Tom Horne Archive

Debonair Sweeps: Flying D’Shannon’s tip tanks

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Time for an update on the Debonair Sweeps’ progress–and the news is big! After buying the airplane at Hartford’s Brainard Airport, I flew it to AOPA headquarters at the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport–a flight of two hours. From there, I flew it another five and a half hours to Buffalo, Minnesota (stops were made at the Muncie, Indiana and LaCrosse, Wisconsin airports). Buffalo is D’Shannon Aviation’s home office. At Buffalo, D’Shannon went to town, installing its 20-gallon tip tanks, a new “Speed Slope” windshield, tinted side windows, and aileron and flap gap seals.

For those who may not know, D’Shannon is all about fixing up Bonanzas, Barons, and Debonairs. They have Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs)–98 of them!–that run the gamut. If you want your Debonair, Bonanza, or Baron to look better and go faster, then D’Shannon’s the place. Scott Erickson is D’Shannon’s president, and he’s your point person. He’s at 800-291-7616.

D’Shannon’s more aerodynamically-shaped windshield replaces the stock windshield, which has a kind of bubble shape. But the main advantages of new windshields and side windows have to do with visibility and noise reduction. The old windshield and side windows were scratched and milky. Believe me when I say that flying into the sun made forward visibility a challenge. The new windshield and windows are also thicker than the originals–3/8-inch thick versus the original 1/4-inch thick glass. So there is also a noise reduction factor.

The tip tanks come with two methods of determining fuel level. First, there’s a clear slot in the side of the tanks, so you can directly observe the fuel level. There are fuel quantity markings–1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and full–and each corresponds to five gallons’ worth of fuel. In the cockpit there are digital fuel gauges that give both numerical and graphic fuel quantity indications. The gauges are on the same small panel that contains the transfer pump switches. To use tip fuel, you burn down the main tanks first, to make room. Then you turn on the transfer pumps to move the fuel from the tips to the mains. It’s an in-flight fill-up!

I first got a chance to check out the tip tanks on a flight from Buffalo to Wichita’s Jabara Airport. The takeoff from Buffalo was definitely sporty, with direct crosswinds out of the west gusting to 27 mph. And the turbulence on  climbout was a solid moderate–if aviation had a Richter scale, it would have rated a seven I’d think.

I hear you asking about the effects of all that weight out on the wingtips. Yes, I was busy in the turbulence, and even with just five gallons in each tip tank, there was a noticeable moment-arm from those 30 pounds sloshing around out there. How would it be with the full, 120-pounds-worth of fuel in each tank? I’ll find out one of these days, and I hope it will be in smoother air!

The tip tanks certainly have benefits: seven- to eight-hour endurances, for example. And the tip tanks come with a 200-pound hike in max gross takeoff weight. It’s now a 3,200-pound airplane, which helps in the useful load department.

The Debonair’s empty weight now stands at 2,028 pounds; useful load is a decent 1,172 pounds. But fill up all the tanks and useful load shrinks to 488 pounds. So for two people and light bags, the Debonair Sweeps is ideal for long trips or tankering lower-cost fuel. Of course, the airplane’s weight will change during the refurbishment process, and  by “change” I mean increase in weight. So the winner will probably need to modify the fuel load on typical flights.

That’s it for now, with some 20 hours logged on an airplane that has yet to experience its biggest work packages.

In the next post I’ll show you a photo and a drawing that’ll give you a fair idea of the goings-on at the Debonair’s current stop–at Santa Fe Aero Services, where its avionics will get a complete do-over. Stay tuned!

The Sweeps Debonair: Sign of a Trend?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Now that AOPA’s Debonair sweepstakes is under way, I’ve been thinking about the previous owners of this very special 1963 airplane. Our/your Debonair was previously owned by two partners. One was 90 years old. The other wanted a newer airplane–an A36 Bonanza, I understand. The 90-year-old is still flying, by the way, and the day I checked out the Debonair I watched him taxi out in a Skyhawk with an instructor. For him, the Debonair was too much expense for too little flying. For the past five years he averaged just 20 hours per year in the Debonair. Keeping it made no sense.

This sounds a lot like the previous owner of the 2011 sweepstakes airplane–a 1974 Cessna 182 we dubbed the “Crossover Classic.” The owner was in his late 70s and only flew his Skylane 10 hours per year. Though he couldn’t justify keeping the Skylane he, too, kept flying. He purchased a Piper J-3 Cub, restored it with a partner, and now flies it under Light Sport Aircraft rules.

