With a little hard work, help from his friends—and a reputable aircraft dealer—Steve Bloom turned his lifelong dream of aircraft ownership into a “better-than-expected 182” reality.
While I was walking the grounds of Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, Florida, last April, I received a surprise call from my nephew, Steve. He, along with his CFI and another pilot friend, had come to the spring fly-in to “look at airplanes”—nothing unusual there. Sun ‘n Fun is a great place for airplane geeks to ogle and goggle.
But when I finally tracked the trio down at an exhibit, Steve explained that in this case, “look” actually meant looking—as in, looking for what kind of airplane he wanted to buy. Needless to say, as his uncle and lifelong wannabe airplane owner myself, I was thrilled at the prospect of sharing the aircraft search-and-purchase adventure with my nephew. It was vicarious for sure, but better than nothing.
Sure, you say, buying an airplane is great, but it’s nothing unusual.
True, but I need to give you a bit of context. You see, back in mid-April, Steve had not yet earned his private certificate. In fact, he was scheduled to take his FAA checkride the following week at his home airport in Manassas, Virginia. (He aced the ride.)
We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s start Steve Bloom’s adventure to aircraft ownership from the very beginning.
“Aviation has pretty much been a passion of mine a long as I can remember,” Steve said. “When I was a teenager, it was one thing my stepdad—who had owned an Aeronca Champ when he was young—and I shared. It was something we could enjoy and connect over.”
“On my 13th birthday, he and my mom got me a ride in a Stearman biplane at the Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton, Virginia. And then for my 16th birthday, they gave me an introductory flight in a Cessna 152 at Manassas Airport (KHEF),” he said. “Other than that, there wasn’t much General Aviation experience in my life. But I became a complete geek for it. Every school project had to do with airplanes.”
In high school, young Steve had set his sights on attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or Florida Institute of Technology to earn an aviation degree and pursue a career in the left seat. Unfortunately for the airlines, his less-than-first-class-medical-qualifying eyesight would keep that from happening.
“So, I did the responsible thing and got a degree in accounting from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina,” Steve said. “The college also has a really great aviation program and one of my best friends was going there. While my friend was building time toward his commercial, I got a lot of right-seat time in a 172. We flew all over the Carolinas and Georgia.”
Steve explained that while his dream of being a professional pilot didn’t pan out, in a way, his current job as the vice president of information technology for a major video game company is connected to his fascination with aviation.
“My original introduction and interest in the world of video games and simulations started with the hours and hours spent with the original [Microsoft] Flight Simulator,” he said. “It’s not nearly as popular now as it was then, but it was a chance to ‘fly’—and a lot of fun.”
Here’s where Steve’s road to piloting takes a course that’s all too familiar to so many of us: Life just got in the way of him achieving his lifelong dream of learning how to fly. But he didn’t lose the spark.
“Learning how to fly was always something I wanted to do, but just never could. I finally gave up and said it’s just going to be one of those unrealized dreams—and I was fine with that,” he explained. “I have a wonderful wife and daughter and a lot of amazing things going on in my life. Maybe God knew I would be a terrible pilot and was protecting me from myself.”
Just do it
“My wife, Danni, and I honeymooned at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Our family loves to spend our vacations out there. A couple of years ago, we decided to start looking at property for a vacation home,” Steve said. “From our home, it’s a six-hour drive [to the Outer Banks] on a good day.”
“Anyway, on the way home from a visit, I happened to mention how easy of a trip it would be in an airplane and if we were be going to make the trip more frequently, driving was the hard way.”
“Danni just looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t we just forget about the whole beach-house thing and you just go get your pilot’s license?’” Steve explained. “She said for me to just stop thinking and dreaming about it, and go do it.”
Steve heeded his wife’s advice and immediately went looking for a flight school, which ended up being a harder task than you might think. Primarily because of a shortage of full-time flight instructors, the few flight schools that are located at Steve’s home airport were swamped with students, especially on the weekends. His diligence finally paid off, and he started his training.
The lack of convenient instructors and available aircraft further cemented Steve’s idea that the only way to really be able to use his license was to buy his own airplane.
“I learned that in aviation—especially as a renter—you are always dependent on someone or something else, which limits your control,” he said. “As a bit of a Type A guy, I wanted to control as much of the process as I possibly could. I knew that when I got my private [certificate], I wanted to immediately start working toward my instrument rating. To do that, I needed to own my own airplane.”
Let the search begin
Obviously, the first step in looking for the perfect airplane to buy is deciding on just what that “perfect” airplane is. It’s not like you don’t have a plethora of options to choose from. But in Steve’s particular case, he wanted to stay in the Cessna family. Like so many of us, the familiarity he had developed during his flight training made the type his preferred choice.
But which one?
“I started looking at 172s, but quickly learned good ones are very difficult to find today. Flight schools really want them. Even the old ‘beaters’ that come on the market get sold quickly,” Steve said. “You can buy one, spend another $100,000, and have a really great four-place training airplane for way less than half the cost of a new one.”
