Buying a plane to get your ratings


A good suggestion was made in another thread about buying a plane to get your ratings.

I am a fan of this method, and was wondering what others thought. I sort of did this myself as I bought a plane at about 25 hours into the process.

One problem with this is that in addition to learning to fly, you get to learn to be an owner. It takes extra time. The other problem is that you can’t just take the other plane when yours is broken (assuming you either have a different model, or just couldn’t bear the pain of renting a plane when you already own one).

I put my plane on lease back, but don’t necessarily recomend this for everyone.

Here is the deal. Once you are soloing, you can practice a lot more, but when you get close to the finish you don’t save time because you become instructor dependent again.

I recommend you finish your ground and solo before buying. Finish the ground so it is not a third draw on your time. Solo so that you can get an idea what a plane is supposed to feel like before you buy one.

Lastly, unless you are sure a 4 seat trainer will be the plane you want to stay with, look into a 150 or 140 with low engine time to save money on fuel and capital, or a DA20 if capital is less an issue.


I made the suggestion on another thread, sure I am not the only one!

I had 20 hours and bought a Cherokee 180. $42,000 for 180hp, full IFR panel, 600 hrs SFRE and a GEM. I had one partner, also a student. We did not finance the airplane, so that cost has to be added in.

Our total costs for the 2 years we owned the airplane were

42,000 - airplane 2400, insurance for 2 years
5000 2 annuals 1000 - tie down and unexpected repairs [1 voltage regulator and vac opump]
$ 500 - oil changes -

$50,900 = minus price airplane sold for:

total Cost for 2 years = $4,900 divided by 2 = $2450.00 plus fuel.

I put in 220hrs on the airplane and spent about $7000.00 in fuel for those 220 hours, so my OWN airplane only cost me** $44 / hour INCLUDING FUEL.** That averaged fuel at $3.29 a gallon for so.

YMMV since you will likely not get more from the airplane than you paid for it and your cost will include payments and perhaps other expenses. Even adding the current price of fuel at a $1/gal more, it still is only $54 an hour. You simply can not rent an airplane from an FBO for that price.

I used the Cherokee for my instrument training and completion of primary training and then sold it when my partner decided to quit flying and wanted out - he only put about 35 hours on it in 2 years. By then, I was ready for something a little faster and we bought a 160kt Viking.

A skyhawk will be more expensive since Cessnas are more expensive, why? I do not know. But I would STRONGLY recommend you buy either a Cherokee 180 or a 180hp Skyhawk for your first airplane. most Skyhawks have 165hp Continentals but you will notice that extra hp on hot days. Plus, I flight planned 125ktas, you’d be lucky to 110-115 in a Skyhawk.

The other MAJOR advantage is the plane is not trashed by other people, the airplane is in better condition when you fly it since it does not get beatr up by students every day, the interior is likely in better shape since it is not used everyday, the airplane is ready anytime you want to fly and you can take it with you if you want to visit Grandma. Nothing like having your family pick you up at the easy going local GA airport, where they can drive out to the plane to get the luggage.

As for leaseback, well, yeah, it can cost a little less but your insurance will be very high now.


Thanks erisajd,

I would say from a brokers perspective that the cost of ownership between a 180hp or 160 hp versions of cherokee and skyhawks is about the same on average. There are certain engines you may want to take extra care with.

The problem is that the average repair cost is misleading for several reasons because the range is from inspections and oil to total loss of investment minus scrap value. I did not see that you spent any money on a prebuy.


Also, look into an Archer. Just my personal preference.


I forgot that - prebuy $200. gets lost in the rounding.

Insurance protects the investment from hull loss.

I did not add that we also established an account to hold money for the rebuilds.

If you OWN an airplane you should establish a rebuild fund since if you hold the airplane to TBO you need to rebuild. In my case, sincewesold the airplane we got to pocket the money we had in the rebuild account.

