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Oh Lord Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz

posted Apr 17, 2011, 2:41 PM by George Finlay   [ updated Apr 17, 2011, 2:42 PM by Nathaniel Cauldwell ]

I recommended that a client sell his airplane last week, but he has not taken that advice.

A green private pilot with an instrument rating that is barely wet, I had agreed to work with him on a transition into a single turboprop. He had already selected not only the model he wanted, but the exact bird, a 2002 Piper Meridian, PA46-500TP.

The first time he ignored my advice was when he refused professional help in the purchasing process. Had he accepted that help, he might have realized that a turboprop is vastly more airplane than required by his flying needs. Failing that, he might have been steered to a more capable model. But failing that, he would very likely have been steered away from the particular plane he bought, which was overpriced by at least ten percent.

He and I had worked together already for a long time, first on his instrument rating, then on his transition into a faster single-engine piston airplane. So I knew his penny-wise, pound-foolish weaknesses. The die was cast when a friend recently bought a turboprop, and he needed to make amends. However the friend has the flying skills and financial resources that allow him to easily handle a Socata TBM, the model in the middle of the turboprop market, between the Meridian and the Pilatus 12.

When it became clear that he was going to buy the Meridian, I told him it was an impractical decision, but agreed to train him. We took the ground and simulator training course at SimCom together. In the simulator, he proved that he needed more work before he would be competent in an essential skill for this and any other airplane — hand-flying approaches in the clouds. But I was resolved to fly with him as long as it took to reach competency. We flew the airplane home together and he began making immediate plans for long flights with passengers. I began to realize that his goal was to log the minimum hours that would permit him to solo. I became alarmed when I realized that we were rapidly approaching those mimimum hours. When I work with a candidate for an instrument rating or a transition, I can decide when a pilot can safely advance to his goal. But when the goal is defined only in terms of logged hours, I need to rely exclusively on the pilot’s agreement with my judgment of his abilities. 

On one of our flights together with passengers, an occasion arose that allowed me safely to give him a clear view of how much he had to learn. We were being vectored to an ILS approach when the glideslope indicator on his electronic HSI failed. The ceiling was high enough, and the final approach course was free enough of nearby obstacles, so I asked him to hand-fly the approach using the backup glideslope. It was a wild ride, accomplished only with much coaching. But in conversations afterward, he focused on the possible causes of the instrument failure rather than on the need for more partial panel training.

Had he been willing to concede he needed put off the goal of piloting the airplane solo for the foreseeable future, and resolve to fly it only with me or other competent co-pilot, then I would have been willing to continue training him. But with no sign of that concession, and with the time rapidly approaching when I would have no control over the operation of his airplane, I recommended he sell it.


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