By John House
I first glimpsed her when I was but a boy. In that moment, time seemed to stand still. My heart raced. My breath quickened. I suddenly felt my head throb and my ears assailed. She moved with a grace that marveled anything I’d ever seen.
I stood at a fence as she passed; my eyes never leaving her. Men came from seemingly everywhere to assist her or to simply gaze upon her. She epitomized perfection. Lean yet muscular, broad of shoulder and a stance that exuded confidence and power. Though I was but a boy, I knew in my heart, one day I would make her mine.
I asked all those around if they knew her. All said no. I had to find out. I couldn’t just walk up and ask. Who was I after all? Just a young boy, hardly old enough to even shave. But there I stood with eyes wide and mouth agape with my name printed on my shirt and a rag in my pocket. What chance did I have getting near such beauty, such grace?
A man who I’d seen with her walked my direction. He was exactly what you’d expect to be with her. Tall, fit, dressed in a dark blue suit and sporting a pair of classic Ray-Ban Aviators. He was right out of central casting. As he approached, I couldn’t control myself any longer. With a big, stupid grin, I blurted out I thought she was the most beautiful I’d ever seen. What is her name? With a knowing smile, he simply said Solitaire. He could tell I was mesmerized so he offered to introduce us. I couldn’t believe it! I was going to meet the future love of my life.
As we walked closer, her alabaster skin glimmered in the mid-day sun. Many of her class wore colors applied, in my opinion, with a heavy hand. But not Solitaire. What little she donned was simple and elegant. I was in love.
Yep, I’m talking about an airplane. But not just an airplane: a Mitsubishi MU-2. A high wing, twin Garrett TPE331 powered turboprop that out-performed every other aircraft on the market. There were two variants – the short body (6 pax + 1) and the long body (11 pax + 1). They were manufactured in both Texas and Japan until 1986 and 1987 respectively.
Sadly, they developed an undeserved reputation caused mostly by pilot error. They were/are a true pilot’s airplane and will bite if you are inattentive or untrained. The requirements to fly as PIC were simply a multiengine rating and an instructor endorsement. Not a good idea. By the mid-80’s there had been multiple fatal accidents which prompted the FAA to investigate the aircraft. After a number of studies, the FAA concluded there was nothing inherently wrong with the design. But the bad press had done its damage. The result was the resale price of the aircraft plummeted. My desire for an MU-2 never wavered.
By this time, I was no longer a boy but an experienced pilot. I was the sales manager for an aircraft broker and in my continual search for aircraft I came across a Solitaire (short body) in Las Vegas. The owner’s business needs changed and he no longer needed his IAI 1124 nor his MU-2. I made an unreasonably ridiculous offer and to my surprise the owner accepted. I kinda felt like the dog that continually chases cars and finally catches one. What do I do now?
I felt bad that he had to write a check for more than $800,000 to sell me his airplane but he was thrilled. He pushed me to buy or at least to help him sell his Westwind which he had to write an even bigger check to get rid of it. I made arrangements for financing, training and insurance. The first two were easy but the insurance – Oh My Goodness! The annual premium was nearly a quarter of the price of the airplane. No wonder Marvin wanted to get rid of it.
I owned the airplane for 3 years and put almost 500 hours on it. I loved every minute flying it but it was a bit “spendy”. You’ve heard the old saying that a boat is a hole in the water you throw money into? I understand that feeling. In the end it was sad to see the airplane go to a new owner but I made out okay. However, I do miss landing at a small airport and drawing a crowd giving me the Garrett salute. If I won the lottery, would I buy another one? In a New York minute!
One last note. The MU-2 at the start of this story was not a Solitaire. They didn’t start making those until 1979. I figured it would read better as Solitaire rather than Moo-two.