Bargain retractables: now's a great time to buy a retractable single. Piper's Arrow is the best bang for the buck.
The good news is there are a lot of them from which to choose. The bad news? Even in this market, finding the right bargain will still take some work. To try making that process easier for you, we set an arbitrary price of $60,000 and, with a fresh copy of the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest in hand, looked at what's available and what you can expect. We found the best bargain is the Piper Arrow IV, but many other models may merit your attention, especially if you have some special needs or desires.
With the economy in the tank and some desperate sellers cutting prices well below average, it's definitely a buyer's market. Which means it's probably not a good idea to jump on the first "deal" you come across. Instead, spend some time watching Trade-A-Plane and other resources for those airframes that seem reasonably priced but which haven't sold. Then, since there's usually a good reason an airplane hasn't sold if it's priced right, ignore them.
At the same time, think carefully about what you might be getting into. For example, some of the models averaging $60,000 these days are 50 or more years old. While age alone wouldn't deter us from a well-maintained example, buying and operating what is essentially a vintage airplane isn't for the faint of heart. Or wallet. Even a creampuff example might require a couple of years and several trips to the shop to get it sorted out the way you want. And if you find some corrosion missed on your pre-purchase inspection, your $60K bargain easily could turn into an $80,000 albatross.
Also, the very idea of buying a retract may not be the best one for you. That same $60,000 can get you into a mid-1970s Skylane or slightly older Cherokee 235, which will meet all of our basic criteria without the maintenance or insurance expense of retractable landing gear.
Avionics is another area where you may find "average" isn't what you had in mind. The Bluebook prices we used in evaluating this market, for example, may not include a moving-map GPS or autopilot, something we consider standard equipment in an airplane used for traveling. We generally urge shoppers to find an airplane with all the goodies they want already in the panel, since adding them yourself costs more than buying them already installed. When looking for one of these bargain retracts already equipped with all the goodies you want, expect the price to go above $60,000, or the aircraft to be older.
Finally, with two basic exceptions--the Piper Arrow and the two Mooney models we'll get to in a moment--all of these airplanes are out of production. While for the most part their respective factories still support them, what about five or 10 years from now? How good are you or your mechanic at scrounging parts or finding someone to rebuild what you have?
The last V-tail Model 35 Bonanza flew away from the Beech factory in 1982. Twelve years later, the company rolled out its final copy of the Model 33, or straight-tail Bonanza, after introducing it in 1960 as the Debonair. Together, these two models also may be thought of as "short-body" Bonanzas, in deference to the lengthier Model 36, which remains in production. For your $60,000, you should easily be able to find either a 33 or 35 from the mid-1960s. If something newer is more your cup of tea, the last few editions of the Model 24 Sierra, known as the C24R, which went out of production in 1983, can be had for only $45,000. But caveats apply to all these choices. For example, Beech has long been known for expensive and no-longer-produced parts. The reality is a little different.
Beech has a deserved reputation for building stout aircraft. Unless an example has been poorly maintained or suffered damage, the vast majority of consumable parts are industry-standard items or something a speciality shop can overhaul. There are exceptions involving Beech's use of magnesium in control surfaces, for example, but even those components can be rebuilt, for a price. Power-plants in older Bonanzas can range from the ancient E-series Continentals to a fire-breathing IO-550 and everything in between.
Meanwhile, the short-body Bonanzas tend toward Dutch rolls in turbulence. Some of this results from its flat-bottomed and slab-sided fuselage, which doesn't do much to damp such tendencies, and some of it involves the type's interconnected rudder and aileron system. Pilots experienced with the Bonanza know some slight pressure on the rudder pedals helps damp any Dutch roll. Those same pilots agree flying the Bonanza is a delight, with well-harmonized controls and excellent performance.
The same can't always be said of the Model 24 Sierra, Beech's answer to Piper's Arrow. The Sierra is basically a retractable Musketeer, itself an attempt to compete against Cherokees and Skyhawks, which came on the market in 1963. The first Sierras were marketed in 1970 and offered relatively spacious cabins, at least when compared to the competition, plus substantial load-hauling ability. Later versions of the Sierra came with two front-row doors, plus a third one for loading the aft cabin and baggage area. In keeping with Beech's reputation, the Sierra is well-built and a delight to fly. It's also the only 200-HP retract of which we're aware capable of seating six, even if the last two need to be children.
Cessna's single-engine retractables all suffer from the same basic malady: Trying to fold into the fuselage landing gear other manufacturers stow in the wing. Starting with the earliest 210s, the basic design has depended on sometimes-leaky hydraulics, crack-prone saddles, balky gear doors and an assortment of other problems, depending on model and year of manufacture. Thankfully, the gear systems in the 172RG, 177RG and 210 have been out there long enough for redesigns (210) and upgraded components (172RG/177RG). Still, the system can be maintenance-intensive and, if the hydraulic system leaks all its fluid, the gear simply won't come down on its own.
