Those bargain basement airplanes

Discussion in 'Classics' started by PTAirco, Aug 20, 2009.

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  1. Aug 20, 2009 #1

    PTAirco

    PTAirco

    PTAirco

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    I can't help scanning Barnstormes and Trade-a-plane whenever I get a chance and I am seriously contemplating buying a cheap airplane to fly while completing my home builts. I have it narrowed down to Taylorcrafts and Aeronca Chiefs/Champs.

    I am fully aware of their limitations and usefulness (or lack of it?), but just as something economical to buy and fly and easy to maintain, you can't really beat them.

    Has anyone owned or flown these? Any particular things you liked or disliked? If you have personal knowledge of both, any comparisons you'd like to share? Is one signifcanlty better than the other in any department?

    Personally, I am 6'2" and I am used to squeezing into small spaces, but does one have more room than the other?
     
  2. Aug 20, 2009 #2

    velojym

    velojym

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    Champ, for this big-keestered fellow. Unfortunately, they aren't so bargain-basement anymore.
     
  3. Aug 20, 2009 #3

    bmcj

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    I've flown all three, but you will have to be more specific about which model T-craft you are talking about (or at least if it is a tandem seating or side-by-side model).

    I can start by giving you some general comments. Champs and tandem T-craft both fly well. The Champ is probably the most docile taildragger on the ground. The side-by-side Taylorcraft is OK, as is the Chief, but many people consider the 65 hp Chief to be a bit anemic.

    I would go to the local airports and try see if you can sit in each. I am only 5'9", but I recall the side-by-side T-cart and Chief to be a bit bothersome in visibility because my head was between the wing roots and I had to duck my head to look left or right when clearing for turns. TI never had this issue in the Champ and I don't remember it being an issue in the tandem T-craft. I think the champ would handle your height too, but I would sit in one to make sure (you might also be able to get a thinner seat cushion).

    The last difference is in the controls. The Champ and tandem T-craft have sticks. The Chief has a yoke. The side-by-side T-craft might have either, depending on the model.

    Watch also if they have wood spars or have had metal spar upgrades. Either are fine, but if wood, you'll want to inspect them before purchase.

    Overall, it's hard to go wrong with a Champ, but the Taylorcraft L-2 is a blast too (like a Piper Cub with windows on steroids; appearance-wise, it has a little more character than the Champ).

    Bruce :)
     
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  4. Aug 20, 2009 #4

    bmcj

    bmcj

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    I'm not sure how much cockpit space they have, but have you looked at the Stits Flutterbug? You can find some good deals on them.

    Bruce :)
     
  5. Aug 20, 2009 #5

    Topaz

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    I've never flown in a Taylorcraft or a Champ, so I can't make a comparison, but my father owned a Chief for several years. She was a hangar queen for most of the time, as we did some minor restoration work, but I can give you some overall impressions. We had a 1941 65LB 'Super Chief' model, which basically meant a C-65 engine, an aux tank behind the seats, and some extra effort made at decoration in the cockpit. You can see some pictures of the aircraft in my photo album here on HBA.

    My impressions, as a then-17-year-old guy with the sky in his eyes...

    Remember that any of these you buy (excepting one of the new-manufacture T-craft) is going to be nearly sixty years old. Or more. I know you're fine with that, PT, but if you purchase one for the type of use you're describing above, make sure it doesn't stealthily slip into status of "another project". "Gee, it just needs a little fix here, and a little there..." That's what kept my dad's on the ground for so long. It just needed "...a few little fixes." So if you're buying to go flying, make sure the airplane doesn't need any work for that purpose.

    Along those lines, the usual caveats apply - check the wood, check out the tail-feathers and aft fuselage for rust, etc. It's amazing how even the littlest thing can turn into a major project. Get a flight in it and make sure the owner shows you everything. Anything he/she says "needs a little work" is a huge red-flag. Not for safety, but for the "turns into another project" factor.

