Life of a Salesman
Guys who sell airplanes don't always make the deal, but they always have the funniest stories to tell.
- By Mark Huber
- Photographs by Tyson Rininger
- Air & Space magazine, March 2007
(Page 4 of 8)
“Why did you have the 747?”
“The 707 wasn’t big enough for the
About this time, Ahles decided that perhaps the gentleman was not only unqualified to buy an airplane, but also insane. As the conversation continued, the man explained that his wife used to train exotic animals and that he also used to own a Piper Cheyenne 400 turboprop. Ahles remained skeptical, but promised that he would call the man right back. He hung up and called Piper to see if they knew anything about him.
“Fred, he’s loaded,” a Piper manager said. “Get your butt up there.”
So Ahles flew the Saratoga from Fort Lauderdale to the man’s private, 7,500-foot runway in Ocala, where he was greeted and invited to lunch at the prospect’s house, a 1920s mansion once owned by the Vanderbilts. To get there, the two walked through a tunnel in the 30-foot-tall blast wall constructed at the end of the runway for the 747. Plexiglas windows lined the tunnel, and behind one of them was the biggest gorilla Ahles had ever seen. And it did not like him.
“It sees me and goes nuts,” remembers Ahles. “It comes charging at me from the other side of the Plexiglas.”
The man ended up buying the Saratoga. Today, the land around what was his private airstrip has been converted to an exclusive fly-in community called Jumbolair. John Travolta lives there with his Boeing 707.
As Ahles learned, vetting a prospect is something of a black art. “You develop a ‘gut meter’ of who to qualify and who to spend your time with,” says Mark Woods, a Brighton, Michigan-based Mooney salesman who typically flies 100 to 150 demonstrations annually. Woods sold Plymouths and financial services before migrating to aircraft. “Nobody is perfect, but we get it right more than we get it wrong,” he says. “There are all kinds of dilapidated airports with wealthy people nearby. Just because a client is wearing a T-shirt and jeans doesn’t mean that he is not financially able.”