Monday, October 5, 2015


A magical view if I've ever seen one
I was recently pondering my place in general aviation.  I got to thinking about how I knew I wanted to work in GA but had absolutely no clue in what capacity.  One thing I did know was that I did NOT want to be an airline pilot.  Don't get me wrong, it can be a good job, but I knew it wasn't for me.  I considered air traffic controller, corporate pilot, even flight school owner (I ended up deciding that was probably a venture better left for retirement), but I kind of wallowed through school knowing I didn't fit the career-track airline pilot mold and not much else.

I did, however, know that I sure loved grassroots flying in airplanes with the little wheel in the back.  As such, my summers were filled with hanging out at the Hartford Municipal Airport as I worked on my sport pilot CFI and later instructed part-time around another part-time job.  I had a heck of a lot of fun, and it turns out that staying true to what you love sometimes works out.  I got an internship at Dakota Cub Aircraft, manufacturers of the world's finest Cub parts, and then I ended up with a job offer at Wipaire before I had even started my final semester of college.  To say I am fortunate would be an understatement, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have had (they've been pretty awesome!).

It never gets old, even 3 minutes from home

Anyways, recent reflecting left me thinking about how today's reality differs from my perceptions of yesterday.  I feel pretty confident saying that if you had asked me where I'd be in aviation five years ago, I would have had no clue and would have admitted as such (five years ago, I had barely decided to double-major in marketing instead of economics).  There is no doubt, though, that I would not have guessed I'd be where I am today.  I would have expected that I'd be a full-fledged CFI with an instrument rating and commercial pilot's license to my credit, and maybe that I'd be flying for hire in some capacity.

Needless to say, that's not where I am.  I'm still a private pilot with a tailwheel endorsement and a sport pilot CFI certificate.  I momentarily felt ashamed when I realized that, thinking I would have made more progress.  Then I remembered a conversation I had with Len Buckle a few years back at Sentimental Journey.  If you don't know Len, you're missing out.  He decided he would stop flying his J3 from California to Pennsylvania at the round age of 80.

Len is a supporter of the Piper Aviation Museum and bought a brick that's on display in the entryway.  His brick proudly proclaims "Nothing but a Cub pilot."  I asked him about that once, and he explained he got in a disagreement with a friend once, who said "What would you know, you're nothing but a Cub pilot!"  Len paused a moment, then decided his friend was right.  He also decided that "nothing but a Cub pilot" was, in fact, a badge of honor.

With that in mind, I thought about Ed Rankin, who once proclaimed to me "You're a puddlejumper, just like me."  At the time, I was mildly offended.  Surely I could fly pointy-nosed fast things in the clouds if I wanted to!  Ed didn't disagree, just pointed out that I liked flying little airplanes that went slow.

I thought back to all of the incredible people and places I've encountered flying slow little airplanes.  I recently described buying a Cub as the price of admission to a unique and special community of people (although I suppose you could substitute a Luscombe, Taylorcraft, or even a Champ). The airplanes I have flown have opened up an incredible world of people and places.  I've watched the sun rise and set at 80 miles an hour and slowly paddled my way from South Dakota to Florida, Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, and Minnesota to Indiana and a few other places in between.  A different airplane would get me there faster and in more comfort. 

However, Cub flying isn't about "getting there."  It's about watching the world from a height where you can still smell manure in the pastures of the Midwest, the factories along rivers and lakes, and finding beauty in every place you go. 

The Mississippi River often loses out to its eastern neighbor, the St. Croix, in public perception of beauty.  The "muddy Mississippi," with its commercial barge traffic, apparently gets less love than its boat-riddled compatriot.  Watch a floatplane land on the Mississippi from above or watch a barge go by with the rocky bluffs in the background, though, and tell me there's not beauty in that. 

