The term affordable gets kicked around a lot now that aircraft designs both old and new are flowing once again from factories. It has been used to describe new two- and four-place airplanes costing $200,000 or more. As many of you say in person at trade shows, "That's as much as my house."
OK, what about $20,000? Try getting a house for that. A Cessna 152 may be your best chance for truly affordable keys to the sky. The aircraft are plentiful now as flight schools dump whole fleets of the trusty trainers in favor of newer aircraft.
Need to rationalize to the family the purchase of what is essentially a fun machine? Tell them it is an excellent way to practice IFR skills (in VFR weather). We're not at all suggesting that these two-place scenery hunters are serious or even humorous IFR machines in actual weather. But can approaches in a 152 polish skills that translate to larger, faster singles? To test a 152's ability to keep you current, we rented one at Naples Air Center in Naples, Florida, and kept the speed up to 90 knots while making approaches to airports in the area. There was no difficulty at all with making approaches at that speed, a speed common to many larger singles. Overall, the 152 is best used for proficiency and fun, filling such roles as an IFR currency airplane, a time-builder for the rating-hungry pilot, or just a terrific way to slowly go where many have gone before to seek out new restaurants or civilizations.
The Cessna 152 leaves complexity behind. You needn't worry about the best manifold and rpm settings, the temperature of the nonexistent turbocharger, procedures for failure of retractable gear, or whether you will even get to your destination on time. Of course you won't. But you'll arrive smiling unless there is a crosswind. These aircraft require vigilance in tricky winds, a trait that has made them good trainers. Aside from challenging gale-force winds, it is the docile handling of the 152 that makes it so enjoyable to fly. Like everything else in the aircraft's design, handling characteristics require very little effort. Landings are easy for post-student pilots, and takeoffs are uncomplicated. Once trimmed in flight, little effort is required to maintain the desired altitude. Weight and balance can be a bit touchy. Flying with a friend in a 152 one day, I decided to consume a piece of the pie we had purchased at our destination. As I leaned forward to lift a bite on my fork, the 152 started a gentle descent. It was part of the fun of being in such a small aircraft. Ground handling, thanks to the aircraft's light weight, is a back- and muscle-friendly experience.