Every pilot knows that airplanes are expensive. So much so that many are unaffordable for the average pilot, necessitating the creation of flying clubs for members to jointly own the aircraft they fly. But even then, they’re not exactly cheap. If you’re willing to buy something a little older and a little slower, however, you may well be able to find yourself a bargain with one of these incredibly affordable airplanes.
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For the purposes of this article, all prices shown are an average of the low prices for these aircraft taken over the last five years. Depending on a number of factors: market conditions, number of models on the market, age, condition, number of total hours etc. prices may vary slightly.
We will also only be talking about factory-made aircraft, leaving certain types of aircraft like kit-builds out due to the different prices these types carry depending on how they are delivered (partial built, factory-built, kit etc.)
10. Cessna 175 – $45,000
The most expensive of our cheapest airplanes is the Cessna 175 Skylark. Despite having gained an unfair reputation for being unreliable in its early days, the Skylark has nonetheless proved to be a favorite among pilots across the world.
A derivative of the famed Cessna 172 Skyhawk, the Skylark was designed to fit neatly between the Cessna 172 and Cessna 182 Skylane. A niche it was well-suited to by all accounts.
Able to be flown by only one pilot with up to three passengers over a range of 720 miles (1,160 km; 630 nmi), the Cessna 175 Skylark has proven to be wildly successful. In only four years of production (1958-1962), over 2,100 Skylarks were built.
This all translates to there being an abundance of Skylarks on the secondary market, and prices starting at $45,000. The Skylark maintains a remarkably low operating cost also – at roughly $105 per hour.
9. Piper J-3 Cub – $42,000
The aircraft that put Piper on the map, the Piper J-3 Cub was produced over 20,000 times in its short nine-year production run (1938-1947). It also served as the basis for Piper’s most significant postwar aircraft.
Built from a rudimentary steel-welded frame covered in fabric and powered by a comparatively overpowered piston engine, the Cub is as light as it is fast, enabling it to be much more than the trainer and general aviation (GA) aircraft it was intended to be.
To date, the Piper Cub has also been used as a ground control, bush, reconnaissance, target drone and sort of early VIP transport aircraft. Simply put: It’s a favorite among pilots the world over.
At present, prices for a Piper Cub start at $42,000 whilst hourly operating costs will set you back roughly $160 per hour.
8. Stinson 108 – $39,000
Despite the last model having rolled off the factory floor in 1950 – an era when Truman was President, long before the Beatles’ first hit single, Moon Landing and even commercial jet airliners – the Stinson 108 still has a lot of life left in it.
A development of the pre-WWII era Stinson Voyager, the Stinson 108 was designed to be faster and have a longer range than its predecessor, whilst adopting and improving upon many of the new aerodynamic and handling qualities of WWII-era trainers.
Something of an instant pilot favorite, the Stinson 108 has remained timeless through private upgrades, through the addition of newer and more powerful engines and minor improvements to the wing and other aerodynamic features.
All in all, over 5,000 108s were produced between 1946 and 1950, which presently have a starting price of roughly $39,000 on the secondary market. Hourly operating costs, however, stand at roughly $100.
7. Piper PA-38 Tomahawk – $36,000
Perhaps best known for being up to a third safer than the Cessna 150/152 (an aircraft family already known for its safety), the PA-38 Tomahawk is also known for something else: the low costs associated with it.
With a new price approximately 60% that of a new Cessna 150/152 whose operating costs were roughly the same, the Tomahawk was popular with cost-conscious pilots looking for a great great.
Over 40 years after it was first introduced, the Tomahawk retains its reputation for being one of the most affordable airplanes in our skies. At present, PA-38 Tomahawks sell for $36,000 and upwards on the secondary market.
6. Cessna 182 – $34,000
Introduced in 1956 as an updated variant of the Cessna 180 with a tricycle landing gear configuration, the Cessna 182 has been in non-contiguous production since 1956.
