Today’s Flight Plan
Have you ever dreamed of buying an airplane? Have you seen a ‘for sale’ sign on an airplane at your local airport and thought, “what if?”
Today we talk to Don Sebastian, who we’re calling the ‘Airplane Detective’. You’ve found yourself a potential aircraft, but now what? Don will chat with us about what kind of paperwork, records, tests, and so on are required to get a full picture of what you’re getting into- even down to the details of what to look at when you walk up to the airplane for the first time.
So if you have a dream of owning airplane, or even if you want to know more about how to check if an old airplane is airworthy, this podcast is for you.
Huge thanks to Don for joining us. Always fun to think about buying an airplane! Even more fun to ACTUALLY buy one. Here’s to hoping it happens.
His Phone Number: 910.528.7769
His Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Chris: Shaking rudders and borescope-ing engines. This is AviatorCast Episode 82.
Calling all aviators, pilots, flight sim enthusiasts and aviation lovers, you’ve landed at AviatorCast! Join us weekly in our efforts to become better masters of the air through interviews, refreshers, lessons, training topics, simulator set-up, hangar talk, news and more! Buckle up and prepare yourself for this week’s episode of AviatorCast! Preflight complete, fuel on board and flight plan filed. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires! Here’s your humble host, Chris Palmer!
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome, aviators. You’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. From the time I logged my first flight hour and now flying here and there and owning an aviation training business, flight seems to be in my everyday life, just part of what I do. There’s also something new to learn, a new destination to reach or a new aviation friend to meet. Truly, aviation is just a wonderful, wonderful thing to be a part of. That is why I do this podcast week after week.
My very warm welcome to you. If this is the first time you come to AviatorCast, I welcome you here. This podcast is brought to you by Angle of Attack, a flight training media production studio which I founded and which I run. If you haven’t been in AviatorCast before, AviatorCast is where we simply share our aviation passion. We bring on inspiring guests to teach us about new topics or we talk about their careers.
This is also a place to get insight into history or into perhaps a career in aviation. We talk a lot about flight simulation on the show. We talk about reigniting the flame, say that you’ve been out of aviation for a while. Once you’re in aviation, once you’ve tasted flight, it’s hard not to want to get back. Maybe you’re in that process of spooling up the engines again, if you will or maybe you’re trying to find the resources or getting courage to fly, getting that license; there are so many people that want their license and never do.
Of course, many other topics come out of the show. More than anything, we just get on here and we try to come up with an interesting topic each and every week, share a little bit of news with you and knowledge. It keeps you in the game, keeps you ahead in the game, keeps you thinking about flying and that’s really what we really do here at AviatorCast. It’s a little bit free flowing; just stuff that’s cool. Welcome. If this is your first time, welcome, welcome.
We have reviews that come to us each and every week from iTunes, Stitcher. I look at other places as well. When I read a review on the show, I always send you a very cool and very comfortable, by the way AviatorCast limited edition t-shirt that says, “Fly or Die” on the front of it and has an F4U Corsair which is a very cool World War II Navy airplane from the United States Navy. Anyway, it’s a cool t-shirt. I send those for free to you no matter where you are in the world if I read your review on the show.
This week we have a five-star review that has come to us from Jimmy Tidmore in the US. He says, “Outstanding podcast. Have been away from flying for ten years until this past June. There had been many developments in aviation since I had last flown in 2005. The iPhone for example, had not even been invented much less the iPad. Needless to say, I had a lot to catch up on.”
“Well, one of the ways I have been able to cover a lot of ground since June is through Chris’ excellent podcast. It is both informative and entertaining. Chris does a great job of both selecting and then interviewing his top-notch guests. AviatorCast has helped me learn and re-learn so much in a very short period of that and for that I am very grateful. Thanks to everyone at AviatorCast for an awesome product. Keep up the good work.”
Thank you, Jimmy. This is a perfect example right here of being able to get your head back in the game. All that time being away from flying and now you’re getting back in the game and getting back in the cockpit. Many people, if you’re not flying for an actual career go through a period of time like this where family stuff happens and work stuff happens, this and that and you’re just out of the cockpit for a while.
There are so many tools, so many resources to keep your head in the game, keep the knowledge flowing, keep learning. I’m really happy to know that we’ve been able to help with that in even just a small way. Of course, I’m sure you’re doing a lot of the work just totally on your own and that’s coming from your own source of passion and excitement for flight. I really appreciate you being here.
E-mail me. I’ll send you an AviatorCast t-shirt, email@example.com. Again, if the other listeners want to get an AviatorCast t-shirt, I really want to send you guys one. Make sure to review the podcast on iTunes.
No obligation there. If you don’t want to, that’s totally fine, but if I read your review on the show then I will send you a t-shirt no matter where you are in the world. Last week, I sent one to Switzerland. I sent one to Canada maybe and then I sent four to the US. I will send it anywhere. I’ve sent them all over the world. Yes, anywhere, no matter where you are. Most of our listeners are in the US. Again, no matter where you are, I will send it to you.
A very, very quick brief on what this episode of AviatorCast is about today; we talked to a fine young, really older, gentleman named Don Sebastian. Don is a funny guy who has been in aviation for years and years. He is what I call a private investigator, a detective for those that are looking to buy an airplane.
He will help you find an airplane. He will help you find the documentation that’s out there. He will be helping you with kind of the big alert or red flag items that could really hurt you if you were to buy kind of the lemon airplane. Most of all he’s there to verify that you can get a nice airplane. It may not be the nicest airplane but an airplane that isn’t going to give you a lot of headaches. During this interview, we’re going to talk about a lot of those things.
It just so happens, I have this crazy idea in my head and I’m still not sure how realistic it is but I have this crazy idea in my head that I want to get in an airplane, an Angle of Attack airplane for my business and I want to start instructing in my own airplane in my own local home airport just because I think that’s an awesome thing to do. I have this idea in my head that I want to get a small airplane.
It’s kind of funny that Don wrote me out of the blue as I was going through my own thought process here and we started to talk about some airplanes that I could fly. I knew that I wanted to get him on the show. That is what we talked about today. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m excited to get into those things. If you guys ever see yourself wanting to buy an airplane in the future, I know this will be for you.
Even if that’s not the case, it gives you some interesting insight into what you even want to do in a pre-flight walk around. For example, if you were going to be flying an airplane that you’ve never flown before especially one that’s maybe older and you kind of look at it and say, “Eh, I don’t know about that thing,” he has some tips and tricks that would even be good for a pre-flight walk around.
This is a valuable episode. I’m excited to talk to Don. He is a talker himself. I’m not going to do a lot of the talking myself but I’m excited to get into this.
Before I get to that, I have a couple of news items from both the flight training world that I want you guys to be aware of and the flight simulation world. These are two pretty big news pieces I think you’ll be excited about. I’m just going to spend a quick couple of minutes on that and then we would get in to the interview with Don Sebastian.
Here we go. Let’s get in to the flight training news first.
Now, flight training news.
Chris: Recently here in the United States, there is some legislation that is on slate to essentially go through approval with the United States Government and that legislation is called The Aviation Innovation Reform and Reauthorization bill. Basically, what this thing is intended to do is it’s intended to wrap in a bunch of things that the FAA kind of needs to move forward right now and get approval and funding from Congress to move forward with the FAA in its future form.
First off, let me say that there are some very cool, very important parts of this bill even for me personally. There is a third-class medical reform in this bill that will essentially allow a lot of pilots to get in to aviation again who were maybe disqualified in the past for a medical reason.
For me personally, even though I qualify for a medical. It’s very difficult to get a medical for me personally because of some personal medical things that are going on with me. This would allow me to get an authorization once for that medical and not have to do that again. Let me say this is a big personal deal for me. I spent three grand this last year trying to get my own medical. That’s just a very steep cost for me to incur every year.
There are some very cool, very important parts to this bill. There’s also one very bad part to this bill. That would be the privatization of air traffic control in the United States. While I’m not 100% opposed to approaching this issue with privatizing air traffic control, I’m not really against that specifically, I am against who is essentially going to be on the board for this company, for this corporation, whatever it’s going to be.
The real danger here for general aviation and for business aviation is that there will be ten board members. Four of those board members will be from the airlines. They will be from specific major airlines in the United States. A fifth will from the Airline Pilots Association. There you have a majority vote already from just the airlines.
There will be an 11th, I believe person on the board but that board member will essentially be the CEO. Essentially, the airlines could vote in the CEO they want and he could be the 11th guy that kind of throws everything off.
Why is that bad? That’s bad because general aviation then doesn’t have a say in air traffic regulation, which I think is incredibly dangerous. I probably said some very inaccurate things in this statement here but that is basically what I know. What I know is that they want to do the privatization of the air traffic control system, that GA, general aviation does not have good representation.
