Let’s Try This Again

After owning one airplane for 17 years, buying two in one year can be disorienting.

dick karl gear up
Finished with pre-buy inspections in Nashville, it’s ready for us.Dick Karl

It is said that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. The same might be said of a second attempt at buying a jet just a few months after having suffered a painful breakup. Things are surely different the second time around.

My first jet-buying experience was mostly characterized by lust.

I just wanted a jet, and a Beechcraft Premier 1 at that. Rational thought and careful analysis were overwhelmed by emotion. As I was late in my flying career, a sense of urgency suffused the entire process. I wasn’t oblivious, but I was not cautious. When presented with an unpleasant fact or two, I disregarded or diminished their importance. Like a man advised that his intended lover had flaws, I didn’t want to hear it, excused it, dismissed it and, ultimately, regretted it.

This time around I have been much more dispassionate. I have enlisted legal counsel and maintenance expertise by contract. I know how much I am paying these experts and what I can expect from them. When I hear something about an airplane that gives me pause, I’ve got resources.

As faithful readers will already know, the Premier that my wife, Cathy, and I bought last year had some unsolvable squawks and some persistent maintenance issues. Ultimately, a bird strike exposed the fact that there aren’t a lot of Premiers out there and that a new wing spar could not be found or fabricated. Thanks to good insurance, we have lived to try again.

On this go-round I am setting my sights on a more modest Cessna CJ1. There are a lot more Citations than there are Premiers. They are proven, iterative airplanes, by which I mean that each Citation has evolved from the last. Like the Boeing 737 MAX, the heritage and incremental improvements made in these airplanes are easy to trace. True, when compared to a Premier, a CJ1 is 80 knots slower, and has less impressive avionics and a diminished ramp appeal. Interestingly, on the used market for airplanes of similar vintage, CJs are slightly more expensive than the early Premiers. The market already knows how expensive some parts for the Beechcraft have become.

Personally, the Cessna has a lot to like. I’m already typed in the 525 as a result of my flying three years for JetSuite. I’ve got more than 1,000 hours in CJ3s. Parts for Citations are easier to come by; Cessna is still producing the direct descendant of the CJ1 — the M2 — as well as the CJ3+ and CJ4.

Multiple training opportunities exist to get me current in the CJ1. A “recurrent,” called a 61.58, can be accomplished in a variety of settings. Some are all sim-based, some are in-airplane training and some are hybrid affairs incorporating both approaches. Many are located in sunny climes.

Pre-buy inspections can be done in many locations as well. Textron has an elaborate program that even comes with a limited guarantee. Other well-respected shops have specifically developed protocols for inspections before purchase. These are known airplanes.

The downsides to the CJ1 are availability and cost. There were fewer than a dozen for sale on controller.com when I started looking, and calls to various brokers unveiled a sad truth: Most of the airplanes were already under contract at prices higher than I had anticipated. Others were located outside the United States, with unknown provenance and sketchy or absent maintenance and log entries. I soon found that advance knowledge was key to finding an airplane. I had to find it before just anybody could see it for sale on the internet.

This time to the altar I’ve got more patience and more caution. Rather than get my head turned by a fancy paint job and glossy interior, I have been looking for good bones. I want an airplane that has been flown, but not abused. I don’t want a hangar queen. I want good maintenance history, no damage, a great engine program and workable avionics. I am aware that almost all airplanes that fall in my price range will require some sort of ADS-B solution within a year of ownership. I know that just this can add $30,000 to $100,000 to the cost of ownership.

I have another big advantage. I’ve got Jim Mitchell and the Elliott Jets aircraft sales team in my corner. They identified at least two airplanes before they came to market. In each instance I happened to have had a friend who lived near the airplane in question, and each volunteered to take a look and take some pictures — in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Springdale, Arkansas.

It is the Arkansas airplane’s owners with whom I have come to a purchase-price agreement. It’s in pre-buy right now at Stevens Aviation in Nashville, Tennessee. The sellers’ pilots have been immensely helpful. Elliott Jets has handled a million little issues as they have come up.

This wedding will be more modest than the last. No balloons, Champagne or cake this time, just an acceptance flight, an organized attempt to speed up the letter of authorization process for RVSM approval (which took forever last time) and a quiet flight to home base. Nobody will be throwing rice.

There are certain advantages to being a one-time loser, however. I am less anxious and more committed. I intend to embrace this airplane in a way I never did the Premier. With only 60 hours in it before the bird strike and a lot of vexation about speedbrakes, we never did settle into a comfortable relationship.

I take it as a good sign that I like the N-number on this airplane. Funny, I never changed any passwords (even those passwords that have to be changed every 90 days) to include some variation of the Premier’s N-number. I’ve already adopted some with parts of the CJ1’s non-fussy N-number buried in them. This is a leap of faith — I don’t even own it yet. I won’t jinx the sale by telling it to you now, but I will let you know how it goes.