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Rolling Your Own

July 19, 2023

It must be difficult for people who cut their teeth on the aviation world of the sixties and seventies to comprehend that the cost of a new Cessna 172 is more than a half-million dollars. Perhaps that's a reasonable price to a generation who matured in a world of five-dollar coffee and eighty-thousand-dollar SUV's, but I can tell you, there's a whole bunch of potential aircraft buyers with sticker shock.

It's a fact that the basic design of the big three aircraft companies has changed little in the past forty years or so. Most of the Cessna, Piper and Beech aircraft that are being produced now share the airframes with a much older generation of airplanes, and the modernization has been more a series of tweaks and improvements made by the factories over the years.

Happily, there is a ready supply of these older aircraft that can be bought today for a fraction of what they would cost to build now, and for many a solution to the unaffordable airplane has appeared in the rebirth of yesterday airplanes.

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AOPA has inspired many aircraft owners and potential owners with their yearly blow-by- blow recount of the refurbishment of the AOPA give-away aircraft, always an older aircraft brought to new standards and capability. From their pulpit they have doubtlessly inspired many to 'remanufacture' an old airframe, and refurbs have become very common.

For those contemplating such a project, one of the most important decisions that you'll make is the selection of the project aircraft. Remember, while you'll be investing multi thousands of dollars in the changes to this aircraft, the one thing that cannot be changed is its history.

A friend and fellow aircraft salesman made an observation many years ago, that when you purchase a used airplane you don't buy just the airplane, you also buy its history. That seemed a good thought at the time and it's even more true now, many years later when we're still selling many of the same airplanes.

The logbooks tell a story, albeit a coded one. Sometimes the message is in the advertisement itself, enough to eliminate or pique interest, but sometimes only a detailed prebuy inspection by a trusted mechanic can reveal a history that makes the aircraft unsuitable for major investment. Damage that occurred in the past, corrosion issues that appear in the airframe or in the logs, hail markings, missing logs and extremely high airframe time are all things that will remain with the airplane permanently. Long after your refurb becomes a head turner, these things will affect the value of your finished project.

The task then, of selecting a used airplane to transform into your dream machine, becomes the chore of choosing the airplane that was treated kindest by happenstance. Since all airplanes left the factory new, what happened after that is of utmost interest. Did it have a series of good owners who tucked it away from the corrosive elements and wind and hail storms? Was if fortunate enough to miss being flown by the careless or inexperienced pilot who would allow damage to occur to its airframe? Was it lucky enough to have owners who gave it the maintenance it needed, without cutting corners?

I see airplanes frequently that remind me of a story that my friend Bill told me about his favorite truck, a dependable but badly battered 1 ton International. One Saturday, as Bill, his daughter and her six-year-old friend were bumping their way to the feed store, the friend asked, "Mr. Mason, was this truck ever new?"

In the heady aircraft market of yesterday, when almost anything that looked good would sell, we dealers had a name for the aircraft that were given a quick paint and upholstery job in order to make them saleable. We called them pigs with lipstick.

In many ways, selecting an aircraft for such a project is easier that finding one for ready use. Engine time, condition of the paint, glass and upholstery is unimportant, and in fact the worse the better, since the more challenged the airplane in these areas, the cheaper it will be to buy. VFR avionics are great, since you will be putting in your dream panel and you don't want to pay for something that won't be used. In fact, airplanes that are ugly, with old avionics and a runout engine are a perfect base for your project if they possess the right pedigree.

A few years ago a dealer friend from Arizona asked me to help him find a 206 for a customer who wanted to do such a refurbishment. After a long search, I found the ideal airplane, tied down in the weeds of a high desert airport in California.

The buyer of this aircraft proceeded to create one of the most remarkable 206's that I've ever seen either new or old, and this is what he started with. The engine and prop were run out, the paint peeling, the belly streaked with oil and the glass was crazed. The interior looked as if the owner's dogs were using it for a boudoir and it's few avionics were antique.

But the inside of the airframe gleamed like a new nickel, the logs were complete, the total time was reasonably low, and it had never been damaged.

If you are contemplating building your own new airplane I wish you luck, and especially I wish you patience in finding your perfect airframe.

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Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 Keep up with what is going on in West Virginia with the Times West Virginia newspaper.

Copyright © 1997 - 2016 Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales. Specifications are based upon owner's representations, and subject to buyer's verification. Aircraft are subject to prior sale or removal from market.