You can run out and buy or lease the first airplane that has the right paint job, but you might soon become dissatisfied with your wings — which means you won’t fly it as much as one that’s equipped with features that really matter to you. The trick to choosing most anything is learning from your first one to select your second one, but that can get expensive. The purpose of this flight guide is to give you advice from other aircraft owners on what to select — and what to avoid — on your first or next plane.
The process starts by asking yourself lots of relevant questions and getting the answers that most fit your needs. One of the reasons so many used airplanes are out there is that the first owners weren’t satisfied with their planes when they were new. That’s because the new owners didn’t ask the right questions — or know what questions they should ask — before choosing. You’re not going to make that mistake. You’re going to keep and enjoy your sport plane for many years.
So let’s get to the questions. The first ones aren’t about the plane, but about how you intend to fly. Getting to the answers will take some thought as you estimate the way you’ll use your plane next year, three years from now, and well into the future. Fortunately, you have a history of using vehicles (cars, boats, RVs, etc.) to give you a starting point. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- A year from now, how many hours of flying do you realistically expect to do each week/month/year?
- Will your flying be entirely for pleasure, for business, or for both? How many hours of each?
- Is your primary purpose in flying to view the ground from above or to travel from here to there?
- Where will you be flying? Local? Regional? Interstate? National?
- Who will your passenger(s) be? Spouse? Partner? Children? Friends? Associates? Clients? Will they soon tire of flying and leave you alone in the sky? If so, is that okay?
- Because of where you live, will your flying be seasonal or year-round?
- Because of where you live, will you be limited in the number of nearby airports to which you can fly?
- Can you legitimately share the cost of your plane with a business?
- Are the airport runways you will typically use short, long, grass, or paved?
- Does your home-base airport have adequate hangar space for rent at a reasonable cost, or will you use a tie-down parking spot?
- Will you be doing many cross-country trips? If so, will you fly primarily by pilotage (looking out the window), dead reckoning (navigation radios), or GPS?
- Are you a larger pilot (over 200 lbs.) who needs a little more room and a little more power in your plane?
- Will you be doing any landings on water (requiring additional equipment and endorsements)?
- How long will your typical flights be and how comfortable do the seats need to be?
- Will you be taking much luggage with you as you fly?
- Will you use your plane for camping, wilderness flying, fishing or hunting trips, or other recreational sports?
- Are you a social person who wants to go to every fly-in within fuel range?
- Do you expect to trade in your plane within a couple of years for a plane that flies faster or holds more passengers?
- Do you have support within your family toward your goal of flying?
The list of questions could go on for pages. These are the most important and they will help you think through how you will fly before you decide what to fly.
I recommend that you record your answers to these questions and even prioritize them so that you can keep your goals in mind as you select your wings. Making the right choice of your first plane can not only cut costs, but greatly enhance every hour you fly it.