Not everyone in the world gets to be a pilot. In fact, a fraction of 1 percent of people in the United States ever get their wings, and worldwide it’s a fraction of a hundredth of a percent. Being a pilot sometimes seems common to us, because so many of our friends are pilots, and with social media, well, we know pilots from around the world. But the truth is, we’re a tiny group of people who get to say that they’ve commanded a plane. It’s something we shouldn’t take lightly and that we should take great pride in. I do.
And of that group of pilots, there’s a sub-group, airplane owners. What percentage of active pilots are also airplane owners? It’s not an easy figure to come up with, but my friends at AOPA tell me it’s around one in five.
The obstacles to owning an airplane are great, and, yes, most of them relate directly to how much it costs to own one. It’s not only how much it costs to buy one, and that’s a hefty sum for most planes, at least ones you’d want to fly, but also how much it costs to keep them maintained and filled with avgas and, if you’re lucky, sheltered from the vagaries of the weather. Then there’s insurance, databases, new gear and, at some point, a new engine/engines. Because overhauls are like death and taxes, only they’re harder on the nerves than the former and usually more expensive than the latter. Ben Franklin, who is credited with the quote, was lucky he never had to overhaul a Franklin, though my guess is he would have been an avid pilot. He flew in balloons, you know.
I’m one of those lucky ones who was born, well, not with a silver spoon in my mouth but with airplane keys lying around on the counter. By the time I was a teenager, I for all intents and purposes had the keys to a dozen planes on the ramp at my folks’ FBO. And I flew a lot until I went off to college. Then, when I was a senior, my folks sold their aviation business. My dad got rid of his Turbo Arrow and flew friends’ planes, and that was the last family airplane I ever had.
When I got into aviation journalism, I started flying again, but it was always in rentals or flying club planes, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It was a blast, and some of my fondest memories are of trips I took with my wife and kids to incredible places. And later, when I moved to Texas, I bought into a six-way partnership in a 1975 Cherokee Six 300. But it wasn’t my airplane.
And strangely enough, for several years when I had a series of Cirrus SR22s at my disposal, well, that was fantastic—what a great plane—but it still wasn’t my airplane. It wasn’t my name on the pink slip, or my call where it lived or how long I had it, even.
It wasn’t until I came to Plane & Pilot that I got to the point where I could buy my own plane, and I did. As you might have read about, it was (and yes, I no longer own it) a 1964 Cessna Skylane, a beautiful plane that I was in love with. And my wife was hugely supportive of it, and my kids, too, even though it was a splurge for us.
But when money got tighter, I was forced to reevaluate. My wife just about begged me to keep the plane, and I did, for a while. But once I was in a position where I had to pay for the gas, I found myself not taking a lot of trips, even short ones, and I wound up flying with friends and partners instead. It was one trip in particular that I didn’t fly, one up to Wichita, Kansas, the birthplace of my Skylane, that I wound up not flying because of the cost that I decided to sell the plane to someone who would love it as much as I did but also use it. And I did. It took me less than 12 hours to have a handshake deal on the sale. And, yes, I cried just a little when I gave the keys to the ferry pilot, a young gal dreaming no doubt of owning her own plane some day. And I watched my baby fly away.
Will I ever own another plane? I sure hope so, but nothing in life is a certainty. I am glad I owned that Skylane, probably the prettiest 182 in the world, and I don’t regret it a bit. And I finally understand the very special feeling you get when you do have your own plane. It expands your family by one and begins immediately to occupy a special place in your heart. And you don’t forget them, either. You couldn’t if you tried. Now, excuse me while I go look at ads for what could wind up being volume 2, the one where we live happily ever after.