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The Paradox of Choice: Airplane Edition

The Paradox of Choice: Airplane Edition

There are thousands of used airplanes on the market, and no two are exactly alike. The range of choices available to a buyer is both a blessing and a curse. Defining your mission, purchase goals and a budget can help methodically pare down the list of potential candidates. A systematic approach also offers the side effect of decreasing pre-purchase anxiety as you zero in on The Right Airplane For You.

If you comb through hundreds of classified ads, looking at as many different airplanes as possible, you’re increasing your odds of finding a great deal on The Right Airplane For You, yes?

Not so fast.

As you view more and more choices, each with their pluses and minuses, choosing between all the available options can become more challenging. They may all just seem to blend together, differentiated by a few hours here and a little damage history there.

The process of choosing becomes more difficult, and that difficulty produces anxiety. Airplane buying just went from a fun and exciting adventure to an anxiety-producing marathon.

Anxiety about choices and their respective consequences can discourage us from prompt, decisive action. We may avoid making the tough choice and instead run away (i.e., give up entirely) or opt to find a different, easier choice to make.

This behavior is the basic premise behind Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book, “The Paradox of Choice.” It’s a fascinating read about modern consumer behavior in an era of multitudes of poorly-differentiated products. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a real-world example. When I was growing up, we received four TV channels over the air. Three were national networks, and one was public broadcasting. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to flip the dial to see what was on. A typical choice on a weekday evening would be between a sitcom, the world news, a baseball game and a documentary about rabbits. That was tough enough. I usually gave up and put on “Top Gun” (yes, on VHS tape).

Contrast that to today, when—if I subscribe to cable or a satellite service—I can have hundreds of channels at my fingertips. There’s also on-demand video from Netflix, Amazon Prime and others. YouTube alone gives me the option to choose one of 5 billion (yes, billion) videos.

Don’t ask me to choose. I give up. I’m going to go read a back issue of Piper Flyer.

The same expansion of choice has occurred in the used airplane market in the Internet Age. Though the number of airplanes changing hands hasn’t varied substantially over the years, the visibility of the choices available to buyers has changed dramatically.

Once upon a time, airplane transactions were guided by word-of-mouth and flyers on airport bulletin boards. There would be a few options available, and you might dig up a half-dozen more if you started asking around the airport. A broker might be able to do some of the legwork for you by calling his or her friends.

Though you certainly can still find a solid bird on the bulletin board, now we have Barnstormers, Trade-A-Plane, Controller, online broker inventory, Craigslist, Facebook groups and myriad type-specific forums (each with their own classified section). A quick search can pull up thousands of airplanes for sale.

The sheer number of choices is intimidating, especially for first-time buyers.

So, how do you start weeding through these thousands of candidate airplanes to find The Right Airplane For You?

It’s simple (sort of)

Just answer this single question and we’ll have you on your way to finding the best new-to-you airplane: What do you want?

Well, I personally want a Northrop F-5E Tiger II with a Soviet Air Force paint scheme. I watched that “Top Gun” VHS tape…a lot. And I speak Russian (poorly), so I’m sure I’d make a great “enemy” pilot.

But, by asking myself a few more basic questions, I can tell that acquiring and maintaining that F-5 isn’t practical.

The mission: who, what, when, where, why and how?

Who is going to be in the airplane with you? What do you want to be able to do with your airplane? When/how often/how far will you fly? Where will you go? Why do you want to be an owner? How much can you afford to spend on this endeavor?

If you can answer these questions, you’re well on your way to defining your mission. The F-5 obviously doesn’t work for me. It fails on “who”—you can’t safely fit two people and two dogs into a fighter jet. 

Additionally, as much as I’d love to scream around at 400 knots while listening to “Danger Zone” through my fancy Bluetooth headset, I can’t find a way to make the “how” work without robbing a bank or three.

For a more realistic example, let’s check out a recent post on the Piper Flyer forum. The author, Eric, explains his plans:

My story is that I’m 40, in information technology, and have decided to change careers to pursue my dream of flying professionally. I successfully got my private pilot certificate in April in a Cessna 172. Now I want to work through all of my ratings up to CFI.

Congratulations, Eric, on your new certificate!

Eric has a solid idea of what his new airplane will need to do, and he also understands that this isn’t a short-term purchase. He says he’s a “firm believer in [the philosophy of] buy your last plane first.”

That’s a good start.

He goes on to answer the who, what, when, where, why and how. In his words, he’s looking for:

1. Stable IFR platform I can complete my instrument rating and commercial certificate in.

2. Capable cross-country cruiser that can take two people (myself and a passenger) and some luggage comfortably. I am anticipating at least one cross-country trip a month of over 300 miles, with some even longer. So, decent performance would also be a plus.

3. If possible, I’d like to get something that is auto fuel STC capable. This is not a hard requirement, but a nice-to-have.

4. I am anticipating flying 200 to 300 hours a year.

5. Budget would be up to $60,000, but I would like to stay below that as much as possible.

Most readers are probably starting to come up with a few ideas for Eric. It’s easy to help spend someone else’s money! But let’s not get too far ahead. This is a good time to do a sanity check, especially for first-time buyers and those who must stick tightly to a budget.

It’ll often be tough to find a perfect airplane for all your possible missions without breaking the bank. Set a realistic goal of fitting 80 to 90 percent of your mission profile. You can always rent or borrow an airplane, drive or fly commercial for the remainder of the missions.

Rather than immediately going down the rabbit hole of online listings, talk to a trusted and experienced aviation friend, mechanic or airplane broker—or better yet, several of each.

Your guiding question is basic: “Do airplanes that can do 90 percent of what I want exist for around the price I want to pay?” In case you haven’t noticed, aviation people like to talk. You’ll get plenty of opinions. Keep this discussion simple—you just want to find out if ownership is a good option for you.

If the consensus answer is “Yup, you can find that,” continue.

The Piper PA-24 Comanche is a speedy and comfortable cross-country machine.
Many vintage panels have steam gauges and older IFR avionics. 
Purchase goals

With a mission in mind, it’s time to start thinking about what The Right Airplane For You looks like. Don’t worry about specific airplanes just yet—we’re looking to outline the makes and models that fulfill the mission criteria.

We’ll call these criteria our purchase goals. For Eric, it plays out something like this:

Goal No. 1: Budget of $60,000 for initial acquisition.

• Eric’s budget is clear: $60,000 or very near.

• Other expenses may decrease the amount available at closing. State and local taxes, pre-buy expenses and other acquisition costs can quickly add up.

• It’s also smart to have a significant amount in reserve for deferred maintenance items that may become apparent in the few months after purchase. I’ve heard recommendations of anywhere between 10 and 50 percent of the purchase price. Also, make sure you’re accounting for any upgrades that will be done soon after purchase.