    As for flying, my impressions are colored by the fact that I hadn't done much flying at that point. I loved it, personally, but in retrospect some of that was because I didn't know much better. Do they fly okay? Yeah. Speed and climb are quite underwhelming, feeling more like (I suspect) BBerson's Grob 109 than a 'modern' C-152 or C-172. But they do climb, and you can cruise along at 85 kts or so for as long as there's gas in the tanks. The ride is a little bumpy - low wing loading. Not sure I'd want to fly one around the Basin here on a really hot summer day with the thermals booming. Tighten the seatbelts if you do! I only experienced a couple of stalls in the airplane, and my recollection is that they were a little sharp, but I don't know how accurate that is.

    Like I mentioned above, our Chief cruised along at about 85 kts. In other words, not really much faster than a car on the interstate. I wouldn't call these "travel" machines, although at least as an airplane you'd be able to 'cut the corners' on the routes a car could take. Nav instrumentation is spartan or non-existant if nobody's upgraded the panel, so a Garmin or other separate nav device is in order if you want to fly outside of the basin.

    The Chief has side-by-side seating, which is 'cozy'. People really were smaller back in the forties, especially in girth. You're a thin guy, though, and so you shouldn't have any trouble. You might feel your head graze the fabric ceiling in the cockpit, but that's about it. Should be comfortable otherwise.

    These airplanes ought to be great for air-camping. Wish I had my dad's old bird for that! :gig:
     
  6. Aug 20, 2009 #6

    PTAirco

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    Thanks for the input. I do prefer tandem seating as in a Champ or L-2, but I think side by side offers marginally more opportunity to carry at least a little stuff. I'm used to making do with 25lbs of baggage. And I like sticks, too. At this point I am open to both.

    Yes, I am very wary of getting anything that I can't just jump in and fly without "fixing" something - I made that mistake before. I have all the workshop projects I can handle and I want to FLY! With that in mind my main concerns are lots of engine time, fairly recent fabric and perhaps an older restoration, something that had all those little things fixed, in the recent past.

    When I say bargain basement, it's a relative term. It will still be the single most expensive purchase I will have made and my budget has to stay below 25,000, preferably closer to 20,000 and even then I will probably get a a couple of partners to help with the costs. Cubs used to be the bottom of the barrel and look at them now - Aeroncas and Taylorcrafts will eventually go the same way and become sought-after classics, so I am telling myself it could be an investment....
     
  7. Aug 20, 2009 #7

    bmcj

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    I know of an Interstate S1A1 Cadet that may still be for sale up here in your price range. Very similar to a Cub in appearance but with a fully cowled engine and a semi-symmetrical (not flat-bottomed) airfoil. If you've seen Kent Pietsch's act, that's an Interstate Cadet. In fact, I think the one up here might be the military observation version with big glass and maybe a big engine.

    Look here for a photo of Kent's plane: Pietsch Airshows :: 1942 Interstate Cadet :: Clipped-Wing Taylorcraft

    Also, if you want partners, check out LetsFly - Shared Aircraft Ownership.. I haven't used them, but have heard their pitch. They are a well established business that sets up partnerships, handles legal and administrative issues, and even provides financing if desired.

    Bruce :)
     
  8. Aug 20, 2009 #8

    Topaz

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    Yep, the Chief has a small baggage compartment behind the seats. In my dad's airplane, it was basically a canvas 'sling' hung from the seatback and the next-aft frame, with canvas end-pieces making it into sort of an open-topped 'bag' for your stuff, with a hinged, wooden, fabric-covered lid on top. The latter formed something of a small shelf immediately behind the seats, extending aft to where the fabric 'ceiling' came down to meet it, ending the cabin at the aft end. Looked nice, and sure was nice and light. I don't recall what the weight capacity was - we never used it for more than someplace to toss the flight bag. IIRC, if you filled the aux tank (which was also aft of the seats - you can just see the filler on top of the fuselage in the aft-view picture in my album here), baggage capacity in terms of weight was pretty minimal, but if you emptied that tank and ran only off of the main (between the instrument panel and the firewall), it could hold quite a bit.