The thing is, a lot of people have perceptions about beauty.  They think the Midwest is boring, that the plains states are better forgotten, and that only regions with mountains or coasts are worthy of the term "beautiful."  I disagree.  There's a unique beauty in every place.  I've sat outside on a grass strip in South Dakota and listened to the corn rustle in a gentle breeze while the light softened as the sun retreated for the day.  I've flown down the lakefront of Chicago and looked up at offices in skyscrapers as the windows twinkled in the sunlight.  I've scooted across seemingly endless tree-covered ridges in Pennsylvania telling the Continental up front what a good little engine it was.  Much like opening your eyes to your immediate surroundings, puddlejumping is all about appreciating the here and now.  You might get weathered in someplace.  You don't necessarily know if there will be a courtesy car to go to town with, or if you will end up subsisting on the granola bars you packed.  You might find a spectacular FBO with 24-hour access, showers, and a car.  Then again, you might also find a deserted field with a horrifying pit toilet (or no bathroom access at all).  You need an intact sense of adventure to fly a slow, basic airplane across the country and enjoy it.

I'm a proud supporter of the chart industry.  It keeps me more engaged than following a line on a GPS or a tablet.  A chart might not always be my sole method of navigation, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.

A funny thing happens when you can do that, though.  If you can get your mind wrapped around embracing the uncertainty of weather and unfamiliar airports and have fun, all of a sudden you start having a lot more fun in general.  Things don't always go to plan flying an I Follow Roads airplane.  You learn to adapt.  Sometimes you do things you wish you hadn't.  Sometimes you sit on the ground and regret it.  Once you embrace the notion of not having a concrete schedule and route, you become more open to life in general.  I say that as someone who has historically been afraid of trying new things.  My family didn't do things like go skiing or play yard games or any variety of other things.  I have never liked not being good at things, but I realized a few years ago that there was only one way to get beyond that.  I learned to downhill ski (sort of), and I even learned to ride a motorcycle because I realized I could do it on my own.  Why not?

I guess all of this means I may never be anything but a Cub pilot, but that's a damn fine label if you ask me.  What a problem to have, to be having too much fun with a simple airplane to want to bother sticking your head into a panel and droning through the clouds!  Yes, life is good.  I'm more in love with my life every time I open the hangar door and see the Oklahoma Kid waiting for me.  Her theme song is Magic Carpet Ride, because she is the magic carpet that transports me to places most people can only imagine. 

There's a great big world out there, and I intend to explore it one puddlejump at a time.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Impossible Trip

There are a few aviation events that are written in stone on my calendar.  One of those such events is the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.  Held every June, Sentimental Journey (or, more simply, "Lock Haven") is often referred to as the "feel-good" fly-in.  It's truly a magical experience.

My first Lock Haven trip was in 2009.  I was a fairly fresh private pilot with a mere year of experience under my belt.  I loaded 21Y up (a trusty 65 hp J3) and made the trek out there with one of my instructors, Steve, and his fellow pilot wife Sharon in a second Cub.  The 650-mile trip from Hartford, Wisconsin, was by far the longest trip I had ever taken, and I learned an awful lot.  Speaking of awful, the weather fit that description following our arrival into William T. Piper Memorial Airport.  While we had good flying weather for the trip, the luck soon changed and it rained every day until we left.  There were at least two days no airplane moved, though a few days were decent enough to allow the flying events.

Always an appropriate cross-country t-shirt

Back side of cross-country t-shirt
It became abundantly clear this was a special place and gathering, even with the miserable weather.  I was fortunate to attend with 21Y again in 2010, and then in Little Airplane, the Super 18 LT, in 2011 and 2012.  In 2013, I was airplane-less and hopped onto a winged beer can and airlined out.  A rather memorable arrival occurred.  Let's just say it involved three airplanes, one too-small Speedo, a bikini, two chicken masks, and the emotional scarring of everyone that was on the ramp in State College that day.
Hail Mary Speedball Lock Haven Express PA-11 crew 2015

I purchased the Oklahoma Kid in April of 2014 and hoped to fly her to Lock Haven in June.  However, her carb rebuild was still ongoing and I was understandably broke from buying an airplane, so I begrudgingly stayed home and did not even buy an airline ticket.


