Trying it on for SizeMichael Wilton of FlightSimple Aircraft Sales - www.flightsimple.comAs we all know, “test driving” an aircraft is not the same as test driving a vehicle. You don’t pop down to your local dealership and take out the latest model for 30 mins, to see how it handles and how it feels. Test flights are a regular part of both purchase processes, but with an aircraft, you are usually much further into the process before a test flight.A client recently asked me about a Mooney he is interested in. As a Mooney owner and pilot, it was easy for me to wax poetic about the virtues of the brand, the styling, the flight characteristics and the benefits of these great machines. As our conversation and search continued, we talked about turbo vs non turbo, useful load, the benefits of speed brakes, etc. We found a very nice example of a Mooney M20K that he was very interested in purchasing. After a full review of the aircraft, he asked that I draft an offer.

As I was drafting the Purchase Agreement to provide to the Seller, he made a comment that stopped me mid typing. “Before I place the offer, I think maybe I should sit in one to see if it is a good fit”. This may seem like an odd comment from a gentleman who is about to pay a lot of money for a plane that he has picked out, but it struck me that many owners may be in the same boat.

We arranged to meet the next day so he could sit in my personal Mooney. The flight characteristics are different for each aircraft of course, and a flight test is still an important step to ensure all the equipment is functioning, but the “sit in the seat” test is equally important. If you don’t fit comfortably, find you don’t like it or it will not function for your mission, it is not the right aircraft for you.

Luckily, he loved the feel of my aircraft, so has proceeded with the offer but it got me thinking. If an aircraft you like is a long way from your current home base, or your Broker doesn’t happen to own the model of aircraft you are looking at, what are your options?

The first option and frankly the best in my opinion, is to head out to your local airport and ask around about the model you are interested in. As pilots, we generally are willing to spend copious amounts of time with folks who ask about our aircraft. Though I tend to talk more about aircraft than most since I am in the business, I have found that all owners and pilots love to chat about their aircraft and share their experiences with other pilots. Being a pilot means we are part of a very select group and most other pilots relish any opportunity to talk about aviation.

Once you find a person with the make and model you are after, simply ask them if you can sit in it. I have never heard a pilot refuse to let another pilot sit in their plane. Even our Jet customers are happy to share an opportunity to sit in the “front office” of their aircraft. This really goes a long way in allowing a potential owner to get a feel for the size and location of things. Each aircraft is different, but the ergonomics are very similar.

When you get in, you get a feel for the seat position, the feel and location of the yokes, etc. I happen to love the Beech Bonanza, but the yoke position is very close to my knees. This is not a comfortable feeling for me and would likely make buying one a non-starter for me. Similarly, getting into the pilot’s seat of a Cessna 340 can be a tight squeeze, but the design of the 400 series aircraft makes it much easier to slide between the pilot and co-pilot seats. This could be a determining factor if all things are otherwise equal.

Another option is to visit your local AME. Most work on a variety of aircraft and do become part of our families in an effort to keep us flying safely. They will likely know an owner with the make and model you are after, or might even have a similar aircraft in their shop. Most AMEs are happy to contact the owner to get permission to have you sit in the aircraft, assuming the aircraft is safe and back together, and it is also an opportunity to ask maintenance questions about the make and model.

Flight schools and clubs can be another great resource. Quite often they have an aircraft in their fleet that is similar to the aircraft you are seeking. The benefit of this option is that you can usually pay for a quick “discovery” flight, if you have not flown in that make or model before. Although some owners are willing to take you up, some are not comfortable with that, but as flight schools and clubs do this more often, they will likely be willing to conduct short local flight.

Whichever route you choose to get some “grounded seat time”, ensure you are super respectful of the aircraft and the owner’s time. As an owner, like all owners, I am fiercely protective of my aircraft. It is a very expensive and high value personal asset that I am very proud of. To have someone mistreat it is infuriating. If you are taking others with you to see if they fit as well, explain to them clearly where to put their feet, and how to act. Remember the owner has taken time out of their schedule to allow you to get a feel for the aircraft; always treat their property with the respect it deserves.

I encourage owners to allow folks to sit in their aircraft. Some may not want to, and that is ok. Most owners are happy to have someone come to their hangar or tie down to chat about flying. We pilots love talking about our planes and as with the car folks out there, are fiercely loyal to the type and model we fly, which encourages us to give you the good and bad about the particular aircraft and why we chose it.

For Buyers, this is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about maintenance, insurance, performance, etc. from someone who has first-hand knowledge. Fellow owners are an amazing resource for learning more about the type of plane you are potentially looking to purchase.

As we all know, General Aviation is under attack on multiple fronts. It’s continued viability relies on current owners and the development of new owners. A simple step all owners can take, is to encourage Buyers to take the plunge to own their own aircraft. This will help us all in the long run to ensure GA will enjoy a healthy future.
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