From Classic Twin to Modern Masterpiece:
The Story of Mike Jones’ Lock & Key NAVAJO
By Max Lundin
Competing in the industry of selling premium aircraft is typically reserved for large-scale dealers and, of course, the airline manufacturers themselves. However, Mike Jones, a pilot from Tennessee, broke this stereotype by starting his own aircraft refurbishing company and restoring classic corporate aircraft with the latest mechanical and electrical systems, newest STCs, and the most advanced avionics packages available. Once completed, his aircraft look, fly, smell, and act like no other Piper Navajo in the world.
The Rise and Fall of GA Aircraft Manufacturing
After high school, Jones knew he wanted to fly. He received a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Management from Middle Tennessee State University while earning his pilot’s license and instructor’s ratings at the same time. Jones then flew as a corporate pilot for 25 years and continued on as a captain for a regional carrier for another 5 years. It was during this time he realized that he had plenty of extra time to pick up a hobby—and to make a little extra cash too.
Before getting his start in refurbishing classic aircraft, Jones bought and sold pristine airplanes at retail value and sold them at a markup. “Back in the day, every airport would have new GA aircraft,” he recounted. “It wasn’t until Cessna lost a lawsuit over an incapacitated pilot flying a Cessna 210 that the industry took a nosedive.” This lawsuit occurred in the 1980s and ushered in an era of high product liability costs within the aircraft industry. Consequently, interest rates skyrocketed; and, seemingly overnight, the number of new aircraft being produced plummeted. Soon, production rates fell from 30,000 new aircraft per year to a meager 3,000 per year.
The Million Dollar Business Idea
Before the market crashed, Jones had built a solid reputation for selling pristine aircraft. However, given the state of the industry at the time, buying at retail was no longer an effective business model. The market of new GA aircraft had dried up and it was time for a change. That’s when the refurbishing approach came into the picture. “I saw an article in a magazine about a guy who had rebuilt a Cessna 421 to modern specs and had spent over $1 million dollars restoring and refurbishing the aircraft,” Jones recalled. “That’s when I had the crazy idea to do my own style of refurbishing classic planes and bringing them up to standards that, at times, far exceed new production aircraft.”
Inspired, Jones quickly developed his new business model:
- Refurbish classic aircrafts’ mechanical and electrical systems
- Install the latest STCs
- Equip the aircraft with the most advanced avionics suites available on the market
- Sell the aircraft as an alternative to new aircraft and their pricing models
This strategy of selling a fully restored aircraft at prices similar to that of new production models was bold; and its success hinged largely on picking just the right plane and taking it to the highest possible standards of quality and beauty. His plane of choice: the Piper Navajo.
Jones dubbed his “new” plane the Lock & Key Navajo and guaranteed his Navajo’s could outperform the factory produced models of the aircraft. To back up his claim, Jones flies each Lock & Key Navajo for a minimum of 25 hours, working out all of the bugs and squawks in his planes before a customer ever takes delivery. He also adds his own personal touch by including the Lock & Key logo on the wingtips and offering his own warranty on each plane. At the time he started, there wasn’t a Navajo on the market that cost more than $350K. He now sells them for a standard price of $795K plus options.
Colemill and Jones’s growth in the refurbishing sector
Initially, Jones had a working relationship with Bill Colbert Jr. of Colemill Enterprises, a Nashville company that made custom conversions for the Piper Navajo, Beech Baron, Beech Bonanza, and Cessna 310. Jones would have his planes converted by Colemill as part of the Lock & Key process. Sadly, in May of 2010, the Colemill workshop was flooded with 13 feet of water that destroyed many airplanes including one of Jones’s Navajos which had been fully converted and was ready to be flown out. Fortunately, insurance on the plane paid the full premium price for the coverage, further justifying the value of his Lock & Key Navajo.
The flood was catastrophic for Colemill and Colbert decided to sell all 21 of his STC rights to Jones. The rights include mods for the Navajo, Baron, Bonanza, and Cessna 310. Jones then opened shop in his childhood home of Murfreesboro, TN, and hired many of Colemill’s employees to create Mike Jones Avionics and Maintenance to take care of all of the physical restoring and refurbishing work, while Mike Jones Aircraft Sales (www.mikejonesaircraft.com) sells the finished product.
Competing with Newly Manufactured Aircraft
In addition to the Navajo, Jones now offers conversions for several other aircraft, including the Beechcraft Baron and Piper Seneca. Still, the Lock & Key Navajo stands out with its larger payload, more comfortable cabin, and unbelievable stowage ability—the latter of which, boasts both nose and rear storage AND seven-foot wing lockers! His Navajos even include a private potty! In addition to the specs, Jones praises the Navajo for its ease of use as a transition plane for low time pilots, not to mention its impeccable safety record.
Here’s how Jones’s Lock & Key Navajo (Panther Conversion) compares to a factory Beechcraft Baron:
|Navajo (Panther Conversion) Specs|
|Seats||7 + Potty|
|Payload after full fuel||1050 lbs|
|Beech Baron (New Model) Specs|
|Payload after full fuel||360 lbs|
|Price||$1.3 Million (Approx.)|
Jones’s sales don’t lie. He just delivered one aircraft to a client in Hawaii, and will deliver another to Puerto Rico in the coming months. In fact, he’s aiming to sell three or more this year alone. With each delivery, his reputation for creating the perfect Navajo and providing superior service and support continues to grow.
The Mike Jones’ Refurb Strategy
When Jones decided what modifications he would make to Navajos, Barons, and 310s, he thought about the features that would make them stand up most favorably when compared to aircraft coming straight from manufacturers. As a result, his conversions specifically focus on:
- Engine Upgrades to 350-hp Lycoming TIO/LTIO-540-J2B engines.
- Removal of Inner Gear Doors allowing for higher gear extension speeds.
- Winglets to increase rate of climb and cruise speeds.
- Long Range Fuel Tank Modifications for optimal long range flight.
- Flap Modifications that increase flap travel from 25 degrees to 45 degrees for incredible short field performance.
- Most Advanced Avionics Suites from top manufacturers such as Garmin, Aspen Avionics, and Avidyne.
If your aircraft is in need of restoration to improve its future value and looks, consider consulting with Jones. Even if you’re not planning to sell in the near future, investing in your aircraft in the right ways can have a serious payout. To learn more about Mike Jones’ company and their mods, visit www.mikejonesaircraft.com.