Ask Pete!

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2018

Q: Recently, you said you think “book” retail figures on airplane prices are not always real accurate. Why is that?

A: I have seen many owners look at “Aircraft Value Reference” (VREF) figures on the AOPA website and use that as a basis for valuation of their airplane. Frankly, since our fleet now averages over 40 years of age, probably no two 40-year-old airplanes of any make/model have the same value. So many factors affect airplane values that I could write a book about it. Just glancing online to find true value of your airplane might give you a ball park estimate if your newer airplane is all-around average, but it is probably NOT going to give you an accurate value of your older airplane.

Here’s one example: Most two-year-old Skyhawks are still pretty nice looking, have relatively few hours on them, and have similar equipment, and are worth similar dollars. Bluebook figures for those airplanes will be quite accurate.  But 40-year-old Skyhawk values can range from $20K to $60K based on equipment, history, corrosion, maintenance records, optional equipment, paint, interior condition, etc.

Q:  My friend has a Cessna 140, and recently took me for a ride. Before takeoff, I asked him if he had done a weight and balance calculation because I weigh 200 lbs. and he weighs the same. He said it would not be necessary to do a center of gravity (C.G.) calculation, but he quickly added up my weight and his, the weight of the fuel on board (15 gallons), plus the empty weight of the airplane, and said we were good to go (400 lbs. pilot and passenger; 90 lbs. fuel; 950 lbs. empty weight = 1440 lbs.). 1440 lbs. is 10 lbs. under the aircraft’s gross weight of 1450 lbs. So, we were just okay weight wise, but shouldn’t he have calculated C.G. as well?

A:  No, believe it or not, if his empty C.G. was in a certain range. Several older (circa 1930s and 1940s) two-seat, side-by-side airplanes have information in their type certificate data sheet about this. The reasoning is if your empty airplane is within a narrow C.G. range, and everything you can put in it (people, gas, bags) are all located close to the C.G., your end C.G. will be okay. Do an Internet search for “Cessna 140 Type Certificate Data Sheet” and type certificate A-768 should be available in a PDF file. Open that and you will see that if the empty weight of the airplane falls between 12.3 – 14.7 inches from datum point (wing leading edge), it is not necessary to compute C.G. The type certificate states that the loaded C.G. must range between 13.5 – 17.7 inches aft of the datum point. This situation is because both seats, and fuel, are located at just about the center of gravity. A maximum of 80 lbs. of baggage is allowed if gross weight is not exceeded. So, loading the airplane with people and gas will barely move the C.G., so it will be within acceptable range if you start with an empty C.G. as specified in the type certificate.

Q:  I’ve recently moved to a new area of the country and asked the local shop to do an annual inspection on my 1975 C-182 Skylane. When I picked the plane up a few days later, it still had some squawks! Local airplane owners generally give the shop pretty good marks, but I am not happy. What’s your take?

A:  Remember the classic line from the movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I sense that in your situation. When you dropped off your airplane, did you give the mechanic a list of squawks? When mechanics do an annual inspection, it is pretty hard to know that (for instance) the nosewheel shimmies about once every 30 landings, or that occasionally the alternator drops off line, or that once in a while the left fuel gauge stays stuck on full, etc. Mechanics can fix airplanes, but not read minds.

And when you picked up the airplane, you should have spoken with the shop personnel to get input on the condition of your plane. For instance, your brakes are okay now, but do not have a lot of life left in them; or there is an Airworthiness Directive inspection on the muffler due in 20 hours, etc. If you never saw or spoke with them, when the airplane was pushed outside and signed off, it was legal to fly, but some communication (and a smile) from both sides would get you more out of your inspection. For instance, that muffler inspection COULD have been done while the airplane was apart during the annual inspection for far less cost than bringing it back in 20 hours and taking the engine cowl off, etc.

Q:  My airplane was badly damaged when I had a forced landing last fall, ending upside down in a cornfield. I called my insurance carrier, and an adjuster soon came out, and made arrangements to have the airplane moved to a nearby airport, and then he removed all of the radios. He gave me a receipt for the radios, but I wonder why he took them? He did call me a few days later and we negotiated a reasonable settlement on “totaling” the plane. But why did he initially take the radios out?

A: One thing that can happen fairly quickly to a damaged airplane is that the radios get stolen. With that airplane sitting outside in an obviously damaged state, it would be easy pickings for a thief. Many radios can be removed in a few minutes with an Allen wrench or skinny slotted screwdriver. Sometimes an adjuster will hire round the clock security for a damaged airplane until it can be moved to a secure storage area. If you don’t have full coverage hull insurance and find yourself in this predicament, you should consider hiring a local deputy or police officer or private security service to guard your plane for a few hours or overnight until you can get it moved. It is money well spent. I know of one airplane that spent one night in a hayfield next to a road. The next day the prop was gone. New props cost about $3,000 to $4,000, and a couple hundred bucks to the local Gestapo could have prevented this.

Q:  I recently got my tailwheel endorsement in a J-3 Cub. It seemed to be more difficult to keep it running straight during landing rollout than on take-off. Have you noticed this?

A:  When you go to full power to take off, your rudder gets a pretty good blast of air going past it, making the rudder very effective for steering. But on landing, the airflow over the tail is much less, thus the rudder is less effective, requiring more rudder input to make a steering correction than on takeoff. What might help is as soon as you are certain the tailwheel is on the ground, hold full aft (up) elevator. This will put more weight on the tailwheel, which is steerable to some degree.

Q: You said there were some “salesmen secrets” you might share with me someday. How about now?

A: OK, here are a few I learned from the school of hard knocks about selling airplanes: 1) A caller who wants to come out to the airport and see an airplane on Sunday afternoon is often a looker, not a buyer. In my experience, serious (and financially qualified) buyers are usually not Sunday afternoon lookers. 2) A suspect who called about an airplane and whose first question is “What’s your bottom dollar?” is probably not a serious buyer, as he has not seen the airplane, has not seen the maintenance records, has not had his mechanic look at it, etc. 3) If someone calls and wants to schedule a “demo ride” in the airplane for sale, he usually wants just that – a ride. In most routine airplane sales, a demo ride, if any, is usually one of the last things done.   

get a fairly good opinion of the condition and bid accordingly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger appraises airplanes for estates, divorces, partnership buyouts, etc. He is a 40-year general aviation veteran, having been a co-owner of a fixed base operation for 5 years, manager of a fixed base operation for 15 years, an airport manager for 9 years, a snow removal supervisor for 12 years, line boy for 4 years, and a hangar sweeper for 40 years! Contact Pete at or call 262-533-3056 to have him appraise your aircraft.

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