PLBs & Satellite Messengers – Are They Worth Buying?

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2019/January 2020 issue

Q: My friend, a medical doctor, strongly urges me to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger – even when flying day VFR – in the remote chance of an off-airport incident. Isn’t that overkill? I have a smart phone which gives me my location any time I want.

A: I agree with your friend. Your smart phone is an electronic marvel, but it needs to be within reach of cell towers. If you have the misfortune of ending up in a wooded or hilly area, you might not be able to get cell phone reception. A PLB is hand carried, and you have to activate it manually. It will give your position to satellites. The slightly more expensive satellite messenger units, sometimes called personal tracking devices, cost a little more: $300 – $600, and require a subscription which costs $20 – $100 a month. They allow you to send and receive messages and can give the most accurate report of your exact position via satellite. Whichever you choose, consider keeping them in your coat pocket, as they may get lost if you have a substantial accident. Since they are portable, you can take them with you anywhere.

Remember in the winter, even when flying over populated areas, to always take along some survival gear. A first aid kit, and old wool blankets and/or used snowmobile suits, and a pair of snow boots, weigh almost nothing and are cheap insurance. I just bought two nice used snowmobile suits on “craigslist” (https://www.craigslist.org/), I have for an emergency – $85 for two of them! Over wooded or more sparsely populated areas, you should carry lots more stuff. Look up survival and first aid kits on the Internet.

Q: I am looking to buy an airplane that will carry three couples and a small amount of baggage for weekend getaways. Our trips are about 300 miles long, and our weight of people plus baggage, excluding fuel, will be about 1,000 lbs. Our destination has fuel, so we don’t need to have a heavy fuel load onboard. I’ve got about $130K to spend, and it looks like a Piper Saratoga might best fit the bill compared to Beech Bonanzas and Cessna 206/210s. Do you agree? Would you recommend a retractable gear version, or the fixed gear version?

A: Piper Saratogas offer a bigger cabin than their competitors, and a high useful load with a wide C.G. range. I think your choice is correct. The fixed gear Saratoga model was made from 1980 – 1990, and the retractable from 1980 – 1992. Given a bigger fuselage, the cruising speed is less than competing Cessna and Beech models. Expect about 140 knots from the fixed gear airplane and about 10 – 15 knots more from the retractable. On your 300-mile trip, the time difference between a retractable and fixed gear model would be 10 minutes or so, thus I would lean toward the fixed gear version for you. All else being equal, the retractable version will run about $15,000 more than a fixed gear model. Turbo charging was offered in some years, and adds a bit to prices, but it is not a free lunch as the time between overhaul (TBO) is reduced and the fuel flow is increased. Be sure to have a mechanic familiar with Saratogas thoroughly look over any prospective airplane before you buy it, and also do a title search.

Q: As an aircraft owner, I regularly receive solicitation in the mail from aircraft dealers or brokers asking if I want to sell my airplane. Exactly, how does that work? If I am interested in selling my airplane, do I send a description of the aircraft to the dealer, including the year, make and model; total aircraft time; total time since major overhaul; a list of avionics; and photos —inside and out – and then does the dealer shoot me a price as to what he feels my aircraft is worth, make me an offer 5% or 10% below the actual value of the aircraft, then buy it outright, or do they broker it for me, then take a percentage of the sale? And finally, is this a safe, fair and convenient way to sell my airplane, or would I be better off trying to sell it on my own?

A: Some dealers and brokers will be immediate buyers, but at a reduced wholesale price. But more often, they are looking for a listing, where they get a commission if they sell your airplane. If any solicitations interest you, take the bull by the horns and ask those questions. You can try and sell your airplane yourself. Selling an airplane can be easy and fun, or difficult. Expect to spend several hundred dollars on ads, be prepared to put up with people who want a free ride, some who do not have financial resources to complete the deal, people with unusual requests, etc. The broker or salesman earns his fee by handling these problems for you. If you hire a sales agent, I urge you to have it be someone nearby that you trust, who can be available at not much notice to show your airplane. Also ask that agent for references of recent sales.

