Right Plane - Right Size - Right Mission
Morning All!  New pilot (125-hours, VFR, HP endorsement) struggling with the prospects of picking the right plane to purchase, based on size of my family (height & weight...only 4 of us), speed, mission, etc.  Love some feedback and expertise from the group.  Thought I'd go with a 6/300 fixed gear...but really only has 4-useful seats?  Now thinking about a V35, knowing ONLY 4-seats will ever be available but picking up the extra speed and lower fuel burn.  6/300, Turbo 210, Turbo Saratoga, A36, V35!?!?  Twin???  It's the age old discussion - speed vs useful load.  I'll transition into my complex endorsement and have started my IFR training.  Here's what I'm working with:
  • 4-Person family, 755# of people...I'm 6'5" & 260#...14-year old son in 6'3" and still growing
  • Likely traveling with 4-people most the time...but desire the option for 6, load & distance permitting.
  • Mostly flat terrain, southwest US, Arizona to Alabama, Texas to Nebraska...but might like to fly to Colorado some day?
  • OKC to College Station, Texas for the next 4-years is a PRIORITY
My family of 4 + 84-gallons of fuel (ex.) = 1,259# without luggage...or an additional body or two.  Of course I don't need 84-gallons of fuel to fly a 6/300 from OKC to College Station, TX, but what do I fly that can fit 4-6 people (two of which are over 6'3") has a 1,400#-1,800# useful load and cruises at 150-175 kts.???  Last week, fully loaded at 9,500' and a 5-kts head wind, the Six was doing 110-120 kts ground speed.  I was just hoping for more...but that may be unrealistic given my load and height of passengers?

Love some guidance.  Thanks all.
20 Replies
Ronald Levy
945 Posts
A high-performance retractable like a 36 Bonanza is an awfully big step up for a 125-hour non-IR Private Pilot.  Not sure what you're flying now, but since you've started your IR training already, I'd suggest that your #1 priority right now be finishing the IR in what you're flying now -- horses and streams, and all that.

Beyond that, given the size of the load you're planning to haul, something in the 6-seat, 300HP class is the least you'll need.  In the longer run, to carry six adults plus bags, you're talking either a twin or a single-engine turboprop like the TBM series (or maybe a Piper Meridian), but you're a long way from any insurer wanting to touch you in something that far up the scale.  For the shorter run, something like a 36 Bonanza, Cessna 210, or Piper PA32R is probably a good choice even if it won't carry an 1800# useful load.  Be careful about looking at the planes in that class, since the newer models (say, 2000 and upward) often have much smaller payloads than the older (70's/80's) models thanks to large increases in standard equipment and things like soundproofing and upholstery.  I've been seeing newer PA32R's and 36 Bonanzas with cabin loads in the 600# range or less when you load enough fuel to go the distances you want.  Make sure you look at the actual W&B data for any plane you examine.  Often, the fixed-gear versions like the Cherokee Six or standard Saratoga, or Cessna 206, have significantly larger payloads than their retractable cousins, and for the 300nm distance you're talking, the difference in flying time won't be all that great while the payload and lower insurance cost may be significantly different.

As for Piper vs Cessna vs Bonanza, it's entirely a matter of personal preference.  Once you finish your IR and start looking for your plane, try to get some flying time in all three, and see which suits your preferences for flying qualities and access.  You also probably want to get your spouse involved, because if she's not happy in that plane, you won't be happy in that plane.
great counsel Ron - thank you.  Been flying a PA32 - 6/300.  Love the room up front and way back...but the middle is pretty useless for passengers.
I glad that you are looking at your expected normal mission and wanting to fit the airplane to it. Most four seat general aviation aircraft fall into what I call a 2+2 in reality. That means that they will haul 2 and some baggage with full fuel. If you want more, you must subtract fuel, hence the 2+2. There are some models out there that will meet your mission as others have commented and, as they commented, be sure that your skills are up to the mission you have chosen. Right now I fly a Mooney M-20C because it meets my normal mission of flying my wife and I to the various local or cross country outings we desire.
Don’t know the size of your pocket book?  You might want to look at a Cessna 206.  Big but not that much more difficult than a C172.  Essentially a big C182.
Congratulations on having the right approach to buying an aircraft.  As an appraiser, I often get asked to assist as a buyer's agent - and the most important and often difficult part of the discussion is defining the mission.  The popular 'used' airplanes today are the one's that were designed to carry 6 people.  That is because the 6 people they were designed to carry in the 1970s is the same weight as the 4 people of today.  In essence, we have supersized and need a 6 plane aircraft for 4 people.  The result of that is that the market for the 6 place carriers (cherokee 6/lance, Cherokee 235, Cessna 206, Cessna 210, etc.) has started to increase.  I just sold a P206 for a premium as the new owner wants hauling capability.  Any of the Cherokees (140, 180) or the Cessna 100 series airplanes will simply not haul what you have in mind.  I would strongly recommend against any of the Beech series as they usually don't have the hauling capacity (in spite of the 6 seat versions) and are typically more expensive and a little more difficult to get insured as a low time pilot.

