Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend


I had something happen today. It has happened before... and will undoubtedly happen again.

Based on my research when I served on the board of the ABS in 2009, a significant turnover of airplanes, specifically Bonanzas, is set to occur starting in 2014. As the pilot/aircraft owner population ages, more and more airplanes will come to market as owners, either voluntarily or involuntarily, surrender their airplanes and stop flying.... and that trend appears to have started. 

I don't know about you, but the thought of having to quit flying and sell my airplane is about akin to having to put my dog "Elway" down. Both are old friends and have filled my life with more wonderful memories than I could ever account for. So before I buy an airplane, I always check the FAA registry to see how long the current owner has owned the aircraft and I try to understand the reasons behind the decision to sell the airplane. If the owner has had his or her airplane for a long time, it can be a sensitive matter for the seller. 

It is not uncommon for me to hear the phrase from long term owners, "I need it to go to a good home," and, at least in some cases, it seems the seller is as interested in who's buying the airplane as they are in the price. So when I learned the owner had had this particular Bonanza for almost 20 years, and didn't need to sell it, I knew this had all the tell tale signs of what could potentially be an emotional transaction. I went on to ask the usual questions and when we finished covering basics, we made arrangements to get together the next afternoon at his hangar. 

I see a lot of Bonanzas and there is usually a direct correlation between the condition of the hangar and the condition of the airplane easy. So when the owner asked me to remove my shoes as soon as I walked through the hangar door, I didn't need to wait for the mercury vapor lamps to warm up in order to know the airplane would be special. When they did, however, a near flawless airplane came into view.   

I looked at the seller and said... "It's just beautiful," and he nodded and said, "I've tried to take good care of her... never spared a nickel. I have no reason to sell her, I don't need the money but I just don't fly her anymore. She's got a little scratch here and there but she's been a great plane for me and my family. Look at her... isn't that just the most beautiful airplane you've ever seen?" It was right up there for sure but when someone starts talking in anthropomorphic terms, you need to walk softly and slowly.
We took the Bonanza up for a spin... with the seller meandering over some of the most visually spectacular terrain I have ever seen. He was PIC... and he was enjoying pointing out all of the sites to me. Clearly, he had flown this area for many years. With the exception of a sticking squelch with on the number 2 comm, the airplane systems check went off without a hitch with the airplane performing perfectly. With the flight check concluded, we headed back to Paine Field and he ended our time aloft with a perfect landing... perfect! We was home in his airplane.
We taxied up to the hangar, and let the turbocharged IO520 idle for a few minutes. He shut it down, hit the master, turned off the mags.... and sat there, silent, with his hands on the yoke for an uncomfortably long pause until he muttered, "Why am I doing this?" We got out of the airplane, and he carefully shut the door stepped away and just looked at the airplane, with his hands in his pocket... and his eyes literally welling up with tears.
I looked at him and said, "I don't think you should sell me your airplane today," and you could see a sigh of relief come over the man's face. "You wouldn't think I am a complete 'nut job' if I told you I wanted to keep it?" "No... I wouldn't at all," I told him. "There will come a day when it's time for you to part with your airplane, but I don't believe today is that day. What do you think?" He couldn't talk... for the lump in his throat but finally muttered out... "Thanks. I really appreciate you recognizing this. I just didn't know how to tell you I really didn't want to sell it."
We leaned against my rental car and talked flying for a good 90 minutes before we shook hands to depart and in that time, I could see a complete shift in the man's demeanor... he got his girl back. He offerred to pay me for wasting my time and causing me to stay an extra day but no worries. When the day comes that he decides to sell his beautiful Bonanza, I am certain I will be the first person he calls to buy or broker his airplane.
But that decision can't be rushed.
Keep the blue side up...