Saturday, January 01, 2005


One Year Ago Today...

...I met my first Cardinal.

The path that led me from blissful ignorance of such a thing as a Cessna Cardinal, to curiosity, to fascination, to determination to own one, and finally, to blissful ownership, was a long one, but by the end of 2003, with the ink still wet on my newly earned Private Pilot license, I was ready to go Cardinal shopping.

My first lead took me to southeastern Massachusetts, where a 1973 177B was being offered for sale by a dealer. Armed with the CFO pre-purchase inspection checklist, I tagged along with Faithful Instructor George and one of his IFR students on a cross country trip to where the Cardinal awaited.

This was my first up-close look at a Cardinal. On paper, she looked nice, and the photos sent by the dealer depicted an attractive airplane. But on that chilly January morning, I found that looks can be deceiving.

(The registration number has been obscured in these photos out of consideration for the current owner.)

She looks sharp from here She was a good fifty-foot airplane, meaning that from fifty feet away, she was a knockout. Recently painted, and with a three-bladed propeller and chrome spinner, she looked great. Up close, the details spoke a different story.

The stabilator is a different color from the rest of the airplane First, that nifty paint job was not holding up well. It was wearing in several spots, revealing the original paint underneath and indicating that the plane had not been stripped prior to painting. On top of that, a clear topcoat had been applied, and this clear coat was shedding badly in several areas. Finally, the stabilator had apparently been repainted separately and it did not match anything on the rest of the airplane. The scheme was nice, and the colored stripes had been neatly applied, but this did not look like a professionally done paint job.

A close look reveals many flaws That shiny spinner naturally drew attention to the nose, and unfortunately, the nose told a similar story. Most noticeably, the engine appeared to be sagging in its mounts. The propeller spinner was not aligned with the opening in the cowl. Instead it was about an inch and a half too low. The cowling itself showed evidence of some curious repairs, with strange patches in places and rivets sloppily replaced with sheet metal screws. The engine is perhaps the most important component of an airplane, but if the exterior of the nose showed this level of poor workmanship, I wasn't going to expect much better inside.

Shabby work, sadly Finally I turned to the cockpit. The advertisement showed some nice enhancements to the avionics, and the seller had told me that the seats, carpeting and upholstery were recently redone, but a glance inside showed that the cabin interior was in poor shape just as the exterior was. The avionics upgrades looked nice, but the instrument panel did not inspire confidence. Some switches had been replaced with obviously nonstandard items, and the trim panel for the center console was missing altogether. The seats and carpet were nice, but the upholstery on the cabin walls and doors was in poor shape, with many tears and snags. It was generally very shabby, and considering that it was a recent upgrade, I was not impressed.

It could have been a great airplane, but I suspected that the prior owner had insufficient resources to make good on his ambitions. Sadly, I returned home and resumed my search. I was to find that there are indeed, other fish in the ocean and other birds in the sky.


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 9:35 PM, January 01, 2005  

Cool story Scott. I'm curious, you said

"Some switches had been replaced with obviously nonstandard items"

What were the nonstandard items and how did you know how to identify them?


Posted by Blogger Yellowbird at 11:05 PM, January 01, 2005  

The radio light dimmer had been replaced with rheostat or potentiometer of a type different from what Cessna specifies. The panel light dimmer had been replaced with what looked like a Radio Shack toggle switch.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2:00 PM, February 09, 2006  

Interesting story indeed. Somehow the first thought came to my mind after reading it was that putting pictures of a plane you didn't like (even with cropped N#) alongside some negative comments is not very nice in general. I wonder how you would feel if somebody did the same thing with pictures of your "Yellowbird?"

Also, the impression I get from your story is that most (if not all) your negative impression of that plane came from just your visual inspection - most things that you mentioned you didn't like are rather cosmetic/aesthetic and would probably not affect safety or performance and don't necessary make it a bad plane. It seems that you never went for a ride on that plane or even looked through the log books. After all, it's used plane...:-)

Well, anyway, those are just my two cents....otherwise, great site!

Best of luck!

Posted by Blogger Yellowbird at 2:27 PM, July 04, 2008  


Thanks for your thoughts. For what it's worth, I would have no problem with someone making an objective evaluation of Yellowbird. Even less so if I had sold her and she was being resold by a dealer. I would have perhaps been reluctant to post a negative evaluation if the airplane had still been for sale, understanding that the dealer would not appreciate the negative publicity, but by the time I began my weblog, the airplane had been sold.

As for my evaluation, I mentioned that I used the CFO pre-purchase checklist. This list is intended to help identify obvious potential defects unique to the Cardinal. Some items on the list would be deal breakers. Others would be less critical, but indicative of issues that a prudent owner would want to correct.

Most of the issues I noticed (and there were many more than I related in my weblog write-up) were not critical, but many of them hinted at a poor standard of workmanship. (I would consider this to be more a reflection on the capabilities of those who had worked on this plane rather than on the intentions of the prior owners.)

If this had been the only Cardinal on the market, I wouldn't have given the discrepancies as much consideration. It could have been a nice "fixer upper", but the other Cardinals I looked at were in significantly better condition, and being a first time owner, I wasn't interested in the added burden of correcting so many defects.

Again, many thanks for your comments.

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