Retiring after 26 years in the U.S. Navy, John Field turned to flight training to help ease the stress of moving from northern Virginia to Texas and job hunting. He earned his private pilot certificate and instrument rating. While rental aircraft sufficed during his training, the Cessna 172s that he flew no longer fit his mission. Field wanted something that would carry four adults plus luggage.
That’s when his AOPA Project Pilot mentor, Mitch Veenstra, connected Field with Addison Flyers President Mike Devous. The limited liability company, located at Addison Airport just north of Dallas, had two Cessna 182s at the time that fit Field’s mission, so he bought in to the aircraft.
At the time, Addison Flyers had a Cessna 182 and a Turbo Skylane RG aircraft—perfect for Field’s flying. Field used the aircraft to fly from the Dallas area to visit family in Houston and San Antonio, and to take a “road trip” to Richmond, stopping to visit military buddies along the way. The trips wouldn’t have been as feasible driving—for example, flying his daughter from Dallas to Houston on short notice for a job interview—or even possible with rental aircraft. Few flight schools or fixed-base operators would give up their airplanes for a couple of weeks at a time.
Nine pilots flew the two aircraft until the economic downturn in 2008. Then, Addison Flyers, like many partnerships, lost members, dwindling to just three people and the two aircraft. After 18 months, they built back to nine members. The group consists of a doctor, radiologist, insurance broker, and other busy professionals, said Field, himself a program manager for a defense contractor, but they managed to put in the time to rebuild the LLC. However, they not only rebuilt numbers, they also took a look at what kind of aircraft they really wanted. The two Skylanes, panels identically outfitted with a horizontal situation indicator (HSI) and a Garmin 430 and 496, were no longer enough. They wanted to move up to a six-seat Bonanza.
At the end of 2012, when the economy was starting to improve and aircraft prices were still low, Addison Flyers purchased a 1984 Bonanza B36 (Baron wings, carrying 102 gallons useable fuel) with a Tornado Alley conversion. The turbonormalized aircraft can reach 175 KTAS at 10,000 feet, Field said.
"It’s a fun airplane to fly,” he said.
The group recently sold the Turbo Skylane RG but plans to keep the fixed-gear 1972 Cessna 182. Two of the partners only fly the Cessna because insurance requires an instrument rating to fly the Bonanza.
With a turbonormalized engine and Chelton avionics, the partners agreed they would need special training to fly the Bonanza safely. They had first-hand experience in what can happen if a pilot isn’t familiar with an aircraft: Their fixed-gear Cessna 182 had to go through a costly engine overhaul a few hundred hours before TBO because one member didn’t run it properly.
They obtained the minimum hours needed for the insurance company to insure them flying the Bonanza, and then they developed their own training plan to meet even higher standards. They brought in a flight instructor who specializes in Bonanza training, and each pilot flew with the instructor until he was individually ready to fly it solo. Then, they hired an instructor who regularly uses Chelton avionics to teach them how to navigate the glass cockpit. While the display has many similarities to a Garmin G1000, there are differences that that group wanted to make sure they fully understood.
In addition, Addison Flyers requires anyone who will fly the Bonanza to complete an online course through AdvancedPilot.com to learn how to operate the engine safely.
“We need to protect our investment,” Field said, explaining the extra training requirements. The group added another partner, bringing the total to 10, but won’t go beyond a 5:1 pilot-to-airplane ratio. First of all, Field said, the insurance company would consider them a club and increase their rates, and second, the aircraft wouldn’t be as available.
“If that one’s not available, the other one’s available,” Field said, noting there’s hardly ever a schedule conflict.
The Bonanza rents for $250 an hour (Hobbs) wet and the Cessna 182 for $50 an hour (tach) dry. Those fees cover maintenance expenses and help build the overhaul fund. A buy-in fee of $9,000 plus $515 a month covers insurance, hangar expenses, and the mortgage, he said.
Field said buying into an aircraft partnership is risky and takes a lot of trust in those who are also entering the financial arrangement.
“If something happens financially to one or more members, the other members could be left with that burden,” he said.
Addison Flyers is a good fit for him, he said, because each pilot has integrity and loves to fly. They all get along, and communicate frequently via email and the phone in between meeting every other month. Not only do they agree on the type of aircraft they want, but they also care for them the same: “We take meticulous care of our airplanes.”