A flight plan that hatched, then fell out of the nest…

A New Mexico man’s plan to buy an airplane in Wisconsin in 2018 proved there should have been a little more flight planning than just checking the weather.

The would-be purchaser had asked another man, from Portales, to fly with him to Wisconsin to pick up the aircraft after it was purchased, then fly it back to New Mexico. That’s when the problems began.

Problem No. 1 — The man he had asked to fly the plane did not have a current license (or “certificate” in FAA jargon) to be a pilot.

Problem No. 2 — The plane that was being purchased, a Cessna of some type, was not considered to be airworthy.

Problem No. 3 — One of problems contributing to the plane’s non-airworthy status was that the landing gear was not working properly.

Problem No. 4 — Somewhere over Iowa, the plane’s engine failed and the aircraft was forced to land at a nearby private airport near Waterloo.

Problem No. 5 — The illegal pilot failed to call into the airport declaring that he needed to make an emergency preparation. 

At that point, the FAA got involved. A three-year investigation led to a $5,000 fine and two years probation for the illegal pilot. There was no mention of penalties for the purchaser of the non-airworthy aircraft.

So several thoughts crossed my mind. 

First, how did the purchaser not know or not care that the pilot he had hired to fly his plane didn’t have a license. I imagine the conversation went like this:

          “Can you fly my plane back from Wisconsin?”

          “Well, I don’t have a license to fly a plane, but I once figured out how to drive a John            Deere tractor. I suspect there ain’t much difference between the two.”

And then, why in the world would you ask someone to fly an un-airworthy aircraft several hundred miles. That conservation maybe went like this.

          “The plane’s not airworthy.”

          “That’s okay as long as the dang engine runs and the landing gear works.”


My thought is that the plane had a retractable landing gear that was stuck in the down position, but maybe could have folded up on landing.   It apparently held because the plane was reportedly not damaged as a result of the emergency landing. 

I recall one of my flight instructors once telling me that flying is a simple mathematical equation. 

“If the number of landings equal the number of takeoffs, you’ve had a good flight,” he said.

Well, maybe not in this particular case. 

A Cessna Cardinal retracting its landing gear after takeoff — not neccesarily like the one in this story.

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