GEAR UP

Look­ing for a new plane

Flying - - Contents - By Dick Karl

Note to read­ers: What fol­lows could be con­sid­ered ob­nox­ious. Or maybe it is a cau­tion­ary tale. It is a story of a man about to turn 72 who has been fly­ing for 50 years and owned air­planes al­most con­tin­u­ously since 1972. This is a de­scrip­tion of this man’s thought pro­cesses as he nav­i­gates the re­al­i­ties of air­plane own­er­ship and si­mul­ta­ne­ously sails into old age.

The ob­nox­ious part should be pretty ob­vi­ous. I’ve been priv­i­leged to make a good liv­ing as a can­cer sur­geon, had the good luck to fly jets for three years for a Part 135 com­pany in my late 60s and I’ve got a sup­port­ive wife, Cathy. I am acutely aware that this state of af­fairs is not com­mon and that I am lucky.

Long­time read­ers will know that Cathy and I sold our Piper Cheyenne in July 2017, with the in­tent of buy­ing a jet to en­joy for a few years be­fore the ac­tu­ar­ial ta­bles catch up with me. I couldn’t wait to take the money from the Cheyenne, add to it and buy a jet. I have been dream­ing of own­ing a jet since I had a model of a Lear 24 on my desk while in med­i­cal school in 1966.

What to buy? I had as­sumed the Cessna CJ1 would be a good fit. I was al­ready typed in the CE-525 by virtue of my CJ3 job at Jet­suite. Not only that, but I was sin­gle-pi­lot cer­ti­fied. I was fa­mil­iar with the cock­pit, its lay­out and the air­plane’s sys­tems. It would be like com­ing home.

I was sur­prised to learn that used CJ1S are sell­ing for about 20 per­cent more than I had ex­pected. They also mostly fea­tured a poly­glot of avion­ics. The Collins Pro Line 21 was pretty much stan­dard, but the flight

man­age­ment sys­tems var­ied. If the air­plane didn’t have a sec­ond GPS, it wasn’t WAAS cer­ti­fied. All this gave me pause. A lot of money was in­volved.

What else is sin­gle-pi­lot cer­ti­fied? I thought about the Cessna Ci­ta­tion Mus­tang, with its mod­ern avion­ics but slow speeds. Then, I got my head turned by the Beechcraft Premier. This air­plane had a short pro­duc­tion run and a spotty rep­u­ta­tion among ca­sual ob­servers. Early edi­tions of the air­plane had mul­ti­ple run­way over­runs. The bank­ruptcy of Hawker Beechcraft made the avail­abil­ity of parts un­cer­tain. Not many of them were around.

But then hap­pen­stance in­ter­vened. A Premier 1 shared hangar space with our Cheyenne in New Hamp­shire, so I emailed the owner. Pete was only too glad to show me the air­plane. On a sunny sum­mer day, he un­locked the hangar door, hooked the air­plane up to ex­ter­nal power and wel­comed me, Cathy and two grand­sons in. While I sat up front, the boys worked the mag­i­cal win­dow shades with such vigor that I feared they would break them. (Pete told me later that no­body is al­lowed to touch the win­dow shades in his air­plane.) Mean­while, up front, I was wel­comed by the Collins Pro Line 21 and its fab­u­lous FMS. This setup was ex­actly what I was used to. The lay­out of the cock­pit made great sense. The au­topi­lot, yaw dam­per and their con­trols were po­si­tioned just un­der the glareshield for com­pe­tent head-up man­age­ment. And then there was the leg­endary Beechcraft qual­ity. Ev­ery­thing had heft, and noth­ing felt flimsy.

I was smit­ten. Then, things got worse. An old pi­lot friend from my 135 days, now at Spirit Air­lines, called to tell me he had 500 hours in the Premier and it was the best fly­ing of his life. An­other friend, who used to work at Hawker Beech in Tampa, told me he thought the air­plane was mag­nif­i­cent from a me­chanic’s point of view. The Premier is rel­a­tively squawk free and the Williams en­gines are bul­let­proof, he said. Parts were not an is­sue. An­other friend, a chief pi­lot for South­west Air­lines, texted me out of the blue to say he had heard I was look­ing at Pre­miers. It turns out that his week­ends have in­cluded 100 hours of Premier fly­ing, and he loves it. “It is much eas­ier to fly than your Cheyenne,” he said.

Un­for­tu­nately, they weren’t giv­ing Pre­miers away. We found we could barely af­ford one, and not a 1A. When Mike Shafer, of Mer­cury Air­craft Sales, sent me the com­par­i­son fig­ures for the two air­planes, I was sur­prised to find that the Premier didn’t cost that much more than the Ci­ta­tion to fly. The hourly en­gine pro­gram costs were higher, but the flight times were shorter for every route I looked at. Fuel burn wasn’t that much more. A ba­sic Premier cost about as much as a CJ1 on the used-air­plane mar­ket, and was 80 knots faster. Parts were more dear, though.

When Cathy went to our bank ac­count she found that the past few years of liv­ing well with­out any in­come has put a dent in our cash. As­ton­ish­ing! To buy a Premier or CJ1, we’d have to bor­row some money. I thought I was all through with debt, but we’ll see. This is the last up­grade of my fly­ing life.

I have de­cided to go for a Premier. If I can’t strike a deal, my fall­back (!) is an old Ci­ta­tion­jet. It has the same per­for­mance as a CJ1 and costs less. I re­mem­ber how to look at round di­als, I’m sure.

There are other thoughts afoot here too. It is no se­cret that I had prostate can­cer a few years ago. Every time I go for a prostate spe­cific anti­gen check, I hold my breath. Is buy­ing an air­plane now re­ally a good, sane, prac­ti­cal, re­spon­si­ble idea? Uh, well, maybe not.

The FAA is still both­er­ing me about glau­coma. I got hit in the eye in col­lege, and have had in­creased pres­sures in my left eye. The eye has been suc­cess­fully treated. The pres­sures are nor­mal, and my “vis­ual fields” are sta­ble. I fly on an an­nual “spe­cial is­suance,” and the 8420 form is prop­erly sub­mit­ted by my fab­u­lous avi­a­tion med­i­cal ex­am­iner, Dr. Thomas Bea­man but I have been caught in the net of Ok­la­homa City and they just won’t let it go.

Will I buy an air­plane and lose my med­i­cal? Will I buy an air­plane and get a re­cur­rent ma­lig­nancy? Psy­chi­a­trists call this con­nec­tion of un­re­lated events ( buy­ing an air­plane and dy­ing, say) “mag­i­cal think­ing.” The way I grew up, it was called “just deserts.” If you ask for too much, you will be pun­ished. “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” my mother used to say. She meant it.

I was smit­ten. Then things got worse. An old pi­lot friend from my 135 days, now at Spirit Air­lines, called to tell me he had 500 hours in the Premier and it was the best fly­ing of his life.

The hunt to re­place the Cheyenne is on, and all the op­tions and lo­gis­tics are not mak­ing the se­lec­tion easy.

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