better to fly an old Cessna 150, than to sit at home reading about jets

“Why would anyone want an airplane like that?” queried my then-teenaged son about the weathered Cessna 150 parked across from us.

“Simple,” I replied, “the owner can afford to fly it anytime he wants. We see him out here all the time, right? Suppose you could have that airplane and fly all you wanted — would you take it?”

“My own airplane? Sure! I’d take it in a second!”

As we walked away, both a bit more respectful of the ancient Cessna’s owner, I pondered whether we aviators adequately educate new pilots on affordably continuing their flying adventures once training is over.

My son is certainly not alone in his desire to fly something sexy — pilots naturally lust over sleek and fast airplanes gracing airport ramps and magazine covers. But how many have realistic expectations of what they can afford? Most pilots strive for the most advanced aircraft they can imagine themselves flying, and as a result often conclude they can’t afford to fly, or financially suffer after buying beyond their means. Either way we lose them from our aviation community.

The fact is that most anyone who can manage flying lessons is within reach of owning an airplane, or part of one, anyway. Our challenge is educating pilots that the best plane for them is one they can easily afford to purchase and operate.

Among the challenges is that prospective pilots often assume they’re gonna go out and buy a new airplane like they’d buy a new car. For most people that’s dauntingly expensive for sure. But right now you can purchase an older but still capable airplane for a song. Look at it this way: if everyone thought they could only be a driver by owning a new Mercedes or BMW, far fewer people would drive. But most of us start with older used cars and work our way up. Better that pilots invest in a well-used steam-gauge 150 and upgrade as circumstances permit, then to buy a speedy new Cirrus before they can afford it and we lose them as pilots forever.

Part of the problem is that airplane ownership cost is far more complex than just the purchase price. Similar dollars will buy anything from a new Skyhawk to a long-in-the-tooth King Air turboprop. Novice buyers often tend toward the higher-performance end of that scale, with an eye toward faster and more glamorous travel, at “the same price.”

But operating and insurance costs for various aircraft vary across the spectrum, so given a similar budget the 172 buyer may fly all she wants at a cost she can easily afford, while the King Air owner goes broke a month after buying it. Aiming too high is why so many people conclude, “I can’t afford to fly.” What they actually can’t afford is to fly beyond their means, which unfortunately is what many pilots try to do.

We need to be more creative and helpful in keeping our new pilots aloft, if we want to retain them among our ranks. That means educating them to all the options for independent flying, with the “American dream” of ownership topping the list. That’s not so tough as it sounds. A friend of mine recently sold a serviceable Cessna 152 for $18,000. Legendary flight instructor Bill Kershner did most of his teaching in 150s and 152s, and noted aviation author and speaker Rod Machado flies one for his personal airplane.

Sure, you might need to forego glass cockpits and the smell of new, but given the choice, who wouldn’t rather fly a nicely-aged 150 or Cherokee or 172, than sit at home reading about jets?

Read my related Flying Carpet column, “Affordable Adventure,” about Cessna 150 owner Matt Peacock.

Photo: Legendary flight instructor Bill Kershner’s Cessna 152 Aerobat, on display in the National Air & Space Museum.

PS: A great place to begin investigating used aircraft models is via Aviation Consumer. (~$70 per year.) Subscribers can instantly download their thorough and unbiased used-airplane reports covering virtually all ages and models at no additional charge, including breakdown of features and design changes by year of manufacture.

©2011, 2017 Gregory N. Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

24 thoughts on “better to fly an old Cessna 150, than to sit at home reading about jets

  1. We love our “nicely-aged” 1966 Cessna 172. While our recent annual may have been pricey (2 new mags), it’s worth it when we think of being able to go flying when the weather is perfect! We don’t have to check the schedule to see if someone else has scheduled the plane, nor do we need to be concerned that someone before us may have made a rough landing. We love having our own plane – it keeps us in the sky!

