Aircraft Records, Heavy Wings, College Tuition, Bonanzas, Props, Skyhawks, Upgrades, Filler Caps, Primers & Bluebook Values

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2018 issue

Q:  Do you recommend keeping all airplane records inside the cockpit?

A:  When flying, I suggest you only carry what is required onboard, which are certificates of airworthiness, aircraft registration, plus operational limitations, and weight and balance information. Operational limitations and weight and balance information is usually contained in an Airplane Flight Manual, or Pilot’s Operating Handbook. So whenever flying, check to see that all of these documents are onboard.   

I would also recommend that if you have not already done so, make an electronic, or paper, copy of everything needed to be onboard, plus maintenance logs. Some of the Airplane Flight Manuals and/or Pilot’s Operating Handbooks are several hundred pages, so it might be only necessary to copy pertinent data to your particular airplane (i.e. supplements, equipment lists, weight and balance data). For sure, make good copies of all maintenance records. Keep the copies far away from the originals!

You DO NOT need to have maintenance records onboard when flying, but you must be able to produce them in a reasonable amount of time if asked by Federal Aviation Administration officials.

Q:  How do you trim out wing heaviness in a Cessna 182, and in an old Tri Pacer…neither of which have aileron trim?

A:  This is a job for a licensed mechanic only. First, he may ask you if you were certain that both fuel tanks contained the same amount of fuel in flight when wing heaviness was noted. Then, was your turn and bank ball in the center in cruise flight? If not, you may have a rudder trim issue rather than a wing trim problem. Lastly, have you like many pilots flown subconsciously or not with the left wing a tiny bit lower than the right wing, and carry a tiny bit of right rudder to compensate for that?

If all of these questions are answered properly, for your Cessna 182, then your mechanic has a couple of choices – the most common is to lower or raise the resting position of one wing flap a tiny bit. For the Tri-Pacer, the most common fix is for your mechanic to turn the adjusting nut at the lower end of the rear wing lift strut in or out, maybe one-fourth or one-half turn at the most. Any of these actions should only be done by a licensed aircraft mechanic.

Q:  I have heard of young people graduating from college/flight school with as much as $200,000 or $300,000 in debt. Is that possible, and is it worth the investment? We ask because our son is a senior in high school and wants to be an airline pilot.

A:  Yes, it is possible to get that far in debt. The cost of a four-year college degree, combined with lots of flight-time, can be staggering. What some students do is go to an aviation-related college right out of high school and graduate with a degree and many pilot ratings, with at least a shot at being close to having a job with a commuter airline. Going this route is perhaps the quickest way into the cabin of a big airplane, but can be very expensive.

Do you or your son want to put a huge amount of money at risk? The risk is that if you bust a couple check-rides, or develop medical issues, you might be out of that lucrative job way before you get your loans paid off. If that is a risk you do not want to take, or cannot swing financially, there is the more traditional way of working your way up more gradually, by working for an air cargo operator, or a fixed base operator, instructing and flying charter; or as a corporate pilot. Going the traditional route takes longer to reach a high-paying airline job, but there is less financial risk. Your son might also decide in the end that he prefers one of these other flying jobs and employers than working for the airlines.

Q:  I rode in a friend’s 1980 F-33A Bonanza. I was impressed by the quality of the airplane, the solid feel (he let me fly it a little) and the speed. But there are two stable mates, the V-35B and the A-36. Could you make brief comments on all three models?

A:  Sure. I like all of them. Very briefly, the V-35B has the forked tail, four (4) seats, a small center of gravity (CG) range, which requires attention to weight and balance, and is the fastest of the three models. The F-33A is pretty much a V-35B with a straight tail. The A-36 has six (6) seats and a separate entrance for passengers in the backseats. The A-36 carries a little more, and may bring a few bucks more than the others. All 1980 models have 285 hp engines, and the V model is the fastest. The F-33A is about 5 mph slower, and the A-36 is about 5 mph slower than the F-33A. Because these airplanes are 38 years old, and are roughly the same price on the used market (the A-36 may be a little higher), pick the one that suits your needs best and is in the best shape. Like all high-performance airplanes, be sure to find a shop with lots of Bonanza experience to do a pre-purchase inspection and then routine maintenance after you make your purchase.

Q:  Why doesn’t someone make a ground-adjustable propeller for many single-engine production airplanes? I know ground-adjustable props are offered to the experimental market. If certified, ground-adjustable props were widely available, you would not have the $8,000 – $12,000 or more expense of a constant speed prop to improve performance, and you would not need an engine built for a constant speed prop. You could usually leave it in a high-pitch mode for faster cruise, but when more power is needed at low speeds (short field, heavy load, flying parachute jumpers), you could set the prop to a finer pitch and get more rpms on takeoff and initial climb.

A:  I put your question to a lady at a major prop manufacturer. (She asked me to keep her name and company out of this column.) Her candid response was that officials at her company did not think there would be enough retail sales to certified airplane owners to justify the expense of certification and liability insurance.

Q:  Many have said the Cessna 172 Skyhawk is the most produced civilian airplane. Can you provide a few years and production numbers?

A:  Let’s do every 10 years: Year 1956, 1174 airplanes; Year 1966, 1499 airplanes; Year 1976, 1899 airplanes; Year 1986, 517 airplanes (production ended). Production resumed in 1997 with 305 airplanes built; Year 2006, 411 airplanes; Year 2016, 105 airplanes.