I don’t believe in that especially after Oshkosh just last year. We had the EAA oppose basically the ALPA, which is the Air Line Pilots Association, union for airline pilots. Basically, ALPA came out against third-class medical reform. It kind of came out left field, out of nowhere, no warning that they were going to oppose this. This is just a very important, makes sense sort of thing for general aviation and there’s really no rhyme or reason why ALPA would be against this.
Anyway, I don’t think the airlines are playing friends here. I’m very happy that Delta Airlines is not supporting this. They’re saying they do not want this to happen. I thought that was a huge plus. I’m not essentially sure who the other airlines are that are supporting this. If you are in the United States, you have the opportunity to reach out to your local representatives and make sure they know that you are opposed to this bill.
I did this through an automated system that is on NBAA, the National Business Aviation Association. They have just a tool you go through where they have a template. You can customize the template a little bit for your Senators. It will detect where you are and then you can send an e-mail to them basically or a letter to them with your personalized information. You can also tweet about it and you can put it on your Facebook.
I’ve done this myself. I’m against this. I really like the third-class medical reform. There are obviously some other great things in the bill, too but don’t believe in wrapping this in to it. If this is the way it’s going to be, we’re just going to have to oppose it. If you do feel the same way, please go out. Oppose this in whatever way you can.
I’m not asking you to quit your day job and do it. I’m just saying spend ten minutes, go and oppose this thing because this really shouldn’t be happening. It will hurt general aviation. From the sources that I have and from the information that I have, that is my current belief.
Generally on this podcast, I don’t bring up heavy subjects like this because I think it’s a waste of time. I’m not huge about politics but this is very important to me because I do not want any sort of infringement on my freedom to fly because I protect that vigorously. I hope you would, too. For those of you who aren’t in the United States, this may have been interesting but probably boring.
Anyway, that’s it. Just so you guys are aware, oppose it if you want to. Let’s keep aviation free and let’s keep it unregulated and fair as much as we possibly can.
That’s it. Let’s move on to flight simulation news.
Now, flight simulation industry news.
Chris: There are some very cool information, news that came out a few days ago. Gosh, I say “very cool” a lot. This is cool. This is from Dovetail Games. Dovetail Games bought the iconic name brand of Microsoft Flight Simulators. They bought Microsoft Flight Simulator two years ago. They’ve been actively developing it not only to gamers, but they’re also very open to doing so for would-be pilots.
This United Kingdom company is releasing a simulator, a new simulator built on the backbone of what is Microsoft Flight Simulator. This is called Flight School. I’m very excited about this because I believe flight simulation is best used for real flight purposes. It’s set again to release in April 2016. I’m just going to read a couple of lines here from their press release because I think it’s really interesting.
This is what it says. It says, “Flight School is a carefully-crafted and rewarding experience designed to teach would-be pilots the basics of flying a light aircraft as well as the essential premises of flight simulation. It will offer newcomers to flight sim-ing and engaging and accessible introduction to aviation while also being highly realistic and authentic.”
“Players will learn to fly in iconic training aircraft undertaking a series of tutorials and training missions, which will provide the perfect introduction to the genre. There will also be a free flight mode for those players who want to head off and explore the entire world.”
Here’s a quote, “Flying an aircraft is a rewarding, awe-inspiring experience unlike any other and we want to give more people the opportunity to enjoy that by breaking down the barriers that make flight simulation feel inaccessible.” That’s from the Stephen Hood, the Creative Director of Dovetail Games.
“By empowering players to handle the controls of the aircraft, we will help them to immerse themselves in the very best and most thrilling aspects of flying in an up-to-date and technically cutting edge environment.”
The CEO of Dovetail Games also said, and his name is Paul Jackson, “People have always dreamt of being able to fly and through Flight School,” being the name of the simulator, “We aim to satisfy that dream and give people the opportunity not only to learn to fly but to really soar as they explore the world.”
“Flight simulation has always been important in the world of gaming but it hasn’t kept up — the core experience hasn’t progressed since the launch of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X back in 2006. That means we’ve missed at least one or maybe even two generations of players who have adored flight sim-ing, but for whom it wasn’t appropriate.”
That’s actually very true and very accurate, if I may interrupt here on that quote. So many people approach flight simulation with curiosity on how they can use it to get in to their own flying career. There are so many gamers out there that are attached to gaming. Millennials are huge on gaming. It’s really unfortunate that flight simulation hasn’t been a serious part of that conversation the last decade here.
It’s unfortunate because those kids that wanted to learn that are instead playing Call of Duty and things like that. They’re not going to be doing that for a career after these teenagers. They’re going to be trying to find a career. Many games I guess could eventually be a career but flight simulation is one of those areas where you can actually take the knowledge you’ve learned from a flight simulator and you can take that in to a career. It’s kind of interesting that way.
I’ll continue with his quote. He says, “Our aim is to get back to that place to restore the former glory of flight simulation as an enjoyable and engaging pastime. Consumers today expect a much slicker experience across all genres. They want simulations that are realistic but also accessible. They want to be led to a place where the focus can be on reaching great levels of accomplishment rather than struggling to get to grips with the operational aspects and that’s what Flight School will deliver.”
With that statement, what I’m hearing there is that this will be less of a free play flight simulator where you can go to your local airport anywhere in the world, do any procedure sort of thing and it’s more of a guided experience, guided training, if you will for brand-new aviators. That’s really interesting.
Obviously, for you real pilots out there, it’s really great just to have a solid simulator where you can fly anywhere in the world, any approach, that sort of thing. I talked about that a couple of episodes back. Actually, last episode I think it was. That’s really important for real aviators.
For starter or beginning aviators ab-initio aviators, gosh, why don’t we get right in here and introduce them to some of the correct flying principles before they just fly all over the place on their own kind of aimless? I’m excited about this. I’m really excited about this to see what ends up happening with this.
I am going to try to reach to Dovetail Games and see if we can’t get someone on the line here and talk to them about this. Yes, I’m excited. I think this is a great thing for flight simulation, for bringing those flight sim-ers in to real aviation. I’m excited. That is good news on top of maybe the important news that I had on the last segment. That’s it, guys. That’s going to be exciting, coming out in April.
We’re going to get into our interview with Don Sebastian now. Here is Hangar Talk with Don Sebastian.
Now, a special Hangar Talk segment.
Chris: All right everybody. We are honored to have a very special guest with us today. We have Don Sebastian. How are you doing, Don? Thanks for joining us tonight.
Don: It’s a pleasure. How are you doing, Chris?
Chris: I’m doing fine and dandy. It’s good to finally get you on AviatorCast. I know that you and I have been looking forward to this. First off, we start out every podcast this way, every interview. We ask our guest how did you fall in love with aviation. Tell us about that.
Don: It was 61 years ago. I was 12 years old. Basically, I guess it started with model airplanes. Back then we had U-control, two wires going out [Inaudible][22:21] stand 60 feet away from the model airplane and goes around in a circle. I had a pretty good support staff. My dad gave me money to buy the balsa wood. I started entering air shows and I did quite well. I won quite a few air shows.
Actually, there was one in New York City. It was hundreds of thousands of people there. I won the contest in what they call U-Control Combat where you try to chop the ribbon off the other airplane that you’re flying with. I was 12 years old. It was a 40-year old guy. I was up against him but I was a little more nimble and I got him.
That did get me in to aviation. Unbelievable. I got a trophy and I was in the newspaper but it didn’t matter. About 6 months later I had a model sailboat in Central Park, New York. It was a contest to dedicate the new boathouse to keep, to store the boats in right where the penthouses are, right off of 5th Avenue and 72nd Street in Central Park, New York City. My sailboat won, got across the pond first and I won there. The mayor shook my hand and they put me on TV.
Chris: Wow. Wow. Claim to fame and now here you are in AviatorCast. You’ve come full circle.
Don: Yes. I knew a little bit about sailboats but not a lot. I knew a lot more about airplanes. The Superintendent of New York City Schools has seen me on television and he came to Brooklyn, New York, a suburb in New York City where I lived. He wanted to see my sailboat. I brought it over to the school.
He said, “You want to be a sailor, don’t you?” I said, “No, I want to be an aviator.” He looked at me kind of puzzled. I said, “I’m not allowed to go to Manhattan School of Aviation Trades in New York City,” because back then you had to walk to school and this was in New York City and I was in Brooklyn. It was three subway trains and a mile walk away. He put me in that school.
Don: Yes. 13 years old, I started my aviation training.
Chris: Wow. Imagine that.
Don: 17 years old, I had all the requirements to be an airframe and power plant mechanic.
Don: I was only 17 years old. I had to wait until I was 18.
Chris: Go ahead and fast-forward now. Let’s tell people a little bit about what you do professionally so they kind of know full circle here and then we’ll get back in to your original story.