• Like with real estate or cars, the asking price for an airplane isn’t always the sales price. It typically won’t hurt to make offers, but it’s a seller’s market for piston singles right now, and most sellers won’t move tens of thousands of dollars on price. It would make sense for Eric to limit his search to airplanes with asking prices of less than approximately $70,000.

Goal No. 2: Decent performance.

• Eric says he wants to do 300 nm cross-countries. For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume he’ll be best served by an airplane that cruises at 120 knots or better.

• To get this sort of speed, he will want to look at high-performance (200-plus hp) and/or retractable-gear airplanes. Some fixed-gear 180 hp and 200 hp airplanes can deliver this speed as well.

• Ensure that the make and model airplane can get into and out of the airports you want to use without undue worry. A pilot who will be flying into backcountry strips in the Rockies will need a different airplane than someone whose home base has 8,000 feet of pavement at sea level. Eric states that he may be flying in New Mexico a bit and would welcome additional high-and-hot performance.

• Given the need for some speed and high-and-hot performance, a 200-plus hp airplane makes good sense for him. A sleek 180 hp airplane would also work.

More horsepower usually equals more speed and greater useful load. Of course, this comes at the cost of more fuel and additional maintenance. 

Goal No. 3: Predictable and reasonable operating and maintenance expenses.

• Since Eric plans to fly frequently and build hours in a short time, he wants an airplane that won’t always be in the shop.

• Simple, proven systems will help limit ongoing maintenance expenses. There’s a reason that most shops charge more for an annual inspection on a complex (retractable-gear), high-performance airplane than, say, a 180 hp fixed-gear single. These complex airplanes are just as they sound—more complex! Similarly, an engine with more cylinders has more cylinders that can have problems, not to mention that it will usually burn more fuel.

• Generally, the rarer a make and model, the more difficult it is to find replacement parts.

• It would be wise for Eric to choose a make and model with simple systems, and one which is widely supported, with good parts availability to limit maintenance expenses and downtime.

Goal No. 4: Must have a range of 300 nm minimum, with IFR reserves.

• Assuming a 120-knot cruise speed and legal minimum IFR reserves, Eric’s airplane will need a range of 390 nm (3.25 hours).

• Let’s look at a few Piper piston singles to get an idea of what is considered standard range. A Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II carries 48 gallons and burns around 7.5 gph at cruise for a maximum endurance of about six hours and a range of 525 nm. A Piper PA-28-235 Cherokee 235 carries more fuel; 84 gallons. It burns about 13 gph, has an endurance of about six hours and a range of 710 nm.

• Eric needs a range just shy of 400 nm. This should be well within the range of most four-seat piston singles with full tanks.

“If it fits, it ships,” or so say many Piper PA-28-235 Cherokee 235 owners. Early models have useful loads of more than 1,400 pounds. 

Goal No. 5: Cross-country comfortable for two people, with sufficient baggage capacity.

• Few two-seaters offer enough useful load to allow for long cross-countries with two people, three-plus hours of fuel and baggage.

• A two-seat Piper PA-38 Tomahawk, for example, probably won’t be able to complete Eric’s mission. The useful load of the PA-38 is around 500 pounds. With two 200-pound adults and 40 pounds of baggage, you only have 60 pounds left over for fuel. You won’t get far on 10 gallons of Avgas. The math is, of course, better with smaller passengers.

• In addition, comfort is often lacking in many two-seaters. 

• Thus, a four-seater is going to provide the most flexibility for Eric’s intended use.

Goal No. 6: IFR-equipped.

• Though technically a single nav radio with glideslope will suffice for “IFR equipment,” if Eric plans to become a professional pilot and wants to learn how to fly real-world IFR, a WAAS GPS is practically mandatory.

• A modern, coupled autopilot would also be a nice-to-have.

• Acquiring an airplane with avionics already installed is much cheaper than retrofitting them after purchase.

• Eric’s budget will have him looking at older airplanes, where the avionics may have been replaced several times. Though choosing an airplane with appropriate avionics is important, avionics tend to be specific to an individual airplane (rather than make and model). Installed avionics are not an important criterion for filtering by make and model, but are incredibly important when looking at individual airplanes.

Goal No. 7: Auto fuel STC capable. 

• Though many Piper singles are eligible for auto fuel STCs, the complexity of the STC varies. Some airplanes can use auto fuel after a paperwork-only STC, while others require expensive modifications to the fuel system.

• If this is an important factor in keeping operating costs down, Eric will want to consider a model with paperwork-only auto fuel compatibility.

Goal No. 8: An airplane I can fly (and be insurable in).

• Eric recently earned his private pilot certificate and just under 70 hours, primarily in Cessna 172s.He does not have a multi-engine rating, so he’ll be limited to singles.

• The transition from a Cessna 172 to, say, a Cherokee 180 is not a difficult one. Conversely, the jump from a 172 to a twin-engine Piper Navajo would be quite challenging.

• Additionally, a low-time private pilot might find it difficult or impossible to obtain insurance in an airplane which requires more pilot skill. In addition to high premiums, the insurer may also require a significant amount of dual instruction for the owner prior to solo operation.

• Should you (or Eric) consider a taildragger? First, can you fly one? Next, can you be insured in one? I received a quote on a high-performance taildragger a few years back. Though the hull wasn’t expensive, my relative lack of tailwheel time combined with a high-risk model pushed the premium to over $3,300/year (and 25 hours of dual required before solo!). That’s a lot of Avgas.

• Eric received a quote on a Cherokee 235 and found that the premiums and training requirements were quite reasonable: $1,100/year and a two-hour CFI checkout.

• Eric must consider insurability and insurance premiums to limit his ongoing costs.

Goal No. 9: An airplane that I’d like to own.

• Do you prefer a specific make and model based on looks, reputation or personal experience?

• Do you have opinions on what constitutes “too old” or “too new,” either in terms of calendar age or airframe/engine times?

• How much work do you want to do on a new-to-you airplane? Some people love reclamation projects; others just want to fly.

• What degree of importance do you place on cosmetics (paint, interior, etc.)?

• What are your opinions on standard aluminum construction versus tube-and-fabric versus composite?

• Eric doesn’t say much about this, but these are an important consideration for many buyers.

Cosmetic refurbishments, like the fresh paint on this 1964 Cherokee 235, can make a vintage airplane look factory-new. 
Prioritize purchase goals

In Eric’s purchase, budget is a major factor, whereas an auto fuel STC is a nice-to-have.

You’ll want to make a list (actually, three) with your nonnegotiable items, nice-to-haves and lastly, unlikely luxuries. This outline will serve you well when you start evaluating makes and models, as well as specific candidate airplanes.