Aside from the lack of available stock, the other negative on the 172 was the lack of useful load. Steve wanted an airplane that could carry his family and a bit of luggage for family trips.
He also looked at the fixed-gear Cessna 177B. And while he, as do many of us, really liked the Cardinal’s aggressive styling and spacious cabin, much like the 172, its useful load didn’t meet his needs. His search ultimately led to the venerable—and honestly, very hard to beat—Cessna 182 Skylane.
“My CFI, along with other of my aviation mentors, all said that the 182 would be the ideal ‘first’ airplane for me,” Steve said. “On one hand it’s a big 172, so it would be easy for me to transition to, and it had the power to carry pretty much whatever we want to put in it and still comfortably go as far as we want to go.”
“Also, unlike the majority of 172s,” he continued, “a 182 would not have typically been ‘beat up’ by primary flight students; although I was warned by everyone about 182s wanting to land hard on the nosegear. It was nothing to fear, but you have to pay attention to it and be properly trained. It’s been the bane of many 182 pilots.”
Once his mind was made up on the type, it came time for the daunting task of finding the right 182 out of all the candidates. Like everyone before him, Steve started his search by searching the pages of Trade-A-Plane, Controller, Barnstormers—all the popular places. The problem was they all seemed to have the same airplanes advertised.
As a social media kind of guy, Steve said he did find a lot of great information on the various aircraft buy/sell/trade groups available on Facebook.
“[The Facebook groups had] some fantastic information. I got an idea of what the real-world prices were for 182s and what I could expect to get within my budget,” Steve explained.
“The owners on Facebook were much more willing to share photos, logbook entries and other information about owning a particular type that you can’t get on the other sites,” he added. “And, besides, it’s a lot of fun just looking at the airplanes.”
A bit of uncle-ly advice
Throughout his online search, Steve would send me links to “interesting candidates” and ask my opinion on each.
I had previously contacted a couple of friends who own 182s and are A&Ps. They all shared the same advice: Rule No. 1 is, unless you are an A&P, DO NOT buy a fixer-upper. (The reasons are plentiful enough to warrant their own article.) Instead, find one with a mid-time airframe, low-time engine and serviceable avionics. That way you can start enjoying it right away.
As you can imagine, internet sites are packed with airplanes that may well have fit the bill. The problem is most owners are, let’s say, overly optimistic about the claims they make about their aircraft.
And besides, as Steve had already surmised, finding the airplane is just the first part of the complex purchasing puzzle.
“The biggest question I had when looking to buy an airplane on the open market was how does the process work? I know how to buy a car or a house, but not an airplane,” he said. “How do I make an offer? Who handles the contract? How do I do the pre-buy if the airplane is hundreds of miles away? How do I get financing or insurance?”
Sure, Steve’s a very smart guy and he would have figured it all out, but as his uncle, and with just a bit more experience and knowledge about the pitfalls of buying an airplane from an individual owner, my advice was to leave all that to the professionals.
When he asked my opinion, I said I felt his best avenue was to contract a reputable aircraft dealer and pay the dealer to put it all together for him. Sure, it may cost a bit more up front (I don’t mind spending his money), but my experienced opinion is that what it will save in worry and aggravation in the end is worth every penny.
I have known Fred Ahles and his team at Premier Aircraft Sales for a long time and they are the ones I would turn to if I were buying an airplane—especially my first airplane. So, I asked one of Premier’s regional sales managers, Barry Rutheiser, to contact Steve to see if the could work out an arrangement.
“When I talked to Barry about their acquisition services, I realized it was one simple answer to all of my questions,” Steve said. “Now, paying a sizable chunk of money up front as an acquisition fee is a little scary—you don’t get it back. This was also my first real realization that this was no longer a jaunt. It was serious.”
The first thing Rutheiser did was talk to Steve in-depth about what his goals were for flying and aircraft ownership.
“Just because Steve wanted a 182, didn’t mean that was the best airplane for him to buy. We need to consider the experience as a pilot and what they want to do with the airplane,” Rutheiser said. “You don’t want a buyer to be unrealistic in their search. For example, a Bonanza is fast and a great airplane, but it’s not ideal for the majority of low-time, first-time buyers.”
After their phone discussion, their mutual decision was that the Cessna 182 was indeed the ideal first airplane for Steve. Now the challenge was finding the right 182 to buy.
“There are a lot of 182s out there at all price points. It’s very difficult for the first-time buyer to weed through them all to find the right one,” Rutheiser said. “We go to other established dealers to see what they have available.”
“Working with an established dealer is important, because the dealer has already purchased the airplane from the owner and they’re not going to put their money at risk on a bad investment,” Rutheiser explained.
“In Steve’s case, I contacted a couple of trusted dealers and was able to find an unadvertised 1999 Cessna 182S with only 200 hours on the factory-remanufactured Lycoming engine,” he said. “It had a very nice Garmin avionics package and the cosmetics on the original interior and exterior were very good for its age. It was an exceptionally nice airplane.”
