Ownership

The intersection between want and need requires a balance.

Ben Younger next to a Ferrari
The author meets his childhood dream car. He’s told not to touch it.Courtesy Ben Younger

In 1984, when I was 12 years old, Ferrari built a car called the 288 GTO. I had a poster of it on my bedroom wall. I knew everything about that car like it was my job. I knew its origins, lineage, performance capabilities. I was obsessed. It was the first machine I had ever lusted after. I understand why the 12-year-old me loved that car. It was fast, beautiful and did not suffer fools. Sound familiar? My V-Tail Beech Bonanza can easily be described in those same terms.

Interestingly, if I had the means to buy a 288 today, I wouldn’t. It feels excessive now. Frivolous. Wasteful even.

I imagine the average layperson views GA aircraft ownership in a similar fashion. And yet, the things we love about our airplanes have nothing to do with exoticism. In fact, it’s the opposite qualities that draw us in. We love the utility. The functionality. The idiosyncrasies that plague vintage, exotic cars would not be tolerated for one second in aviation. Not in the least because they can kill you in an airplane.

Before purchasing my Bonanza in 2016, I had never spent anything close to that much money on a machine. At the time, I suffered some internal confusion because the joy that purchase brought me ran counter to anything I would ever describe as utilitarian. To this day, I feel a similar lust for my V-Tail as I did for that Ferrari. I can sit in the hangar and stare just as I did at my poster of the 288. I try to reconcile the conflicting feelings by telling others how pragmatic airplane ownership is. It rarely works. How can one lust after something so functional? How can one extol the practical virtues of something so beautiful? This has brought me to the realization that, as airplane owners, we possess the rarest of machines: one that has real usefulness and practicality but still manages to stir the soul. Regardless of how bland the mission or banal the cargo, when I reach rotation speed and leave the ground, a part of me remains astonished. Every. Single. Time. I imagine the correlating astonishment one feels in the Ferrari is if the engine starts. Unfair? Maybe. But I would not trust that Ferrari to get me across a state line, let alone the Rockies.

The first word I ever said was “plane” (pronounced play). This before “mom,” I am told. As a child, I stared at airliners passing overhead in Brooklyn, New York. I remember seeing the Concorde almost daily and hearing the unique sound signature it made even at subsonic speeds. I once saw the space shuttle piggybacking on a 747. Pure luck. Just happened to look up. When I was 27, I went up in my first GA aircraft, a Cessna Skymaster. Push-pull. I was amazed that we could just walk up to this thing and go fly. No permissions. No tickets. It took another 13 years, but I earned my private pilot certificate on March 23, 2013. I continued to fly my instructor Neil’s Piper Warrior, renting it from him whenever I could. No autopilot, no GPS, no nothing. You want flaps? Pull the handle on the floor. Want your gear down? Do nothing.


Read more from Ben Younger: Leading Edge


I continued to rent for the next four years, picking up my complex and high-performance endorsements along the way. But the airplanes I shared with strangers were not always cared for in the way I would come to care for my own. The empty soda cans in the Piper Cherokee. The leaky gas caps on the Piper Archer—the fuel drain releasing so much water I almost missed the thin layer of 100LL on top. The total hydraulic failure in the Piper Arrow. I’d had enough of renting.

The previous owner of N4984M, my first V-Tail, agreed to fly her home with me—New Orleans to New York. Halfway there, Jeff realized he didn’t want to sell and started pointing out every possible squawk he could think of, and a few I believe he made up. But it was too late. Even from the right seat, I was already imprinted.

I quickly got my instrument rating in the airplane and then flew the heck out of it. I logged 140-plus hours in the first year—my dog, Seven, flying right (rear) seat for just about every one of them. New York to Los Angeles and back. Went the safer, southern route heading west, stopping to see friends in Austin, Texas, and Louisville, Kentucky. Flew over the Rockies on the return. I landed in Sedona, Arizona, which took my breath away, and Taos, New Mexico, which took the Bonanza’s breath away. Leaning that far on takeoff is a strange thing the first time you do it. Back home in New York, I made quick trips to Montauk for seafood, Great Barrington for burgers. I flew neighbors, friends and family. I flew in poor weather and sunshine. I just flew.

Owning an aircraft in the New York area is a unique experience. The utility of it shines here. To drive from my home upstate to Montauk would be five hours. The flight takes one. It’s those moments that you realize that aircraft ownership is not excessive. It can be positively economical. I rented a hangar at KMSV in Monticello, New York, and made it her home. It costs less per month than the parking space for my truck in New York City. See above regarding excess.

For years, I’d been compiling a list in my head of things I wanted to see from the air. The NYC skyline featured prominently. Flying in line with the Empire State Building, passing over Lady Liberty, and then looping around the Verrazzano Bridge in my own airplane were some of those rare moments in life when reality lines up with fantasy. Chemicals are released, memories are formed, boxes are checked.

This past year, I went to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. They had a Ferrari exhibit and, lo and behold, a 288 GTO was on display. I’d never seen one in person. They only made 272 of them. I stayed there for a good, long while. Looked at it from all angles. A security guard chastised me for being too close at one point. The GTO is still all of those things I thought it was as a child: fast and beautiful and exotic. It still stirred me. But when I look at my V-Tail, I get the same feeling. It’s undeniably beautiful. And fast. Only, in addition is the reality that I can open my hangar door and go almost anywhere on earth. Canada or Colombia. Peoria or Paraguay. That’s an idea so big that the 12-year-old me couldn’t have imagined it.

It’s a different kind of lust, this airplane variety. Unlike the Ferrari, owning an airplane is less about the idea of the machine than the reality of it. It’s less about the status it represents than the opportunity it presents. It’s a grown-up lust, and yet, it’s the only thing I’ve found that takes me back to being 12.

As I said, the rarest of machines.