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Here is my scenario. I'm 53 years old and getting ready to sell my business and retire. I've always been fascinated with aviation and have done lots of research and taken multiple training flights.

What I keep reading is "match your plane to your mission". Makes sense. Here is my mission.

I live in Kansas City and would like to fly to a second home approximately 900 miles away. Also visit kids, vacations, etc. Most flights in the 400-1,000 mile range.

Plan is to start my PPL once the business sells and I can commit to two-three lessons per week. Hopefully get my PPL in 60 hours or so, then start on my instrument rating. Another 50 hours for that appears to be typical. As such, instrument rated with 100-120 hours logged within 12-18 months.

For my typical mission, something like a TTx, SR22T or a Malibu sound appealing. Pressurization would be nice. I don't see myself flying a 172/182 900 miles comfortably.

I figure I will be flying by myself 50% of the time. With a second person 25% of the time and with a third person 20% of the time. Only rarely with 4 seats occupied. Budget around \$700K to max \$1M.

What is a realistic path for me? At what point is it reasonable for me to safely and legally pilot these high performance planes? How would you suggest I get from newbie to mission capable?

Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ People vary greatly in their ability to learn to fly, and especially in the retention of that ability as they age, so what I have to say may not at all apply to you. Or, who knows, it may well apply. What I have to say is what I used to say to all over-50 students who came to me, especially those wanting to get an instrument rating. It was simply this: You can become as good an instrument pilot as a person half your age, but it may take you twice as long as a person half your age. Good luck on your endeavor, and have fun! $\endgroup$ – Terry Feb 26 '17 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ It's way too early to be asking these things to be honest. You need to work your way up. Find out if you like flying lots first, and if you're any good at it, then work your way up to the airplane you want and you can afford. Jumping straight from a PA-28 to a turbine is a big jump for a low hours pilot, you'd probably want an interim step. $\endgroup$ – GdD Feb 27 '17 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ I was in a similar boat rought 7 months ago goalwise, except I didn't have the money, so I was simply looking to rent an SR22 or similar eventually. Step #1 is to get your PPL. It can take 3-6 months to get your PPL. Once I had the PPL I approached a local flying club who told me I needed an IFR rating before they will let me fly the SR22. In your case you can pretty much buy the SR22 and hire someone to train you. It will take 2-5 lessons and by that time you will have figured out much more about airplanes and what exactly you want to buy. $\endgroup$ – Prashant Saraswat Jan 29 '18 at 3:37
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You have a few questions here that should be addressed individually.

What is a realistic path for me?

Get your PPL then start to consider what you can fly/own. As you train you will inevitably learn about the various major airframes people fly and what it takes to own one.

As a word to the wise you should read this thread about a young guy who figured he could get his PPL and buy the fastest plane out there for his mission. Its lengthy but paints a good picture of reality.

If you are flying long distances alone and don't need the useful load, like speed, and want to stay in your budget you should take a look at the Mooney's. You can get one of a few models they have made since the 90's for well within your budget.

You should join AOPA and make use of their resources to get more information on owning and buying a plane. They have been a great resource in my recent plane search. They can give you a realistic idea on finance options as well as what your insurance rates are going to look like.

As for whats common (at least what I have seen) to some extent depends on your flight school and the quality of the planes. Many people do their VFR PPL in a rented plane (C172 or PA-28 being the most common). Then those that really like it and are serious about it look to buy an entry level plane to do the IFR in as well as build hours, get to know the national airspace system and just fly fly fly. Many buy what they trained in or step up a bit to something like an M20C or Arrow etc. Once they have their IFR the trips get bigger, longer and you really start to cross some distance. At this point you can expect anywhere from a few hundred hours to upwards of well more than that depending on how much spare time you have to fly around. Generally speaking most owners I have spoken to put about 100 hours on their plane every year (unless they use it actively for business).

To flat out answer the question, we must first say "it depends" but generally speaking I would say it will take you in the ball park of 300-500 hours to get into a high performance complex plane like a TTx or SR22 at least from what I have seen. Although to be honest some people train in an SR22 (see the above linked thread discussion, that guy trained in an SR22). The Malibu is a bit of a different beast and would take more time to get into. You can realistically fly 500 hours in 2 years if you fly ALOT, at a regular pace expect it to take 4 to 5 years to get to that point.

Legally, you can go buy an SR22 right now, pay a hefty insurance premium and do all your training in it. As long as you complete what ever the insurance company wants you to do, you can fly the plane. The broader question is "should you?..."

At what point is it reasonable for me to safely and legally pilot these high performance planes?

