Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

April 2002

Flying Journal - Shopping for Airplanes

I know men and women seldom seem to agree about the amount of time that should be spent on shopping. Now I wouldn't want to be too sexist here, but I hope it would be safe to just talk about myself and my own shopping behavior. I'll tell anybody, right up front-"OK, I can shop for almost anything, even women's shoes, for an hour-maybe two hours max. Doesn't really matter if I'm shopping for me or someone else. And if you push that limit, I will become crabby and short-tempered."

If I can sit down and eat lunch, then you might get another hour out of me. But that's it. Unless of course we are shopping for airplanes. That's another matter. Shopping for airplanes can take all the time available. Think of all the shoppers clutching Trade-A-Planes in their hot little hands, like kids with Christmas wish books.

While I owned a share of an Aeronca 7AC Champ for several years, I have yet to shop seriously for my own plane. But I have some practice. Over the years, many of my flying students have shopped for planes, and I have found myself called upon to pick-up, deliver, test-fly, demonstrate, and/or "check-out" pilots in many planes. One of my former instrument students has probably bought and sold over twenty planes in the 6 or 7 years I have known him.
Of course I have flown numerous Cessnas and Cherokees. I flew with a couple guys down to Cape Girardeau once to look at a Beech Sundowner. We sat in it, but we never flew it. I have even flown some planes away to be sold. I have fond memories of an old Aztec twin that I flew down to auction in Oklahoma.

One of my students bought his Cessna 150 from a man in Utah who flew it over the Rockies to deliver it to Springfield himself! Another seller flew his Grumman Tiger from Phoenix. Then the new owner and I flew with the previous owner to Kansas City so he could catch his airline flight back home. It was my first flight in a plane with a castering nose-wheel-you know, like a grocery cart. The owner sort of checked me out on the way to KC, although he was so tired he just wanted to get back home. I know, your flight instructor always tried to keep you from dragging the brakes, but that's how you steer in such a plane. That turned out to be quite an adventure with a 25 knot wind from the west when we got to KCI. Of course we landed on runway 27, but I got some serious practice trying to keep that nosewheel going the desired direction when we had to taxi north to the FBO with that crosswind.

The most interesting airplane I ever helped buy was a Vans RV-6 experimental. A real hot rod. My student got another pilot to fly us to Illinois, where we looked it over, took a test flight in the RV-6, closed the deal, and started his check-out as we flew back to Missouri (much faster on the return trip, I might add). As far as shopping for the most unusual airCRAFT, that would have to be flying to Paducah, KY to take gyroplane lessons, and later buy a kit from the factory. Ultimately, that series of shopping trips culminated in ferrying the Twinstarr Gyroplane back to Missouri.

Some of you may recall I have written in the past of several memorable and enjoyable flights in a Cherokee Six. It really became one of my favorite planes, at least in singles. So I was pleased when another student, whom I had helped shop for the Cherokee 180 he finished his lessons in and currently flies, started shopping for a bigger, faster plane for his growing family. A methodical and logical worker, he used the Internet, even sending e-mails to all registered owners in surrounding states. He had carefully analyzed the market and knew what model years would be in his price range and what Airworthiness Directives to look out for.

Of course this well-maintained original 260 horsepower Cherokee Six came from yet another state, but ended up at a dealer in the Kansas City area. So my student, who is now working on his Instrument rating, gathered up his favorite mechanic and his CFI and us boys went shopping. The dealer, my student and I went out for a demo flight while the mechanic looked over the logs. We were pleased that the plane was original, but very serviceable, so it could be flown now, and then the paint and interior could be restored as desired later.

The instruments are old, including the old artificial horizon that pre-dates our contemporary attitude indicators-you know, the kind that can confuse you like the one that probably contributed to the deaths of Buddy Holly et al? But we had encountered the same situation in the 180, and it had only been a matter of money to bring it up-to-date and arrange a workable instrument scan. It does make you wonder what they were thinking back in the Sixties when they just stuck instruments in the panel at random . . .

So finally, after months of researching and searching, this shopping trip came to a fine conclusion. A deal was struck, and last weekend we brought her home to SGF and began the high-performance check-out. It's a straight and sweet old plane. I've flown several "Sixes" and mostly the propellers never seemed really smooth or only smooth at certain speeds. This one seemed smooth and well-balanced throughout the range of prop speeds. It's also quiet. The door seals must be tight, too. It does not have an intercom (yet) but we were able to fly comfortably and converse during our test-flight without headsets.

Being broader in the beam than the mythical 170-pound person the FAA had in mind, I am tickled at the prospect of some flying adventures in a wider, faster airplane again. While I'm sure Imelda Marcos could have bought dozens of pairs of shoes in the time it took us to buy this airplane, it just shows the boys can enjoy shopping, too. Oh, yeah, and I have a line on a good solid Cherokee 180 that might be for sale.

Dream high and fly safely!


[Copyright 2002 - Earl Holmer]