Don: Okay. At the present time, I’m still flight instructor and [Inaudible][25:17] mechanic. What I do now after thousands of flying hours is I inspect airplanes for buyers and I do flight tests on airplanes. I used to go all over the world to do this. I haven’t been over in Europe lately because of the problems over there. People aren’t buying jet airplanes. I enjoy doing little airplanes, too. I do everything from J3 Piper Cubs. I even did a Boeing 727 for the Palace Casino.
I enjoy little airplanes more because I get to meet nice people like buyers. Sometimes I don’t even get to meet them. Sometimes I perform my services just as a support for them. You’re in Alaska. If you want an airplane in Alaska, it was very expensive. Maybe it was only $20,000, $30,000.
I would support you on the telephone. With today’s video conferencing, we can see the airplane live either on FaceTime if you have an iPhone or Periscope or Blob, all these services they have. I could get all the information and data. I’ll take pictures of logbooks and go over that and do all your ADB search and give you advice and try to help you out there to figure out, making sure you’re getting the right airplane. You picked it out but I could tell you facts about it that you’re not aware of.
Chris: That’s actually how you and I in a way struck up a conversation. You wrote me because you had been listening to AviatorCast a little bit. I said, “Hey, I actually had an experience this weekend where I asked my wife, ‘Why don’t we have an airplane? Why don’t we get an airplane?'”
It was kind of serendipitous timing for you to write me and for us to start talking because I was actually perusing the Web looking for something that I could afford, looking for something that was reasonable. Of course, it’s going to be smaller. I’d love for it to be kind of maybe off-airport capable, bush-flying sort of stuff. We have a big conversation there to have, right?
I think we’re going to talk about that a little bit throughout this podcast together about what it’s like to buy an airplane, the sort of things you go through, the sort of things you look for, the pitfalls, where people go wrong, that sort of stuff, where people go right. Before we get in to that, can you share a little bit more about your career and where you went from being the 18-year old young man in New York to now Mr. Expert Airplane Buyer? Can you bridge that gap for us a little bit?
Don: Yes. It’s a bumpy road. I was 18 years old. Here we are. It’s 1959 okay? And there wasn’t any need for aircraft mechanics, believe it or not. There was a need for airline pilots but you have to have a four-year college degree to even apply back then. Actually, I found out I could get a job in a factory stamping out airplane parts. Rather than do that, my father was a Teamster and a truck driver in New York City.
I couldn’t drive a truck right away. I couldn’t even drive a car. He taught me how to drive a tractor-trailer before I learned how to drive a car. I lost my driver’s license in his car. He did that because he didn’t want me grinding the gears in his car because back then there weren’t many automatic cars. They were all manual shift. When I lost my driver’s license, the only comment the inspector had to me is, “You said I’d take turns, too,” because I was used to driving a tractor-trailer.
I did that for many years. I always had in the back of my mind to be an aviator. I think the reason why is way back in 1954 when I was a little kid, I went to a movie and saw “The High and the Mighty” with John Wayne and Robert Stack. It was about a four-engine, like a DC6 type airplane crossing the Pacific and engine failure and all that. I said, “Man, I’d like to save people’s lives. How could I be an aircraft mechanic and pilot and do something like that?”
All of a sudden, my chance came along. The reason it came along is because I was drafted in to the Army. I had no intentions of being in the military. I never even thought about it but the country called so I went to serve. I passed the physical. Basically, I found out that Fort Bragg, North Carolina had a flying club. They rented out Piper J-3 Cubs for a dollar an hour. You had to buy your own fuel. That was another $1.50 back then. The instructor back then got a hefty $4 an hour.
I wasn’t in Fort Bragg and that was a problem. I said to the sergeant in charge of me, I said, “Sarge, I want to get to Fort Bragg. How about if I join the Paratroopers, the 82nd Airborne Division?” He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “You’re not in the Army.” I said, “What? I’m wearing a uniform.” He says, “I mean the regular Army.” He said, “You’re United States Army. US your serial number is, not RA. You got to be regular army to be a parachuter.
I said, “Well, what does that entail?” He says, “Sign up here for another year.” I said, “Oh, now way. I’m making $55 a month now. I used to make $55 a day before you guys drafted me into your army.” He said, “Okay. You can’t become Airborne.”
Anyway, one of the troopers heard me, one of the other soldiers there. He said, “Go over to headquarters company. Go to the second floor and see so and so and bring some money with you. He’ll put you on a plane if you want to go.” I tried it over there. Yes, I tried it over here. I knocked on the door and I opened it up. I see the nametag. He’s the right guy.
I said, “I want a duty assignment.” He smiled and said, “Oh, okay. I have Hawaii for $500.” I said, “I don’t want to go to Hawaii.” He says, “Well, what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to go Airborne in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg.” He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “Let me see your dog tag.” He writes down my serial number. He says, “Okay. We’ll call you.” I say, “How much do I owe you?” He said, “I did that for my country.” I go back to the barracks.
A couple of weeks later, sure enough I got called up to take the physical and go Airborne. I had to run around the track for a couple of miles. I was training for it. I was in good shape. They sent me to jump school. It was kind of the start of the Vietnam War. It was just getting hot. They’ve decided they wanted a helicopter unit. I think it was called the 2nd Cavalry. I’m not sure.
They wanted the 2nd Cavalry to become Airborne with 1,200 guys. They kept me in Fort Dane peeling potatoes for a whole month till those guys showed up. Here we are 1,400 guys. Out of all those guys, one guy died in training. The training was really tough I’d say. It was the middle of winter. Only 400 of us got our parachute badges and had to become paratroopers.
Actually, one guy…you have to make five static line jumps to become a paratrooper. Back then I jumped out of three different airplanes. We were changing over from the Flying Boxcar to the C120 and also the C130. One guy got hurt on the fourth jump and he was so gung-ho. He says, “Carry me out to the airplane and throw me out. I’m going to make my fifth jump.” He was bleeding from the mouth.
We were helping him on to the C130 and the sergeant saw the blood coming out. He said to him, “Hey trooper, are you okay?” He nodded yes. The sergeant smiled with me and said, “We’ll have an ambulance waiting at the drop zone for him.” He got his wings. I got to Fort Bragg. That was a good deal and where I need to be.
Chris: When did you get to take control of the airplane in that whole process?
Don: Actually, it happened pretty quick. I went down to flying club. I knocked on the door. I think it was $10 to join. I can’t remember and in $5 a week or so. It was a dirt strip. It was on main post at Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg’s right in the middle of North Carolina. It’s a rural area. The trajectory cab didn’t have a radio in it. I didn’t have to worry about that. It was very quick.
The thing that really helped, they tried to make me a clerk typist when I got out of Infantry training. They sent me to clerk typist school. I’m not a clerical guy back then. I never really learned how to type but they made a mistake on my military occupational status. They called it MOS. They put down I was a 711 which means better than 60 words a minute typing.
What did they do when I get to Fort Bragg? They assigned to Division Headquarters of 82nd Airborne Division. I walk in and the general says, “Sebastian, I’m glad to see you. We need a fast typist.” I said, “Uh-oh. This doesn’t sound good.” They gave me a memo to type. After an hour, I struggled through a couple of paragraphs; they realized I wasn’t a clerk typist.
They sent me handing out General Education, the GED as they called it to the troops. It was like a desk job from 9:00 till 5:00. At 5:00, I go out and fly airplanes. I had plenty of money because I made big money driving a tractor-trailer in New York City. Inside of about, I guess it was about eight weeks, I got my private pilot’s license. Yes, it was quick.
Then, I thought of renting airplanes with radios in them. The civilian airport had a Cessna 172. In the middle of North Carolina, there’s a civilian airport there. I used to rent that every weekend and fly three GI’s with me up to New York City, build up my time. I went back and forth in the dark up to New York City. I used to land at a little airport called Flushing Airport, which is right on the end of La Guardia Airport. It’s not there anymore. They just closed it a few years ago.
I had 200 hours in almost no time flat but in between that, they sent me to war. That kind of broke up the training a little bit. They had a little rebellion in the Dominican Republic and I was there for two months. We cleaned up that place pretty good and everything was fine. I got back.
They told me in Division Headquarters, “Of all the things you’ve done, Sebastian, we knew you were leaving, going to New York every weekend, you do things you aren’t supposed to do. We gave you a lot of money to hand out in the Dominican Republic and you helped us out.” We went, handed out all this money. “We don’t want to tell anybody. You’re out of here.”
I said, “Wait a minute. What do you mean ‘You’re out of here’? I served my country.” He says, “Oh no. You’re going to get an honorable discharge and we’re going to expedite the GI bill. We’re going to give you that $13,000 right away. You could spend it tomorrow.” I said, “Great.”