The reality of this will come down largely to your insurance company and what they will allow you to fly for an affordable insurance premium. You list quite a range of planes here but generally if you want to fly high performance/complex airplanes your insurance company will look favorably if not mandate an instrument rating. For a turbine and or cabin class aircraft a commercial ticket wont hurt but is not necessary by any means. There will be some checkout hours required for any of these planes before you can fly them solo but the general expectation is that you are stepping up into them from another personal plane, or from a lot of hours in a rented plane. Most high performance newer aircraft will also sport a glass cockpit setup (G1000 or Avidyne etc). Insurance companies (and just common safety sense) will want to see some glass time if you plan on stepping into a plane like this.

Legally speaking you will need at least a PPL as well as a high performance endorsement (as all of these planes are over 200HP) and a complex endorsement for the Malibu as it has folding gear, moveable flaps and a variable pitch propellor. For a pressurized plane you will also need a high altitude check out.

How would you suggest I get from newbie to mission capable?

The same way every pilot does, fly and fly often. There are no short cuts in aviation training. Nothing can replace time in the left seat. Plenty of people go from nothing to flying for the airlines in just a few years. However in that time they log a lot of hours (over 1500 to be exact) and they train in all kinds of scenarios.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to be patient, your PPL training will be hampered by weather, broken planes, busy instructors, delayed check rides and all sorts of things. This happens to everyone and you should not let it paint a negative picture for you or discourage you.

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    $\begingroup$ 200HP is a threshold for "high performance" aircraft? I had heard of 80kt+ stall speed as a threshold of high performance, but not engine power. The Cherokee Six was equipped with either 260HP or 300HP engines and not considered "high performance" so far as I know. It also had a variable pitch (constant speed) propeller, which I don't think qualified it as a "complex" aircraft. Sure, if you add up retract, prop, pressurized it starts to get complex. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Feb 27 '17 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ The fixed gear Cherokee 6 only contains two of the three requirements for "complex" (complex must be a retract with moveable flaps and a variable prop), high performance is anything over 200HP. See FAA FAR 61.31 Subsection F part 1 "...high-performance airplane (an airplane with an engine of more than 200 horsepower)..." $\endgroup$ – Dave Feb 27 '17 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ It begs the question, at least for me, of why 200HP was selected as the threshold of "high performance" and how an aircraft above that threshold is more demanding of pilot skill than one below. Heavier aircraft handle differently to lighter aircraft, certainly. Higher landing speeds demand greater pilot skill, as do aircraft with more flight-related controls (prop pitch, retract, etc.), but I don't see how HP directly relates to any of these things. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Feb 27 '17 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ @AnthonyX, the engine power is matched to the overall performance characteristic of the plane. A light slow plane simply can't take advantage of a stronger engine, so a strong engine means either heavier or faster (or aerobatic) plane and faster cruise generally implies faster landing speed too—all being things that make the plane more difficult to handle. So the engine power is a reasonable proxy and is simple to specify. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 27 '17 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec It just seemed a bit odd in the case of the Cherokee Six. The Cherokee 140 has been used as a basic trainer (I started in one); the 'Six is a bigger, somewhat heavier airplane, but still doesn't seem all that different to the 140 - faster cruise, slightly higher landing speed, constant speed prop, two more positions on the fuel selector for tip tanks. Never seemed such a big step from the 140 for a plane well over 200HP. HP may be a simple proxy but it doesn't seem all that reliable to me. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Feb 28 '17 at 1:47
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Consider a few things:

First, where in the country do you intend to fly? Is most of your flying going to be done within 200 NM of home or do you plan on really long cross countries on a regular basis? Are you flying out west and will need to cross the Rockies or will you be flying east of the Mississippi?

For short or regional hops a CE-182 is a great airplane, especially for a new pilot. Big useful load for the type (1200lbs), docile handling and landing characteristics, relatively speedy at 140ks cruise, good short field and soft field capability. Even on a 900NM flight, it's not too bad, especially with a brisk tailwind. And especially for you at this stage, a sterling safety record and insurable. All you'll need is a PPL and a high performance endorsement and you're good to go.

Another thing to consider is your experience as a pilot at this point. The Malibus, Cirruses (Cirrii?) Corvallis, and even light twins like a CE-310 are more capable but demand a premium of experience and seasoning as a pilot before stepping into one. And it's not just me; your insurance company is almost certainly going to tell you this as well, if they would even insure you at all at this point on those airplanes. I once read a story about a man who bought a Cessna Corvalis after his third hour of flight training and the insurance company wouldn't let him even solo it until he had 50 hours dual instruction in the airplane. This isn't to say you should not seek out exotic and high-performance aircraft during your time is a pilot, but it means it is recommended that you pursue your first couple hundred hours of flight time as well as private pilot instruction in a more docile and slower aircraft to build the time and the experience needed to move up. Don't worry, the flight time will go fast and sooner or later you'll be a pilot with 400-500 hours behind you and you'll be in good condition to seek out the more expensive and capable machines.