Let’s go back further, to AOPA’s 2004 “Win-A-Twin” sweepstakes airplane–a 1965 Piper Twin Comanche. Same deal: an ex-airline pilot rarely flew the airplane. He was getting out of the twin because, you guessed it, he didn’t fly so much any more.

It strikes me that these pilots represent a groundswell in sales of older general aviation airplanes. All three owners were deeply involved in GA flying, and emotional about parting with their beloved airplanes. In each case it took years for the owners to come to the decision to sell. And in those years, I might add, each deferred essential maintenance. They became inured to their airplanes’ signs of wear and tear.

I’ll bet that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of owners and airplanes out there in the same situations. And guess what. Those owners and airplanes were part of GA’s glory years, which ran roughly from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. That’s when more GA pilots were trained, and airplanes built, than ever before–or since. It was the apex of GA’s bell-shaped activity curve.

Now many of those older owners are getting out of “conventional” GA and into light-sport flying. Others are simply walking away. No surprise here, but my point is that there aren’t enough younger pilots entering GA to compensate for the older ones leaving. That’s why AOPA’s many initiatives designed to promote growth of the pilot base–our flying club iniative being the latest–will be so essential in the years to come.

Ride-sharing, wherever you want it

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Let’s say a pilot is flying a cross-country, but has an empty seat or two. Doesn’t it seem a waste not to fill a seat or two with someone needing a lift? Now, Edouard Kohler of AOPA-France, has come up with a way to match pilots with potential passengers–or other pilots wanting the experience. Kohler’s website gives you a way to see which willing pilots are going where, and lets prospective pilot/passengers sign up. It’s a new program, just launched a month ago, and Kohler is hopeful that more pilots and passengers will sign up for ride-sharing.

Sounds like a great way to spread the word about GA. We’ll see how the concept evolves over the coming year. And remember, this ride-sharing program is intended to be available in both the United States and Europe.

Caution: Catfish on ramp!

Monday, September 10th, 2012

We’ve all heard the expression ‘raining cats and dogs.’ Now let’s add to that ‘raining catfish.’ Let me explain.

I had just landed at the Vero Beach, Florida airport and was cleared to taxi to Paris Air’s ramp at the east end of the field. It rained heavily the day before, and off and on for several hours before my arrival. The rain was heavy. So heavy that the airport’s storm drains–grass swales, really–filled to the brim. I came down the taxiway paralleling Paris Air’s ramp, hung a right, and–hey, what’s that? One, two, three black, curved shapes flopping around on the ramp.

Catfish taxiing at VRB

Yep, catfish. They had apparently washed out of the swales and were now trying to walk–er, flop–somewhere. It was a first for me! After taking a picture I went to check on them again but they were gone. A Paris Air employee snatched them, ostensibly to put in a pond at his home. That, or perhaps there was catfish for dinner that night!


The Mega-Derecho

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Last Friday a monster wind took out houses, hangars, and electricity from Indiana to Delaware. The highest wind speeds at the surface reached 90 mph, or more! What caused this mayhem? A derecho (pronounced de-RAY-sho), something that’s fairly common in the central U.S., but rare in the east. A derecho isn’t a thunderstorm per se, although convection is at its heart. Nope, it’s a wind event, and a long-lived one at that.

The trouble starts when strong outflow winds from a thunderstorm complex–and yes, this could be a mesoscale convective complex (MCC) which we touched on before–form huge bow echos. Easily visible on infrared satellite imagery, I might add (I’m becoming more of a fan of IR images, BTW). Strong winds aloft, meanwhile, impart energy to the bow echos and start them moving. So now you have the forward motion caused by the outflows themselves, plus the windspeeds added by winds up near jet stream altitudes deep in the flight levels. It’s a two-fer! And it means big, destructive winds at and near the surface. Straight-line winds, by the way, not tornados. Derechos are not tornadic events. Although the wind damage matches what you’d expect to see with tornado activity.

How big were the winds? Reagan National Airport in D.C. recorded gusts as high as 71 mph, although surface winds as high as 80 to 100 mph have been recorded elsewhere in areas under the derecho’s influence. In yet another testimony to aviation safety, there were no accidents related to the derecho, at least not yet. Presumably because all received adequate warning, and any pilot with a particle of brain tissue made sure he/she stayed on the ground while the derecho did its thing. Hey, it’s not like it snuck up on us easterners–you could see it coming nine hours and 600 miles before it hit the Baltimore-Washington area.

