And Then There Was One

And Then There Was One

After buying 10 or so airplanes in my career, and “almost” buying numerous others, I know I need help when I am about to fill a hangar. One previous purchase catastrophe, one close to that, and a couple of lucky ones have taught me that I don’t know what I don’t know about buying airplanes.

As you may remember, although I am going to remain current in a Citation, I decided that my “daily driver” is going to be a King Air. Now, all I had to do was find the perfect one.

I began to educate myself by reading, the go-to place for everything King Air. In the chatroom, I noticed posts from one guy in particular – Chip McClure of Jet Acquisitions. Not an aircraft salesman but a buyer’s rep. A kind of paid assassin, scouring the market for just the right airplane at just the right price. I called him. 

“Basically, you pay me to say no,” he told me. “As in no, that’s too much money for that vintage model. Or no, the avionics upgrade cost will put you way over budget.” I soon realized that King Airs are chock full of optional STCs: upgraded engines, Raisbeck aft strakes, swept props, nacelle storage lockers and all sorts of avionics possibilities. My brain was overloaded. 

Chip drove to Dallas to meet me for dinner. During which, he told me some details about a previous King Air I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on. I was lucky I didn’t. It was apparent that Chip knew the market and, more importantly, the players. He is also somewhat of a celebrity as the father of “Baby Jessica” – the infant who fell into a Midland, Texas water well in 1987, setting off a rescue that captured the attention of the world. Two takeaways from the dinner.

  1. Jessica is a grown woman and fine today.
  2. Chip paid for dinner.

We were off to a good start.

And so, the search began. Could I have done what I paid Chip to do? Probably, but it would have taken me much longer and I would have paid for my mistakes. He also talked me through and out of numerous airplanes on the public market. “Most of the airplanes I find are not listed anywhere,” he said. 

We finally agreed on what appeared to be a really nice C90 out west. Chip jumped on a Southwest Airlines flight to take a look. He knew my 30 years in the car wax business made me very conscious of the appearance of an airplane. I waited for his phone call. 

“Dave, the owner’s pictures were misleading,” he said. “This airplane needs a lot of work.” He sent me around 100 pictures, including one showing piles of dirt in the wing nacelle storage lockers. At least I didn’t have to travel to Oregon to see a dirty airplane. 

Then out of nowhere, Chip’s Rolodex paid off. A call about an off-market C90A. The owner was considering a trade to a jet and the King Air might be available. I spent a month just waiting to see it. But the wait was worth it. The owner had lavished attention and dollars into the airplane – upgraded engines, Garmin G1000, swept props, incredible paint and interior. It was exactly what I was looking for.

As Chip negotiated the deal, I glanced at the maintenance report. Reading through it, I was shocked. Listed were inspections for lightning strikes, operation at excessive airspeed, flight through volcanic ash and hard landings.

I called Chip in horror. “Have I just bid over a million dollars for a totaled airplane,” I exclaimed. 

“No, Dave, that’s just the listing of all the possible inspections. They weren’t done. It’s just a list,” Chip replied. Oh my gosh, I thought I had just made a terrible mistake. 

Chip poured over the logbooks for almost two days. “Dave, based on what I know about the airplane and the owner and how I will structure the offer, I think we should take a look-see.”

And based on Chip’s recommendation, I signed the offer. Then it was on to Stevens Aviation in Nashville where the real work began. More logbook examination, borescopes, a visual inspection and test flight.  

A week later, the final report. Good to go. The cost of Chip’s services wound up being a bargain. Now, I have to learn how to fly the thing.

Fly safe.

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