Restore Or Update Or None of the Above?

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2020 issue

Q: What do you hear about current airplane sale market conditions?

A: Airplane salesmen I know tell me that for three weeks or so, the market just froze in place, but now (June 15, 2020) activity seems back to almost normal. Some folks have noted a bit less demand for used airplanes, but they have also noted less new listings. Put those facts together and you have a relatively unchanged market.

Q: When you were an airplane salesman, were there some months that were better or worse than other months for sale activities?

A: Yes! September, followed by May, were usually two good months. August and January were always the toughest.

Q: In the June/July 2020 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, there was a discussion in your “Ask Pete” column, about a $75,000 Piper Comanche. Aren’t Comanches usually worth less than that?

A: Yes, most are worth less. But when you look at 50 and 60-year-old airplanes, condition and equipment mean a great deal. It would be possible to put over $150,000 into a Comanche restoration as follows: new paint and interior, $25,000; rebuilt engine, $40,000; new three-bladed heated prop, $18,000; and new autopilot and all new glass panel avionics and instruments, $75,000. If you did all this, you would have an airplane worth much less than you just invested. Analyzing these numbers also helps to explain why old, non-flying retractable airplanes that need lots of work/restoration, are continuing to decline in value. The cost of restoration is way beyond their restored value.

Q: Should I update my avionics before selling my airplane?

A: Usually not. The reason is, the cost of newly installed avionics is not returned in airplane value, and also you don’t know if a new prospective buyer is going to be flying hard IFR into the very busy East Coast area, or counting cows in the middle of Nebraska. You can make a negative into a positive by stating in your classified advertisement that your asking price reflects older avionics.

Q: My friend and I each own Maule MX-7s. His is a 180 hp version, and mine is a 235 hp version. We have each flown each other’s planes, and we both feel that mine is much more difficult to maintain during rollout after landing. Could the fact that my engine is heavier than his have anything to do with my aircraft having nasty runway manners?

A: Probably not. I highly suspect your tailwheel needs attention. Your 235 hp airplane should be as well-mannered as your friend’s 180 hp airplane. Tailwheel assemblies take lots of abuse and are often neglected by owners. They have bushings that wear out, springs that lose their tension, and other problems. Ask your mechanic to take a close look at your tailwheel. If no problems are found, it is possible your main gear is out of alignment. This can be caused by a hard landing, previous damage, or a ground loop.

Q: Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St Louis” had a tailskid, not a tailwheel. That seemed common on airplanes of that vintage (late 1920s). Is there ANY advantage that a tailskid has over a tailwheel?

A: In an airplane with marginal, or no brakes, a tailskid can help stop the airplane with an application of full aft stick, putting as much weight on the tailskid as possible, to dig into the ground as a primitive brake. Remember that back in the 1920s, most runways were grass fields, or at best cinder paths.

Q: I have found a Piper J-3 Cub that has been in a barn (literally!) for 37 years. The owner has kept his registration current with the FAA, and a title search revealed that he owns it free and clear. But the fabric is falling off, there are numerous mouse nests in it, and the engine looks very rusty. My friend who is an A&P mechanic suggested I not purchase the airplane because the cost of restoration could be more than the airplane will ever be worth. Is he correct?

A: Yes! After you remove the fabric, you should have the fuselage lightly sand blasted. You will probably find numerous rust holes in the airframe. At that point, you may decide that it is more economical and safer to buy a replacement fuselage. You’ll need new pulleys, new windshield and side glass, new floor panels, etc., etc. You will also need to rebuild the tailwheel. The wings may or may not be shot as well. If your engine is rusted, it too may not be worth rebuilding. It might be cheaper to buy a replacement engine. You didn’t mention if the prop is wood or metal. If it is wood, it may be shot as well. You can end up putting $75,000 and 1-2 years of work into this rebuild, and end up with a $50,000 airplane. Most folks are far better off just buying an airplane in good flying condition and enjoying it from day one. See the other question in this column about Piper Comanches.

