplanes just never made it in the popularity contest. Usually this is because it doesn’t fly very well but the result is that the market never supported it so relatively few were built. They may be rare, but they fly like toads, so the price stays low.
Bad reputation – A few airplanes, the Luscombe being the prime example, are still relatively cheap because they somehow earned a bad reputation.