Cheap Sh*t Bargain Birds

Page Three

Homebuilt Bargain

There are an enormous number of homebuilt airplanes in the below $10K bracket but, obviously, they all have a caveat or two attached. In the first place, they are homebuilts and the quality of craftsmanship varies greatly, so you have to be prepared to do an intensive pre-buy exam. Also, the majority of the under-10K airplanes are older designs and often single place. Still, we looked at number of these airplanes and found them to be solid airplanes that would give the new owner years of fun at practically no cost.

Bowers Fly Baby
We looked at three different examples, the most expensive one being $11K because it had an 85 rather than the prescribed 65 hp Continental. The others were in the $8-$9,500 bracket. The Fly Baby was professionally designed in the early 1960’s to use non-aircraft plywood were ever possible and hundreds were built. It’s more fun than an airplane has a right to be and is even easier than a Cub to fly. With 65 hp it has plenty of performance but not much speed. Figure on about 85-90 mph cruise. With its all-wood structure, don’t buy one that has been stored outside for any length of time.

Smith Mini-plane
The Smith is a good looking, good performing biplane that was one of the pioneers of the homebuilt movement. It’s a little quicker on the runway than some tailwheel airplanes, but it’s no tiger so most pilots can handle it. If kept light with 85-90 hp, it is a guaranteed giggle-machine. As with most of the smaller biplanes, with the power off it has a pretty vertical glide path, but nothing too scary. We found eight of them listed for under $10K.

Baby Ace
The Ace series of single and two place, open-cockpit, parasol airplanes were homebuilder favorites for many generations. They are well designed and strong but most of them are fairly old. We ran across a half dozen in the $8-$10,000 range including a couple of the two-place versions. Like some of the other older, cheaper homebuilt, these airplanes have been around for a while so inspect them carefully and punch the fabric.

Other Homebuilts
There were lots and lots of other homebuilts priced at the value of the engine alone. The old Stits Playboy, Playmate series was represented in our search and there was even a $10,000 Tailwind that the seller admitted was pretty ratty (“…needs restoration…”). Try to stay with the better-known designs because they are a known quantity both structurally and aerodynamically. Don’t buy something you never heard of just because it’s cheap.

When browsing around the bargain basement just remember you’re picking through airplanes that have slid to the bottom of the scale. Still there are some airplanes out there that still have lots of life left in them and for one reason or another the owner has decided to have a fire sale. Quite often this is a lost job, divorce or they simply lost interest and don’t want to spend the time trying to get the last couple of thousand dollars out of it.

This is one area where you really have to use your head and make sure you’re buying a bargain, not someone else’s headaches.

Editor’s Note from 2007:
There are also a lot of airplanes, like the Interstate Cadet or Porterfield Collegient that are often found at prices usually huddling around the bottom of the ladder. These airplanes were built in very small numbers and often their lack of popularity can be traced to poor handling or a funky engine. When buying these airplanes the same rules apply plus you may be dealing with engines that are far out of the mainstream, notably the smaller Franklins like the 90 hp version. These are good engines but harder to support. When in doubt, go for an engine that everyone knows how to work on. It’ll save grief in the long run

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