As I mentioned before in regards to the insurability of the airplane, there's also the experience level with faster and more powerful aircraft and can lure you into trouble very quickly. Many of these aircraft are marketed as personal airliners, and it's true that they are very capable. But we are deluding ourselves to think of these airplanes this way. Commercial aircraft are certified to far higher standards than general aviation airplanes, they have equipment that allows them to tread into darken skies much easier than these GA planes do. They have performance guarantees, jet power, retractable landing gear, full flight into known icing capabilities, pressurization, etc. and can live up to that standard. Most GA aircraft short of the business jets realistically can't do that, thought companies like Cirrus market them as such to new time flyers and they should know better. SR 22s, TTxs and other advanced technology speed demons make for good eye candy to the aggressive and inexperienced or naive among us. I've often said that the most dangerous thing in aviation is a pilot who does not know what he/she does not know. Part of that knowledge of good airmanship can be taught but a lot of it comes only from experience and knowledge of one's own capabilities and limitations. Aspire for these birds, but build time and experience so you can better enjoy them when you're ready for them.

Another major factor is maintenance. It's true that you can afford a PA 46 or even a medium time King Air F90 around 800,000. But that just gets you a very expensive paperweight in a hangar somewhere; the ownership cost need to be considered as well. And the more exotic the aircraft you own, the more system it's going to have and the more it's going to cost to maintain it. An SR22 or a TTx will easily cost you 15,000 annually when you consider the cost of maintenance, hangering, fuel, insurance, recurrency training, etc. Move up into the cabin class Malibus with the turbocharging, pressurization, weather radar, deicing, etc is going to drive the price up to over 30,000. Move from their end of the twins and turboprops, conservatively expect to double that figure, and then move into entry level jets you can expect that figure to double again. It's not a cheap hobby.

UPDATE: As the OP changed the question a little bit, the answer to when you can step up into an SR22T or a PA-46-350 Mirage is that it depends.

First off, you can probably fly any of these aircraft with just a PPL, complex and high performance endorsements, and only a few hours of training with an instructor. The airplanes are docile and well behaved, have good approach and landing characteristics and can tolerate quite a bit of handling errors. All the aircraft listed have good saftey records in regards to mechanical failures, etc. They are perfectly safe when operated properly by a competent and experienced pilot. And a lot of pilot owners use these planes for business or pleasure on a regular basis.

The real issue here is can you operate these aircraft on real world long distance flights in the regimes they were designed for in real world, traffic, weather, emergencies, unplanned diverts, ATC instructions, etc. People don't get killed in Cirruses and Malibus doing laps around a traffic pattern at a country airport on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but there are plenty of NTSB reports on these planes in congested and unfamiliar airports or airspace, bad weather, unfamiliarity with onboard systems, poor decisions in flight planning and airmanship, becoming saturated and overwhelmed with operating the number of onboard systems and other cockpit tasks, and just downright wandering into a dangerous situation where they never realized they were in peril until it was too late.

I'd highly recommend reading the book The Next Hour by aviation author Richard Collins. The book, so titled after the joke aviation adage that the only hour in your logbook that counts is your next one, talks a lot about the nature and causes of general aviation accidents. One topic that Collins raises in this book is that aggressive and hot blooded airplanes tend to attract aggressive pilots. People who are aggressive and impulsive tend to seek out fast capable machines and generally don't know what they are getting into. They are attracted to the speed and power and remain woefully ignorant of the responsibility and forethought needed to operate them safely. A person can look at a Meridian or a Pilatus and think 'Wow! I could fly from San Francisco to Denver in 3 hours!' without being aware of what this will really mean to the neophyte operating a complex aircraft in IMC in a congested terminal environment with rapidly changing weather, new ATC routing, etc.

This can also be amplified by life experiences, socioeconomic status, cockiness, and arrogance. The Beechcraft Bonanza earned an infamous nickname as the 'Fork-Tailed Doctor Killer' precisely because it's speed, power and luxury attracted successful doctors, trial lawyers, businessmen and other people who have had a lot of successes early on in life, with a lot of disposable income and little maturity when it came to flying. They liked taking risks and living dangerously in their daily lives and, given their track records and bank accounts, vindicate this attitude by their previous successes. Who cares if this pimply faced 19-year old CFI is telling me that the ILS approach into Airport X is difficult and demanding? I did my instrument training all under the hood in Scottsdale, AZ in July. I did my mandated minimum of 25 hours dual in my new airplane that the insurance company wanted. I'm current and the ceilings are forecast to be (slightly) above minimums. What could go wrong?

