Buying N78878

As you have probably noticed, there hasn’t been any flying for the past month. I am really itching to get back up, but the wait was for a good cause. I have been saving my “rental money” because we were buying a plane! So what went into the search and…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
16 Dec 2016

As you have probably noticed, there hasn’t been any flying for the past month. I am really itching to get back up, but the wait was for a good cause. I have been saving my “rental money” because we were buying a plane! So what went into the search and purchase process? Here goes…

The first thing to do when considering buying a plane is determine “the mission.” Don’t think of what you might do, consider what you will do and buy a plane that fits 90% of your needs and rent for the other 10%. My mission is two fold. First, I just love to fly. For me, the thrill of escaping gravity and just punching holes in the sky is a little slice of heaven. I don’t even have to be going anywhere to enjoy it, so in that sense any plane will fit the profile (but faster is more fun…) Second, and what most of my flying will be, is I want to be able to fly to see family. Those trips will be between 300-500 nm mostly with my wife and one, maybe two kids. To fly those distances I needed something faster than the Cherokee 140’s I trained in that cruise along at around 115 mph, and let’s just be honest, as mentioned earlier it’s more fun to fly fast… With those things in mind I was looking for a plane that is a 4 seater that can cruise around 150-160 mph. I also wanted a low-wing plane. Yes, there are all kinds of debates about low wing vs. high wing with pro’s and con’s on both sides, but I just like the look of a low wing plane better…

With those mission parameters I began looking at planes. (Mind you this all began months ago before I even started flight training, nothing wrong with dreaming.) I looked at the specs for many different makes/models and two planes came to the front, the Piper Comanche and a Mooney. They both have the range I was looking for, the speeds, and are low wings with retractable gear. I hadn’t ever heard of a Mooney eight months ago but a friend has a 1961 M20B that he as been flying for a long time and he loves it. He took my son and I for a ride once and I became an instant fan. They are fast, sitting in them feels like sitting in a sports car as opposed to sitting in an SUV or mini-van, and they look fast even sitting on the ramp. Next was to look at the costs of purchase, operation, and maintenance. The purchase prices of Comanche 250’s that I looked at were running $45-60k, and the Mooneys on the market at the time were running $30-60k for a C model, $40-60K for an E model, and $40-55k for an F model.

The Comanche is a 6 cylinder which is going to make maintenance and an eventual engine overhaul more expensive. Also because of the larger engine it is also going to burn more fuel, around 13 gph or so. The Mooney is a 4 cylinder, and while it doesn’t have as much horsepower as the Comanche, it doesn’t need it because it is a more aerodynamic. It can get the same speeds as the Comanche but on only about 10 gph. On top of that I really like the look of the Mooney. I joined some pilot forums online and there was the typical mix of helpful people, trolls, and the ones that apparently know everything and are happy to make sure you are aware of their vast knowledge. I also found and joined the Mooneyspace forums and felt like I had found a home there. A bunch of great guys/gals that love their planes and treat everyone well, even a newcomer like me with no flying experience. It was looking like I was bound to become a Mooney owner, or dreamer…

There are a lot of things that drive the purchase price of the plane, condition, avionics, hours on the plane, hours on the engine, etc… The ‘C’ and ‘E’ are shorter than the ‘F’ so there isn’t as much leg room in the back seats, but there is some and I wouldn’t be carrying adults back there very often (fitting the 90% rule). An ‘F’ would be nice, but for a lot less money I could get a nicer ‘C’, and while the fuel injected ‘E’ with it’s extra 20hp would be nice, there are a lot of things to like about the ‘C’ model for my mission. Even before beginning flight training I made an Excel spreadsheet where I kept track of between 40-50 Mooney C-F’s that were listed on the various sites for sale that fit my budget. I listed everything about the planes, their condition, equipment, time on airframe, engine, and prop, as well as what the seller was asking for it, how long it had been on the market, and any price changes that occurred. Over the next 6+ months I started to get a feel for what planes were going for.

I talked to a few different owners and a couple brokers too. I got more information from some, logs books to go through, and talked price briefly with a couple. There was a ‘D’ model that I had come across in my searches but I hadn’t even added it to my spreadsheet because the ‘D’ model was built with a fixed pitch propeller and fixed gear equating to a much slower plane. I later learned that of the ‘D’ models that were built, almost all of them were converted by the factory to have a constant speed prop and retractable gear, essentially making them a ‘C’ model. So I took another closer look at the ‘D’ that I had seen before and it fit everything that I was looking for. It was in good condition and had been well cared for. The only reason the owner was selling is that he had bought a relative’s 2003 Ovation and didn’t need both planes. (Much better to buy a plane from someone that had been flying it regularly and had upgraded to a different plane than a neglected plane that had been sitting around for years because someone was just trying to unload it.) The only drawback on the plane was it lacks the instruments for IFR flight so it is VFR only, but while I may get my IFR rating eventually, right now I’m just flying VFR and that brings the price of the plane down. If/when I decide to pursue my IFR I can put in the equipment that I want.

