Last week, you read about Tricky Rick, the airplane dealer who tried to sell us a Skyhawk but concealed its damage history — unfortunately, it wasn’t our last encounter with Rick.
REALLY, WE HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR A BONANZA, anyway. And weeks later, Rick called again. He said he had a beautiful 1954 V-tailed Bonanza coming in. He invited me out to the airport, and I made plans to arrive at 10:00 am the next day.
RICK HAD ALREADY TRIED TO TAKE ME ONCE, so I wanted to be ready for him this time. The first thing I did was plan — instead of arriving at 10:00 am (as invited), I would get there at 9:00 am, a full hour early. My intent was simple: to watch and see what would happen as the plane was prepared for my inspection. I wasn’t sure I would catch anything, but at least I get a chance to have breakfast at the airport restaurant, and watch a few airplanes take off and land.
THE NEXT DAY ROLLED AROUND, and I was at the airport at 9:00 am on the dot. So was the airplane — a beige 1954 Bonanza, just as Rick had described. The paint looked fairly fresh, and was looking better as a guy went over it with a pressure washer.
I approached quietly, and asked the mechanic what he was doing. “Well, this plane has a bit of an oil leak, and we have a buyer coming in,” he said. “I’m just washing off the oil so that it won’t spoil the appearance.”
STRIKE ONE. The FBO was already playing “hide the problem,” which put my senses on high alert. Note to self: The response wasn’t “we just fixed an oil leak, and are washing up the plane.” It was “There is an oil leak, and we’re washing the plane to hide it from a customer.”
I went to the restaurant, and grabbed a bite to eat. By the time he was done pressure washing the plane, it was pretty close to 10:00 am, and I headed out to meet the now waiting Rick. The mechanic looked a bit surprised when I walked up and shook Rick’s hand, but he didn’t say anything to Rick. We started the tour by looking at the interior, which was typical for the older Bonanza models — a beautiful panel, and no space for radios. There were no showstoppers in the interior.
From there, we started a walk around the plane. A look at the engine compartment revealed a leaky exhaust gasket, and a lot of moisture no doubt left over from the pressure washing. “Sure is dewy out here this morning,” Rick noted. STRIKE TWO. I smiled and continued on with the inspection. At the tail, I took a hard look at the ruddervators. These are precision components that have to be expertly balanced — if they are off, unstable control can tear the surface right off the plane in flight.
Repairs to these surfaces are forbidden, because they become too hard to balance. On my inspection, I was running my finger down each furrow that was pressed into the control surface. At one point, my finger jumped and I took a harder look. The paint in this section was springy, as if rubber was underneath it. I took a harder look, and noticed that there was a long crack in the skin of the control surface. Someone had covered the crack with RTV (a rubbery cement), and then painted over it to hide the illegal repair. STRIKE THREE, the plane (and Rick) was OUT!
You would hope that Rick would have got the message by this time that I was looking hard at every plane he wanted to show me, but apparently he was waiting for me to miss something. Again, as I started to walk away, I got the heated speech about how this was the plane I wanted and needed, and that if I walked away, I would never be able to find one as good at the price he was asking.
I thanked him for his assistance, and left.
A YEAR LATER, I was at the airport again. I saw the same Bonanza that I had looked at parked on the flight line. I went over for a quick look, and noted that the entire belly of the plane was covered with engine oil. There was so much oil leaking from the plane that the Nav antenna literally was dripping with oil. Rick had found the “right guy” for the plane. Fortunately, it wasn’t me.
BUYING A PLANE? DON’T GET TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS:
- Make an appointment, but get there plenty early to watch for dealer shenanigans. If you see them, understand what they are, and whether they pose a risk to your safety or wallet. Then decided if you need to walk away.
- NO MATTER HOW BAD YOU WANT A PARTICULAR MODEL, consider what is wrong with the plane. A $40,000 plane that needs dozens of repairs might as well be a lawn ornament — sometimes, until the repairs are made, it can’t legally fly!
- WHEN THE STARS LINE UP WRONG, LEAVE. Don’t let anyone talk you into a plane with problems, or tell you that you won’t find a plane like this again.
BOTTOM LINE: In the end, it is up to you to make sure you don’t get ripped off. There are many, many honest and fair dealers out there … and then there are people like Rick. Unless you take the initiative, you may end up lining the pockets of someone like Rick while sentencing yourself to a plane you don’t want. If the aircraft you are looking for is a popular model, do some research. Find type clubs and find people you trust — people who have nothing to gain but your trust.