Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Buying an aircraft

As mentioned yesterday - I bought a share of an aircraft last October. This post will summarize my thinking and approach.

First and most important, when thinking about whether to start flying it would be a Really Good Idea to answer the question "When I get my license, what am I going to do with it?". The answer really doesn't matter, but it is good to understand that you're going to spend about $10,000 getting the license so there really should be some objectives around how you are going to use it.

In my case, I figured that drilling expensive holes in the local atmosphere would be an occasional interesting activity, but what I really wanted to do was to go places.

One can always rent an aircraft - and if you don't fly too often (10-20-30 hours per year) then this is the least expensive option. It is also the least complicated, since (as part of your rental cost) you're paying the club or the company to worry about maintenance, upgrades, administration etc. However, renting gets more expensive quickly as the hours increase, the aircraft will be safe but they will also be somewhat battered, different aircraft will be configured differently. And if you go on an overnight trip, there is often a minimum per-day charge (which addresses the lost opportunity to the club of not having the aircraft available to rent to others).

And so I explored owning a share of an aircraft. My wife and I attended the Ownership Forum, as run by the Rockcliffe Flying Club. RFC gets an income stream from fuel sales and from parking at the airfield, as well as ensuring that the rental fleet does not become either too large or over-taxed, so they like to see their graduates move towards ownership.

Owning an aircraft can be Damn Expensive - and at my level of income and annual flying, owning an aircraft myself is an expensive proposition. Generally, when you sell the aircraft you will more or less get your purchase price back - but the annual costs will be borne by yourself only.

I elected to look for shared ownership, preferably located at Rockcliffe since I like the camaraderie. Shared ownership means I will pay only a portion of the capital costs (the airplane and equipment), the annual costs (annual inspection, parking space, insurance, COPA membership, etc), calendar costs (annual ELT certification, 5-year propeller rebuild, etc), and equipment upgrades (better radio, paint job, etc). There will be several hands to share the workload (cutting the grass, washing the airplane, doing the finances, ...). The operational costs (per-hour, including fuel, oil, etc) would be the same whether I owned the aircraft solely, or was in a shared ownership arrangement.

The downside of a shared arrangement is that other people are involved (that takes effort to manage, I have a responsibility to cooperate, but you "inherit" the existing members of the partnership). And since you have to share the airplane, you have to expect that it will sometimes not be available when you want it.

The last factor was timing - there are hundreds of airplanes available for sale at any one time, so I could have my choice of airplane at whatever time I wanted at pretty much any desired level of equipment. But there are a limited number of partnership groups, and they are further filtered by the type and configuration of the aircraft they own.

Fortunately, there is a group at Rockcliffe which met all my needs....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Checkride.... er Currency Check.... er PIC Check

So - I purchased a share of an airplane back in October 2010 (more about that in a later blog post).

I flew during the fall, with my previous flight with my son and daughter-in-law on December 24th (more about that in a later post as well).

But, due to weather, work, and mechanical problems, I didn't fly for more than 2 months. One of the rules our group has is a 60-day currency rule - if you don't fly in 60 days then you need to go fly with an instructor to regain the PIC capability. Even if we didn't have this rule, at my level of experience I'd do it anyway.

Last Saturday was a beautiful day - big wind but steady right down the runway centreline. Sunny. Below zero, but not too cold. I booked the bird and an instructor, Steven.

I have to take a flight with an instructor to re-PIC, but what I need to do on that flight is not explicitly specified. Technically, one circuit is sufficient.

But I like to fly. And I booked Steven for 2 hours, not 6 minutes. So in our pre-flight briefing I request everything I want to cover. Steven is going to have fun with me, since we did everything on my list and little more.

To save reading to the end: I re-certified. I'm safe. I forgot all sorts of little things due to rust, but caught myself on almost all of them (or the checklists caught me). I didn't do anything stupid or dangerous.

Checklists were slow - they didn't flow, and I was methodical while working through them. I missed checking the brakes after we started moving (but checked all the instruments). I missed doing a carb lean test while at 1700 RPM (Steven caught that one).

I chose to do a soft-field take-off. I find it the most difficult one to do, especially in a lightly loaded 180HP Cessna 172 with a good headwind. I may have leveled out a bit high, and I forgot to raise the flaps once we were climbing, but I did remember to turn off the landing light.

Standard straight&level flight on a heading, then climb once in the training area.

We started with steep turns. Left or right? I answer "let's do both". I prefer turning to the right over turning to the left. Turn was good, rolling out at the end was excellent, my altitude control was within limits but pretty loose. I'm grabbing the yoke too tightly. No spiral dive though.

Slow flight, with turns to a heading, and then speed recovery. Pretty good. I'll want to practice this alone, however, since my airspeed fluctuated. And it didn't feel very comfortable.

A power-on stall. Routine.

Simulated emergency landing to a field. Done well, but I should have given a passenger briefing at a higher altitude when I was less rushed. And I forgot to "transmit" a Mayday or a 7700. Sheesh.

The we get the foggles out for instrument work, and climb, descend, change speeds, turn to a heading, etc.

With the foggles still on, Steven decided my vacuum pump has failed, we cover the AI and HI, and we do some more turns, flying a heading, and then we fly back to the field.

Back to Rockcliffe, descend from 1700 to 1200 feet on the quiet side with a procedure turn, and I take the foggles off as we cross over the field to join the mid-right downwind for R27.

We do an inspection pass to see that the runway is indeed bare&dry (since we didn't run through the precautionary landing out in the practice area), then climb out and remain in the circuit.

On the soft-field landing I'm not descending on base because I have some power on, so I remove power and side-slip, losing air at about 1200 FPM, and I set up for the final Real Pretty. The landing was not great but OK - soft-field landings are also my least favourite.

A heavy workout after more than 60 days of no flying, and with very short air time -0.8 in the air, of which 0.3 was instrument (and some of that was partial panel).

One other observation - when recovering after a stall or slow flight I need to use full throttle (I'm timid on the throttle because the airplane accelerates faster than the flaps come up, and the speed limit with flaps extended is 100 MPH).

And I still need to always put the carb heat back in so I get that last 10% of power from that nice thick cold air (I sometimes forget).

But it was good to be in the sky again.