When I purchased my most recent airplane, I wasn’t initially looking for a Piper. I’d set my sights on a Cessna 177B Cardinal. I thought the Cardinals were sexy, modern-looking airplanes. I loved the big doors and spacious interior.

As I got more serious with defining my mission and assessing various makes and models, I realized that a nicely-equipped Cardinal was going to cost tens of thousands more than a comparable Piper—yet the Piper would deliver the same performance.

Passing on the Cardinals meant I wouldn’t be flying as sleek of a bird, but if I went Piper, I could get a low-time four-seater with decent avionics… and would still have a bit of money to spend on upgrades after the purchase. 

I found a nice Cherokee 180, and the rest is history. As it turns out, in addition to checking all my must-have boxes and most of my nice-to-haves, I even ended up with a few unlikely luxuries. 

Still, if cost had been less of a consideration for me, I might’ve gone ahead and bought a Cardinal (or a Comanche!). It’s hard to put a price on the toys we desire.

Shortlisting makes and models

Publications like Trade-A-Plane and Controller are great tools for coming up with a shortlist. Online versions work too, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about applying a highlighter to a paper magazine.

For a shopper like Eric, his search starts at the beginning of the single-engine piston airplane section. He might pare down the list by first looking at only common makes and models (a nod to parts availability and ease of maintenance). Next, he might note all the four-seaters, then, of those, just airplanes with 180 hp or more. From there, eliminating the aircraft outside his budget will trim down the results even further.

The first-time buyer, especially one who is new to General Aviation, will need to do some research at this stage. It’s likely that there will be models you’re not familiar with—there might be a lot of Piper PA-22/20s on the market in your price range, but do they match the goals you’ve defined?

With any luck, you’ll quickly winnow down the list to a handful of makes and models which fit most, if not all, of your purchase goals.

Expert advice

You’ll want to do some follow-up on the makes and models you’ve identified to ensure there will be no nasty surprises after your purchase. There may be a reason a specific make and model is so cheap.

What are common complaints and maintenance issues? What do owners love about their airplanes? How many ADs apply? How many of these are recurring? How expensive is insurance?

Yes, it’s again time to talk to people—and not just the pilots who gather at the airport on Saturday morning for the free doughnuts and coffee. You want to talk directly to people who have owned, operated and maintained the makes and models you’re considering. You might also get some tips on other makes/models which would fit your mission from these aviation sages. Heck, they may even know of a good airplane or two for sale.

It could be the woman who owns the flight school which operates a fleet of Piper Arrows. It could be the guy who maintains that fleet. Or perhaps it’s the experts who frequent the Piper Flyer forum.

It’s also wise to get hands-on time with each make and model you’re considering. Flying them is best, of course, but even sitting in the cockpit will give you an idea of whether the airplane is a good physical fit for you.

Zeroing in

From here, your job is to find the specific airplanes that have all (or most) of your must-have features. Don’t restrict yourself to print publications—now that you have a search image in mind, it’s time to revisit Barnstormers, Facebook groups, type-specific forums and so on. Except now, rather than digging through thousands of airplanes for sale, you can quickly home in on the few that fit your needs.

Here’s another suggestion: post a wanted ad—either at your airport or online. Some owners may be considering selling their airplanes, but don’t want to deal with the tire-kickers that come with posting an airplane for sale publicly.

I recently sold my airplane to someone who had posted a “looking for…” ad. It was quick and easy for both me and the buyer. I got a painless sale; he got a great airplane for a few bucks less than market value.

Speaking of market value, as you look through advertisements, you should keep a keen eye on pricing. For example, what is an average late 1960s Cherokee 235 listed for? How does that change with airframe and engine times? What sort of adjustments are being made for installed avionics? Is there a regional adjustment in price for that make/model? Though you won’t have access to final sales data, you can get an idea of what a fair deal is—and then be ready to pounce when you see one.

Geography becomes important at this stage, too. It’s much easier to look at candidate airplanes which are within a few hours’ drive or flight. For the most common makes and models, there’s likely to be several for sale nearby. For more rare airplanes, you may need to be willing to travel.

Though it is certainly possible to buy an airplane with dated avionics and upgrade them yourself, you’ll be money ahead if you buy an airplane with a “dream panel” already installed. 
Targets acquired

Eric identified a few prospective airplanes in his forum post: a 1958 Piper PA-24-180 Comanche 180 and a 1964 PA-28-235 Cherokee 235. Both were priced near his budget. Both airplanes had an IFR GPS installed. The 235 also had ADS-B Out and an autopilot.

Neither airplane fit all of his stated goals. Eric had questions about the cost of ownership on the Comanche; the 235 had an asking price slightly above budget. But both appeared to be very good candidates which would do 90 percent or more of the missions he’d outlined.

Since Eric had done his homework, the choice was now about which would be the best airplane—not whether these candidates would minimally suffice.

A compelling argument could be made for either airplane, though they are fundamentally different craft. Piper Flyer contributing editor Steve Ells said it well on the Piper Flyer forum: “You might consider the Comanche as a well-mannered and good-looking sedan while the Cherokee 235 is a small SUV.”

The Comanche is more economical in terms of fuel burn (8.5 gph versus 13 gph) for 130-ish knots. It has a Lycoming O-360—about as bulletproof a four-cylinder engine as there is.

On the other side, the Cherokee 235 can lift practically anything you can fit inside it, has broad parts availability, and nearly any mechanic can wrench on one. It’s not as pretty on the ramp as the Comanche (in my opinion), but it performs well and has a reputable six-cylinder engine.

A 200 hp PA-28R Piper Arrow (or Turbo Arrow) comes to mind as another good Piper option. In fact, there was a slick little PA-28R-201T on my home airport’s ramp last week with a For Sale sign in the window for around Eric’s budget.

A PA-28-236 Dakota would’ve been a nice match for the mission, but a Dakota equipped for modern IFR would be cost-prohibitive. Some of the 180 hp models like the Cherokee 180, Archer or Arrow could have worked too, though they won’t ever be confused for speed demons.

Out of the two airplanes he’d identified as candidates, Eric decided to opt for the Cherokee 235 as it had a few more “nice-to-haves,” in addition to fitting much of his mission profile.

Good airplanes which are priced right are selling fast in today’s market, so don’t be surprised if you miss out on a few. I’ve been watching for-sale postings closely over the past few months and have seen several pristine high-performance Piper singles go under contract within hours; sometimes even minutes. Still, by knowing exactly what you want and how much it should cost (and having your financial house in order), you can be that buyer who jumps on a good deal when it comes up.

“All used airplanes have fleas”

Remember, used airplanes have been in service for some years and hours and not everything will be as factory-new. To quote my mechanic, “All used airplanes have fleas—you just want to find one where the fleas won’t eat you, too.”

Your next step is to figure out if your chosen candidate has the kind of parasites that will feed heavily on your pocketbook. This is another spot where you’ll want to enlist expert help.

