Our airplane was built in 1965 in Kerrville, Texas by the Mooney Airplane Company. They still make them today but they are much fancier than they were in 1965. (As one might expect.)
Mooney airplanes are known as "low wings" which means that you step up on the wings to board, rather than ducking your head underneath.
See? Low wings on our airplane:
And, a Cessna with high wings:
Our airplane only has one door, which is totally annoying, but it does cut down on the weight and make it more aerodynamic. (Or so I'm told. I have many internet degrees but Aerospace Engineering is not one of them.) We also have retractable landing gear that Chris manually pulls up and puts down with a lever. It is very 1965. See the flap under the wing up there? That's a panel that the wing gear goes up in. It's not mechanized like on a 767 where you push a button and the gear comes up automatically. Chris has to put some muscle into it.
This sounds like a pain in the butt, but it's actually kind of okay because fewer mechanical parts = less shit to break. And, believe me, when you fly something built when LBJ was the President, you are very interested in limiting your "shit that can break" window of opportunity.
When things break on our airplane, or have to be replaced because they've simply reached the end of their lifespan, it can get expensive pretty fast. Did you know that if you attach the word "airplane" to anything it suddenly it costs more? It does. For example, last Christmas one of the blinky lights on the belly of the plane stopped working. It's just a red blinky light, one of six on the aircraft, that lets other aircraft see us when we're flying at night. If you want to get real specific about it, it's called a "positioning light." Anyway, the blinky light was out. Simple. This sounds like it will be cheap, right? Perhaps a light bulb needs to be replaced?
Wellllll, not really. When we replace things on our plane we always try to find an old part that has been salvaged from another plane. It's way cheaper to get old stuff than buy new. In this case, we could not locate a used blinky light because it was made in 1964 and the motor that makes it rotate? Nobody makes that any more and they stopped a long time ago, so there wasn't a salvage option. We had to buy a new one.
One blinky red light: $500. For serious.
After we had it installed I told Chris, "Oh, Merry Christmas. I hope you looooove that blinky light. Let's go admire it right now, actually."
We don't need a blinky light to get airborne, but the FAA mandates the blinky light so...fine. It's one of the costs of ownership. Sometimes, things break and we have to fix them. It's a known factor when you buy an older aircraft.
Our Mooney is 46 years old, which is rather elderly to me. I mean, who wants to be flying around in something with 1960's technology? Well, a lot of people do. The mechanics of flight are pretty elementary and you don't need a lot of fancy whosits and doodads. Planes built in the 1960's fly just fine today, provided they have been properly maintained and the engine and other parts replaced at scheduled intervals. There have been some upgrades to ours over the years (most notably the addition of GPS) but none of these are FAA mandated. They are simply for pilot ease.
Chris does not have to renew his license every year or take a new test in twenty or anything like that. Once you earn a pilot's license, it's yours for life (unless you break the rules or something and then the FAA can yank it). You have to take a medical exam every year to make sure you're fit to fly (again, per the FAA) but other than that, it's fairly low maintenance. Chris does have an actual, physical license, issued by the FAA and it's kind of a cheap looking bit of paper. I think two or three years ago they upgraded to plastic. (FANCY!) You're supposed to carry it when you when you fly in case you get ramp checked by an FAA agent. But, Chris has never been ramp checked and he doesn't know anyone who has. (He carries his license like a good pilot should.)
Every year we send the plane to Tom, our mechanic, for an annual inspection. (Also FAA mandated. They are quite fond of rules over at the FAA.) He strips the airplane and the engine down and examines it in minute detail, performs Mooney-issued maintenance and tells us if we need to replace anything. This is how you get 50+ years out of an aircraft. If you stripped your car down to its cylinders every year and performed mandated maintenance as outlined by the manufacturer then it would probably last longer too. Aircraft are also designed to last this long. They're designed with the knowledge that some parts will wear out and be replaced but others will need to last longer (like the frame). So, it might be old, but it's not ancient (yet) in aircraft-speak.
This year, there were no blinky lights to fix, but our transponder and emergency locator transmitter (ELT) were busted. The transponder is what talks to air traffic control (ATC). When they sweep us with radar, it pings them back with our tail number and altitude. It basically tells them who we are and it made sense as the past few times we'd been up ATC had mentioned that they couldn't "see" us and they asked us to cycle the transponder on and off. That seemed to work, but at inspection it was pretty kaput. This is an important part and we can't fly without it. We ran into the same, "They haven't made this for a loooooong time" problem and we had to buy a new one. That kind of sucked.
The ELT is what they look for if we go down, to find where we landed or, um, crashed. It basically sends out some sort of ping so if we're in a mountain range or a desert they can find us, rescue us, render medical aid, etc. It's not important until the moment you need it and ours was so dead they couldn't hear it with the reciever right on top of it. We had to replace that too.
One ELT and one transponder: $800
Oddball stories that have no narrative thread, but I want to tell you about anyway:
On the radio we often hear about "jumpers in the air!" That means that a skydiving plane is nearby and everyone has jumped out. I have always wanted to see them plummeting towards the earth or see their chutes, but I never have. I think ATC (wisely) gives jump planes a wide berth.
Remember how I explained why we do not have air conditioning? Well, Chris found this device that will actually air condition the plane except it will take up ALL the cargo space, which means no luggage. Not feasible for us. But, the cool thing about it is that it's removable! So, in the winter when you don't need it you can take it out and recoup that space and weight. Neat, yes? It costs $5,000. FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. This is why we don't have air conditioning in our plane. It's heavy, it takes up too much space and 20 minutes of discomfort on the front and back end of a flight are not worth $5,000. No thank you.
It turns out I only had two oddball stories. Hmm, this is all I can think to tell you about the plane. If you have any questions, pipe up in the comments. Chris positively loooooves to answer your curiosities on this topic.