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making the transition from renter to owner part 1 (long)



 
 
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Old April 13th 04, 02:40 PM
Journeyman
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Default making the transition from renter to owner part 1 (long)


For one reason or another, I've been in lurk mode for the last six
months or so. I'm now going to make up for it with a particularly
long post. :-)

I've been increasingly frustrated with flying lately. In fact, I
didn't meet a single goal I set for myself last year. Came close to
getting the glider rating before running out of time and good weather
(probably could've made it if August hadn't been so wet). The club
instructor said I was flying to the private PTS, but he wanted me to
fly to commercial PTS. I buy into the idea, but it's still
frustrating to come so close. At least there's always next year...
:-)

Another big goal was to finally do the single-engine commercial
rating. I went up alone a couple of times at the beginning of the
summer and did a few of the commercial maneuvers: chandelles, lazy 8s,
etc. I quickly realized I didn't really want to split my time and
money between the soaring and the commercial, so I decided mostly to
concentrate on the soaring.

My one airplane flying goal for the summer was to complete the 300NM
solo cross country. My objective was a weekend trip up to Montreal
and/or Ottawa where I still have family and friends.

Renting airplanes has really become an exercise in frustration. Back
in Seattle, there was a pretty good operation to rent from. I was
able to take daytrips without any hassle and even did the odd
overnighter.

Here at the other sound, the only practical airport for me to fly out
of is Westchester County (HPN). Unfortunately, the rental operation
is really geared for training, and daytrips are problematic. 172s are
renting for $2/minute around here, so I've barely been flying enough
to be current. I kept my instrument rating legally current, but it
was rusty enough that I felt it was essentially unusable.

I tried several times to complete the trip. In order to get one of
their planes for an entire weekend, you pretty much need to book a
couple of weeks ahead of time, well ahead of the weather guessers'
threshold. I tried downgrading the weekend trip to a day trip. I
eventually tried booking time off work to go in the middle of the
week.

On one occasions, I got as far as filing my flight plan and calling
Canada Customs to give them my ETA. Then, I looked at the radar
picture and saw the lines of thunderstorms. Uhm, nevermind.

Finally, I booked booked Thanksgiving day and next day. Lonny's (my
Highly Significant Other) uncle was celebrating his 85th in the
afternoon. The plan was to fly up on Thursday for the party. Lonny
would stay a few days visiting family and I'd fly back solo the next
day. Then I'd drive up the following weekend and pick her up.

Why only 2 days of a 4-day weekend? The flight school has Daily
Minima. Early in the week, the forecast weather on the Thursday was
good, but the Friday's forecast made the return trip unlikely. On the
Wednesday, I finally cancelled the flight (we wound up driving,
staying over for the whole weekend, and driving back together).

Then, I got the bright idea of checking out in the school's 182 which
much has less schedule pressure. I've got some 182 time from Seattle,
but wasn't renting it here because it's prohibitively expensive.
Around here, a 172 solo is $2/minute. But desperate times call for
desperate mesures. I made the impulsive decision to take the
Wednesday off and grab the 182 and an instructor who happened to be
available.

Okay, you Americans, I'm not from your country. I don't understand
all your customs. Yeah, I figured The Day Before Thanksgiving would
would be busy. I just wasn't prepared for how busy.

Picture the airport:
http://www.aopa.org/images/asf/taxi/00651AD.pdf
I was at H for a rwy 29 departure. Runway 16 departures on the West
side of 16 were lined up all the way to the L/K intersection. Yikes.
Making a short story long, I was at the 29 hold short line for half an
hour while tower was doing runway 16 arrivals and departures. WTH,
they did get there first, so my leaving on 29 was kinda like jumping
the queue. Finally, I just decided it wasn't going work out. I
called ground and said I wanted to return to the starting point. "Uh,
Sir, they're lined up behind you. You have no place to go." "Got any
ideas?" "Nope." Bummer. So, I go back to tower and tell them I'm
calling it a day and requested permission to taxi onto 29 to F to get
past the planes lined up behind me. Lessee, half an hour in the 182
with an instructor at $4/minute and all I got to do was practice
standing on the brakes at the hold short line. I didn't even bother
to log anything. Could've, since I did move the airplane with the
intention of committing some aviation, but what would've been the
point? I made a half-hearted request to the director of the flight
school that he give me a break on the rate, but that just didn't go
anywhere (the plane's on leaseback and they would still have to pay
the owner).

At this point, let's just say my enthusiasm for flying ebbed. Or we
can be more blunt: I was thinking about giving up aviation. I sulked
for about a month, then started looking at my finances. If I went
far, far out onto a limb, a Cutlass started to look affordable.

I decided it had to be a retract (for several reasons that seemed to
make sense at the time) and the bulk of my time is in Cessnas, so the
Cutlass was clearly the only affordable choice. I went out and looked
at a nice one. Good airframe, good engine, low time 10,000 hour
airframe. Used in pipeline patrol, so the landing gear wasn't cycled
as often as if, say, it were being used as a trainer. Uhm, yeah, that
might work...

Looking at some ads for a few other 172RGs, I saw some Cutlasses that
weren't even as nice as that one. Thanks to Jay for giving me a
pointer to a mechanic in Iowa. The ad said damage history, and I
assumed it was a gear up which I could live with if repaired properly
When I called the broker, it was apparant that that plane had been on
its back. Next.