    The Chief has yokes, as someone else mentioned. I prefer a stick now, but yokes are just fine. I did all my power-plane training in aircraft that were so-equipped.

    I've seen Chiefs (even SuperChiefs) in your price range. Usually they have a little 'hangar rash' and might not be the prettiest bird flying, but they can be flown as-is. They do seem to be heading northwards in price, though. Your idea of one as an "investment" may be valid, especially if (much later on) you decide to do a full restoration on the bird.
     
  9. Aug 21, 2009 #9

    BBerson

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    I had a Chief that was co-owned with my brother. We bought it as a basket case and made new wing spars etc.. Flew it all over Alaska. One day I soared it engine off for an hour.
    Some of these planes qualify for LSA, so the price might be going up.
    An old Ercoupe might be fun.
    BB
     
  10. Aug 21, 2009 #10

    Topaz

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    With those big wings and low wing-loading, I can believe that. Must've been a hoot! :)

    You know, that's probably a factor.

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. :gig:
     
  11. Aug 21, 2009 #11

    Dan Thomas

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    Anything with lots of engine time, recent fabric and the other stuff will be owned by some guy wanting to get all his investment out of it. The price will be high, unless it's his widow just trying to dump it. A fabric job here in Canada, using Poly-Fiber, takes a minimum of eight man-weeks of work, or 320 man-hours. The Citabria I'm doing now will be well past 400 when it's done. At typical shop rates, that hits nearly $40K once the materials are figured in. If a guy does it himself it'll take longer but be cheaper.

    The A- and C-series engines in these old airplanes normally need valve work by mid-time. They're 1800 hour engines. They also have a distressing habit of leaking the oil out of the oil pump when they sit, leaving it unprimed and so the engine might not get oil for the first while after starting. The front crank and rod bearings suffer horribly. The pump is barely big enough for the job, and any bearing wear makes the pressure get really low. Mine has new rod bearings but the pressure still doesn't get beyond 25 psi cold, 10 warm, at idle. A Lycoming's pump, OTOH, is four times as big as the engine needs when it's new. Some guys with the small Continentals find they have to take the temp bulb out of the screen and prime the pump with some oil every time they start after it's been sitting for a day or two.

    The Champ/Citabrias with the wooden spars (all of them, up until '92 or so) have an expensive AD against them. To do the AD right there have to be a lot of inspection covers in the top and bottom of the wing, or take the fabric off it. The problems involved are (A) compression failures at the ends of the strut attach fitting plywood doublers, where the local stiffening of the spar causes the stresses to concentrate; (B) cracks at the roots at the bolt holes; (C) cracks longitudinally in the spar at the rib nails. The ribs are aluminum and don't shrink with age; the wood shrinks across the grain and the nails, held by the ribs, pull the grain apart, leaving cracks that can run a long ways and weaken the shear strength of the spar.

    Older Champs get moisture in the struts and they rust out from the inside.

    Many older airplanes have been blown over on their backs by wind. The wingtips take the weight of the airplane and the spars crack through the strut attach bolts, a crack that isn't readily visible and that runs from the hole upward. The spar can fail under load. I once bought an airplane that I'd been flying and was horrified when I found that crack. The log showed that the airplane had been blown over 15 years before and little repair had been done to it. Another T-cart not far from here had the same thing in its log, and when I asked the seller if the spars had been checked he said they were OK. That airplane crashed a year or two later, killing the guy that bought it, when the wing spar failed in flight. The investigators found the old crack and the log entry. Dunno what happened to the guys that "inspected" it after the blowover, or at each of the several annuals afterward.

