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Going Direct: 5 Reasons It’s Crazy To Buy An Old Plane

There are five reasons only because I ran out of room for the other 95.

As many of you know, I own an old plane. A senior citizen. A bucket of bolts. A golden oldie. The flying jalopy in question is a 1964 Cessna Skylane, which I bought last February. It’s 53 years old, which is five years younger than me, which still makes it an antique. Which leads to the question that a saner person than I would have asked before he bought the plane and not afterward: was I crazy to buy an old plane?

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The best answer, as is too frequently the case in aviation and in life is: maybe. With all that nothing said, here are the five big reasons why my decision was such a dubious one and, hence, why I’m an idiot.

  1. An older plane is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma wrapped inside an aluminum monocoque fuselage. And that’s the truth. As good as our best efforts at due diligence are, there are things that we’ll miss and there are things that will surprise us. I wasn’t surprised, for instance, that the plane’s radios were ancient treasures (and as such, probably should have buried somewhere long ago). I was surprised, however, that two of them stopped working within two weeks of my getting the plane home. It’s not cheap to replace a radio and it’s not easy to…
  2. …fix old radios. That’s the problem with mechanical products, not that they weren’t good when they were built but that they don’t last forever, and seeing that products are made of parts, and that it’s those very parts that are the things that don’t last forever, we’re looking at the need to get new parts for a very old thing. Well, because of the way commerce and technology intersect, the company that made my old flip flop digital display nav/comm, Bendix/King, hasn’t made that same product for decades. And they haven’t supplied parts for it for almost as long. And if they did still have parts for it, well, you’d probably be better off buying a new one or a decent older one instead of trying to fix it. Which is exactly what I did because...
  3. .  . . upgrades to old airplanes will often cost more than the airplane is worth. And such is the case with putting what I really want into the plane. That is, a new flat-panel avionics system. The most likely candidate for this is the Garmin G500, which will set me back something close to $30,000. The Aspen Evolution Flight Display is nice and relative bargain, but then I’d need a new multifunction navigator, which would set me back between $15K and $20K installed. Which is why I haven’t upgraded the single-axis STEC System 20 autopilot in the plane yet, either. And don’t even get me started about engines and props. Not only that but...
  4. .  .  . sometimes you can’t even get the parts you need for your plane. Case in point, I tried to get some new interior panels for my Skylane at Oshkosh this year...out of luck, I was told. The folks who make replacement panels for my vintage 182 don’t make those panels for my vintage 182. I can send my used ones to them, and when they get around to it, they’ll make some new ones using my old ones as a guide… I’m just glad I didn’t need a new step for my plane because...
  5. . . . some guy on the 182 Facebook Group needs a new step for his old 182. He asked, in fact, if anybody in the group had one, and it took all my willpower not to answer, yeah, we all have two of them and, no, you can’t have mine. I haven’t looked into how much Cessna might charge for a step for a 1964 Skylane, or if they even have them, but I’m not sure I’d want to know even if they did. Heaven forbid I needed a new flap or tail. Because I do know that Cessna has those in stock and I do know how much they want for them. So I’m extra careful with my flaps and my tail.

All that said, there are reasons for people to buy older airplanes, a lot of really great reasons, reasons that easily overshadow all of the “con” viewpoints presented above. And don’t say it’s because we’re cheap. That would be a low blow. The reason why older airplanes make so much sense is...

  1. . . . because we’re cheap and can’t afford to buy a new one. Oh, we’ll tell ourselves there are a hundred reasons why we love our older airplanes better than a brand new one, how they’re beautiful and better than the new ones in a number of ways and that they have an air of experience and history about them that make them something special and cause us to fall hopelessly in love with them, and here’s the big secret behind that story….It’s all true.

If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

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