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One Member's Purchase Experience

This is the story of one CFO member and his purchase of a Cardinal. Hope you enjoy it. Keith

A New Cardinal

It was starting to be a familiar conversation. ``Sure wish I had an airplane.'' he would sigh.

``You can afford it, why not just get one?'' I would ask.

But what should I get, and how will I know when I got a good one?'' he would lament. Here we go again.

My friend Ladi had almost 300 hours in his log and had taken to renting the local 172 all day every Saturday. The FBO threatened to charge him whether he flew it or not. No problem, he kept it in the air. Still, the prospect of an airplane all his own haunted him. It's a feeling most of us can relate to.

Oh, I had tried to connect him up with something. There was a 182 for sale locally that would have done him just fine, but he was spoiled by the all-digital panels he had seen and stock ARC just left him flat.

He had a chance at a Bonanza partnership, but he was worried about it flying away from him. ``I'm not a doctor, but I fit the stereotype.''

Then there was the Mooney, an older model with an attractive price but a tight cabin and the owners warning: ``I wouldn't fly it off grass unless you want the wings to leak...''

So this was a familiar conversation indeed, but this time it headed in a different direction. ``How about a Cardinal RG?'' asked Ladi, ``Think you can find me a good one?''

Now this was like asking a lawyer if he can find deep pockets, so I was all ears. The fact that there are two Cardinals in my hanger, and 6 more owned by friends of mine (can't imagine why) may have contributed to my renewed interest.

I made Ladi promise that I hadn't talked him into this, assure me that he was really serious and commit to signing the check if we found a good one. The search was on. I have a few connections amoung the Cardinal crowd, and soon the leads were poring in.

If you've ever bought an airplane, you know how much junk there is out there. It seems like all the good airplanes are owned by people who know what they have and wouldn't sell for anything. The ones for sale too often sound great until you get there. And somehow those pictures that come in the mail are always taken from 40 feet away. Ladi was not looking for a `40 foot' airplane.

Finally came one that sounded good. Digital radios, new paint, fresh engine and a valid reason for selling (it lived in Salt Lake City and the owner wanted a turbo 182). Before I was off the phone I had his rock bottom price and a committment to save it for Ladi.

Then the work started. Talking to their mechanic, our mechanic, title searches and speculation on the known facts. A key question was whether to get a pre-purchase inspection from some unknown A&P in SLC.

Finally we asked my mechanic, who I have worked with for 7 years of ownership, what an A&P would find that we might miss just looking it over ourselves. He came up with a list. ``Now, what would it cost if those things were bad?'' The answer was $2,500. Ladi decided he could handle that, and the decision was made.

Now this, THIS was getting exciting. Soon Ladi had tickets to SLC, and I had a very strange connection on the way home from a business trip that the travel agent is still scratching her head over. ``Seems like a lot of trouble just to save the company a hundred bucks''.

The night before I left on my trip we got together to create a ferry package: charts, intercom, CD player, GPS, moving map, just the essentials. When Ladi arrived he drove to the airport where the maintenance had been done to talk to the mechanic. Got totally lost. But oh yeah, that GPS was in his bags and it knows where airports are... sure enough, 290 at 3 NM. Found it.

The mechanic looked trustworthy and he said it was a good airplane, he'd never had to convince the owner to fix what needed fixing. Ladi met my flight with a sort of dazed look, and we headed over to make contact with the owner.

``Anybody seen Bill?'' ``Sure, he was just over there washing his airplane.'' Well, so much for analyzing the belly. But soon we were in touch and actually looking at the object of all this effort.

And it was a classic moment. No, not the sunset-backed electric moment of bonding, not the Wow! of finding the perfect aircraft, it was the familiar realization that this was an 18 year old airplane, just out from under the umbrella of Cessna's Corporate Liability, with the bruises and bumps of life clearly visible. At least the owner had not washed the belly so we had data on how the engine was running. We started to make a list of issues.

[Webmaster's note: The picture shown here is after Ladi had greatly improved this bird.]

We finally decided it was time to fly and started the usual discussion of who should sit where. As is often the case, the `expert' needs to be in front and the owner wants to be, so the prospective owner ends up riding ignominiously in back.

Confident from 1400 hours of time in type and dozens of such pre-purchase flights, I only just started to worry when it didn't seem to rotate. Before I quite realized things were abnormal, it had levitated in a flat attitude and was committed to flight. But nearly locked in pitch.

``Does it always fly like this?'' The owner took the controls for a moment and said ``Sure, feels just fine.'' That's then I recalled his story about how easy the transition had been to the Turbo 182 he was looking at. Sure enough, it flew just like a 182.

