The customer: You love to go fast but you don’t have big-engine kind of money. Normally speed and cost rise together like an airspeed indicator and tachometer, but some notable exceptions can be found. You’re not necessarily looking for the fastest airplane in the sky, but you thrive on efficiency, and love the idea of eking out a lot of knots for not a lot of bucks. Ideally you could bring along a friend or two, and maybe a few bags at times, but primarily you’re looking to get to regional destinations for fun weekend or overnight trips.
The budget: $60,000 cash
One of the only certificated aircraft that fits the bill, the Mooney M20C is renowned for its dose of speed for the dollars. Although this budget will require some patience, decent examples are out there. Expect a higher-time engine and older panel. Like other airplanes from the mid-1960s or early 1970s, there could be bigger expenses along the way, including electrical gremlins, leaking fuel tanks, and other aging aircraft issues. But if you can find a good airframe and a decent engine, you’ll be going 145 knots on fewer than 10 gallons an hour. Yes, the cabin can be very tight, especially for back-seat passengers, but every knot has its price.
We may all lament the price of new light sport aircraft, but those with patience are being rewarded with a reasonable used market. Flight Design’s CTLS, long a top standard among LSAs in production, support, style, and speed, can be purchased for around $60,000, even with a low-time engine. Book specs say they cruise between 105 and 110 knots, but owners say a prop change will push the airplane up to the LSA speed limit. That’s Cessna 172 speeds for roughly half the fuel burn. Not to mention you get modern construction, modern avionics, and a parachute.
For this budget you’ve probably dismissed Lancairs, and generally that’s a good strategy. But if you can get your hands on an older 235, you’ll have what many think is unobtainable—excellent speed on low acquisition and operating costs. At the time of this writing one was available with a low-time engine and Garmin avionics with a list price of $45,000. Churning out 140 knots on about six gallons an hour with a very common and reliable Lycoming O-235 is quite an achievement. Plus, it looks phenomenal and is aerobatic. This segment of Lancairs have model designations based on engine displacement of the original design, but many have been upgraded with even larger engines, meaning yet more potential speed.
Let us know which aircraft you would choose!