Piper Flyer has published several articles in the recent past about conducting effective pre-buys. (See Resources for a list of titles and where to find them. —Ed.) I’ll say this: read up on pre-buys and be sure to have a thorough one done. It’s money well spent.

On my last purchase, I walked away from a couple of airplanes after conducting (rather expensive) pre-buys. One of these airplanes experienced a left main landing gear failure about four months after the pre-buy. The accident resulted in significant injuries to a passenger and a total loss of the airframe.

My mechanic had advised me not to buy the airplane because of a problem he observed at the left main gear attach point. The seller (and seller’s mechanic) didn’t think it was an airworthiness issue. He said he’d just sell it to the next buyer in line (which he did). Sure enough, that attach point is where the failure occurred.

A pre-buy inspection from a trusted A&P with experience with the make and model is essential. Don’t hesitate to walk away if you find that the fleas keep multiplying as you dig deeper into the aircraft records or mechanicals. Paperwork issues (missing logs, 337s or STCs) may not cause safety problems, but they can be a huge headache when it comes time for resale.

The receipt of a satisfactory pre-buy inspection from your expert of choice should be exciting and confidence-inspiring. You’ve done your research. You’ve identified the right make and model. You’ve found an airplane that fits your budget and your purchase goals. After a good pre-buy, you’ve got the option to purchase a beautiful, thoroughly-inspected example of The Right Airplane For You.

Now, all you have to do is write the check and fly it home. Enjoy!

Scott Kinney is a self-described aviation geek (#avgeek), private pilot and instructor (CFI-Sport, AGI). He is associate editor for Piper Flyer. Scott and his partner Julia are based in Eugene, Oregon. They are often found buzzing around the West in vintage airplanes. Send questions or comments to .

RESOURCES >>>>>

ADDITIONAL PRE-BUY ARTICLES PUBLISHED BY PIPER FLYER

“Start with the Right Airplane” by Dennis Wolter, August 2018

“Deciphering Logbooks: Pre-Purchase Maintenance Record Review” by Kristin Winter, December 2017

“Hazardous Attitudes in Aircraft Purchasing” by Kristin Winter, November 2017

“Buying Power: Take Control of Your Next Plane Purchase” by Steve Ells, August 2017

“Pre-Purchase Particulars: What You Should Know” by Kristin Winter, December 2016

“The Do’s and Don’ts of Buying and Selling a Plane” by Michael Leighton, April 2015

“Pre-Buy Prop Inspection” by Tim Kern, August 2012

These articles and many others can be found on PiperFlyer.org under the Magazine tab. Select the issue you’re seeking under “Online Magazines,” click on the cover image and open or save the PDF file to your device. Note: you must be logged in to view online magazines.

PFA MEMBERS-ONLY AIRCRAFT (AND PARTS) BUYING AND SELLING

“For Sale/Wanted” section of Piper Flyer forum
ADDITIONAL AVIATION BUYING AND SELLING WEBSITES
Barnstormers
Controller
Craigslist
Facebook
Trade-A-Plane

FURTHER READING

“The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” by Barry Schwartz.
Harper Perennial, 2004.

 

Oregon Coast: Choose Your Adventure

Oregon Coast: Choose Your Adventure

 

Fall is the best time of the year on the coast, and you have plenty of airports to pick from. 

Welcome to the (Oregon) coast. 

First things first: if you want to try to blend in, even as a temporary interloper, it’s “the coast.” Yes, I know, elsewhere you may take trips to the beach, to the shore, to the oceanside, to the waterfront… but here in Oregon, it’s not any of these, or anything other than simply the coast. 

The Oregon coast is 363 miles long, bordered to the north by the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, where Lewis and Clark first sighted the Pacific Ocean in November 1805. At the southernmost end of the coast, you’ll find the redwood forests of northern California. In between is some of the most beautiful, wild shoreline in the Lower 48, with attractions and outdoor-centric activities to appeal to just about everyone. 

Perhaps you’ll build a sandcastle, fly a kite and take a hike through the dunes, or maybe you’re after no activities at all. The Oregon coast is a great place to grab a well-loved book, a warm cup of cider and a blanket next to a roaring fire. 

A drive to the coast from Oregon’s inland population centers of Portland, Salem or Eugene takes around 90 minutes. Two-lane highways wind slowly up through Douglas fir forests, then over low Coast Range mountain passes before following sparkling rivers down to the sea. 

For those of us who are blessed with the gift of flight, our airplanes can spirit us to the ocean’s edge in 30 minutes or less. From any of the inland cities, it’s only around 50 nm to the Pacific as the Piper flies.

When you begin your descent toward the ocean, you’ll have your choice of 15 airports, evenly spaced along the coast. Your pick will no doubt be guided by your aircraft, your skill, your intended ground destination and the weather. 

It’s time to choose your adventure.

Pacific City: Weekend getaway

Despite its name, Pacific City isn’t a big place. Around 1,000 people call the town home year-round. Pacific City used to be a quiet backwater with a small fishing fleet and a few dairy farms. Things have changed in the past two decades; it’s now a trendy destination in the summer tourist season and the beach can get quite busy (by Oregon standards). 

Fly in to Pacific City in March or November, and you’d never suspect all that hubbub. You might well have the place to yourself.

Activities and amenities at Pacific City are centered around Cape Kiwanda and its signature offshore sea stack, Chief Kiawanda Rock. (Not a typo; the cape and the rock have different spellings.) Chief Kiawanda Rock is hard to miss from the air and even harder to miss from the ground. 

To get to Cape Kiwanda from the airport, walk a few blocks to the west toward the sound of the waves, turn right and stroll up the beach. It’s about a 20-minute walk over the sand to the cape. 

The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive is the funny-looking boats on the beach and the boat trailers backed into the surf. The Pacific City dory boat fleet launches directly off the beach to chase salmon, tuna and rockfish just a few miles offshore. You can charter a boat from one of several operators; to arrange a charter, ask the captains at the beach a day or two before you want to fish. (See Resources for a brief video showing how a dory boat is launched. —Ed.)

Cape Kiwanda is a protected natural area and marine life fills the tidepools. The rocks and pools just to the north of the boat launch give children and adults alike up-close views of sea stars, anemones and crabs. 

Feeling up for a workout? Grab a kayak from Nestucca Adventures and head off into the winding Nestucca Bay estuary. Birdwatching is especially good in the fall. 

If conditions are right, surfers play in the beach break just south of Cape Kiwanda or the point break to the north. Information, rentals and lessons are available from Moment Surf Company. 

If you see surfers here, you’ll notice they wear wetsuits—the Pacific Ocean is cold year-round. Peak water temperatures in the summer rarely exceed 60 F. 