Now Cardinals do not fly like 182s. 182 drivers may defend the handling of their birds, but as they explain, notice that they are subconciously flexing their biceps. It takes a certain muscle to fly a 182 that does not bode well when required by a Cardinal. Something was amiss.

All this was pondered in the hotel hot tub later that evening. Our scouring of the books had exposed a normal past but gave a clue about the muscle-bound stab. ``Re-assembled aircraft, installed new propeller'' it said. The facts are still obscure, but we found ourselves marvelling that in the 8 years since that entry no one had noticed that it was put together wrong.

There are just so many things that can go wrong in a Cardinal tail, and after a short conversation with our mechanic back home we agreed that this was not a deal stopper. So how was it overall? How did the prospective buyer feel?

Depressed. Ladi looked at the list of things that were less than perfect and felt that sick feeling. Had it had all been in vain? You may know this feeling; it usually hits about 10 PM on the day of the inspection. Sometimes you've already bought, sometimes not, but the questions always rise and demand to be considered.

As we worked through the details one by one we tallied the cost of resolution. Just like a house, an airplane is less a single thing than a collection of small things, almost all of them easily repaired.

Ladi began to realize that a few dollars and some elbow grease could turn this into the nearly perfect bird he was looking for. He seemed to sleep well after that, whether from that knowledge or the long soak in the hot tub I can't say.

The next morning all doubts were gone. We made the morning breakfast meeting, Bill and Ladi exchanged signatures and before we knew it we were ready to test that elevator one more time. It had lasted 8 years that way, it should get us home.

A quick briefing from the locals and we were off, looking for ``Immigrant valley'', our path to the east. It hardly mattered that Departure had never heard of it, we practically leaped the Wasatch range with our enthusiasm. That's a good way to start an 8 hour flight.

And immediately we addressed the first and biggest issue of the day: Trust. Did we trust this aircraft to carry us across the wilds of Utah or would we take the safe but longer route, following the interstate?

I was reminded of sage advice for making such decisions: Pick heads and tails for the options, flip a coin, then instead of looking at it, stop and admit what you're hoping it will be. Then do that. No need to look at the coin, you've already decided.

The wilds of Utah were beautiful. The bird flew like, well, like a bird.

Fuel at North Platt, a sunset over Iowa, just a normal long flight if it's normal to have clear air and tailwinds. Ladi spent the time learning the radios he just bought. RNAV sounds great in textbook and ad copy, but what the heck does it do, anyway?

I savored the moments when I could announce ``There's another sectional turned useless'' as I tossed them into the back seat with relish. Ladi drank that up: he was starting to realize that he had not just purchased an airplane, he was riding the tail of a time machine.

There was another familiar feeling that day. Sitting on top of the world as the lights below glow into existance, watching the earth unroll before you as the sky changes through all the shades of blue, sensing the millions of lives being lived below, one family per farm yard light. It is humbling to realize the scope of our country and the earth, exhilerating to have raised oneself above to witness it. It is one reason that we keep coming back.

But for now it was time to return to earth. ``When should we start down, Ladi?'' No, not when we see the airport, from 11,500 with 175 knots groundspeed you start down for Chicago over Iowa.

I rolled in a little down trim. No reaction. A little more. No reaction. Finally I reached out and bumped the yoke. Like a roller-coaster we nosed over, reminded of the stiff elevator and a little less impressed by how well it had held altitude on the wing-leveler.

These thoughts were in mind again as I flew the familiar pattern to my home airport. Trim to 70, what's it doing at 80? And WHY IS IT DOWN TO 60!!! Gosh, you have to fly this airplane every second! At last I wrestled it to earth. As Bax has written, ``Some airplanes you have to hold gently but firmly, just behind the ears.''

Ladi was ready to start his required dual instruction the next day, but I had to put my foot down. ``You really shouldn't learn complex in an airplane that won't hold trim speed.''

To reinforce this advice I took the tail off, in anticipation of an A&P putting it on right. And sure enough, there were parts missing. Airworthiness was not seriously at risk, but for 8 years it had been rubbing, binding and generally acting like a 182 (not that I have anything against 182s...)

Ladi is checked out now, the tail feels great and he's well into instrument training. He still flies all Saturday and somehow it seems he's having a little more fun. His employees say he sneaks out of his store from time to time on nice afternoons. If he's smiling when he leaves they tell people ``We think he's out flying.''

And as always there's another story waiting. ``Sure wish I had a hanger to keep my airplane in'' he said. It was starting to be a familiar conversation....

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