Just a quick post to mention that the Debonair will appear on the cover of the July issue of AOPA Pilot, along with a wrap-up article. For those of you who haven’t received your copy yet, here’s a photo from the article:
Went up to Newburgh, New York’s Stewart International Airport yesterday to pick up the Debonair from the paint shop. And the new paint looks great! Sure looks better than the original paint job, which is at the head of this page!
Don Reese of KD Aviation was on hand to show off the new airplane, and here it is in the paint booth, ready for the light of day:
After months of wearing decals, the paint job is quite a change. It has a clean look, and is somewhat reminiscent of the 2004 “Win-A-Twin” (Comanche) sweepstakes airplane’s paint scheme. And for good reason. The predominant color–the light blue–is called “Bahama Blue,” and it’s the very same paint color used in the Win-A-Twin. I liked it then, I like it now. What do you think?
I flew the new-look Debonair direct from Stewart to AOPA’s home base at Frederick, Maryland in one-hour, 27 minutes. Groundspeeds were in the neighborhood of 155-158 knots. In what seemed like no time, the airplane was on AOPA’s ramp. Word soon got out, and then employees in the AOPA building (in the background of the photo below) came out to give the airplane the once-over.
Right now, the objective is to get some air-air photography and video of the Deb. This week’s weather isn’t looking all that good for the Mid-Atlantic, but I’m hoping we can get the shots in between clouds and showers. The plan is to put the Debonair on the cover of AOPA Pilot’s July issue.
The new paint scheme makes its public debut soon. Visitors to the upcoming AOPA regional fly-in at the Indianapolis Regional Airport (KMQJ) on May 31 will be the first to see the new paint job. I’ll be there, so stop on by–after you have your pancakes.
By the way, a show of hands: Who liked the decals better than the final paint job?
Time for another Friday post to kick off the weekend, and this time the subject is the Debonair’s paint scheme. As most of you already knew, the Debonair sported a decal-festooned exterior treatment for the past 10 months. The decals, some informative, some humorous, some with historical factoids from 1963 (the Debonair Sweepstakes’ production year) were the brainchild of Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers, who also developed the airplane’s final paint scheme. Which is now being applied.
A few days after AOPA’s San Marcos regional fly-in, Editor-in-Chief Tom Haines and I made our way to KD Aviation’s paint shop just off taxiway Lima at Newburgh, New York’s Stewart International Airport. There, we left the Debonair with KD’s Don Reese. But we began to wonder about those decals. Would they peel right off, or put up a fight, stay stuck and tear into pieces? We picked away at the edges of the decals with our fingernails, and guess what? They peeled right off. Take a look:
As we speak, the first of the paint scheme’s colors are being applied. Here’s what the process looks like:
Right about now you’re probably wondering what the final paint scheme will look like. Some of you may recall that we had a poll of sorts a few months ago, asking for your opinions about various paint schemes that AOPA Design Director Mike Kline and Craig came up with. Some were way out there. One looked like a bumblebee, with black and yellow stripes. Another was dominated by a fiery red theme. Kline wanted to retain a pastel look reminiscent of the undercurrent of many of the 1960s’ prominent design themes (think “Laugh-In” for those of you old enough to remember that show). So the final paint conveys this, as well as the “arrowhead” angular elements that were used in 1963 Debonair factory paint schemes.
Well, that’s it for this week. Next time we’ll see the completed paint job in some air-air photography we’re planning.
Its annual and some repairs completed, I picked up the Debonair from Santa Fe Aero Aervices and flew on to the next stop: AOPA’s regional fly-in at the San Marcos, Texas Airport (KHYI). I flew the route at 9,000 feet to stay above the low-level turbulence–and the blowing dust that was plaguing most airports in west Texas. Although skies seemed clear aloft, the ATIS and AWOS reports along the route were advertising surface visibilities hovering around two to three miles in blowing dust and winds up to 30 knots. Here’s a shot of Spur, Texas to give you an idea of the terrain I flew over in west Texas:
I shot the RNAV (GPS) runway 17 approach into San Marcos, and broke out through a 1,000-foot overcast. Then it was a taxi to the Deb’s tiedown spot, front and center at the fly-in’s static display.
