Phil Boyer is a 7,500-hour-plus pilot who has been flying for more than 30 years, more than 15 as an aircraft owner.
Since the passage of the GA Revitalization Act in 1994, due in large part to the power of AOPA member/pilots to get behind product liability reform and write to Congress, the general aviation manufacturing community has seen a rebirth of piston-aircraft manufacturing. Those companies, like Cessna Aircraft, which quit production because of the exposure to lawsuits, came back into the business of producing light aircraft. And new companies such as Cirrus Design, Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing Corp., Diamond Aircraft, and others introduced new airframe technology. The New Piper, Mooney Airplane Co., and others have ramped up production. Except for the economy and the dip in 2001 through 2002 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, manufacturers are finding buyers for new piston airplanes. But, for a variety of financial, family, and other valid reasons, not every new pilot, or even seasoned aviator, can afford to own and operate a brand-new airplane.
With a base of some 180,000 piston aircraft that just don't seem to wear out, we often find ourselves buying a used (but "new to me") airplane. FAA statistics indicate that annually 50,000, or one-quarter of the entire GA fleet, have registration changes. A majority of these are changes of ownership. And, before the ink is dry on that pink temporary registration, new owners are thinking about restoring, refurbishing, or just plain fixing up their newly acquired airplane.
My AOPA world is one of battling user fees, onerous security legislation, airspace restrictions, myriad local airport issues, and a host of individual and collective issues cited by AOPA members. As I write this column I am on the eve of hopefully surprising another lucky AOPA member with our 2005 sweepstakes Rockwell Commander 112. Frankly, this annual event is one of the really fun parts of leading your organization. One of the purposes of this annual membership giveaway is to stimulate membership renewals and new member acquisitions. However, unlike others who give away an airplane for promotional reasons, we really are conveying valuable information on all the aspects of refurbishing a used airplane — paint, upholstery, avionics, modifications, and the like. If any of us were to do everything to a newly acquired airplane that the AOPA Pilot staff does in one year, we probably wouldn't be married. But the individual parts of the project are applicable to all of us who own an airplane.
The sweeps continues to have a profound personal aviation impact on me. As many of you know, in the early 1990s, when my wife decided to learn to fly, we bought a 1977 Cessna Skyhawk. With new paint and a freshly overhauled engine, we thought this airplane would serve her training needs and our limited pleasure flying without much further investment. So much for our original thinking process. Other than the paint and engine, over the ensuing 13 years everything else in the airplane was refurbished. I was so taken by the interior, panel, and glareshield work done on our "Better Than New 172" sweeps airplane in 1994 that I had the same firm do our airplane. Each year as I watched the various high-tech avionics go into the AOPA sweepstakes aircraft, I envied the winner. Now the only piece of avionics from my original airplane is the Cessna automatic direction finder, and it's hard to recognize that, since we changed the tan Cessna radio front panel to black. While these changes have added value, they have been fun to plan and execute, at about one a year, limited by what the Boyer budget will bear. The airplane is now much more capable than on the day we bought it. With datalink weather, a Strikefinder, and a backup electric attitude indicator we can carefully venture out when the forecasts would have kept us on the ground. All this is a hint to my wife to get her instrument rating.
Three years ago I was quite taken by a very special AOPA sweepstakes airplane, selected since 2003 marked the Centennial of Flight. One of the few feature stories I have ever written appeared in the pages of this magazine in 2003 when yours truly, a 7,000-hour pilot with no logged tailwheel time, spent a week's vacation gaining my endorsement and learning to fly the Waco UPF-7. Obviously, no AOPA staff member is eligible to participate in the sweepstakes, but my love affair with the restored World War II trainer, and the experience of a new dimension of flying, stuck with me since I awarded the Waco to the lucky Houston-area pilot. For the past three years I've had to be content with looking at the pictures on the wall of my office of the week spent going back in time with a restored 1940 open-cockpit biplane. Finally, this past summer, realizing there wasn't much more we could do to the 172, I went back to Rare Aircraft, the restorer of our sweeps Waco, and it is now in the final stages of my ultimate restoration project, bringing a 1940 UPF-7 back to mint and original condition.
In late spring I hope to be taking my mind off the "heavy lifting" of AOPA work by flying my "new-old" biplane. Keep in mind that this isn't easy with the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone six miles away, and Camp David just a few miles to the northwest of our home airport. But like many of you, I'll stay away from these huge airspace inconveniences, wrapped up in the wonderful dimensions of flying, this time with the wind in my face, protected by goggles and my leather helmet.
For additional details on Phil's restorations, visit AOPA Online.