There is a great thrill to buying an airplane. At least that’s always been my experience.
The search, the pre-buy inspection, the haggling, the deal. It’s all a heady concoction that ends, hopefully, with an aircraft in your hangar that can bring you joy and adventure whenever you get the urge to fly.
For most of my flying career I’ve been a renter. It was convenient. It was also expensive, but not as expensive as ownership, I reasoned. And that’s true to a point. But there is a cost that goes along with that savings. This particular cost is known as inconvenience.
I recently checked out in a C-172 at a nearby airport so I could take more gravitationally challenged aviation enthusiasts on their first flight. These familiarization flights are instructional as much as they are intended to provide first-person exposure to what it’s like to sit in the pilot’s seat. To see what the pilot sees. To have the chance to do what a pilot does in flight.
Alas, I’m not the only pilot who flies that rental airplane. Now, nobody does. It’s crumpled a bit after a subsequent renter left a runway and came to a stop in a ditch. Oops.
Thankfully, I’ve avoided that experience myself. But I no longer had a rental airplane to use. Maybe it’s time I start shopping for an airplane of my own…again.
I’ve owned six airplanes in my life, most of them for a fairly short time. And contrary to conventional wisdom about the huge hole you have to pour money into if you want to own an airplane, I have come out ahead financially with four of them.
Still, my wandering eye causes each to move out of my hangar at some point, to a new home where they’re hopefully loved and cared for before being passed on to yet another caretaker who will cherish them for their capabilities.
My first airplane was a 1963 Cessna 150. The old straight-tail design, with no back window. The term fastback is used to describe this particular design, but let’s not kid ourselves, there’s nothing fast about a 100-hp Cessna 150.
That’s not to say it’s not a great airplane. It was. It is. Given the proper maintenance and housing, that airplane should last for many, many years to come.
It hurt a little to sell that classic, basic trainer. But I’d bought a Cessna 172 in the interim and have only so much hangar space to store them in. So, the C-150 went to a flight school where plenty of new hopefuls learned to fly in it. That’s as it should be.
Initially I thought of that airplane as being gone. Not long after I realized it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t gone at all. It was just somewhere else, doing what it does, bringing smiles to new faces and teaching lessons that need to be learned.
More than a year after selling it I came across a photo on social media of my former airplane being flown cross-country by a student pilot and a certificated pilot, hundreds of miles from where I had it based.
That made me feel good. It also gave me a whole new perspective. I wasn’t the first owner of any of the aircraft I’d owned. I was no different than the next person listed on the registration paperwork or the previous one. Just a temporary custodian of a remarkable machine. One that would outlive me, more than likely. And I’m just fine with that.
The C-172 that replaced the C-150 eventually went to the Philippines where it got a new engine that burns Jet-A, which is far more readily available than avgas in that part of the world.
The J-3 Cub that once graced my hangar is now located slightly less than 100 nautical miles north of me. It belongs to a good friend, which makes me think I may have visiting rights, although I haven’t tested that theory yet. I was the 28th keeper of that airplane, if I recall correctly. My friend is number 29. I have no doubt there will be a number 50 one day, a century or two from now.
Undoubtedly the most personally important airplane I’ve ever been in possession of carries N101SB on its fuselage. It’s an AirCam, and regular readers of this column will know the history of that twin-engine, tail-dragging, experimental machine.
The kit came from the Lockwood facility in Sebring, Florida. My dad, a retired Pan Am 747 captain, had it delivered to a workspace near his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut. The captain and a couple friends built it over a period of several years. It was a side project, which was finished but never flown by the time my dad departed this world.
It came to me in need of a variety of tweaks to correct the multiple glitches that are common with a first-time homebuilder project. But it was a wonderful machine that gave a considerable number of people the opportunity to float above the lakes and forests of central Florida in a way they never dreamed possible.
I sold it eventually, having no practical need for it beyond the obvious sentimental value it held for me. Then one day, out of the blue, a new owner, someone I have never met, wrote and shared a photo of himself with the airplane. He’d flown it to AirVenture, more than 1,000 miles from my hangar, and nearly that far from the place it had come into being in the first place.
I think the old man would be pleased. His airplane is doing what he’d hoped it would do.
A few weeks ago a friend I hold in particularly high esteem wrote to let me know he’d come across my dad’s AirCam in Colorado. Way out west. And it has a canopy now. Upgrades, baby.
It’s not gone. It’s just somewhere else. Somewhere wonderful. And along the way, it’s doing what airplanes do — bringing joy to those who fly them.
So, maybe it really is time for me to start looking for my next airplane.