No Known Damage History
I do a fair amount of Bonanza acquisitions for clients and as a rule, I engage them in the process. While I do direct mail campaigns targeted specifically at the type of Bonanza they seek, I also ask my customers to comb the online ads which they're going to do anyway... we all know the drill.
Yesterday, I received a phone call from one such client who had us both convinced he had found the perfect airplane. To put it bluntly, the previous owner had spent "stupid money" equipping the airplane with literally everything one could possibly add to a Bonanza airframe. Like the old Prego spaghetti sauce commercial used to say, "It's in there!", and it was... everything. I called to speak with the broker to inquire about specifics: Original and continuous logbooks? Check. Hangared? Check. In annual? Yes sir. Damage history? There is "no known damage history" indicated in the logbooks but he thought the airplane may have had a hard landing of sorts but not really "anything of significance." I asked the "broker" if he had the 337's... "Well yeah somewhere. I'll have to see if I can get them to you."
No worries... I have my trusty (and exceptional) aircraft escrow agent Lisa Bainter on speed dial so I called her up to see how quickly she could get me the FAA records on the airplane at 3:55PM and, as usual, I had them in 5 minutes... all 64 pages of them. It is not unusual for a highly modified airplane to have reams of 337's over the course of a 33 year life time so I was not surprised to see the lengthy file. And from the beginning it all seemed fairly boiler plate... STC's, local FSDO approvals, new and removed avionics, the usual stuff right up to Page 50. Then I learned all about the "hard landing." In all, 31 ribs and skins on both the left and right wings, all belly antennas, inboard and outboard gear doors, gear brace and link assemblies, cabin side structure skins... the list went on and on. Fourteen pages of parts to be exact.
What I found most surprising was not the fact that the broker may have understated the extent of the aircraft's damage, but rather that the current owner had chosen to invest so heavily in upgrading an aircraft with such a poor pedigree. These days, it is not uncommon to find an airplane that has sustained some form of damage throughout its life and there are several notable Bonanza airframe repair shops around the country that I truly believe do the kind of work that rivals that of the factory. In this case however, it was as if an airplane had been built around a data plate as a spare time project in the corner of some no-name shop. And the current owner had chosen to invest over $80,000 in avionics in an airplane that, because of its history, would never properly return the value of his investment.
There are two lessons to be learned here. The next time you are looking to purchase an airplane with "no known damage history," do yourself a favor and invest in an FAA records report that details all the 337 forms in PDF format over the life of the airplane. Logbooks can be terribly misleading because often a mechanic will, on the advice of the aircraft owner, choose not to include details of a repair but rather just record that details of the repair performed are "noted in the 337 formed dated this date."
And should you ever choose to make a major investment in updating an aircraft's avionics systems, you need to make sure that the airframe pedigree and value are commensurate to the upgrade investment you anticipate making. An airframe with major damage history will not only severely impede the value of your avionics investment but the very ability to sell the aircraft at any price, no matter how well it may be equipped.