Buying Your First Airplane – Interview with new Grumman Tiger Owner Rick Young
First time airplane owner Rick Young walks us through the process he used when buying his Grumman Tiger and compares the Tiger with the DA-40, which he had previously been flying as a rental. We also talk about Lycoming O-360 engines, experts who focus on a particular model of plane, and some of the personal history and factors Rick brought to the equation.
Resources mentioned in this interview.
- Grumman-Gang – Owners and enthusiasts who exchange information, knowledge and resources pertaining to Grumman airplanes.
- Team Grumman – Website with info regarding various Tiger, Cheetah, and Traveller modification projects.
- AYA International Grumman American Pilots Association
- Gary Voight – at AUCountry – Specializing in Grumman American Tigers, Cheetahs, Travelers, Yankees airplanes.
- Excelairservices – Maintenance & modifications company specializing in Grummans.
Dave Goodwin: I saw Rick Young made a post on the Pilots of America Forum recently about purchasing his first airplane, and that deal went through last week. Welcome to PlaneViz, Rick.
Rick Young: Hey, thank you very much for having me.
Dave: Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got into flying and what you’ve been doing for flying up until purchasing your airplane.
Rick: Well, not a lot. I think that’s why I purchased the airplane. You know, I started flying in 1997 is when I took my first lesson . And the strange part about the lesson was that I did it at the age of 31 years old I started taking lessons . When I was in college one of my best friends, who’s now a captain for Southwest Airlines, his father owned an FBO in Redding, California by the name of NorthStar Aviation and I used to hang out at NorthStar all the time with my buddy Bobby and all the different line guys, and we were very very good friends. And Bobby earned his ticket when he was 16 years old, which you could do back then.
By the time I met him, when we were 18, 19 years old, he was already a CFI. So, I actually could’ve learned how to fly virtually for free when I was in college, but never did. I always knew that it was something that I wanted to do, but, you know, when you’re in college you’ve got other things happening so it never occurred. And the fact that I had my own personal pilot, being my friend Bobby, it was never necessary either. When we wanted to go somewhere we would hop in one of the 182s, they even had a P-210, and we’d fly all over Northern California with the panes. So, it’s kind of like having the best of both worlds at zero-cost.
Dave: Did you get any hands-on time during those years?
Rick: No, in all fairness. Normally our trips were to Reno or to Tahoe, so I would be too busy on the way there thinking about our trip, and given I wasn’t the one flying, probably enjoying too many libations while I was there to even think about sitting in the front seat on the way back. But it was always a good time, and I would say that’s where my- ‘love’ would be the right word- my love for flying occurred at that time. But, I also have a really nasty habit being a race car driver. So I started racing cars at a very young age. Think about aviation and auto-racing, you probably couldn’t find two more expensive hobbies to be in. I’ve always had to balance flying with racing, and create the right equilibrium.
Dave: What kind of cars were those that you were racing?
Rick: I’ve historically been a dirt track guy. I’ve raced sprint cars, midgets, you know, and quarter-mile to half-mile ovals around the western states. And even, in fact, I even spent some time- I lived in Australia for two years, and I raced sprint cars in Australia when I was down their as well.
Dave: So you’ve got a little bit of that thrill seeker in you?
Rick: Yea, you know, although I tell my current wife that it’s really when I’m the calmest. When I’m flying an airplane or racing car is- it’s probably the only time in my life when I’m really focused on just the task at hand. So I find it really calming as opposed to exciting, as strange as that might sound.
Dave: So you were racing cars, and this is going to tie into the airplane.
Rick: Absolutely. In ’97 I was driving by a little airport called Natomas Field in Sacramento- it’s no longer here- saw the airport and just took a right, and turned in, and just signed up for flying lessons on that day. So that is 1997, and I would say- no, I take that back, late ’96. And by March of ’97 I earned my ticket. It took me 58 hours before I took my check ride, which I passed.