If you already have your complex airplane endorsement, chances are you earned it in either a Cutlass RG or a Piper Arrow. Although the Cutlass RG basically replaced the Cardinal RG as Cessna's entry-level retract, they are two very different airplanes, with the Cutlass' 172 heritage readily apparent. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the basic Skyhawk cabin fits your needs but you just need more speed. With its bulletproof engine, the 172RG might be an excellent choice if you can find one that hasn't been abused by renters.
The Cardinal RG, on the other hand, was rarely seen on the flight training ramp. Featuring a fuel-injected version of the same basic Lycoming 360-cube engine as installed in the 172RG, the 177RG is more of a baby Centurion than it is a Skyhawk on steroids. It comes with a much larger, more-comfortable cabin, a cantilever wing and a stabilator. Huge cabin doors facilitate access, but also can get caught in the wind and break their hinges. The wing is mounted further aft than the Skyhawk's, so a pilot can actually see what's above by leaning forward.
The Centurion, meanwhile, started life as a retractable 182 with a 260-HP IO-470 and weighing only 2900 pounds. Over the years, it's changed quite a bit, morphing into a pressurized, turbocharged, 325-HP, 4100-pound business machine. In contrast, the earlier 210s were much simpler airplanes--except for the landing gear, perhaps--and soldier on in a variety of roles. Seating for six is standard beginning with the 1964 210D model, although the early rear-most seats are for children. The struts were eliminated in 1967 in favor of a cantilever wing, which remained throughout production.
First certificated in 1972, the Rockwell Commander 112 emphasized looks, cabin room and comfort over raw performance. Two upgrades later, the 112B sported 16-inch wing extensions and a more-respectable 1027-pound useful load. Never known as a speedster, the 112 trades wide-body cabin comfort for leisurely cruise speeds. Perhaps because of its military-airplane experience, Rockwell built into the 112 numerous "big-airplane" features, including a stout landing-gear system along with well-engineered ventilation, electrical and fuel systems.
Original production ceased in 1979, and the design has been through a variety of hands--including a well-heeled group of pilots--with a potential new owner in the wings as we write this. That group was formed to produce parts, among other reasons, and owners report no problems in maintaining their 112s, which always is a concern with older aircraft.
The type's history has been marred, however, by a rash of airworthiness directives (ADs) targeting wing-spar cracking, plus cracks in the tail's vertical spar. A 1990 AD called for repetitive inspections until modifications could be performed. The good news is no additional ADs against the basic airplane have been issued since then. As for the ADs, most aircraft in the fleet probably have been modified and what's required to rework the rest is well-understood.
Any time pilots discuss the most-efficient personal airplanes, Mooneys invariably are part of the conversation. Although perhaps the most well-known example is the 201, prices for it haven't come down to our arbitrary $60,000 ceiling--yet--so we considered two more aged models: the classic "short-body" M20C and the slightly stretched M20F. Before the company changed its model names, these were known as the Ranger and the Executive 21, respectively.
Other than horsepower and fuselage length, there's very little difference between them. Both are well-built airplanes, featuring a welded steel-tube cabin enclosure, laminar-flow wings, incredibly strong landing gear and pushrods instead of the control cables other manufacturers use. The basic M20C was first marketed in the early 1960s and, while much of the cosmetics changed over the years, little else did. And why mess with success? Johnson bar-operated gear and rubber doughnuts to cushion the landing help make a relatively simple, economical single.
For those who might automatically discard the Mooney from consideration due to its diminutive cabin size--which mostly is an optical illusion, anyway--there's the longer M20F. Twenty more horsepower helps haul around the extra sheet metal, though everything else remains pretty much the same as on the M20C. Either model is a good choice for an economical cruiser. While the manufacturing company has been through more changes of ownership than we can count--raising the specter of parts scarcity in the future--enough demand and aftermarket suppliers exist to minimize those concerns.
Despite the Mooneys' renowned efficiency, another company has done well with laminar flow wings: Piper's Comanche had them, along with a wider cabin and more engine choices. In fact, the 180-HP Comanche is a worthy competitor to an M20C Mooney in many categories. Alas, a 1972 flood at Piper's Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, plant ended Comanche production and forced the company to consolidate its manufacturing in Florida. The Cherokee Arrow was already certified and--though it didn't perform as well--Piper's single-engine retractable marketing shifted to it.
Which is a shame, since the Comanche usually is thought of as a better airplane. In addition to the wing's design--laminar flow generally results in reduced drag--its cabin is wider than the PA-28 series and it has relatively simple systems. The only real problem with Coman-ches is--like so many of the types discussed in this roundup--they're getting old.