Fast forward to his approach where the ceilings were lower than forecasted for the area, he's making his third attempt at the approach down to minimums, becoming frustrated and unable to precisely track the ILS which he struggled with being his first time in real IMC, he's getting behind the airplane, not following checklists, ignoring critical items, and he's only got 15 minutes of fuel left. And for the first time in his life, he's totally out of control and really, really SCARED. Experience is a brutal instructor as she gives the test first and then the lesson. And the problem is that many pilots will not survive the test in order to learn the lesson. That, my friend, is how NTSB reports get written in on high performance airplanes.

Any license or certificate which the FAA issues is essentially a gov't issued journeyman's license to practice the craft of airmanship within certain boundaries and restrictions. It does NOT convey upon you the status of mastery, nor should you ever think of them that way. Airmanship is an art which takes a lifetime to master; there are pilots with over 20,000 logged hours who still learn new skills in the cockpit with each flight.

What isn't gauged or certified is the maturity or wisdom to understand personal capabilities and limitations, and knowing when a situation or conditions make it unsafe to fly. Until this solid base of good airmanship is established you remain a risk and this gets enhanced as the aircraft you fly become more powerful, faster and more onboard systems.

The good news is that you can build this base through pilot experience, risk management, setting personal minimums and training. I don't want to deter you from seeking out these a Malibu or an SR-22 or give you the impression that they are some kind of a dangerous deathtrap; they are not and I can see you safely upgrading to one of these airplanes during your flying career. BUT DO IT THE RIGHT WAY.

First off, let's get through flight training. Spending $1 mil on a Meridian is a waste of money if you struggle to get your PPL in a CE-172 and just don't enjoy flying. Once you have that PPL, log 100 or so hours flying 172s and earn your instrument rating while you at it. The knowledge and airmanship skills are invaluable, make you a much safer pilot, and expand your capabilities as to when you can operate your airplane and go on cross country flights with less impediment by weather.

If, at this point, you still want to buy a plane, then consider what you mission will be, how much you are prepared to spend, both to purchase and on operating costs, and what kind of aircraft will suit that need and begin training for that aircraft.

We will consider the cases of the Cirrus SR-22T and the Piper PA-46-350 Mirage. I would divide the requirements into when someone can safely operate these aircraft and when they would be reasonably insurable.

Safe operations minimums - SR-22T:*

  • PPL-ASEL
  • Instrument Airplane with currency
  • Minimum Required times before transition vary from pilot to pilot, depending on airmanship aptitude and speed at which he/she can assimilate into different aircraft, but The following would be typical:
    • 150 hours PIC.
    • 100 hours cross country time
    • 50 hours cross country time between airports at least 400NM apart, of which at least 10 of these hours should be at night.
    • 50 hours of instrument time, either real or simulated.
    • 100 logged instrument approaches, multiple types eg ILS, VOR, RNAV, NDB, etc.
    • 20 hours of night flying time.
    • 25 hours dual instruction on the SR-22T airplane.
  • High Performance Logbook Endorsement
  • High Altitude Training
  • Garmin Perspective training and at least 10 hours in a G-1000 or Perspective equipped aircraft.

Insurable minimums - SR-22T:

  • PPL-ASEL
  • Instrument Airplane with currency
  • Minimum 500-1000 hours total (they will RAPE you on premiums for the lower times), which should include the following:
    • 500 hours PIC.
    • 300 hours cross country time
    • 100 hours cross country time between airports at least 400NM apart, of which at least 10 of these hours should be at night.
    • 100 hours of instrument time, either real or simulated.
    • 100 logged instrument approaches, multiple types eg ILS, VOR, RNAV, NDB, etc.
    • 50 hours of night flying time.
  • High Performance Logbook Endorsement
  • Training specific to the airframe through a Cirrus Certified Instructor Program and following Cirrus SR-22T transition cirriculum to include:
  • 25 hours dual instruction on the SR-22T airplane.
  • High Altitude Training
  • Garmin Perspective training

For the Piper Mirage, these are going to be a little higher due to the fact that it's a complex airplane with more onboard systems to manage. You are recommended to seek out a complex logbook endorsement in a complex airplane prior to beginning this and build time flying a complex airplane.