We actually ended up pushing my check ride forward because the company I’m with in financial services asked me at that point if I would move to Australia and relocate down there for a couple of years. So, I really wanted to check ride done before I left, so I did. Then within three weeks I was living in Australia for the next two years. I proceeded to then go down and get- at that time, in ’97, if you had a US private Australia would grant you an Australian pilot’s license.
Now the rules have changed a little bit, but I actually hold an Australian pilot’s license as well as a US pilot’s license. And so I was able to fly a little bit in Australia, and then came back in ’99. Although, Australia was difficult to fly in. Especially living in Sydney, because the one general aviation airport- the name slip’s me, it slip’s my mind- was just ridiculously busy. You literally could pay for an hour to an hour-and-a-half of flight time while sitting on the tarmac waiting to be cleared for take off. So I ended up flying out of a little place called Hoxton Park. But the only issue with Hoxton Park, is it was a 2 hour drive from where I lived in downtown Sydney.
So while I flew a few times in Australia, they were few and far between. Came back in ’99, flew a little bit in ’99, and then started racing again and running very heavily. So then I kind of took a hiatus form ’99 to 2009. So then in 2009 my current wife an I were having a child and I wanted to be able to fly so we would be closer to my parents and they could spend more time with their granddaughter.
So I started flying again and probably logged about 20 hours in a Diamond DA40 that the local FBO had here. And then after about 20 hours the FBO ended up selling the DA40, and they ended up with- I think they had two 172s and a coupe of clips on the line, neither of which would fit the mission of flying me, my wife, the eleven year old, and the baby really in what I thought was an effective way, and haul what we needed to haul.
Dave: How much distance do you have to traverse when you’re going to visit family?
Rick: It’s only about 200 nautical miles.
Rick: So I shouldn’t say the 172 wouldn’t have gotten the job done, but- and God I hope I don’t say this and come across the wrong way, because I know there’s a million people flying 172s around the country- the plane, after flying the Diamond DA40, the plane wasn’t that much fun to fly.
So, once again, sitting in my home with 5 race cars in the garage and always racing, had to step away again because it wasn’t the plane I wanted to fly. And I probably wasn’t in the position then- well, I take that back. If we’d have sold a race car or two we probably could’ve bought the airplane we wanted then. But then that would have been making a choice I guess I wasn’t ready to make at that point.
So then kind of stepped away for another three years until this winter when my wife and I were talking, and I said, “Listen, I’m gonna do something here. I want to get a plane. The baby’s now three years old, and our other daughter is now eleven, and it’s something I want to share with our family.”
And, so after doing a lot of research- my first step was I started looking at the Diamond DA40s. And it really started going down towards getting a DA40, and looking at them, and finding them, because I really enjoyed the DA40. Every time I would start researching the planes on ‘What To Fly’- the website I was using- the one it kept popping up was a Grumman Tiger. And even in college when I was hanging out at the FBO, there were a couple Grumman- and I can’t remember if they were Cheetahs or Tigers that were on the flight line at that time. But those were the planes- I loved those airplanes. Back then I thought the flying canopy I enjoyed.
I think I might of went for a ride in one once, and just the quick responsive way the plane flew- I always really liked the Grumman. I really was thinking, ‘I want the new technology, I want the new technology of the DA40. But every time I would turn around and look, when I was looking at performance versus cost, known quantity versus unknown, the Tiger kept just coming back and popping up to the top of the list. So, after a couple months I did decide to concentrate my search on finding the right Cheetah of Tiger, which ultimate led me to 72 Tango (N72T).
Dave: How does the Tiger measure up against the DA40 in terms of performance?
Rick: I mean, it’s marginally slower, I would say marginally slower. They have roughly the same engine, except the Tiger is carbureted where the Diamond is and injected engine, so, yeah, the Tiger uses marginally more fuel. So you’re gonna need a little more fuel in their. And of course then you have the issue of carb icing. But if you look at the book, and you go by book, the Tiger is about five knots slower. Now, this weekend- normally when I was flying the Diamond, the best I was doing was about 130-132 knots. Well, on my first flight in the tiger this weekend I bested that.