Strong waves, cold water and lack of lifeguards make swimming here (and anywhere else on the Oregon coast) a poor and possibly dangerous idea. Wading is fine, but keep your eye toward the ocean. Occasional large waves have surprised many a beachgoer.

After you’ve explored the beach at
Pacific City, there’s no need to head elsewhere for lunch or dinner. Grab a cold Northwest IPA, a glass of wine—or an iced tea, if you’re flying out soon—and watch the people and boats come and go from a comfortable perch at Pelican Brewing’s beachfront taproom. 

Meridian Restaurant & Bar, just to the north of Pelican, offers upscale dining with locally sourced ingredients and a fantastic view. You’ll want reservations during the high season and on holidays.

Lodging books up quickly, as there are only a few boutique hotels and inns in Pacific City. Airbnb options are usually a better bet on short notice, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to snag one of the units adjacent to the airport.

As for Pacific City State Airport (KPFC), it’s a handful. The runway is a mere 1,860 feet long by 30 feet wide, and there are several buildings and trees near the runway. The runway is at only 5 feet msl and is adjacent to the Nestucca River. The runway occasionally floods. Heed the FAA Chart Supplement’s suggestion to call the Oregon Department of Aviation at 503-378-4880 before using KPFC, especially during the winter. 

Make sure your aircraft and personal skills are suited for operations here. Though the airport is challenging, it also serves to keep the crowds down; I have only once seen the six transient tiedowns full. Other than tiedowns, there aren’t any aviation services at KPFC.

The nearest fuel is at Tillamook (KTMK), which also makes a good alternate. KTMK has longer and wider runways, AWOS-3 weather reporting and a GPS approach with 750-1 minimums. Since it’s inland about 6 miles, Tillamook usually has calmer winds than Pacific City and other airports nearer to the beach. You can rent a car at Tillamook and make the 30-minute drive to Pacific City. If you’re there already, it’s tempting to take a quick detour and stop by the Tillamook Air Museum’s huge blimp hangar, or the Tillamook Creamery for a free tasting and tour.

The Cape Kiwanda area on a busy summer afternoon.
Sunset surf session at Pacific City.
The smiles are worth the challenge of landing at Pacific City.
Newport: Family-friendly fun

Roughly halfway down the Oregon coast, the bustling town of Newport sits on the north shore of Yaquina (pronounced “Ya-kee-nah”) Bay. 

Newport has been an escape for Oregon families since the early 1900s; the Nye Beach historic district was, and is, especially popular. Visitors can browse through art galleries, antique shops or simply just sip a cup of coffee with brunch (the best on the coast) at the Nye Beach Café. The sounds of the ocean are never far away. I’ve always found Nye Beach to be a comfortable, quiet area to stay the night; there are numerous lodging options here and throughout town.

The Bayfront District has a decidedly different feel (and occasionally, an unusual smell). Yaquina Bay is home to Oregon’s second-largest commercial fishing fleet and the Bayfront is very much a working waterfront. The fishing fleet processes most of its catch here, much to the delight of the hundreds of sea lions that inhabit the Bayfront docks. 

The sea lions are easily seen and photographed at the docks next to Mariner Square on Southwest Bay Blvd. If you’re having trouble finding them, just listen for their barks.

You could choose to battle these 1,000-pound pinnipeds for fish scraps, but it’s a safer bet to go to one of several fish markets nearby. I like Fish Peddler’s Market; they have fresh-off-the-boat seafood for cooking at home, and also do an excellent grab-and-go fish ‘n chips. 

Mo’s Seafood and Chowder is an Oregon institution and was a staple of my childhood trips to the coast. There are now several locations on the coast and the original location is in Newport. However, I think there’s better seafood at Local Ocean Seafoods. Beer hounds love Rogue Ales and Spirits’ three Newport locations. 

Newport’s premier attraction is, perhaps unsurprisingly, ocean-oriented. Oregon Coast Aquarium is open daily, both summer and winter. Its mission is “to create unique and engaging experiences that connect you to the Oregon coast and inspire ocean conservation.” 

The museum grounds cover several acres. You can easily spend a full afternoon visiting all the exhibits. My favorite is the Passages of the Deep exhibit, where visitors pass through a series of underwater walkways covering the three different ecosystems (reef, shelf, offshore) present in the nearby Pacific Ocean. For intrepid younger explorers, you can even book an overnight stay in the exhibit. To be honest, I’m not sure how well I’d sleep while surrounded by sharks.

For offseason travelers, the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival features hundreds of Northwest wines and seafood offerings from up and down the coast. The 2019 festival is February 21–24. 

Newport offers some of the most accessible whale-watching on the Oregon coast. Gray whales migrate along the coast in the early winter and again in the late spring. Several charter operators run whale-watching tours from the Bayfront District. A two-hour family-friendly “Sea Life” cruise with Marine Discovery Tours costs $42 for adults and $28 for children. 

For the do-it-yourselfer, drive just a few miles north to Agate Beach and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. You don’t have to climb the lighthouse to spot whales, but you certainly can if you’ve arranged a tour in advance. 

Newport Municipal Airport (KONP) is about 3 miles south of the Bayfront District. The airport is one of the best on the Oregon coast, with two good runways (the larger of the two measures 5,398 feet by 100 feet). KONP has several instrument approaches; two VOR approaches, a VOR-A approach, two GPS approaches and an ILS approach. The ILS and GPS approaches to Runway 16 have minimums of 250-3/4. 

Fuel is competitively priced at $5.00/gal for self-serve 100LL and $3.90/gal for full-service Jet A. The City of Newport runs the FBO and offers a courtesy vehicle during business hours (maximum two hours). For longer stays, you’ll need to call a cab or rent a car. Tiedowns are always available. If you show up on a Saturday in the summer, there’s a free barbecue at noon to welcome visiting pilots! 

A tiny crab found in a tidepool.
The Tillamook Air Museum is housed in a World War II-era blimp hangar, the largest clear-span wooden structure in the world.
Herb-crusted halibut with English peas, rhubarb, turnip, fiddlehead and asparagus.
The brave can spend a night and sleep with sharks in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Passages of the Deep exhibit.
Manzanita/Nehalem Bay: “Roughing it”

Nehalem Bay State Airport (3S7) is a treasure for visiting pilots. Touch down, then taxi off the paved runway and onto the grass. Pull into the clearly-marked tiedown area and shut down. Unpack and pitch your tent in one of the several campsites nestled in the trees, just a few hundred yards from the beach. You’re home for the night at Nehalem Bay.

The Oregon Department of Aviation and Oregon State Parks have made six fly-in camping spots available exclusively for the aviating public. In Oregon, standard campsites at state parks are by reservation only and are often booked several months in advance. That’s not the case at Nehalem Bay’s fly-in campground. The sites are first-come, first-served and are seldom full, even on the busiest summer weekends, though you might want to come in on Thursday to guarantee a spot. 

