N642RJ is mine (have I lost my mind?)

By Steve Aughinbaugh (April 1998)

At the end of March '98 I purchased a 1963 Piper Cherokee 180. I know what some of you are saying: Why would you buy your own airplane when we have so many fine airplanes in our club? Some of you already understand this desire and are asking: How did you find it? What did it cost? Well, let me try to answer some of these questions and relate some of my experiences.


There are really only a couple of reasons why someone would buy an airplane. One is that it is a business need. The other is you just want one. I wanted one. It is much less expensive to rent the club planes or to rent from most FBOs. My main reason was "I just want my own airplane." I also have other reasons: I want it to be available whenever I want it (unless it’s down!). In other words, I don’t want to share. J I want to fly an airplane that I know how it has been maintained. This is not much of a concern with club airplanes, but it does concern me about FBO airplanes. I want an airplane that I am always familiar with. I want an airplane that I can modify and change to my own personal liking. But those are all secondary reasons. The real, true reason is just because I want it.


I started thinking and planning for my own airplane about 18 months ago. At first I thought that I wanted an Ercoupe. I liked the Ercoupe because of the price, $12,000 to $25,000. Also, I like low wing planes and the idea of being able to fly with the side windows down. I like the uniqueness of the design and its history. It is a great classic airplane. But, I started defining my needs and wants in an airplane. And an Ercoupe would not measure up to them. I still think this is a neat airplane, but not for my first airplane.

I wanted an airplane that could carry me and my two girls or that could take me and 2 or 3 people off to explore, vacation or eat. (I don’t know what it is about breakfast or hamburgers that you get in the middle of a 3-hour flight, but they do seem to be better than the garden-variety fare I normally eat.) I also decided that I wanted something that I would go a bit faster than an Ercoupe. And I wanted an airplane that I could make my own by adding modifications to it. And finally, one that was easy to maintain and economical to operate.

This last requirement eliminated retractable airplanes. The added cost at annual on a retractable is a bit higher and the real expense for me (a newly minted PPSEL) would be the higher insurance costs. I did look at a couple of Comanches, a 180 and a 250. But one had a truly ugly paint scheme and the other one had the old side-stack panel with poor radios. I did not need, I mean want, either one of those. Oh! There was one more want; the price needed to be less than $40,000 and preferably near $30,000.

So I wanted a low-wing, 4-place, not-ugly, fixed-gear, easy to maintain, economical airplane. I liked the Grumman Tiger, but the cost was too high. The Grumman Cheetah would do, but they are few and far between and harder to find. So I decided on the Piper Cherokee 180, maybe a 140, or maybe a Warrior or a Cheetah if I could find one.

I started asking other pilots what they thought about these airplanes. I got a lot of opinions, surprise, surprise. There are those that are partial to high-wing planes and those that are partial to low-wing planes. I even started to waver a bit as I completed my training in old reliable 733NB. I began to wonder if I should just buy a Cessna 172 like I had trained in. I decide that it would feel more like I had graduated to really become a pilot if I went with what I really wanted and transitioned to a low-wing Piper. I got advice on what types of problems to look out for and what type of radios to avoid. After about 6 months of this it became clear that the best airplane for me would be a Cherokee 180, a Warrior or the Cheetah. With my personal weigh of 210 (and dropping) and my desire to be able to carry at least 2 more people, this eliminated the Cherokee 140/150/160 airplanes.

At this point (about 6 months ago) I was given a book on purchasing an airplane and I bought another one. Both are good books. One was "Buying and Owning Your Own Airplane" by James E. Ellis and the other was "Airplane Ownership" by Ronald J. Wanttaja. These are both good books. I also began searching the Internet for advice and airplanes. Some good sites are:

Or just use any Internet search engine and search for "airplane for sale" or any number of other keywords related to general aviation and the plane type that you want.