I vowed I couldn't miss two years in a row and that I would be back in 2015.  Fast forward to May 2015.  The Kid was getting new struts and exhaust as part of her annual.  The exhaust wouldn't be done in time and it coincidentally was going to cost the same amount as I had allocated for making the trip to Lock Haven (not counting the struts I had to buy).  I checked airline flights left and right and came to a heartbreaking conclusion: I could not afford to go this year.

To say much grousing occurred would be a gross understatement.  I should probably apologize to everyone that had to deal with me, but I don't think I have that much time.  Thankfully, I had the pity of my coworkers who were quite tolerant of my whining.

This is my "Oh my god, WE'RE REALLY GOING!!!!" face
The Friday before I was supposed to leave was especially rough.  I got a message from a friend who had sold his PA-12 the day before, so I was at least in somewhat good company.  I'll admit it - I cried by myself in frustration.  I had deleted the first day of my vacation request earlier on Friday, but was too depressed to delete the rest (I had planned on having Monday through the following Monday off).

I've always said I have the most amazing friends ever - and it's true.  I checked my phone around 11:00 pm on Sunday night and saw an unread message from Speedy Dave.  "You ready to leave Monday or Tuesday?" it read.  I quickly responded "I could be!!"

I hadn't received a response by 9 am the next morning and was way too excited to wait, so I called him.  We decided we'd follow up Monday night after looking at the weather.  At 8 pm Monday night, we agreed to depart SGS at 1 pm the next day.

About to cross behind the cheddar curtain
It was the most incredible trip to Lock Haven I've ever made.  We experimentally determined that yes, you CAN fit two people and camping gear in a PA-11, but only if you leave behind things like pillows and sleeping pads.  It didn't matter what we had to sacrifice to make it - we were GOING!  Even the tent leak at 1 am was worth it (soggy sleeping bag is an experience I could live without repeating).
Drying round two.  First, the tent leaked at 1 am.  Then I put everything out on the airplane in the morning.  Of course, I forgot it was all there when it started pouring again.  
I don't think I have ever worn so large a smile for so long at a time.  People in aviation talk about the impossible turn - this was the impossible trip.  There was no way I should have made it.  Miss PA the PA-11 was in central Montana until Sunday afternoon and headed 1,000 miles in the opposite direction two days later.  It shouldn't have worked, but it did.  

To put it bluntly: Shit's about to get real!
Showing up when no one thought you were coming was pretty awesome too.
The sensation of coming "home" to Lock Haven could be a veritable book in and of itself.  The "I thought you weren't going to make it this year!" welcomes and hugs were exactly the recharge I needed with my ongoing (and expensive) annual.

Feels like coming home, even in a Ponca City Cub
There's no finer fly-in if feeling welcomed and missed is what you are after.  Despite missing a year, friendships picked up right where they left off, ribbing included (apparently Scott hates spades).  It's true what they say: you get into aviation for the aircraft and the flying, and you stay in it for the people.  I'm incredibly fortunate to have the most amazing people in aviation to call friends and acquaintances.

On arrival.  Felt like I was floating I was so elated.
I'd fly all the way to Lock Haven just for this ice cream, anyways.  Imagine my heartbreak when they ran out of this flavor Friday night.  The horror!
Good friends will call you when they're going somewhere and offer you a ride.  REALLY good friends will stay at Lock Haven during the fly outs so you can fly their airplane alone.  I have REALLY good friends.

Shades of 2009--we had weather like this the whole week on my first trip to LHV.  Thankfully this was just a passing phase!

The cut in the ridge on the left side of this picture always makes me smile.  During my first trip to Lock Haven I chased Leah Jones (Mae Coady) while she flew with Steve Krog.  I snapped a picture of Steve and Leah flying a yellow J3 through the gap that I sent to Leah.  She said the picture took her back 60 years and felt like just yesterday.  

