“It’s not every night you can dine with fellow pilots on the Queen Mary!” said Matt Peacock. He and girlfriend Laurie Sargent had just joined our table at the “A Night for Flight” fundraiser during AOPA Summit. They proved to be hospital nurses from upstate New York.
“Did you fly yourselves here?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” said Matt. “I pilot a Cessna 150 out of Ogdensburg, up on the Canadian border. Flying here would have taken forever.” Along with working Ogdensburg’s emergency room, Matt practices as a travel nurse in Poughkeepsie. “Flying myself there saves time, and is affordable.”
“How did you get into flying?” Jean asked.
“At the time I worked full time in Poughkeepsie—eight days at a stretch to minimize the number of five-hour drives from Ogdensburg. I remember thinking, ‘There must be a quicker way to get here.’
“Someone suggested I look into flying down for work. They meant by airline, but it triggered the thought, ‘Why not learn to fly myself?’ I found my instructor, Kurt Thomas, on the Web, and was hooked after my first lesson.” Thirty hours into training, Matt bought his own airplane.
“I figured, ‘Why not apply $5,000 of my training cost against buying my own plane?’ Originally I wanted a Cessna 172, but as a beginner I wasn’t sure what to look for, or what I could afford. So I decided to buy an economical two-seat Cessna 150 and upgrade later. A well-equipped 1973 model popped up on eBay in Chesapeake, Virginia, that even had an autopilot. A student had once collapsed the nose gear, but I figured that was to be expected on a 35-year-old airplane.
“I offered $22,000 for the plane sight unseen, and the seller accepted. So I purchased two one-way tickets to Virginia Beach, and first saw the plane the day my instructor and I flew it away. Kurt warned me beforehand that, ‘If I have a bad feeling about this plane, you’ll hear about it.’ But I figured at the price, even $2,000 or $3,000 of repairs would be reasonable, so the risk was small. As it turned out, we both felt good after interviewing the seller’s mechanics, who’d just completed the annual inspection. Since then,Kurt often says that I got a great buy.”
“How did it feel, flying your own airplane home?” I asked.
“Great, though I got nervous when we experienced engine roughness two hours into the flight. But after Kurt calmly applied carburetor heat, the engine chugged for a moment and then ran fine. ‘Congratulations!’ he said. ‘Your first experience with carb ice.’ We decided to stop at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, rather than proceeding home over mountains at night in a new airplane, as originally planned.
“Ultimately it took one and a half years to earn my license, primarily because of my busy work schedule. My 75 hours of training time included extra solo practice thanks to owning my own airplane; I feel I got my private much cheaper than had I rented throughout. After that, I flew weekly to Poughkeepsie—a four-hour round trip versus 10 hours driving.”
Last summer he flew to AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with his mechanic friend, Ed Powell. It took nine hours going, and six coming back.
“Nearing Dunkirk, New York, I noticed thunderstorms on my portable GPS’s datalink weather. I thought we’d beat ’em to Chautauqua County Airport, but then I saw a big black wall of rain and thought, ‘I’m not flying into that!’ We landed at the first place I could find—Gowanda Airport, a grass strip in the middle of a cornfield. Seeking lunch, we found a place called Mikey’s Smokin’ Cafe. However, they sold only cigarettes, marijuana-smoking paraphernalia, and fireworks.
“‘I didn’t realize you could sell fireworks in New York state,’ I said to the woman inside. ‘This isn’t New York state,’ she replied. ‘It’s a sovereign nation.’ We were on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. We refueled at Dunkirk and flew across Lake Erie to Port Huron, Michigan. En route I received my first Canadian flight following, from Toronto Center.
“After landing at St. Clair County Airport too late to buy fuel, we hopped over to Marine City Airport, which has a self-serve pump. By now it was getting dark, and after fueling I couldn’t find anyone to pay. The office door was wide open, but inside were only two dozing cats. So I walked to the house next door, where I woke up a lady who’d fallen asleep in a chair watching Jeopardy.”
“I’m the person to pay,” she said, accepting Matt’s money. “Stop by again on your way home!” Matt and Ed then enjoyed a beautiful 45-minute night flight to Saginaw. “The land was so flat there compared to home I couldn’t believe it! The tallest points around were microwave towers.” The next morning they flew from Saginaw across Lake Michigan. Oshkosh’s Wittman Field was closed because of flooding, so they landed at a nearby private strip.
“Were you nervous crossing the Great Lakes?” I asked.
“Not really, Greg. Each time the airplane purred like a kitten, the weather was perfect, and it seemed like we were only over water for a few minutes.” We discussed how many pilots can afford their own airplanes if they shop within their budgets.
“Sometimes I wish I had something bigger and faster—for example, to fly both my daughters to lunch together. But I’ve learned to adjust my flying to match my plane. After all, I can always rent a four-place.”
Matt’s 150 burns just five to seven gallons of fuel per hour. By assisting a freelance mechanic he keeps his annual inspections at $600 to $700. “Not much goes wrong between annuals. Anyway, it’s simple to work on this plane, and any A&P can fix it.” Matt’s insurance runs under $600 per year, and his hangar is $185 per month.
“Sure, the costs add up when you tally them on paper, but it’s still cheap and convenient to fly my own plane. Besides, where I live there’s only one rental plane, so having my own offers more utility. Next I plan to master instrument flying. I traded Kurt my old pickup for IFR lessons—and I need to get started because he’s already driving the truck!”
Laurie enjoys flying with Matt, and may someday become a pilot, too. She especially enjoys the social aspects of flying. (They’ve already booked rooms for this September’s AOPA Summit in Hartford, Connecticut.)
“Some people look at pilots as an elitist group,” says Matt, “but once becoming one you realize that lots of regular people, just like you, fly. Who’d have guessed a nurse could own his own plane?”