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What is the best first aircraft?


I am biased on this topic, so I need to put my objective hat on for this one. Most PPL training is done on Cessna 152’s, Piper PA28/38 or if you are lucky enough some of the new generation Rotax powered aircraft. GPS will not have been a big feature of your training, and your dead reckoning skills will be at an all time peak. The key learning will come from visiting your first 100 airfields. Taking friends and family will also be a feature but that is very much a once off, tick the box scenario for most fresh PPL’s.

The flying most long time PPL’s do is with other like minded enthusiasts or licensed pilots. Passengers can add to the work load and this is something that is not addressed at training stage. Their concerns, questions and actions can add so much to the workload of a flight. Take a Cessna door for example that your novice passenger has just popped open with his elbow, it can be a big workload to divert and get closure on the matter!

That is why my suggestion is for a two seat aircraft as the first purchase. Less people, less horsepower to feed with fuel, lighter and a more pure flying experience all round. The aim is to get out, get lots of flying done in an economical manner and learn as you go. Weather, flight planning, cross border requirements, maintenance and understanding aircraft documentation are all things you are going to need to become au fait with sooner or later.  Its important to buy something that you can progress with. That could be either trading up or upgrading the aircraf.

My first aircraft was a Piper J3 Cub. Once I had learned the tailwheel basics (10 hours or so) it took at least 50 hours to learn all her other tricks. Hot starts, crosswinds, real world fuel consumption, hand swinging to start up solo all required time to absorb fully. The aircraft was then upgraded with a 90hp engine, which was like going from a VW Golf to a Golf GTI. That was a big step up in capability and allowed the aircraft into some very short strips.

The aircraft was then fitted with floats which took the possibilities forward in a huge way. The same aircraft provides a path to learn a lifetime of skills, and is still a challenge to get the most from. Sloppy stick and rudder skills will quickly be shown up, as older aircraft were not designed to be forgiving. This is a great basis for learning, and if you could fly a Luscombe, Taylorcraft or Stinson properly then you have a great skill set that will work with the more complex aircraft that you may advance to. So if you are up for the challenge, have a closer look at the post war trainers and take your pick from these ranges;

  • Aeronca Champ
  • Piper Cub
  • Luscombe
  • Taylorcraft BC12
  • Cessna 120/140
  • Stinson

and you will have both skills and an aircraft that will be widely appreciated in the future. If you don’t feel comfortable with this sort of vintage hardware, try it and try it again. The first time I flew the Piper Cub I hated it, so stick with it. If your instructor isn’t able to convince you of the merits, try fly with an experienced PPL from a short grass strip so you can see the skills first hand. Perhaps after all this you still don’t have the nerves for tailwheel/vintage/farmstrip flying? Then a good suggestion is a share in a good Cessna 152 or 172, with a group of pilots who use the airplane a lot and would be glad of another group member coming along to split the costs.

This is a quick route to getting proficient and it should be relatively easy to sell your share afterwards. If such a group doesn't exist locally you can always buy the aircraft outright and form the group yourself. You still have a lot to learn after getting your licence. Your first seat belt caught outside the aircraft door will scare you, same as the first splutter of real carb ice.

These are things to learn from and progress. Flying is about avoiding mistakes, but if you do make one, then learn something from it! Safe flying and do get in touch if you are buying an aircraft. We only give honest advice and will sell an aircraft only if it works for both of us!

William Flood
William Flood