That Moment When An Airplane Seller Thinks They Can Pull A Fast One

What’s the worst part of buying an airplane?

By far the biggest time wasters were people doing as a friend recently suggested and omitting important details from the postings. Over time I learned to assume that the sellers were hiding something. Now, of course, you can never come across as accusing people of lying or questioning their integrity because there are also tons of honest people who will be put off by the assumption that they are lying, but you do need to figure out what you value and ask questions as you are interviewing people about the planes. In my experience the main items were:

1) Missing or broken equipment. This is the scenario the seller of a 1946 airplane I ran across recently is in. It is completely reasonable to expect an aircraft to have a radio in 2014. His plane doesn’t have one. If he leaves out the fact that his antique doesn’t have one, he will be consciously playing on that assumption. In the case of an antique plane, maybe it’s reasonable to assume that buyers of that sort of plane know not to assume there is a radio. But some sellers do these sorts of omissions for less pure reasons. Bad mojo, IMO. Know what you want and ask people if the plane has it. Ask if anything is starting to seem flakey.

2) Paint/interior quality. People just lie about this. There are some absolute pigs out there that are listed as 8′s on both interior and exterior. Like “paint oxidized and flaking off” and “foam coming out of the seats” kinds of deals listed as an 8. I suggest you send this to sellers and ask them to reply with their aircrafts condition and photos supporting their grade: Airplane Condition Rating Scale

The usage of an objective measurement system makes it harder for people to ‘just lie’. The request for photos means you will see the general appearance of the plane in more detail without having to say to the person “hey, I don’t trust you, send me more photos”.

3) Damage history. 90% of the bush planes that don’t say “no damage history” have damage history and they are playing the same game with lies of omissions. Ask the question: “Does this airplane have a damage history”.

In terms of limiting travel time, that was a big one for me. I was pretty set on a Maule, which meant it was very unlikely I would find one locally (oddly it later turned out that when I took my Maule to a new home in Mexico that it was one of three on a field with only about 15 airplanes. I assure you that Maules do no represent 20% of the total GA fleet!). I figured it was going to cost me hundreds of dollars to flying someplace to view a plane, so I may as well just have a pre-purchase inspection done first *then* fly myself out to take a look if it passed. The shop agreed to take a bunch more photos of their findings so I wouldn’t only have the flattering photos that the seller provided. As it turned out, the first plane I got this far with failed the pre-purchase so quickly that the shop didn’t even bother to charge me. They got it in their hanger, called me with a couple issues that were obvious without even having to open the cowl and we let the seller know that I wasn’t interested. For the second plane, I got really lucky. I found a seller that was just a great guy. When he found out that I needed a tailwheel endorsement he invited me to come out, get it in his plane and then if I liked it he would sell it to me for our agreed price. If not, I could just pay him for the time I used and be on my way. I have no advice on how to find this kind of seller, but am really glad I did. And I did buy his plane.

Said another way, there are great people in aviation. Just don’t set yourself up to be the sucker for the bad ones.

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Open letter to the management at Joliet Regional Airport

Wow, what a warm welcome on this cold day. On arrival, I was ready to head to the office, introduce myself and do paperwork before having to restart and head to the hanger…

Actually, pause that.

Here’s what happened when I tried to get a tie-down at KDPA last summer.

When I showed up, they were unable to put me on the ramp and instead made me park in transient parking. This meant reorganizing my ride and requiring the people I was meeting to drive an extra 20 minutes through road construction. When I asked if I could just go ahead and park on the ramp since that was where I was going to end up anyway I was told clearly no, with an additional snide remark about why anyone would want to do that.

I called three times to arrange parking before someone got back to me. When she finally did get back to me I had to sign a contract that had a bunch of provisions I didn’t like. They demanded a credit card on file instead of payment by check.

It *always* takes 15-30 minutes to get a truck anywhere. Doesn’t matter what you need, they consistently take forever to provide it and never provide any feedback or guidance as to what’s going on.

Ok, back to today.

It was a windy, bumpy flight and there was a healthy crosswind on 31. I manage to land and the instant I’m past the hold short line someone comes on the radio asking if I need fuel or if I’m going straight to my hanger. Very impressive! Nice to be recognized as a hanger renter *even though it was my first time there*.

I reply that I don’t need fuel and have no idea where my hanger is.

“Stay where you are a moment, we’ll send the follow-me truck for you”.

