Could the Working Class Afford a P-51?

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qchen98

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What is the modern equivalent of owning and operating a civilian warplane that is bought as a surplus immediately after the end of WW2?

Let's assume maintenance is performed as that as little as possible - you don't repair the broken parts but simply find a replacement from another surplus plane.

Would operating a P-51 in the 1950s be the equivalent of operating a Cirrus SR-22 in the modern days? Or perhaps much, much less if you are not actually interested in keeping the bird flying for long?

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How about a B-24? Would the cost(inflation adjusted) similiar to that of a King Air?
 

Pops

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Mid 1950's, $400/$500 for a war surplus warplane. Auto fuel was $0.17 a gallon. I was earning .85 cents an hour. Taxes and SS was very little out of the pay and after paying the limit on SS, no more was taken out of your pay for the remaining of the year.
 

Vigilant1

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One important factor would be maintenance man-hours (labor) per flight hour. The early generation of aircraft generally required a lot of maintenance hours per flight hour compared to modern equivalents (especially true of the King Air (turbine) vs B-24 (recips++)). So, how that labor rate is priced would significantly affect the operational cost comparison.
Similarly, the time value of money (cost of financing, or the opportunity cost of buying the plane vs other uses to which the money could have been put).

That's not an answer, just some considerations.

I'd say this : the value of the aircraft 80 years later is probably better for the P-51 and B-24 than it will be for a King Air or a Cirrus
 
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Aviacs

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If he was married with family and mortgage, the average working stiff would never be able to afford the fuel, oil, and consumables like rubber parts for a fighter or more complex airplane in those days. Lighting and electrical. Mags and carb. Let alone hydrualics. Close family friends and distant relatives were in that scene, and had the mechanical chops, shops, and resources, but could barely keep more mundane pre- & early post war aircraft flying despite businesses doing a slight bit better than working stiff. Warbird TBO's tend to be very short, and they are maintenance intensive. I've mentioned (& others here might remember) the P-38 that was a York all the time i was growing up. They were not uncommon in the skies in that era, but mostly it was exciting if you could drive by the airport and both engines were turning with the cowls off. In later years i asked my (York based) instructor about it and he said WTTE of "yeah, when purple avgas got up to around 25 cents/gallon, no one could afford to fly it anymore"

I never checked enough to verify if that metric was actual or not or if 140 octane was ever really that cheap. But it is very apropos of a machine that went through 60 gal hr. Compared even to what skilled labor made in those days.

OTOH, one of our EAA members is currently restoring a B25 in the group hangar. Members in the past have had T6/variants. One almost bought a P51 and then decided the 250 hr tbo was not attractive. He built an S 51 but sold it before flying it. Several late old timers/ww2 vets apparently had, or had easy access to a T6 long before my time that they kept flying among them.

Ignore direct $ number, airplanes have always cost about the same as a house. So pick the level house you can afford and add that much again to acquire an operational airplane. then double your mortgage payment, one of them being to keep the bird fueled, maintained, & flying annual to annual

smt
 
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TFF

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In 1969, Canadian AirForce sold their last P-51s for $10,000 each. A new Bonanza in 1969 was 80,000. Paul Mantz bought 475 planes from the US government for $55,000 in 1946. Supplied the film industry planes and many warbirds that survive today were his. Until recently, last 15 years, a B17 was cheap to buy. It had 4 engines to feed, no spare parts, had to be parked at an airport that could handle one, and no way to make money with it. The people who had them, saved them because except for cool factor, it was expensive to fly.

Keeping in fuel and engines is what is expensive. I remember in the 80s a local scrap yard still had B17 engines stacked up. Most Merlins available were blown up air racing and thrown away from the 40s-90s. To the point that if you blow one up today, you have to fix it or steal one.

From the old local P-51 that was around through the 80s, taking to the owner, if you could have afforded a new Bonanza, you could have had a warbird. Of course unless retrofitted, it only had one seat.
 

vhhjr

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I have attached a 1946 price list for direct sale from the US Gov"t for surplus aircraft. Included is the 2022 equivalent price based on the CPI (Consumers price index). The CPI says the price multiplier is 16.4. I suspect the asking prices went down as the civilian market for these aircraft was satuarated and people stated to sell their early purchase aircraft.

There's a local project restoring a B-17 that was purchased in the late 40's, flown to Oregon and used as a shade for a gas station. The purchase price for that one was around $1000.

When I was a kid and hanging around the local airport in upstate NY there were several surplus aircraft to marvel at. Over the years they all disappeared having been sold for rediculously low prices.

Vince Homer
 

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Spezioman

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Back in the late 70's I almost bought a complete but apart T6 for $3500. Then a flying BT13 for $6500. ( could have purchased the Catch 22 B25 camera ship for $7000 but that doesn't really count)

Both of us had good jobs but if I had gotten I into any of the above I likely would not have been flying after the first honest annual. Just buying fuel would have been hard.

Simple answer is NO, the working stiff could never afford a P51 or even the higher hp trainers. Heck, the only way I have managed to own any airplane has been to build one, have a repairman cert., found a $50/month hangar and be able to use auto gas....... Even then one big negative find at annual time might have ended it for me? Oh well.

BTW it has ended for me. Doubling of insurance when I turned 75 was the last straw.