  2. I love my ’99 Cessna 172. Even though the bank still owns a large piece of it, I’m able to go to the airport any time I want and fly around the pattern, cruise over the shoreline, or fly off to see our grandkids a few hours away. What a wonderful way to travel!

    1. Phil, it’s great to “hear your voice!” Glad to hear that you’re still making good use of that beautiful Skyhawk. Hopefully we’ll meet in person one day!

  3. Amen Brother…

    My 1961 182 and I have covered alot of ground over the past 3 years. I wonder how many times I would have rented over that same timeframe. Not many I’ll bet.

    Great insight, as always…

  4. Great article! We should live within our means for every aspect of life: housing, automobiles, wines and vacation.

  5. Linda, Phil, Mark, and other posters: please share as much as you’d care to about your affordable-airplane experiences on my new “affordable airplane” page. Others need to hear that they too can own or share their own airplanes. Thanks!

  6. I don’t know if I’ll ever invest in an aircraft Greg – my club has too many lovely Cherokees, Archers and other stuff for hire – but I loved this post. Round my local airport at Bankstown in Sydney there are a few Diamonds and other sexy aircraft around, but everyone I know is doing most of their flying on tough, durable old warhorse aircraft.

    1. We have had marvelous experiences with clubs, MLP. In fact I’m not sure we’d have ever bought an airplane if we hadn’t moved to an area where we couldn’t find a worthy and convenient club to suit our needs. (Then again, it would be hard giving up our own steed if we had to do it now…) Congrats on finding a good club, and also on your recent solo and amazing progress toward pilot certification! (Other readers, check out midlifepilot’s blog via my blogroll.)

  7. Great comments and so true, Greg. Very few of us are lucky enough to afford the latest and greatest, but almost all of us can afford to sit in an airworthy aircraft and fly it. Beats being grounded!


  8. I’m the happy owner of a 1975 Cessna 150M and it does everything I ask of it. It’s inexpensive (by comparison to other aircraft) to operate and it’s low initial cost meant I could buy it outright instead of incurring debt. Having only two seats suits me just fine as I usually fly by myself. A four seat aircraft would mean three empty seats. As time goes by I’m gradually adding or modernizing equipment on the 150 which may cost a bit but is certainly less than buying and paying for a newer or larger aircraft. If I used the aircraft for work then I would consider a machine with more speed and capacity. As it is I use the Cessna for pleasure and practise.

  9. Just before I retired I bought a 1967 Cessna 150 for less than I paid for my new car. Another suggestion to new pilots looking for an airplane is to consider how they intend to use it.

    I fly for pleasure and fly frequently with a group of friends to restaurants and various places of interest. Those who think that a 100 horsepower, two-seat airplane is not a cross country airplane are sadly mistaken. Every year members of the Cessna 150-152 Club travel to Clinton, Iowa from almost everywhere in the U. S.

    Aviation makes it possible to go anywhere you want if you have the time and desire. Regardless of what kind of airplane you choose to own,

    1. Thank you for sharing your C-150 experience, Robert! The more we can spread the word about the affordability of older airplanes, the better. Happy and safe flying!

  10. I purchased a C150J about 16 monfhs ago ( late october 2011) . I trained for and recieved my private pilot in less than 7 months . My income is modest but this bird is wonderfully affordable to fly . I now have about 125 hrs logged . I fly all winter in northen MN in relative comfort with decent heat and sheepskin seat covers . My personal minimum temp is -5F with winds 15mph or less . My home base is HIB (hibbing mn) . I frequintly fly in and out of grass and Ice strips all over the area . I paid $18,500 for a very nice 150 , 65 hrs SMOH engine , mode C transponder , fip flop radio , VOR , new mags , carb , exhaust and tires . My PPC training was $ 5600 . Hanger $160 mo with electric . Insurance $1200 as a student pilot now about $800 per year. Fuel burn is 4.5 to 6.0 GPH . Annual itself is About $750.00 , If prblems are found parts and labor are additional,

    1. Very cool, Dave! I’m taking the liberty of passing along your contact info to Ian Twombly, who is doing a story on such topics. Thank you for sharing this valuable and inspiring info!