I contacted the owner and he sent me pictures of the most recent aircraft, engine, and prop logs to go through, as well as additional pictures of the plane. I went through the logs from beginning to end noting the maintenance that was performed, making sure that certain Service Bulletins had been complied with, etc… I emailed the owner frequently with numerous questions that I had for him as I read through the logs and he always got back to me promptly. It looked like this might be the plane to buy, but first some things had to fall into place for me.

My oldest son would be leaving on a mission for the church and when he left I was going to sell our Suburban he was driving to use for a down payment. I told the owner my situation and timeline and that I would like to see his plane when I went to Arizona the next month if it was still for sale. His joking response was “You’re kicking a kid out, selling his car, and buying a plane?” I replied that I was kicking a kid out, selling my car, and buying a plane, but his makes for a better story. He said he has had some passing interest but if the plane was still for sale when I came to Arizona he would be happy to fly it down and meet me in Chandler to take a look at it.

Time passed and I flew my two boys out to Chandler to visit my family. The owner of N78878 flew the plane down and met me at the airport.

(As a side bar, I must say I really like the tail number. I found myself thinking of the tail numbers as I looked at different planes and seeing how hard it would be to say them over and over again on the radio. That may sound like a silly consideration for some, but those who have planes or have flown know that you say that number, alot… and there are some that are easy to say, and others that are a mouthful.) 

The plane was exactly as the pictures had shown (you just never really know until you see it) and we talked about the plane for a bit. I walked around it looking it over and climbed inside and sat down to see how it felt. He had all the logs as well as all of the invoices and other paperwork associated with the plane from the time it was new (a good sign). The only thing missing was an old prop log. But the prop logs were complete starting in 1997 when it was overhauled, and then the prop and hub were replaced in 2007 after a prop strike on the ramp from a pothole, so the only log missing was for a prop that was long gone. We agreed on a price and inspections, then with a handshake he flew home and I took my dad and sister for a short flight in the rental Cherokee.

I got in touch with the finance company and began getting everything lined up with them and the escrow company. I set about getting quotes for insurance from my current broker that I had my non-owners policy through was well as a few others. After getting quotes back from everyone I was able to get the premium down about 22% from what I was originally quoted. The plane was going to be out of annual at the end of November so I had an annual done on it at the beginning of December to get an extra month out of it. There were a few things that the owner replaced during the annual but other than that it all looked good. A little over a week into December we closed on the plane.

I had a few options to get the plane to California. I couldn’t just fly out and get it by myself because I need a complex endorsement still and transition training, so one option would be to fly a CFI out with me and bring it back. Another option would be to find someone I could pay to ferry the plane out to me. The last, and easiest option for me was to pay the seller to fly it out to me. He was willing to do that for the price of his ticket home and a little extra for his time.  Afterwards as I was driving him to the airport for his flight home I thanked him again for bringing it to me. He said, “Well, I’m a pilot and love to fly, and figured that this was just the easiest way to get you your plane.” The seller was a class act from start to finish.

So, on a cloudy morning here in California he left Arizona to fly here. I had talked to him about alternate airports that I could meet him at if he couldn’t get into Corona (at least it would be a short drive with a CFI to get the plane instead of all the way to AZ), but he found a hole down through the clouds to bring N78878 to her new home. The hangar I was going to be renting wasn’t cleared out yet so we had to tie it down on the ramp.

Later that afternoon my wife and youngest son went with me to see the plane. (They had only seen pictures before). My son loved climbing up on the wing, into the backseat and proceeded to ask lots of questions. My wife climbed into the right seat and commented that it was more comfortable and it seemed like it had more room than the Cherokees that I had flown her around in. She liked that the rudder pedals were so far forward because in the Cherokee she was always worried that she was going to hit them with her feet.

The plane stayed on the ramp for a couple of days while the hangar was being cleared out. I was getting worried that it wasn’t going to be ready before a rainstorm that was forecast for Thursday-Friday hit. But, I went out to the airport after work on Wednesday and helped with the last little bit of clean-up and then moved her into her new home that night.

The floor still needs a new coat of epoxy, but I told them that could wait for nicer weather, for now I just wanted it indoors before the rain came, and we were just in time. The rain started the next afternoon and continued into the next day. I sent the previous owner a picture that I finally got her inside a hangar before the rains came, his response was “That’s great, that plane is spoiled and doesn’t like staying outdoors too much.” 🙂

I can’t wait until Saturday when I meet a CFI to take it flying and begin getting familiar with it!

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