The customer: Desires an inexpensive warbird.
The mission: The purr of an idling Mustang and the ear-splitting crack of a T–6 propeller are your music. You think puffs of smoke and oil on the belly are things to be treasured, not cursed while being cleaned off. And to you, the Greatest Generation is just that. You long to break into the warbird community, but there is one problem. You have champagne taste on a beer budget. Warbirds are normally obscenely expensive to buy and operate. Although you have saved your pennies, you know you won’t be able to afford a T–6, or even a restored Stearman. But that doesn’t matter, so long as you can claim to own a piece of history. [email protected]
The budget: $70,000 cash
Thanks to their lower performance and abundance of options, L-Birds will easily meet this budget. No, they’re not the fighter or pursuit aircraft many dream of owning, but they’re also relatively affordable, and they have the same combat pedigree. Piper L–4s based on the Cub are the most plentiful and can easily be found in this budget. Others, such as the L–5, are desirable, but not as plentiful. You can probably ignore the Cessna L–19/O–1 for this budget.
Tandem seating, a stick, fully aerobatic, and a radial engine. What’s not to love? The Yak–52 is an oddity, but that’s what makes it so enticing. As a primary trainer for Eastern bloc pilots, you can experience exactly what those Cold War-era pilots experienced as they moved their way up the chain. It’s a highly capable airplane that is reported to be fun to fly and doesn’t break the bank.
It is a reality of collecting that most collectors own their items for pride and to preserve history as much as to enjoy them on a day-to-day basis. Such is the case with warbirds, where most fly only enough to say current. Knowing this, it’s possible to stretch the budget a little and find a partner to make an AT–6/SNJ a reality. Prices haven’t risen considerably in recent years, and although it will take a pocketful of money to maintain and operate, there’s really no substitute for the airplane that made great pilots out of a brave generation of men (and a few women).