In 1992 I stumbled across the first airplane I ever seriously considered buying. I was a hard-working CFI back then. My income wasn’t going to set the world on fire, but maybe, just maybe I could find a way to buy the classic T-craft with the faded “For Sale” sign behind its windshield.
Even though it had been sitting outside for months and was in need of some serious TLC, I wanted it.
The owner had it on the market for $7,000 — a small fortune to me then. Certainly far more than I had left in my bank account. $7,000 was a steep hill to climb, but I resolved to get to the top of that particular fiscal mountain, so I set about finding a partner or two to come up with enough cash to make a serious offer.
I talked to my fellow instructors, I mentioned it to a student or two. I even suggested a few non-flying friends might consider throwing in with me. Then, I reasoned, they could earn their ticket for the cost of the instructor and the avgas. And I knew an instructor who would be very flexible in his billing practices.
Three months later I departed that job and that airport as I relocated in a southerly direction. The Taylorcraft stayed behind, still for sale, still outside, still in need of TLC. It might still be there for all I know.
It was my first serious attempt to buy an airplane and I failed.
It took years, but eventually I did buy my first airplane. It was a 1963 Cessna 150, which didn’t cost much more than that T-craft I’d lusted over. Then it was a Cessna 172. Then a Piper J-3 Cub.
Most recently I picked up a couple Piper PA-16 projects for future consideration. And of course, I’ve got the Air Cam I’ve written about previously.
I’ve been lucky. But that luck also came with hard work, long hours, and years of patience as I got my ducks in a row and found airplanes to buy that worked with my budget, as well as fit my plans for their use.
For most of the time I’ve owned them, two of those airplanes have lived and worked as part of a couple flying clubs. In one case, I belong to the flying club that leases the airplane, which means I get to fly it now and then. In another, I did not belong to the flying club the airplane was leased to, and so for the time it was leased I was not able to fly it.In both cases, the arrangement worked out just fine for me, as well as for the clubs the aircraft were leased to.
In the past week I’ve had a surprising number of emails and phone calls from pilots who are either thinking of buying their first airplane, or of forming a flying club that could lease or buy an airplane.
This pleases me.
Perhaps it’s because the weather has warmed up a bit, the skies are blue, the breezes are light, and people working their way out of a lingering winter slumber are realizing that Block Island is a short hop in an airplane, as opposed to a long haul in the car followed by a ferry ride, and an equally long trip home.
Or maybe it’s because the idea of a flying club isn’t quite as foreign an idea as it once was. Maybe folks have realized the benefits of splitting costs between numerous aeronautical friends with similar goals, and similar financial constraints.
Whatever the reason, I’m pleased.
My case is not rare, or unusual, or even slightly out of the ordinary.
Buying an airplane, or establishing a flying club that can lease an airplane, isn’t something that happens every day. It’s actually fairly simple and easy to do, but it sure doesn’t feel like it the first time around.
The key is to find the option that will work best for you. While individual ownership is a wonderful thing, it carries costs you may not want to shoulder alone. If that’s the case, a partnership or a flying club might be a better fit.
Your plan to fly across two time zones in search of adventure is a noble goal. How often do you imagine you’ll do that? Really. Once? Twice maybe. That might be a great opportunity to get checked out in a high performance airplane at a nearby FBO, and rent it for the trip. The total time you fly will almost certainly exceed the daily minimum required of the rental.
Perhaps your full-time, around the region airplane could be a less expensive to buy, less challenging to maintain mainstay of the GA fleet. That airplane is likely to hold its value pretty well over the years, too.
It took me years to become an airplane owner. And I love my little fleet of aircraft. But if I’m honest, I probably would have flown more and had a lot more fun if I could have gotten access through a flying club or a partnership all those years ago. Maybe I wouldn’t own an airplane at all in that case. But I’d still be flying, and having a great time of it. And I’d be doing it with my partners or fellow club members.
Thank goodness we’ve got three options: Individual ownership, partnership, or a flying club membership.
However you slice that particular pie, there’s a lot of adventure to be had, and it can happen no matter what your budget is. Just keep looking. One day, you’ll find the right fit for the right price that will allow you to accomplish your chosen mission.
I hope it happens for you, soon. I’ve done two of the three options, and I’ve been so fortunate for having taken the plunge.