  11. Greg,

    Thank you very much for writing this. I’ve spent the last two years re-discovering 150s through my flying club outside Seattle. Crazy enough, I had actually looked down upon these fun little planes after doing most of my training in 172s. Truth be told, I would love to own a 150, but for the time being, my flying club works out wonderfully. The hourly tach time is low enough that I’m not breaking the bank every time I go up, and they’re actually wide enough for me and my wife to fit comfortably while only leaving a few gallons in the truck.

    People talk about the high cost of flying, but I find that it is very easy to fly a small and modest airplane while maintaining a modest budget, and still maintain some form of proficiency. Not to mention, the 150 is about all the airplane I need for the recreational flying I do around Seattle, even for some of the short and medium cross countries I take around here.

    1. Thanks, Brandon! I’m convinced that one of the biggest impediments to flying is pilots setting their sights on aircraft they can’t afford to fly. BTW, you might enjoy my recent column, “Affordable Adventure,” about a guy who has a heck of a lot of adventure in his 150.

  12. I just happen to stumble on this site, and everything that is said on here makes perfect sense. I became a private pilot 19 years ago, (1995) and sadly just hours after getting my ticket I let flying go by the wayside. I got back into the cockpit 6 years ago (2008) and got my flight review signed off after just a few hours with an instructor in the Cessna 150. It was my first time in the 150 as I learned in the Piper Tomahawk. During my second wind of aviation I realized why I got out in the first place. The frustration of renting from my local FBO and trying to juggle the airplane schedule with the students as I could only have the airplane for about an hour and a half at a time to get the airplane back in time, and of course not to mention weather, and a number of occasions going to the airport and the airplane is down in the hanger in maintenance. So needless to say all I could really do is go around the pattern a few times and call it a flying day. Don’t get wrong their is nothing wrong with that, but the whole purpose of using an airplane is to go somewhere. Then a serious family emergency happened coupled with my frustrations with renting, and flying is back on the wayside again. I don’t ever want to go the renting route again. I’m going to look at our local flying club, but I fear it’s just going to be much of the same as renting from the local FBO, The last few weeks I have been scouring the internet entertaining the prospects of purchasing a Cessna 150. I do have a few hours in the 150 and it’s not my dream airplane, but at least it gets me back into the cockpit. For my purposes the 150 seems fit the bill for what I want. Thanks for a great article.

    1. Thanks for your great post, Mike. Yeah C-150s are super affordable right now, and even some of the older four-place 172s and Cherokee 140s are getting there too. Don’t rule out the flying club until you check it out thoroughly, as when properly structured they can give you a lot of freedom as well as the benefits of cost-sharing. (Pay particular attention to their trip-scheduling rules, and interview as many members as possible.) I was in four clubs over the years that were all terrific.

  13. Perzactly I bought a 1966 C150 G. Cheap as chips to buy. Cheap as chips to run. I would like a Citation. I could not fuel it even once. My 150 runs on premium unleaded mo gas. I can get airborne at the drop of a hat. I taught abinitio for 20 years. I now own a very fine little plane that I can afford to fly. Don’t ever bag a 150 in front of me. They are a fine aircraft. It is a great photography platform. The windows can be opened in flight. It has a heater for before and after my photographing. I love my C150. Best thing I ever bought.

  14. Perzactly. Hi I am Peter Johnson from Australia. I spend all my time flying inverted but so is the ground down here so it works out the same. I bought a 1966 C150 G. Cheap as chips to buy. Cheap as chips to run. I would like a Citation. I could not fuel a Citation even once. My 150 runs on premium unleaded mo gas. I can get airborne at the drop of a hat. I taught abinitio for 20 years. I now own a very fine little plane that I can afford to fly. Don’t ever bag a 150 in front of me. They are a fine aircraft. Amongst other advantages it is a great photography platform. The windows can be opened in flight. It has a heater for before and after my photographing on the cold days. I love my C150. Best thing I ever bought.

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