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Used market: "Forgotten" airplane types vs the usual

It’s kind of funny. When people think of buying a plane, they usually end up in the same group of types. PA28, C172/182/210, M20, Cirrus, TB series and the odd Robin. But there is a lot more around, but somehow these planes get forgotten. Sometimes one of them pops up some place and you wonder, why don’t I know about that one.

Owning them can be a challenge but doesn’t have to be in all cases. Most US Built planes are quite ok in the sense that they have lots of mods and STC’s available, many of which, due to age, are grandfathered into EASA. European planes may be more difficult in that regard, e.g. installing autopilots into a Diplomate or Gardan Horizon may be impossible. So with those planes, it is important to know what they have and what you can really do with them.

Other than that, some of those planes are quite interesting alternatives to the usual suspects.

Some examples I saw recently.

- Beech Sierra. Frankly, I never conciously heard of it until I saw them on “Jimmy’s world” on Youtube!

The Sierra is a retracable version of the Musketeer series, which in return is what the Cherokee is to the Arrow. I recall trying out a Beech 19 Musketeer Sport once and was not impressed with the performance: 90-100 kts cruise on a 160 hp engine and we could not take my wife on the trial because it was fuelled up to 2/3rds. It has quite a range as a two seater and it had a fake gear lever, as it is a trainer. The larger version is the Beech Sundowner which has a 200 hp injected IO360 in common with the Sierra. So power wise an Archer on Stereoids but performance wise pretty much the same as the Archer.

The Sierra however is a different kind of breed: 140kts @ 10 GPH and a quite usable range with 65 USG max fuel. It runs the same IO360 engine as the Arrow and Mooneys (E, F, J) do with 200 hp. Speed wise it is about the same as the Arrow but a good 20 kts below the Mooney 201. Full fuel payload is around 300 kg, so quite nice actually. Range is indicated at about 700 NM with 45 mins VFR reserve, which is actually quite lovely and beats the Arrow II as well as the M20E with similar engines.

So the Sierra is a bit of a “poor man’s Bonanza” as I’ve heard it called. But still it’s a Beech.

- Gardan Horizon. This one I came across a few decades ago.

A quite typical French design in the sense that there are very few of it but it has some ingenious features. Like a manual landing gear which also moves the flaps at the same time. It comes in two variants, one with 160hp and one with 180 hp. Engines are the common O320 or O360 engines well known as the standard 150/160/180 hp engines. The -180 version has a pretty hefty payload of over 470 kgs, with 355 remaining with full 42 USG of fuel. That is a real 4 seater if I ever saw one. 42 USG is on the small side though, which leaves range to be desired: calculating optimistically with 130 kts and 45 mins reserve amounts to about 350 NM.

The Horizon was then developed further into the Socata Diplomate which of course became the TB series later on.

The Diplomate was flown by a forum member here if I am not mistaken. It is a pretty capable airplane, featuring the same 200 hp engine as the Arrow, Sierra or M20 200 hp types. Data about it are sketchy and contradictory but it appears to be a 140-150 kt airplane quite similar to the TB20, with a range of about 700 NM.

Grumman “Cats”

I think the Grumman AA5 is one of the most underestimated airplanes around. They are quite economical to operate and deliver solid speed and range for what they are.

The first AA5 was the Traveller. It had 150 hp, small fuel tanks of 37 USG and a top speed of about 115 kts. It is imho the least desirable of the line up, as it has a short range and is the slowest. Grumman hired LoPresti to work out some improvements, resulting in the AA5A Cheetah.

The AA5A Cheetah was a mighty breath of fresh air: 127 KT cruise on the same 150-160 hp engine, long range fuel tanks of 52 USG. With a full fuel payload of 286 kg it can carry a respectable load over roughly 700 NM, quite a feat for a 150 hp powered airplane. Some Cheetahs are upgraded to 160 hp, which has the advantage of better short field and climb performance. It is noteworthy that the Cheetah has an MTOW of below 1000 kgs, which makes it quite economical to fly on many airports.

The AA5B Tiger is the 180 hp variant of the AA5. It is often also referred to as the “poor man’s Cirrus” as it is one of the fastest fixed gear planes. Top speed is said to be close to 140 kts, range near 650 NM and increased MTOW.

The Grummans are extensively reviewed by Jan Brill at Pilot und Flugzeug, in German however.
Jan operates 2 Cheetahs as rental airplanes for the readership of the magazine with quite some success.

Ryan Navion / Rangemaster

I recall flying a Navion (HB-ESO) in Altenrhein with a friend who owned it at the time. It was simply cool. Big canopy, big cockpit, overhead panel, high landing gear, it was a ramp presence to be reckogned with.

The original Navions are from the 1940ties. Some were used by the US Air Force and others privately. The early Navions are great and sturdy planes but a bit short on range.

That changed with the Navion D which got a baggage tank of 20 USG and tip tanks, getting fuel capacity up to 108 USG. Depending on the engine, this can mean up to 8 hours endurance at roughly 155 kts plus reserve, so well north of 1200NM. Original Navions with 40 or 60 USG however will be really short range.

The Rangemasters got a totally rebuilt cabin with side doors rather than the canopy and increased MTOW and range. They are quite rare though.

Payload varies massively between versions, engines and fuel tanks. See the article linked below for more on that.