Q: My 2003 Cessna 172S has a Lycoming IO-360-L engine, which is approaching overhaul. I was expecting to spend $25,000 – $30,000 with my local FBO to have a replacement engine installed, but I just heard from a friend that his cousin – who is an aircraft mechanic that owns a maintenance shop two states away — overhauled his personal 172S for $12,000. Am I about to be ripped off?

A: The $12,000 you mentioned probably was only the cost of parts replaced. The shop owner undoubtedly did the labor of engine removal, tear down and cleaning, reassembly, and reinstallation. You will have to pay that labor, perhaps 90 hours total. So, let’s do the math: $12,000 in parts, 90 hours of labor at say $100/hour = $9,000 (hence: shop rates vary between $60 and $100 per hour, depending on location, rural versus urban, and other factors). Add $7,000 more or so for overhead, liability insurance, and a little for profit, and you’re in the high $20s. So, you are not getting ripped off at $25 – $30K for a quality overhauled engine installed in your airplane.

Q: Someone told me I can shorten my landing roll maybe 100 feet on my Stinson by having the brakes applied at about half of full pressure, just before touchdown. The reason he said is if I land with lots of drag on the tires, the airplane will have a slight nose-down pitch, preventing any slight skip or bounce, allowing braking immediately, thus reducing landing roll maybe 100 feet. Does this make any sense?

A: NO, don’t try it! You might end up upside down with repairs needed that will exceed the value of your airplane. Is saving 100 feet of landing roll worth that risk? I sure don’t think so. DON’T LAND WITH YOUR BRAKES ON, PERIOD!!

Q: I have ridden with my friend a few times in his Cessna 185. That airplane takes off quickly and climbs very well. He says it is so powerful that performance is not affected by load weight. Is that true?

A: No, you cannot beat the laws of physics. Just like all other airplanes, weight has a direct effect on performance. Have your friend look in his Pilots Operating Handbook to verify this.

Q: I have read that airline pilots don’t always use full power on takeoff. Wouldn’t that be dangerous?

A: When conditions of load, temperature, runway length, ATC clearance, etc., permit, airline pilots may use less than full power to save fuel, and wear and tear on their engines.

Q: At Oshkosh this summer, I looked at a couple of Cessna 195s. How can the pilot see forward with that big radial engine blocking his view? What do you know about C195s? Have you ever flown one?

A: On the ground, in a three-point attitude, forward visibility is poor as you noted, necessitating “S” turns while taxing. In flight, the view over the nose is about normal. I flew one only once, so I am no expert on them. I was struck by how stable the airplane was in level flight at cruise. The Cessna 195 competed against Bonanzas immediately after World War II for the high-end, single-engine airplane market. The Bonanza had tricycle landing gear, much better visibility, and was much faster compared to the C195. Cessna sold about 1,000 C195s between 1947 and 1952. The Bonanzas also started production in 1947, and immediately outsold the C195s, and to this day, are still being manufactured.

Q: You said the two bluebook references you use are often within 10% or so of each other, but sometimes there is as much as a 20% variation in value. How then can you, or anybody else, come up with an exact appraisal figure which is 100% accurate?

A: I can’t. The average airplane in the USA is about 45 years old. No two airplanes are exactly the same in condition, airframe hours, engine hours, corrosion, clarity of maintenance records, avionics, damage history, paint condition, autopilot, etc. My appraisals are my best estimate of the value of the airplane as inspected on that date, but that is not to say the airplane could be sold a week later for significantly more or less money.

Q: The mandate for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS–B) “Out” is almost here (January 1, 2020.) Should I bite the bullet and get the equipment installed, or try to avoid airspace where it will be required? Also, what does it cost?

A: Yes, like death and taxes, it’s coming very soon. Get it done, and expect the minimum cost to be $2,500 – $6,000. Otherwise, you will drastically limit the utility of your aircraft by where you can go, especially in regards to operating in controlled airspace. Consider adding ADS-B “In” as well if your wallet allows, as there are substantial benefits, like traffic and weather. ADS-B provides many benefits to both pilots and air traffic control that improve both the safety and efficiency of flight.

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 PeterSchoeningerLLC@gmail.com or call 262-533-3056 (peterschoeningerllc.wordpress.com).

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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