First plane purchase, all the questions

12 Replies

First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Matt Sherman on Nov 12, 2018 3:31 pm

Hello Everyone,

Working towards buying my first airplane. Decided on a Piper Arrow II or Arrow 3. Non turbo. So many questions, most of all is some of the aircraft that look great have damage history. One aircraft in particular had a gear up landing. So Should I walk away now or is this a non event? How much time is to much for TTAF?

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Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Dave Rice on Nov 19, 2018 9:19 am

ga airframes typically run to the 15,000 hour mark. i would definitely ask myself “why a retractable as your first aircraft?”. 

once you purchase, you’ll quickly realize there are more important things to spend your money on than landing gear. 

you really need to start by analyzing your mission, not what airframe looks good on the ramp. look at things like range requirements and what your typical flight entails. don’t select an aircraft based on what you suppose your mission might be after becoming an owner, look at the type of flying you do now. 

older airframes require more maintenance at each annual. i personally limited the ttaf on my search to 3500 hours. i don’t like a plane that squeaks (too much) every time i taxi over a bump in the pavement (read, they all squeak to some degree).

the two things you should really be looking at are “hours on the engine” and “will i have to upgrade the avionics?”. you don’t want to pay for a new engine nor upgraded avionics. 

that being said, start your search with mission, not what you envision, but how you really fly. 

next find a balance of low ttaf medium engine/prop time and the avionics you want. every airplane can be a “if i only upgraded this...” equation. don’t go there.

whatever you do, don’t go into this with a “it’s ok, i’ll upgrade that later” attitude. unless of course you are not planning on sending kids to college!  

let’s face it, if money were no object, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and you’d already be enjoying your SR-22T (not a retractable, i might add). 

also, don’t buy a plane with damage history. 

hope this helps. 

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by John Haley on Nov 19, 2018 11:05 am

Saw Dave’s reply...all good advice, but thought you may want a counter perspective.
I owned an Arrow II as my first plane. It was fantastic and I’d take her back in a heartbeat...unfortunately my wife thought she was too slow.
  I was a military pilot with a lot of time, but needed the plane to do cross-country (more like cross region in an Arrow).
  My needs were reliable, economic, instrument capable, parts and maintenance easy to get, three people plus bags, 500nm.
I bought one with 600 hrs on the engine, slightly below avg interior, and decent paint. I did do some upgrades to old Avionics, but otherwise we just flew her A LOT (~250hrs/yr). She did not disappoint.
- lots of PA28s so lots of parts in the aftermarket
- also most A&Ps have worked on more than a few Cherokee planes
- very forgiving flight characteristics
- very economical...8gph (LOP) doing 135ktas at 10000ft
- 700lbs with full fuel
- some historic gear system issues, but I found that if you find the right mech the gear is set up right and works reliably
- it does not like icing... all non-fiki don’t, but the Cherokee really doesn’t
- interior is cozy. Not as cramped as a Mooney but you definitely want to like the person in ur copilot seat.

There are some great articles in AOPA, Cessna Pilots Assn, and Piper Owners Group on what to buy. You should look in those archives, for they were well written
If you are a new pilot or student looking for a plane to train or build hrs in, then I agree with “why retractable”; but if you have some hours or are looking to transition to complex then the Arrow is superb.
Read Mike Busch’s articles...the right high-time engine could be great. If you find an Arrow with an engine close to the 2000 TBO but still has good compression, good power, low oil usage, normal cuts and EGTs, etc, AND it has an engine monitor to detect adverse trends, it is probably priced as if the engine is totally used...if you buy it for personal use you can run that engine until the engine monitor trending and oil analysis shows that it needs replacing. It’s like free engine time IF you find the right engine, verify that with a thorough prebuy inspection, do oil analysis, and have an engine monitor.
One point that Dave made I cannot re-emphasize enough... you need to analyze your mission. The tendency is to let emotion or aesthetics drive you... think Spead, Flash, Prestige....Mooney, Bonanza, RV10, whatever. If you sit down with a piece of paper and your logbook to see “what kind of flying have we been doing”, how far, how many pax, how much luggage, instrument conditions, hours per year, etc. then put those into and run a cost-analysis spreadsheet (see next sentence) for costs on those options, you may surprise yourself with the choices. Additionally, you’ll want to sit down with a spreadsheet of costs (fixed and per-hour) and using your estimated hours per year calculate the per hour cost for your may find that unless you fly more than 75-100 hrs/yr you could be better renting or joining a partnership/club. You can find several ‘already set up’ cost spreadsheets thru forums or google.
For example, when I decided to explore buying, I was drawn to the Mooney’s and Bonanzas (speed and reputation); but my analysis AND some talks with various A&Ps led me to the Arrow. When I flew the planes in my “need category” I found that they all had similar comfort and that the performance differences were minimal (M20J gets you another 10-12 KT’s on the Arrow; but over a 400nm avg trip that means you will arrive only 15-17 mins sooner). But according to the A&Ps I talked to it was easier to find Parts for cherokees. BL is that the A&Ps I talked with encouraged me to be biased toward planes that had a large number of airframes still flying...that is Cessna, Piper, Beech, etc. and I found that most guys selling Beeches wanted a premium for their planes - which is also reflected in the blue book values. 
I would not discount high TTAF planes. I get Dave’s point, but there are a lot of Arrows out there with over 6000 hrs (or even 10000 hrs) that are solid (most of those avoided ownership by flying schools). So, still look at high time planes, but be thorough and go way back with logbook research AND (most of all) blow bucks to hire an independent A&P to do a prebuy to fly him there if needed. You should plan on paying for at least two prebuy inspections and they will cost you, but you will be much better off.
Also, if you have not already, join the owners groups for Cessna, Mooney, Piper, beech, Vans, etc. it will cost you $20-$40 each for a year, but they have a wealth of knowledge and you can ask guys who already went thru your experience in THAT make of plane all your questions.
Hope an added perspective helps! Good luck.