Jack
 

Toobuilder

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My dad went in with 2 buddies and bid on a ANG surplus P-51 at McClellan AFB in 1960. The $2,000 bid was unsucessful. The guy that bid $2200 for it flew it out that day.

Growing up in an airplane family, we would talk about that "lost opportunity" (especially when seeing warbirds at Osh), but the reality of the economics of ownership was much like the jet warbirds of today. You want a parallel today? Go buy a Mig - they are cheap and readilly available. Same issues.
 

Wanttaja

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Years ago, Aviation Consumer magazine had a pilot report on owning a T-6. Said the cost of ownership...other than fuel...was about the same as a Bonanza.

Ron Wanttaja
 

Dana

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Lots of people bought cheap surplus aircraft after the war, then flew them until expensive maintenance was needed, then they were parked and left to rot until a new generation of rich pilots rescued the few that were left.

Paul Mantz bought his collection when he learned through a friend that all the planes had been stored with full tanks. His winning bid in the auction was the wholesale value of that fuel.

I have a friend who owns a T-6, it was his father's. He hasn't flown it in years, says it's a demanding airplane that you have to fly often enough to stay sharp enough to be safe, and he can't afford to. So he flies his other plane from the same manufacturer, a Navion.
 

TFF

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The thing too is once in the club, things change. You might not have a flier, but you are working on it, it’s not being turned into scrap, and you are a warbird owner. The guy that had two Spitfires in his garage in GB is an example. Every night he would go out and mess with his spitfires. He finally sold them when they were worth more than his pension. Hard to tell the wife we can’t fix the car, but you got a million bucks in the garage. He had them for a long while. Issue now is they are all bought up. Everyone knows what they are and how much they are worth. Think how all the Ferrari 250 GTO owners feel today who though selling in 1975 for $50,000 was winning the lottery.
 

Deuelly

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Years ago, Aviation Consumer magazine had a pilot report on owning a T-6. Said the cost of ownership...other than fuel...was about the same as a Bonanza.

Ron Wanttaja

Exactly, your average Bonanza, Cirrus, or even Cessna owner could easily afford a T-6. The trouble is they're not as convenient for use so they become a novelty item.

I know a guy who bought a T-6 four years ago for $60K. It was rough but a flyer and safe. He found that a lot of these small town fly-ins and airshows would pay for all or most of his fuel just to have a warbird at there show. He flies quite a bit just doing that.

Brandon
 

TFF

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A friend who has had a T6 a long time flies it almost every day. Combination of things. First he can afford to from his previous career, but he is the designated examiner for a flight school. He is up in age so each flight might be the last. If he gets a student who is into it, they will take it instead of the Decathlon , I think for the same price. He use to use it to go places. Another friend uses his PT-22 the same. Flies 600 mile trips in it all the time like it’s a Cirrus, hand prop too. He isn’t young either. Been doing it for 40 years. They both have or have access to a other planes that make more sense, and they never take them.
 

dog

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its not a question
the working class did pay for and build all the war birds,over and over and over
 

Aerowerx

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Saw an ad several years ago for a P-51 in Venezualen colors with a hanger full of spare parts, including 3 spare engines. Asking price was $2M. Wonder if it ever got sold?
 

Pops

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My neighbor in Pa bought 2 Merlins for $200 each for his dragster in 1964.
I have told this before, at the local grass airport in 1955 or so a pilot bought a T-6 for $500 and flew it that summer and then said it used to much gas and parked in in the weeds. Couple years latter my 2 friends and I stripped the instruments out before it was hauled to the scrap yard.
In about 1984 I went with a friend to DC where he bought a T-6 in a crate from the Spanish AF. Paid $25K. We unpacked it and assembled it and he made 3 laps around the pattern with an instructor and flew it back home. So much for the T-6 being hard to fly. I flew the Cherokee 180 back.

In the 1950's, a good Piper J-3 was about $250. In 1958 I bought a Ford with 23K miles for $495.
 
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Martti Mattila

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Some twenty years back I had idea that only WW2 warbird that I could have was my self constructed Heinkell 162 Salamander. Because it had a wooden wing. That itch has now chanced to reality=died away. Still there would be a real world chance to build some trainer in that era with wooden wing and steel tube fuselage and tail by using M-14 radial. Example here in Finland is our Valmet Pyry. M 14 would scale there nicely and I even have a Piper cropduster fuselage for start. But I am deaht poor and too old.
 

KeithO

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Making logical comparisons and ignoring cost of acquisition and focusing on operation only:

Cessna 150 O-200 - 100hp fuel burn 6 gal/hr 6.0gal/hr per 100hp
Cessna 172 O-320 - 160hp fuel burn 10.5gal/hr 6.5gal/hr per 100hp
Cessna 210 TSIO-520-C 285hp fuel burn 15.6 gal/hr 5.47gal/hr per 100hp

assuming a 1000hp powerplant @ 6gal/hr / 100hp that means 60gal/gr in todays money ($7/gal) $420/hr in fuel cost without taking into account the reserve for engine rebuild, insurance or anything else. I'm sure that is well in Mig territory with a lot more expensive maintenance due to the difficulty in getting parts for the old piston engines.

Internet sources suggest cruise fuel burn in the P51 is 65 gal/hr so not very far off.
 
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