We get to the hanger and the, very nice, lineman shows me how the hanger door works. I happen to know this already having used this kind of latching mechanism before. Because I’m familiar with this latch I know that it can break doors and am pleasantly surprised at the attention to detail in showing me the “trick” to avoid damage.

While I’m unpacking I realize I left the extension cord for my engine heater at the farm in Wisconsin. The guys dig one up for me to borrow and give me a ride back out to plug it in.

This is all on top of your offer the other day to let me put the plane in the heated hanger so we could wash and wax it.

Oh, and you’re much less expensive than KDPA, which is why you got the chance to earn my business to begin with.

All in all, it was a great first experience. I think Joliet should annex KDPA and you guys should run it!

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Letter Home

Thanks for writing. It’s good to hear from you.

Yes, we’re in Mexico. We’ve been living here for about a year and a half. Once the soccer group broke up I didn’t see any reason to stay in Chicago. ;-)

Seriously, we’ve been visiting Mexico for a long time and love the people and the culture. We pinged a few Mexican friends for advice on where to make an extended trip and two of them recommended San Miguel de Allende. We made a two month trip, fell in love with the place and basically never left.

We’ve been renting a fairly large place so we could host the first wave of visitors, but when our lease expires in April we’re going to downsize.

We live in one of the more expensive parts of Mexico. Our town has about 140K people and is in the mountains. There are about 10K expats that live here, driving the prices up. That said, rent is about a half what it is in Chicagoland, and that typically includes a maid and gardener (our maid comes mon-fri and our gardener mon/wed/fri). Plus you get to live in the mountains and enjoy warm days and cool nights all year around. In our town it is still possible to live a comfortable life on just an american social security check. There are many towns that are just as lovely and far less expensive, but they definitely require a working knowledge of Spanish on day one.

Our town was just voted number one in the world by Conde Nast:

Life is full of change though. I’ve been very fortunate to have strung together several contracts that allow me to telecommute. Maybe that string will end one day and I’ll have to rejoin the normal world. Until then, I love this town and intend to stay indefinitely.

A picture is worth a thousand words though. Here’s our town:


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Shooting b-roll of the Maule with Marcel at Hinckley (0c2)

Putting together videos has been a fun way to spend a lot of hours lately, but I decided I needed more b-roll to use in them. B-roll is additional footage to use where good shots of the event being presented are unavailable or as supporting footage. As an example, think about documentaries where a person is being interviewed and talking about an event while the video cuts back and forth from the person being interviewed and a variety of shots relevant to the subject matter at hand.

In this case, I put out a call on facebook to see if anyone wanted to tag along and a friend who is also into video, Marcel, was the first to jump on the opportunity. He’s really into skydiving and the last time I had seen him was when we went tumbling out of a plane together last summer, so it was also a good opportunity to catch up.

Some people are pretty particular about what airports the fly into. A Cirrus pilot needs a longer runway than a maule pilot, so their options are going to be more limited. A lower experienced pilot might be nervous about busy airports. Those kinds of things come into play every day for pilots all over. For our mission, the main criteria was trying to find the most scenic setting possible given that we’re in the flatlands of the midwest. So I picked a lightly used grass strip nearby and scheduled the flight for the evening. Not quite ‘magic hour’ or ‘golden hour’, but close enough that the footage wouldn’t be too blown out by a bright sun.

The runway is east/west, so it favors some shots better than others. What wind there was, was blowing from the west, so I would be taking off and landing into the sun. This was good. If the sun had been setting behind the plane we would have only been able to get one or two decent shots, nearly every other idea would have been blown out by the sunset.

We landed and dropped off Marcel along with the cameras. We set one up in the runway for the fun shots of the plane zooming over at a few feet above the ground and I kept the ones on the plane also for the ariel shots. I did a couple landings, taxi’s and one low pass to get all the stuff I wanted for the moment, then we wrapped everything up and headed back to DuPage.

This video has a bunch of that raw footage and alert viewers will notice it popping up from time to time in future videos as well.

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4th of July

Beth and I spent the last couple weeks up at the farm and most of the family came up at one point or another. I got to do some flying too. The kids came out to the airport and we filmed some footage for the pre-flight briefing for the Maule. Need some more to make it better, but we’re off to a good start. I took the kids out for flights over the farm and everyone seemed to have fun. Finally, on the way home I was able stop at a couple grass strips and get some short field practice.

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