Published Date

August 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 37: Will There Be a Plane in Every Garage? (1945)

Buying a private plane is a lot like buying a car, except that for your own sake you ought to be more critical of a plane than of a car. There are some aircraft salespeople who may try to pass off a defective plane at a bargain price, realizing that you are an amateur and probably won’t discover the fault until later. If the fault results in the failure of some part of the ship while you are flying, it may be too late for you! The majority of airplane distributors, however, are reputable, and they like to deal with intelligent people who ask questions and demand demonstrations before they buy.

If flying is comparatively new for you, it’s a good idea to invite someone who knows about planes to go along with you when you shop for a plane. He might be your flying instructor, an accredited airplane mechanic, or an experienced airman. Be guided by his suggestions.

You’ll be better off if you buy a new plane built by a well-known firm. If something goes wrong, they’ll be more likely to make good and it will be easier for you to get standard replacement parts. Beware of homemade or rebuilt planes.


Why do you want a plane?

Before you start shopping for an airplane, decide what you want in the way of shape, size, weight, performance, and seating capacity. The best way to begin is to ask yourself, “What am I going to use this plane for?”

If you are going to be a “Sunday flyer,” and do most of your flying on week ends near home, you will probably invest in a low-cost, low-horsepower plane that will have a cruising speed of about 100 miles an hour and a range of about 200 miles.

If you plan to use your plane for cross-country trips, for business, vacation, or weekends at grandfather’s place in the country, you’ll want more speed, greater range, and larger carrying capacity. The flying machine you might buy will be moderately large in size and have a cruising speed of about 130 miles an hour and a minimum range of 500 miles between refuelings. Too frequent stops for fuel seriously cut down the average speed of an airplane on cross-country trips. If you plan to fly for business, you’ll probably have to spend $5,000 or more for your plane and be ready to pay high maintenance costs, operating expenses, and insurance rates.

If you’re going to do a lot of cross-country flying, you’ll probably want radio equipment, which is not included in any standard medium-priced personal aircraft. On normal operations, you will then be able to receive take-off and landing information from airport control towers and other information from the airways radio to help you in your flight: In flying through a storm, your radio will bring you weather reports. In emergencies, radio-signal direction finders operated by the Federal Communications Commission can establish your location if you get lost.

You must have radio equipment to land at air terminals where commercial airliners make scheduled stops, unless you are forced to land in an emergency. Radio communication with the control tower in such airports is necessary to the smooth handling of air traffic. Through radio, planes are notified where and when they are to land, when they should take off, and what runway to use.

Think before you buy

Safety, comfort, practicability, performance, and good looks are going to be the chief points that airplane salesmen will use to induce you to buy.

When you think of seating capacity, don’t forget to consider the number of persons in your family. If there are three in your household and you buy a two-seater, someone will always have to be left on the ground.

Twin booms, like those in the Lockheed P-38 fighter plane, will be offered on some planes instead of the more conventional long fuselage. In this type the twin booms carry the tail control and stabilizing surfaces. When the wing is fastened to the bottom of the fuselage to give a low-wing design, a very safe plane results. Pusher planes of this design, where the engine is centered in the rear of the cabin so that the twin booms build a fence around the propeller, have an added safety feature. The booms protect bystanders from serious injury in the blades of a whirling propeller when the airplane is on the ground.

It is important that the pilot’s visibility be good. From a comfortable, relaxed position in the pilot’s seat, you should be able to see above, below, far back on at least one side, and of course directly ahead. The better the visibility, the easier it will be for you to control your plane and the less will be the chances of collision. Ample visibility for the passengers is important, too. If they can look out of the plane conveniently, they’ll enjoy the trip more.

Additional safety features may be: two instead of three controls; dual controls, so that either person in the front pair of seats can pilot the plane; and flaps, known as high-lift devices. The latter act as a sort of supplementary wing, permitting the pilot to take off and land at a lower ground speed—thus with greater safety.

Your plane will come equipped with all the flight and navigational instruments necessary for its safe operation. These include compass, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, airspeed indicator, fuel gauge, and clock. If you plan on buying additional instruments, invest in a rate-of-climb indicator, artificial horizon, and directional gyro. They’ll be most helpful to you.

The power plant

The engine in your plane should be of the approved type, which means that it has passed stringent factory and government tests. You must be able to rely upon your engine. If it should fail in the air you might have a serious crack-up, or at the very least a forced landing.

You should check the following desirable characteristics of aircraft engines before you buy. First, low weight per horsepower. The engine should not weigh more than four pounds per horsepower.

Second, quick response. By actual demonstration see that the engine functions smoothly over a wide range of speeds at various altitudes and that it responds promptly to speed changes from idling to full power.

Third, economy of fuel and oil consumption—a factor of great importance. This is desirable from the standpoint of reducing the weight of fuel to be carried and keeping the cost of operation as low as possible.