Camping is $11 per night, per plane. That gets you access to the park facilities, including water and hot showers. For a few bucks, you can pick up a bundle of firewood from the camp host. During the summer, rangers present nightly interpretive programs about local history and wildlife at the park’s amphitheater. Pack an inflatable kayak and you can launch it right off the end of the runway to explore the bay.

The beach is about a 10-minute walk to the west through the trees; those with more energy can hike to the Nehalem Bay Jetty, a 5-mile roundtrip from the campground. Walking a mile to the north will have you in downtown Manzanita. To get to town you can also take the scenic route, via the beach.

Nehalem Bay is a straightforward small airport (the runway is 2,350 feet by 50 feet) when conditions are benign. You’ll fly your downwind over the ocean, turn base and cross over the sand spit, and then turn north on final. Final puts you over Nehalem Bay; the runway threshold is only a few feet from the water. 

Here’s the catch: when it gets windy, Nehalem Bay will bite you. There’s high terrain to the north of the airport, and on summer afternoons, strong winds can spill over and cause all sorts of unpleasantness at the surface at Nehalem Bay. Be ready to go around and/or divert if the conditions exceed your comfort level. 

Nehalem Bay has no aviation services, but Tillamook (17 nm to the south) has fuel and can serve as a diversion.

Whale-watching tours leave daily from Newport’s waterfront during the summer and fall.
Nehalem Bay is tucked into the trees, just a short walk from the ocean.
Planning your flight

You’ll want to keep an eye out for forest fire TFRs in the summer and fall. Fire TFRs often affect routes to and from the inland population hubs. Smoke can also affect in-flight visibility.

All but one of the airports along the Oregon coast are non-towered. Fourteen coastal airports share three radio frequencies: 122.7, 122.8 and 122.9. Make sure you’re on the right frequency and announce your position as well as the relevant airport. En route, I like to monitor 122.9; it’s an unofficial frequency for low-level traffic along the beach. 

Several MOAs overlie the Oregon coast and nearshore waters. I have never seen military traffic in any of these MOAs, but you should nonetheless check notams for current status.

Many of the rocks, islands and reefs near the coast are part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system. These refuges are marked on VFR sectional charts. Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum of 2,000 agl above these refuges. Low flights that disturb wildlife are a violation. 

Flying over the beach and out over the water is part of the adventure and allure of flying along the coast. Prudent pilots will maintain an altitude that allows for a safe emergency landing ashore should an unexpected loss of power occur. Beaches are usually the best option for forced landings. 

Much of the land along the coast is rocky or tree-covered. Still, land is likely a better bet than an offshore ditching in the ice-cold Pacific. For extended routes over water (as found on IFR T-route T257), you will want to bring a life raft, life vests and an extremely reliable engine (or better yet, bring a twin). 

Weather considerations

You’ve probably heard it rains a lot in Oregon—you’ve heard right. It certainly does rain, in the winter and spring. The rainy season typically extends from mid-October until mid-April. Moisture-laden storm systems roll ashore every few days and drop their cargo as they ascend the slope of the Coast Range.

Even during prolonged stormy periods, the skies will often clear up long enough for a VFR flight as bands of clouds and rain pass through. Winter winds are usually more problematic than visibility and ceilings. Icing is a concern, especially when colder systems descend from the Gulf of Alaska bringing the freezing level close to the surface. 

For as much as it rains in the winter, it doesn’t rain much at all in the summer. However, the best weather on the Oregon coast is not during the height of the summer tourist season (June–August). Summertime is fog time and wind time. Coastal fog can appear in the blink of an eye. I’ve had to hasten a departure more than a few times as the fog bank approached the airport. 

Summer surface winds are nearly always out of the north and can approach 40 knots in the afternoons and early evenings. Schedule your flights to arrive and depart early in the day and winds are usually a nonissue.

In my opinion, fall is the time to go. But if you pick your days (or bring your instrument rating), there’s great flying to be had year-round.

September is the warmest month of the year along the Oregon coast. There’s usually very little wind; the fog machine slows down and there is less traffic both in the air and on the beach. 

Fall brings warmer air temperatures and clear skies. 
VFR or IFR?

You can certainly travel the coast VFR in a VFR-only airplane—I do, quite often—but you’ll run the risk of having to divert or cancel more often than if you hold an instrument rating and fly an all-weather aircraft. 

An instrument ticket will help you get to the coast—even if you’re unable to get in to your VFR-only airport of choice, you can land elsewhere, rent a car and drive the rest of the way. That’s a big deal if you’ve got a weeklong non-refundable hotel reservation. 

Four of the coast airports have GPS approaches, and three have ILS approaches. Though these approaches won’t be of much help in winter high winds, they will certainly assist in punching through the pesky summertime 600-foot-agl marine layer.

From a smiles-per-mile perspective, do everything you can to make your flight on a clear day. You want your passengers’ noses to be pressed against the side windows, watching the ocean for whales and the treetops for bald eagles. It’s not nearly as fun to stare at the inside of a cloud.

Each one of Oregon’s 15 coastal airports has its own story and set of things to see and do nearby. Load up your family and friends, start your engine and point your trusty bird toward the ocean and all the Oregon coast has to offer. I look forward to seeing you there!

Though you can land under VFR, will you be able to leave?

Scott Kinney is a self-described aviation geek (#avgeek), private pilot and instructor (CFI-Sport, AGI). He is associate editor for Piper Flyer. Scott and his partner Julia are based in Eugene, Oregon. They are often found buzzing around the western U.S. in their vintage airplane. Send questions or comments to .


RESOURCES >>>>>

PILOT AND AIRPORT INFORMATION
Pacific City, Nehalem Bay and
other state-owned airports
https://www.oregon.gov/aviation/Pages/State-of-Oregon-Airports.aspx

Newport Municipal Airport FBO
newportoregon.gov/dept/onp

VISITOR INFORMATION
Oregon Coast Visitors Association
visittheoregoncoast.com

Travel Oregon
traveloregon.com

PACIFIC CITY
Dory launch at Pacific City
youtu.be/Al5H_r4EZvw

Meridian Restaurant & Bar
headlandslodge.com/dining/meridian

Moment Surf Company
momentsurfco.com

Nestucca Adventures LLC
nestuccaadventures.com

Pelican Brewing Company
pelicanbrewing.com

Tillamook Air Museum
tillamookair.com

Tillamook Creamery
tillamook.com

NEHALEM BAY
Nehalem Bay State Park
oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=142

NEWPORT
Local Ocean Seafoods
localocean.net

Marine Discovery Tours
marinediscoverytours.com

Mo’s Seafood and Chowder
moschowder.com

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival
seafoodandwine.com

Nye Beach Café
nyebeachcafe.wordpress.com

Oregon Coast Aquarium
aquarium.org

Rogue Ales and Spirits
rogue.com/meeting-halls

Yaquina Head Lighthouse
blm.gov/learn/interpretive-centers/yaquina

NPRM FAA-2017-1059 – Checking for Main Wing Spar Corrosion in Cherokees 

NPRM FAA-2017-1059 – Checking for Main Wing Spar Corrosion in Cherokees 

 

Over 10,000 Piper PA-28 and PA-32 series aircraft will be affected by a proposed Airworthiness Directive requiring inspection of the main wing spar for corrosion. Associate editor SCOTT KINNEY decides to act now to inspect his Cherokee and secure his peace of mind.

