Comparing your dreams – why owning an airplane is worth it

I’m an active member of a forum on the www dedicated to my particular brand of obsession, the Beech Musketeer. Over the years it’s been incredibly useful with helping to find obscure parts for my old airframe (that’s airframe, my aeroplane – not my body, though a reconditioned set of eyes and flatter tummy would be nice to find), as well as getting advice about maintaining and operating my Mouse.

Beech Musketeer
Is it a sexy airplane? Maybe not. But does that matter?

The other day there was a topic that one of the regular contributors responded to. This is a bloke who, based on his past posts, reminds me of Jamie from MythBusters; a very smart, slightly humorless and incredibly literal fellow who could probably tell you the size of the nut holding the widget on the left side of the cowl of a 1964 Musketeer and how the thread pattern changed in 1966!

This topic concerned a comparison between a Cirrus SR-20 and a Beechcraft Sierra. Marty went into enormous detail about empty weights, gross weights, climb rates, cruise speeds, fuel burns, volumetric space of luggage compartments and cabin size.

The topic provoked a lively debate, mainly in favour of our slab-sided ageing aluminum aeroplanes, with Baby Beech owners no doubt using Marty’s careful comparisons to help justify their continued obsession with the type.

I suppose such discussions are useful to make people feel good about what they fly, though I doubt a person who is in the market for a $150,000 second-hand early Cirrus is really going to consider an aeroplane 20+ years older unless, in reality, that’s all his budget can work towards and he’s just tyre kicking.

The potential Cirrus owner has his eyes set on the sleek, flowing lines only composites can achieve, its stylish leather interior and a modern cockpit filled with multi-function screens.

The exercise of buying has very little to do with minute differences in load carrying between comparable aeroplanes and more to do with that X factor of looks, looks and looks. Private owners rarely have to carry a load approaching maximum gross weight, and most of the time it’s only them on board. The upholstery in the back seat of any four-seater is almost always pristine!

Cast your eyes over a Cessna 172, a Piper or a Beechcraft and honestly ask yourself if it’s a thing of beauty, a sculpture that could grace a modern art exhibition. It’s a big ask, much like looking at the family sedan and trying to imagine its practical utilitarian lines into the flowing shape of a Ferrari.

Grand Canyon
What’s more important? The view inside the cockpit or the view outside?

What we love about these aeroplanes is how we feel when we are inside them, travelling across wide open spaces, chasing small puffy clouds or even just mastering two landings in a row without the instructor grabbing the yoke. It’s nice to have a beautiful interior, modern avionics and a super modern profile. But what’s more important is being able to fly, safely and passionately — even if the only mount you can afford is the Warrior with 10,000 hours. The fabric may be threadbare, but if it’s well maintained, it’s every bit as good as the $500,000 fibreglass wonder at getting you into the air!

It’s the same with aircraft ownership. As the price of Avgas climbs, we will all take stock of how we afford our beloved aircraft. If you are in the market for an aeroplane, look at what you can afford without stretching the budget, and use the leftover to fund its use. Create a flying budget which you put money away in. That’s what we do.

Before I bought my first aeroplane, people used to tell me if you have to think about any aspect of the cost of ownership, you can’t afford it. Maybe that applies to a Citation, or a private Eurocopter but not a well-used single. Even in tough times, there are ways of affording the dream, especially if you look at what the aeroplane can do for you and not what its sleek looks do for people who see you getting in.

What’s important is getting into the air, safely. Everything else is just window dressing.

6 Comments

  • Mark,
    After getting my PPL in the late N1930W, a hard-used Musketeer, I rented C-172s for their blazing speed and slightly younger airframes. However, every time I inspected my rental Cessna, something was wrong: this “inop,” that “inop,” this other thing removed, 30 minutes left until the 100 hour inspection due, tires underinflated, one radio scratchy, a new strange dent on the cowl… you get the picture. I had no idea if the last renter had flown it with low oil, gotten into really rough air, or landed it very hard without telling the FBO. It was my wife who finally said she was worried about the condition of the rentals, and asked, “Do you think we could afford to buy our own?” (Did I mention that I married well?) Thus began the search for an airplane in my price range. There were some dogs out there, but I kept thinking of the first one I saw, which had been taken off the market, a 1966 C-172 with an Imron 1973 paint scheme, mid-time engine, and decent interior. I had to sell myself to the elderly owners, but finally got it for $10,500, cheap even then. I went on to have two fine partners in the plane, and the last one still owns and improves it. The bottom line is, having an airplane you know, treasure, and care for meticulously increases both the pleasure and the safety of flying. I vote “yes” on ownership.

  • I’m with hunter 110%. Owning your own bird adds to your overall safety, which at the end of the day is what we pilots are always looking for.

    Start small, start early, and enjoy it, there is nothing like getting into your own plane… It’s freedom times two.

  • Excellent post, fly what you love and love what you fly. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks as long as it meets your mission and wallet.

  • Great post.
    1967 Cherokee 140 = $21,500
    Tie-down and insurance = $1410 / year
    An hour’s worth of avgas = $45
    Achieving the mystery of flight = priceless

  • I agree having your own airplane is great. I was in a flying club that had four well maintained airplanes. They were extremely safety conscious and required flight reviews each year. Great club, great people, and great planes.
    After my second year in the club, my wife mentioned that I flew more hours than any one else in the club. I replied “Sound correct”. She then restated that I flew more hours that year than all the other members combined. She then thought it may be time for us to look into owning a plane. Did I mention that I have a great wife.
    We were looking at some early Diamond DA-40’s at a Seattle FBP for sale from their leaseback fleet. They had two planes with round dials, and one with a G-1000. My wife said she liked the G-1000 because of the higher resale.
    We purchase the plane and have not looked back since. When people ask how much it cost to fly, I say the first hour of the year is the expensive one because you need to pay for the annual, insurance, subscriptions, hanger/tie down fees. After that all you have to pay for is avgas.
    Once you get the plane, get the necessary training for a smooth and safe transition, become familiar with your plane and stay current. The more you fly the safer you will become.

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