Although I’m now the proud owner of a Piper Saratoga, it took me several hundred hours of flying before I didn’t have to ask permission to use someone else’s airplane. Along the way, I’ve found that rental airplanes and even those operated by solo owners and partnerships have, shall we say, uneven characteristics. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get.
For example, a large flying club I was in a few years back had a pair of Cessna Cardinal RGs. They were getting a bit long in the tooth, but were roomy and relatively fast, and they were good cross-country airplanes. They also were configured basically the same, with two nav/comms but little else: no autopilot, for example, GPS or DME. After getting to know them both, I came to prefer the blue-and-white one over the orange version, since it was a bit younger and cleaner. Neither let me down, but one was sold to someone outside the club and, shortly thereafter, another pilot landed the remaining Cardinal RG gear-up.
Soon my membership in that club ended, placing me back in the mix for rental airplanes. As it happened, close friends with a Skyhawk saw my pain and let me fly their pride and joy. It was about as close as one could get to ownership without a large cash outlay. I grew spoiled. That blissful period ended, of course, placing me back in the position of using other airplanes.
There was the FBO who refused to rent me a 172 because there was a single thunderstorm nearby. It was 50 miles off my route and headed the other way, but they still wouldn’t give me the keys. There were the Cessnas with doors and windows that randomly opened, the Bonanza with the emergency gear handle cover installed incorrectly and…you get the picture.
One airplane I borrowed recently broke something every other time I flew it. After a cross-country leg in good VFR, one of the voltage regulators took a break in the initial climb to the next destination. Resetting the alternator fixed the problem. As I was closing it after another flight, the cabin door handle broke off in my hand. The next morning, I had to borrow a screwdriver from the FBO to get into the airplane. And before I was finished with it, the airplane lost all comms one afternoon during my IFR arrival at a major airport, leaving me with only the transponder’s ident feature to respond to ATC. Thankfully, not all of the airplanes I’ve flown have been that…challenging when it comes to reliability.
With ownership comes responsibility, plus a depleted checkbook. But the benefits of knowing the airplane’s condition 100 percent of the time—and having the ability to do something about it—have eliminated huge portions of the frustration I experienced when flying other airplanes.