Let me know if I can be of assistance.


-Ronald L. Herold, Ph.D., NSCA, MEII
Senior Certified Aircraft Appraiser
USPAP Qualified
National Aircraft Appraisers Association (NAAA)
Sustaining Member – Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association
EAA Lifetime Member
AOPA Lifetime Member
I have Cherokee 6 260 fixed gear. Best of all worlds for me. Admittedly not a speed demon but improved with some add-ons. Fixed gear (Knots2U wheel fairings) keeps insurance / maintenance / risks low. I have club seat configuration and this works well for 4 adults in back (6 total).  My airframe is even certificated for 7 passengers (with a snap in factory jump seat between the middle 2 seats).  Couldn’t do 3 adults across there but works for an extra child.  This does disqualify this plane for basic med.  You can get an STC (from AOPA) to downgrade it but if you can get Class 3 medical, there’s no reason. Earlier comments about payload and age of plane are correct. Mine is older and simpler ... but still quite comfortable. I’ve carried 6 of us for a week vacation with full baggage / beach toys. “If it fits, it ships!”  Instrument rating is a must, even if you plan mostly VFR, it makes you a better pilot, lowers your insurance, and opens up all kinds of options. Good luck!
G Hertz
6 Posts

Ronald Levy:
A high-performance retractable like a 36 Bonanza is an awfully big step up for a 125-hour non-IR Private Pilot.  Not sure what you're flying now, but since you've started your IR training already, I'd suggest that your #1 priority right now be finishing the IR in what you're flying now -- horses and streams, and all that.

While there's merit in Ron's post, I think that we need to remember that the military has had great success in putting low time/no time pilots in high performance (by GA standards) aircraft.  Do not be deterred from stepping right up to a high performance aircraft if that's what suits you.  However, remember that the military's success is in large part due to the very structured training.  Choose your aircraft carefully.  Choose your flight school/CFI even more carefully.
Great job articulating the mission. Can you clarify one thing in your requirements? You said that you wanted to fly in "mostly low altitude" missions, but mentioned the SW US. I fly all across the US in singles and anything west of the rockies will require you to climb to at least 10k from time to time, often much more, especially if IFR. I've been up to at least 15,000 pretty regularly on SW trips. That's turbo country or twin country, especially in the summer. I know, theoretically, some can do it, but if you've ever tried to climb a heavy non-turbo single, in downdrafts, up to an IFR MEA in hot bumpy weather in northern AZ, you will know its not going to happen safely and consistently. 

Depending on your answer, I'll still wager a few guesses: I doubt the V35 is your plane. I would pick an older steam-gauge (lightweight, cheaper) SR22 before that. The undisputed weight-hauler in my opinion is the Turbo 210. One of my friends has one with just about 1700 useful. Go read the flying article on the A36 Bonanza versus the 210. It opened my eyes. Also, don't give up on the Piper - does the one you fly have club seating? A lance or an early Saratoga could also work well for your mission with the club setup. Ron Levy is very right on the newer versus older models. New ones will likely be too heavy. A newer Saratoga I used to fly was a 2-person airplane on any flight over about 450 nm with two good sized guys and a few bags. Yep, it burns a ton of gas and has a small useful load. It was, in my opinion, a dumb airplane. The older ones with a 1400-lb useful are great, even if a bit slower (I've flown a number of them). Good luck. Get out there, fly them, sit in them, see what you like. No substitute for real experience.
These are all great comments and excellent advice.  I flew an older C205 some time ago for a number of years and that plane could haul 6 adults with full fuel.  I've flown in and out of Lake Tahoe with 6 adults in that plane with careful planning, and it performed well.  Of course, it had a pretty low empty weight, and the panel was, shall we say, 'dated', but if I had that plane today, I would upgrade it with modern avionics and it would still be able to lift a lot of weight.

All this to say that I agree with the posts regarding the older generation of this class of singles.  They were better haulers than the current generation, and with a healthy engine and updated avionics, they could do the job for you.  Maintenance costs and insurance would be lower, too.  Maybe that 6-300 is still the best choice.
Sounding like the Six may be the best fit for my mission...perhaps with club seating or front facing (7th seat option) where a teenager could sit sideways - effectively making it a 5-passenger hauler!?!  Lower altitudes meaning a lot of flying from Oklahoma to SEC-country type areas - Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Carolina.  But like to have the capacity to travel into Phoenix or Orange County when the mission calls.  Direct flight to Boise, Idaho over the Rockies or a full stop in Denver on a hot summer day will likely require a turbo/twin aircraft...but it'd be nice to know with the right fuel, load and temperature a Six could get in and out of Colorado.  Maybe a Turbo Lance...though I've heard mixed reviews of the T-Tail?

Great counsel everyone - THANK YOU!