All General Aviation (GA) aircraft are aging with every passing day. Except for few airplanes, most general aviation aircraft are not manufactured at the rate they used to be.
This means most of the pilots will have to fly old airplanes that are just getting older.
Before the major reduction in the production of GA aircraft in the mid-1980s, it was quite common to spot someone flying a GA aircraft that is less than a decade old.
These days, at most airports, only a handful of people have airplanes that are one, two or even three decades old.
Some unique and new set of challenges are faced by owners and pilots of older aircraft, along with some amount of industry stewardship at the same time. Let us take a look at some of the challenges here:
Availability of Parts
The more the age of an aircraft, the more difficult it will be to find its parts. In case we are lucky a good source can be in the form of scavenged parts of wrecked airplanes.
When this source is not available, an aircraft is modified or upgraded when a part breaks, or it is replaced by a new compatible substitute. In case none of these works, part will have to be fabricated from the scratch, which can be quite difficult and expensive.
The most financially capable owners can purchase extras of some parts. It is not compulsory to do so, but in the most extreme situations it can turn out to be a good solution.
For example, if you have a Whiz Bang 37-C and the one that is quite rare to find, and luckily you find a second one at a salvage yard cheap, it is better to own it for some extra parts.
Availability of Mechanic
When these old general aviation flying machines get older, so does those who keep them running. Many mechanics retire or pass away well before the aircraft they work on.
This makes it difficult to find a qualified and experienced mechanic. Fortunately, most of the old aircraft are not as complex as the new ones. It will not be difficult for a good mechanic to become familiar with the intricacies of these old aircraft.
The owner of these old aircraft should make themselves familiar with their possession. This way they can help the mechanic who will work on it.
By learning how to maintain your airplane, you can expedite the work of the IA or A&P who will work on your airplane. It will be a good idea if you can keep digital or printed copies of the service manuals and parts of the aircraft you want to keep for a long time to come.
Join a type club where you can meet people who have invaluable experience and know your type of aircraft inside and out. It is worth making that extra effort and travel a bit to find a mechanic that is specific to the make and model you own.
Insurance of Your Aircraft
Just like it is difficult to insure an old person, same is the problem with these aircraft. It is indeed quite a challenge getting insurance for old aircraft. The older the aircraft the more challenging it is.
However, it is quite affordable to get insurance for most old aircraft as the hull values decreases, the premium also decreases. The reasoning from insurance companies for not insuring an old GA aircraft is that when an old aircraft is damaged, it will cost more to get it fixed due to lack of availability of parts.
The chance to be “totaled” may be increased. Work with your insurer to find out the best option for your aircraft.
These challenges should not scare you away from owning an older aircraft, as there are many opportunities and benefits associated with preserving an older aircraft.
Essentially when you are flying these airplanes, you are keeping the history alive, as many of these old aircraft are truly classic piece of machines.
The performance characteristics of many old aircraft is similar to newer aircraft in terms of speed, weight and balance and endurance, and that too at much lower acquisition cost.
When these old aircraft are installed with new upgraded avionics, they are almost as good as most modern aircraft capable of of performing most missions. It is because of this reason owning an older aircraft is affordable for more pilots and more of them are able to stay active.
Older General Aviation Airplanes Can Look Modern with Upgrades
Many older aircraft when installed with upgraded avionics, new engine and a new interior, can make them just as good and comfortable as the new production airplanes and at a much lower cost in many cases.
Purchasing a new Cessna 206 from the factory can cost more than upgrading a 1960s Cessna 206 with a new engine and a new GPS. And in all likelihood it will go faster too.
You are not required to keep all of the old parts of your old aircraft. Increasingly, older aircraft can be upgraded with modern avionics which enables old bodies to be filled with modern equipment.
Interiors of some of the most historic of aircraft can be turned into an upgraded modern version while still keeping the historic exteriors.
Keeping the History Alive
Here is an example of a really old aircraft, i.e. of a 1941 Meyers OTW bi-plane.
Only 102 of these aircraft were ever built and to this day less than 20 are still in operation. A lesser number of these aircraft will fly with the original Warner (a radial) engine.
The family that owns this aircraft is essentially the caretaker of one of the last examples of this aircraft. They are living history managers and by owning and flying this aircraft, they are keeping the history alive for the next generation.
When you get involved with aircraft like these it changes they way things happen to you at the airport. With no offense to another lovely flying bird, Cessna 172, but, your presence will be taken differently as compared to when you arrive in a Cessna 172.
There is a strong and long heritage in keeping airplanes as old as these in good flying condition. Therefore, next time when you think of swapping your 1960’s V-Tail with a new aircraft, consider this. Who will keep this airplane flying, if you don’t?
With every passing day, general aviation aircraft are getting older and becoming more valuable. Along with this the challenge to keep them in flying condition is also getting bigger. The reward to keep the aviation history alive is hard to describe in words.