Finding Your Ideal Aircraft Without Remorse for Buyer or Seller

The author’s chance meeting with his airplane’s former owner proves revealing.

There are numerous contrasts between the 1992 Commander 114B and the 2003 Cirrus SR22. Which model you prefer depends on the mission, and perhaps your personality. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

I learned to be wary of March weather as an aviation-obsessed child, when the month’s characteristic gusts kept me from flying the small balsa wood model airplanes I enjoyed building. This March was having a similar effect on my GA flying—until last Sunday.

For the first time in more than a week, the low overcast gave way to clear skies, and wind speeds settled back to single digits. Winter weather advisories punctuated the coming week’s forecast in my Northeast region, so I was determined to make the most of what might be the last ideal flying day for a while. I got an early start on the drive to the airport with plans to revisit a few memorable cross-country routes I last flew as a student.

After departing Sussex, New Jersey (KFWN), I headed for Sullivan County, New York (KMSV), for a fuel stop before continuing to Columbia County, New York (1B1), the destination of my first long solo cross-country flight. Approaching the airport, I made my 10-mile radio call. Shortly after that, I heard a pilot with a familiar voice entering the left downwind leg of the pattern. “Is that you?” he asked.

It was Ed, one of my Commander 114B’s previous owners. Small world, and perfect timing. We had tried several times, unsuccessfully, to meet up while flying. On Sunday it simply worked out. I tried my best to grease the landing, which I’m sure he observed closely, and we met at the fuel pumps, where I got to look over the 2003 Cirrus SR22 Centennial Edition he moved into after selling the Commander.

I would say he “moved up” to the Cirrus, but that would be an oversimplification. It would also potentially cut off hours of hangar talk regarding who got the better deal. Certainly the Cirrus has the advantage of being nearly a decade newer and—let’s say—dozens of knots faster.

But I could argue that the Commander’s updated panel with a Garmin GTN 750 and dual G5s trumps the Cirrus’ mix of Avidyne PFD, Garmin 430s, and steam gauges for backup. As I sat in the SR22, I could also sense the relative snugness of its cabin compared with my spacious Commander.

What quickly became clear was that our transaction was a win for both of us. Selling the Commander allowed him to leave the aluminum and rivets behind in favor of a sleek, modern composite machine. While I do not think of myself as a Cirrus kind of guy, I do consider the SR series a technical and aesthetic tour de force that set a new standard when it debuted.

As with many personal pursuits, each pilot’s approach to aviation reflects their specific interests and quirks. I think that after years of flying traditional legacy aircraft, Ed appreciates the SR22’s simplified engine controls that set the propeller’s pitch automatically, and landing gear so aerodynamic that there is no need for retraction.

Meanwhile, after a decade of flying Cessna 172s I am thrilled to finally have a greater sense of control over my power settings and a big bump in cruising speed. My inner child has waited years for the privilege of adding “positive rate, gear up” to my list of departure call-outs.

Before heading out of KSMV, Ed admitted to missing certain things about the Commander, including the smooth, forgiving way it handles. But as he departed, climbing out vigorously after a very short ground run and giving a crisp wing-wag before disappearing quickly into the distance, he didn’t seem to be missing very much.

After topping off, I headed to my next destination as well, after a slightly longer ground run, but still feeling like still feeling as if I got the better deal. Gear up.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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