(I don’t need no stinkin’ Pre-Purchase Inspection)
Sixth Edition, Vol. 1
Pre-purchase or pre-buy inspections are commonly performed to ensure the aircraft one is interested in acquiring, is airworthy and in the condition advertised. I have ventured all over this country and Canada to perform these inspections and most of the time I look at one of these “cherries”, I leave very dismayed and angry. Let me back up a bit first. I don’t usually get mad at what I see, I just get ashamed at the condition of the fleet because of the maintenance, or the lack thereof. The ignorance, laziness and downright carelessness drives me nuts. (This, in turn makes me angry). The very existence of this issue is totally unnecessary and is totally unacceptable…..to me anyways.
The concept of a pre-purchase inspection isn’t difficult. It’s not meant to be an “annual” inspection in scope and detail. Nor, is it that intense of an inspection. It’s just what it says it is. Now, I have heard of maintenance personnel stating that they would have to perform the equivalent of an “annual” to be sure of the aircraft’s condition. I say “blödsinn”. Because of my years of experience of paying close attention to the machine in front of me, I can look at an aircraft for a few minutes and give a pretty accurate report of its condition based on an inspection of a few key areas. It’s not rocket science, or Voodoo or anything like that. Nope! It’s just a simple observation in a few key areas. For example; I can look at the tires and see that the tire pressure is low. I can see the oleo struts drooling “black mud” down onto the strut fork. I can see the engine baffle seals are worn and are riddled with holes. I can see the mis-matched hardware used to install the inspection panels. I can see that the propeller leading edges are rough and gouged, while I’m there I can see that the face of the propeller blades are gray in color and lack any paint on the face of the blades. And the list goes on. I can pretty much decide whether to continue or to walk away at this point. If these simple tasks haven’t been addressed, then I can pretty much bet you that the more important items haven’t been addressed either.
Many years ago, I was hired by a client to check out a Cessna 182 that was based in Casper, Wyoming. After a couple of phone conversations with the manager of the shop that had been maintaining this aircraft, I was convinced of its “cherry” condition and decided that it was worth a look. I arranged for a local pilot to fly me from Redlands up to Casper to check it out. The perspective buyer found out about this, and wanted to come along and “help” me. I’m not very keen on anyone “helping” me as it tends to take more time than is allotted for these endeavors, and ends up costing the buyer more money in the long run. What I mean by this is that the perspective buyer can picture himself sitting in it, it sitting in his new hangar. Showing it off to all of his friends and then falls in love with it and buys it without considering all of the other mitigating factors. This trip was no different.
Upon arrival at this large FBO, we were cheerfully greeted by the line crew in an executive sized golf cart and swiftly whisked away to the main entrance on the ramp side. Once inside, we were again pleasantly greeted by the staff and Benny, the manager of whom I had had the many reassuring phone conversations with regarding the condition of this pristine example of the finest aircraft to come from the great state of Kansas. While the perspective buyer and our pilot are exchanging niceties, I, on the other hand wish to get started in my inspection. Peering through window of the door to the maintenance shop, I can see this middle aged specimen from Wichita, sitting on the middle of the shop floor patiently waiting for my opinion. I open the door and at a fairly fast clip proceed towards this ol’ bird. As I get closer to it, my swift pace begins to slow down and by the time I’m about ten feet away, my heart sinks, I come to a complete stop and my blood pressure starts to rise. This has got to be the biggest piece of shit, (P.O.S.) I have ever seen…………..to this point. Before I get too involved, I do a slow yet brief walk around to kind of assess whether it’s worth looking into or just walk away from it while we’re ahead. In my brief yet thorough “inspection” of this relic, this is what I observed; Benny had assured me that there was no damage history whatsoever, though I could see that both skins on the left side of the vertical stabilizer had been replaced by color and sheen differences from the paint compared to the rest of the tail section. Also, upon closer inspection, my suspicions are further confirmed by the presence of “cherry” pull style blind rivets used to reattach these skins. (The first red flag). Next, I grab a hold of the outboard tip of the left horizontal stabilizer and give it a firm and brisk up and down movement to check for any oil canning of the skin, and the right cabin door pops open. (Second red flag). I walk over to the door and give a good slamming to assure it’s latched and run that play again. Sure enough. The aircraft once again complies with my re-test by releasing the right cabin door. (Second red flag confirmed). Next, after closing the door once again, I grab a hold of the right wing tip and with a firm brisk up and down movement, the aircraft obediently complies, and the right cabin door pops open yet again. At this point I’m ready to put a stop to this madness, and terminate this inspection, when our pilot walks over and inquires as to how it’s going. I reply that I have seen enough and the aircraft is a P.O.S, and if we get out of here in the next thirty minutes, we can make Mesquite, Nevada before dark. But, after some discussion on how the client wasn’t really getting what he was paying for, I reluctantly allowed these outside influences to cloud my better judgment as the shop crew proceeds to roll the aircraft out of the hangar in preparation for a test flight. As most people, I have one of little voices in my head, (among many others), that is telling me that this isn’t a good idea. But, I’m coerced into getting into this “can” so I proceed to strap myself into the safety of the back seat. After a short crew briefing, our assigned pilot for this excursion, whom appears to be fresh out of Jr. High School, starts the engine of this thing and while it’s sitting there idling, I can hear the loose control cables rattling under my feet and behind me, as this thing shakes like a dog trying to pass a peach seed. (Tenth or eleventh red flag, I forget. I’ve lost count by this point).“Oh Boy”! this isn’t good. As we taxi out from the front of the hangar, our juvenile pilot experiences difficulty reaching the control tower via the antiquated onboard communication equipment. After several minutes of futile attempts to get the equipment to work, I suggest that we terminate our quest to get this thing airborne, and head back to the FBO. “Junior” reluctantly concurs. Whew! My saving grace moment.