    All of this is to say that you have to be really careful and get a mechanic familiar with these old airplanes to go over it, and its logbooks, really well. You could end up spending all your time and money fooling with it instead of getting your project done.

    Unless you're really rich, of course. But then , you'd buy something newer and nicer, right?

    Dan
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2009
  12. Aug 21, 2009 #12

    PTAirco

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    All good stuff to know, thanks.
     
  13. Aug 22, 2009 #13

    wally

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    If you are just looking for a nice 2 place plane to fly, do not forget the Cessna 150.

    They are still a great airplane value. All aluminum so you can get by cheap by just tieing it down at the local airport. The 150s you find will usually have lower hours than the newer 152s. What happened was, the flight schools started "upgrading" to the 152s when they came available and individuals bought up the "tired" old 150s. Then when there were no more new trainer planes being developed, the 152s continued to be flown day after day. There are some with close to 10,000 hours on them.

    Insurance is going to be less than a fabric taildragger. They will probably have a mode C transponder and a good radio so you can go anywhere in the US airspace. A cessna 150 is such a nice easy plane to fly too. Pretty much any airport you land at will have someone who is knowledgeable and can fix it. It isn't very fast but it isn't very hard on gas and will take you anywhere in the country - if you have time. "With time to spare, go by air"

    People won't come out of the office to see it when you taxi up as they will sometimes to with a cool taildragger. However, when you shove the throttle forward, it will fly just fine.

    I still enjoy my 1969 Cessna 150 as much as I do my Pitts Special!
    Wally, feeling so very lucky to own two airplanes.
     
  14. Aug 22, 2009 #14

    PTAirco

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    Yes there are plenty of Cessna 150/152s to be had and I do respect them for what they are. I am however, leaning towards something that can be flown as an LSA, (even though I d have a regular Private license) which really limits things. I noticed also, that the early model Ercoupes that qualify as LSA are fetching about 20% more in price than the more capable D models. Ercoupes are kind of growing on me, depite the fact that I was never really into low wing, tricycle geared airpanes. I guess it boils down to character. Need to find one to sit in first though.
     
  15. Aug 22, 2009 #15

    charles735

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    CHECK THE TAIL SECTION OF TAYLORCRAFTS FOR RUST. HAVE SEEN A FEW FAIL BOTH TAXING
     
  16. Aug 22, 2009 #16

    Topaz

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    The idea of puttering along with the canopy sides slid down, hanging my arm out the window has simply fantastic appeal. The Ercoupe is a neat little airplane.

    Just out of curiosity, why limit yourself to LSA if you have a PPL-SEL?
     
  17. Aug 24, 2009 #17

    PTAirco

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    Contemplating getting a CFI-SP ticket eventually.
     
  18. Aug 24, 2009 #18

    Topaz

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    Ah, that's right. This airplane would also be your "classroom", then.
     
  19. Aug 25, 2009 #19

    BBerson

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    All good advise from Dan.
    I once inspected an old Chief. A more senior inspector suggested I install additional inspection holes to inspect the outer spars. We found cracks because of the better access. The spars can also be cracked from wingtip strikes, perhaps many years ago. It is best to check very carefully as Dan said.
    BB
     
  20. Aug 25, 2009 #20

    Dana

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    I used to own a 1941 T-Craft BC12-65, which was a great plane. The T-Craft is a better performer than the Aeronca, but you'd better slow it down on final or you'll float all the way down the runway. There is an expensive AD on the wing struts (rust), and like most old taildraggers they're susceptible to rust in the lower longerons at the tail. All the side by side T-Crafts (BC12 series) had wheels; all the tandems had stick. The cockpit is a bit tight for two large people, and you can put 40lb baggage behind the seat. The later F series T-Crafts had 100hp and more baggage space.

    Somebody mentioned the Interstate Kadet, which is a delightful airplane. I only flew one once. It has all pushrod controls instead of cables, so the action is very smooth and precise.

    -Dana

    The early bird catches the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.
     

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