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Ready For War
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BetterThan Gear-Up
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My New Chevrolet
Darkness -1
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Working For Myself
The Abandoned Field
David Board Letter
Growing Up in WV
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Puerto Rico - 2
Puerto Rico
The Aztec
1939 Piper J-3
Luscombe 8A,
Planning Routine Flight
Rain on the Roof
Buying the History

Most Recent

A Hand Me Down Flying School

September 28, 2015


When I think about the aircraft that populated our flying business in the late sixties, I realize what an eclectic mix of airplanes it was. We had two, four and six place airplanes, very old airplanes, one almost new airplane and even a twin in the person of an old Aztec. Each had a role in the business and each one had a distinct personality that I still remember.

At birth, except for colors and optional equipment, airplanes are pretty much identical to the brethren that share the production line. In 1977 while working for Cessna I parked my new 310 demonstrator on the ramp at Allegheny Airport in Pittsburgh while I went inside to meet with someone. I returned a half hour later just in time to see a gentleman thoroughly preflighting my 310. I watched from a distance while he did a text book preflight inspection. He drained all the sumps and inspected the fuel sample for dirt or water, he checked the oil in both engines, then slowly circled the airplane, poking this and wiggling that.

As he mounted the wing to enter the cockpit I walked up and gave him a friendly hello and asked where he was headed. Akron, he said, and I asked if I might ride along. He looked confused, and asked me why I wanted to ride along. I replied that this was my airplane and I probably should stay with it. Then I pointed to an identical new 310 parked three spaces from my airplane and smiled at his embarrassment.

As airplanes age though, they gain their real identity in the aircraft world. An aircraft salesman friend of mine once wisely observed that when you buy a used aircraft you are also buying it's history along with the airplane. What kind of story do the logbooks and the FAA records tell? Was it treated kindly by it's owners and by the years? Has it spent time in the open, or was it one of the lucky ones that were tucked away from the elements? Is there damage history? How has it been modified or updated? As the years pass and the hours pile up, the aircraft moves farther and farther from the machine that it was when it rolled out the factory doors.

When we started our flight school in 1968 we had a very limited budget for buying trainers, so most of our airplanes were old when we got them. This turned out to be a good thing since we didn't have to amortize the cost of new airplanes, which as it turned out, allowed us to sell flying at about half what the other schools in the area were charging.

As our student business grew I loved watching the old airplanes earning their keep. We called it 'gathering honey', and the patina of use and age they wore gave me a feeling of satisfaction and of well…smugness I guess, now that I think about it. I loved the fact that they could still work and earn money in spite of their age.

The Cub and the Aeronca Champ were twenty three years old when we purchased them, the Piper Super Cruiser twenty two, the Cessna 172 a relatively young eleven years of age and the Citabria the baby of the family at only three. I had less money in these five airplanes than the cost of one new Piper 140. I felt as fortunate as a farmer with five sons.

If the Champ had been a car it would have been the one you drove to your job at the coal mine. It carried the marks of a working life, and in fact it came to us without refurbishment from a flight school in New Jersey, which had lost it's airport to urban sprawl. It had an almost new engine though, and a heart of gold too, and it soon earned the name 'Little Willie Fly', which was duly painted on the cowling. In summer we took off the door for climate control and in winter we wore insulated overalls to keep warm, since the heater was no better than the air conditioner.

I found our Super Cruiser tied down at an airport a hundred miles to the south if us, looking just a little lost I thought, as if it had been retired early and found that life boring and wanted to go back to work.

It had been covered with linen, which though weathered, was still punching in the green in spite of having been stored outside. This airplane too had a very low time engine and with our 'no refurbishment before it's time' program, it was ready to start earning money. It became our second most popular trainer and a familiar sight in the sky over Buckhannon, with 'CHARLIE BROWN painted on the bottom of the wings in giant letters, to create our very own aerial billboard.

None of these molting Matilda's though, could hold a candle to our J-3 Cub. That airplane redefined the term 'rough', and took the 1-10 scale right down through zero and on up to about 5 negative. It looked as if it had been rebuilt outdoors in Alaska, by a drunken prospector, working at night by lantern light. During a blizzard. If the FAA had ever taken a more than a cursory look at it from a distance, it would have been grounded until it was rebuilt. The fabric covering was so baggy that it gave the impression that the airplane could taxi the first six inches or so before the fabric started to move.

Why, you might reasonably ask, did I buy it? I would like to blame the bad light or demon rum, or something else, but it was only my bad judgement being pushed by a need for a trainer quickly and the instant availability of this airplane. I don't know, maybe I thought it would grow into it's fabric.

Looks aside though, it did it's job of getting students into the sky, and it soon sported the name 'Old Yeller" on it's nose, due to the particularly loud muffler that it wore.

Our 172 was the right combination of price versus value and it proved to be a good addition to the flight school. The more advanced students liked a chance to move up to a 'modern' aircraft and since it had a working radio and (gasp) gyros, it gave us an airplane for the students to take their check rides in. It was however, unfortunately and completely spring loaded to ugly with a very shabby blue paint job.

Several times I overheard mutterings among the students and renters that revealed the general impression of the airplane was, um…junky. I mention this only because I found it interesting that when we had the airplane painted, and without doing another thing to it, it became to the same pilots, in a perception becomes reality sort of thing, 'the pride of the fleet', a 'sweet airplane'.

But he Citabria was my baby. Since detailing most of the other trainers would have been much like attempting to polish a cow pie, this airplane got all of my cosmetic attention and ablutions. It fairly gleamed when it rolled from the hangar and the morning sunlight danced on the rich Hershey Brown dope of the wing's sunburst. No kamikaze bug stayed on the leading edges more than a few hours before they were carefully wiped off and the interior got a vacuuming every few days.

I wonder if it would be possible today, nearly a half century after my own grand experiment in aviation, for a young instructor to gather a few cast off airplanes and build such a business. Is there a place in this highly technical, glass cockpit, GPS world of aviation for a flying school that ignores convention? Is there still a niche for a business that dedicates itself to getting students into the air as inexpensively as possible, using old airplanes and flying from a rural airport?

I think there is, and if I could somehow find my way back to my twenties I would happily prove it.


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Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 A picturesque bed and breakfast located on the Tygart River in the scenic hills of West Virginia.

Copyright © 1997 - 2015 Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales. Specifications are based upon owner's representations, and subject to buyer's verification. Aircraft are subject to prior sale or removal from market.