Navions are no speed merchants, but will deliver between 150 and 160 kts quite reliably. Where they shine is short field performance and cabin space. You even can change seats from back to front and vice versa in flight.

If you turn up somewhere with a Navion, particularly the military style D-G models, you will attract attention. Depending on the engine (and there are many variants) it is a really interesting and capable plane.

A quite comprehensive overview of all sorts of Navions can be found here.

I am sure there are more “forgotten” planes out there which you guys know more about. So let’s get some together.

Last Edited by Mooney_Driver at 07 Jan 14:47
LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland

One, among many, often forgotten French aeroplanes were those built by Scintex Aviation.
One in particular comes to mind the Scintex Rubis. A 4/5 seater with a cruise speed of 150kts at sea level, a range of over 800nm and a take off distance to over 50ft of 255m. Rate of climb around 1200ft min.
If I can read my notes correctly it has a Lycoming O – 540 flat 6 250hp engine.
Sadly my photo is so crumpled, faded and stained it’s not worth posting.
I believe only about 8 were manufactured in the 1960’s.


gallois wrote:

Sadly my photo is so crumpled, faded and stained it’s not worth posting.

See here.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

There’s a Sierra at my home airfield, parked at ramp. It’s actually a rather big aircraft, feels like a PA-28 that someone enlarged 50%. I would say it’s as big as a Bonanza, at least.

Musketeers and Sierras are gigantic, a tall person can wear a hat and not touch the headliner, and they are all therefore very slow in relation to competitors in their respective categories. However, the ones out there now (particularly the newer variants) are often by comparison in pretty good shape, unused in their originally envisioned trainer roles.

Navions apparently fly very nicely, according to a friend who had one and called it the ‘Sky Buick’ Their original E-series engines and bladder type propellers are getting harder to maintain but as the saying goes “every time a Cirrus driver pulls the chute, a Navion gets a new engine” They also have a lot of hydraulics, I’m told they originally used heavy, steel (or brass?) hydraulic fittings versus aircraft hardware. They were built by at least three manufacturers, North American and Ryan in California and the Texas outfit that originated the Rangemaster. Last time I was at Jesenwang (near Munich) there was a Navion sitting neglected outside after a long-ago incident left it in need of repairs. I think it was a Ryan built plane.

Not many French (or German) light planes in my area, just a few aerobatic types, but the US types mentioned in the OP are all fairly common. The American Aviation derived Grummans are thick on the ground. None would be considered unusual.

You can go on and on about now out of production aircraft types…. Stinsons, the Aeronca Sedan (another huge one), Bölkows of all flavors, Rearwin-Commonwealth, Porterfield, Ercoupes of all variations etc etc. There’s something out there for everyone

Last Edited by Silvaire at 07 Jan 16:29

A bit off topic, but… when the northern California approach controls were unified into what is now Norcal, it was briefly called Sierra Approach. It was a nice and appropriate name but somewhat forgot the phonetic alphabet. During its brief existence I thought it would be nice to fly a Beech Sierra with a carefully chosen tail number into Sierraville while, for whatever reason, it had temporary ATC and hence an ATIS. You could make the following call:

Sierra Approach Sierra One Sierra Sierra with Sierra for Sierraville

Back on topic, the trouble with exotica is maintenance. There isn’t a shop on the planet that can’t fix your 172 or PA28 (maybe not very well, but that’s another story). But show up with with something they’ve never seen before, and all bets are off. Rather like exotic art or historic houses, very happy for other people to own them, but not for me thanks.

LFMD, France

johnh wrote:

Back on topic, the trouble with exotica is maintenance.

You’ve got a very valid point there. Most of the planes listed here so far though have pretty normal engines. I guess if you have a plane which has a bog standard O/IO360 or 540 or similar with an “everyday” prop, it takes a lot of these issues away already.

LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland

I prefer listed buildings and maintenance is a lot easier than on many new builds.
The same with old aircraft. The problem with aircraft is that regulations for certified aircraft stop you from doing the maintenance or finding or having parts made.


There are ways to do this, but it is hard for the “normal owner”. You need to be up to speed with where to buy parts, and be qualified to fit them. The typical scenario which works well is a fleet of similar planes, owned by an A&P or, in Europe, by an A&P(if N-reg) or an EASA66 with “Part M connections for signoffs” (if Euro reg). He can buy parts from the US, in reasonable bulk deals (e.g. 100 air filters) and do the work himself. If the owner is having to rely on outsiders, yes, it will be just like owning an unusual car or house: a load of hassle, and cost.

“Forgotten planes” are a popular feature on the front cover of the US AOPA magazines, because “everybody loves the idea”, and it is non-divisive (doesn’t produce a stream of “why do you write yet another SR22 article; I can’t afford a $1.3M plane!!” emails to the editor). Same reason why the UK mags have mostly taildraggers on the front cover.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I have several Part 66 friends here and have no problems with hangar space to do the work.
We do quite a lot on homebuilts, experimentals and orphelins but we stay away from the old certifieds it’s just no fun too many regulations and paperwork.
So I have to ge elsewhere for IFR.
I’m hoping we might either get another Super Emeraude this time for acrobatics or a Piel Saphire next. Problem is we’re all getting old and we’ve still got a TMG to finish from one of our member’s own designs, a Sikorsky helicopter for our RSA group to finish renovating, and to get the 3/4 scale Mosquito repaired and back flying.

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