Safe operations minimums - PA-46-350:*

  • PPL-ASEL
  • Instrument Airplane with currency
  • Complex Airplane Logbook endorsement
  • High Performance Logbook Endorsement
  • Minimum Required times before transition vary from pilot to pilot, depending on airmanship aptitude and speed at which he/she can assimilate into different aircraft, but The following would be typical:
    • 150 hours PIC of which at least 50 hours should be in complex airplanes.
    • 100 hours cross country time
    • 100 hours cross country time between airports at least 400NM apart, of which at least 10 of these hours should be at night.
    • 50 hours of instrument time, either real or simulated.
    • 100 logged instrument approaches, multiple types eg ILS, VOR, RNAV, NDB, etc.
    • 20 hours of night flying time.
    • 25 hours dual instruction on the PA-46-350 airplane.
  • High Altitude Training
  • Garmin G-1000 training and at least 10 hours in a G-1000 or Perspective equipped aircraft

.

Insurable minimums - PA-46-350:

  • PPL-ASEL
  • Instrument Airplane with currency
  • Complex Airplane Logbook endorsement
  • High Performance Logbook Endorsement
  • Minimum 500-1000 hours total, (they will RAPE you on the low time or low complex time premiums) which should include the following:
    • 300 hours PIC of which at least 100 hours should be in complex airplanes.
    • 200 hours cross country time
    • 200 hours cross country time between airports at least 400NM apart, of which at least 10 of these hours should be at night.
    • 100 hours of instrument time, either real or simulated.
    • 100 logged instrument approaches, multiple types eg ILS, VOR, RNAV, NDB, etc.
    • 25 hours of night flying time.
    • 25 hours dual instruction on the PA-46-350 airplane.
  • High Altitude Training
  • Garmin G-1000 training and at least 10 hours in a G-1000 or Perspective equipped aircraft.

*Safe operations indicates a pilot with good airmanship aptitude, clean safety record and demonstrated competence in handling the new aircraft during checkout.

I know some of this seems daunting but it's really necessary for safe operation of these aircraft. If you fly on a regular basis you should acquire the flight times very quickly, within 2-3 years. Don't get discouraged by this; keep at it. I'd also recommend doing the following.

  • Start flying more at night and doing cross country flights. Don't keep you flying limited to one region of the country. Fly to many different airports. It really looks good to see this in your logbook and really gets you good experience.
  • If/When you get your instrument rating fly on overcast days where you can log real IMC time in 'benign soup'. It is an excellent way to build up REAL instrument time. NOTE: Do proper preflights, weather briefings and SET PERSONAL MINIMUMS AND STICK TO THEM. Don't fly in hazardous weather eg embedded cumulonimbus, etc. Fly practice approaches to new airports in day VFR conditions to get familiarized with them then fly them on overcast days in real IMC.
  • No man is an island; seek out the community and counsel of experienced pilots and build up that ecosystem of knowledge.
  • Avoid hazardous attitudes and follow the FARs. Most of that knowledge was paid for in blood at some point in time and is relevant.
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    $\begingroup$ Please fix the typos. It reads as if it was done with speech to text. $\endgroup$ – bmargulies Feb 27 '17 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Sounds like you are suggesting 400-500 hours in a more forgiving plane with a G1000 cockpit before moving to a SR22, TTX or Malibu. That's probably a 3-4 year timeline. Any forgiving planes you would suggest that would be appropriate for my typical flight (900 miles with 400 lbs of load)? That would be a 6-7 hour flight in a 182 with no wind. $\endgroup$ – Newbie Feb 27 '17 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ If it takes you 3-4 years to build that time, then so be it. You need to build that time and get that experience prior to taking on a high performance aircraft in order to stay ahead of the plane mentally and operate it safely. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Feb 27 '17 at 2:06
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    $\begingroup$ As to avionics and other onboard equipment, it's all nice but not absolutely necessary. In addition I'd recommend doing your private and instrument training in an aircraft with analog instruments and at most a WAAS equipped NAV/COM/GNSS. We want you to master the fundamentals of airmanship here without getting into bad habits of using these systems as a crutch for poor flying skill. Remember, the G1000 IFDs and other advanced avionics have the capability to make a good pilot better and a poor pilot dangerous. Master the basics in analog cockpits you can move on to IFDs and do it safely. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Feb 27 '17 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ A good rule of thumb for expenses is that with about 200 hrs/year the plane will cost you about 4 times the hourly fuel cost. e.g.; a plane that burns 10 gph at 5 USD/gal (to keep the math simple) is 50 USD/hr fuel. The total cost will be about 4 times that or $200/hr. That cost is fuel, oil, maintenance, database subscriptions, engine reserve (to cover overhaul when due), hangar, and insurance. That does not include the cost of the plane. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Feb 27 '17 at 16:26

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