Now you know why the Storm Prediction Center’s website, , is right up there on my favorite websites list. Not that I was logged on when the bottom fell out Friday night; I’m understandably afraid of a lightning hit. (I’ve lived through hits in two houses I’ve lived in, watched lighting go down a tree about five feet from where I was standing, lost numerous TVs and weather instruments to lightning hits, and watched lightning strike a barn on a farm I lived on, which subsequently burned the barn down, burning all the animals inside alive, and sending those living in the barn’s adjoining apartment screaming across open fields toward my house. In the dead of night. With the animals, trapped, bellowing in pain.) This was on December 1, 1974, the same night that  TWA 514 hit Mt. Weather on approach into Dulles International–but that’s another story.

So last Friday I was looking out the window, not surfing the net for cool Nexrad images.  I live very near AOPA HQ and the lightning was coming fast and furious–most of it cloud-to-cloud. Sure, there were wind gusts and plenty of rain, but thankfully no damage of the sort that happened in the Washington and Baltimore regions some 35 miles to my southeast and east, respectively.

As of Saturday some 750,000 were without electrical power. 911 services in Falls Church, Virginia and other nearby Virginia communities were out of service. Today I hear that the outages are down to 500,000 or so–but 911 still doesn’t work in those parts of Virginia. Traffic signals are out. Governments and schools

June 29, 2012 derecho progression

 are closed. Liberal leave is in effect. Clearly, the Boswash corridor is unprepared for derechos.

Meanwhile, friend and AOPA Pilot contributor Pete Bedell is meeting with an insurance adjuster this morning. Seems his Baron’s hangar roof departed the scene during the storm (no damage to the Baron, thankfully). I’m sure his situation is being duplicated all over the region. Not to mention the airplanes flipped over in their tiedowns, or, gasp, left unsecured. Those airplanes can be found in the nearest creek I suppose.

All because of a storm that began in Illinois. Though I didn’t capture any images during the derecho, here’s an image from the NWS that gives you the big picture, along with a chart showing the climatology of derechos.

Target: Upper Midwest

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Last week we began seeing Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCCs) affecting the upper midwest–mainly Wisconsin. Well, guess what. The same basic weather dyanmics are still in place! There’s a warm- or stationary frontal boundary lying across Wisconsin and Minnesota, with its parent low now over eastern North Dakota. Winds aloft at 6,000 feet are 60 knots out of the south-southwest from Oklahoma to Minnesota. And that means warm, moist air is riding up and over the frontal boundary, setting Minnesota and Wisconsin up for trouble. Again. This will be almost a week of the same-old, same-old for the upper midwest. Today the Storm Prediction Center identifies Wisconsin as having a slight chance of severe thunderstorms. Will another MCC be in the offing? Maybe. After all, there’s a huge area of rainfall in the area already. That said, a check of ceilings and visibilities during the last MCC event showed mostly MVFR weather. On the other hand, yesterday featured a monster bow echo, which signals strong winds and turbulence ahead of onrushing cold outflows from storm centers. Below is this morning’s setup, but this afternoon is when the curtain may raise on the main event. Meanwhile, the eastern US roasts under high pressure. Time for density altitude calculation practice!



Precipitation shield over MN


Winds aloft 6,000 ft msl


MCC on the move

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Yesterday’s post about the mesoscale convective complex (MCC) over Wisconsin needs an update. MCCs can persist for days, sure. But a cold front approaching from the west has changed things. Right now, all the real action has shifted south, to Kansas and Oklahoma, where a low has intensified and threatens to make yet another MCC over Oklahoma. Meanwhile, a cold front about to affect Wisconsin is butting up against a fairly strong high pressure system. That high is giving the whole eastern US great flying weather, but by late tomorrow that cold front should blow through Wisconsin and bring more rain and possible convection over the region. Could another MCC re-form over Wisconsin? Maybe. There’s still a good, 30-40 knot southerly flow over the region at 5,000 feet. If you’re as geeky about weather as I am, you’ll be watching this whole system on the march over the weekend. Meanwhile, here are infrared images of the MCC as it appeared yesterday, along with imagery of this morning’s developing situation over Oklahoma.

Thursday June 14, 1900Z

Wanna see an MCC?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

In keeping with Storm Week, here’s an infrared satellite shot of a Mesoscale Convective Complex (MCC) from the Penn State e-wall website. Can you see it? It’s covering most of Wisconsin! MCCs are massive thunderstorm complexes that derive their strength from strong southerly flows of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. True to form, this MCC set up north of a warm front and its radar signature is the classic round shape, with a nice cirrus outflow at the edges. I’ve written about MCCs several times in AOPA Pilot, and an upcoming Wx Watch in the July issue will address the subject again. MCCs have a nasty habit of persisting for days, so let’s see how this one plays out.

