The time has come. The search is on. Our mission is as simple as it is complex. And yes, I’m aware that sentence is an oxymoron, but so is the challenge of searching for, finding, and buying the perfect airplane.
Let the games begin.
Most people will never own an airplane. Some of us, a small minority, will own several. I’m in the latter camp. I’ve owned six airplanes to this point in my life, and I’m not ruling out the possibility that I may own another someday. You just can’t tell. There are too many variables to make an accurate prediction.
My first airplane was a 1963 Cessna 150. With a straight tail and a windowless fastback, it wasn’t pretty, but it was a fine aircraft. It had new plexiglass all around and a brand spanking new propeller. The panel was an absolutely hideous shade of blue, but the price tag for the purchase was so low I couldn’t resist. After a very brief negotiation I took possession of the airplane and the hangar it was stored in for just 55% of the seller’s asking price.
Price matters. There is no doubt about that. Sure, everything is for sale if the price is right, but do any of us really want to pay whatever the seller asks? No, I don’t think so.
At least in my case I’ve found that I can get excited and motivated to purchase a wide variety of airplanes under the right circumstances. Generally speaking, my wife has been very understanding of this penchant of mine.
Then again, I’m equally willing to walk away from a deal if the price is higher than I’m willing to pay, or if the condition of the airplane is so bad that bringing it back to airworthy status won’t be cost-effective.
Airworthiness is neither voluntary nor cheap.
There is a 1940 Piper Cub J3 C-65 out there in the world that I consider to be the one that got away. I shouldn’t have sold it. I regret letting it go to this day. For all its limitations — and a 1940 J-3 Cub with just 65 hp and a wooden propeller has plenty of limitations let me tell you — it’s also a wonderful machine that is inexpensive to fly, loads of fun to take aloft, and a real challenge to fly well.
There’s another oxymoron for you. The Cub is incredibly easy to fly, but it can also be a demanding handful from flair to full-stop. It’s so lightly wing-loaded that even moderate gusts of wind can have a profound effect on the trajectory of the airframe. Its miniscule fuel tank says you’re not going very far on any given hop and the massive amount of drag produced by all the wires and struts and bits and pieces hanging off the airframe make sure you’re going to make every flight at speeds that can best be described as leisurely.
Yet for all that, it’s an amazing airplane.
I was the 28th owner of my Cub, if I recall correctly. It came to me as the result of a confluence of events that would be difficult to duplicate. The previous owner was a student pilot who was not having much luck finding CFIs to fly with. An injury left him unable to fly for a time, and a pending job transfer put him in a real bind. As it turned out he’d never filed the paperwork to register the airplane with the FAA either. Add to that error the knowledge that it still had an unresolved lien on its books from years before.
That’s a lot of baggage for such a minimalist aircraft. Since the owner wasn’t moving around well, post injury, I asked for and was granted permission to visit the airplane in its hangar to make a visual inspection. It had some rough spots, but I liked enough of what I saw to make an offer.
I called the owner, told him I was interested, and offered an amount of money that I was comfortable with. The owner’s response was less than gracious. He was insulted by what he considered to be a ridiculously low bid, which transitioned to anger that simmered for days.
I explained that I wasn’t trying to insult him and that I had no problem with him selling the airplane to someone else for more money. My offer was based on what I was willing to pay, not what others might find acceptable. I made it clear that if he ever found himself in the position of wanting to accept my offer, I’d stand by it.
Several days later he called me back, asking if I was still willing to honor my offer. I was. We closed the deal that day. With the help of a friend I walked the new acquisition from the seller’s hangar to my own. Getting a taildragger sign-off became the next order of business.
I gave a lot of rides in that Cub. I did quite a bit of dual instruction in it, too. It was a wonderful machine. But one day I found myself with more airplanes than hangar space and it drew the short straw. It had to go.
I still miss that Cub. I suspect I always will.
Both the C-150 and the J-3 were the perfect airplane — at least for a time they were. And that’s enough, I think. Perfect isn’t a long-lasting condition. It’s a fleeting moment in time, just a small slice of life, where everything lines up just right. As it did with the C-150, and the J-3, and perhaps will again with something else that catches my eye.
But if that Cub were to come up for sale again…that would really be something. Just perfect.