Window Shopping Can Be Antidote for Annual Inspection Blues

What can feel like infidelity is a good way to pass the time while your aircraft is in the shop.

A Piper PA-31 twin is a step up power, comfort and complexity.

As I wait for the call to retrieve my airplane from its first annual inspection under my ownership, I have confirmed that absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder. It can also make the eyes wander, especially when temptations abound.

Because I spend a lot of time perusing the used market on Aircraft For Sale I have a strong sense of the interesting makes and models looking for new homes. From nearly new four-seat family aircraft to rare antiques and warbirds, the general aviation inventory truly has something for everyone in terms of size, performance, utility, and style.

After a year I have no desire to give up Annie, our Commander 114B, for some larger, faster, or otherwise more ambitious airplane. Heck, she and I are still getting to know each other, and so far all of the indicators are resoundingly positive. She’s a catch. Still, there is so much appealing hardware out there that I cannot resist looking. I could attribute this seeming infidelity to the demands of work, but I was a serial airplane shopper since long before joining the FLYING staff.

I recall that many years ago my wife and kids would make jokes when they caught me with my nose buried in classified ads for airplanes. We were far from being in the market back then, and the photos and descriptions in the ads were the stuff of dreams, and perhaps wasted time. Today, though, as I look for aircraft to feature in our AircraftForSale Top Picks, I often focus on aircraft I would want most to fly.

Recently there was a 1984 Piper PA-31P-350 Mojave that I found almost irresistible. Wouldn’t it be great to own a mighty pressurized twin with cabin space and useful load to spare? Perhaps, but I would need to earn a multiengine rating and start building time. Operating the Piper from the 2,100-foot field near our favorite vacation spot on Deer Isle, Maine, might prove challenging, too. I was also drawn to a 1975 Cessna A185F on amphibious floats. That would make more sense in Maine, where I could park it at the dock next to our neighbors’ lobster boats. Then again, the salt water would not do us any favors. I might be overreaching.

Our best window-shopping excursion took place before Annie’s annual, when my wife and I checked out a Diamond DA50 RG at Reno/Stead Airport (KRTS) in September. Company representatives were showing off the new aircraft and happily answered our questions. After a walk-around and tour of the cabin, we concluded this might be the ideal pick for people on a new-airplane budget (not us). Compared with Annie, the Diamond has quite a bit more power, speed, and cabin space. Getting in and out is easier as well with the Diamond’s four upward-opening doors. It is more like a car in all of the right ways.

I couldn’t stop talking about the Diamond on the flight home from Reno, and the topic came up again recently as we looked at Annie’s empty hangar. “I wonder if the Diamond would fit in there?” I said.

My wife was doubtful. “Too much wingspan,” she said. So I reached for the tape measure. Our hangar door is 40 feet wide. The DA50 RG’s wing? About 44 feet long. Not even close. We will stick with Annie. And I probably owe her an apology.  

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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