1) Partner up!
There is just so much work involved in owning a small airplane, let alone the sheer cost of it all, that having another person to share responsibilities is crucial. I co-own N4006H with a friend who I met via a former instructor; we are in totally different points in our lives in terms of kids, careers, incomes, etc. But we share a common love of flying and especially for Mooney aircraft. From there we spent time building first mutual respect, then a friendship, as we went through the process of searching for the right airplane. There really is no disadvantage to having a partner–maybe even two partners–except for our inherent dislike of sharing anything. I’m not saying that partnering with just anybody with the means to buy an aircraft is a good idea. Go get to know this person, talk about what their goals and mission profile will be for the airplane. Talk about jobs and families and get used to sharing info you’d usually keep private, like salaries and medium-to-long term life and career goals. It is incredibly rewarding to share the experience of owning an airplane, but also very challenging, so you have to make sure you will be compatible. On another note, you might wonder how scheduling time works. Generally we check in with each other every week or so by text or email and discuss any planned longer trips in person. So far we haven’t had any conflicts that were difficult to resolve, and I expect we could both fly 150 hrs a year and still not have any trouble.
2) Things break–a lot–so be prepared mentally and financially.
Since we took possession of N4006H we’ve had problems with an oil leak, a broken Com 2 radio, and a failed vacuum pump. These are all relatively minor problems (the vacuum pump thankfully did NOT fail while in IMC!), but they certainly add up, each requiring 1-2 hrs of shop time plus whatever materials are needed for a fix. There are no shortcuts; things break and they are expensive and you will want them fixed right away because you were inevitably planning a cross-country to see your sister next week.
3) Learn to do certain routine maintenance items yourself, but have a good rapport with your local shop
We’ve changed the engine oil three times since we bought the airplane (and had the maintenance shop change it one other time), and have replaced at least three landing lights. We’ve also put air in the tires and kept the GPS database current. I have to admit to an over abundance of luck having a top-notch A&P as a Father who taught me how to change the oil safely, and clean and rotate the sparkplugs. If you don’t have a great mechanic in the family, ask someone from your shop to show you, or hang around and watch them the next time they change the oil in your aircraft. I assure you, if I can do it, so can you, and changing your own oil will save you $100+ each time. Further, being comfortable with removing the cowl and somewhat knowledgable about the contents therein will be a huge advantage the next time something goes “bump” and you have an urge to investigate. Not only will you be less intimidated, but you’ll be able to better describe your own diagnosis of the problem to a mechanic, potentially saving them time, and you money.
4) Join specific aircraft owner associations/clubs
In my case this meant joining the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association (MAPA), which publishes a monthly magazine specific to Mooney aircraft. More importantly, it gives me access to a very active mailing list/message board and a community of knowledgable owners, mechanics, and pilots willing to help with just about any newbie question I come up with. As the partner responsible for maintenance of my aircraft, this resource is invaluable for everything from compliance with AD’s to tips for changing the oil. Similar associations and communities exist for many aircraft, including the big ones like Cessna, Piper, and Beechcraft, and I would strongly recommend becoming an active participant in them if you own an aircraft.
5) Go fly…a lot
This should be self evident, but there are too many airplanes sitting on quiet ramps or in rusty T-hangars that don’t fly often enough. There have been many articles that cite the need to fly a certain amount in order to justify owning an airplane versus renting. Typically the number is around 8 hours per month, but maybe a bit higher in a complex, high-performance aircraft like the Mooney. My opinion is that it is less important to justify owning an airplane down to every penny versus renting, and I believe those numbers don’t take into account the fact that you can take an airplane you own for as long as you like while with a rental you’d get charged daily minimums–quickly ballooning the cost to rent. Just go fly, as much as you can, go fly. The benefits of flying regularly go beyond just the convenience for you and your passengers. It will help keep critical airframe and engine parts from becoming corroded and help you identify any problems before they become major.
In conclusion: after 6 months of ownership this has been the most fun, challenging, satisfying, greatest thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to see where the next 6 months takes me.