Factors To Consider When Shopping For A Used Airplane

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2020 issue

Q: I need help deciding which of two Bonanzas to buy. Two friends are going to sell their 1980 and 1981 F33A Bonanzas and pool their resources to buy a turbine Bonanza. I am familiar with both airplanes, their maintenance, etc. Overall conditions are reasonably similar, total hours are about 3500 with complete logs, and neither aircraft has any damage history. I plan to invest a substantial amount of money into either aircraft I buy. One airplane has a very low-time engine and a new three-blade prop, but with original ancient avionics (KX-175 stuff) that I would replace with a completely new glass panel at a cost of around $65,000-plus. The other aircraft has a very recently installed new glass panel, but an engine that is just past TBO and is due right now for overhaul, as is the prop. Both aircraft have been offered to me at the same price. Which one should I buy?

A: Both Bonanzas sound like nice airplanes! The new glass panel installation will cost more than the engine and prop overhauls. Avionics take a substantial hit in depreciation their first year, while engine overhaul/replacement depreciates slowly with hours accumulated and age. At the same price, I think I would pick the airplane with the recent panel and avionics, but the aircraft with the high-time engine might be a little better buy for you. Thanks to Jessica at NewView Technologies at KOSH for helping on this question.

Q: I received an official-looking solicitation to renew my aircraft registration, for a fee of $65. I thought a renewal for an FAA aircraft registration was only $5. Has that changed?

A: No, you were probably solicitated by a third party who will submit your renewal of $5, and put $60 in their pocket as profit. Before your registration expires (currently every 3 years), you will get a postcard from the FAA addressed to the owner with the address of record. You can respond either by internet with a credit card, or mail a check for $5.00.

Q: A friend said that Piper J-3 Cubs have several different type certificates? How could one model have different type certificates?

A: Three of several J-3 type certificates include A-691, A-692, and A-698. Each covers J-3s originally manufactured with either a Franklin, Lycoming or Continental engine. Gross weights vary from 1100 to 1220 lbs. You should have paperwork onboard your aircraft indicating your exact model, gross weight, etc. In much newer airplanes, this information would be in an Airplane Flight Manual, or Pilot’s Operating Handbook, but J-3s are pretty simple airplanes and paperwork is very limited.

Q: I have looked at the Cessna 172S type certificate data sheet, and cannot find any mention of snow ski installation or an approval for installation. Yet, I saw a 172S in Lake Hood, Alaska, recently, with skis installed. How could that be legal?

A: The most common way would be for a ski manufacturer to obtain a supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA for the aircraft, approving their ski installation. You or your mechanic could then buy the skis and the STC paperwork from that manufacturer.

Q: An old-timer told me about the cat and duck method of emergency IFR flying for non-instrument rated pilots. Are you familiar with this method?

A: It is an old wise tale, not true, probably dreamed up in a saloon near an airport. It goes like this… If you are not instrument rated and happen to fly into IFR conditions, you proceed by throwing the cat up in the air every 10 seconds because cats always land right-side up. If the cat lands on your headliner, you’re inverted… If the cat lands on your righthand door, you are in a 90-degree bank to the right, etc. Once in level flight, you then pull carb heat, reduce power, and start a descent. Hopefully when you break out of the clouds before hitting the ground, you throw the duck out the window and follow it. Ducks will always fly to water. Water will usually lead to a river, which eventually will lead to a town, which hopefully will have an airport! DISCLAIMER: THIS IS A FICTIONAL STORY ONLY! Don’t ever try it, and never be cruel to cats or ducks either!

Q: I am considering investing in new, all-electric-powered gyros by replacing currently installed mechanical gyro instruments, of which some are electric driven, and some are vacuum driven. My avionics shop says I can reduce my empty weight by perhaps 25 lbs. by removing the vacuum pump, old gyros, hoses, filters, etc. Won’t I lose the redundancy of having some instruments powered by electric and others powered by the vacuum pump, which right now will hopefully allow me to continue right-side up in instrument conditions if either source conks out?

