A Flying Dream


Ever since I started my flight training, I've dreamed of owning an airplane.

Everyone assumes that owning a plane must be really expensive. This doesn't have to be the case. Consider the automobile market: one can purchase a tiny, fuel-efficient city car; a gas-guzzling sports car; a high-capacity pickup; or a luxury sedan with every bell and whistle imaginable. These vehicles range in price from several hundreds of dollars to several hundred thousands of dollars. It all depends on which features you desire.

I don't want anything big, fancy, or fast. I value fuel efficiency over performance. I want a low price-point, and am happy with a vehicle that others might consider "minimal." I believe that simple means reliable.

This list has informed my car-buying over the years. My most recent vehicle is a Geo Metro. I bought it new in 1994 for $8,000 and have put 270,000 miles on it so far. I've taken at least a dozen cross-country road trips in it. It's extremely fuel-efficient (it still gets 50mpg after all these years) and has transported me from place to place without any major mechanical problems.

I want something similar in an airplane. I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere fast, I don't want to burn exorbitant amounts of fuel, and I don't mind something "basic" or "bare-bones." I don't want to spend a huge amount of money.

These constraints all point toward airplanes manufactured during the heyday of general aviation. Back in the 1930's and 40's, several companies like Piper, Aeronca, Taylorcraft, and Stinson built and sold small planes in large numbers. They were all of very similar construction -- fuselages of welded tubes, wings of wood or aluminum, and everything covered with lightweight and airtight fabric. They were very simple machines both to operate and to maintain.

Owing to the fact that the aviation industry has always had a very close eye on safety and reliability, many of these planes still exist today. Many are still flying. Compared to planes being built these days, they're smaller, slower, and more minimal. But that's fine by me.

As an engineer, I also have a desire to understand how things work. The idea of buying a plane and actively participating in its restoration is very enticing.

All of this in mind, I kept an eye out for an airplane to buy.

Everything finally came together in late July, and I entered into a contract to buy a Piper PA-15 Vagabond -- a small, two-seater plane built in 1948. It is in good shape, and has been in storage for the last 30 years. It needs to be reassembled and refurbished, and the plane's $6,000 price tag reflects that. However, I want to learn those restoration skills; I'm much more interested applying elbow grease than than money. (Plus there's a great support network of people out there who are generous with advice and support.)

Now I've got to figure out how to transport it from Indiana to California...

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