The Ups and Downs of Buying an Airplane

  • May 21, 2015 8:20pm GMT

For about two years, my husband and I were the proud owners of a beautiful Cessna 120. We weren’t looking to sell our plane, but out of the blue, people started making offers on it. At the same time, the owner we had purchased the plane from caught wind of the offers and contacted us about buying the plane back. Within a month, the plane was sold back to him and we were once again in the market for an airplane.

When we originally bought the 120, we had one requirement for our future airplane purchase. It had to be fun to fly. We didn’t need anything terribly fast or something that would take us across the continent. Being airline pilots, if we really needed to get somewhere quick, we could just snag a cockpit jumpseat.

The new search started with the same requirement but now we wanted something a little more exciting. This led us to the Decathlon. My husband spent hours, days, and weeks combing through Barnstormers and Trade-A-Plane. Any time he had access to the internet, he’d be sifting through pages of aircraft for sale.

We stumbled upon a Decathlon that was about a two hour drive from our home field. We met with the owner for a peek and were impressed. The owner was an aircraft mechanic and had been restoring the plane. It had been recently recovered and it looked good. Arrangements were made for the plane to be flown to our field so that our mechanic could do a pre-purchase inspection. Sort of like an inspection before you buy a house. A pre-purchase inspection is not a requirement for buying a used plane and it’s also not free. But a couple hundred dollars is better than getting stuck with a plane with a whole lot of things wrong with it. After the inspection, the mechanic explained that some of the aircraft maintenance logbook entries were not as they should be. We were back on the hunt again.

Four months of relentless internet searching later we found another plane located near New Orleans. We hopped a flight down to Louisiana to take a look. It was also an excuse to do a little sightseeing in the French Quarter. On a whim, we decided to look at a second Decathlon in the same area for a similar price to compare.

Later that evening, we discussed the two planes over some beers and oysters on Bourbon Street. Seeing that second plane had really thrown a wrench into things because it was also a great plane. Now we were struggling to decide between the two. Both had pros and cons that put them on a very even playing field. But the main difference was horsepower and like any respectable pilot, we ended up going with the one that had more of it. (Disclaimer: aircraft with lower horsepower are perfectly capable and fun to fly and hopefully those owners will take no offense to the writer’s previous joke.)

My husband had snapped some pictures of the logbook to share with our trusty mechanic back home to get his opinion. Upon inspection, we discovered that the aircraft had been recovered with an older and outdated type of recovering. This type of recovering was used on vintage aircraft to make the colors pop and give it a certain authenticity. Something that wouldn’t really be authentic for a 1978 Decathlon and added nearly 50 pounds to a plane meant for aerobatics. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but the owner wasn’t willing to lower the price to where we wanted it. Luckily, the second Decathlon was still for sale!