A saga of ex­pec­ta­tion, de­sire and re­al­ity


Flying - - CONTENTS - By Dick Karl

The old man was se­duced. There is no other way to put it. He was in­trigued at first, then tempted, then smit­ten, and fi­nally, all in. Against all ra­tio­nal thought, he was to­tally taken by the sexy 18-year-old. That old man was me. “She” was a 2000 Beechcraft Premier 1.

In these days of care­ful­ness about any­thing sug­ges­tive of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior, sen­si­tiv­i­ties about how men and women re­late to each other and, God for­bid, old-fash­ioned sex ap­peal, I am hes­i­tant, no re­luc­tant, ac­tu­ally, to use this metaphor. But it is the clos­est I can come to de­scrib­ing this past year of avi­a­tion ad­ven­ture for me. There are a few lessons in this saga. I did not in­vent the term “high main­te­nance.”

I was look­ing for a Ci­ta­tionJet, maybe a CJ1. I had 1,000 hours or so in the CJ3, and the air­plane looked like a com­fort­able fit. Those on the mar­ket were more ex­pen­sive than I thought they should be, but my pre­con­cep­tions led me com­fort­ably to Cessna.

Then I saw some Premiers for sale. The Premier 1s were no more ex­pen­sive than the CJ1s, yet the air­plane was 80 knots faster, didn’t burn much more fuel and had a mas­sive ramp pres­ence. I was in­trigued when a New Hamp­shire friend showed me his Premier 1A. It was gor­geous; he loved it, and there­after, so did I. With the help of a metic­u­lous bro­ker, Mike Shafer, of Mer­cury Air­craft Sales, I bought 323CM, a beauty with ev­ery­thing: new paint, XM weather, charts and sin­gle-point re­fu­el­ing. I was in prover­bial heaven. Not all mar­riages are made in heaven, I have learned.

The first sign of trou­ble came be­fore I even took pos­ses­sion. At clos­ing, I learned that Wil­liams In­ter­na­tional de­manded 150 hours’ worth of pay­ment per year for the en­gine pro­gram, not 125. This was more than I had bud­geted and more than I could pos­si­bly fly. It didn’t mat­ter. There were a few other on­go­ing costs, such as main­te­nance track­ing pro­grams and in­sur­ance for the Collins Pro Line 21 avion­ics — also more than ex­pected. I took a deep breath, looked out the win­dow at this beau­ti­ful air­plane on the ramp, all shined up and ready, and signed ev­ery piece of pa­per put be­fore me with­out hes­i­ta­tion. I was mar­ry­ing the plane of my dreams.

The type rat­ing was the next sign of dis­as­ter. Rather than sim­u­la­tor train­ing in an es­tab­lished train­ing cen­ter, I opted for in-air­craft train­ing. This ends up cost­ing as much or more than the sim and puts time on your air­plane. The in­struc­tor was all busi­ness; no sense of hu­mor was ev­i­dent. But ground school and in-air­plane train­ing seemed to go well.

The train­ing com­pany’s owner was the des­ig­nated ex­am­iner, and when he fi­nally showed up, he ra­di­ated an at­ti­tude I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced while get­ting four other type rat­ings. He flunked me on the first ap­proach, a cou­pled ILS in a 40-knot cross­wind, dur­ing which he “failed” an en­gine. I thought it was to­tally bo­gus, but he had the badge and I didn’t. I sought

an­other train­ing com­pany and passed eas­ily. Sev­eral other pi­lots sub­se­quently told me that they too had been failed by this ex­am­iner — one thought this event had kept him from be­ing hired by South­west Air­lines af­ter a good in­ter­view. This left a bad taste; I was not ac­cus­tomed to fail­ing.

On the day I picked the Premier up in Wi­chita to fly it to New Hamp­shire, I got a “roll fail, speed­brake fail” warn­ing light. Eight months and $20,000 later the prob­lem was not fixed. For all her speed (I saw a ground­speed at one point of 577 knots) and looks, she had this flaw that could not be cured. I got a sink­ing feel­ing ev­ery time I climbed through Flight Level 300, won­der­ing when that light was go­ing to come on and force me to read the check­list one more time for the flaps-up, ref+20-knots land­ing.

My wife, Cathy, found this new girl­friend to be in­tim­i­dat­ing and scary. Not a com­fort­able flyer, she’s been ever sup­port­ive of my fly­ing ad­dic­tions through­out our mar­riage. I did not want this trou­bled vixen to come be­tween us.

Parts pric­ing started to star­tle me. A blow-down ac­tu­a­tor, which might have been the cul­prit for our woes, was go­ing for $36,000. A friend said he couldn’t find a pitch-trim ac­tu­a­tor un­til he was will­ing to pay $50,000. Whoa. This is dif­fer­ent from what I had heard while re­search­ing this air­plane. Talk about the price of good looks.

And then one fate­ful day, five friends and I set out from Tampa, Florida, for New Or­leans for a night out. We hit a pel­i­can at 5,000 feet while climb­ing out at 250 knots. The dent didn’t look that big, but a spar had been in­jured and no fix could be found. Plas­tic surgery wasn’t go­ing to be the an­swer. I spent a lot of time at Tex­tron Avi­a­tion. Though they had tried to fix the roll fail prob­lem, I still owed a lot of money and had no air­plane to show for it. Al­most four months later, I got a check from our in­sur­ance com­pany for the in­sured value of the air­plane.

This isn’t to say I didn’t love her, or that I re­gret buy­ing her. I met some fab­u­lous Premier own­ers, saw some great ground­speeds, dealt with and learned from some great main­te­nance folks in Rock­ford, Illi­nois (Emery) and Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia (Mather) and was es­pe­cially well treated by Tucker Di­eter, of Wenk Avi­a­tion In­sur­ance, and Mitch Kal­let, of Kern Woo­ley PC, when it came time to make a claim.

Now I’m look­ing at CJ1s. They cost more than some Premiers. They are like sen­si­ble shoes, 80 knots slower and way less im­pres­sive on the ramp. For the long haul, a Cessna may just be more my speed. Prop­erly sea­soned, a good mar­riage evolves. If this doesn’t work, I’m go­ing back to a Cessna 210.

In my fast and sexy Beech Premier, I once saw a ground­speed of 577 knots.

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