The Aircraft Buying Process
Are you tired of having to sit and wait at the hold short line for faster airplanes? Does it always make you jealous when your Cirrus buddies brag about 170 knots and all you get is a meager 120 in your 172? When you’re getting bounced around in turbulence trying to hold your altitude, while running checklists and trying to calm your passengers, don’t you wish you had an autopilot? And, when your favorite team is in the biggest game of the year and you’re flying back from a business meeting two states away, don’t you wish you had XM Radio?
It might be time for an aircraft upgrade.
First and foremost, before you start drooling over a specific airplane that all your fast friends have, you have to sit down and assess what your mission is.
Some important questions to consider:
- Will you primarily be traveling for business?
- Are you planning on using the plane to go on vacations with the wife and kids?
- How many passengers will you typically be taking?
- How far are your typical destinations?
- Are you going to be flying in the mountains?
- How much baggage will you typically be carrying?
- How many stops are you willing to make en-route?
If it is mainly going to be you or you and one passenger, then useful load will not be an issue. If you’re taking the family along with you often, then useful load will be a big issue (same thing with multiple passengers). Trip distance comes into play with the range of the airplane and the speed, coupled with how many times you want to stop for fuel (if you go to New York from Texas a lot, you probably want something faster than a Cessna 182). Mountain flying would dictate the need for a turbo-charged aircraft. If you are planning on carrying a lot of weight, a Bonanza or Saratoga may be better suited for you.
To recap, here are some typical missions with suggested airplanes:
- Business trips with 2-3 hour legs, solo (normally aspirated or turbo models available): Cirrus SR22, Cessna Corvalis, Columbia 400, Beechcraft Bonanza, Piper Malibu line
- Family Vacations, lots of passengers, long legs, lots of bags: Beechcraft Bonanza, Extra 400, Lancair Evolution (Experimental), Epic LT
- Or, in the twin market: Beech Baron, Cessna 414 or 421, Mitsubishi MU-2
- Longer Distances: King Air, Swearingin Merlin, Extra 500 (should be certified this year), Socata TBM, Citation Mustang, Pilatus PC-12, Embraer Phenom 100 or 300.
So, you’ve figured out your mission, settled on a make and model, and now it’s time to buy one, right? Well, not quite. There is a process that every smart buyer must go through in order to find the right airplane.
The best places to search are the online listings (Trade-A-Plane.com, Controller.com, and ASO.com are the most popular). There are some, but very few, sellers who advertise around local airports or by word of mouth. Most of the airplanes for sale you would want, you can find online.
Search with criteria. Figure out your budget, what features you want (A/C, type of GPS, type of Autopilot, Glass panel, etc), and age of the airplane. Some airplanes of the same make and model have vastly different features, so study each one that looks good carefully.
Want to know if the asking price is reasonable? Do a valuation on the airplane. There are several paid services online that do valuations. Just Google “Aircraft Valuations” and you’ll get a few options.
Once you’ve found an aircraft you like, BEFORE making an offer, get the complete maintenance history of the airplane to look through. You want to make sure there is nothing hiding in there. Seller doesn’t want to give it to you? Buyer beware! You might want to take your business elsewhere.
You’ll probably want to fly the thing before you take the plunge. This might not be possible in all circumstances if the airplane is across the country. If this is the case, you may want to find an independent third party in the area to go take it for a spin for you and give you a report on it.
To make double-sure there are no surprises, have an expert look at the plane. Find a mechanic who specializes in that type of plane and arrange for a pre-purchase inspection to be done. Again, this will present anything that has been hiding, giving you negotiating power.
Most asking prices are negotiable. Using your valuation, your maintenance history search, and the results of the pre-purchase inspection, you are now informed enough to negotiate and make a final offer. Try not to completely lowball the seller or you won’t get anywhere. Make an offer you deem is reasonable, remembering that a seller’s idea of reasonable is sometimes very different then a buyer’s idea of reasonable. Use the data you have collected, but be willing to negotiate too.
We recommend doing the closing through an Escrow company. They are the pros at handling the exchange of monies, dealing with the FAA, and making sure everybody get’s paid.
The plane is now yours! Insurance companies usually require some form of transition training or an insurance checkout before you can fly the plane solo. Find an instructor who is an expert in that airplane, not just a local CFI who may have flown it once.
Sounds like a lot of work? It is. Most buyers don’t want to go through all of this, they just want to get their airplane. But, going through this process patiently can save you, the buyer, a whole lot of money.
Don’t have the time to go through all these steps? Well, we can help. High Performance Aviation has done a number of Aircraft Acquisitions for clients in the past. We would love to help you go through the process of finding your next airplane and getting you a good deal on it. Contact us today!
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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