 

One of the benefits of hanging around type-specific flying forums on the internet is that you’ll often get wind of FAA Airworthiness Directives (ADs) before they’re made public. I’d chanced across just such a post on Nov. 6, 2017.

The poster claimed that Piper Service Bulletin (SB) No. 1304 was about to become an AD, affecting thousands of aircraft. SB 1304 mandates a “thorough one-time inspection of the wing root area for corrosion” and lays out steps to be taken if corrosion is found. To perform the inspection, an access panel must be installed in each wing if one does not already exist.

Sure enough, the next morning, my email inbox contained a confirmation of the rumor: the FAA was moving to adopt SB 1304 as an AD after a 45-day comment period. (See page 60 of this issue. —Ed.) The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) states that compliance will be required within the next 100 hours or 12 months’ time in service from the date of the AD.

Summary: 11,476 PA-28 aircraft owners will soon be getting potentially expensive news.

I’m one of them.

My 1963 Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee 180, N7294W, has served me well for the past few years. As with many older birds, she has a few negatives in the logs. Four Whiskey lived her first several years near the beach in Southern California. I’d guess she was parked outside too, as the logbooks show a few corrosion repairs in the mid-1970s. Since then, she’s been primarily a high desert airplane.


Why not wait?

I decided to move forward with the inspection right away. I suppose I could’ve held off until my July annual and/or until the AD wording was finalized. It may be that the final AD has other accepted methods for inspection (borescope?) that don’t require cutting large access panels in the lower wing skins.

However, I had never seen the spars on N7294W with my own eyes. I am not sure I would’ve been happy flying the airplane for many more hours knowing the potential consequences of wing spar corrosion. November is also a good time of year to get work done on an aircraft in Oregon—it’s not flying season.

And I kept coming back to the reasons behind the proposed AD. A failed main spar means that your wings may fall off. In my book, that’s a very bad day.


Checking for access panels

The first step was to check for existing access panels. I thought that perhaps the panels could have been installed as part of some of the previous repair work. Since I was at home and had the aircraft logs on hand, I checked for any mention of SB 1304, SB 1244B or SB 789A (the latter two Service Bulletins also recommend addition of the access panel kit). Nothing.

The previous owner did pull the fuel tanks about seven years ago to check for spar corrosion (Piper SB 1006), but that’s further outboard on the wing. I went to the airport and crawled under the wing. Maybe the work hadn’t been logged and the panels were already in place.

No joy. I fired up Google and went parts shopping.


Finding parts

The NPRM estimates the cost of Piper’s 765-106V kit “that contains provisions to install inspections access panels on both wings” at $175. I lucked out and found a new old stock kit for a little less than that.

Since the announcement on Nov. 7, 2017, these kits have gotten increasingly difficult to find. Many vendors sold out of 765-106V in the first two days after the announcement, though they have since restocked.

Current street price for P/N 765-106V is between $200 and $250; slightly higher than the $175 estimated in the NPRM. As of early December 2017, PFA supporter AirWard shows a dozen kits in stock at a price of $229; a Google search for “Piper 765-106V” will give the most current situation. I would expect these kits to become increasingly rare or backordered immediately after the final AD is announced.


Installing the access panels

I contacted PFA member Tony Hann at Infinite Air Center in Albany, Oregon to schedule the work. Tony and his lead A&P/IA, Robert Lind, operate several PA-28s out of Albany Municipal Airport (S12). Robert has been working with Piper aircraft for more than 30 years and their shop is just a short hop from my home base.

Once I had my parts in hand, I braved the stormy mid-November weather and flew Four Whiskey up to Albany in what I’ll generously call “imperfect VFR conditions.”


Nuts ‘n bolts

Robert, Tony and I unpacked the kit’s contents onto the wing of the aircraft.

They’d ordered a few kits from Aviall to service their PA-28s. We compared the Aviall kits with my kit from Piper. My kit—dated 1987—matched up parts-wise, meaning Piper hasn’t changed the kit contents in 30 years.

The kit consists of two reinforcing doubler plates and two inspection covers. There are also 40 AN426AD4-4 rivets, used to affix the plates to the lower wing skin and 16 MS24693-S48 machine screws for attachment of the inspection covers to the doubler plates.

The Piper instructions are skimpy, to say the least, and leave some room for imagination (or improvisation?):

1. Skin cutout to be located midway between ribs and midway between the main spar and stringer as shown in
Figure 1 (Sheet 4).

2. Locate and install doubler 38571-02 as shown and attach to skin using [P/N] 420 722 rivets. Dimple for C/S rivets.

3. Cover 38572-02 can be installed/removed as required, using [P/N] 414 761 fasteners.

Other vendors have been kind enough to include more detailed instructions and a tool list. I’ve seen the documentation AirWard supplies with its kit, and it’s a very helpful supplement.


Positioning the inspection panels

The Piper instructions that came with my kit, those in the new Aviall kits and the drawings in SB 1304 all specify slightly different placements of the access panel in relation to the main spar, ribs and stringers.

After some deliberation over the instructions, Robert, Tony and I positioned the cover and used it as a template to define the cutout area.

We marked the hole as specified in the new Piper instructions and SB 1304—approximately 2 inches aft of the main spar rivet line and 3 inches outboard of the rib at WS 24.240. The long and short of it is that you want to leave sufficient space on every side of the access hole to be able to rivet the doubler in place without getting too close to the spar or ribs.

It’s also important to understand that this is a recessed access plate; it’s different from those further out on the wing. Those are attached to the outside of the lower wing skin. When finished, the new inboard inspection cover will be flush with the wing skin.


Cutting access holes

Out came the power tools. I closed my eyes and turned the other way as Robert began the surgery. He drilled a 1-inch pilot hole with a step drill to provide a starting point.

For the primary cut in the skin, Robert chose a Dremel-like rotary tool with a fine tungsten carbide cutting bit. Smart choice. It allowed him to make a smooth radius cut in the thin aluminum skin.

