This website regularly promotes affordable aviation. Can you genuinely find an aircraft you like that is affordable? If so, are the smaller shows — ones I call “sector-specific” — the place to find them?
Those two questions come up all the time on ByDanJohnson.com.
When you read Flying magazine or AOPA Pilot, the odds are low that readers of this website will find something they can afford. Both titles do a high quality job of covering aviation and I am glad they continue (though Flying is scaling back their print magazine to just four times a year). Yet the aircraft these two periodicals cover are almost never something I can afford; you may feel similarly.
The fact is most aviation magazines and the bigger airshows are full of aircraft most of us cannot afford.
Midwest LSA Expo
First the good news. Yes, you can find affordable aircraft (here is a series of examples). Yes, you can find them at the sector-specific shows that serve the affordable end of aviation. The smaller shows charge a lot less to vendors and this makes it easier for companies building lower-cost aircraft to exhibit.
The truth is that every time I survey vendors at these two events — plus the Copperstate event — representatives report sales even as they often make comments about low foot traffic. I usually ask, “Do you care about big crowds of people or the chance to connect with pilots who might actually buy your aircraft?” The conversation often ends with sellers remarking that even though the crowds were smaller, they sell aircraft or at least gain good prospects. Nearly all return year after year.
Pilots who attend these events are usually quite pleased because they can ask all the questions they like, they can get in aircraft to see how they fit, and they can take demo flights with far greater ease than at the big events with their large numbers of attendees.
Yet what is affordable for one pilot may not be in the budget of another. This is true with almost everything you can buy. Have you priced a loaded full-size pickup truck lately (wow! …those babies are expensive!).
For some, $10,000 is the right cost. For others $100,000 is “affordable.” It depends on you and your finances so whenever I write that loaded word, I know I will hear from some readers who think I am all wrong.
Nonetheless, here are a few aircraft I found at DeLand Showcase on the one day I was able to attend this year. I’d call some of these affordable even if you may disagree.
Sprint Lite Gyro
Right at the top of their literature page, seller Blades Over Me wrote “Price: $35,500.” Is that affordable? Well, it is one of the lowest cost gyroplanes I’ve found (along with the Fusion Nano reported earlier in this AirVenture round-up article).
Affordability is often better with a single seater partly as less hardware is needed and a less powerful engine can be specified. Despite those comments, I thought Sprint Lite was a handsome aircraft with some interesting features. A video with more detail will follow later but dealer Raul Salazar of Blades Over Me offered a few points I’ll describe here.
When a single seater has a 100 horsepower engine, you know it will perform enthusiastically. To contain the price, designer Claudio Pagotto selected the Simonini Victor 2 engine, logical since engine and airframe are produced in Italy but offering a cost savings over the Rotax 912 (though lacking the sterling brand reputation of the Austrian powerplant).
Raul observed that Claudio went to effort to create an engine mount that better supports the engine compared with designs that hang the engine from a vertical mast (photo). Certainly, Sprint Lite is something of a fair-weather flyer that won’t provide much protection to a pilot in a Minnesota winter but if you want “affordable,” needing to stick to pleasant days is not exactly a hardship.
Those of you with a fascination with gyroplanes (like me) now have another aircraft that may meet your budget.
Fielden Aero showed their Aeropup kit at DeLand 2021 after having reps at Midwest 2021 armed only with literature. I was curious to have a closer look at this Australian entry. American Don Fielden is the U.S. importer and you can look for a video to tell you more when editing is complete (be patient; my video partner will be off his usual fast pace for a few weeks but it will come).
Aeropup is a “back to basics flying machine with modern engineering,” said Don when we spoke at DeLand Showcase 2021. He added that it is “extraordinarily rugged and an extraordinary value.” What kind of value?
“The kit is only $18,000 [an introductory price, he notes] and can be flying for as little as $40,000 and 500 hours of build time,” said Don. I’d call that affordable but I what I mentioned above still applies.