Does this have to end or can I stay here forever?

Leah Jones (Mae Coady), whom I met at my first Sentimental Journey.  Leah was a ferry pilot for Piper and also worked in final assembly (including on the record J3 production day).  Seeing her is the highlight of the trip.
Flyouts . . . embarrassing landing and all.
Glenn's experimental Cub is very similar to the Oklahoma Kid.  So similar, in fact, that a custom painting of this scene, with my airplane substituted for Glenn's, later showed up on my doorstep.
All too soon, it was time to go.  The weather was not nearly as cooperative for our trip back, resulting in an extra night in Lock Haven (there are worse things).  Nevertheless, it was time to go.  The field was empty, the parking cones packed up, and the SJ staff trying to get some sleep to recover from the event.  It reminds me of that Semisonic song: "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." (Actually, the fine folks at Lock Haven would be more than happy to see people stay around or visit, but that's a separate point)

This is the "We actually managed to leave!" set of faces.  Weather was not so kind trying to leave LHV.
A rainbow in New Castle, PA, boded well for the rest of the trek home.  
Here in western Ohio, the Hail Mary Speedball Lock Haven Express crew split up for the return home.  Miss PA the Wonder Cub headed for Sioux Falls and I hopped in a Decathlon to attempt to head back to Minneapolis.  
Laying on the pavement with this view while waiting for the Decathlon to arrive was absolute perfection.  Warm pavement, comfortable temperatures, and a spectacular trip to reflect on.
Not a Cub.
Despite comments of me "getting saved from a Cub," Miss PA made it back home Monday evening.  The Decathlon made it home Monday morning, which was great except that the Decathlon's home isn't actually Minneapolis.  Let's all take a moment to reflect on the fact that sitting in a Cub would have been faster than sitting in a Decathlon.

Nevertheless, the proverbial lemonade was made out of the giant lemon that the weather was.  I got a quick tour of American Champion Aircraft in Rochester, WI, visited my mom, took a well-earned shower, had a glorious nap, and then got to spend a little extra time with someone special.  It was an early morning the next day to get to work on time, but thankfully even the Decathlon made it that time ;)

Early morning.  Should have just kept flying - I wasn't ready for my adventure to end.
The focus is now getting the Oklahoma Kid back in action (she might fly this afternoon!) so we can enjoy the last scrap of summer and some of fall.  There are many updates on that front, so stay tuned . . .

Until then, I hope you get to experience a trip as amazing as my impossible trip to Lock Haven.  It still doesn't feel real that I made it and I am here to tell you that every sacrifice was worth it.  EVERY. ONE.  The leaky tent, the complete lack of a pillow, sleeping on the ground (no sleeping pad - just a sleeping bag on a tent floor!), the soggy shoes, everything.  I would leave right now if I could go again.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

MIAO: When to Jump

Reader’s Digest version:  There is no good time to buy an airplane.  It is pretty much never a practical decision or purchase to make.

National Geographic version:

To expand upon the Reader’s Digest version above, let’s first consider why you are considering purchasing an airplane.  The obvious answer is travel, either for work or pleasure.  Airplanes can cut travel time drastically, allowing you to hopscotch from business meeting to business meeting and still be home for dinner, or can allow you to pack up your friends or family and slip off to a weekend destination without the traffic and detours.  Other justifications can include convenience (a small airplane can get me closer to my destination than commercial airline travel), adventure (you can only get where I’m going with an airplane), and miscellaneous things like a desire to survey your herd of cattle from the air. 

Let me be clear: There are plenty of situations where you can perform an analysis and find airplane ownership practical and fiscally responsible.  General aviation does a great deal of good in the world, and there are some things you can only do (or only do efficiently) with a general aviation aircraft.

All that said, the majority of people reading this blog are going to be in the same camp as I was.  I just plain like airplanes and like flying, and I wanted a Cub to call my own! 

