Menu Sign In Contact FAQ
Welcome to our forums

Buying a 60 year old airframe in the USA and flying it back to the UK

Hoping this thread lasts the course, and I hope I can share lessons along the way.

During lockdown I spent an irrational amount of time researching the for sale ads for a Beechcraft Bonanza or Debonair. I even sold my old Super Cub and invested in bringing my Warrior up to a readiness for sale condition.

I had a relatively open mind on what type of Beechcraft I wanted, and the only type I discarded was the A36 type. My original interest had been piqued because the Bonanza had reasonable short field performance for a retractable, could cruise at 150KTAS, and at the time were relatively cheap. In fact a good example of an F33A sold in the UK two years ago, during the lockdown, for significantly less than the price of a Warrior today. I also found a copy of The Incomparable Bonanza online from a Welsh second hand bookstore!

I didn’t think there were many examples available in the UK, and those that were had had their share of accident and damage history.

A forumite offered to help me find one in the USA, but trying to buy in the USA from overseas is a challenge. I certainly could not make up my mind on what might be a viable candidate, and while we built a consensus on a likely type for my budget, the candidates either sold quickly, or I had concerns they had a history as hangar queens (with a risk of cam lobe and lifter pitting, and other maintenance issues). During this period I recall two good candidates: an S35 from California that sold quickly, and a V35B with a low AFTT but needing updating. Other candidates were discarded because they were from Florida, had spar cracks, undecided sellers, etc. What I did learn was that the S35 through V35A vintage had reasonable empty mass (on average around 2100 pounds) while the later V35B models could sometimes weigh in at 2400 pounds.

A 1965 C33 came up for sale in Europe and I advised the fellow forumite I would investigate this example. He gracefully moved on, probably realising that helping on a purchase is potentially frustrating work.

This example was owned by the proverbial ex airline pilot, and having been assured it had no damage history and full logs I arranged a pre buy. In pre buy it subsequently transpired that the aircraft had corrosion issues, poorly repaired damage history (multiple) and partial logs. Pre buy was cheap and what I learned from this episode were the following rules:

N reg, this example would have required an export CofA to G from a European registry
Also N reg has registry and 337 (mod and damage repair history with the FAA)
If the seller cannot provide a scan of all the logs move on
Don’t assume dealing with ex airline pilot is a source of comfort

In the meantime a V35B had a quite spectacular hard landing and gear collapse in the UK. I toyed with the idea of buying it out of salvage, but decided I wasn’t up to the task of project managing this.

Time passed, the market heated up, and hoping to buy a decent candidate in the USA from overseas with the complicated porcupine mating dance of a pre buy, an agent, etc meant any good candidates would be sold to locals. I did find a nice F33A hangar queen in the desert area of Northern California. However the seller basically had a first with the cash policy and he had been carrying out a lot of the maintenance. I was an underbidder and I had not yet decided on a more, say, decisive strategy.

Oxford (EGTK), United Kingdom

A more decisive strategy consisted with building a relationship with some of the better brokers in the USA. I also investigated how easy was it to get insurance, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could get North America coverage quite easily. This is a big competitive advantage as a buyer.

I then took a decision which goes against the usual advice: I dispensed with the pre buy! I have purchased three aircraft, all without a pre buy, and decided that if I present myself as a qualified buyer (with insurance) that will decide based on review of ALL the logs, I might move up the pecking order from quaint guy in wee England, to potentially a no hassle buyer.

Now I had a method. Focus on any decent examples with good history on Trade-a-Plane and Barnstormers (these are the most reliable sites without stale ads). Ask for log books and indicating, while I was from overseas I could get insurance, hold an FAA licence, and would decide based on log books. Previously I had had a serial approach: focus on one airframe at a time. Do the sellers do that, deal with one buyer at a time? No, although a small minority do, but still with a first with the cash policy.

In effect do not ‘fall in love’, have several reasonable candidates and operate unsentimentally with a budget.

Now I collected log books from several sellers.

