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 cheap 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.
More Things to consider
Over the last 30 years I have been a student of all things Maule. I have purchased a couple of aircraft and have helped clients with flight training and the purchase of aircraft. There is no guarantee when purchasing a used airplane. If at all possible physically set eyes on the airplane and take a ride in it. That might be enough to make the decision to keep looking for another airplane. For the most part I would say that no matter how much research and inspecting you do there will always be mechanical problems with your “new” acquisition. Some will be easy to correct others can become a financial hardship. Over time I have come to find certain phrases in ads that flag possible future problems. Here they are in no certain order.
Sold with fresh annual Always have a pre-purchase inspection done with a mechanic of your choice. If you can be there that is a plus. Set out what items you want looked at. If you want to pay for a full blown annual inspection that’s fine. There are items of an annual inspection set out in Ch.43 apx.D. Get a flat rate price for the inspection. Inspection means looking at the aircraft, not repairing what you find. Discrepancies can be paid for by the owner or discounted off the purchase price. Have this in a written agreement ahead of time.
All compressions in the 70s Compression readings will tell you the rings and valves are seated and working correctly. If there is a problem only that cylinder need be repaired. That will cost some money and time but it is not out of the ordinary. It is not a good indicator of overall engine health. The real and expensive problem is internal corrosion. A borescope of the cylinders might give some indication of problems, but on the Lycoming’s there is no way to get a good look at the cam and lifters. The problem might not show up for another 70 or 80 hours. That is the expensive problem to remedy. You have to take the engine out and tear it down. If the owner has a long track record of oil analysis records that is a plus. One or two samples is not adequate.
Flown regularly For some people that might mean once every six months! Not every flight hour is created equal. Once a week around the patch and back in the hangar is not good. A once every six weeks, four hour cross country may be better. The best scenario is to have the engine oil temperature of 180F and held there for an hour or so to get best life out of the engine.
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.
*Re-posted with the author’s permission. See original article here: