Geoff Smathers always regretted the selling of the family 182. More than two decades later he bought it back.
“My dad loved to fly,” Geoff Smathers of Mars, Penn. told me. “The Skylane was his fifth or sixth airplane. He and my mom, Meg Smathers (now Meg S. Bauschard) used them for pleasure and business.”
His father purchased the 182L, N42364, new in 1968. “My brother, Win S. Smathers IV, was born the same year. I was born in 1970,” Smathers explained.
“My mom, my brother and I flew a lot with my dad in the 1970s,” he recalled. “My brother and I grew up flying with my dad—and fighting over the coveted copilot seat.”
His father based the plane at Butler County Airport (KBTP) in Butler, Penn. from 1968 to 1981. “My dad lost his medical in the early 1980s, and he let his business partner, Wilson Amsler, take the plane,” Smathers said.
Amsler was a U.S. Navy flight instructor in World War II. His daughter, Wendy Amsler, learned to fly, and so the Amslers kept the plane in Clarion, Penn. so Wendy could fly it. “But when Wilson Amsler died in 1989, my dad agreed to sell the Skylane to Wendy for $25,000,” said Smathers.
“I was beside myself. I asked my dad not to sell the airplane and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Geoff, we will buy a better one soon.’ That was in 1989.
“Dad died in 1992. Needless to say, we never bought the ‘better airplane’ as he had planned,” said Smathers.
In the spring of 1991 Geoff Smathers formally began flying lessons and attained his private pilot certificate that fall.
“After graduating from Washington and Jefferson College in the spring of 1992, I was planning on going to commercial flight school, but life got in the way,” Smathers explained.
“My dad died and I decided to go into the family business,” he said. The family business is real estate. As the years passed and Smathers started a family of his own, N42364 was never too far from his mind.
The search was on
“I loved every moment flying with my dad in this Skylane—even when I got airsick as a little kid and threw up into the instrument panel,” Smathers said. “I still remember that day. I warned my dad that we had better land because I was getting sick.
“He didn’t get the plane on the ground quick enough. We spent the rest of the day cleaning the airplane using Q-tips,” he recalled.
In early 2014, Smathers decided to track down his special Skylane. He researched the tail number and found that it had been sold by Wendy Amsler in 1999. Fortunately, the aircraft had stayed in Clarion.
“I wrote to the owner, John Schmader,” Smathers said. “Two months later, in June, I got a call. Just three days after that, my son and I drove up to look at it.
“It was just beautiful, with great paint—and it was like a time capsule inside. It was just exactly how I remembered it,” he explained. The aircraft was low-time for a 1968, with only 2,000 hours on the airframe.
Smathers wrote the check to hold it and scheduled the pre-purchase inspection. The inspection went well, and by mid-July 2014, Smathers was the new owner. “This was 95 percent a sentimental purchase,” Smathers admitted. “This plane helps me reconnect to my dad.”
And it has worked out very well so far.
First things first
The paint was in great shape, but everything else was either original or almost original. There were, of course, a few squawks. “I knew there was an alternator issue due to the headset noise and the bouncing amp meter needle,” Smathers explained.
The first upgrade was to install LED lighting on the exterior: the beacon, landing and taxi lights are all made by Whelen. “That solved the electric draw problems,” he said. He installed a new alternator, too.
In addition, Smathers decided to upgrade old radios and navigation to make it safer for flying with his family and to adhere to ADS-B requirements. For a cosmetic upgrade, he installed new carpet.
“I have always loved Garmin products,” Smathers said. “My first portable GPSMAP 195 was mind-bending. I loved it!”
Smathers’ Skylane now has a Garmin GTN 750 GPS/Navcom MFD front and center. “The touchscreen Garmin is the most incredible device ever,” he explained. “I’m able to make trips I never would have made without it.”
The aircraft has Garmin GNC 255A VHF Navcom radios and a Garmin GDL 88 datalink to comply with ADS-B In and Out.
In addition, he uses Garmin Flight Stream 210 as a wireless gateway for
syncing flight plans with the GTN 750. Flight Stream also works with the Garmin Pilot App and the Garmin Aera 796 GPS on the yoke.
“The 796 on the yoke is hardwired to the GTN 750,” Smathers explained. “I use it as my ‘poor man’s HSI,’ and it does a great job,” he commented.
“The secondary navcom is a nice one, a GNC 255A. It also has a database. It tells you the airport or VOR that the frequency is for,” he explained.
In addition, Smathers installed new audio equipment. N42364 now has a PMA450 audio panel from PS Engineering, and the device includes Bluetooth as well as a USB charger.
One big improvement is that the aircraft now has 3-D audio. “I like that feature very much,” Smathers said. PS Engineering’s Intelliaudio feature means Com 1 transmits in the left ear while Com 2 is in the right ear.
“Both coms have monitor modes, four different frequencies for Unicom, ATIS, and whatever else,” he added. “The PMA450’s Bluetooth is useful, too. I use it to make phone calls, stream music and to pick up IFR flight plans via cell phone,” he said.
Flight planning software
Smathers has flight planning software well covered. His iPad is running Seattle Avionics’ FlyQ, Garmin Pilot and ForeFlight. “I bought them all and I like features on each of them,” he explained.
Smathers uses the Flight Stream 210 to communicate ADS-B traffic and weather to his iPad either via Garmin Pilot or ForeFlight. “Seattle Avionics’ FlyQ doesn’t talk to the Garmin—yet,” he said. Smathers finds himself switching between all three apps when on a cross-country.
His flight planning protocol goes like this: first, he files the flight plan on his iPad using DUATS. “Once it’s filed,” he continued, “Garmin Pilot sees the flight plan; I look at my iPad, select ‘Forward to GTN.’
“The message button blinks on the GTN and asks, ‘Would you like to accept?’ I can [then] modify the plan from the GTN 750 if needed.”
Some additional upgrades are on the horizon for N42364. The largest of these is a replacement for the 230 hp Continental O-470-R. “I am planning on upgrading to a 300 hp engine when the current engine gets to TBO,” Smathers reported.
The Cessna 300 Navomatic autopilot is inop. “It wanders all over the sky,” Smathers said. Currently, he hand-flies the aircraft everywhere. Recently Smathers decided Genesys Aerosystems’ System 30 fit his budget better than the System 55X, and the installation will be his winter upgrade.
Another project on the list for someday includes a Garmin G500 flight display or an Aspen Evolution 2000. “If the budget is tight, then the Evolution 1000,” Smathers explained. “I’d like to have some glass in the panel because I worry about the vacuum pump failing while in IMC.”
No doubt, all of these upgrades are costly. To help keep his (and perhaps, his wife’s) dismay about the financial outlay in check, Smathers prefers to think of the items in terms of Aviation Monetary Units, or AMUs—a term he borrowed from a pilot friend in his flying club at KPJC in Zelienople, Penn.
“Doesn’t $15,000 sound like a lot for an autopilot?” he asked. “But 15 AMUs, now, that sounds a lot better.”
Right now, Smathers is just enjoying the wonderful experience of flying his father’s plane. He is an SE-L and instrument rated pilot with 1,000 hours and is currently preparing to take his helicopter private checkride.
“Hopefully by the publishing of this article I will have passed [my checkride] and have my helicopter rating,” he said. “I plan on getting a commercial and instructor helicopter rating and a commercial instructor airplane rating in the next 12 months. My philosophy is, ‘If you love it, do it and share it.’
“Mostly my plane is used for pleasure,” he continued. “Golf trips, beach trips, and just taking my son Rome and daughters Olivia and Lindsey for a very expensive breakfast. My son and I also flew to Frederick, Md. for the AOPA Fly-in last year.
“My wife, Jacqueline Rudolph Smathers, is a white-knuckled flyer,” he said. “She will go flying with me if we have a fun destination, like The Homestead [The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va.].”
He also uses the aircraft for business. “I’m a real estate agent and I use it for providing aerial photography,” he said. “However, with the new drone technology, it isn’t as economical or as high quality.”
The aircraft currently has two hangar homes; one at Zelienople Municipal (KPJC) in Zelienople, Penn. and at Butler Co. Airport (KBTP) in Butler, Penn. Soon, he will choose his Skylane’s permanent home. “I’m leaning toward KPJC because my A&P is based there; however, KBTP is closer to my home,” he explained.
Regardless of where his plane is kept or the reason he is in the air, Smathers counts himself as extremely fortunate to have N42364. “After buying this plane, I’m not walking in my dad’s footsteps; I’m flying in his seat,” Smathers explained.
“Each and every time I see this plane in my hangar and each time I fly it, I think of my dad.
“And Dad, apparently, was a great pilot. I say this because I remember him landing on Runway 26 at KBTP and stopping in such a short distance that he could easily turn off on Taxiway Echo to his T-hangar. That’s less than 1,000 feet every time.
“I have so far not been able stop the very same C-182 for that turnoff. Not even close! Perhaps my dad had stock in the brake manufacturer,” he joked.
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