I also had a rule that I would use Vref appraisal values as an anchor, which meant in today’s markets most asking prices were above Vref.

The recent hike in AvGas has sent a cold wind through the hot market, and I found myself losing on a bid by an underbidder willing to move faster than I was. It would be fair to say the asking prices today are not being achieved unless they are fairly close to Vref.

I still had a bias towards a reputable broker and in an ideal world would prefer to buy from a reputable broker, who could actually qualify both sides and had an investment in their brand.

This method has resulted in having a bid accepted and I am now moving onto the next steps.

Oxford (EGTK), United Kingdom

Very interesting! Bookmarked.

always learning
LO__, Austria

Looking forward to read more about this!

ESSZ, Sweden

RobertL18C wrote:

It would be fair to say the asking prices today are not being achieved unless they are fairly close to Vref.

Very interesting thread, I’ll follow.

Wrt the above quote, I think you will see more of that happening. The combo of increased 100LL prices and – more importantly – rise in interest rates will definitely cool the market. I also have a feeling that a lot of the excess money sloshing around during the pandemic has been spent, so while I doubt it’ll be a buyer’s market very soon, the tide seems to be turning.

RobertL18C wrote:

The recent hike in AvGas has sent a cold wind through the hot market, and I found myself losing on a bid by an underbidder willing to move faster

How did you know that he underbid? Are sellers so open (and honest)?

EDQH, Germany

Well it isn’t an electronic auction. In this case I had bid around 15% lower but felt some of the recent inspections may not have been carried out. The seller advised me he had an offer about 5% lower wanting to close, I guess hoping I would react.

Basically a significant proportion of sellers are marking up 50 to 75% of fair value, and then deals are getting done at 20% over fair value and everybody thinks they have got a ‘deal’

The reality is values are on average up 20% from a couple of years ago for the type.

Oxford (EGTK), United Kingdom

Yesterday started the process of organising escrow and insurance, and first steps for the flight back. Will be using Southern Aviation Consultancy as trustee although arguably with a daughter who is a USA citizen, the aircraft could be registered in her name.

I also put all the logs on a spread sheet. The Beechcraft type has a few 100 hour recurring ADs: up link tension on the landing gear, ignition check, some minor airframe checks. Am hoping the seller will get these done, but if not will have to spring for a 100 hour inspection.

Oxford (EGTK), United Kingdom

Am hoping the Canuck community might help out on suggestions for the trans Canada portion of the journey.

My initial sketch is to clear customs in Seattle and go to Boundary Bay, hoping that works as a port of entry.

Then visit family in Kelowna, and from there picking 3 to 4 hour legs going to Medicine Hat.

Next airport would be Winnipeg, then Thunder Bay, Montreal and Schefferville. Schefferville is the last airport with AvGas before Iqaluit, the departing airport for Kangerlussuaq in Greenland.

Not sure what are GA friendly airports at cities like Montreal, and I may be flying over some better staging posts. Although the airports have a certain RMCP ring to them! The Canucks might even know whether there is an airport between Schefferville and Iqaluit with AvGas, for diversion reasons. While the route to Greenland has more diversions available than is usually thought to be the case, very few airports have AvGas. I therefore may invest, not in a ferry tank, but in a Turtle Pac seat drum as insurance to have some extra AvGas in the event of diversion.

Am not sure whether it is possible to post a spreadsheet, but I now have one for managing the four fuel tanks. The pre B33 and N35 types have a return line to the left main tank as the fuel system draws around 3 to 4 usg an hour more than the engine consumes, returning this excess to the left main tank. This complication is similar to those familiar with the twin Cessnas, except Cessna take it to a higher level (up to six tanks, over twelve different pumps, plus cross feed). A spreadsheet and detailed fuel plan is therefore the preferred SOP. This example has unmolested wing tips, ie no tip tanks, which start to take you towards Cessna twin territory.

Oxford (EGTK), United Kingdom

Very interested to hear about the transatlantic journey. It’s a bucket list item for me for sure!

EHRD, Netherlands
82 Posts
Sign in to add your message

Back to Top