I purchased a once-a-month subscription to Trade-a-Plane. With that you can get access to the on-line trade-a-plane. This is really valuable because you can see airplanes for sale ads there before they are printed and released in the flyer. You can also limit the search and sort it according to your wants. I also let anyone that would listen know what I was looking for. I got a couple of pretty good leads this way. I ended up talking to a couple of brokers and I let them know my needs as well. Owens Aviation at Addision seems to have a pretty good supply and turnover of airplanes. They had a couple of airplanes that were promising during my search. I also looked at every FBO bulletin board that I got near. In the end this is where I found N642RJ. And to beat all, it was at McKinney that I found the flyer for my plane.

I called the number on the flyer. The airplane was a little older than I had thought I would buy, a 1963, but much newer than the Ercoupes I had considered. It had great avionics, KX155 w/GS, KX170B, KN64 DME, KR86 ADF, KMA24 Audio Panel and a 4-place PM1000 II intercom. 3786 Hours TT and 730 Hours since a Lycoming overhaul. So far, so good. The asking price was reasonable, $35,500. I made an appointment to look at the airplane.

Budgets and details

At this point allow me to back-up a bit. In order to understand how much airplane I could afford, I inquired about financing, insurance and hanger space. I contacted my bank, Nationsbank. They are not too interested in aircraft loans, 13%! I found the same interest with Texins CU. I talked with the Bank of Mountain View, AR. They had good rates and had done airplane financing for some of my airplane owner friends. But the loan officer that had done these loans lost his medical and the bank told me that they were not as interested in aircraft loans now. They never responded to the FAX that I sent them of my financial statement and request. In the end, I called AOPAs AirLoan program through MBNA. When I talked to them, they suggested that I get a pre-approval since that was just about as easy as simply getting a quote. It was simple and I soon had a letter stating that I was pre-approved for a $35,000 aircraft loan at 10.25%, 20% down or 10.75%, 10% down for 20 years. So I knew my payments might be, about $300/month.

Now for insurance. I contacted AOPA again. They wanted about $1200/year. One of the brokers that I talked to suggested that I contact Aircraft Insurance in Lancaster. They came back with a great rate of $861/year as long as I hangared the airplane (about $1050 if I tied it down). So insurance would be about $100/month or even as low as $75/month.

Hanger space was next. I really wanted to keep the airplane at Aero Country. So I asked anyone who might know something or someone at Aero Country about hangers there. I ended up with about 5 names. I found a hanger big enough for 6 or 7 airplanes. That was more than I wanted to manage. I would have considered renting a hanger that could contain 4 airplanes and sub-rent the other 3 places. That would be manageable for me. Hanger space at Aero Country and many of the airports around Dallas is pretty scarce. I talked to McKinney; they might have some hanger space opening up, but at $240/month. That was more than I wanted to spend. I ended up in Mike Swick’s hanger at $150/month. This is what I call a gang hanger. It is a large hanger approximately 60 by 300 feet that currently has about 15 airplanes in it. This is not too bad if you are one of the frequent flyers. Your airplane will stay near the front. But it does mean that your plane can and will be moved around quite a bit. Mike usually helps move the airplanes and I have not experienced any problems. So now I have the amount to budget for hanger space, $150-200/month.

$300 + $100 + $200 = $600 per month and that is to just keep the airplane on the ground. Once I added operating cost estimates of another $200 to $300 per month I was up to $900 per month. Remember what I said earlier about you either need to be buying this for use in a business or you really (I mean really) want it. After adding all of this up, I decide that I still really wanted it. So, let’s do it.

How much?

Back to where we were, I met the owner of 642RJ. I did a pre-flight inspection of the airplane. Got into the cabin and looked it over well. The panel had been re-done in 1990 and looked good. The interior was in good shape with only two minor problems. The paint looked great, re-done in 1984 and hangared since then. We (I had brought Mark Seglem along with me) then looked through the logbooks. Mark reviewed the engine log and I looked at the airframe logs. Both looked great. The oil had been changed every 25 hours with a new filter every 50 hours. Mark knew both of the mechanics that had maintained the airplane the past 5 years. Oh, it was also the color that I liked, blue over white. This should not be a very big deal, but with a paint job costing $4,000+ and the idea that I was going to spend $30,000+ for this, I wanted something that I could live with. So now what?