However assuming a 180hp Lyc or Contil will run $30k with a new fixed pitch prop, if you have 1400 hours to go to TBO you need $21/hr into the account so that you do not have a big bill at the end for the rebuild,

That being said, we put $60 into the account for every hour we flew, plus fuel. Fuel was another $30 or so. Total real time expense was $90, or three times the hourly fuel costwhich is a good rule of thumb.

So, I put in $13,200 in the 2 years I owned my Cherokee. We paid out insurance and tiedown and annual labor cost 50/50 and paid repairs and parts from that account after we sold the airplane we took the purchase price out 50/50 and then refunded what was left on a per hour used percentage [obviously I got most of what was left back since I flew 220 and he flew 35] so that at the end of the day the out of pocket cost averaged $45 an hour for that fixed time.

Now, if you keep an airplane to TBO you need to 1) sell it and take the reduced value of the run-out engine or 2) spend the rebuild account money and put inthe engine. Unless you REALLY REALLY like that airplane, selling it and adding the rebuild to what you get for the airplane ususally makes the most financial sense since the value is not reduced completely so long as the engine is still running!


I noticed you said that insurance protects you against hull loss, and I am assuming this was a reaction to my comment about scrap value.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent you from losing the hull’s value when the repairs needed are not caused by an accident, but are greater than the value of the aircraft minus parts value.

This can happen very easily with low end or very old planes.

Please take this advice from the aircraft broker/salesman - Do a Prebuy! Even if you buy the plane from me, and absolutely, positively, if you buy it from someone else. And spend more than $200 unless your AP is your dad, in fact, dad deserves more money too. (By the way, people get away with ignoring this advice all the time; however, just like driving the wrong way on a one way street that doesn’t make it a good idea.)

I have spoken to plenty of people who bought planes and later learned they made a huge mistake. Rarely do they cut their losses and sell the plane for salvage when they should. Usually, they put even more money into the plane than its ever going to be worth or let the plane rot at an airport because they are smart enough to not fly it, but not smart enough to let go.


The best pre-buy is an annual and when when I bought my Viking that was pre-buy. The annual needs to be done by YOUR choice of mechanic and all sorts of agreements are necessary as to cost, etc.

But yeah, we wish we spent more than 3 hours of shop time on the pre-buy for the Cherokee when we bought it, thankfully we did not get burned.

As for repairs costing more than scrap - heck, there is NO reason to set aside money for an engine with a $20k Cessna 152 if thats what you buy. The engine costs more than the 152 so essentially the 153 is a throwaway airplane if you need an engine or even a top. . .


Sorry, but you hit one of my pet peeves.

An annual is NOT a good prebuy.

An annual is better than nothing, but if you don’t buy the plane its a lot to invest and if you do, you could still miss items that scrap your plane.

A prebuy should include a lot of the same airworthiness inspections, but will also include other items that are generally not included in the annual but make a lot of financial difference. Different models have lots of peculiar items that you should look for.

And yes, you should always use a different mechanic than the one the seller has been using. There are mechanics I know that I would trust to fix my plane that I would NEVER use for a prebuy.


Just an opinion: I am finishing up my instrument training and would not be as far as I am if I was doing it in a new aircraft. It is taking all of my knowledge and experience (125+ hours) with the schools Cessna Skyhawk to pull it off.

The only way it might work is if you can find an aircraft with very similar avionics and handling. There is enough problem flying holding patterns, approaches and procedure turns - all under the hood - to look for the new challenges of a different aircraft.

I can see a slight benefit, primarily financial, to getting an airplane during your private pilot, but to do so while getting your instrument is asking for additional challenges you just do not need.


Explain. Do you mean the newer models burn more fuel? Or are glass cokpits harder to get used to?

What are the challenges?

PS I am not a pilot but I’m thinking about Private pilot (and may be IFR, I live in Seattle) flying lessons.


The challenge in getting your instrument rating is one of control over your aircraft. In my experience, even though I started my instrument with 80 hours in a Cessna 172 under my belt, I did not have the best control over the aircraft… particularly while flying only on instruments. Instrument work is about precision (in a 3rd dimension) by reference solely to your instruments. You do not need to learn a new aircraft and do your instrument training concurrently. Again, it may be possible for some people to do it with a new (and different) aircraft, but I am not one of them.