If you’re from Europe or other areas where flying clubs are alive and well (and the aviation industry isn’t so alive and well), you might scoff at the idea of buying an airplane just because you want to own one.  That’s a completely reasonable argument.  Flying clubs allow you to enjoy flying a familiar airplane at a greatly reduced cost and with other club members to help afford upgrades you might not otherwise be able to consider.  With a flying club, you can either get flying for less, or get a lot more airplane for your money.  They’re a great thing to consider if you want to move beyond renting.  I am a big supporter of flying clubs and think they are an excellent solution for many pilots.

However, it’s tough to find flying clubs with unique airplanes where I am.  They do exist, but can be far-flung and limited by insurance allowances or club policies.

At the end of the day, 90% of you are considering buying an airplane because you want one.  Forget the practical justifications—you just want an airplane.  Don’t get defensive, don’t try to argue or justify your decision.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an airplane, and you should never have to apologize for it.  If all you take away from this post is that, it’s worthwhile.  No matter what you end up buying, you’ll hear from people about how you must make a lot of money, comments about how “the other half lives,” and any manner of allusions to the fact that you must go swimming in a sea of Benjamin Franklins just for fun.  By all means, take these comments as an opportunity to tell the peanut gallery about the fact that many GA aircraft can be purchased for $20,000-$40,000, or the price of that new car your neighbor is leasing.  The reality is that aviation is always going to require a sacrifice of some sort.  For some people, it’s just a monetary contribution, but for many it’s time or effort (building or restoring their own airplane) or other sacrifices (small apartment, no vacations, old car, extra job, old electronics, or anything of the sort).  Don’t apologize for having the passion and dedication to pursue aviation or any thing else.

I will step back off of that soapbox now and return to our regularly scheduled programming.  What should you consider when you want an airplane?

If you’ve read previous Misadventures in Aircraft Ownership posts, you know that you should have your mission defined by this point and have narrowed your aircraft options down to a few to consider.  Now, will you be paying cash or do you plan on financing the purchase?  If you’re planning on the latter, start talking to a bank and/or credit union.  Aircraft lending is comparatively specialized, so you might want to get some recommendations from other owners.  Some banks won’t finance certain types of airplanes or may require an exhaustive prebuy process (for instance, you’re always going to find some surprises in 60-year-old airplanes, whether it’s damage history or missing logbook entries).  I worked with a bank (the Airloan division of Red River State Bank) and also investigated a local credit union (Wings Financial).  Your options will likely vary from mine, but the principle differences are the down payment required, interest rate, and aircraft documentation requirements. 

In my case, the credit union was far more conservative in terms of the amount they were willing to loan me.  This could have been remedied on my behalf by a larger down payment, which was my original plan.  However, the Oklahoma Kid popped up as a good deal (fairly local, too) in a time frame that didn’t allow me to bring enough money to the table for the credit union.  Instead, I worked with Danielle at Red River State Bank.  Danielle was and still is a pleasure to work with and was happy to work around my accelerated schedule.  I had already been in contact with the credit union and RRSB/Airloan as I wanted to investigate my options prior to actually looking at any particular airplanes.  Note: You should absolutely do this.  Don’t wait until you fall in love with the idea of a particular airplane.  On another note, I found RRSB/Airloan to be quite accommodating on the prebuy items.  Danielle flies a Cub and the whole family is involved in aviation, so it isn’t just an add-on to a regular bank to make a little more money. 

So now I knew what I wanted and knew what it was going to cost me in aircraft finance.  The next task was approximating things like hangar rent (I called three or four nearby airports) and insurance (don’t forget your bank will have some requirements on insurance coverage).  One thing I forgot to fully consider was state sales tax.  Not all states collect this, but I was lucky enough that Minnesota does….

Now you’re good and terrified, and you haven’t even considered things like maintenance.  However, you’re still excited and riding the high of dreams so you keep plugging along. 

