Dedicated collectors in aviation know that owning a vintage aircraft is no easy mission to both accomplish and maintain. Unlike other collectors out there, owning a vintage aircraft takes much more time, work, and money – far beyond what’s expected, even for vintage cars.

However, if you have the resources, owning vintage aircraft as a collector can be an exciting hobby that also takes part in preserving parts of history. Those who are already in the vintage plane-buying business know how it works.

Owning a vintage aircraft is an entirely different beast compared to just about any other collected item out there. Between aircraft availability and parts to maintenance and more, here’s what you need to know.

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Owning a vintage aircraft is an entirely different beast compared to just about any other collected item out there. Between aircraft availability and parts to maintenance and more, here’s what you need to know.

Why Are Vintage Planes Popular To Own?

Most people who own vintage aircraft are either pilots with disposable income, individuals with high net worth, or well-known people like actors Cliff Robertson and John Travolta.

However, people don’t buy vintage aircraft to fly. And if they do fly them, it isn’t often. Vintage aircraft draw buyers in typically because the plane has sentimental or historical value, or because it’s a rare showcase piece. To put it simply, many buyers own vintage planes for the sake of having them. You can think of it as art to show off with a very expensive maintenance fee.

Common Challenges Of Owning Vintage Aircraft

Even a vintage aircraft that doesn’t fly much will take on quite a few added expenses, like being able to store it properly. This may look like a privately owned hangar or one where adequate space is available to rent. Either way, in order for the plane to be ready for viewing, it needs to be protected from rain, wind, cold, and other deteriorating weather conditions.

Part of keeping up an older plane available for viewing sometimes means having to hunt and acquire old parts and other equipment. The main problem with this aspect of owning an older aircraft is that as technology advances, older parts and mechanisms become harder to acquire. This happens for a few reasons, including:

  • Production for older parts has stopped altogether
  • Older parts are damaged and no longer useable
  • Certain vintage parts are in high demand and are hard to find
  • Aircraft manufacturers close completely or are resold
  • There’s no one left who knows how to work on older planes

Touching back on the last point above can be a real kicker for those who aren’t familiar with the aviation industry. However, it can be compared to maintaining older cars. Mechanics know much more about digital technology and more recent adaptations to these vehicles. But when presented with something unique like a classic Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar, or Porsche, even a trip directly to the dealership can be challenging.

Parts are extremely limited and the right knowledgebase and expertise needed to work on the car may come down to one person in the entire state or country. The same can be said for vintage aircraft. Finding additional support for these assets while also locating reliable manufacturers still in business that offer type certificates are critical challenges for vintage aircraft collectors across the globe.

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Defining A Vintage Aircraft Versus A Warbird

According to the Vintage Aircraft Club (PDF) a “vintage” aeroplane must be 40 years or older from its first flight – possibly late 80s, 70s, or older. This is completely different from what aviation enthusiasts refer to as “antique.” Defined by the FAA, an antique aircraft is one with a year of original manufacture and federal certification of 50 years or older. As these aircraft are placed around the 60s and 70s or older, they will likely be the most difficult to find.

Furthermore, a vintage aircraft is just that. It’s an older aircraft that was once most likely used by businesses, wealthy individuals, and pilots. Sold for commercial use, these aircraft are now old enough to be placed in the vintage category.

Warbirds, on the other hand, have a direct attachment to active military duty. This definition is important because while other aircraft may have been produced at the same time or are of the same make and model, this doesn’t mean they’re a warbird. Having the same style does not make an aircraft a warbird. Only aircraft that have participated in actual military operations can be called warbirds. And, why not? They’ve earned it!

Warbirds that are worth the most in value are usually ones that have been through a dogfight and are restored to nearly pristine conditions.

A fantastic example of a high-value aircraft is the 79-year-old Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX, an iconic warbird with 95% of its original parts. Its most recent asking price is about $6.1 million. A true-to-life time capsule, this particular Spitfire is a World War II legend and surprising Hollywood star, appearing in the 1969 blockbuster movie The Battle Of Britain.

Spitfire specialist and co-director of the Aircraft Sales Company Richard Grace said it is, “one of the most original Spitfires in existence.”

Why Does The Age Of An Airplane Matter?

Something that often shocks those who are unfamiliar with aviation is that not all vintage aircraft are worth anything valuable. Unlike the classic car market, the rarity of vintage aircraft comes from extra layers of distinction that determine its true value.

Its age certainly has a role in determining its worth. But in addition to being old enough to fall into the vintage or antique category, its value also heavily relies on its exact model, style, pedigree, equipment, and whether it was involved in active military duty or not.

Another aspect to keep in mind is originality. It matters when putting a price tag on a vintage aircraft of any kind. A simple restoration comprised of a new paint job, avionics, subsystems, and more will not significantly increase its value. As seen with the 1943 Supermarine Spitfire, 95% of its original parts greatly impact its price.

Furthermore, special edition aircraft don’t always have much value either. While fun, special edition aircraft are more about the actual timeframe than anything else. This is because they usually have a unique paint job, special features, and other tidbits of detail that are pertinent to the theme. But as stated before, there is much more that goes into investing in a vintage aircraft aside from its paint job.

Is Owning Vintage A Good Investment Strategy?

No, it is not advised to invest in vintage aircraft to make more money or increase their value. Vintage aircraft collectors already tend to be wealthy individuals looking at collecting as more of a hobby rather than an investment.

With a low population of vintage plane parts and experts with the proper knowledge of how to work on these particular aircraft, there isn’t much money to make. If anything, owning a vintage plane often means you will be spending more of your income on the parts, time, and labor necessary to restore it.

Finding Insurance For Vintage Planes

You don’t need insurance to own a vintage aeroplane and you can self-insure. But liability insurance will be tough to obtain because of the plane’s age and other factors. It’s too high of a risk for many insurance companies, which is usually why they won’t cover it.

Buying A Vintage Plane Is Fun But Complex

If you’re interested in becoming a vintage plane collector one day, just remember the amount of dedication, time, and money that must go into a successful restoration. It’s truly an art that is meant to be appreciated, especially when those vintage aircraft make their way to airshows across the country.

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