By Dave Hirschman
If possible, fly the kind of airplane you’re considering before you buy—and go beyond a sales demonstration ride. If you intend to buy a Cessna 182 and fly it to a vacation home 400 miles away, make that trip in a rented, borrowed, or shared Cessna 182 to find out what the travel times and expenses are like.
Jeff Justis, M.D., a retired orthopedic surgeon who has used a variety of single- and multiengine airplanes for extensive business and pleasure flights over more than 50 years of general aviation flying, says personal aircraft provided both business utility and ocean-spanning adventures that wouldn’t have been available through any other means of travel. But he treasures the shared experiences of flying with family and friends much more than the airplanes or technical knowledge he acquired.
“I like to quantify things, and I’m not an overly sentimental person,” says Justis, 75, of Oxford, Miss. “But the most meaningful experiences in my life that have to do with flying and aircraft ownership are personal memories and relationships. I’ve used airplanes for business throughout my career, and I’ve always been pretty good at finding ways to offset my costs. But I’m not sure even I could justify my expenditures on a purely economic basis.”
Justis said his own aircraft purchases have an appearance of logic and sound reasoning.
He bought a Taylorcraft with a partner in 1954 because it was the only airplane they could afford at the time ($350!). The Luscombe was a relatively fast “silver streak” that allowed adventures to Washington’s National Airport, New Mexico, and even (pre-Castro) Cuba. A Cessna 170 made room for a wife, baby, and German shepherd puppy; a Piper Apache provided twin-engine reliability and IFR capability; a Twin Comanche increased speed and range, and a turbo-charged Aztec made high-altitude trips over mountains possible.
But the seemingly pragmatic purchases were also guided by intangible benefits that can’t be assigned a dollar value. Justis and his then-teenage son rebuilt an Aeronca Champ, and Justis has flown GA planes with family members to Alaska, Europe, and the Caribbean. Even local flights, he says, have a certain allure.
“Routine flights are each memorable in some ways, either because of those sharing that flight, the destination, or the transitory glimpse of a beautiful sunset or cloud shape,” he said.
Justis is currently building an RV-6, a two-seat sport airplane. That aircraft choice, like the others that came before, mixes practicality with an innate desire to be in the sky.
“I hope to continue using the Aztec for travel, but someday the capability of the machine will become greater than my own capabilities,” he said. “By then, hopefully, the RV-6 will be completed and an old pilot may be able to manage a few circuits of the field in a final fling.”
March 25, 2008