You casually look at airplanes until one jumps out at you and then all of a sudden things start to get real.  Scary real.  You do things like review 337s and schedule a prebuy.  You confirm hangar availability and solidify insurance quotes.  You stay so busy that you don’t think about what’s happening. 

Then it hits you.  This is a HUGE commitment.  The initial financial outlay is intimidating, and you can expect you’ll get some surprises.  You start to think, “Do I really need an airplane?  Couldn’t I just rent and be happy?  Maybe now’s not the time.  I could wait a little while longer, and then I’d be more ready.”

NEWS FLASH: There is no good time to buy an airplane.  You will probably not ever be sitting at home and suddenly think, “Great Scott!  I need to spend a lot of money, pronto!”*

Now that we’ve got that out of the way….

Go buy the airplane.  Make it the right one, and get ready for the ride of your life.  The Oklahoma Kid has given me my proudest moments along with some of the most, um, exciting ones.  She’s given me great joy and brought face-splitting smiles.  She’s also caused me to lose more than a few hairs, to actually hit my head against a desk repeatedly, and has been the cause of several impressive strings of expletives and obscenities. 

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It’s been the most exhilarating, terrifying, frustrating experience of my life, but my heart still flutters a bit when I open the hangar door and see my magic carpet waiting. 

*If this does happen to you, I’m available for adoption.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Misadventures in Aircraft Ownership

After discussing some of the headaches involved in aircraft ownership on Facebook, I half-jokingly said I should resurrect this blog and title it "Misadventures in Aircraft Ownership."  Surprisingly, a few people indicated they'd like to see such a thing, so here we are.  I'm not overhauling the blog entirely and making it all about my ownership oopses, but I will tag any related posts "Misadventures in Aircraft Ownership" and will title any posts starting with "MIAO."

To kick things off, things to consider when you are first struck with the genius thought "Hey!  I should totally buy an airplane!"

1.) Define your mission.  The best description I heard of this came from a fellow named Bill Rusk who is working on building his second experimental Super Cub.  "Build for 90% of your flying" is his motto, and it holds true for those of us that decided we'd much rather fly something that someone else built.  Sure, a go-fast airplane would be pretty cool, as would be something that goes upside-down, but that is a very small part of my mission.  I am, at my core, a "puddlejumper" as a wise old man once told me.  You need to be very honest with yourself during this process.  If you over- or under-buy to meet your mission, you won't be happy.  Compromise is a necessity, but you need to be aware of what you're compromising on.  Otherwise, you'll be unhappy down the road and may end up blaming the whole concept of aircraft ownership for your discontent, when the root cause may just be that you bought the wrong airplane. 

2.) Research heavily.  Think about airplanes that would meet your mission (keeping in mind your mission may change in the future).  Once you've narrowed your options down, become involved in the community.  Go fly an RV, or take a BFR in a Citabria.  There's no sense falling in love with the idea of an airplane and then finding out it's terribly uncomfortable for you (or your significant other).  You might want to consider renting for several hours if it's possible, or becoming involved in a type group or type club to get experience with the airplane you're considering.

3.) Get your financing (if needed) in order.  Now that you've selected an airplane, you can research the approximate prices for what you're looking for.  This might be a good time for a reality check . . . but better now than later.  Things to consider include investigating multiple lenders and comparing their offerings.  Credit unions are a great option with some preferable interest rates, but they may require a higher down payment.  Do your research ahead of time, and you'll be able to plan for the appropriate down payment in advance.  

4.) Start with a soft inquiry.  The best deals in aviation tend to happen outside of Barnstormers and Trade-a-Plane and are complete before the airplane in question could even be listed.  It bears noting that you should not be in a hurry to choose an aircraft model or to choose a candidate for purchase.  I told a few friends in  November of 2013 I was going to start looking for an airplane in the next six months or so, with a goal of owning an airplane by the end of summer.  Disclaimer:  That was an entirely arbitrary timeline.  I figured I could talk myself out of buying an airplane, so I set a deadline of my 25th birthday back when I was still in college.  You may or may not want to give yourself a timeline, but, if you do, be sure it's conservative.  Things happen. 

