If you look back at used airplane values over the past many decades, you’ll see an interesting though hardly surprising trend: Airplanes that can do a lot go for a premium. It’s a good thing to know if you’re looking to purchase a new airplane, and it’s a good thing to know if you have an airplane to sell. Models that are known for being capable go for more in the used market than their otherwise comparable, less capable contemporaries, and they’re also somewhat more resistant to market downturns. Why is this? That’s easy. Owners of these can-do airplanes quite literally get more for their money.
We've all heard the word utility used to describe a number of very different airplanes, usually ones that are rough-and-tumble performers. For some airplanes, the calling card might be load-hauling ability — this is probably the most cited trait of utility aircraft, though it’s hardly the beginning and end of the story. Airplanes that have a lot of room for passengers and/or cargo can lay claim to the tag too. Another key trait: Typically, utility aircraft are able to operate from rough strips and with less runway than their less utilitarian contemporaries require. There’s no arguing that being able to go into and back out of strips that are inaccessible to other airplanes is a remarkably useful ability.
What many of the airplanes that fit this description have in common is a certain Spartan aesthetic. They are often bare-metal beauties devoid of luxury touches like leather, soundproofing or fancy panels. That’s no mistake either. When it comes to usefulness, payload is king, and every pound spent making the ride more comfortable is utility lost — an air conditioner in a Cessna 206, for instance, represents half a paying passenger and who knows how many critical feet of climb per minute or feet of additional runway required. The bare-bones style of a utility aircraft is part of its beauty, however. It is an airplane designed to do its thing and do it well.
While utility birds are never known for their speed, they often hold their own, thanks to light empty weight and as much power as they can pack under the cowl; a high power-to-weight ratio is another key trait of utility birds.
While it’s not part of the physical package, one other characteristic utility planes all have in common is the loyalty of their owners and pilots, who tend to keep them longer, fly them more and, in many cases, become ambassadors for the model. And why not? It’s easy to love something that gives and gives and expects so little in return.
Here is a short list of a half-dozen well-loved and sought-after utility aircraft of very different descriptions. For a longer list of models we just couldn’t bear to leave unmentioned, check out our February iPad edition.