It was helpful to have two sets of hands to finish the cuts—Robert on the Dremel and me holding the cutout piece in place to ensure it wouldn’t prematurely depart the wing. Wear eye/face protection and appropriate clothing when working with the Dremel as the hot aluminum shards fall straight down.

I cleaned up the edges with a half-round file while Robert moved on to the other wing and repeated the process. I held off from peeking inside until we were done cutting the panels.


The inspection

With the holes cut, it was time for the moment of truth. Robert asked, “Do you want to do the honors?” I meekly replied, “Uhh, I guess.” If the spars showed significant corrosion, it likely meant a repair bill of several thousand dollars.

I grabbed a flashlight and inspection mirror and rolled back under the right wing on a mechanic’s creeper. I poked the mirror up into the hole.

Oh, thank God. My wings will not fall off.

The main spar looked pristine. The aft spar was excellent as well. The WS 24.240 (inboard of the access panel) and 36.920 rib (outboard of the panel) showed some oxidation and very minor surface corrosion. Four Whiskey’s main spars had been treated with chromate at the factory, but the ribs hadn’t, so the corrosion on the ribs was no surprise.

Robert took a look and confirmed my initial thoughts. “That’s real clean. Great news!” The left wing looked the same.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. The inspection panel in the right wing allowed me to see the underside of the wing walk skin. A few minor cracks had developed in the reinforcing louvers—a common problem with PA-28s. I have felt a slight bit of oil-canning in the wing walk in the past, so I wasn’t shocked by the finding. Such is life with an old aircraft; one more thing to fix.

Cleaning and priming

Robert and I cleaned the interior of the inspection area with a degreaser spray per Part I, Step 3 of SB 1304. After 50 years, the wings had an impressive collection of dead bugs and grime. We reinspected the spar after cleaning and found no corrosion.

SB 1304 states that if corrosion is found in the main spar area, it must first be removed per FAA Advisory Circular AC 43.13-1B, Chapter 6. The affected areas then must be measured for minimum thickness. It is not possible to directly measure all dimensions, so nondestructive methods (ultrasound, eddy current, etc.) may need to be used.

If the thickness of the parts is greater than the limits specified in SB 1304 Part I, Step 5, the areas can be epoxy primed and the aircraft returned to service. The SB contains a list of approved epoxy primers.

If the thickness is below minimums, an FAA-approved structural repair must be performed. This is likely to be an expensive proposition.

We chose to clean and apply epoxy primer to the ribs to ensure no further corrosion on these surfaces. Though this action is not required by SB 1304, it made sense to do with the aircraft already opened up.


Affixing doublers and buttoning up

After the inspection and corrosion mediation steps were complete, Robert went to work on affixing the doublers. Riveting isn’t my strong suit, so I played the role of gofer.

Each doubler plate required 20 countersunk rivets. The rivets are equally spaced around the doubler plate, approximately 5/16 of an inch outside the cutout. Robert used a drawing compass, a slide rule and some mechanic’s magic to get the spacing right. The AirWard instructions contain an error here. They give a layout scheme for 24 rivets per plate, not the 20 per plate that is specified in the Piper documents. They are otherwise really helpful.

Drilling the holes for the rivets is a six-step process. First, Robert clamped the doubler in place. Next, he drilled 1/16-inch holes through the skin and doubler. He then enlarged the holes to 1/8 inch.

Once the holes were drilled, he removed the doubler and deburred the holes. The fifth step was to dimple the holes with a rivet squeezer and appropriate die. Finally, he used Clecos to hold everything in place while he set the rivets into the skin and doubler with the squeezer. The right tools made this job go quickly.

When he finished riveting, Robert made an entry in the logs noting compliance with SB 1304. All that was left was to install each cover with the eight machine screws. I managed this on my own. Four Whiskey needs a bit of paint touch-up in other spots, so I plan to paint the covers and rivet heads later on this winter as a part of that project.


Final thoughts

It took about eight hours of work for Robert to install the panels, clean the interior of the wing and perform the inspection. The NPRM estimates six hours’ labor for the panel installation and two hours for the inspection. For obvious reasons, the NPRM does not estimate labor time or parts costs for corrective actions, as these may range from a small area of sanding/priming all the way up to spar replacement. Nor does it account for cosmetics. Paint touch-up may take additional time.

I’d encourage those owners whose aircraft are affected to consider complying sooner rather than later. It may be that your aircraft already has the access panels, in which case it’s a quick inspection. Even if your aircraft doesn’t have the panels, the installation and subsequent inspection is time-consuming, but isn’t particularly complicated.

Installation of the panels can facilitate later inspections required by this or other ADs or SBs. Additionally, you’ll have better access to the inboard areas of the wing for future upgrades (pulling wires) or repairs (the wing walk comes to mind).

Now that I’ve seen the clean spar with my own eyes, I’m 100 percent confident that I have structurally sound wings holding me up in the air. It’s hard to put a price on that feeling of security.


Scott Kinney is a self-described aviation geek (#avgeek), private pilot and instructor (CFI-Sport, AGI). He is associate editor for Piper Flyer. Scott and his partner Julia are based in Eugene, Oregon. They are often found buzzing around the West in their Cherokee 180. Send questions or comments to .


RESOURCES >>>>>

CERTIFIED AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE

Infinite Air Center
infiniteaircenter.com

 

FURTHER READING

Piper Service Bulletin No. 1304
“Main Wing Spar Inspection,”
published Aug. 23, 2017
https://s3.amazonaws.com/pipercrm/Solution/18990/SB_1304.pdf

 

Piper Service Bulletin No. 1244B

“Aft Wing Attach Fitting Inspection Requirements,” published Oct. 29, 2015

https://s3.amazonaws.com/pipercrm/Solution/18671/SB%201244B.pdf

 

Piper Service Bulletin No. 789A

“Aft Inboard Wing Access Panel Retrofit and Aft Wing Spar Modification”

published May 7, 1985
https://s3.amazonaws.com/pipercrm/Solution/17459/SB%20789A.pdf

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)

Docket No. FAA-2017-1059; Product Identifier 2017-CE-035-AD

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/11/07/2017-24083/airworthiness-directives-piper-aircraft-inc-airplanes (See page 60 of this issue. Comments closed Dec. 22, 2017. —Ed)


INSPECTION ACCESS HOLE KIT,
P/N 765-106V – VENDORS

AirWard, Inc.
– PFA supporter

airward.com/amelia/search.asp?store=airward&action=Search&ShowDetails=True&ShowImages=True&cat=10000368&subcat_12=10000368

 

Aviall

aviall.com/aviallstorefront/p/765-106=PI

 

Chaparral Parts

chaparralparts.aero/765-106-kit-inspection-Piper-Aircraft-NEW-p/765-106.htm

 

SkyGeek.com

 

 

skygeek.com/piper-765-106-kit-inspection-access-hole.html

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