Now, I mean a lot of things could have been in consideration. We could have been- I didn’t go back and look at my records and say, what altitude was I flying the Diamond versus where I was flying the Tiger? What power setting I was at. I might’ve been pulling the power on the Diamond to conserve fuel, and I was running the Tiger pretty wide open over the weekend. So, I think marginally speaking they’re very similar. I noticed from a handling perspective they fly the pattern very well. They’re both slippery airplanes, you know, so you have to manage your energy coming into the pattern in a very similar way to get the airplane slowed down. They both like to float, you know. Although, I would say the Diamond definitely would float more then the Tiger. In fact, there were a couple of times that the Diamond- I don’t think the plane wanted to land. I think it enjoyed flying more than you could imagine. So I think the planes have very similar characteristics. Although, I would say from a handling perspective, the Tiger handles much more like a sports car than the Diamond does. The Diamond floats and handles more like a glider, where the Tiger handles more like a sports car.
Dave: One of my friends had a DA40 before he upgraded to a Bonanza. Very nice airplane, I have a Cherokee. It seemed to me the Diamond required a pretty steep descent profile, and like you said, it definitely floated a bit.
Rick: Yeah, and I would say I probably didn’t get enough time in the Diamond to really understand all of it’s characteristics. But man, I’ll tell you, I definitely loved flying the plane. And even when I started this process of buying, you know, when you start looking at it, you start thinking about utilization of the plane, for very few people does it really make sense to own an airplane on your own so- financially speaking, right? It’s tough to fly the plane enough to justify it. Although, if you can afford it it’s definitely a nice luxury to have. It’s there when you want it.
The individual that bought the Diamond from the FBO- I even approached him about a partnership. But it turns out he bought the plane because he liked flying and he really didn’t want to share. He wanted the plane his way when he got to it, never changed, and all of his own. And I think he, when I was flying it- he and I were about the only two that weer really flying it- so I think he was sending me a clear message that he didn’t like the way I left the plane when he decided he was just gonna buy it.
Dave: Now, they say, the collected wisdom is that it’s about 100 hours a year in order to justify airplane ownership. Do you think you’ll do that?
Rick: No, I don’t. And I think that’s why- that also played into the decision to get the Tiger. When I think that when it was all said and done, when I looked at what we could afford from a plane, I think financially we could’ve afforded the Diamond, but I was able to buy the Tiger with, you know, 95 percent of the performance at one third the price. So when I looked at it that way and I said, “OK, well, you know, I found this beautiful Tiger (that I believe I posted pictures of), well maintained, 1400 hours total time, had maintained by Gary Voight, who’s one of the foremost Grumman experts in the country for the last 13 years…”
You know, and I realized I could have it at one third the price of the DA40. Once again, leaning back to the decision that the Tiger was the right airplane, because it’s one that I definitely could afford on my own, and even looking at the cost of the annuals. You know, many of the Diamond owners are running into 5, 10 thousand dollar annuals, routinely. An expensive annual on a Grumman Tiger these days is about 3 thousand dollars. So everything seemed to be about a third the cost- with exception of fuel costs- of owning the Diamond. You know, insurance 11 hundred dollars for the year- everything was much lower on the Tiger. So then looking at it then I realized that the Tiger wouldn’t be a financial burden. And once again, I’m gonna get 95 percent of the performance that I would have out of the Diamond.
Dave: What kind of a panel did it have?
