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 1960s
to use non-aircraft plywood were ever possible and hundreds
were built. Its 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, dont buy one
that has been stored outside for any length of time.
The Smith is a good looking, good performing biplane that was
one of the pioneers of the homebuilt movement. Its a
little quicker on the runway than some tailwheel airplanes,
but its 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.
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.
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 (
). Try to stay with the better-known
designs because they are a known quantity both structurally
and aerodynamically. Dont buy something you never heard
of just because its cheap.
When browsing around the bargain basement just remember youre
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 dont
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 youre buying a bargain, not someone elses
Editors 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. Itll
save grief in the long run.
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