Because Aeropup is a kit, of course you can configure it any way you like. Given a modest 540-pound empty weight (depending on which engine you mount) Aeropup can have a high useful load of 780 pounds. Even using all 24 gallons of fuel capacity, Aeropup offers a payload of 636 pounds, enough for two big American men plus generous baggage. Heavier engine choices will use some of those pounds, but the design should still carry a lot of what you want. A 46-inch-wide cockpit provides adequate elbow room for those boys on board.
What engines are supported? Don has installed a UL Power 350 and he’s excited about what that powerplant’s 130 horses will do for performance. Loaded lightly, it ought to be a rocket blastoff. Like Zenith, Aeropup USA offers a number of choices: UL Power, Rotax — either 582 or 912 — Jabiru (naturally, since it starts life in Australia), VW 2276, and D-Motor (LF-26). “Other compatible engines are also available,” added Don.
I cannot / should not fail to mention Aerolite 103 in any article that talks about affordability. This is one of the champions of budget-worthy airplanes and apparently lots of people know it. The company has been producing kits and fully-built airplanes at full capacity for several years now and is undoubtedly the market leader.
When you have a success story, you don’t mess with it too much, and builder U-Fly-It has not. Yet incremental changes don’t ruin the smooth-running production line so the company often displays something just a little different. This time, DeLand attendees saw a Aerolite with big, fat tires on it. Given the growing interest in tundra tires, this is hardly surprising even if a lightweight aircraft like Aerolite 103 hardly needs them. Dang, they look cool, though (photo).
To keep the torrid pace going strong, proprietor Dennis Carley and his group introduced an electric-propulsion version of Aerolite 103 — now dubbed the EZ-103 — at Sun ‘n Fun 2021. Learn more about that entry in this article.
Charged to Fly?
Speaking of electric propulsion — though not so much about affordability — I can never overlook Pipistrel. Not only has this Slovenian company become one of the top aircraft producers in the light aviation space (see this article), Pipistrel may be the world leader in electric motors as an aircraft powerplant.
While their Alpha variant went through a few other names, the Eastern European producer now calls their model Velis Electro. “Velis Electro is world’s first electric-powered airplane to receive a Type Certificate. [Our] two-seater [is] intended primarily for pilot training,” stated Pipistrel. Fine. Lots of publications have reported on this aircraft. So have I (see here).
One thing that becomes critically important is charging the on-board batteries. We all know from our electronic devices that you cannot stray too far from a power source and you need the right gear to recharge. Airplane batteries are expensive and need smart chargers to get the most life out of them. At DeLand 2021, U.S. rep, Rand Vollmer had the wheel-equipped charging unit position right by Velis and had it plugged in as though juicing up the batteries (photo). This may not be right for you yet, but Pipistrel is doing a great job bringing e-power to our light aircraft.
Ka$h for Float$?
Finally, floats. If you like flying off the water — or the safely aspect of quadrupling your available landing areas — you gotta have something to keep your bird out of the drink. Several other producers make floats but an old friend, Lavern Dence, showed one of the coolest ideas I’ve seen on light aircraft floats. No, I don’t mean his use of a beautiful color-speckled carbon fiber, which looks reddish in the nearby photo but his business card made from the exotic cloth had blue accents; either way it is very striking.
The construction was up to this handy fellow’s usual par but it wasn’t the finish that got my attention. Honestly, I would never have seen the feature had Lavern not pointed it out. His website will be KashFloats.com but that’s not up yet so he advises, “Just text me at 941-457-8005.” They are presently available as straight floats only.
The magic is a cleanly-embedded thruster built right into the base of the float. Skip the clunky, draggy look of water rudders and all the mechanical linkage they require. Instead an electric-motor-driven thruster helps you maneuver on water. This is a very clever idea, about what anyone who knows Lavern would expect.
Whatever your budget, I hope you realize I will keep searching at small shows and large ones for aircraft you might be able to afford. Please remember, no matter what I find, that flying machine might fit your budget… or it might not. Only you can know that for sure. Tail winds, everyone!