Because of a happy combination of enthusiasm, economics, and encouragement, by far, the greatest number of aircraft in our current general aviation fleet was built from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. Traded frequently, relocated far and wide, and in various turns lavishly preserved and sorely neglected, this aerial armada is nevertheless slowly eroding, replaced infrequently by new airplanes offered at (for many) unaffordable prices.
We need to take care of these aviation treasures—their kind will not be seen again. They were developed during America’s post-war boom by designers and marketers who gave pilots what they wanted at a price point within reach of a large percentage of the flying population. In their day, competition encouraged innovation, even while design compromises between performance, cost, and quality provided a variety of choices in the marketplace.
Because of these vast numbers of airplanes placed into service 50 or so years ago, we still have a relatively large pool of legacy equipment available. How long we can keep them flying is anyone’s guess, but the cost of maintaining, equipping, and flying these old birds is much higher than their original builders could ever have envisioned. And yet, they can do the job for a fraction of an equivalent airplane built today—if one even exists.
Attrition is inevitable since some of this elderly fleet disappears from the active register each year. Losses from accidents, neglect, impractical upkeep, and aging structures will eventually take their toll. To preserve what’s left, we must be ready to place increased resources into their preservation and encourage production of parts for overhauling and maintaining continuing airworthiness. And we must be ever more careful in how we operate and store them. This aging fleet is too precious to ignore.
Where Did They All Come From?
The answer is: It depends.
In 1960, a total of 7,588 general aviation aircraft were produced; in 1970,…