It has nothing to do with better burn rates or glass cockpits. It has everything to do with keeping the plane in control… with the pilot flying the plane in a confident and controlled way - meeting the expectations of ATC, while not looking out the window. That confidence and control only come about through hours of experience… the more hours generally the better.

When you go for your private you will have to spend a limited number of hours “under the hood”. It is one of aviation’s lessons you have to experience for yourself. Hopefully you will see that flying solely by refernence to instruments is significantly different from flying by reference to what is outside the window.


saying this tongue in cheek

You can look out the window :smiley: , just don’t expect to have any visual reference to the ground or sky while in the clag.

Seriously though, I was always told, getting a visual license (VFR) is like getting your college degree, and getting your instrument rating (IA) is like getting your masters degree.

Instrument flying is the fine art of flying, small details, small corrections, and most importantly, patience!!!

The training is brutal (60 hours for me), but once you are through it, your first “solo” in IMC will be just as memorable (or more so) then your first VFR solo flight.

Also, your IFR instructor, the quality and boldness is of utmost importance. Look for an instructor that isn’t afraid of going down to ILS minimums. This was the best thing that happened to me, as the first time I went solo in the clag, I went with 1000 foot ceilings, and when I broke out of the clouds, I felt like I had forever to reach the runway as compared to 200 foot ceilings for most ILS minimums. This equates to less then 30 seconds to transition from being in the clouds to your wheels kissing terra firma.

My lowest solo so far is 600 foot ceilings on a GPS 5 approach into OWB. This was 200 feet above minimums. Nothing more magical then then descending without any visual references outside the window, come out of the bases of the clouds and the runway strobe lights guiding you home.



Riding an ILS down to minimums and below is thrilling. Seeing nothing until 200 ft above the ground with a quarter mile visability is simply amazing. Before people squawk about the word “below”, I mean when flying the ILS down to minimums and having at least the approach lights (and/or any of the other items listed below) in sight you are allowed to continue to 100ft above the touchdown zone elevation. This rule is extremely valuable to pilots flying into airports like Nantuckett and Martha’s Vineyard on the Massachusetts coast and other foggy areas like this

Sec. 91.175
© Operation below DH or MDA. Except as provided in paragraph (l) of this section, where a DH or MDA is applicable, no pilot may operate an aircraft, except a military aircraft of the United States, at any airport below the authorized MDA or continue an approach below the authorized DH unless–
(1) The aircraft is continuously in a position from which a descent to a landing on the intended runway can be made at a normal rate of descent using normal maneuvers, and for operations conducted under part 121 or part 135 unless that descent rate will allow touchdown to occur within the touchdown zone of the runway of intended landing;
(2) The flight visibility is not less than the visibility prescribed in the standard instrument approach being used; and
(3) Except for a Category II or Category III approach where any necessary visual reference requirements are specified by the Administrator, at least one of the following visual references for the intended runway is distinctly visible and identifiable to the pilot:
(i) The approach light system, except that the pilot may not descend below 100 feet above the touchdown zone elevation using the approach lights as a reference unless the red terminating bars or the red side row bars are also distinctly visible and identifiable.
(ii) The threshold.
(iii) The threshold markings.
(iv) The threshold lights.
(v) The runway end identifier lights.
(vi) The visual approach slope indicator.
(vii) The touchdown zone or touchdown zone markings.
(viii) The touchdown zone lights.
(ix) The runway or runway markings.
(x) The runway lights.


I had a whopping 140 hours of total time and all of 20 hours of retract time when I started my IFR training in a complex airplane (Piper Comanche). It was hard work, but made me a MUCH better pilot. My view is that building a lot of VFR time before starting on your instrument rating has diminshing returns. You will learn to control your plane much more precisely during your IFR training, whenever you choose to get it.