PC-12s in African Special Ops

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Check out today’s front page story in The Washington Post:  It’s about a network of airports across Africa that are home to Pilatus PC-12s operated by the U.S. military. “Small passenger and cargo utility planes,” the Post calls them. These Pc-12s are probably the “Spectre” models that come with a retractable infrared sensor pod and interior monitoring console. The Spectre option tacks another $650,000 to the PC-12NG’s average equipped price of some $4 million. Military sales are an important slice of Pilatus’ business, and this is further proof. So is last month’s sale of 55 PC-21 trainers to the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The 600th TBM clears customs; Its pilot gets socks

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The 250-odd nm trip from Sept Iles, Quebec to Bangor, Maine was an easy, 50-minute jaunt in N600YR. With such a short leg, there was little concern over headwinds so it was a time for experimenting with the TBM 850’s long-range cruise performance.

So, power was dialed back to 63-percent torque. At the cruise altitude of FL280, fuel flow dropped to 40 gph, but true airspeed held at a respectable 250 knots. On the G1000’s multifunction display, the large map display showed our range rings–one was a dotted ring that showed where we’d have a 45-minute fuel reserve; a solid ring showed where the ship would hit bingo. Turns out that from Quebec this TBM could fly all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and still have legal IFR fuel reserves. Not bad. Pull the power lever back to 34-percent torque and endurance goes to seven hours!

It wasn’t long before this 600th TBM was parked on the customs ramp at Bangor, Maine’s International Airport. Out came the customs officer, complete with sidearm, stern looks, and a few questions. Did I have more than $100,000 on me? I wish. Is that a Rolex? No, it’s a Breitling. Did you buy it in Europe? Nope, in the U.S. Any food aboard? Just a few chocolate bars. And on and on. The airplane’s paperwork was reviewed, and then we were officially released.

Big sigh. N600YR was now officially imported, and could be legally flown to its buyer in Salt Lake City. This was big news, because Daher-Socata needed to get paid for the airplane within a day and a half. That way, the check could be deposited before the bank closed on the specified delivery date.

Clearing customs also meant Margrit and I could go into the Bangor FBO and make ready for the remaining legs. But there was other business to attend to. Thanks to e-mail, Facebook, and telephone, my friend–and long-time freelancer for AOPA, Dan Namowitz–was waiting in the FBO lobby. And he had my socks. Finally.

The saga of the socks has a history that goes back 15 years. On February 1, 1996 I was ferrying a Piper Seminole from the U.S. to Thailand. On the first leg of the trip (destination: St. John’s, Newfoundland (CYYT)) the Seminole’s Janitrol heater gave up the ghost. Just west of Boston. It was a cold, dark night and the cockpit quickly became cold-soaked, along with my feet and hands. I tried mightily to get the heater going but no dice. Too much air going through it? Too little? Everything I tried failed.

But I figured I could withstand it for as long as it took to get to Bangor and its 10,000-foot-long runway, where repairs could be made. The closer I got to Bangor, the more critical the situation became. I couldn’t feel my feet, and my hands were so cold that I had trouble dialing up frequencies. I had to use the heel of my hand to make power adjustments.

I taxied to the FBO, shut down, and headed for the lobby. Ahhhh, warmth at last. I began to thaw out, but would sure need some nice heavy wool socks for the remainder of the trip across the Atlantic. That’s when I called Dan. No answer, so I left a voice mail. “Hey, it’s me. I’m at the FBO and need some socks or my feet will freeze off.” Something like that.

Then another phone call. To Margrit, for whom I was flying in those days. She agreed to repairs, of course, but I had to get the plane to a shop in Bedford, Massachusetts. So after warming up I got back in the Seminole and backtracked to Bedford where the Janitrol’s fouled plug was cleaned and the daggone thing was returned to service. I climbed back in, took off into the night, and flew on in glorious, heated comfort–all the way to St. John’s.

But I never got the socks. Over the years, Dan and I would joke about the long-lost socks, and a few staffers came to know the story. So the word was passed to Dan: N600YR will land at BGR at 10 a.m., with Horne aboard. I turned around in the FBO and there was Namowitz. With an L.L. Bean paper bag containing……..yes! Socks!

The circle has been completed, both sock-wise and airplane-wise. From Bangor the TBM 850 made its way west.

Job done! Another great crossing in another great airplane. I can’t wait to do it again.

The author and his long-lost socks. Two pair, even!