Tom Horne

Debonair Sweeps: Flying D’Shannon’s tip tanks

November 5, 2012 by Thomas A. Horne, Editor At Large

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!

6 Responses to “Debonair Sweeps: Flying D’Shannon’s tip tanks”

  1. Ray Winslow Says:

    AOPA is not seeing what is happenning to GA.
    I could not afford to keep a Bebonair if I won! And 80% could not as weel?
    You do not believe me, make this a responce question!

    Who am I?
    Ex cropduster, CFII
    Retired US Navy combat aviator, O6
    Retired Continental B747, B777 Captain.
    9 more years in a Gulfstream.
    Three kids, grown, two homes and a Swift with hangar, I must work on myself.
    Retired Income $150,000.

    My little no tower airport only has old people (71) like me that made their money in the past.
    No kids learning to fly.
    No new business planes, a few have left.
    One rental plane on field, nearly out of business.
    If user fees and fuel increases prevail, the airport may close and my hangar will be worthless.
    I will fly till my last day, but no one is in trail.

    Wake up!
    Give away 2 two or 3 old airplanes add people.

    702 509-3818

  2. Billy Rose Says:

    I am a new pilot here in Chico Calif. and the Debonair would be a great fit here!! we have a great bunch of pilots here old and young, we have a civil air squad of young pilots coming up! we have a young eagles group its amazing what a bunch of pilots can do to energize and adopt new young pilots into aviation, Just Last Saturday we held a breakfast fly in so young people could experiance the joy of flight! SO GET BUSY ON THAT DEBONAIR, WE WILL TAKE IT!!!

  3. Rick Hale Says:

    The Debonair is a great little airplane and will outlast the company or successors company who made it. I pray that GA will survive the next few years, but things won’t be better for several years to come, as Washington and its leader has no clue. I sold my airplane last April and have its hanger for sale now. Flight became more trouble than it was worth here in the Los Angeles basin. If I won the Debonair I would be happy to keep her and make the best of the poor future prospect of GA. She would fit in my hanger really well.

    We don’t need more give away airplanes, one works well. We need more pilots to make up for the ones we are losing due to age, like me, sorry but it’s not in the cards.

  4. Curt Hartman Says:

    The Debonair will be a nice economical plane for someone to own. I currently fly an A-36 and find it inexpensive to operate (as airplanes go). In some ways we need to look in the mirror when we talk about the lack of new pilots coming on. When we only look at the negitive and talk that way around others, why would anyone want to spend time and money getting their pilots license? Lets talk about the joy and freedom of flight and the pride of new skills. Flying has always been expensive and I have made sacrifices all of my life to be able to fly, but that has brought me experiences that I could not have gotten any other way. Lets tell the story of flight that will make young people want to fly.

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  5. Alan D. Resnicke Says:

    I am scheduled to teach two elective classes at a local academy, to pass on my joy of flying (retired USAF helo guy and now ASEL PP). But my plane is parked on the ramp, overdue an annual I can’t afford and fuel that gets pricier by the day. The local county airport has no instructors, no rentals, and no trainers. I’ll change that if I can… but given the current economy and future outlook, it’s a tough flight plan.

    If I were to win the Debonair, I’d have to recruit others and form a club to keep it flying – and there may not be that demand locally. Yes – times are tough. Let’s keep our chins up and try to change the future.

    See you at one of my classes!

  6. Larry L Holzer Says:

    Alan, I agree things are not easy . You can call me at 281-309-2124 and I can show you how you will be able to afford that Debonair. Maybe we can be partners. It is just a Dream to read about what it is going to be like whenfinished.

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