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172 Book Excerpts

Cessna 172 Buyers Guide Excerpt

"FOR SALE 1957 172: 6500 TT, 1150 SMOH. Dual NAV/COMs, ADF, Tspndr  $20,000 Call Dwayne 805/555-5555."  Now there is a deal, a lot of airplane for the money.  Can't go wrong, right?  Well, that depends.

If your aircraft purchasing budget has you looking at older 172s as opposed to a newer 172, you need to sit down and consider some of the cold hard facts about owning an older aircraft.  And the facts that I am talking about are ongoing dollars.  While the cost to enroll in this school may be modest, the yearly tuition can be quite steep.

First of all, while you consider this a twenty or twenty five thousand dollar airplane, to the Cessna Aircraft Co. it is a one hundred sixty thousand dollar aircraft, because that is what it sells for new today.  And that is the level that Cessna sets its parts prices at.  Even using salvage yards, which generally sell used parts at fifty percent of new list, buying parts for this bird can generate quite a bit of shock.

Operating costs of the older CESSNA 172 SKYHAWK are no less than on a later model.  In fact, they might actually be somewhat higher if you acquire a pre-1968 172 SKYHAWK, because the six cylinder Continental O-300 engine costs more to maintain and overhaul than the four cylinder Lycoming used in the later model CESSNA 172 SKYHAWKS, the Lycoming O-320-H2AD used from 1977 thru 1980 excepted. 

What if the aircraft will need some renovation shortly?  It is easy to say that you will buy the plane now, do an overhaul on the engine when it is due in a couple of years, upgrade the radios a little later, do some painting, get an interior, etc.  However, when you look at the numbers, they don't really add up.

Let's take the 1957 172 SKYHAWK  that we started with in this column.  It has a somewhat high time engine, and old radios that don't even meet the current FCC specifications.  You buy the aircraft figuring on turning it into a super fine machine by refurbishing over the next four or five years.  Let's take a look at what you will have invested, even doing this by watching every penny.

First, you have to do something about that high time engine.  Even if when the engine is torn down there is not much work required, and you take advantage of every cost cutting corner possible, you will still have at least $10,000 invested in an economy overhaul, with 13K to 15K being a more realistic figure.  And you can't keep operating forever on those old 360 channel radios.  A couple of new nav/coms, transponder, audio panel and  ADF or GPS will be at least 12K installed with a basic autopilot like an STEC 20 another five thousand if it is installed when the radios go in, more if installed at a separate time.

Now that you have that older 172 running well, and able to communicate with anyone, you will just have to dress up the package it comes in.  Figure conservatively six grand each for paint and interior.  You now have a good airplane in performance, reliability and appearance.  You also have at least sixty  thousand dollars in it.

For that sixty thousand dollar investment, you end up with an aircraft worth thirty five thousand tops, in today's dollars.  Better you should spend that fifty plus thousand on a newer 172 SKYHAWK, late 1970s vintage, with lots of engine time left and decent radios. It will cost you more going in, but you won't lose the money you have lost on this deal because the airplane will always be worth at least what you paid for it, just as the 1957 172 SKYHAWK that you have fifty plus into will always be worth the 20 grand you paid for it.  Or, go find the guy that put fifty grand into an older 172 and pay him thirty five thousand for it.

The purpose of this discussion is to bring out several points about aircraft purchasing in general, and older aircraft specifically.

  1. Look at total dollars to be invested, not just purchase price.

  2. Older aircraft that need refurbishment are seldom a bargain.

  3. Buy the airplane equipped as you want it, rather than add it later, let someone else pay the equipment depreciation.

This is not to say that an early 172 SKYHAWK can't be a good value, it certainly can be.  If purchased decently equipped with time left on the engine, you have an aircraft that will perform right up there with any light four place fixed gear, fixed pitch  single, at a fraction of the investment you would have in later models.  If you are the type person who is willing to do a lot of the refurbishment work and parts scrounging yourself, even an older 172 SKYHAWK in need of work and refurbishment can be a good airplane for you.  You just have to look at the dollars you will be spending now and in the future, realistically.

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