Well, I talked the two mechanics that had maintained the plane and to another one that was familiar with it. They all had good things to say about it. I contacted AOPA and got a price quote from them. This was pretty easy, but the first quote seemed a bit too high. So I used the Aeroprice service at http://www.aeroprice.com/ and for $19.95 I got a quote from them. Their quote was quite a bit lower. This was strange. So I called AOPA again. This time I got a different price from them. After talking with the second person, we figured out the difference. The first person gave me the full values for the radio and other equipment instead of the difference over the "standard equipment". But, the quote from Aeroprice and AOPA were still a bit different. I called Aeroprice (after all I paid them $19.95 and they gave me an 800-number, so why not use it). The explanation is that AOPA is now using Vref instead of the Blue Book, so the AOPA people are not too familiar with Vref. Also, Vref uses expected total time hours while Aeroprice did a study of one full year of Trade-A-Planes and calculated the average number of hours for various ages of airplanes and models. Vref assumes a higher number of hours than Aeroprice. But, the two quotes were within 10% of each other and near what I was seeing for similar airplanes in Trade-A-Plane and on-line. So now I knew about what the airplane was worth, all I needed now was a final check of the engine, hear it run and fly it.

The weather was not co-operating, so the next weekend I just started it and taxied it from one end of Aero Country to the other stopping at Mark’s hanger to do a compression check and a look at the spark plugs. The only surprise here was that the airplane did not have toe-brakes! (It was interesting to me that I did not notice that the first time that I was in the airplane.) The hand brake was interesting, but not hard to get used to. In fact I am beginning to like the idea—less wear and tear on the brakes and tires and with the direct coupled nose wheel steering this it not a major problem. So, the compression check and plugs were good. Now I wanted to fly it. Actually I wanted to buy it.

I thought about it the rest of the day and had planned on waiting a day or two before making an offer. I might even wait until I had flown it. But, I couldn’t wait. I called the owner that night and made an offer that was $2,000 lower than what he was asking. We talked for a moment and we ended up agreeing on $33,000 if I tried to get the airplane out of his hanger by month-end (in 2 weeks) and if I was satisfied with the flight.

I contacted the bank and gave them the particulars. I decide to put 20% down to get the 10.25% rate. They did a title search, no major problems there. I contacted Aircraft Insurance. The $861/year rate was still good. I talked to Mike about the hanger and confirmed that.

My airplane (or how to write checks)!

I then started writing checks: one for the down payment, one for insurance, two for the bank ($10 FedEx fee and $60 filing fee), and one for a partial month hanger plus the first and last months rent. Someone told me during my search that I would find out that it is not AVfuel that keeps airplanes flying, it’s money. I am not complaining, just informing you that this is a true statement.

I met the owner the next week-end and gave him the down payment. Then on Sunday I arranged for Art Jones, Mark Seglem, Glenn (the old owner) and me to fly down to Spinks to get his Piper Comanche 250 that he had just bought. This in itself was an experience. I knew that I would be in the back seat on the way down, but I was not sure who would end up flying the plane on the way down. I was already in the airplane heard Art saying, "Mark you better get in the left seat because you sure as hell can’t instruct!" The rest of the conversation during the trip was similarly amusing! Well, with that settled. Mark in the left seat, Art in the right, me behind Mark and Glenn behind Art off we went. I had done a weight and balance and we were fine (one of the reasons I wanted a PA-28-180). But I still wanted to see how the airplane performed with this load. It performed very well. This was the first time that Glenn had been in the back seat and likely this was the first and last time that I would be back there. Not a lot of room, but enough.

My first time in the left seat was leaving Spinks. After I rotated I looked down at the VSI and noticed that we were climbing at over 1,000 feet/minute. This was now my airplane and I am sure that I had a huge smile across my face. That Monday I called the bank and told them to release the funds to Glenn. I had bought N642RJ, a 1963 Cherokee 180.

Postscript: June '99: I have since put over 150 hours on 2RJ, added new wing tips, strobes, super clock and fuel flow. I do not look back and have only enjoyed my flying more and more. I have flown as far as Oshkosh from here in Texas. I have been to the gulf and back home to Indiana as well as numerous shorter adventure trips. Owning an airplane is great fun.

Cheers, Steve

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