The Malone Col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

Parting with an old friend (air­craft) is a bit­ter­sweet ex­pe­ri­ence

So for rea­sons many and var­i­ous, ar­rived at af­ter long de­lib­er­a­tion, I put the Robin up for sale. They say di­vorce and sell­ing your home are the two most emo­tion­ally-chal­leng­ing events in our ev­ery­day lives; to these I would add parting with a much-loved air­craft. When I flew her to Kem­ble to meet a prospec­tive buyer, I felt like I was tak­ing my dog to be shot.

Sen­ti­men­tal tosh, eh? It’s only a ma­chine… and a frus­trat­ing, ob­sti­nate, wil­ful, prof­li­gate and highly-strung ma­chine at that. EASA thinks it’s an A320, the CAA thinks it’s a hole in the wall. But when I’ve re­lied on her for my life, she’s never let me down.

And oh, the joy I’ve had of her. We’ve been to places most peo­ple can never dream of, Tango Delta and I, and thanks to her I have mem­o­ries vivid as video on which I will be call­ing for sus­te­nance when I’m tooth­less in my dotage. Try­ing and fail­ing to out­climb the ice of an English win­ter; try­ing and fail­ing to re­main VMC far too close to a stormy Mediter­ranean Sea; flog­ging up to 12,000 feet across the Carpathi­ans, three up and full fuel, with a hole ripped in the clag be­low show­ing jagged crags too close for com­fort.

Rolling al­most in­verted in tur­bu­lence in the moun­tains of eastern Turkey, fly­ing for hours across a desert in Niger that looked like Hell af­ter the fires went out and know­ing that the chances of res­cue were zero. Get­ting home non-radio from the old East Ger­many when the al­ter­na­tor failed. Fly­ing down the Bospho­rus to the Golden Horn, climb­ing the Hog­gar Mas­sif in the mid­dle of the Sa­hara – only with a gen­eral avi­a­tion air­craft can you do these things. And you bond with an aero­plane in a very spe­cial way. I re­mem­ber get­ting back to Bod­min af­ter an epic day-long drag home from Ibiza, putting ’TD in the hangar with the en­gine warm and tick­ing and re­al­is­ing that, un­con­sciously, I’d just pat­ted her on the nose.

When you men­tion you’re sell­ing you’ll get plenty of ad­vice in the bar, some of it good. ’TD has a pair of Garmin 430s, cut­ting-edge at the turn of the cen­tury, less so now. Would I have to up­grade the avion­ics? Should I re-chip the ra­dios for 8.33 khz, which be­comes manda­tory next year? Some said it would be a hard sell with­out 8.33. Then there’s the en­gine – more than twelve years old but with only 700 hours on the clock, it’s ‘on-con­di­tion’ and would have to be re­placed if the air­craft were bought by any­one other than a pri­vate owner. Would re­plac­ing the en­gine jus­tify its cost by broad­en­ing the mar­ket?

There were a few items I’d been happy to live with that def­i­nitely needed to be sorted. For one, the canopy han­dle didn’t lock. The DR400 closes with what is ac­tu­ally a door han­dle from a Citroen 2CV, of which Robin bought a job lot decades ago. I blagged one from a scrap dealer for £10, but the fix­ings are sub­tly dif­fer­ent so I had to buy one from Robin for £360, not count­ing the labour. See ‘prof­li­gate’, above.

I spoke to my old friend Steven Bai­ley, or­a­cle on all things Robin. He and his wife Jenny now run Mis­tral Avi­a­tion, through whom the plane was orig­i­nally bought, and his ad­vice was straight­for­ward: for­get about the en­gine, and don’t up­grade the avion­ics, you won’t get your money back. A new owner might want to do his or her own thing with the clocks, maybe even put in a glass panel, as is the mod­ern fash­ion. What price your re-chipped 430s then? The more peo­ple I spoke to, the more it was im­pressed upon me that the seller of an air­craft is a prime tar­get for chancers, scam­mers, dream­ers, tyre­kick­ers and plain old thieves, so I de­cided to get Steve to sell it for me, partly to re­lieve me of any emo­tional com­pli­ca­tions. A hard-headed busi­ness ap­proach was called for.

It was the right thing to do. Steve has a di­rec­tory of po­ten­tial DR400 buy­ers on his books and within days he had eight in­ter­ested par­ties. ’TD presents well, as they say: 16-years-old but low-time, al­ways hangared, usu­ally with the cov­ers on. I must say the price Steve pro­posed seemed a lit­tle am­bi­tious to me, but he pointed out that some of his buy­ers were in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, the pound had taken a bath post-brexit and any­one buy­ing in Euros would be get­ting an espe­cially good deal. But the first se­ri­ous prospect was English.

I flew to meet him, and ’TD be­haved im­pec­ca­bly as ever, a per­sonal re­proach to me, en­grossed as I was in the process of flog­ging her off like a piece of meat. The would-be buyer and I dis­cussed her in the most im­per­sonal terms, which jarred with my an­thro­po­mor­phic sen­si­bil­i­ties. I de­cided I didn’t want to be so closely in­volved, put Mis­tral’s pi­lot on the in­sur­ance and left every­thing to Steve, who con­jured up some­thing of a bid­ding war and sold at the ask­ing price. I wish the new owner all the joy I have known with ’TD – but when Mis­tral’s man came to col­lect her, I didn’t go up to the air­field.

So what now? The up­side is that, with win­ter loom­ing, I don’t have to worry about the air­craft sit­ting idle in the hangar. Last win­ter was par­tic­u­larly bad: the rain was in­ces­sant, Bod­min is prone to wa­ter­log­ging, and fate usu­ally dic­tates that the weather only picks up when I’m too busy to fly. In fact, be­tween the 50-hour over­haul in Oc­to­ber and the 100-hour in March I flew for just over three hours – one of my ‘rea­sons many and var­i­ous’ for sell­ing. So in some ways, it’s a load off my mind.

The down­side is that when the weather does clear, and the piste is use­able, and I’m not busy with work or side­tracked into fam­ily en­gage­ments, and I look up on hear­ing a light air­craft fly­ing over­head, I get a lit­tle ache in my heart where Tango Delta used to be.

You have to be mad to own a light air­craft in Britain, but I have to say, in­san­ity has its com­pen­sa­tions.

When I’ve re­lied on her for my life, she’s never let me down... You have to be mad to own a light air­craft in Britain...

Regulars Pat Malone PAT MALONE Pat has worked as a jour­nal­ist on three con­ti­nents and is a fixed-wing pi­lot and for­mer he­li­copter in­struc­tor with 1,500 hours TT

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