Looking for an airplane -- Things to consider
I bought my first Maule in 1993. It was an 1970 M-4 220 with original Razorback cover and mid time engine. I
decided I would recover it with the Poly Fiber process and have it ready to go the next spring. Two and a half
years later I finally got it in the air! First bit of advice. Don't buy a project because you think you will save
money or with the idea of making money when you sell it. Do a project if you enjoy working on airplanes. If you
want to fly. Pay a bit more, find a good sound airframe and engine, put gas in it and go flying.
So far I've owned the M-4 220, an M-5 235 that I modified to an M-6, and an MX7 160. All started out as projects.
All took longer than I thought they would to complete. In the process I've gained some experience about used
Maules and what to look for when buying. I've seen a lot of people buy a cheep airplane only to find out in a
couple of years they can't afford to maintain it in good airworthy condition. So they lose interest and sell the
airplane. Second bit of advice. It takes money to own and maintain an airplane. Be prepared for unexpected
expenses and know they are part of owning an airplane.
This seems to happen most often with engine related issues. Most of the problems can be traced back to the
engine sitting around for years at a time with low usage. I'd rather buy an engine that had 1500 hours on it in the
last 5 years than one that is 20 years old and only has 500 hrs. total time. When I bought the MX7-160 it had 300
hrs since overhaul, 50 hrs since tear down and inspection for prop strike, but had set 2 years without flying. We
did an annual inspection. It had great compression, low oil consumption and ran great for 80 hours. Then I started
noticing higher oil use. To make a long story short I ended up tearing the engine down, replacing the cam and
lifters, polishing the crank and honing the cylinders. The lifter faces were starting to deteriorate and little flakes of
metal were floating around in the oil grinding away on all the other engine surfaces. I had changed the oil and cut
the filter open three times and never found a thing to worry about. I'm sure if I had run it another 50 hours I would
have needed a major over haul. Low engine usage equals rust equals problems. If you are looking at an airplane with low time usage, take the cowling off and take a good look. What's the condition of the cylinder base nuts and the overall appearance of the case? What does the hardware on the fire wall look like? All this has been sitting in the same environment as the internal engine parts. How can they be much different?
Most aircraft are advertised as "sold with fresh annual" or " recent annual". I would rather negotiate a deal where I hired a mechanic to do an annual inspection and the owner paid for the items that needed to be repaired or replaced. The sign off doesn't mean the airplane will fly for a year with no problems. Only that at a certain designated time someone certified it was in airworthy condition. I once picked up an airplane with a fresh annual, hopped in and flew it a couple of hours before stopping for a rest room break. Coming back to the airplane I found oil dripping out of the cowling and a 24" puddle of oil on the ground. After close inspection I came to the conclusion nothing major was wrong but that every gasket and seal that could leak was leaking! After two years the new owner has most of the leaks contained.
Deferred maintenance is perhaps the biggest "gotcha" of new airplane ownership. Not every previous owner or mechanic is a fraud. The mechanic is perhaps just trying to help his friend and client sell the airplane he has only flown 10 hours in the last two years. Why take the mags off for the 500 hour inspection since the engine runs and starts fine? No use to put the owner through that expense since he is selling the plane and if he keeps it he will only fly a few hours anyway. Last December I helped a client move a freshly annualed airplane from Seattle to Cut Bank. We were to head back east with it but weather got in the way and we decided to leave it in Cut Bank and continue on in the spring. Since it was here for the winter the client decided to have the local maintenance facility fix a few things so it would be ready next spring. On inspecting the spark plugs it was found that every plug failed the "go/ no go" test gauge. This was 8 hours of flight time since it had been signed off. Yes the engine started and ran OK but how long until plugs start to fail? Champion makes the test gauge for a reason.
On the other side of things remember you are purchasing a used 20, 30. or 40 year old airplane. Not everything is going to be perfect and the seller shouldn't have to fix every little thing. You'll have to live with some imperfections. Come to a price that will leave you some room to take care of different maintenance items you find out about but can work on later. (Look at the "second bit of advice" above.) The other option for some is to pony up and buy a new airplane.
Author - Rick Geiger
I bought my first Maule in 1993. Over the years the aircraft has proven to be rugged and reliable. I have learned a few things along the way that might help you avoid some of my mistakes and expenses of owning and operating an aircraft.