A: Yes. Some owners have replaced their vacuum pumps and gyro instruments with all digital electric instruments, which are more reliable than mechanically-driven instruments. If your alternator conks out, you will now only have maybe 20-60 minutes of power in your storage battery, which may or may not be enough for your type of flying. Avionics shops can recommend a standalone attitude indicator, with at least a 60-minute backup for $3-5,000, which you might consider. Ask your shop about possibly putting a second alternator in the new hole in your engine accessory case from the vacuum pump removal as a safety backup measure.

Q: Is it legal or safe to land on highways, provided there are no cars nearby?

A: In an emergency, a pilot can make the decision of where to go. If a road is your only choice, go for that over water or a forest. On the way down, do your best to look for utility poles which indicate the presence of wires.

In non-emergency situations, some states have specific laws prohibiting landing on roads. Others use the catch-all requirement to have a wide load permit if your wingspan is more than 8 feet. To my knowledge, the FAA still does not have a specific regulation against landing on roads, but they do have the catch-all “Careless and Reckless” charge waiting to be levied against a pilot if they wish, usually if something is damaged. Be sure to contact whatever law enforcement agency has authority over a particular road to get an okay before landing. (I know a guy who didn’t get prior approval. He had to truck his plane away on a trailer to a nearby airfield.) And be sure to walk the area, so you are aware of all wires, road signs, etc. Generally, roads make poor runways. They have cars, drainage ditches next to them, traffic signs, mailboxes, etc., that can pose a real hazard.

Q: Has the internet’s worldwide acceptance changed sales and acquisition tactics for airplane salesmen?

A: Yes. In the old days when I was a young airplane salesman, all airplane ads were in print. Thus, it took a while from the time an ad was called into a sales paper (most often Trade-A-Plane), until the next edition was printed, and then mailed out to prospective airplane buyers. I used to pay extra $$ to get the FedEx overnight edition of Trade-A-Plane, so I had a day or two jump on possible bargains before many others got it through the mail. True story… There was one airplane salesman in Tennessee who always beat me and other salesmen to any bargains. One day I ran into him and asked him how he always beat the rest of us. It turned out the fellow had someone who was working at Trade-A-Plane’s printer, who would obtain a copy and take it home to my Tennessee friend!

Now, with the internet, any ad called in to any sales publication is online for the world to see right away, often less than a day. Whereas in the “old days,” it could take 2-3 weeks for an ad to reach the airplane buying world.

Q: I am trying to get my tailwheel endorsement. I own, and fly regularly, an Aeronca 7FC Tri-Traveler, which is a tricycle gear airplane. I am taking dual instruction in a Citabria, trying to catch on to flying conventional gear. I am based at a fairly busy airport, so we have to make big patterns, and in an hour of flying, maybe make only 8-9 landings. I fear I am not anywhere close to soloing after 4 hours, having problems with directional control. Is that normal?

A: The 7FC is reasonably similar to the Citabria, so your checkout will primarily be about the differences between tricycle and conventional landing gear ground handling. At a large airport, with big patterns, you get precious few minutes on the runway, which is where the landing gear differences show up. What some instructors do is find a runway or taxiway that is under used, and then have the student taxi on that runway or taxiway the entire length at low power at say 10 mph, then at 20 mph, then at 30 mph, emphasizing keeping the nose exactly aligned with the centerline of said runway or taxiway. If you do this, you will get lots of experience on the ground for your hour of dual, instead of just 5-10 minutes at best. Good luck with it. Be sure to get dual until you are comfortable with three-point and wheel landings in crosswinds.

Q: During my last biennial flight review, the flight instructor giving me the flight check asked what is my best power-off glide speed? In my airplane, it is 80 kts. He then asked what my best power-off glide speed was into a very strong wind? I answered still 80 kts, which wasn’t the answer he was looking for. I forgot to ask him for an explanation. Was he right, or was I?

A: To over simplify, if you were gliding at your best glide-speed in calm air of 80 kts into an 80-kt headwind, your groundspeed would be zero, thus your glide path would be straight down. If you pushed the nose down to any faster speed, you will begin to get some forward progress, even though your rate of descent will increase.

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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