As we taxied in, Roland, whom I’ve known for 35 years, marshaled us slowly, almost solemnly, with a look of anguish on his countenance. It was immediately clear that things were worse than I thought. He pointed his orange wand at the right wing and shook his head.
I knew we had hit a bird. I knew it hit the right wing. I had hoped (dopey hope, in retrospect) that there would be some entrails to clean off the leading edge and maybe a small dent that would require repair.
I shut the engines down and we clambered out of the Premier, all six of us. “I just got a call from the Audubon Society,” joked Roland. I was not disposed toward laughter.
It was worse than I thought. There was a large dent in the right wing root. Whether there was interior damage was not clear. Textron told me that $1,400 was required to remove the leading edge and make an inspection. This was the estimate for the estimate, if you will.
As chronicled previously, five friends and I had set out from Tampa, Florida, to New Orleans for a night out; three airline big-metal pilots, a plastic surgeon and a lawyer. I figured that should cover all our needs for one night on the town. On departure, at about 5,000 feet, we heard a thump. The JetBlue captain sitting in back had intended to video his house from the air. He actually captured the strike on his phone; that’s where the still photos seen here came from.
The emotional seesaw that has ensued has been pretty intense. We ended up canceling the trip and returning to home base, which is right next to the Textron Service Center. These able folks had been chasing down a roll-fail/speedbrake-fail fault that happened every time the airplane got cold ever since I bought it. Now this bird strike pushed those concerns aside. How bad was the damage; how long would it take to fix it? How’s my insurance?
The news has dribbled out slowly. The leading edge was removed, and the wing anti-ice bleed air tubing, which was bent, was removed. More subtle findings were more heart-stopping. The spar appeared to have damage. To me, it looked minor. To Textron, it looked major. They deemed that the spar could not be reinforced with a “doubler,” and that I might need a new wing.
With the airplane out of production and Textron’s primary airplane business being Cessna products, finding much interest in an orphan Beechcraft part has been difficult. It is more than a month since the accident, and I still don’t know our fate. So far, a replacement wing has not been found. This is not a reflection of the industriousness or fidelity of the Tampa Textron shop; it is emblematic of finding parts for an airplane that is relatively rare (less than 300 built), out of current production and built by a company that went bankrupt and ended up being subsumed by Textron. All this was reflected in the fact that the Premier is a carbon airplane with great Pro Line 21 avionics that flies 70 knots faster than a CJ1 and is much larger, but costs less on the used-airplane market when compared to the Cessna. The market, in its efficiency, knew all this.
So, now what? If the airplane is totaled, I get the insured-value check. I will still owe Textron for its efforts to find the roll-fail/speedbrake-fail fault that was never solved. (I had already sought solutions at Emery Air in Rockford, Illinois, and Mather Aviation in Sacramento, California — both highly knowledgeable shops with great people.)
In the end, I will have spent north of $20,000 to solve a problem that defied resolution in an airplane that now can’t fly and might never fly again. Ouch. Meanwhile, Williams wants its monthly engine payment even though the engines have been prepared to their specifications for a long period of inactivity.
There’s another regret that flies formation with this event. I’ve loved airplanes since childhood. I’ve owned airplanes continuously for the past 45 years. To be the owner responsible for the destruction of a machine as magnificent as the Premier and to have been at the controls as PIC when we collided with that pelican leaves me feeling sad beyond measure. Not to mention the poor bird.
I’m hesitant to make plans for replacement until the insurance matter is settled. I’m eager to get going though. My friend Pete, who owns a Cessna M2 and is buying a CJ3+ talks frequently of the “QTR” (quality time remaining). As I approach my 74th year on the planet, I’m increasingly aware of the QTR, though I don’t know what it is. A year? Ten?
If I get the check, will I look for another Premier? Did I just get a bad apple and need to start anew? I love the plane, its speed, the avionics and its handling. It is an easy airplane to fly. Or do I pony up even more money for a CJ1 or buy an older CitationJet? Would the slower speed, smaller cabin and polyglot avionics make me regretful every time I got in the airplane? Is there still hope for wing repair?
Perhaps I have learned an important lesson. I’m thinking I’ll take slower, simpler and cheaper any day. Cessna is still making CJs of one sort or another. A jet is a jet. To whom am I showing off with these speeds?
It is, of course, fatuous to think that these are serious problems when viewed in context. A serious accident or disease, financial ruin or marital troubles would be far worse. Oh, woe is me, my jet got hurt. On the other hand, isn’t this experience relatable to so many other events in life? Remember that car that you treasured until somebody ran a red light and T-boned it? It never drove the same afterward, did it?
Flying a jet was a lifelong dream. Fifty years after I got a private ticket, I finally made it to the jet club. I was in it for seven months. Now I am on the sidelines. It has been frustrating. Then again, I’ve met some really terrific folks and learned a lot. It is called life. Like Arnold said, “I’ll be back.”