Friday, August 1, 2003
Project Bonanza Part I
By buying a used airplane and weighing its pros and cons, you can settle on a plan to make an “almost” airplane into one that’s “just right”
Finding A Candidate
The first step is to gather information. Devotees of most airplane designs participate in so-called “type clubs” (for the type of airplane owned) that are a wealth of ownership information. What are the common mechanical problems in a specific type of airplane? Are parts readily available at a decent price? Are there any “gotchas” about a particular design? Type clubs exist to gather and provide this kind of information.
We joined the American Bonanza Society and learned a lot about turbocharged Bonanzas. ABS gave us a copy of the “time limited” parts list—those things that need inspection, overhaul or replacement on a scheduled or hourly basis, like landing gear and flap motors, alternators, batteries, instrument air pumps and fuel tank bladders. We got a list of Airworthiness Directives (ADs) applicable to the airplane and learned about manufacturers’ Service Bulletins and mechanics’ Service Difficulty Reports (SDRs), a good measure of the reliability of the type, and the possibility of future unplanned expenses.
Meanwhile, we looked at the list of installed equipment on the 1982 B36TC to begin our upgrade budget. If you know what it’s going to cost to put the airplane into your “perfect” order, you can calculate what you’re willing to pay for the airplane. We purposely looked for one that was as close to the original as possible, to simplify our upgrade process. That meant replacing 20-year-old radios, an original interior and an aging paint job. To minimize other costs, we needed to make sure the airplane itself was sound, which meant that we needed a prepurchase inspection.
The type club recommended locations for a pre-purchase inspection—a mechanical review of the airplane by a Beech-savvy mechanic, independent from those who had previously maintained the airplane (to enhance impartiality). The prepurchase A&P (airframe and powerplant mechanic) will also scrutinize the airplane’s logbooks, reading between the lines to detect any unreported aspects of the airplane’s history. A prepurchase follows the basic outline of an annual inspection; for a high-performance retractable, it will take an annual-like week or so to complete—with an accordant bill to pay. Most buyers can negotiate some or all of the cost of a good prepurchase inspection with the seller.
Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to contact the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) at www.aopa.org for a buyer’s checklist, which includes information about non-aviation aspects of airplane ownership, like registration issues and title searches. You may also want to talk to an accountant about likely tax issues, as well as an attorney, if you’re considering corporate or out-of-state ownership of the airplane.
The Deal—And The First Trip To The Shop
The B36TC passed inspection and the deal was struck. Next came a few weeks at an FBO near where the airplane was purchased (in central Tennessee). We had a short list of “must do,” including the 24-month pitot/static and transponder checks. One look at the original sun visors told us that they had to go; they were replaced with a pair of Rosen sun visors. Also, in our view, a turbocharged engine demanded installation of an engine analyzer—saving either our lives or our pocketbook by helping us detect an engine problem before it becomes an engine emergency (see “Got Heat?,” November 2001 Plane & Pilot).
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