Rick: It’s a steam gauge panel, upgraded to all garment. So it’s got, I think it a 340 audio panel. It’s got a 430, not a 430W in the plane. A King, the other radio’s a Bendix King, the secondary radio. And then a 327 transponder, which once again, all upgraded, right? And by the way, very similar to what you would see if you except the Bendix King to what you would see in one of the steam gauged Diamonds. And in fact, I was looking at the steam gauged Diamonds, which were still about a 120, 140 thousand dollar plane. So the panel is very similar to what you would see in those planes. The difference is-I would say the biggest difference between what I ended up with in the Tiger versus what I would’ve got in a DA40 is the autopilot. The autopilot in the DA40s is a King, I think it’s a KAP140 which is a wonderful autopilot. The Tiger has the Century 2. Although, I’ll tell you, I used the Century 2 this weekend, and it performed flawlessly.
Dave: Now, I’m not familiar with the Century 2. What are the capabilities? It’s more than a wing leveler?
Rick: It’s a wing leveler, yeah.
Dave: It is, OK.
Rick: So, you could fly it off the GPS, off the VORs or the heading. Once again, similar to the 140, it just doesn’t have altitude, and you can’t do the altitude. But what I learned quickly this weekend, if I can’t manage my altitude using a little bit of small trim changes maybe I shouldn’t be flying anyways. Although, I’ll tell you, the Diamond was great. The autopilot, the KP140 in the Diamond is fabulous. You could set your descent rates, just plug them in and it would fly them. So it actually made flying, you know- you’re definitely lowering the workload in the cockpit in the Diamond versus the Tiger. So I would say that- when it comes to the panel- that was the biggest difference.
The one thing I added on the Tiger before I took delivery was the new JPM 730 engine analyzer. So the plane had a 700, I added the 730, which actually brings the panel to life with the bright colors and everything it has. It actually makes finding lean of peak, rich of peak, very very easy on the airplane.
Dave: Now, you said 1400 hours on the airplane. Is the original engine in that?
Rick: It is the original engine as well, the original engine. I know most people would say you stay away from that like the plague, but Gary Voight, who I bought the plane through, who had been serving it for the last 13 years- Gary knew the plane very very well. The biggest issue was that the plane hadn’t been flown but about 20 hours a year of the past 13 years, 14 years. So it just hadn’t had a ton of use. He’s done the engine work, it was topped around 400 hours ago. I was asking him about the bottom end, and Gary and his mechanic, they actually had a 360 that was pulled apart recently with 2,000 hours, and he started showing me the engine wear- and it was a 22 year old engine- the engine wear versus new. And quite frankly, for the bottom end, Gary convinced me without a doubt that the bottom end on the 360s aren’t the problem on the engines. That’s really a top problem. And the more research I did, and actually calling around to more people to validate it, it seems that the bottom end on the 360s are really good for 3,000 to 4,000 hours and they don’t to age out.
You know, if the plane has been flown at all, and it continues to be oiled, and you don’t have a seething problem where you have a bearing- He even showed me a couple bearings that had been marred, and when they found them- you know, after replacing the bearing and doing a quick polish, that the engines had flown another 1500 hours before needing a complete overhaul. So I ended up feeling pretty comfortable because of the history of the airplane, and how well Gary Voight knew the airplane, that I would be comfortable in that plane with probably getting another 500 hours out before I needed to top the motor and put new cylinders in. And then, think about that time about the overhaul. And by the way, I factored that in from a purchase perspective as well in saying, if something was to catastrophically go wrong a week from now, could we put a factory man in the plane, and we have the reserve to do that. So, in a way I’m playing with house money now. How does that sound?
Dave: Very interesting.
Rick: And then when I was there for the annual of the airplane, because as a pre-purchase it was going through the annual as well and I was their when they ran the cylinders, and at just over 400 hours on the cylinders they were all at 80/80.
Dave: Ok. That’s good.
Rick: A couple of them are marked down to 79 because like, ‘Ah, after 400 hours they can’t be 80/80.’ But as we sat there and we did the compression check, multiple times on each one, it was a- Marking down to 79 was a, ‘I’m gonna be conservative, not that’s where I believe they truly were.’ So, it was very positive from that perspective, and after flying the plane this weekend, I mean, very strong airplane, an airplane that books at 800 to 850 climb. Me and a 240 pound CFI in the plane, I would say about 100 pounds below gross, we were climbing at 1500 to 1800 feet, at most times coming off the strip.
