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8/20/2020
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Aircraft Ownership (?)
By Eric Wilkins
Posted on 8/20/2020 5:51 AM

 I've had a lot of downtime during my current overseas deployment with the Army Reserve, and between house hunting, working on my degree, updating airline applications, and occasionally working, I've done a fair amount of research into aircraft ownership. I imagine a fair amount of CPA members can relate to the dream of aircraft ownership, as no matter how good your experience may be renting through the numerous schools in the area, it just isn't the same as being able to hop into your own airplane and fly any time you want. It certainly doesn't help that my girlfriend recently sold her beautiful Cessna 150 to upgrade to an even more appealing GlaStar. In my nearly-unlimited free time (Thanks Covid), I've done a lot of research that has led me all over the map and probably will continue to do so as I wind my way down the rabbit hole until a beautiful, new-to-me airplane is parked in my hangar. 


In the past I've done part-time work as an aircraft broker, and my favorite part of the job has easily been working as a buyer's agent, helping guide someone's search for the perfect airplane for their mission. So it made sense to me to first define my mission of what I honestly needed the airplane to be capable of. My family is scattered all over the country, but the majority live in Wisconsin and Michigan, and I make several trips a year to visit for family functions or holidays. My mom lives in San Diego, and my Army Reserve unit is also located in California, so cross country capability and speed are necessity. Additionally, I spend most of my time flying IFR for my civilian and military careers, so IFR capability is also a priority. Other than these regular trips, it's mostly $100 hamburger runs and fun flying, so economics is a perk to keep these hamburgers affordable. Lastly, I'm a regional airline pilot and live in Colorado, so purchase price is a key factor to get me out of the rental lifestyle.

So we need speed, efficiency, and low upfront costs. Anyone else thinking Mooney? For half a century those have been the hallmarks of Mooney aircraft, as a decently equipped M20C can be found for less then $50,000, and even a well equipped M20J can be had at considerably less than newer factory aircraft. I have some experience flying J models and love the stability, speed, and flexibility they offer. A Cessna 182 or 210 also fit the bill, while the Bonanza family might as well, although it seems likely these would be at a significantly higher price point. 

(Probably a ways off from this brand new Acclaim though)

One option I had not put serious consideration into in the past was the home-built experimental route. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet there is a plethora of information available on the topic, but I had limited exposure to the Experimental scene beyond watching our Rocky Mountain Renegades for years around local shows and in 2019 at Oshkosh. Over the past few months, I've been able to get up to speed in a hurry about the benefits of an Experimental aircraft as my girlfriend has made her GlaStar her own. Particularly eye-opening to me has been the wealth of upgrades available for such aircraft and the ability to fine tune them to individual preference. The capability of avionics available for Experimental aircraft is far better than in the regional jets or Citations I fly, with LPV, WAAS, ADS-B, and even synthetic vision. Seeing the modifications and upgrades she has already made to "Woodstock" has been even more encouraging. 


As I began researching further I of course was first drawn to the RV line. The Van's Aircraft Company has a giant following for a reason, and while I haven't flown them, the RV-8 is appealing to me for a lot of reasons. Fast, efficient, and gorgeous, it looks like a personal fighter aircraft. Efficiency and speed, it certainly has, and the ability to go have fun as well. I went through a day's worth of Youtube videos about the build process, and loved the thought of building my own aircraft. However, for trips to visit the family, space is certainly a premium, and while I can travel light, I'm not sure I wanted to travel quite that light. 

The next option that came to my attention was from the same Arlington, Washington plant Woody came from, the Glasair III. At this point, I'm more or less ignoring any semblance of a budget and just seeing performance numbers that sound more appropriate for the Grop 120TP I did my initial Army fixed-wing transition training in. While it's easy to say that factory numbers may not match what I would actually see from a finished product I built, 240+ knots and airshow-worthy strength is certainly appealing. I have watched some Glasair's fly around at times at Jeffco, and I can easily see the appeal. Despite a Covid-induced break in production, Advanced Aero Composites is selling quick build kits with even better performance figures, and the temptation is strong. Another facet I like about the home build process is the ability to complete construction in chunks, with fuselage, wings, and engines all coming separately. It's easy to think about starting on a section and using future deployments or airline upgrades to finance the remainder of the aircraft and build an airplane that does everything I want and customized to my own needs. 

As I'm sure is the case with many others, the dream still has to wait a little while. My airline, like many others, is looking at inevitable furloughs in the near future. My hope is that by next summer, things will begin to turn around in earnest, and perhaps by Oshkosh 2021 the picture is a bit clearer. Perhaps that's more incentive to spend the down time building an airplane! In the mean time, I'll continue to dream, and I'd love to hear your thoughts, advice, and recommendations in the comments! My time overseas is finally coming to an end, and I'm excited to be back in Colorado for good soon. I hope to see many of you around our local airports, CPA fly-ins, or even on social media flying and staying safe and healthy.

Eric  

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