I tried to find a real jet, to learn how to fly a real jet but back then there were a lot of guys with GI bills. There were no real jets available in training schools because not many of them are around. I jumped in to a helicopter. I got a helicopter rating, instrument rating, helicopter. I even was qualified to pick the flying instructor rating a helicopter. Back then the FAA guys had to fly with you.
As a matter of fact, I have a good story about the helicopter. To get my instrument rating, it was like a basic VOR approach with a timed approach after you leave the VOR. After so many minutes depending on your ground speed, which I figured out in advance, you would declare a decision point to make a missed approach. I wasn’t wearing a watch. The clock in the helicopter wasn’t working.
Anyway, there weren’t any designee type people to give you advanced ratings like that. I go over the VOR. He realizes that I don’t know what time it is. How am I going to tell him when all that decision point? I said, “How am I going to do this? Oh, man. There’s a McDonald’s hamburger stand right next to the airport. If I smell McDonald’s, I’ll say, ‘I’ll make the decision point.'” That’s what I did.
Chris: Oh my God!
Don: Yes, I got my helicopter rating because of my sense of smell.
Chris: Oh my gosh! That’s good.
Don: Anyway, I got my flight instructor rating. I got instrument instructor rating and multi-engine instrument rating and all those ratings plus I had an A and P. I decided…I still lived in New York back then. I went back to New York after the Army. I worked for Flight Safety on the weekends in Republic Airport in Long Island.
They liked me as a flight instructor so they offered me a full-time job. I said, “Wow! Okay. I’m all for that.” He says, “It’s not teaching people how to fly. It’s teaching systems on a Lear jet.” I said, “What?” He said, “We need a ground instructor on a Lear jet. You could study up and teach it.” I said, “How much are you paying?” He said, “$80 a week.” I said, “Whoa. Wait a minute. I’m making almost $400 a week.” This is back in 1967. I was making $400 a week driving a truck. I said, “No, thanks.”
I kind of freelanced as an instructor up in New York. Then, I decided to move to North Carolina. That’s when I started building up my time when I got down here. As a matter of fact, I even started a commuter airline down here called Mid-South Airlines. That was a good experience because I had to write the op specs and do all the things I have to do to start an airline. I did a good job. The FAA gave me a commendation for it. That was kind of the start of my career when I moved to North Carolina and built up my flight hours.
Chris: Maybe we should just ask you what you haven’t done and that would be a shorter conversation because it sounds like you’ve done quite a few things.
Don: Yes. Actually, I’m a skydiver or I used to be a skydiver. I used to do jumps. I got a…Society of France, they gave me a jumpmaster rating. I got that one when I was in the Army. I’m an expert witness. I testify for my clients whether they be pilots or the aircraft owners or aircraft companies and I’ve been quite successful at doing that. That’s nice, clean work.
What I enjoy doing is checking out airplanes and take them up for flight tests. It’s a little different than most people think. I’ll explain that as we go along.
Chris: Yes, yes. I think that’s a good jump-off point. Like I said a few minutes ago, I’m looking to get an airplane because I’m more or less at that stage where I want to start instructing. I want my own airplane to do that in. I’d like to be able to travel a little bit here in Alaska. I’d like to be able to go maybe some places and land on beaches or land on glaciers, things like that.
That’s a lot of dreaming, right? A lot of dreaming. I’ve got to bring that in to perspective. Let’s do a used case scenario here of a little bit about my situation but I’d like to put in the listener into that seat that says, “Okay, you’re about to buy an airplane. You’re thinking about buying an airplane. What are the things you need to be thinking about in doing that?”
That’s kind of the process I want to go through with you almost like a Q and A sort of thing, find out what my mindset should be going in. What’s going to happen when I find an airplane I want to look at? What are we going to look at when that happens? Then, when I’m ready to take the plunge, how do I actually buy the airplane? That sort of thing. Let’s start from the very, very beginning. What would you suggest when someone is just about to get in to it?
Don: Well, almost exactly what you said. I kind of get to know you. We have a nice, long conversation on the telephone. Buying an airplane is like buying a set of clothes. If it doesn’t fit, you’re not going to wear it.
We’re going to kind of start off talking about your mission profile. What’s a mission profile? That’s the trips you’re going to take. I want to know what type of trips, like you said in your case, you’re going to be landing on unapproved fields. Right away, the little light bulb goes on in my head saying, “Taildragger.”
I wonder how many people you’re going to be carrying and what your stage land is. What I’m staying stage land, it means how far is your normal trip because you don’t want to stop to fuel on the way. Then, I’m going to ask you one of the most important things. How much money do you want to spend?
Chris: That’s a pretty big question because not only the airplane upfront, that’s a purchase in an of itself. You can get really buried with costs as well just maintaining an airplane and sometimes there are bad apples out there. You want to avoid buying lemons sort of thing. You want to buy an airplane that’s serviceable that has parts out there in the market, that sort of thing. That all comes in to the equation, right?
Don: That’s right. Most people when they call me, most of them actually owned an airplane before and they got stung. That’s why they called me because they want thorough pre-flight inspection and they want to make sure to get a good airplane this time and not have more money in the plane than it’s worth in to it.
The average person only keeps an airplane five or six years, but when they sell it, they want to get most of their investment, if not all than their investment back again. The only way they can do that is if you don’t have any big expenses, maintenance expenses on the airplane. Everything else could be calculated with fuel flow, the tie-down cost, the insurance cost. Depreciation isn’t really such a big factor on little airplanes. They’re holding the value pretty well.
Now, if you’re buying a jet airplane, that’s different. You’re going to lose a lot of money after a couple of years on it or a turbo prop. Well, even turbo props somehow are holding the value good.
You’re going to tell me you probably had already made up your mind. You want a certain type of airplane. Then, I’m going to kind of dig in to you and see if this is the right airplane for you after talking back and forth. Like in your case, if you tell me you only have X amount of dollars, I’m going to start to bring up some airplanes.
Did you want to use your case or should I just take an alias?
Chris: Yes, yes. We can use my case because I just shared with you some things. I want to be able to instruct in it. I want to be able to maybe land off-airport. That would be fun to do. Is it what I really need to do? I don’t really know that yet, but I’d like to land off-airport. I’d like it to go a little bit of distance, maybe a couple of hours with reserve, that sort of thing. That’s kind of my mission profile.
To the inexperienced eye, I start to think first of all, 172, 152, the real basics especially from a flight training perspective. There really are a lot more options out there, aren’t there? There are kind of some diamonds in the rough and even as you and I started talking, there was a C140 up the street. That probably won’t work out because it’s a little rundown but even that has come up as an option.
Don: Let’s say you didn’t mention the price to me and I’m just trying to feel you through how much you got to spend because some people are bashful about telling. I’ll kind of start off with the bottom-line. I guess the bottom-line is the American Aviation Yankee.
It’s a long time ago they made this little two-place airplane. You can get one of them, pretty good shape for $15,000. It’s probably the best two-place airplane you can buy. The only problem is it’s not a good flight-training airplane. It has funny handling characteristics. It’s an old airplane and it’s not going to have much in instrumentation, just the bare minimums.
That’s not a big factor today. You can go out and buy yourself an iPad and get familiar with that. Of course, you can enroll in one of your courses and flight simulators and all. Training is much easier today than it used to be with all the services you have, all the good stuff you have. There’s a $15,000 airplane. Now, I wouldn’t recommend that to a zero-time student because it’s not a docile airplane.
Then, we’re going to move up the ladder a little bit. In your case, it sounds like you want a taildragger. That kind of limits you. Most of these taildraggers cost a little more for some reason.
Like you were saying, the one down the road, the Cessna 140, it’s a very old airplane. It’s 65, 70 years old. Most of them only have a few thousand hours flying time on them. If they’ve been in a hangar, they’ve been in a climate that’s fairly dry and…every airplane is different. If it doesn’t have corrosion, it probably has a really good airframe still. They made them real good.
I would rather you be maybe in the Cessna 150 because that’s a really good training airplane. The only trouble is, the Cessna 150, most of them have lots of flying hours on them and they’ve been pretty well beat up. You can get one of them for about the same price, about $25,000, $30,000. It’s going to have more abuse to it because it has been a training airplane. Well, the 140 is kind of a collector’s item. The Cessna 140 is a taildragger. It’s collector’s item.
The next thing I got to ask you is: how tall are you?
Chris: Not that tall. I see where you’re going with this.
Don: If you’re six foot six, you’re not going to fit in the airplane. If your wife and kids are going to go with you, it’s not good for you. As a matter of fact on that particular airplane is different variance. They originally came with fabric-covered wings and then they put aluminum wings on them. The fabric-covered wings were 50 pounds lighter.
