Gear Up: She's Gone

A 17-year love affair comes to an abrupt end.

Gear Up
It took seven months to sell the Cheyenne, and then, just like that, it was over. The airplane that meant more to me than any other was a memory.Dick Karl

With a quick handshake and a soft thank you, Lyle and Kurt pulled up the airstair and started up my airplane. I watched in the rain as the props came up out of feather and the nav lights blinked on.

Stricken, I retreated to the observation platform at the FBO and watched as Lyle taxied for takeoff. I had that sense of strange detachment that seems to accompany long-planned-for life events. Like going to college or getting married. Was this really happening? It occurred to me that I had never seen my airplane fly. I was always the pilot.

The paint looked great. She took off with elegance and climbed with alacrity. The gloom soon gathered her and her occupants up. I turned away with a “dry tear.” I sat in the car, stunned. Isn’t this what I wanted? Hadn’t I planned to sell the Cheyenne and see about getting a jet? Didn’t I realize I couldn’t get a jet until I sold the turbo­prop? All true, but then it happened — quick as a car accident.

The prologue was anything but quick. I had decided seven months prior to sell the airplane. I turned to a friend, Mike Shafer of Mercury Aircraft Sales, to represent the airplane; to set the price, take the pictures, post the ads and represent me in negotiations that I hoped would begin quickly. It is said that you should never ask a plumber friend to fix your pipes or an orthopedic friend to replace your knee. There is good reason for this warning: If the pipes back up again, you feel awkward calling your friend. If you had hired a plumber, you could call him up, complain and expect immediate remedy.

It took half a year to sell the airplane, and you should know that my friendship with Mike emerged intact. This is a testimony to his patience and expertise. It was, he’ll be quick to admit, a bumpy ride.

A 37-year-old Cheyenne is an odd duck on the used-aircraft market, though for the life of me I don’t know why. It’s faster, cheaper to operate and better looking (in my humble opinion) than old King Air 90s, but the market for these efficient birds (I usually avoid this term) is, as the brokers say, soft.

But I wasn’t selling an old Cheyenne. I was selling the defining airplane of my 50-year flying career. This airplane burned jet-A, and could take me anywhere I ever wanted to go — and did. This airplane taught me more than the five others I have owned. This airplane had incredible capability. I might delay a few hours for weather, but I never had to cancel a trip altogether for weather or unexpected maintenance. This airplane never quivered, never shuddered, never served up a surprise. She could stay cool in the Florida summer like James Bond, and shed ice in New Hampshire like taking off a windbreaker.

This airplane took my wife and me to Oakland, California, where I learned to fly in 1967. I couldn’t help but think I had finally returned in a real airplane. It took us to Halifax and to Victoria, spanning most of Canada. It took us to Staniel Cay, Marsh Harbour and Nassau in the Bahamas. We landed in almost every state in the continental United States. We flew through some intimidating weather, but the radar, the Nexrad and the speed made things safe. I saw groundspeeds of 313 knots when flying northeast and groundspeeds of 170 knots when retracing the route back toward the southwest. This airplane provided the first flights for five grandchildren.

Sensing my sentiment for the airplane and my frustration at the time it was taking to sell her, a friend said that selling was “like getting a divorce even though you are still getting along.” It felt like divorce.

We cared for this airplane. Always hangared, she lived a pampered life. Bill Turley, of Aircraft Maintenance in Bartow, Florida, kept everything running. Whenever there was a question, Bill managed the problem. I could call him from anywhere and get the right advice. These were always minor things, such as a little bit of rubber peeling from around the windshield. We painted her. We had a fabulous interior done at Duncan Interiors in Lakeland, Florida. Fourteen years later, it still looked like new. While I was working full time as a surgeon, an evening visit to this airplane in the hangar brought me solace. When fuel prices were high, Cathy and I and our dog would drag some supplies out to the hangar, open her up and sit there, drinking martinis. This was the airplane that I was selling.

The path from putting the airplane up for sale and that rainy day when she sold was not a straight one. Another buyer, a low-time pilot, made an offer and had deposited escrow money, but he got sidetracked by a medical problem and may have had second thoughts anyway. With this misfire, I reluctantly and grumpily returned to the drawing board. I kept getting impatient, but Mike kept his cool. “It will sell,” he said.

Sensing my sentiment for the airplane and my frustration at the time it was taking to sell her, a friend said that selling was “like getting a divorce even though you are still getting along.” It felt like divorce. Watching Lyle take off was like going to a ball game and seeing your ex with a taller, better-looking guy and he’s wearing that favorite sweatshirt of yours that you’ve been looking all over for.

When Kurt showed up as a buyer, I sensed he was getting good honest gouge from Lyle and that Lyle was highly experienced. This time, things went very smoothly. After the money was transferred and I had removed the registration from its holder, I asked Lyle if he needed the equipment to download the Garmin or Avidyne data. “Nope, all set.” He knew what he was doing.

So, I handed Kurt the special leather covers for the seats that Cathy had given me for my birthday. They protected the leather from the various dogs. I inserted a $20 bill behind the airworthiness certificate as a token of luck and safe fortune. With that, they were gone.

I watched on FlightAware as they circumvented the thunderstorms, then flew almost straight west. I watched as he climbed her to Flight Level 280. I was asleep in bed by the time they landed, more than five hours later.