My first car was a 1978 Chevy Malibu. It was 1989, and I remember thinking I’d never need another car. I put a set of Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires on the car (in this case, both the cheapest performance upgrade I could afford, as well as lipstick on a pig) and lived my best life. It didn’t last. I wanted more. Performance mostly, but also curb appeal. I discovered the direct correlation between the type of car one drove and the type of women one could attract. The 280Z was next, and again I thought, ‘This is all I’ll ever need.’ One great summer together and the Datsun’s issues came to the fore. A duffel bag of them. I wanted something reliable. Something new. And so in 1992, I begged my stepfather to co-sign a loan on a Mitsubishi Eclipse turbo. It was a quick conversation ending with a hard-and-fast ‘No.’ He’d sign for the normally aspirated version, but wisely knew I had no business driving the turbo at the age of 20. Deal. She and I had five good years together.
This trading up went on for years. With each successive car, I felt I had reached some kind of finish line.I believed in each moment I didn’t need any more car than the one I was driving.
This upward mobility did finally end. I stopped driving sports cars in 2004 when a state trooper clocked me going 127 mph in a BMW M3. This was near my home, and I knew the Statey. Barry was his name, and he told me I had a choice: sell the Bimmer or go to jail right then and there. Sometimes a choice is no choice at all. It was pickup trucks from there on out. Last month, I bought my second RAM Ecodiesel in eight years, so there is proof to this plateauing. I don’t need anything more. I’m good. Not so much with airplanes…
My early days flying my instructor Neil’s Piper Warrior are some of my best aviation memories. This was even before I earned my private certificate. I recall one brisk autumn day on a cross-country solo flight to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (KAVP). The sense of freedom was overwhelming. It lit up whole sections of my brain. The fact that I could go anywhere, that there were no roads to follow. That I was pilot-in-command. It was child-like joy. Giggling alone in the airplane. Then that thought, “This is all I’ll ever need. Just a simple, fixed-gear airplane I can jump in and go.” Sure…
Neil was actively teaching multiple students in the Warrior, so the airplane wasn’t available to me as often as I liked. I drove to Cherry Ridge, Pennsylvania (N30), one afternoon to check out some rental aircraft there. I skipped right past the Cherokee and Archer when I saw a freshly painted Piper Arrow. Retractable gear, constant speed prop, high performance. Got the rating and checked out in the aircraft in no time. I flew my friends up to Canada, where we raced motorcycles around the track at Calabogie. I was utilizing my rating and exploiting the performance of the aircraft. Aside from one very hard landing in Kingston, New York (Arrows are bricks when you get close to stall speed), I showed my pals I was a competent pilot—and the wonders of GA. And then that thought: “I need a plane like this for longer trips. A Warrior ain’t gonna cut it.”
The summer after that, I flew the rented Arrow down to Georgia to see my buddy Jay. I pored over the sectional and found an airport with a circled “R” closest to the lakehouse. I found a number for Heaven’s Landing (GE99), this private airport nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains. Mike gave me permission to land there, and I set off on my adventure. It was just me and Seven, my trusted Lab, on this trip, and it was a long one—almost five hours in the Arrow. Did I mention it had no autopilot? The two-hour flight to Canada with three chatty friends was one thing. Dodging T-storms in August while hand-flying in light chop and moderate turbulence for five hours is something else entirely. That voice again: “We’re gonna need a bigger (read: better) boat.”
While I had yet to experience airplane ownership through these formative rental years, I was mentally compiling a set of criteria for when the time came: I needed something fast and comfortable. I needed IFR capability as I had grown tired of getting grounded by thin layers I could punch through in under 30 seconds with an instrument rating. And yeah, I needed something sexy. Though I was driving an F150 at the time, my aesthetic hadn’t died. It was just dormant. Time to wake up.
And then I met my first Beechcraft Bonanza. Bought her directly from the owner, Jeff, in New Orleans. We flew the airplane to New York together. It was one of the best trips of my life. I flew right seat the whole time, but Jeff taught me all the ins and outs, and every quirk N4984M had to offer. This was my forever airplane. Sadly, I totaled it in Telluride, but quickly bought another Bo just a couple of months later. Two RAMs, two Bonanzas. Could it be? Have I reached the end?
I have not. I’m in a different place now than I am with the truck. I have no interest in moving up (laterally?) to a piston twin. Accident rates simply do not support the “two engines are better than one” mantra. I want a single-engine turbine. I want to get across the country in one stop, not three. I want to fly above the weather. I want FIKI (flight into known icing) for going through it. Pressurized comfort so I can take that thing out of my nose when flying above 12.5K.
But this isn’t like going from an Eclipse to an M3.That was a big jump to be sure, but it’s nothing like going from a Bonanza to, say, an Epic. We are talking about a jump in price that is an order of magnitude. A couple of hundred thousand to several million. No, this trade-up can’t be informed solely by my changing mission. I simply can’t afford it. To do that, I need to make Avatar, not Boiler Room.
The truth is my current Bo may, in fact, be the final airplane in this life of mine. And that’s okay. I’m not an ingrate. I am well aware that I have a fast, safe, beautiful airplane. I still stop and stare every time the hangar dooropens. But it’s not like my RAM, where I’ve resigned myself to more utilitarian ground transportation. No, this is different. I’m still lusting here. Still itchy. I want more in an airplane and if I ever get the chance, I’ll be burning jet-A in the flight levels.
This article was originally published in the March 2023 Issue 935 of FLYING.