Q:  My friend (a licensed airplane mechanic) is going to help me rebuild a worn out 1945 Piper J-3 Cub I recently inherited. My friend is suggesting that we MUST add shoulder harnesses, and that I consider having the horsepower increased from 65 to 75, adding a wing tank, and converting to modern brakes. Your thoughts?

A:  No matter what, have the shoulder harnesses installed if the airplane does not currently have them. Without them, in the event of a crunch, the front seat passenger would likely hit their face/head on the all-metal instrument panel, and the rear passenger would hit their face/head on the back of the metal front seat, both of which can cause terrible injuries in the event of a crash. The cost will be about $1,500.00 for both front and rear shoulder harnesses.

Improvements or additions that you add to a stock airplane are usually not financially rewarding. If you are going to sell the Cub after you finish rebuilding it, I would do none of the last three upgrades your friend mentioned. But if you are keeping it, your friend’s suggestions are good ideas, to wit: 1) I have flown 65 and 75 hp Cubs. 65 hp is adequate, but there is a significant improvement in takeoff and climb performance with 75 hp engines vs 65 hp. 10 horsepower does not seem like a lot, but remember, it is about a 15% improvement over the 65 hp engine. 2) If you are only flying locally, the original 12-gallon nose tank (2-plus hours of range) should be okay. But if you like to go somewhere, another 6 or even 12 gallons of fuel can be great for flying to a no-fuel landing area. Beware, you can get over gross weight easily with two people onboard, plus lots of fuel. 3) Original J-3 brakes are lousy. Almost any retrofit brakes are better.

Q:  Another Cub question: Someone told me that in order to get a 65 hp Continental engine to produce 75 hp, all you have to do is shorten the prop a little and re-pitch it a bit, so the engine turns up more rpms. Is that true?

A:  NO! When you change an A65 Continental to an A75 model, there are minor internal engine changes that must be done to accommodate higher rpms, more heat, etc. Yes, I have heard that some people have only changed the prop pitch to get more power without doing required internal engine changes. Doing so might work for a little while, but it would be ILLEGAL, and worse yet, dangerous. If you desire to change from 65 to 75 hp, make the necessary internal changes; only then get your prop recut. You will enjoy a little more snap on takeoff and climb, but remember, there is no free lunch and you are burning a little more fuel per hour.

Q:  Someone stole the gas cap off my Cessna 182. I found a gas cap at an Oshkosh flea market sale that seems to fit, but it does not look the same. Should I use it?

A:  NO, not until an aviation mechanic determines that it is the right cap. There are many different OEM caps for airplanes, and then there are also lots of after-market gas caps. Not all are legal (or even safe). Some airplane gas caps have holes in them to allow air in (and water!). Some gas caps are required to have little vents that stick up and face forward to put air pressure on remaining fuel, etc. Be very careful that you have the correct cap. Improperly vented fuel tanks have caused fuel starvation.

Q:  Do you have any knowledge of airplanes flying with oil filler caps off (by pilot error)?   

A:  I do know of a Cessna 172RG which flew from Michigan to Milwaukee across Lake Michigan with the oil dipstick left on a workbench in Michigan. There was almost no oil loss on the 180 hp Lycoming engine. That engine has a long tube coming uphill from the engine case which holds the dipstick. On other aircraft engines that have an oil fill cap right on the crank case, you will have an immediate and massive oil loss. ALWAYS CHECK THE OIL CAP, AND GAS CAPS TO BE SURE THEY ARE SECURELY INSTALLED.

Q:  A friend told me he carries a spare source of electric power when flying his Cessna 185 to very remote areas, but not when flying his brother’s Cessna 180. He said the C-185 has a fuel-injected engine that needs electric power to run a fuel pump to prime the engine for starting, and the C-180 does not need an electric fuel pump to prime. Don’t you have to prime a C-180 engine as well?

A:  On a cold start, both engines need prime. You need electric power to run the fuel pump to prime the fuel-injected engine in the C-185’s engine, while the carbureted Cessna 180 engine can be primed with a hand primer. With a dead battery in either case, you would need to hand crank the prop after priming to get the engine to start. This is a dangerous procedure and don’t even think of doing it until you have gotten a good education from an experienced pilot or mechanic. Departing with a dead battery is never a good idea because if you lose your alternator, you are immediately without any electric power for radios, lights, etc.

Q:  What airplane “bluebooks” are available and what do they cost?

A:  Two good ones are VREF and Aircraft Bluebook. An Internet search will quickly provide subscription information on each. In addition, I also buy an occasional CD from Airpac, easily found on the Internet, which has massive amounts of data on pilots and aircraft registrations. A subscription to VREF’s online version is $85.00 per year and $350.00 for the print version. Aircraft Bluebook is $399.00 online and its online and historical pack is $599.95. Subscriptions include four detailed quarterly issues of their printed versions. VREF is associated with AOPA, but AOPA only shows retail figures. Wholesale pricing and lots more are shown in the printed versions. Airpac CDs are $95.00 for one CD, and they have a new CD each month. I buy a few each year. I use both bluebooks plus Airpac CDs (for statistics.) Usually, but not always, the bluebooks are within 15% or so of each other in used airplane prices. But remember, the older the airplane, the less “average” any particular airplane is, so the bluebooks should be used with a large grain of salt.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger appraises airplanes for estates, divorces, and partnership buyouts. He is a 40-year general aviation veteran, starting out as a line technician as a teenager, advancing through the ranks to become the co-owner and manager of a fixed base operation, and manager of an airport in a major metropolitan community. For aircraft appraisals, contact Pete at or call 262-533-3056 (

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others, and refer to aircraft owner manuals, manufacturer recommendations, the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials for guidance on aeronautical matters.

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