After our disembarkation from this pig, I bee lined it into Benny’s office and proceeded to provide him with a secondary orifice of which to defecate from, over his apparent misunderstanding of the word “cherry”. Benny is defensive at first until I proceed to inform him of all of the issues that have raised their ugly heads in just a short hour that I’ve been here checking out this aircraft. After several minutes of my scathing presentation of shame, Benny admits that they really haven’t been maintaining this airplane, and that it belongs to “a real nice guy……whom can no longer afford to fly it……and we’re trying to sell it for him”. I responded with a rebuttal of relief as I expressed my remorse for accusing him and his facility of piss-poor workmanship regarding the condition of this airplane. He sincerely apologized for the unwitting but apparent deception and obvious misleading of the facts regarding the perceived condition of this airplane, and stated that he was “surprised that I was so critical in scrutinizing its condition. Most mechanics wouldn’t have seen any of those things. Even my guys”. In his defense though, I have to say that Benny did feel somewhat responsible for the unraveling of the days intended course of events, and offered to give us fuel in return for wasting our time. We gladly accepted, and amicably parted ways. I looked at three more airplanes for this client before I found one that was acceptable.
On the flip side of this coin, I have looked at multiple airplanes for people and after the second or third rejection, they feel that they have spent too much money on unfruitful results, and in the process somehow gained some wisdom and infinite knowledge of the inner workings of the aircraft and the pre-purchase inspection procedure, and proceed to look at the next one on their own. One client even stated that he “looked it over with Chuck’s eyes” and couldn’t find any problems……..Until the flight home. Here’s the rub. The cost for me to perform this service is $500.00 per day, plus expenses. The expenses are transportation, both airfare and the rental car, and lodging. I don’t stay at the Ritz-Carlton and I don’t expense any dining. A typical pre-purchase inspection at a remote site will cost about $1,500.00 to $1,800.00 depending on the urgency of the buyer and the time table. This expenditure is good insurance. It keeps you from buying a P.O.S. The above referenced client spent over $4,000.00 in repairs that should have been negotiated with the seller before any cash was exchanged. But, hey. He looked at it with my eyes right? What could possibly go wrong?
The stories I just told above are true. And, are only two of the many that have taken place over the last twenty-five years I’ve been doing this aviation thing professionally. There have been many stories just like the two above that have ended in both types of scenarios. And, I’m sure there will be many more just like them.
There is a moral to this month’s blog and it’s not a difficult concept to grasp. It’s real simple and requires no real intelligence to comprehend. Some basic common sense is all that is required. The message is this; As a pilot with no mechanical experience, if you’re planning on purchasing any airplane, or anything for that matter, do your homework. Find a good reputable shop, and hire them to perform a pre-purchase inspection on the example you have chosen. Pay them what they ask. There is more to this than what you see at face value. The shop you hire is now responsible for conveying the condition of the aircraft to you, and basically guaranteeing the condition that was observed is what you’re paying for. It essentially puts the monkey on their back. Not yours. If something should go awry, it’s on them, not you. Remember, they’re professionals at this sort of thing, you’re not. Don’t assume the risk without the required experience. That $1,500 to $1,800 it costs to check out a potential addition to your stable, is well worth the anguish that follows a poor decision. There’s an old saying that explains this situation. It mostly refers to the purchase of inferior products or services and such, but it does ring true here somewhat. It says, “The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of a cheap price is forgotten”. This is true for a lot of things in life.