If you get one with aluminum wings, chances are you’re going to have a payload after you put fuel in it, a little over 25 gallons, after you put fuel in it, you’re probably going to have around 300 pounds of payload left for you and whoever you’re taking with you.
Chris: Someone needs some weight then.
Don: All right. That’s another question because if you’re 300 pounds, you’re not going to fit in with two people.
Chris: Yes. You can take yourself and a sandwich and that’s it.
Don: The width of the airplane, it’s very tight. With two people, you’re elbow to elbow. You’re in Alaska so it’s going to be a cold ride; people complain even in the Mid-Atlantic States. The other thing, it’s an old airplane. Cessna originally made seven thousand Cessna 140’s. Chances are, you’re going to be able to still find parts but first, we got to make sure there’s one out there you can buy.
Here’s how we go about the buying process no matter what airplane it is. This is what I suggest. Most people don’t realize it but you got to do your homework or you sail. What I mean by sailing is you went out to an airplane and you love the paint job. It’s got nice seats in it. The owner puts you in the seat and let’s you fly the airplane. You go around and oh, man; you already bought it. You don’t anything about the airplane.
The process not to sail is this. First, we got to find out the history of the airplane. The problem is that the FAA keeps files on airplanes. They keep a good registration file. The registration file will be tracked back from the day the airplane came out of the factory.
That’s good because if that airplane has been owned by somebody within about 30, 40 miles of the East Coast, about 15, 20 miles of the West Coast or the whole state of Florida, it probably has a lot of corrosion because those are the corrosive areas of the country. It was based on Phoenix, Arizona for its whole life. I’m feeling pretty good right now about this airplane. That’s the registration file. We go over that.
More importantly is the alteration file. The FAA keeps a file of all the alterations put on the airplane. An alteration is normally a good thing because it will tell you improvements — that updated radio. It’s got wheel fairings. It’s got speed tips on it. It’s got an oil filter on it. Those are all good things.
On that alteration form, there’s a box. One side of the box says, “Check here for alterations.” The other side of the box says, “Check here for repairs.” Oops. That’s dead — repairs because that means it had a major repair done on the airplane. You got to be careful on the repair box because some people will just not buy a plane that has major damage history, which is a repair.
Chris: Tell us a little bit why. Why wouldn’t you buy an airplane with damage history? I know that with you in cars, that reduces the resale value if it’s been a salvage title or something like that. Even from a safety standpoint, why would people avoid buying an airplane that’s been repaired?
Don: There’s no reason to avoid it. If the repair was just made in the last year or two, it’s definitely going to reduce the price of the airplane because it hasn’t been proven yet. If an airplane has a 337 repair form, it was fixed outside the factory and it was fixed by a guy like a mechanic. Of course, [Inaudible][55:12] fail to experience with tag SP, inspector authorized but it’s still just by a mechanic as opposed to at least a “strong” if not “exceeds the factory expectations” but time will tell.
Most of these older airplanes do have repairs with pair forms on because if the airplane nosed in and bent the propeller and they just changed the propeller and fixed something on the airframe, never went into the engine, you got to stay away from that airplane because the crank shift is stressed and there could be a lot of damage inside that engine that we can’t find out about till the propeller comes flying off one day.
That’s a real serious repair if it had a gear up planning, if it’s a retractable gear or it nosed over. Whenever I see that a propeller has been replaced before it reached time before overhaul…and in most cases there isn’t a time to overhaul most regular, constant-speed propellers and fixed pitch propellers. If the propeller has been replaced prematurely, I’m always curious why. We got to find out about it.
Then, we get in to there’s a free and I’ll give you a link to it. There’s a free site called My Report and you can put just the N number. It’s a free site on the internet.
Chris: It’s called My Report?
Don: Yes. I’ll find you the link to it. You can put it on your show notes. We’re going to do a little checking off the boxes just to the right. We want the registration, all the auxiliary reports, and the NTB and FAA incident reports. You check off all that stuff. You hit the “Send” button. It pops right back up.
On the bottom of it, if it has incident reports that were reported to the FAA, it’s there. By the way, it’s for free. We’re finding out more about the airplane and we’re going to verify who owns it because you never know. Maybe the guy selling it doesn’t own it. That’s good because if he’s on file with the FAA, he owns it.
We haven’t left you off just yet. We already found out if it has…we sent away for the FAA file, which in my case, it only cost $20. I did so many of them and I get them usually the same day. They come in a PDF file. I read through them and make sure everything is okay. Or, you can get it from the AOPA. There are a lot of places that get them for you. In some cases, it costs $100 but I get it a lot cheaper.
Anyway, we go through that. Now, the next thing is you’re in Alaska. I’m in North Carolina. You don’t want me running to Alaska and kick the tires and say, “Oh my goodness. You can’t buy this airplane. There are so many things wrong with it.” The next thing we do is get a copy of the logbooks. The owner says, “Oh, I don’t have a copy of the logbooks.” Tell him, “If you want to sell the airplane, just take a picture of every page of the logbooks and e-mail them to me.” It’s not that hard to do.
Or, if you have time, we can do it on the phone. Most people have smart phones. We could do it through a video conferencing thing on the phone. I could read the pages of the logbook and have some questions. I’m making notes. I’m making a score quiz. As soon as I get the FAA file, I start my score quiz. My computer can…I’ve done every make and model. I’ve done a couple thousand airplanes. I have lots of data. I’m pulling up the data from the other airplanes I did the same.
Now, I’m searching the service difficulty reports and the service bulletins. I usually get up with the owner’s club. Those owner’s clubs are great because they have lots of inside information about what’s going on currently with these airplanes and parts availability and everything.
Chris: In a sense, if I may just stop you here for a second, in a sense, you’re almost like a private investigator for an airplane. You’re doing your due diligence to make sure that you know all of the information. I’d imagine that with almost every airplane there are going to be questions and thinks you’d talk to the owner about.
You really want to make sure that some of the major things aren’t pointing out like the damage history and liens on the airplane and maybe had a minor repair or maybe an AD is out of compliance or something like that. Really, that’s what you’re saying, right? Kind of like an airplane private investigator?
Don: Yes. That’s right except for liens on an airplane. I’m not an attorney.
Chris: Right, right, right. Of course.
Don: That kind of comes later on. We’ll take the owner’s reg if there are not liens on it. Once you decide to buy that airplane, you will get it to a reputable company that’s insured in case I make a mistake.
You’ll get a lien release, make sure all the owners in the past…actually, sometimes I read over that paperwork in FAA registration file and I find mistakes in there that the lien companies don’t find. Going back 30 years ago, they didn’t sign this from correctly and I bring it to the buyer. I say, “Well, it’s got by all this time. If you want to make an issue out of it, this is time before you buy the airplane.” It’s up to the buyer what he wants to do.
The other thing is, I’m kind of getting the buyer in to a frame of mind. I’m saying to him, “This isn’t the only airplane in the world. There are 25 others to sell.” If you want to do it or if you want me to do it, we either research these other airplanes and we need to pick two, if not three airplanes. We got to compare them.
I have a comparison chart for him. On that comparison chart, I’d start off with what the blue book says which is always more than the airplane’s worth. I put that number on the top, adjust it for airframe and engine time and all.
Now I go down with the equipment on the airplane, give it credit. The buyer and I get together on the phone and say, “Well, this has a Garmin 430W in it. That’s a full-credit item.” All of a sudden the airplane is worth maybe $4,000 more because of that. If he doesn’t need a Garmin 430W, it’s worth a little more but not worth $4,000 more. We go down the list of all three airplanes.
When we get all done in the end, we call all three airplanes or it’s up to the buyer if he wants to do it this way. At least, call up the airplane he’s focusing on and we want to talk to the owner, the broker, and the mechanic. Hopefully it doesn’t have a broker but if he has a broker, we have to talk to him.
We want to talk to the last guy who did the annual inspection because I’m going to grill him because I know all the things that could go wrong. They’re in the annual inspection. I want to judge this guy. The way I judge him first of all is the way he signed off the annual inspection. I’m a happy guy if he says, “I did an annual inspection according to the manufacturer’s checklist.” Great. He did it, all that stuff. That’s good.
If he says, “I did an annual inspection according to Part 43, Item D,” that means it’s a minimum annual inspection. These guys make their living for people coming in and get planes. If their annual inspection all of a sudden costs $4,000, that cost is not going to come back. The FAA has a minimum checklist of what items you’ve got to do. If he signs it off that way in accordance to Part 43 of FAA regulations, he obviously used a minimum checklist or maybe not.
If he says, “Oh, no. I have a more extensive checklist.” I say, “Good. Take a picture of it and send it to me. I want to go over it.” We’re going to talk to the mechanic and talk to the owner. We’re going to say to the owner, “Look, tell us what’s wrong with this airplane. Maybe we’ll come by. Maybe we won’t. If you don’t tell us what’s wrong with this airplane and I find it, we’re going to deduct the cost of that repair from our agreed-upon price. That’s pretty reasonable, right?”