This particular Skylane was so nice, in fact, that Rutheiser made the decision that if Steve didn’t want it, he would buy it for Premier’s inventory.
“I signed the agreement with Barry on Friday and he called me the following Tuesday saying he thought he had found the ideal 182 for me,” Steve said. “When I saw the information on 4196 Delta, I realized the train was moving pretty fast. The market is hot for these airplanes.”
“I could have said I wasn’t interested, and Barry would have kept looking, but I didn’t want to miss out on the ideal airplane.”
“Then it came down to signing the contract and sending the deposit, setting up financing, all that stuff,” he said. “Now I was really committed. It was exciting—but a little nerve-wracking at the same time.”
While the proverbial clock was ticking, Steve stressed the fact that Rutheiser never put any pressure on him to make a decision.
“Barry gave me some great advice. He said, ‘Nothing happens quickly in aviation.’ I was all set to send the deposit and head to Fort Lauderdale [Florida] to pick up the airplane and he said to slow down. Premier wanted to first get the airplane to their shop and give it a thorough pre-buy inspection. If there was anything amiss, they wanted time to fix it,” Steve explained. “Barry made me comfortable with the whole process.”
If you’ve ever been on a blind date, well, it’s nothing compared to the anxiety you can feel after committing a bankroll of money and traveling from Virginia to Fort Lauderdale to buy an airplane that you’ve never seen.
Fortunately, for Steve and N4196 Delta, it was love at first flight.
“There were thunderstorms forecast in the area, so we decided to go fly as soon as my CFI and I arrived at Premier’s office,” Steve said. “Corbin Hallaran, Premier’s chief pilot, gave us a quick walkaround and I was ushered into the left seat.”
“I had never flown a high-performance airplane with a constant-speed prop and a more complicated avionics package before, but Corbin and my CFI assured me it was nothing to worry about. After all, it was just a more powerful l72.”
“After takeoff, I suddenly had this momentary feeling of severe buyer’s remorse. What was I doing? I am an idiot!” Steve said. “But, I’m a pretty levelheaded guy. ‘Don’t panic; fly the airplane,’ I thought. “With Corbin’s guidance, just as quickly as the anxiety came, it was gone—and I was enjoying flying my airplane.”
“It was overwhelming at first, but it was a lot of fun,” Steve said. “Corbin took the time to explain it all to me. It wasn’t a flight lesson; he was just introducing all of the components of the more complex airplane to me. It was a bit like drinking from a fire hose, but I was able to appreciate the fact that there I was, flying around Fort Lauderdale in an airplane I was soon going to own. That was pretty cool!”
After landing, Rutheiser and the rest of Premier’s team gathered in the conference room to go over all the aircraft records and logbooks. Prior to arrival, they had helped Steve with arranging financing through Dorr Aviation Credit Corporation (he can’t recommend them highly enough) and insurance through Falcon Aviation Insurance (great experience there as well).
Once all that was cleared, Steve contacted the bank and OK’d the transfer of the funds. All that was left to do was to go grab lunch at the airport diner.
“During lunch, I got the call from the bank saying the transfer was completed and the airplane was mine,” Steve said. “I never thought a ‘little-bit-more-than-a-hundred’ dollar hamburger could taste so good. It was the best lunch, and one of the best days of my life.”
After a few congratulatory handshakes, and with thunderstorms closing in along their route north, Steve and his CFI climbed aboard ‘96 Delta for the first leg of their trip home and Steve’s first chance to really get to know his new pride and joy.
Everything he wanted and more
Now that Steve and his family have had a few months to enjoy aircraft ownership, I had to ask: How does it feel?
“It’s everything I had hoped it would be,” Steve said. “It’s a beautiful airplane that’s everything I could hope for. It’s fulfilling my mission profile perfectly, which is smashing bugs on Saturday and just enjoying flying.”
“It will get my family safely wherever we want to go.”
“And it’s so, so much better than renting. I know it’s not cost-effective; I did all the math and my break-even point is 100 hours a year. But it’s definitely worth it for how I feel about airplanes and getting to own my own,” Steve said. “It’s an amazing feeling. Even if I just go to the airport and wipe the bugs off, I enjoy every minute of it.”
Steve said that while 4196 Delta was fulfilling his personal dream, it has already sparked a bit of the flying bug in a couple of his nieces and nephews.
“We had the airplane down at Kill Devil Hills [North Carolina] during our vacation this summer and we took all the nieces and nephews for rides along the coast. It was as much fun for me as it was for them,” he said. “One of my nieces said it was the coolest thing she had ever done. And my 15-year old nephew was so taken with it, he has decided to join the Air Force to become a pilot.”
You’ve got to admit that it’s a pretty great thing when achieving your dream helps someone else identify theirs.
Dale Smith has been an aviation journalist for 30 years. When he’s not writing aviation articles, Smith does commission aircraft illustrations specializing in seaplanes and flying boats. Smith has been a certificated pilot since 1974 and has flown 35 different types of General Aviation, business and World War II vintage aircraft. Send questions or comments to .
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