If that doesn't bother you--or perhaps your favorite mechanic knows them intimately--any Comanche (other than the 400-HP version) offers great transportation value. The Arrow, on the other hand, is still in production. For less than $60,000, you can get into a 1979 T-tailed Arrow IV (although we'd try to stick with the normal-tail/tapered wing Arrow III, and maybe save a few thou). For a lot less than $60K, you can get an earlier Arrow II, with a slightly stretched cabin and the older wing. Either way, you'll end up with a basic, retractable PA-28 with very few ADs, one of Lycoming's more-bulletproof engines (the IO-360, with a 2000-hour TBO) and an airframe for which there are a wide variety of clean-up mods available. It's comfortable, handles well, mechanics are familiar with it and parts are readily available. Plus, its 72-gal-lon fuel capacity--22 more than earlier Arrows and their Hershey-bar wings--affords good full-tanks range and full-seats loading options. For 60 grand and a thorough pre-purchase inspection, it'd be hard to go wrong. That's why it's our bargain retractable.
WHAT'S A BARGAIN?
In this market, $60,000 can buy a lot of airplane. The examples in the table below represent the most-recent vintage of the models we explored and, according to the Bluebook, are available at that average price. Craft with better-than-average equipment, a low-time engine, and/or fresh paint and interior may command more. Run-out examples will go for less, and you'll have the privilege of sinking into it money for improvements you simply won't be able to get out of it later.
Why not a Bonanza, Mooney or Centurion, instead of an Arrow? Age, mainly. Sixty-thousand-dollar Bonanzas and Centurions can be excellent aircraft for your mission, and the chances of finding a good one for that price remain high. But you should be able to find a much younger Arrow--or even a long-body Mooney--for the same money.
If airframe and engine times, and avionics are equal, we would go with the younger airframe. For $60,000, it's hard to beat a well-maintained Arrow that's "only" slightly more than 30 years old.
BARGAIN (UNDER $60K) RETRACTABLE MODEL YEAR AVERAGE RETAIL PRICE TREND BEECH BONANZA S35 1964-1965 $57-60,000 DOWN BEECH DEBONAIR B33 1963-1964 $54-57,000 STABLE BEECH SIERRA C24R 1983 $45,000 STABLE CESSNA CUTLASS 172RG 1985 $56,000 STABLE CESSNA CARDINAL 177RG 1978 $47,000 STABLE CESSNA CENTURION 210J 1969 $57,000 STABLE COMMANDER 112 1977 $51,000 STABLE MOONEY M20C RANGER 1978 $59,000 STABLE MOONEY M20F EXECUTIVE 21 1977 $54,000 STABLE PIPER COMANCHE 260 1966 $59,000 DOWN PIPER ARROW IV 1979 $56,000 STABLE MODEL STANDARD ENGINE STANDARD HP TBO (HOURS) BEECH BONANZA S35 TCM IO-520-B/BA 285 1700 BEECH DEBONAIR B33 TCM IO-470-K 225 1500 BEECH SIERRA C24R LYC IO-360-A1B6 200 2000 CESSNA CUTLASS 172RG LYC O-360-F1A6 180 2000 CESSNA CARDINAL 177RG LYC IO-360-A1B60 200 2000 CESSNA CENTURION 210J TCM IO-520-H 285 1400 COMMANDER 112 LYC IO-360-C1D6 200 2000 MOONEY M20C RANGER LYC O-360-A1D 180 2000 MOONEY M20F EXECUTIVE 21 LYC IO-360-A1A 200 2000 PIPER COMANCHE 260 LYC IO-540-D4A5 260 2000 PIPER ARROW IV LYC IO-360-C1C6 200 2000 MODEL AVERAGE OVERHAUL MAX SEATS UAG ISSUE BEECH BONANZA S35 $30,000 5 JUL, 1999 BEECH DEBONAIR B33 $30,000 5 JAN. 2009 BEECH SIERRA C24R $30,000 6 MAY 2009 CESSNA CUTLASS 172RG $19,000 4 JAN. 2009 CESSNA CARDINAL 177RG $22,000 4 JAN. 2006 CESSNA CENTURION 210J $35,000 6 JUN. 2009 COMMANDER 112 $21,000 4 DEC. 2009 MOONEY M20C RANGER $21,000 4 JULY 2006 MOONEY M20F EXECUTIVE 21 $19,000 4 JULY 2006 PIPER COMANCHE 260 $19,800 APR. 2009 PIPER ARROW IV $22,000 4 JAN. 2008 SOURCE: Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest, Fail 2009
By Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
Jeb Burnside is Editor-in-Chief of sister publication Aviation Safety magazine.
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|Author:||Burnside, Joseph E. (Jeb)|
|Publication:||The Aviation Consumer|
|Article Type:||Buyers guide|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2010|
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