Most of time I let the buyer talk to the seller and get more of these facts. I’m the guy in the background because I don’t want the seller to think I’m just there to beat him up. I’m not. I’m making sure that my buyer gets an airworthy airplane and an airplane he can afford to operate for five years.
In your case now, you just said something to me, which rang another bell. You said, “I want to do some flight training in it.” That’s the crucial operation. If you’re going to do that, I’ve got a couple more things. If the engine’s going to expire, TBO, time before overhaul, you’re going to have to overhaul.
A lot of these small airplanes will go hundreds, if not a thousand hours over TBO, time before overhaul and they still run good because you have to do a little more maintenance when you get high-time. You have to change your oil more frequently and maybe even take her on analysis.
We got all that figured out on the phone and this plane seems like…the three airplanes, the first one that you had your heart set on because it was color blue. You liked the red stripes on it, whatever but the pink one you didn’t like so much.
Chris: You’re telling me you’re going to make me buy the pink one.
Don: Well, I’ll leave it up to you. I’m going to tell you this. The way you’re going to get your money out of the airplane to be most satisfied with it, if it’s your personal paint job. It pays to invest in the paint job because the pink one might work for you. The one you selected, the blue one with the red stripes, I’m figuring you’re going to spend ten grand on this in the next two years. Still up to the buyer, whatever he wants.
Either I go marching out to the airplane or I could do it on the computer, on the smartphone. I could tell the buyer what to do and I could help him do the pre-buying. Meanwhile, I’ll have a checklist for him that I’ll send him. I have all the AD’s written down. I’ll just have to get him to verify that this is the equipment on the airplane and there’s nothing there that’s a bogus part.
How do you do that? A private pilot isn’t a lot of cool in somebody’s airplane; take it all apart looking at things. Yes, he is but he can’t put it back together. You shout for a mechanic. He could ask the owner, say, “Look, I want your airplane but I’ll take the cowl off. I’ll take the inspection plates off but you got to put them back on because you’re the owner.” He can do that being the pilot. He could just put them back on. That’s really the liability of the buyer.
Before we get to pulling parts off in an airplane, I’m going to tell you what I do and it’s on-the-air. I’ll tell you what you should do. When I get to an airplane, I’m going to go over this as if you’re not having me come. You’re just having me give you advice on the phone. We walk up to the airplane.
What do we do? We do ground reconnaissance. What? What’s ground reconnaissance? Is there anything dripping? Are there any stains under the airplane? If it’s anything but water, we might have a problem here. If there’s a little drip out of the exhaust pipes, uh-oh. That’s a big problem.
If one of the earlier stripes, most airplanes…in this case your Cessna 140, that’s not one of the earlier stripes. Anyway, you want to get to the airport a little bit early because you want go to the FBO and you want to be a nice guy and say, “Hey, I know that guy that owns that Cessna 140. Is he like the airplane?” The FBO guy, maybe the line guy says to you, “Oh my goodness. He’ll be so glad to get rid of that airplane just this long. Everything’s wrong with it. It burns a lot of oil.” It’s good to get to the airport ahead of time.
Now we’re at the airport. We did our ground reconnaissance. We want to walk around the airplane and note any cracks and all the usual stuff. Another thing we want to do is we want to shake hands with the airplane. What? Shake hands with the airplane? Never heard of that. The mechanic will think you’re crazy. After a couple thousand airplanes, I know I’m not crazy.
Here’s what I do. I pull on the wings up and down being careful on the wingtips because a lot of times they’re fiberglass plastic type wingtips. I don’t want to break anything. I pull and down and I see if there’s oil canning of the skin. Oil canning is the skin is loose between the rivets. It goes pung, pung, pung, up and down just like you put a piece of metal in front of you and shake it. You hear that noise. That’s a little canny.
I want to look at the rivets and I want to make sure the rivets…hopefully, the paint job is a few years old. If it’s brand-new I can’t really tell. I want to make sure the rivets aren’t smoking which means there’s a little trail of aluminum dust behind the rivets because they’re loose and stressed. This is a reason not to buy the airplane.
I’m going to do the same thing. I’m going to look at the fuselage on an angle and make sure there are no buckles in the skin. I’m going to go around and lift up and down the horizontal stabilizers like I did the wings, make sure they’re not oil canning. I then go back to the elevators and grab one on my right hand and one on my left hand and put a little stress on them in opposite directions and see if they’re oil canned; same with the vertical stabilizer and the rudder. I’m kind of shaking hands with the airplane.
These are things mechanics don’t do on a pre-flight, pre-purchase inspection because they have their little checklist, hundred-hour checklist because that’s what they do. That’s what they all do on annual inspection, a hundred-hour checklist. They’re checking those things and servicing those things. We’re not here to service the airplane. We’re there to find the facts.
Then, I’ll tell the buyer, I’ll say, “Ask the pilot or owner to get in the airplane and start it up.” You stand outside and look at the exhaust pipe, oil pipes, whatever it might be, keeping away from the propeller. When he starts that engine, if there’s light smoke coming out, we might have a problem because white smoke means there was oil in your cylinders. If it’s brown smoke, that’s okay. He might have flooded the engine with the fuel pump or something.
Then, tell him to stop the engine by turning off the magneto switches. Usually, you turn it off by pulling the mixture back but we want to turn off the magneto switches to make sure those magnetos are dead. They’re grounded and they’re dead because you want to hand prop the airplane.
How do we put the ignition key up on the glass shield? Make sure you choke the airplane. Make sure it’s standing on the brakes. Make sure the throttle’s all the way back and the mixture now pulled back to idle and go out there and hand prop the airplane. That’s if you think you’re up to it. I kind of did a little instruction on how to do it.
Everybody today has starter motors and they’ll say, “Huh. You’re not supposed to do that.” The planes I only ever fly, you’re not going to go flying if you don’t hand prop them if they didn’t have starter motors. We know that the magneto’s grounded and the engine won’t start.
Here’s a little technique how to step back when you flip the propeller. Now the engine’s warm. If it’s a four-cylinder, you count one, two, three, four as you’re flipping the prop. Then, do it again, one, two, three, four. If you felt a weak cylinder, that’s something to think about. I wouldn’t ground it. Well, you’ll tell the difference. If it’s a real strong compression, if it’s right up there to 75, 80 pounds, it will be hard to pull it through.
Chris: Oh, okay. It’ll just kind of glide past that cylinder if it’s weak. Okay.
Don: It will glide past it. That’s the reason you do it in cycles, four times and four times again because sometimes the valve hangs up a little bit or there might have been a piece of club on it or something. If you got a weak cylinder, well, we’re going to take it for a flight test and if it’s weak when we come down, you have to fly in it for a half-hour, an hour, then we got a problem.
Or, if light smoke comes out of the exhaust, you probably have good compression if there’s oil in the cylinders because your own skills are up to rings but it might be burning oil. You got to take the dipstick out. Take a picture of the oil level on the dipstick. When you come back, see if it consumed any oil. It’s things like that.
Normally, I get to an airplane and inside of a few hours I know whether or not we could buy it. Unless there’s a big problem, unless there’s corrosion and stuff then I really got to get in to things.
The flight test: you don’t want to be pilot in command because it’s not your airplane and you don’t want to be in a liable position. If you’re going to blind-use the airplane, there might be something wrong with it. You have to make sure that the owner flies the airplane because you’re not there to get instruction on how to fly the airplane. You’re there to test the airplane.
If the owner doesn’t have his medical or something, say, “Okay. You’re going to have to supply a pilot.” Even if you have to pay the pilot for the hour flight, this way if the owner supplies the pilot, if anything happens during the flight test, it’s not your fault. You’re just a passenger.
Chris: Yes. That’s a good point. That’s a really good point.
Don: Yes. Yes. The flight test: most airplanes either in the types of typical data sheets which I haven’t talked about yet. I’ll give you a link to it. It’s a free FAA site. They don’t tell you what the propeller is supposed to…how many RPM’s the propeller is supposed to turn at full power. They call that a static runup. A lot of times it’s in the flight manual. That’s an operating limitation.
We’re going to go out there either on a runway, if you can get a delay on the runway for 20, 30 seconds, either that or the run-up, we’re going to get full power for putting into the wind. If the RPM’s don’t come up to the 2,400, 2,500, whatever the type certificate says or the airplane flight manual, if it doesn’t reach that RPM, that hundred horsepower airplane might only be developing 70 horsepower.
Chris: Right. That’s a big deal, very big deal.
Don: We got a problem. These are all things judging an airplane. Then, to confirm that we’re not making that horsepower and the owner says, “Oh, I’ve never heard of that before,” maybe nobody ever told him. It’s okay. Let’s make it take off. We got 4,000-foot of runway. We only need 1,800 feet. Let’s make it take off.
