Editor's Log

September 2000 Issue

The Perfect Airplane

When someone figures out what it is, mind giving me a call? Better yet, just drop one off

The quest for enjoyment while flying depends on having the right plane for the right mission. For some, a J-3 Cub and a grass strip provide the ultimate aviation experience. Others find satisfaction in a Baron at 18,000 feet or an F-16 going straight up.

As this issue goes to press, the annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh is in full swing. And what would the world’s greatest general aviation airshow be without thousands of pilots lusting after hardware they’d like to see in their hangar?

The problem with airplanes, of course, is that the design compromises that must be made force airplanes into niches that are bound to be found wanting.

A seaplane is too slow to take on those long business or vacation trips. A sporty plane probably handles too poorly in IFR conditions. A cross-country plane may be uninspiring or too expensive to use for fun.

Nimble or practical? Flashy or utilitarian? Cheap or sophisticated? The list goes on and on.

For most people, there is no perfect solution. That is, unless you’re one of the lucky few with the cash flow to support a harem of airplanes.

Meet George. He’s at Oshkosh right now looking for a Cub to bring home as his new toy. Look in George’s hangar. He already has a Lake amphibian and a high-performance single. There are some who would look at a personal fleet of airplanes as wretched excess. There are others who would consider it nothing more than a good start. (A few airplane-smitten celebrities come to mind.)

For most of us, there’s only the wistful thought that maybe someday we’ll be lucky enough to have the keys to three airplanes dangling from the key chain in the car as we drive to the airport. There was a time when I was making that cautious assessment myself, wanting to add an aerobatic airplane to my fleet of one. I crunched the numbers and decided we’d be able to do it if 1) I could convince the kids to go to public schools and in-state colleges, and 2) the dinner menu was heavy on macaroni and cheese for the next seven years.

When it came down to it, however, my better half put her foot down. “You’ll have a second airplane only after I have a beach house” were, I believe, her exact words. Since a beach house is considerably more expensive than even two 20-year-old airplanes, it’s not likely to happen soon.

But here I am anyway, thinking about some sweet, sexy taildragger as the crowds mill around the flight line at Oshkosh. Maybe I can get someone to lend me their Extra for a couple of weeks.

-Ken Ibold