Inquire with friends, on type forums, and at local airports.  If you don't hear of anything after a while (and "a while" may vary depending upon your goals), start looking on websites like Barnstormers, Trade-a-Plane, Controller, ASO, etc., as well as the classifieds on type forums.  I started looking at Barnstormers and Trade-a-Plane about the same time I started telling a few folks to keep their eyes open for any good deals.  This allowed me to have a basic understanding of asking prices in advance (note: asking price is not necessarily equal to selling price.  It's common sense but easy to forget once you start to get attached to an airplane). 

Another key thing to consider is that your previous involvement in a community and their awareness of your search for an airplane will help you find an appropriate person to do your prebuy.  

5.) Research some more.

6.) When you find a good candidate, you have a few options.  First, go see the airplane, decide if you're interested, and then schedule a prebuy.  This is what I did, but it requires multiple trips and you run the risk of falling in love with the airplane before you can get an objective opinion of it from a neutral third party.  I felt fairly confident I could figure out if the airplane was a total pile or likely ok, and I wanted to get the prebuy scheduled relatively quickly if it turned out ok.  This was because the Kid was a pretty good deal for what I got, but you have to temper hastiness with steady resolve. 

The second option is to schedule the prebuy and do the prebuy as soon as you see the airplane.  If you go this route, it means you've been in contact with the seller in advance.  Ideally, your mechanic should have gotten an electronic copy of the logbooks to review for any showstoppers prior to inspecting the airplane.  The seller may request some earnest money in exchange for you coming to poke at their airplane, since they will want to be able to tell other prospective buyers that you're making a trip to inspect the aircraft. 

A prebuy may also (and arguably should also) include a chance to fly the airplane.  This is subject to the seller's comfort level, insurance, and annual status.  You might very well go along for a ride and never touch the controls if the seller isn't comfortable with a stranger flying their airplane.  When I bought the Kid, I rode in the back seat and the seller did the takeoff and landing.  I made some turns and Dutch rolls, checked oil temperature and pressure, airspeed, and general rigging. 

Most people will say that a prebuy should basically entail an annual (the higher priced the airplane, the more intensive the inspection).  In fact, many people will advise you to have the prebuy done as an annual.  If everything looks good, you have a fresh annual and a solid understanding of the airplane's potential issues.  If it doesn't, you can start figuring out what it will cost you to get the airplane where you want it or need it to be, from both a pilot preference and airworthiness perspective.  It should go without saying that the prebuy should not be done by the seller's mechanic (in most cases).  They're probably perfectly capable mechanics, but they are likely not the ones that will be maintaining the airplane going forward.  Exceptions include well-regarded mechanics in the community that others besides the seller vouch for.  Otherwise, find someone you trust and get their professional opinion.  It might be expensive to do a thorough prebuy, but it's more expensive to do a cursory one and find all of the issues later.  Also, don't be afraid to wave off the airplane over a prebuy.  You are under no obligation to buy the airplane, unless you signed a contract in advance.  Be sure to consider what are "no-go" issues for you, including a total dollar value of discrepancies. 

7.) After you've evaluated the results of your prebuy, make an offer or run away.  You might already have an offer existing that's contingent on the results of the prebuy.  At this point, you should be well-versed in what you're looking for in an airplane, what you're willing to spend, and what the market looks like--or you should have someone there to guide you along. 

8.) Go get your airplane!

This feels like a very brief overview, but I'm sure you'll hear more about my misadventures in future posts.  Additionally, if this sounds intimidating or confusing, don't underestimate the value of knowledgeable folks in the field.  These can be experienced maintainers, pilots, builders, etc.  You can also engage a skilled aircraft sales specialist to find you an airplane and handle all of the paperwork.  You'll pay more for this, but aircraft sales representatives can find airplanes that aren't listed and likely have extensive experience with your aircraft type (or can find you someone who does).  Most smaller aircraft don't have a high enough margin to warrant a sales representative, but you can always seek one out.  More complex aircraft are much more likely to be represented by a sales department. 