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Matt Sherman on Dec 2, 2018 5:14 am

Thanks All. Good feedback,

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Kent Shaw on Dec 31, 2018 12:30 pm

If you are close to making an offer, make the offer contingent upon current owner complying with the new Airworthiness Directive on wing spars (the AD is out for comment now and will be finalized soon).  The inspection will need to be done at a shop that has all the required testing equipment and needed repairs may be expensive

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Ron Workman on Jan 7, 2019 9:44 am

I am also in the first aircraft purchase mode,  Is the "don’t buy a plane with damage history"  because of the potential resale devaluation or some other reason??  

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by James Ratichek on Jan 7, 2019 10:41 am

Ron Workman:
I am also in the first aircraft purchase mode,  Is the "don’t buy a plane with damage history"  because of the potential resale devaluation or some other reason??  

I'd say more because what you don't know can kill you-or cost you. They key is to *know* what happened...While I tend to agree with that advice to stay away from damage, here's one counter point: 

I bought one with damage history that was properly repaired and have had no issues (with one possible exception below) in 700 hours of flying. Bonuses: new engine, prop, gear, motor mount and gorgeous paint. Not so good: I did have to repair one item that was overlooked-or possibly damaged separately - for about $700. I spent $20k less on purchase and i estimate that it's still worth $15-$20k less, so that's a wash. I get many many compliments on the airplane's fit and finish because the shop that repaired it were true craftsmen, restored it from the carbon fiber on-up and did a much better job than the plane's original build. I had pics of the accident and the repairs and gave them to other reputable builders/shops for review and opinion prior to purchase. 

What scared me more during my search were numerous airplanes I found that clearly had damage history, but nothing in their logs. I realized that with my type of airplane (a high performance composite homebuilt), I was likely going to buy a damaged one no matter what - it was just a question of how well it was documented. Certified airplanes are not immune from this either though.

With all that said, I've seen just as many lousy repairs as good ones. Same goes for wiring/panel upgrades, so just have someone knowledgeable about the type of airplane and really go thru it! Enjoy the search, don't rush it.

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Ron Workman on Jan 14, 2019 9:25 am

Thanks that is just the sort of information I was looking for.  

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Max Reason on Jan 14, 2019 3:36 pm

I don't trust used cars.

So I don't think I'd trust used airplanes either.

Of course, I see a whole lot more old airplanes than old cars, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

But one thing is for sure, humans are no where near as honest as they used to be a couple generations ago.

I'll buy new.

Hire a professional

Posted by Randy Africano on Jan 18, 2019 9:44 pm

Let me share some REALLY sound advice with you first time aircraft buyers... do not depend on getting your "expertise" from the broker or seller... hire someone to help you. I buy airplanes for clients for a living and I could provide you story after story after story about first time buyers who literally paid thousands and thousands above retail to get a "great deal." Just this week, I was doing a pre-buy on a Bonanza for a client. It was a beautiful airplane, no corrosion, complete logs, no "known" damage history, fresh engine, good compressions and just out of an annual inspection. Everything looked perfect but close inspection of the outboard leading edge skin on the right wing showed "cherry max" rivets installed on the skin... in other words, the skin was not original, and neither the logs nor the 337 forms reflected this work on the aircraft. Someone patched it up and didn't log the work. Furthermore, when I did the retract check on the aircraft, the nose landing gear doors had an inch and a half gap in them meaning that either a gear retraction was never performed at the annual or the person doing the annual inspection didn't know what the hell they were doing.

Used aircraft can often be as good as or even better than new but Max Reason is right on one count... aircraft brokerage is an unlicensed line of work and brokers are often  guilty of providing misinformation by omission and/or commission. Let someone with experience work for you to verify that the airplane you're purchasing is everything you think it is. He, or she, will literally save you thousands of dollars and hours and hours of time and frustration.

Keep the blue side up!

Re: First plane purchase, all the questions

Posted by Ronald Herold on Jan 21, 2019 8:57 am


Randy and I are both in the business of assisting with plane purchases and sales.  I am an aircraft appraiser and do buyer-agency all the time.  You NEED professional help.  Don't even consider doing it alone.  Sorry if that sounds self serving but like Randy I have seen so many bad purchases.  Rather than repeat lots of good advice I would refer you to the post entitled "Airplane Selling Prices".  We have all commented there.  Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Ron Herold

-Ronald L. Herold, Ph.D., NSCA, MEII
Senior Certified Aircraft Appraiser
USPAP Qualified
Sustaining Member – Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association
EAA Lifetime Member
AOPA Lifetime Member
(703) 573-2222

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