AOPA Sweepstakes Airplane Archive

Debonair Sweeps: Panel Sneak-Peek

Friday, November 30th, 2012

N232L Radio Panel

N232L Radio Panel – click to see bigger image.

Ok, so the last Debonair post was a tad troubling…I mean, will that torn-up old instrument panel really make the leap to state-of-the-art?

Fear not! Santa Fe Aero Services has come up with a plan. And a drawing that shows their vision of the Deb’s panel-to-be. Click on the accompanying image and it will enlarge.

Take a look at the illustration and see if you like what’s planned. It’s a display-rich panel with a clean look and a load of new avionics. Again, check for subsequent posts–and the sweepstakes article in the January issue of AOPA Pilot magazine–for updates.

But for now I just wanted to give you a peek into the very near future. What do you think?

Debonair Sweeps: No Turning Back!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

 

The Debonair Sweeps' gutted panel

Yikes! The Debonair Sweeps’ gutted panel

 

I’ve shepherded three AOPA Sweepstakes airplanes through their restorations, and there’s something that shocks me each time.

What is it? It’s seeing a photo like one posted here! Yep, this is the stage where all the old avionics have been yanked, and then unceremoniously tossed or traded in to the avionics shop for credit (what little that might represent) against their labor.

But look at it…chaos incarnate. NO WAY the old panel is ever coming back! The point of no return has passed!

Even though you may intellectually grasp the idea, at this stage of a panel restoration the mind cannot fathom the concept of a full-on upgrade. How can any normally-endowed person have the ability to put things right after seeing such a mess of wires and gaping holes? You or I couldn’t, of course. So take a look, ladies and gentlemen: The Humpty-Dumpty metaphor, made manifest!

Good thing that Santa Fe Aero Services has been there, done that. Many times over. Before long, we’ll see a three-screen Aspen Avionics installation, along with Garmin’s GTN 750 and GTN 650 navigators, an Alpha Systems angle of attack indicator, an R.C. Allen backup attitude indicator, a PS Engineering PMA8000BT audio panel, a CO Guardian carbon monixide detector, a JP Instruments EDM 900 engine and systems monitor, and much, much, much more. Like a panel-mounted iPad Mini, USB charging ports, and new annuciators.

Check out the January 2013 issue of AOPA Pilot for more information about the Debonair Sweeps’ panel transformation.

And don’t worry. The gutted-panel look may prompt despair, but that will fade as the new panel springs, Phoenix-like, into the 21st century.

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.

Wing-off at Wings Field

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I’m not an early riser, but it didn’t take long for me to jump out of bed at 5 a.m. Saturday morning to get ready and head to Frederick for a pre-dawn departure to fly to Wings Field near Philadelphia. The day would offer many opportunities I had never before experienced.

I lifted off under the dark, starry sky, admiring the splotches of city lights and a few patches of fog floating by underneath. I kept my eyes peeled to the horizon though, not wanting to miss a minute of the sunrise. This would be my first sunrise from a GA aircraft (like I mentioned, I’m not an early riser). The dark sky slowly lightened at the horizon, the colors changing from a dark blue-grey to a bright orange, the sun quickly rising from a sliver to a bright blazing ball. As the sun continued to rise, the reds and oranges faded into light blue.

With the first of my anticipated excitements for the day behind me, my thoughts drifted to the Wings ’n Wheels Old ’n New event at Wings Field (the birthplace of AOPA) where I was flying AOPA’s 2010 Sweepstakes Remos GX to be on display. The event served as a fundraiser for Angel Flight East. There, I would experience another first—being a food tasting judge.

The “Wings Gozilla Cookoff” featured restaurants from the local area: Lee’s Hoagie House, P.J. Whelihan’s, Phil’s Tavern, Whitpain Tavern, and Michael’s Restaurant (if you ever fly into Wings Field, definitely check out one of these restaurants for lunch or dinner). Attendees bought tickets to taste the wings and vote on their favorite (50 cents bought one voting ticket and one wing). All of the proceeds were donated to Angel Flight East. Four lucky attendees, including myself, judged the wings based on their taste, aroma, tenderness, and overall quality, although after tasting the wings, I think “eye watering” should have been added to the scorecard. Crackers, celery, and water allowed us to “cleanse our palates” between wings. After a few wings, though, my lips never stopped tingling from the spices! One of my top picks, the wings from Lee’s Hoagie House, made it into one of the winning categories. (I was so inspired after tasting the wings that I later attempted to make my own. “Extra crispy/slightly burned” would needed to have been added as a category to judge mine. At least now I know the batteries in my smoke detectors still work.)

But the highlight of the day, by far, came from the pilots, Angel Flight East volunteers, AOPA members, and aviation enthusiasts who stopped by AOPA’s Remos GX (see “Nonpilot magnet”). Pilots who have flown around the world, evacuated families in advance of an approaching hurricane, or transported a baby for cancer treatments shared their love for aviation and for the mission of Angel Flight East with more than 3,000 visitors. For the visitors that day, there was no misperception that GA aircraft were “toys for the rich.” It was clear that these pilots focused on the families they had helped and the future missions they would fly.