Michael (crwdog69) and Tina Marie suggested I consider the Arrow. It
made sense and I started looking into it. I found a couple of nice
ones in the area. A broker had a pair. One with a new overhaul, and
one with a run-out engine. That averages to the mid-time engine I've
been looking for, right? Another local individual was selling his
plane (Lonny found the ad). Mid-time engine. Looked good. Leaning
toward buying it. Started looking for a good mechanic. Called a
nearby flight school that has an Arrow on the line and asked about
their mechanic.

I managed to speak briefly to the mechanic and he promised to call me
back. Of course, when he did, I was out sick for a couple of days and
didn't get the message. I called him back the next day, but he never
called me back. The bits of information I did get made me
uncomfortable. He had looked at the same planes I'd been loking at.
He mumbled something about one of the planes he looked at having an
unlogged paint job. He also had made (what the broker considered to
be) a low-ball offer that was refused. Unfortunately, I never got the
story straight and I hemmed and hawed while trying to line up a
reliable mechanic.

I also tried to actually get some time in the Arrow at the flight
school. It took 5 attempts. Once was cancelled because of weather;
once the instructor cancelled on me (with an apology but no
explanation, so it was probably none of my business). Once was
cancelled because the plane was down for maintenance. Another
cancellation was because the instructor I had randomly selected wasn't
checked out in their Arrow. Finally I managed to get the checkout
done and logged all of 0.9 hours. Check one item off the purchase
checklist.

While I'm hemming and hawing about the privately sold Arrow, the owner
managed to sell it. In hindsight, I think it was a pretty good plane,
but from the beginning, I was prepared to lose a good plane to someone
more knowledgeable and willing to move faster rather than rushing
headlong into buying a money pit.

Continuing to look around while acquiring knowledge, I reluctantly
came to the conclusion that I should be looking at older 180
horsepower models instead of the 200. Prices were lower, giving more
margin for error.

I was getting a little discouraged about the whole process. Then, out
of the blue, one of the threads I had spawned came to the foreground.
Early in the process, I called the local Piper dealer/broker.
According to the web site, he didn't have any Arrows available. But I
called him anyway and we had a nice chat: "I know you don't have any,
but if anything comes up, keep me in mind. BTW, can you recommend a
good mechanic for the prebuy" so on and so forth. A couple of months
later, he had one and was getting back to me.

The plane is a 1974 model. It was owned by the same owner for 15
years, based at HPN (although the owner's been spending more and more
time in FL). It had a _very_ good panel, better-than-factory overhaul
(according to some opinions), mid-time engine, mid-time airframe, well
maintained. Very well maintained. Did I mention how well it's been
maintained?

Investigating further, it looked really good. There were a few
logistical problems that had to be solved. Where would I find a
mechanic to look at the airplane? Would I need to make 2 trips to
look at it, then to come back for a prebuy inspection? Would I be
able to fly it back at this time of year or would it have left there
for a month until I had a free weekend?

Tina Marie's friend's brother John happens to be a mechanic, living on
Florida's East coast. As a favor to Tina (and for a nominal fee), he
agreed to take a look at the plane if the owner would bring it. There
was some discussion as the owner, being on the Gulf side hesitated to
make the trip unless he had a serious buyer.

Deciding not to hesitate like last time, and realizing this was a
well-maintained airplane with awesome avionics (I like a well-stacked
airplane), I made the offer. It was no bargain, but it wasn't
extremely overpriced. I paid a premium, but given what I learned
about the plane's history and how it was used, it was worth it. It's
a good bird.

The offer was, of course, conditional on a prepurchase inspection.
John was willing to do it, but didn't have jacks for inspecting the
landing gear. He recommended someone else: Chad Daigle at Epic
Aviation in New Symrna Beach. Awesome guy and I don't mind giving him
a free plug. I almost wish I lived in Florida just so he could do the
maintenance on the plane.

There were some logistical problems arranging the prebuy. The former
owner was going to be away for a week and felt that I should take the
plane to one of the 2 maintenance shops on his home field, either the
one he used or the other one. I insisted on going with someone
somewhat more arms length away.

Finally, we agreed to do the prebuy on Monday (Mar 29). I arranged to
fly to Ft. Myers on Sunday and meet Tina who would supervise the
prebuy. She's no A&P, but given all the work she's done on her own
plane, she at least has some idea what to look for.

I bought a return ticket, both to make it easier to walk away from the
plane if there were any really unpleasant surprises, and to make it
easier to leave the plane there for a month even if the transaction
did go through. If things worked out and the weather cooperated, I
would fly it back right away, but I didn't want my trip home to become
a case of getthereitis.

Tina Marie was initially unimpressed when the first thing we saw
taking off the cowling was a somewhat sloppy job with the baffling
around the engine. There were some big leaks, and there was a metal
piece that was abrading on an oil line to the prop governor. This is
an object lesson on keeping on top of things. It's a minor problem
with an easy fix, but left alone, it would eventually cut through the
oil line. We all know how well piston airplanes fly without oil.

The more we looked at the airplane, the more impressed she was.
Including those two items, the squawk list was remarkably short. I
completed the paperwork and I handed the now former owner the
certified check that I hand-carried from White Plains.

All that was left to do was figure out how to get the plane back to
White Plains...
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