propBargain in a Barn or Pig in a Poke?

The real price of bringing a farm fresh “barn find” back to life

By Floyd Allen

Perhaps the only thing better than taking a stroll down memory lane, is floating down the river of imagination. For example, instead of listening to the boss explain for the third time why it is vitally important that you cut down on toilet paper wastage, just image the following scenario:

You’re on a romantic stroll in the woods in upstate New York when you come upon this old, dilapidated barn. Curious, you and darlin’ look inside and, lo and behold, there’s a 1949 Cessna 140A. Now, being a Cessna aficionado, you know there were less than 600 of these produced, and your temples start throbbing as you realize what a find you have just made. You track down the owner of the land, barn, and plane – a sweet grandma type in her nineties – who explains that her late husband was a WWII pilot and, in 1960, he bought that plane figuring some day he would get it fixed up and fly it. First one thing and then another, though, and he never got it airborne. If you’d like it, she’s in need of a new motorized wheel chair and would gladly trade the plane for the new chair. Knowing that you could never take advantage of her that way, but also that the plane is probably in sore need of repair and upgrades, you offer her the chair and $5,000 for the plane “as is.” She is thrilled with the offer, and while you wait for her attorney to come out and draw up the papers to finalize the deal she bakes you a batch of the best molasses cookies you have ever tasted! Thinking that perhaps with her recipe and a little expert marketing you could become the next “Famous Amos” you…

See, even your imagination can digress! Now back to the imaginary find.

Let’s suppose you buy granny an Ez Lite Cruiser, a mid-priced motorized wheelchair that runs about $2,500, meaning you now have $7,500 invested in the plane. One of the first things you’ll want to do is inspect your plane to see just how much more you’re going to have to put into it to make it fly. Experience tells you the basic areas to check and the things you need to look for as you begin your search: lower door posts, corrosion in the carry-through spar, cracks in the tail structure and rear fuselage, landing-gear boxes, broken tail springs, etc….

After quickly checking these items, you then do a much more thorough inspection, starting from the inside out.

Interior

“Well, the first thing you’re probably going to find is a host of varmint nests,” began Dodd Stretch, President of Airtex Products, Inc. (www.airtexinteriors.com) in Fairfield, Illinois. “Critters, especially mice and birds, just love to nest in ‘barn finds’ and they’re often more than just a little destructive.” Not only do the varmints destroy the fabric/stuffing in the interior, the more troublesome problem is the fact that their urine is extremely caustic, causing a good deal of corrosion to interior parts.

“Once you determine you need to replace the interior – and after being in a barn for 55 years you will want to replace it – contact us and we’ll send you a sample chart so you can choose the colors you want,” Stretch advised. “Then, once you have your color scheme figured out, send us several photos to confirm that the existing seats in your new find are original, and have not been replaced with 150 seats.” Once everything has been verified, you can place your order.

“I think we are pretty apt to be one of the least expensive parts of your resurrecting venture, shared Stretch. “We can provide you with a complete renovation package – seats, side panels, headliners, carpet, and baggage area – for about $1,800.” This “package” comes with the most moderately priced fabric Airtex offers. They also have two other premium lines, each of which, of course, is more expensive. “We can even provide you with leather,” Stretch explained, “but they were not normally in the 140 line.” To view more interior offerings from Airtex, visit www.airtexinteriors.com

Instruments & Avionics

“While Dodd (and interior renovations) may seem to be on the low end of the investment spectrum, avionics are apt to be on the higher end—the way higher end,” interjected Ryan Deck, Avionics Sales Manager for Aircraft Spruce (www.aircraftspruce.com).

Depending on the model, Deck said that there are a veritable host of things that need to be checked when it comes to avionics. Such items include the condition and functionality of the “six pack” cluster, (air speed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, directional gyro, vertical speed indicator, and turn and bank indicator), the center stack/core avionics, the transponder(s), engine gauges, and the electrical system itself. “If you have to replace everything,” Deck advised, “you could be looking at anywhere from $60,000 and up.”

Deck suggests that once you do a survey of your “new” aircraft you can typically categorize everything into one of three categories:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What isn’t working?
  3. What’s on “the edge” of not working?

He also reemphasized the importance of what should be your first goal: getting the plane airworthy. He suggests setting up a spreadsheet that includes a list of all needed items and their respective costs. You can then determine your “priority of purchase” and proceed from there.

Engine

As a quick test to determine the condition of your new bird’s engine, Tim Varga of Aircraft Engine Specialists (AES) in Chandler, Arizona, (www.aircraftenginespecialists.com) suggests you pull a cylinder and check for corrosion and rust on the lower end. “Obviously, if it has been more than 12 years it would need to be opened and inspected to see what shape it’s really in,” he added.

If you opt to send it to AES for the inspection, one of the first things they’d do is check for rust and corrosion and any abnormal stress or wear. If it turns out that yours is a “low time” engine and it can be put back together, you’re probably looking at a cost of $5,000. If your engine is in need of a complete overhaul with part replacements, it’ll start at around $15,500—plus parts.

“Another option is to do an engine exchange,” Varga shared. “That way you might be able to get a core for $3,000 to $5,000, and you’d probably need fewer parts than with your original order.”

Prop

“While Tim is getting your engine ready to go, you can send your propeller in to us for an overhaul,” said Dave Hampel of Rocky Mountain Propellers, Inc. (www.rockyprop.com).

Once they receive your prop, they will check it out by first doing a dimensions check and then stripping it to check for corrosion. If they deem it repairable, they would remove the fitting; file the leading edge; do a “finish grind;” check the balance, and, finally, re-check dimensions.

“If your prop is determined to be airworthy after all that, you’re probably only looking at about an $800 investment,” Hampel shared. “If you need a new prop, however, it’s more like a $4,300 price tag.” That price would be for either a McCauley or a Sensenich. Hampel explained that he believes each prop will give about the same performance, but the McCauley has a 2000-hour, six-year TBO, while the Sensenich has the same 2000-hour requirement (or “on condition”), but no calendar limits.

Paint/Exterior

“Well, looks like I’d be up last!” said Bill Lucey, owner of Boss Aircraft Refinishers (www.aircraftpainting.com) in Charlotte, North Carolina, “and, like Dodd, I’d be most concerned about corrosion done by the barn critters.”

Knowing that the 140A had metal wings, Lucey advised that the craft would likely be bare metal with minimal paint. If that was the case, external corrosion could be easily assessed. If the craft were painted, corrosion would be visible due to bubbles.

“From a financial viewpoint, our best case scenario would be if the craft was not painted,” Lucey explained. As such, they would likely elect to re-polish it. This is a labor-intensive process that, including polishing compound, would cost somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000. Obviously, any additional painting or repainting would be an additional charge. If, however, the plane had been painted, the process would be considerably more expensive. In this case, the plane would first need to be stripped, both chemically and mechanically. It would then be taped off and repainted. This process would run right around $10,000.

Now, let’s step back and take a gander at just how much it’ll cost you to resurrect your imaginary “barn find” so far:

Cost of Plane:                                         $7,500

New Interior:                                          $1,800

New Avionics (Best-case Scenario):    $40,000

New Engine:                                            $15,500

New Prop:                                                $4,300

Exterior Finishing:                                  $3,000

Total:                                                       $ 72,100

A cursory GOOGLE search revealed that you can pick up a 140, ready and rarin’ to go, for an average cost of $28,500. I guess the question now becomes just how much you’re willing to pay for another batch of Granny’s molasses cookies!