And we’re going to see how long it takes to climb to 50-foot, how far down the runway. We’re going to see what kind of rate of climb we’re going to get. We’re going to get the cruise altitude and we’re going to see if we get our cruise speed performance. If all those things are negative, we got a weak engine here.
Naturally, we’re going to be testing the lights and testing all the avionics. If it has an autopilot, hey, we’re paying for the autopilot, not the pilot. Have them put the autopilot on right away. Do the whole flight with the autopilot as much as you can.
If I’m in the airplane, I usually do a dive test if the air is calm. I get in to the caution range; make sure there are no flutters. I usually slow down maneuvering speed and pull a couple of G’s and see how the controls feel, things like that.
Try to kind of flip every switch and test everything. Make sure the heat is working all right. Little airplanes, if the doors aren’t sealed right, the exhaust fumes could come in the doors. You wouldn’t even notice it. That’s a problem. You could get carbon monoxide poisoning. All these things are important like those little rubber strips around the doors. This is all in the first few hours of getting in to the airplane. We’re going to find out all this stuff.
If it has an autopilot and if it has an iOS or whatever it has, we’re going to try that avionics to make sure it works right and the marker beacons go on or whatever, if it has that stuff. The landing doesn’t matter that much unless it’s a jet or a turbo prop. There are more procedures on the landing. On a smaller plane, you’d just be making normal landing.
Then, we’re going to go out there and hand prop that engine again. Actually, we’re going to shut the engine down a little be different than we normally do. We’re going to shut the engine down by putting the fuselage in the off position. Why is that important? If it’s leaking, chances are it will pass the annual because most mechanics won’t check that. If you have an accident and it’s leaking, it could mean your life. We’re going to check that.
Then, you’re going to flip the prop again. Lucky us. Now it has four good-feeling cylinders. Do you want to pull the spark plugs and do a borescope inspection? I could do that if I’m there but it’s not worth all the trouble and it’s going to take the rest of the day.
We’re going to get right in to the airframe and look for corrosion. Most smaller airplanes, in the luggage compartment behind the seat, there’s usually a little plastic cover you can pull off and you can see the whole empennage of the airplane, the whole tail. Bring a really bright flashlight with you and look around in there. Put your hand on the head wire, on the sidewall. See if you feel any moisture. Take a close look around the plastic side windows and all.
If the ceiling is bad or anything, you might ask the owner and say, “Look, I’m going to take off this side wall but you got to put it back on,” all these things because you’re not a mechanic. Of course, I could take it off and put it on and I’ll sign the airplane log that I did that. If you’re just a private pilot, you’re not authorized unless you own the airplane. Either the owner has to do that or you have to call in a mechanic to put it back together.
Now we’re in pretty good shape. We’ve been here about four hours. Now the tedious work comes. We’re going to go through the logbooks again and make sure that it wasn’t misrepresented, the pictures we got. We got to make sure the logbooks are complete. There’s no missing time. A lot of guys say, “Oh, 50 hours since overhaul.” That was ten years ago. Maybe it’s okay. Maybe it’s not. If it passed the flight test and everything, I guess it’s okay.
Anyway, you’re going to check the dipstick again and you have that picture. Now you can prove to the owner, “Man, we used the whole quart of oil and we only flew for half an hour.” Now it’s a reason to pull the spark plug off and do a borescope inspection.
Also, you want to make sure the overhaul that was on the airplane…most of these airplanes have been overhauled at least once, if not many times. You want to make sure that it was kind of done right. You need to make sure you have a birth certificate, which is either called a yellow tag or an AD 130 form saying that’s a genuine part.
The serial number of that part and the part number should match up with the birth certificate, with the yellow tag and because there are important things there — the crankshaft. Oh, yes. You need to check the data plate on the airplane. Make sure it’s the right engine. Pick the serial number off of that one; you have a caterwaul.
When you get to more advanced airplanes, it gets a lot more advanced. I can tell you some of those stories but it really does get in to it.
Chris: Yes. I’m sure that’s pretty crazy. Assume that we went through this process together and you and I determined that this is actually a fairly airworthy airplane that everything more or less was checking out. We might have a couple of squawks here and there to talk about. We’ve come pretty far along. It’s a good price. We like the data on it. We like what we see. We’re comfortable with the hours and its overhaul. Now we want to go and take the plunge and get this airplane. What is the process like from there typically?
Don: No. I would say you’re still in the negotiation stage of the price of the airplane. You agreed before you went by how much you’re going to pay for it. If the seller wants you to give him escrow money, the only way you should do that is with a reputable company, an escrow company. They’ll research for you. They make sure there are no liens. You use that company. Never give the owner money. He might want to charge for the test flight. That’s okay. That’s normal.
Now you got a list. Mostly, airplanes are 40 years old. I have a list. I could have 50 items there. I’m going to kind of sit down with you on the side and say, “You’re not going to find a perfect airplane. This is what’s wrong with the airplane. It had this AD from 25 years ago.” It says on the Cessna 150 here, same way. They just overhauled the engine and left AD in the engine. That has to be fixed. That’s a negotiable item.
The crazy in the windows, we can see out of them. It’s up to you if you want to use that as a negotiating point because the buyer and the seller has to renegotiate the price of the airplane.
If you can’t quite get together, you’re going to pull out of your pocket that number two choice and say, “Look, I kind of like your airplane but we can’t get together on price. Take a look at this other airplane. When I think about it, I might go see that one now.” Now, you’re in a good negotiating position. Who knows what will happen with the price when you do that?
I would recommend that if you’re buying the airplane, if you have your favorite maintenance facility but chances are, the guy that did the last annual on the airplane, I usually like to do all this pre-flight and flight test at the mechanic’s shop, on the same field that the mechanic is because the owner isn’t going to maybe believe me. He’s going to want his mechanic to come over and verify it.
Chris: Right. Yes, yes.
Don: Now you have this mechanic and say, “Look, I’m going to buy this airplane. You’ve been maintaining it for the last ten years. I got a list here. You passed the annual two months ago so I don’t have to worry about that. As a matter of fact, you passed it with all these things wrong with it. How much do you charge? How much an hour? Oh, okay. $50 an hour. Okay. Here are the things that I checked off on the list. How much will it cost to fix all that? Just write a price next to each item and I’ll tell you which ones to fix.”
There’s no sense flying around with defects. When you go to sell the airplane, you’re going to have probably a guy like me comes along; you’ll have to fix it for that guy. You might as well enjoy the airplane and get everything fixed right to start with and then you’re in good shape.
There are a couple of things about buying an airplane. I’m going to ask you, “Are you an instrument pilot?” If you’re an instrument pilot, you’d say, “Well, the weather.” Is icing important to you? Should the plane be certified for non-icing and if it’s not, can you comply with all these regulations? It puts the burden on the pilot to make sure he’s in compliance with avoiding icing and all the regulations attached to it.
I’ll be asking questions like that. Basically, I could look for an airplane for a guy if he figures about what make and model after we put our heads together and he says, “Yes, that’s the airplane. I need that 180-horesepower Cherokee, the 140-horsepower 112.” If he does that, if he’s a busy guy and he’s making a lot of money in his business, he could pay me to research the market.
How I research the market is I first send e-mails to all the candidate airplanes. I see how long it takes for that broker or that owner to get back to me. That’s a symbol how desperate he is to sell that airplane. If the guy gets back to me the first day, I’m in a good position for negotiating. This guy is dying to sell his airplane.
Chris: Yes, exactly. Yes, that makes sense. He’s motivated.
Don: Yes. Anyway, we narrow it down to a few airplanes and then I talk it over with the buyer. We decide which one he’s going to zero in on. if that one doesn’t work out, we’re ready to go to the next one. We have it all lined up.
I’ll give you an example. I’ve had several military people call me up from Afghanistan and Iraq over the years. One guy was an F-16 pilot. I put three airplanes for him over the years. He never saw the airplanes. He saw my videotape.
Actually, I put it in the cloud and you could see what’s going on if you’re not with me. I do a video of most of the things I’m doing especially performance of the airplane. I do pictures as a squawk list. I have squawk number 45. There’s something wrong with the hinge on the right elevator. All of a sudden you’ll see two pictures attached to the squawk. They’ll be ten feet away so you can identify what part it is and then moving up closer to the hinge showing the play in it.
I did a helicopter guy in Afghanistan. He calls me up and he wants to buy a 172 in Clearwater, Florida, the little executive airport in Clearwater right in the middle of town. I say, “How much is it?” He said, “$35,000.” I said, “Okay.” I called the guy and I talked to him. I looked at the stuff he sent me. I said, “Oops, we got a problem here. I know that’s your price range but we didn’t get to know the airplane. There are a lot of airplanes in that part of Florida. I don’t think you’d be able to buy this airplane.”