Fourth, freedom from dangerous vibration. Engine vibration; if excessive, imposes unnecessary strains on the entire airplane and may cause breakage of pipes, tubes, and wires, as well as discomfort to the passengers. Vibration of the plane’s instruments may seriously affect their accuracy. The engine should be well balanced and comparatively free from vibration at all operating speeds.

Grasshoppers for sale; Uncle Sam, prop.

Surplus stocks of small liaison planes and trainers that have been doing war jobs for the Army, Navy, and the Civil Air Patrol are being sold to civilian purchasers now. More of them may be available soon after the war is over. With their drab warpaint hidden beneath gay rainbow colors, some of these surplus Taylorcraft, Stinson, Cub, and Fairchild air-craft may be as good and as much in demand as new private aircraft. But don’t expect to be able to buy one for a song.

Some of them may be in top condition when the government puts them up for sale. They may be more airworthy and more reliable in engine and instrument accessories than they were when Uncle Sam bought them new. In many cases the planes are being sold with very expensive instruments and other equipment installed especially for wartime use and which are not to be removed before they are sold.

This does not necessarily mean they will be more air-worthy or reliable or better buys than a brand-new plane. These little planes live a rugged life under GI colors, and in many cases are sold “as is.” Only planes that tip the scales at more than 5,000 pounds are checked over before disposal by the service branch which has used them.

Engineers of the Civil Aeronautics Administration examine every type of plane declared surplus by the armed forces to determine whether it is airworthy according to CAA standards. Airworthiness means it is safe for operation in civilian hands.

Some of these planes are so close to civilian standards—many of them came right off civilian assembly lines—that no changes will be necessary. Others, built or rebuilt to military specifications, will require certain changes to meet established civilian standards of safety. CAA engineers will determine what these changes are as to each type.

Individual airplanes of that type, however, may need specific repairs in addition to these changes to conform to air-worthiness requirements. In some instances, thus, the purchaser may have to make minor alterations, specified by CAA engineers, before a license can be issued.

Now—or later?

Small airplane manufacturers view the sale of more and more of these planes by Uncle Sam as a threat to their business in the immediate postwar era. It has been “suggested that the government restrict the sale of such planes to schools and colleges and public or federal aviation training programs. These organizations need aircraft to use in instructing the future engineers, pilots, mechanics, and technicians who will keep American aviation ahead of the rest of the world. If the sales of such planes are limited in this way, airplane manufacturers will not have to wait a year or two until a substantial market for new aircraft begins to develop and will have a chance to develop their business in an open market.

If, on the other hand, airplane manufacturers are forced to wait a year or two, they might benefit from the time by devoting their entire efforts to the improvement of their planes and the development of new types of personal aircraft. Then, when they are ready to display their wares before the public, they will be able to offer planes of much greater utility.

One-third down, a year to pay

If you want to buy a new airplane or a used warplane under a time-financing plan, the banks are ready to offer you an installment plan, as well as special financing services for other phases of aviation.

One Pacific Coast bank has the following plan for the purchaser of a $1,500 private airplane. He can pay one-third down and the balance in twelve monthly installments of $103.50, making a total of $1,742. These payments also cover $183 worth of insurance and finance charges totaling $59.

Other plans being offered include time financing for student, pilot, or mechanic training and financing arrangements between manufacturers and distributors. Under the latter program, persons interested in becoming aircraft dealers are established financially and provided with planes to sell.

How long will you keep your plane?

On the average, one individual owns a plane for three and a half years—according to studies made by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. This is about half the useful life of the private plane. In many cases private planes change hands every year or so.

In the prewar days many people learned to fly, bought air-planes, and then discovered that the upkeep was too great, too much time was spent in getting back and forth from the airport, and that flying had not proved as useful as they expected. They sold their planes and in many instances gave up flying. Cost of maintaining and operating a private plane has always been the main consideration in its purchase. However, this cost must be weighed against the value received. Undoubtedly, in many cases the owners mentioned above could have cut their other expenses sufficiently to carry on their flying if they had believed it was important or necessary to their way of living.

As the utility value of an airplane increases, more people will buy planes and will keep them longer. If the airplane becomes a necessity, a person’s income bracket will not be the main factor in determining whether he can buy a plane and keep it. In a recent survey of one hundred airplane owners in one part of the country it was revealed that their average annual income was $2,200.

For Discussion

Would you purchase a used warplane for your private flying machine if you could buy a new plane? Should most of the used warplanes on sale be restricted to institutions providing instruction for aeronautical trainees? Should war veterans who want to purchase private aircraft be able to buy them at a reduced price? Would this privilege be abused by some who might buy planes for resale at a profit? Will installment plans for the purchase of aircraft get more people interested in flying?

Next section: Who’s Going to Provide Your Ground Facilities?