Dave: What was the temperature?
Rick: We were running probably around…God, Saturday we hit probably mid-80’s.
Dave: OK. That’s great.
Rick: Yeah, so it wasn’t cool at all. So it was definitely a strong engine. And the CFI flying with me has 180 horsepower Cheetah and even he was commenting on how strong the engine was pulling in.
Dave: Let’s go back to the buying process for a minute. How did you find the airplane, and where did you seek advice?
Rick: Since becoming a private pilot in 1997- and by the way, you’re gonna say, ‘Well, you always wanted the Grumman.’ I joined an internet group called the ‘Grumman Gang,’ because back in ’97 I was thinking I really wanted a Grumman, and at that point it was just me and my first wife so I was thinking more of the AA1 series. And I joined the American Yankee Association. So, since ’97 I’ve been members of these two different- one’s an internet email group, and one’s is obviously an official type club. But I’ve been a member since ’97 of both of them. And from an email perspective, just reading, lurking, you know, reading the posts, learning everything I could about the airplanes. And same with as a member of the AYA, just every month getting the magazine, pouring over the information just to understand the planes thoroughly.
And what I learned at that point was a couple different things; that there were a few different parties around the country that were the foremost experts on the planes, and they end up being the folks at ExcelAir in Indiana, there’s a fellow by the name of Rosco Rochem in Ohio, you’ve got Fletch Air in Texas- they actually provide most of the parts for them these days- and then there’s Ken Blackman in Seattle, Washington, and a fellow by the name of Cliff Hanson in Salem, Oregon, and then there’s Gary Voight in Auburn, California, which is very close to my home in Placerville.
And so after following them for years- this is gonna sound stalky- you really learn the guys personalities, because they al post to the different websites. There’s one called ‘Team Grumman’ and ‘Grumman Gang,’ two different emails. And so all of the individuals that run these planes, plus pilots that own these planes, post questions and answers. And during the time I really gained an appreciation for Gary Voight. And I would say that I don’t hat universally everyone has a warm and fuzzy feeling about Gary because he’s one of those guys that tells you what he thinks whether you want to hear it or not. But he’s dedicated is life to the Grumman airplanes, and out of his shop AU Country in Auburn, it’s the only thing he works on.
So, although I had never met Gary, I felt like I already new Gary after following his work for so many years. And he’s got multiple STCs on the type, he’s built a cowling for the Tigers that will add about 10 knots and take your cooling down about 50, the cylinder temps. And so, I had reached out to Gary a little while ago telling him I was looking for a Tiger, and his comment to me was, his first comment to me was, ‘Just so you know, the best stuff is sold before it ever hits the market.’ He’s like, ‘Just so you’re aware, by the time you see it on Barnstormers it’s probably not the best stuff.’ He said, ‘Because there’s always people that want to buy, they’re always talking to the people who own the planes, and the good stuff is sold before it ever hits the market.’ ‘Most of the time,’ he said, ‘Not all of the time, but most of the time.’ He said, ‘It’s pretty rare that a really really good airplane will hit the market.’
And then I talked to him about his airplane. Now, his airplane is also a 79 Tiger, 1700 hours, total time airframe and engine, the original engine by the way in his. He tops it every 500 hours. And it took him 3 years to find his airplane because he wanted to make sure that the plane was straight, there was no hanger rash, no damage history, low time on the airframe. And he actually made a very good point about the airframe. The airframe is the only thing on the airplane that you can’t replace. Right? Because you’re in essence replacing the airplane. And his philosophy, which, by the way, he convinced me should be mine as well, that that’s what you should be most focused on. That engines and avionics can be replaced, airframes can’t.
Dave: Interesting perspective.
