The search for the perfect plane is as old as personal flying itself. The difference between today and 1930, to use a random year as an example, is that instead of being limited to a handful of models, there are choices galore for pilots looking to get into a good pair of wings.
A surge in flying and airplane building throughout most of the 1960s and 1970s is largely to thank for the tremendous supply of good used airplanes, as is the fact that airplanes, unlike many hard goods, can be fixed and updated much the same as houses can. Examples of perfectly restored planes from 1903 to present around the world are proof that good airplanes don’t fade away if there’s someone willing to put the effort and investment into fixing them up.
That one word, “investment,” is key here. We know that pilots have different budgets and different needs, and since it’s impossible to catalog every model, we decided to offer a greatest hits of used planes running the gamut from an entry-level choice at $20,000 to a million-dollar dream ride. We know we’ll get a lot of emails from our readers pointing out that we missed an obvious choice for one niche or the other, and we welcome it all. Please tell us what favorite used model you think we should have included and why.
For those pilots just looking to get into ownership, this is a great place to start.
Piper’s Dakota, follow-on model to the Cherokee 235, Pathfinder, and Charger, was intended as a head-to-head competitor with the Cessna Skylane. It featured the same horsepower, roughly the same interior dimensions, comparable performance in every parameter and the benefits of a low wing.
Piper knew that recently licensed pilots tended to buy the type of aircraft they learned in, high wing or low wing, and the Dakota was specifically designed to fill the need for a true, family four-seater with the wing on the bottom.
The Piper PA-28-236 Dakota featured a slightly thinner, semi-tapered airfoil, known generically at Piper as the “Warrior wing” and fitted to all the other four-seat PA-28s. This airfoil imparted slightly quicker roll response than the earlier Cherokees and an allegedly gentler stall, though it’s hard to imagine anything more benign than a Cherokee’s slow, hobby-horse pitching in deep stall mode.
One area where the Dakota stood slightly taller than the Skylane was useful load. Using 1981 models for examples, the Dakota sported a useful load of almost 1,400 pounds, while the 182 managed only 1,354 pounds. Load 72 gallons aboard both airplanes, and the Dakota would have a payload of 968 pounds, while the Skylane would offer 922 pounds.
The Dakota graces our best buy list because it's slightly less expensive than a Skylane (comparing 1981 models), climbs better, offers a little more payload, and has a higher service ceiling and better visibility in the pattern. It’s also a true four-place airplane with payload to spare.Price: 1979 – $75,000; 1994 – $140,000