Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hard-Selling in Georgia on my Mind

That was a long day of flying, and well worth it. 7.7 hours logged. DC, and I brought along our mechanic friend, because he used to work at that facility several years ago, and knew everybody there. So we had an inside pass, sort've. But not the most trustworthy kind. The kind that is trying to sell it. I don't know if he gets a cut from the sale, but I bet he does, just by the way he was selling it.

The flight down to Eastman, GA was supposed to be just over 3 hours, but ended up taking more than 4. It was necessary to fly instruments, and instrument flight rules dictate 45 minutes of planned fuel reserve. We were going to need an alternate destination filed, and the closest alternate with known better weather was Augusta, GA. That meant we would have to fly very low power to get to the destination, shoot the approach, miss, and fly to the alternate, and still have 45 minutes left. So to save a little time, we made a stop at Spartanburg, SC. Good thing, because we were rerouted a little bit on the second leg, then had to shoot the GPS approach to 300 feet above minimums. At a time like that, you don't want to be on minimum fuel.

At Eastman, I was trying to maintain a removed perspective, and let DC come to his own conclusions. I'm not especially fond of the Alarus, except in the only role it seems suited for: flight training. For that, it may be the best small plane on the market. For personal flying, it doesn't really do well. Slow, a little uncomfortable, and nothing to look at.

The general manager of the place spent some time talking to us about it, and I immediately came to the conclusion that he was hard-selling us. Trying to say what we wanted to hear. I suspected he had already been briefed on what happened with the CT (I was right). Told us all about how these sport planes on the market are dangerous. How in Europe, they have lower weight limits than the US (that is true), and then he really confused me.

He seemed genuinely surprised that in the US, these same planes suddenly have a higher stall speed. I didn't say anything. I wanted to let him keep talking. He claimed to have an engineering background. He is deeply involved in aircraft. Therefore, it should be absolutely obvious and predictable to anyone, that higher weight means higher stall speed for a given plane. Any relatively experienced student pilot ought to know that. It is just basic aerodynamics, and frankly, I was suspicious of him from that point on. Either he is stupid, or he was feeding us a line. Take your pick.

He harped on and on about how the composite airplanes are untested and extremely difficult to repair if anything happens. A couple times he brought up the example of hitting the tail skid on a hard landing, and of clipping a wingtip. Both, he said, are extremely costly repairs that put the plane down for at least a couple weeks. He made a big deal about how they build the Alarus to far exceed certification requirements (true), but Diamond does not (extremely false).

The truth, which I never let on that I knew, is that DC and I once hit the tail skid hard in a DA20. Minor repair to the skid, no damage to the frame, and we were able to defer repair until convenient. It cost a few bucks for parts, and maybe an hour on labor. No big deal. As for striking wingtips, I have to seriously question the skill of instructors at any school that would routinely have that problem. It is simply too rare to worry about. And the Diamond (his favorite example), has a seperate piece on the wingtip. The repair would amount to maybe $1,000 or so. Diamond tests to aerobatic requirements (+9/ -6 g's), then derates them to utility category (+4.4/ -1.78). Their wing spars are tested out to 13 g's.

I decided I would remain observant, but quiet, despite knowing better than to believe what he was saying. DC knew better too, but he played along the same way.

DC did get to fly the plane, and found it easy. (I've flown them before, so I declined a flight).

We did get some useful information though. If you can manage to look past the hard-sell routine, you find a very easy to fly, sturdy airplane. So maybe he will buy one, maybe not. DC is on the way to Indiana tomorrow to look at another aircraft. I'd be flying him there Saturday, but I have other flights scheduled.

Our return flight was VFR. We didn't want to waste time leaving, and the weather looked like it would cooperate. To get above the clouds, and avoid being diverted around Charlotte, NC, we took the Diamond up to 11,500 feet and just cruised along. I set the power based on the fuel range ring on the G1000, giving us the required VFR reserve, plus 45 minutes to spare. The return was 3.6 hours, and very uneventful. I guess that is nice sometimes.

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