Rick: So, make sure you’re airframe is of the highest quality you can find. So I started getting antsy, in all fairness, talking to the different gurus that were around the country. And there were a couple that became of interest. There was 2 in Indiana at Excel Air. One was a 2700 hour airplane with a zero time engine. By the time I got tot talk to the guys there, there was already a deposit on the plane. There was a 75 that, you know, the 75 Tigers had certain issues, potential issues with purple glue and bonding, although he assured me this one didn’t have purple glue in it I hadn’t flown back to see it. But while I was talking to John my phone rang and it was Gary, and Gary said, ‘Listen, you want to buy a Tiger. You want the right one. I’ve got it. Come on up.’ And it was 72 Tango. And He started laying out all the details out on the plane. And I’d probably looked at about 5 others over the last 4 or 5 months. And I’m telling you, the minute I saw 72 Tango, opened the log book, and looked at it, it absolutely was a no brainer. It as, ‘You’re right, this is the one.’ The owner was asking 75, I offered him 68, he accepted, and the deal was done.
Dave: During this time were you perusing the classifieds as well? Were you pretty much focused on this way of buying?
Dave: Everyday? OK.
Rick: Everyday. Because I didn’t want- I would say I was getting Barnstormers fatigue. How does that sound?
Dave: What’s you’re family’s view on being an aircraft owner and, you know, their view on this new member of the family?
Rick: The 11-year old couldn’t be more excited, although she hasn’t gone up yet. As her gift for me buying the plan I actually purchased from Sporty’s a pad for her that would push her up, you know, raise her up about n inch-and-a-half and push her up about an inch-and-a-half forward. So, the promise I made to her with the plane is that once we got the plane, got it flying- as soon as she could effectively use the controls, that she could take lessons in it if she wanted to. So I bought her one just so she could move a little bit forward. But one of the biggest drivers in buying this plane was being able to share aviation with my kids.
You know, I didn’t get that opportunity as a child. My father was a truck driver, and he was gone and working, and he wasn’t a pilot. So it’s one of these things that I feel it’s very important that as we have things in our life that we enjoy, to make sure we figure out how to share them with our children.
Dave: Did you connect with your CFI from when you were a teenager during this process?
Rick: You mean my buddy who’s now the Southwest pilot?
Rick: Yeah, I talk to him maybe once a week still. And he was laughing, telling me buying an airplane was the dumbest thing I could do. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know, but I’m gonna do it anyways.’
Dave: Well, he gets to fly for free.
Dave: I wouldn’t pay much attention to that.
Rick: He knows me better than that, that we’ve known each other for 30 plus years and never once did he accuse me of being smart, so… You know, but like I said, the kids were very excited. Once we got it to it’s home base my BFR was signed off on Sunday, you know, after about 4 hours of flight. So I felt that I adapted- the CFI I flew with this time felt the same- you know, that I adapted to the plane very quickly, without issue.
But, yeah, so the 11 year old got to sit in it on Sunday and she was very excited, and even the 3 year old got to sit in it. You know, we went car seat shopping yesterday to find the right airplane approved car seat that would fit in the backseat for the 3 year old. So we picked that up yesterday. So hopefully in a couple weeks the family will get their first opportunity to go for a hamburger in 72 Tango.
Dave: That’s terrific, that’s a great story. Well, we’re coming up on 30 minutes, so we should probably wrap it up. I wanted to ask you, you said you fly out of Placerville? Or you live in Placerville, but is there an airport there?
Rick: Yeah, we fly out of Placerville. I live in a little town called Shingle Spring, right outside of Placerville. But, yeah there’s a nice little municipal airport in Placerville, California where we’ve got it tied down until we can find a hanger for her.
Dave: Give it a good home. Rick, thanks for joining me on the program today. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll be sure to link up those resources that you mentioned on the show notes, which you can find at PlaneViz.com/blog. Thanks again
Rick: Absolutely, Dave. Thanks for having me.