Pilot buys aircraft to socially distance during COVID-19

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There seems to be a natural progression, but it is not linear, and the paradigm significantly shifted when aircraft composites became more highly developed, glass panels started replacing the old “six-packs,” and data became more affordable and accessible through programs like ForeFlight.

A couple of years after earning my private pilot certificate in 1983, I bought my first airplane, a Piper Tomahawk, so that my wife and I could enjoy short VFR cross-country flights. From there, we upgraded to a Piper Warrior for additional passengers, payload, and range; then, a Beechcraft Sierra that I earned my instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate in; and the Socata Trinidad, which was perfect for longer cross-country annual flights between St. Louis and San Diego, and eventually overwater flights to the Bahamas. Each upgrade was exciting and challenging because of each airplane’s unique flight characteristics and increasingly complex—but more capable—avionics.

After reading about the Columbia 300 type certificate in AOPA Pilot in 1998, and following the eventual evolution of the Columbia 350 and 400 aircraft being manufactured in Bend, Oregon, my wife and I decided the Columbia 350 would be our final upgrade. We purchased a new Columbia 350 in 2007. We owned the Columbia 350 for seven years before downsizing and moving to Florida, where we eventually used the airplane for lunch flights, and the “$100 hamburger” exploded to over $1,000! Our mission changed, and I then felt I was not flying enough to safely maintain my IFR currency, so we sold the Columbia 350 and I stopped flying at age 65 with 2,600 hours of accident-free, violation-free flying.

My wife and I were proud of our 40-year flying adventure, and we were content sailing and boating in Tampa Bay after we sold the airplane five years ago. Things changed, however, when the coronavirus pandemic struck and we began running out of safe, socially distanced activities that we could enjoy together.

I suggested to my wife, “Maybe we should consider buying a light sport aircraft that seats only the two of us, and we can again fly to lunches around Florida. Wouldn’t that be great?” She was totally on board, commenting that “any guy in his 70s needs a project to keep his mind working, and it sounds like fun.” I renewed my AOPA membership and reviewed all of the LSA requirements on AOPA’s website, deciding that the LSA limitations of VFR, daytime only,

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