That's all for now . . .


Sunday, March 22, 2015

It Takes a Village

I've decided that the notion that I own an airplane is a foolish belief for a few reasons:

1.) A bank still owns more of the Oklahoma Kid than I do.
2.) The airplane will hopefully outlive me, making me a temporary custodian.
3.) It's really impossible to own an airplane without a veritable village of people helping you out.

As for #1, well, that will eventually change.  Regarding #2, if I don't screw up too badly, that will come true in time as well.  #3 is one of those eternal truths that's just not going anywhere.

In fact, I wouldn't own the Oklahoma Kid without a laundry list of good (and bad?) influences prodding me along.  The Kid was found by a friend I had spoken with a few months earlier, asking him to keep an ear to the ground for any Cubs coming up for sale.  A significant amount of research was done in advance with several folks reminding me to ask certain questions, look for specific things in the logbooks, and to poke at certain areas during the prebuy inspection. 

The technical assistance was one matter.  Whether foolish or not, I felt pretty solid in evaluating the airplane (with the requisite surprises) on the technical front.  The mental side of purchasing an airplane is a WHOLE different matter.  You see, there is really no good time in life to buy an airplane.  That would be akin to saying that there is a good time to light a stack of cash on fire just for grins and giggles.  I suppose there are less bad times to do that, but, the fact of the matter is, you can talk yourself out of buying an airplane forever and ever until you're looking back on life wondering what the hell just happened to the last umpteen years. 

The mental gymnastics are far more complex than the technical issues.  Technical issues have a way out, a starting and stopping point.  The decision to buy an airplane can be far more taxing.  I consider myself a relatively responsible person in regards to my finances.  I started a retirement account in college and increase my contributions to my 401(k) when possible.  I overpay on my student loans and am set to pay another of my loans off in full in the next month or so.  The notion of adding a few hundred dollars a month to own an airplane was difficult to swallow.  That money could mean a nicer car, or bigger student loan payments, or a bigger retirement contribution, or some seriously nice pairs of shoes. 

This is where friends come in--the kind that can look at you and call "Bullshit" when you start offering up reasons that could be considered excuses.  In fact, I called a trusted friend and started off with small talk about the airplane, kind of beating around the bush.  Then I piped up and said, "I'm running out of reasons to talk myself out of buying this thing, but I still don't know . . . it's a lot of money."  His response?  "You put more planning into things than anyone I know.  You can talk yourself out of anything. There's never anything practical about buying an airplane, and you're just making up excuses now. Go buy the damn thing!"

So I bought an airplane. 

The follow-on to this, of course, is that the village is just as necessary AFTER you bring your new family member home.  There's a lot of "What was that?" and "Is that normal?" in the first weeks and months of owning a new airplane.  It's what I refer to as the "dating stage" of aircraft ownership, where you're both still getting to know each other.  Just like a new relationship, the euphoria of your airplane purchase soon fades into the reality of caring for a mechanical creature.  While you're find out all of your airplane's quirks and creaks, you call a fair amount of people to make sure it's normal.  When it's not, you need that village even more.

The Kid hasn't been awful in any regard, but she's tossed me a few curve balls--even in areas I knew we had to address.  It's part of the game.  Fundamentally, you can pay now or pay later.  I chose to pay later and buy an airplane that will require both a certain and uncertain amount of work in the coming years.  For me, this allowed me to afford an airplane I otherwise couldn't have.  There were no PA-11s in my price range, let alone ones that came with floats, skis, and a spare prop.  

Now, as I approach the first annual under my ownership, I called upon my village of friends and aviation family members to find a trusted person to take care of the Kid.  With almost a year of ownership, it's a neat time to reflect on all of the people that made it possible.  

You know who you are--and thank you.