To all volunteer pilots—Angel Flight East and other organizations—thank you for your testament to GA and, more importantly, for your service.

1993 Sweeps 172 is training pilots in Miami

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

The aircraft AOPA gave away in 1994 after full refurbishment the year before has helped to train 4,000 pilots and given renters a means to get around Florida for 14 years. The upholstery shows the wear from life as a trainer and the “AOPA” is missing from the “Good as New” logo on the tail, but otherwise the Cessna 172 is fully operational.

It is in the fleet of Dean International headed by Robert Dean and his wife, Elisa. Elisa notes the Garmin GPSMAP 530 added by the school makes this a, “Good as New, New” airplane. Since the picture was taken Nov. 14, the school moved into beautiful new quarters at its home base, Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport in Kendall, Florida, south of and adjoining Miami. The school trains students from around the world and hopes to add those from the Peoples’ Republic of China in coming months.

A beautiful sunset

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

After 2,000 miles with the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer, the Pacific Ocean finally came into view. Unfortunately it was 20 miles to the west, and would be the closest we would get.

A California sunset

But let’s back up a bit. We left Falcon Field in Phoenix late morning and headed for General Fox in California for fuel. Big headwinds kept us a little short, so we decided to divert to Van Nuys instead. What better place to make a last fuel stop than one of the busiest GA airports in the country with tons of heritage? But trying to beat weather into San Jose meant a quick turn and sightseeing limited to what could be seen from the taxiway.

Leaving Van Nuys we flew west toward San Marcus. At 10,000 feet, we were welcomed to the biggest headwinds of the trip, around 40 knots. The turn north for San Jose was where the fun started. After the beautiful sunset, we finally got lower to try to escape the winds and get to some warmer air. Nothing is free though. The lower altitude put us in IMC. As we flew toward San Jose, the rain intensified. Salinas was shrouded with extreme precipitation, none of which was showing up on datalink (definitely a lesson there). Close to San Jose, the rain was heavy, the wind shifted, and we were put in a homemade hold to wait for airline traffic on the ILS. What a better way to end a long trip than night IMC and an approach?

Landing in San Jose was bittersweet. We had made it, and looking back, it was fairly easy. Thanks to advanced avionics, trips like these are stress-free and much less taxing than they used to be. Imagine an Archer as a cross-country luxury ride. The Get Your Glass Archer makes it possible.

The Colorado River alters the desert landscape.

The Colorado River changes the desert landscape.

The Banning Pass near Palm Springs.

The Banning Pass near Palm Springs.

Miles upon miles of windmills.

Wide open spaces

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Boy, when they say the Western U.S. is full of wide open spaces, they aren’t kidding. The sweepstakes flight today was from Altus, Oklahoma, to Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. The scenery was incredible. Between the red rocks, mountains, spectacular cliffs and mesas, New Mexico and Arizona clearly have something special. Aside from getting knocked around by turbulence all day, it was a great seven hours of flying.

Tomorrow it’s on to San Jose. I’m hoping seeing the Pacific will be the end to a great trip.

Massive areas of cattle in Texas with nothing else around for miles.

The beautiful vista of New Mexico.

West Texas.

Just a little short

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Murphy’s Law set in early. We left Frederick an hour late for the trip west in the sweepstakes Archer. Headwinds beat us down even more. But, after 11ish hours of flying, we were rewarded with a great stop–Altus, Oklahoma.

The day took us through Clark County, Indiana, Springfield, Missouri, and finally into Altus. Altus is a town that used to be built around the active Air Force base. But it’s closure means things aren’t what they used to be. At least that’s what the lineman told me. But service and a smile still reign here. Let’s see, gas was $3.60 full service, a linewoman cleaned my windscreen unprompted, and they gave us a ride to the hotel about a mile away. I’ll be back here someday.

But as great as Altus is, it’s not as far as we had wanted to make it. Lubbock, Texas was the original goal. In hindsight I’m glad we didn’t make it though. Texas Tech v. Texas in Lubbock last night probably meant hotel rooms were slim.

This morning we’ll be leaving early to try and make the Phoenix area by early afternoon. There I have an interview with an interesting guy you’ll read about shortly in the magazine. Afterward, who knows? All I know is it’s West.

Let the journey begin!

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I’m a very lucky man. With Expo in San Jose this year, the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Archer has to get from AOPA’s Frederick, Maryland, headquarters to the west coast. I get the privilege of making the journey.

The route will take me through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally California. With the advances in technology, you’ll be able to follow along like never before. I’ll be blogging on these pages over the next three days, and also giving immediate updates via Twitter.

Follow me at Twitter (ijtwombly) to see where the stops will be. It’s a good way to catch the sweepstakes airplane and get an up-close and personal tour. Happy trails.