He says, “Well, there’s another one but it’s $45,000. There’s a Grumman Traveler in the same field.” I say, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I get a feel that this airplane is going to have at least $20,000 in to it before you get done with it. Call up the other guy even if it costs more. Have one on standby in case this one doesn’t work out.” It’s actually in the same airport.
I meet with the fellow. He gets back to the States. He and his buddy who was a flying instructor also, we go up. We didn’t even flight test the 172. It was a disaster. Here’s the Grumman Traveler. It was like new, a beautiful airplane. The guy wanted to get rid of it. He came down $10,000. For the same price, he got twice the airplane.
That’s what you got to do. You have to have a few lined up. Hopefully, they’re in the same area because of the expenses of traveling and the time it takes to travel.
Chris: Great. We’re kind of running out of time here. I want at least in the next several minutes kind of wrap this up and wrap people’s heads around everything we just talked about.
Here’s what I’m hearing: when someone is going in to buy an airplane, they need to know what they’re going to be using it for. You’re not going to be able to do everything you want. My requirement list for having an instruction airplane and a traveling airplane and off-airport airplane, I might be putting too much of a burden on finding the exact perfect airplane so maybe I have to make some sacrifices there.
Then, you kind of start looking at the types of airplanes that you might be using. Then, you start to search the market a little bit especially locally. Then at some point, you get in to a lot of debt with it.
Kind of wrap all that together for us. I guess the best question is: what are some of the best attitudes a pilot can have in wanting to buy an airplane, some of the best positive attitudes? At the end of the day, how do they ensure they wind up with the thing that’s really best for them? Mostly, you’re just going to be able to summarize everything we just talked about in answering that but that’s kind of what I’m getting at here. Perfect.
Don: The best resource a pilot could have or a buyer could have is money.
Chris: Yes, yes. There you go.
Don: It’s all about money. The guy describes to me what he wants. He’s taking a look at a $25,000 airplane. I got to tell him. I got to say, “Your mission profile and what you want, you’re going to need a $50,000 airplane unless there’s a real fire sale out there.” Usually, if it’s a fire sale, if a broker didn’t buy it already to resell it, there’s usually something drastically wrong with it. I got to figure out the guy’s financial situation and in some cases insurance requirements. I’ll go answering those questions especially on the larger airplanes; the insurance requirements are so high.
I just did a Piper Saratoga out in Ohio. That wasn’t too bad. I had a flight with the guy for two hours. He was good to go. There was a jet I did and I had to fly with the guy a hundred hours. A lot of turbo props are like that, too and twin-engine airplanes. I think the MU2 is a hundred hours, the turbo prop. I know like the Cessna 400 series, most of them are 50 hours if you don’t have any time in it before.
The bigger, the more elaborate the airplane, the more there is to do. Most people have their hopes too high. Like in your case, we were talking about that 140. It’s an affordable airplane but it’s not going to do everything you want to do but you could put up with it. Put a little less fuel in it so you could put your flight bag in it and not feel the weight.
Chris: Right, right. Yes, yes.
Don: The important thing is to get expert advice. I’m one of the few guys in the country that does all that stuff and travels to airplanes. If you don’t want the expense of me coming to Alaska, I could give you all this information and help you out 90% of the way just on smart phones and e-mails and stuff.
Chris: I really appreciate your time and your insight. You and I aren’t done with each other yet though because we’re going to be offline here looking for airplanes, I’m thinking and maybe looking for something that will work for my business. That’s an exciting thing.
If any of the listeners out there are kind of in that same ballpark where they’re looking for something, what I found in just my small research so far and talking to you and studying online is that this is a step that’s worth taking your time studying about the airplane itself.
These days with the internet, there’s just so much information out there. You can literally, in a matter of minutes, you can probably find and message someone that has a couple thousand hours in the airplane and they can tell you everything that’s right and wrong with flying that type of airplane and what to look for.
Obviously, a guy like you is going to know whole heck of a lot about a wide range of airplanes. He’s going to know to research and that sort of thing. It really just comes down to, at the end of the day, educating yourself, almost building a team, a dream team to find the dream airplane.
Don: That’s right. Basically, the more effort you put in to it before you buy it, the more happy experience you’re going to have owning it.
Chris: Right, right. Exactly.
Don: If anybody calls me and I talk to them for at least a half an hour giving free advice before we get in to all the details of a particular airplane. They can just call me on my cellphone. It’s always with me. I’ll give you that number and you can put it on the show notes, too.
Chris: Great. Yes. I’ll do that. I’ll put your name, your e-mail, and your number in there so people can give you a call if they want.
Don: I go all over the world to do this because if I go over to Europe, it’s usually a jet a $10 million, $12 million airplane. This year I did a…just the last few months I did a Cessna 150. I did two Saratoga PA-32’s, one retractable, one fixed gear. I did a Bombardier Challenger 605, $15 million, any kind of other jet. I do all kinds of airplanes. I enjoy doing little airplanes and I get to meet real nice people.
Chris: Great. Great.
Don: It’s been great talking to you.
Chris: Yes, yes. It’s been a fun time. Thanks for taking the time with us. It’s not the end of the road for you and I.
Don: I’m looking forward to it.
Chris: We’re going to be searching high and low for a dreamy bird. Thanks for helping me. Thanks for educating the AviatorCast listeners, too.
Don: Okay. Sounds good. We didn’t cover everything but I’m sure when I get to talk to the prospective buyer, he’s going to have questions I can answer. I can cover more detail. Okay. Well, thanks for having me on your program. I have enjoyed your program so far and I’m going to try to listen to all your AV programs now. Wow.
Chris: Yes. This is number 82, I believe.
Don: 82. Wow. Well, have a good night. I hope…well, we’ll be talking again when you have it in your program. Bye now.
Chris: Absolutely. Thanks, Don.
Join us next week for another exciting topic or interview with a great guest. Spread the AviatorCast message. Please review AviatorCast on iTunes or submit an audio question for the show at AviatorCast.com. All iTunes reviews and audio questions that are aired on the show will get an official AviatorCast t-shirt. You can write AviatorCast directly on AviatorCast.com where you can interact with the AviatorCast community or write AviatorCast at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
For more information on Angle of Attack simulation training videos for FSX, X-Plane and more, go to www.flyaoamedia.com. If you are looking for a professional aviation training video services and other media, inquire at www.angleofattackpro.com. Now, for the final release clearance, back to Chris Palmer.
Chris: A huge thanks goes out to Don for joining us on AviatorCast today. This guy has so much knowledge. As I was sitting there going through this conversation with him, I found myself looking on barnstormers.com and just going through all these airplanes that look good — lower total time, not many hours since major overhaul, things like that, and good prices, that sort of thing.
I was just in dreamland. This is a really cool prospect to be looking at an airplane, to be thinking about buying an airplane. Gosh! It is an investment and it’s one that I don’t want to take lightly so I’m really happy, blessed to have someone like Don on my side. It was a lot of fun talking to him. I’m sure we could have talked to him for hours and hours and hours.
Obviously, he has a lot of information to share. If you guys have any questions for Don, I am going to leave his information on the show notes of this episode. Just go to aviatorcast.com, you’ll find this episode there if you go through the list and you can click on the orange link in the podcast player there and that will take you to the page for those show notes.
I’m hoping actually, on just a small tangent, to get an updated dedicated website for AviatorCast coming up here soon. That’s part of my plan here for 2016 so it’s easier to find this. Hopefully, someday I can just say, “Go to aviatorcast.com/82,” and you guys would be able to find it, but I’m not quite there yet.
I appreciate all you guys, too. I really, really enjoy having you here. I enjoy doing this week after week. I get some really fantastic stories when you guys write me and tell me how much AviatorCast has meant to you, how much it’s keeping your mind in the game as meant to you.
While I appreciate those comments and I encourage you to tell me that, I also encourage you to just be part of this community and if you are thinking about flying, jump in there. Take an introductory flight. If you ever have any questions, feel free to ask me. I can send in the right direction no matter what your question is so that you can get started in aviation. You guys are awesome.
Also, thanks to Angle of Attack crew. These guys are fantastic. They do a lot of work week after week. We’ve been really [Inaudible][01:40:36] working on some things. These guys are really killing it. Yes, I’m grateful for you guys. I’m excited you’re here. I hope you continue in this aviation thing. I’m just more excited now than I’ve ever been.
This last week I’ve been going through my logbook and I have had such a wonderful journey in flight. I am just so blesses to have done and seen the things that I’ve seen. I really look forward to you having similar experiences. There is just something about flying that gives you a different perspective and at least for me, that speaks to my soul. I hope you guys can find that as well.
Until next time, throttle on!
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