Q: I am learning to fly in my husband’s new (to us) Cessna 172 Skyhawk. For short-field takeoffs, the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) recommends one notch of flaps. But my hubby says our 172 climbs better with flaps up. I am confused. Can you help?

A: I’ll try. You are correct… Cessna does recommend one notch of flaps for a short-field takeoff in a 172. But your hubby is correct too… the RATE of climb is better in a 172 (and almost all other light planes) with flaps retracted. In high density altitude situations, it is possible for a light plane to lift off with flaps in ground effect, but then be unable to climb. With flaps retracted, there would be a longer takeoff run, but maybe a bit of climb available. Spend a little time reviewing your POH and pay attention to suggested airspeeds and techniques and you’ll do fine. And as always, consult with a flight instructor with experience in make and model.

Q: A friend of mine is a retired Army pilot. He says that he was taught for short-field work in Cessna L-19 aircraft to approach at a speed just a couple of miles per hour over stall, and to use added power alone to break the descent into a reasonably good landing. They had to add power to flare and land because if they increased back stick input any more (increased angle of attack), the airplane would immediately stall. The POH for my Cessna 172 does not recommend this technique, nor does my instructor. Both indicate that a speed of 1.3, or at an absolute minimum, 1.2 times stall speed, is best for short-field approaches. What do you think?

A: I would follow the POH and your instructor’s advice. The Army method will produce a slightly shorter landing, but at substantially more risk of a crunch. Unless you’re going into tiny jungle strips, stick with “the book.” And remember, regardless of how good you are at short-field landings, almost all airplanes need more room to take off than land, so a super short landing is usually not required.

Q: My friend showed me a picture of an airplane and bet me a beer plus dinner that I could not identify it. I quickly identified it as a Cessna 140. My friend said I was wrong, that it was a Cessna 170. I’ll attach a photo to this email and wait for your response.

A: Your friend is right. The very first 170s (1948) had a fabric-covered constant chord (not tapered) wing. They closely resembled a big Cessna 140.  The 170A quickly followed, with an aluminum tapered wing. For another interesting fact, do an internet search for a Cessna 140A…which had a tapered wing!

Q: What (if any) airplanes from major manufacturers were only built for one year?

A: The Piper PA-16 Clipper was only manufactured in 1949. It was a short-wing 115 hp airplane with up to four (4) small seats. It was followed with the very similar 1950 Piper PA-20 Pacer with 125 hp. Horsepower was slowly raised from 125 to 135 to 150 to 160, and along the way, a nosewheel was added, becoming the popular PA-22 Tri Pacer.

Another airplane manufactured for only one year was the 1973 Piper Challenger. It was basically a Cherokee 180 with more legroom, a slightly extended wing, and a bigger cabin door. In 1974 and 1975, it was renamed the Archer. In 1976, Piper added a tapered wing, and it became the popular PA-28-181 Archer.

A third aircraft manufactured for only one year was the 1968 150 hp Cessna Cardinal. Performance was a little weak, so in 1969, a 180 hp engine was added, and in 1970, a better airfoil and a constant speed prop were added to make it an even nicer airplane.

Q: Here is a Piper history question for you? The Piper Vagabond was made in PA-15 and PA-17 versions. Was there a difference in the airframes? (I know various engines have been installed in them over time.)

A: Yes, the PA-15 was the “Econobox” of the two. It had only controls on the left side, and no shock absorption for the landing gear. The tires took all the shock of landing. The PA-17 had dual controls and bungees for smoother landings. They were made in 1948 and 1949.

Q: What is involved with an FAA “ramp check?”

A: Sometimes the feds do “ramp checks” at random, rather than for cause, like a traffic stop. This usually involves an FAA inspector approaching you, identifying themselves, and asking for your pilot and airplane credentials. You are obligated to show them your pilot and airplane credentials – or to any law enforcement officer – on demand. Providing you can comply with their request, and nothing else seems out of order, the ramp check is usually over. If you think they are after you for a serious problem, show them your credentials, shut up, and consult an aviation attorney. (Several good ones write for and advertise in this publication.)

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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