Among the most versatile aircraft in the world, the Cessna 182 can be configured for nearly any mission. Current roles include GA flying, to light corporate transportation, signals intelligence (SIGNIT), training and seaplane activities.
With almost 25,000 models built to date, C182s are almost constantly up for sale on the secondary market, where prices start at $34,000. At present, operating costs stand at around $240 per hour.
5. Beechcraft Skipper – $28,000
Perhaps the most obscure aircraft on this list, the Skipper was intended to be Becchcraft’s answer to the Cessna 150 (more on that in a minute), though it failed to put up the fight Beechcraft hoped it would.
Produced in a four year stretch between 1979 and 1983, the Skipper was in many ways the technologically superior aircraft, using torque tubes rather than cable for the flaps and ailerons and then-brand new NASA-designed aerofoil.
The latter made it perfect for low-speed flying whilst the former made it more reliable than than the Cessna 150. It was even certified for intentional spins. Ultimately, however, economic problems put an end to the Skipper’s production and competition with the Cessna 150.
Currently, the price of a Beechcraft Skipper starts at $28,000 whilst operating costs stand at approximately $65-75 hourly.
4. Aeronca 7AC Champion – $25,000
A predecessor of the similarly affordable American Champion Citabria (American Champion Aircraft later acquired the rights to Aeronca’s aircraft), the Aeronca 7AC Champion is among the most affordable aircraft you can own.
Designed as a competitor to the aforementioned Piper Cub, the Champion was designed to be faster and have a longer range. This made it popular among fighter pilots returning home from WWII who wanted a fast, but also practical GA aircraft.
All in all, 7,200 7AC Champions were built. Coupled with its status as a pilot favorite, mean there’s always plenty of examples for sale, where a typical start price is somewhere in the region of $25,000.
Likewise, the Aeronca 7AC Champion is similarly among the most affordable aircraft to operate costing as little as $50 per hour!
3. Cessna 150 – $25,000
Arguably the most famous civilian aircraft produced by Cessna after the Cessna 172, the Cessna 150 is the fifth most produced aircraft in history (and third most produced civilian aircraft). There’s no arguing that it’s an iconic aircraft.
The successor of the wildly successful Cessna 140, the C150 was revolutionary in the sense that it was among the first postwar GA aircraft to employ a tricycle landing gear as opposed to the pre-war “taildragger” landing gear system.
With over 5,000 individual models currently in our skies, it’s one of the most produced civil aircraft in history.
Presently, prices for a Cessna 150 start at roughly $25,000, whilst hourly operational costs sit at about $100, though certain newer models (whose price tags are usually north of $250,000) can cost as little as $50-60.
2. Luscombe 8A – $24,000
On December 17, 1937 – 34 years to the day after the Wright Brothers’ first flight – then-little known pilot and engineer Donald Luscombe took flight in what he called the Luscombe 8.
Not long after, a Luscombe 8 with a more powerful 65 hp (48 kW) engine was unveiled and given the name Luscombe 8A. Further variants followed not long after; well into the postwar 1940s.
Simple and easy to fly, even by the standards of GA aircraft and trainers, the Luscombe 8A gained a reputation for being reliable early on, and it quickly became the most popular variant of the entire Luscombe 8 series.
Whilst the entire Luscombe 8 series is renowned for being incredibly affordable, the 8A is decidedly the most affordable of them all at a starting price averaging at $24,000. Conversely, operating costs stand somewhere in the region of $50 per hour.
1. Piper PA-28 Cherokee – $20,000
The most affordable airplane on this list, and one of my personal favorites, the Piper Cherokee carries a starting price tag of as little as $20,000 and hourly operational costs of around $220.
Introduced to service in 1960 as a replacement of the PA-24 Comanche, the Cherokee has remained in production ever since; even after improved variants based on it have entered and left production.
At present, four variants of the Cherokee (a part of what’s sometimes called the wider “Cherokee family”) are in production, whilst over 32,000 Cherokees are currently in our skies, meaning there’s never a shortage of options.