How Small and How Old?
In “E is for Experimental” I explained how it came to be that my husband, Jeff, is building an airplane (yes, folks – BUILDING an airplane!). I was asked what “experimental” means as it relates to airplanes. Perhaps the Canadian moniker for this category of aircraft, “amateur-built”, describes it better. Simply put, it is an airplane that is not built in a certified factory (such as a Cessna is), but rather it is built by a person. Rest assured that it is inspected by Transport Canada to meet quality standards; however, when you fly in such an airplane, you need to trust the skills of the person who built it. I was discussing this with someone who said to me “I wouldn’t fly in an airplane that my husband built” and I replied “Neither would I, but I would fly in one that my husband built”.
This is the story of how we came to be owners of a certified airplane, a Cessna 172.
Just around the time that Jeff started building the first wing of his homebuilt, about 7 years ago, he mentioned that he was going to attend a seminar on aviation insurance. Did I want to come along? No, thank you. I didn’t have the time nor the interest. Plus, I thought that looking into insurance was a bit premature, as I knew that it would be several years before he would be flying the airplane. I was a little suspicious, so as he was leaving the house to go to the seminar, I said to him “Don’t you dare buy an airplane”.
A few nights later, we were having dinner at a nice restaurant…with wine…and Jeff announced that he had met a broker at the seminar who told him about an airplane that was for sale. And he wanted to buy it.
I froze with a forkful of chicken half way to my mouth. Fortunately, he made this announcement before I put the chicken in my mouth. I gaped. I stared. He went on. It would be at least few years before he would be flying his homebuilt (a.k.a ‘experimental’) airplane, and it would be nice to have something to fly in the meantime. The airplane that was for sale was in good shape and had over 600 hours left on the engine before it would have to be overhauled (a major expense, apparently). If we flew it for 100 hours a year and sold it in three or four years when the homebuilt was finished, there would still be time left on the engine before overhaul. Sidebar – three or four years…LOL. Seven years later, one of the wings is almost finished.
I had a simpler idea – rent an airplane.
Well apparently he had done the math and explained that if we flew 100 hours or more, per year, it was actually cheaper to own an airplane than to rent one. “Besides”, he said, “When you go for long trips, it’s not practical to rent an airplane”. Long trips, I thought to myself? I was trying to mentally translate hours of flying into number of trips, destinations, distances, cost, etc. It was too many variables for me to get my head around, so I gave up. And, this was starting to sound very expensive.
“We can’t afford to buy an airplane” I said. Jeff went on to explain that we actually COULD afford this particular airplane, as it was a small, old airplane.
“How small, and how old?” was what I wanted to know.