Finding Your Ideal Aircraft: Type Clubs and Wedding Planners

In certain ways, buying an aircraft can seem like a marriage.

FLYING‘s Jonathan Welsh compares a pre-wedding scramble to arranging a pre-buy inspection on a 1990 Beechcraft F33A Bonanza. [Photo: Jonathan Welsh]

Buying an airplane is a lot like buying a house and not much like buying a car. At least that's what people with years of experience in general aviation have told me for years. And it makes sense, as small aircraft can easily cost as much as the family homestead.

However, I find the search for my ideal aircraft to be more akin to getting married. Few transactions in life can bring on such an extreme range of excitement, elation, doubt, and horror. But it’s the process—the planning and coordination—that really takes me back to the weeks leading to our wedding day.

Back then, we were coordinating invitations, flowers, food, music, and accommodations for guests. We had an officiant lined up for months, but she bailed on us late in the game, requiring lots of last-minute scrambling. This was surprisingly similar to the more recent race to find a mechanic to perform a pre-buy inspection on a 1990 Beechcraft F33A Bonanza that caught our interest.

It often seems like airframe and powerplant technicians are in shorter supply than pilots these days. After reaching several who were just too busy to take on new work, we were happy to find one willing to do the job when the time comes. Until then we will be arranging financing, insurance, type-specific instruction, and the other elements that need to come together in the proper sequence to make the deal happen. It feels like a choreographed production.

Like our second wedding officiant, who, after vigorously interviewing my wife and me, seemed to feel that we might have a future together, the mechanic, a Beechcarft specialist, should come out of the inspection with a pretty good sense of whether the Bonanza is ready for the long haul. For reasons I can only imagine, the pre-buy is one of those things some aircraft shoppers skip. Doing so is simply a terrible idea.

As I found out after test-flying another aircraft for sale, there is no way to be sure if the airplane you want to buy is healthy without an inspection. Even then, some problems can remain hidden, but a proper pre-buy is designed to reveal as many potential squawks—and deal breakers—as possible. In aviation, the pre-buy mechanic’s blessing may be the most important one you get after passing your check ride.

We didn’t use a wedding planner 20-odd years ago, instead choosing legwork and word of mouth to find all of the people and things we needed to make the occasion memorable while avoiding common pitfalls. But for airplane shopping, we wouldn’t make a move without consulting type clubs. The American Bonanza Society has so far helped us find all the necessary experts who, we hope, will keep us from making bad decisions. The Cessna Flyer Association, Piper Flyer Association, Commander Owners Group, and other aircraft clubs can also help make the buying experience less harrowing.

For now, we look forward to signing a contract with the seller soon so we can get rolling on the inspection and, we hope, saying general aviation’s version of “I do” before too long. Our mechanic is encouraging so far. After reviewing the logs, he says the airplane looks like a good prospect. But of course it’s too early to know.

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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