It's been a couple of months and I thought I'd give you guys a bit of an update on the search. A lot has happened in the last two months and all of the advice here has been very helpful - especially the advice about joining the AOPA (thanks Kerberos). The amount of money that I have saved due to AOPA discounts on various services relating to purchasing an airplane has already exceeded the annual membership dues, and I haven't even bought an airplane yet!
I came very close to buying an airplane last week, but decided to nix the deal when it became obvious that he was either an idiot or he was trying to scam me (either alternative is bad when the person selling the airplane has also been the A&P for the airplane for the last 10 years). I've been perusing web sites such as Barnstormers.com, Trade-a-Plane, and Controller.com to keep a pulse on the used airplane market while I'm in Afghanistan. I wasn't looking to buy until I go home on leave in October. I've noticed that most of the good deals seem to be on the west coast or otherwise more than 1,500 miles away from where I live. These deals seem great until I add in the cost of flying across the country as well as hotel, meal, and rental car expenses. All together, this could easily tack on several thousand dollars to the cost of these planes, making them practically not worth it - especially for a plane that I might not end up buying.
So when an ad for a 1967 Cessna 150G in Rockingham, NC appeared on Barnstormers.com for $17,000, I thought that I may have found the deal that I was looking for. I contacted the seller and asked him if he was willing to pull down the for sale sign if he was also willing to wait until October for me to get back to the states and deal with the transaction in person. He responded that he was unwilling to do this. There haven't been many adds for planes in my region for this price and in this condition. So, not willing to let a deal get away, I contacted my flight instructor back in the states to see if he would be willing to take over the task of making arrangements to have the plane inspected. I've flown with this guy for a while and I trust his opinion on airplanes. If he told me that the plane was a piece of junk, I'd take his word for it. He wouldn't actually be paying for anything, he would just make the arrangements and then I'd wire the money to him, if necessary.
I gave my instructor the seller's contact information. In my discussions with the seller prior to this, the seller (who did not own the plane, but was selling it for a friend who had become too ill to fly anymore) disclosed that he was a certified A&P and had been doing the maintenance and annuals on the airplane for the past 10 years. He was also very adamant about doing the annual before selling the airplane. While the annual wouldn't cost me anything, after talking about it with my instructor, we both came to the conclusion that doing an annual and then
doing a pre-buy inspection would be rather redundant. On top of this, I was very adamant that I wanted a pre-buy inspection before I gave the guy so much as a dime, but he wanted to do the annual before anyone else got a hold of it and wasn't willing to do the annual unless I gave him a $500 deposit on the plane. We seemed to be at an impasse, and I hoped that my instructor could talk to the guy and sort things out (my schedule and the fact that I was 8,000 miles and 9 time zones away meant that there was a significant lag in communication).
No dice. In fact, when my instructor send me an e-mail the day after talking to the seller, he was very adamant that I shouldn't buy the plane because he got a bad vibe from the seller. The seller disclosed to my instructor that recently he had sold a Mooney but refused to do $900 worth of work to make the plane more sellable. Making the plane as sellable as possible is the whole point, especially in this buyers market. All of the sudden, little things that the seller had put in the original ad as well as things that he relayed to me in the e-mail exchanges I saw in a whole new light. In the original ad he said that several screws on the engine cowl would need to be replaced. He also said that he would do the annual before he sold the plane to me, so I simply assumed that he would fix the screws during the annual. This offhand comment in the ad made a lot more sense now. If he wasn't willing to spend $900 to make a Mooney more sellable, he wasn't going to fix those screws during the annual and was expecting me to fix them. If he wasn't willing to fix a few simple screws, what else wasn't he going to fix. I began to realize that there was a very real possibility that there might be something seriously wrong with the pane that he would try to hide by doing the annual himself and hoped that it would slip past the pre-buy.
Until recently, I've never seen 17,000 in relation to my bank account (hell, I've never even seen
$17,000 before), so I wasn't willing to let that much money go unless I was absolutely certain that it would be well spent. While I had no proof that this guy was trying to scam me, this wasn't a court of law and I didn't need proof. I also didn't need to tell him why I didn't want the plane, but I chose to at least be honest with him and sent him an e-mail explaining my decision while being as diplomatic as possible. The point that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy was trying to scam me was when he replied to this e-mail. He stated that it was just as well because he wasn't going to sell me the plane anyway. He stated that he had taken off the cowling and found that the plane was a piece of junk and that the owner had snuck in maintenance deficiencies over the years. Now hold the phone just a minute, I thought. Didn't this guy in an earlier e-mail say that he had been doing the maintenance and annuals on the plane over the last 10 years? Either this A&P was completely incompetent, or he thought that I was the biggest idiot in the world.
Now, if he was an honorable man, after finding that the plane was a piece of junk, he would have changed the ad to either show a lower price, or to more accurately indicate the state of maintenance on the plane, or both. Yet, the ad sits unaltered on Barnstormers.com. I've included a link to the ad so that no one here will fall for this scam.
Barnstormers.com: 1967 Cessna 15G
Now, while I do believe in God in a general concept, I don't subscribe to any one particular religion per se. Nevertheless, I know that there is some sort of diving being that knows that I exist and, while he doesn't exactly like me, he will at least toss me a bone every now and then after messing with me for a while. Case in point: No sooner did I get off of the phone with my instructor after discussing that the Cessna was a bad deal, than one of my platoon mates happened to mention, apropos nothing, that he had just learned that he had inherited an airplane from his father who had died last year. The guy is not a pilot and said that he had no idea what to do with the plane other than sell it. He barely got that last sentence out before I commented that I was in the market for an airplane. He didn't know much about it other than the lawyer handling his father's estate said it was worth between $15,000-20,000. Exactly the price range I was looking for. But that price could literally be for any plane depending on the condition.
I asked him if he could get more info on the plane and gave him a list of specific things I was looking for (ie: TTAF, TSMO, ect.). After a few days, he said that the lawyer had been busy in court and, not knowing much about airplanes himself, was having a hard time finding the information. I asked my friend what his father's name was and where he lived before he passed away. He knew that information and I began scouring the internet to see if I could find anything. The FAA's web site actually has a lot of info on it for anyone to grab if they know how. I didn't know the N#, but I figured that I might be able to access info about his Airman Certificate and maybe use that to backwards search for the N#. It took a while and I had to go off of the FAA's web site, but I found it. Turns out it's a 1961 Piper PA-28-160 Cherokee. I don't know anything about it other than that, but I'm working on getting the FAA form 337 for the plane. I also asked my friend to see if the lawyer could take pictures of the plane, including the instrument panel, with close in shots of the Tach and Hobbs meters. With all of that info I can at least get an idea of where the plane is, maintenance wise.
I'll be honest with you, a Cherokee is a bit more airplane than I was looking for. It will raise my projected hourly operating cost from ~$50/hour to ~$75/hour, but if it's already IFR certified (most '150s aren't, but most Cherokees are) and the plane doesn't require its own price in maintenance just to get it airworthy again (a real possibility if the engine needs to be overhauled), I may actually buy it from him. It's been sitting for a year which doesn't bode well for the maintenance side of things, but even if I choose not to buy it, I'll at least help my friend out by getting the plane ready to be sold. I don't know much about buying or selling airplanes, but what I do know is infinitely more than he does. If he tries to put a plane onto the market without knowing anything about it, he could easily be swindled by someone like the guy who was trying to sell me the Cessna.