Done Right, the Purchase of Your Own Airplane
Can be Extremely Rewarding

10:07 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog editor

I have made the point many times that I believe AOPA Pilot Magazine is the finest aviation monthly on this planet. That's not kissing up, that's just a fact in my world. While some publications will eloquently explain the pros and cons of the latest mega-million-dollar bizjet or  discuss 101 ways to use a rivet, Pilot consistently delivers the GA content welcome to aviators like me who fly single-engine piston airplanes.

Much of the success of Pilot rests on the shoulders of their long-time Editor, Tom Haines. He “gets it” because he is one of us. Tom flies a Bonanza A36, and uses the plane in much the same way I use my 1964 Piper Cherokee 235...for business but also for lots of pleasure.

Tom's latest Pilot column discusses the topic of choosing to buy the right airplane based on your anticipated future missions. I was prompted to write this post because I too went through this drill when choosing Katy (our 235), and think it is a vital topic worth some more verbal expansion.

When I decided there was sufficient bank to be able to afford a plane of my own, I sat down and considered the following criteria for the airplane:
1. It had to be fixed gear to keep annuals and insurance affordable,
2. It had to carry four adults of average weight and their stuff. And notice I said “adults” and not “humans” since I did not always want to be forced to make one of those four pax a toddler,
3. It had to be reasonably efficient with fuel burn. I was hoping for something south of 15 GPH,
4. It had to be certified for IFR and have a working two-axis autopilot connected to a GPS,
5. It had to have a low-time engine,
6. Paint and interior had to be at least an 8/10,
7. It had to have enough range to make Central California from Eugene, Oregon, specifically Fresno KFAT, a crow-flies distance of 469NM. (I still have numerous advertising clients in that region),
8. It had to be priced below $70,000,
9. It needed reliable parts availability because as a mostly business airplane, I wanted AOG to be kept to a minimum in case a maintenance issue stranded me somewhere,
10. It had to look nice on the ramp.
So, based on that criteria, what was my mission? I have never owned my own airplane, so I had to guesstimate what this ship would be used for. The end result of this pondering was that...
The majority of my flights would be two adults, however with a new granddaughter, I could foresee many trips with all four seats full of souls. I planned on about a 60/40 division of business to pleasure. When I flew for business, I needed the capacity to carry sometimes 300-ish pounds of gear...yes as a photographer/videographer I do have a tendency to carry too much crap when I travel. When I use the airlines, I have to cram a minimum of gear into a carry-on backpack and roll-aboard, so this plane would set me free to load up with everything I might need on a shoot. Because you never know when the producer might call for us to add a kitchen sink to the set. The pleasure flights would be mostly around the Northwest, day trips with not much gear.
Bottom line, it would be unwise to spend big money on the care and feeding of my own plane if I could not use it for business trips up and down the West Coast. So it needed to be able to sip fuel when chasing hamburgers around the state on a clear and a million day.

I began looking at the different airframes. Price eliminated the Bonanzas, and useful load eliminated the Mooneys. It basically came down to Cessna and Piper, and I had quite a few hours in many variants of each. I first considered the Cessna 172 Skyhawk and 177 Cardinal, both very affordable, but neither had the full-fuel payload I needed. So I began sizing up their 182 Skylane, which delivered all the performance I desired, but came at a premium price way north of my $70,000 threshold.

Next I looked at the Piper Cherokee line. I loved the way the 180s flew, they were stable, predictable, and landings were smooth due to the ground effect of those sweet and low Hershey Bar wings. While the 180 did fit much of my mission profile, the 730 pounds of useful load and 50 gallons of dead dinosaurs on board was not enough to carry four adults and their bags on very long cross-country flights.

My research than led me to the Cherokee 235. It had all the performance and useful load of a Skylane, but comparably-equipped 235s were priced sometimes $30,000 less than 182s with generally equal engine and airframe times. I began connecting the dots, and no matter which way I looked at the 235, it suited my mission perfectly. In October, 2007, I bought N8527W, a 1964 235 model B. I found out later, Katy came off Piper's Vero Beach assembly line as the 26th 235 ever produced. When they say the early 235s deliver a really nice performance package...believe it:
“Katy” has a payload (after 84 gals of full fuel) of 930 lbs. That is enough to legally put a 200 lb. human in every seat and they all can bring aboard 32.5 lbs. of stuff. Those four pax will travel through thin air at about 121 KIAS burning 10 to 12 GPH depending on winds. She can make it Eugene to Fresno in four hours, and has enough range to actually make Los Angeles and even San Diego, if the PIC had equal, um, bladder capacity. She came with a price tag south of my $70K number, and has been very dependable, with predictable $1,000 annuals...the last one has NO squawks.
For big business trips, the 235 shines by taking me and LOTS of stuff a great distance. And for hamburger chasing, Katy sips fuel, climbs like a homesick angel at 1,500 – 2,000 FPM, and lands at 70 mph to consistently make the first turnoff.

The dance one must do while deciding what airplane to buy is significant, but important. I suggest taking the list I supplied above and modifying it with your numbers and your desires. Once you have an idea of the mission, and have identified the make/model of a flying machine that will suit those needs, I strongly suggest taking your time finding the perfect airplane. Do NOT buy the first airplane you look at on impulse, because I assure you the rush of adrenaline you will feel when you begin looking at airplanes that could actually be yours will be like crack cocaine to any aviator.

Be wise, be patient and be smart. Do those three things and you will have a positive love affair with YOUR airplane, one that nobody else can call theirs. And when you swing open those hangar doors for years to come, each time, you'll get a massive hit of pride, of elation, of lust.
Because there is simply no substitute for owning your own airplane.

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