The next day at 6:30 a.m., yours truly was making his way in the pre-dawn darkness to the Deb’s tiedown spot. Less than an hour later, the first fly-in visitors began arriving–even though the show wasn’t due to begin until 10 a.m. Oh well. This gives you an idea of the fly-in’s–and the Debonair’s–popularity. For the next nine hours, a steady stream of AOPA members and other visitors made a stop by the Debonair. Some came back two and three times. It was gratifying to hear that so many had been following the Debonair’s progress, and there were plenty of positive comments all around. It was great day–and even though the overcast posed some challenges, more than 2,500 enthusiasts visited the fly-in. I think we’re on to something.
Back when the Debonair project started, we had some baseball hats made up with the Debonair sweepstakes logo. Last year, we gave away 150 hats, which depleted our supply. So I reordered another batch. I brought along 30 hats for the San Marcos fly-in, and by mid-afternoon the supply was down to a mere two hats. That’s when AOPA member Mark Kiedrowski stopped by the airplane. He’d been an enthusiastic follower of the Debonair project, and his Dad–a pilot during the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift–owned a Debonair. So I awarded the last two hats to Mark. After I returned home, there was an email of Mark and his Dad in their Debonair hats. Nice.
After the San Marcos fly-in was over, I launched on the return trip to AOPA’s home field at Frederick, Maryland. It would be a long trip, so I could have theoretically made the 1,000-nm journey non-stop, given the favorable winds. However, nature intervened in the form of widespread areas of thunderstorm complexes. No way could I go direct with any degree of certainty. The gaps between the storms were too narrow, and I could visualize them closing up as the trip progressed. I opted for a route that took me from San Marcos to Lufkin, Texas, then eastward along a route that stretched to north of Baton Rouge, then eastward along a route running through south Alabama. Once past Montgomery, Alabama the ship’s route could turn to the northeast for a fuel stop at the Athens, Georgia airport. Almost five hours after takeoff I was on the ground at Athens, gassing up for the final, 2.7 hour leg to AOPA’s home base at the Frederick, Municipal Airport.
The Debonair has the luxury of having both XM WX and FIS-B datalink sources of radar information, so circumnavigating the massive storm complex to the north was comparatively easy. Here’s a couple shots of the situation that day:
So after a full, 7.7-hour day of flying, the Debonair was back in its hangar at Frederick, awaiting its next trip: a visit to KD Aviation’s paint shop at the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York. More on that in the next post.
Time for a new post, and there’s big news on the Debonair front. First off, yes, the airplane will depart for AOPA’s San Marcos, Texas regional fly-in at the San Marcos Municipal Airport (KHYI). But the late-breaking news from my location now, at Santa Fe Aero Services, is that the airplane’s annual inspection is complete, and many squawks were addressed in the process.
Over the past few months, and especially at Sun N’ Fun, many Debonair visitors noticed that the airplane’s alternator–contributed by NationalAirParts of Deland, Florida–had a drive belt that wasn’t running true between its pulleys. Santa Fe Aero made the fix, and now the belt runs straight as an arrow. The fix was a remachined and shimmed pulley at the alternator. Pat Horgan, vice-president and general manager at Santa Fe Aero, actually watched the original belt setup as the engine ran. It was anything but taut, and the belt was slipping. This no doubt caused the power surges that seem to have plagued the airplane at several times. At times of greatest electrical demand, the alternator simply couldn’t put out enough electricity. Now, the belt drive runs smooth as a sewing machine, and alternator output hovers at a more or less steady 18 amperes.
Another squawk involved a run of dead batteries over this past winter. Yes, the winter was a cold one, but still, if the airplane sat for a week or two, the battery ended up deader’n a doornail. Santa Fe Aero technician Brandon Maestas had a theory. The yoke-mounted Davtron digital clock draws 1/4 amps an hour, and it’s on the airplane’s hot bus. After a few days, much of the battery’s 35 amp capacity has been drawn down to insignificance. So, he installed a circuit breaker to isolate the clock from the hot bus. So, dear winner, if the airplane is to sit for a while, pull the rightmost circuit breaker to spare the battery juice.
Other squawks involved the MVP-50P’s EGT and CHT bars. Key the microphone, and the MVP’s bars would peg at the top, then the display would go back to normal. After much troubleshooting, it turns out that the comm antenna connectors weren’t grounding properly owing to some zinc chromate on the connectors. After the connectors were cleaned, the MVP went back to normal–and so did the quality fo the radio transmissions from the Garmin GTN 750.
The new wing bolts, attached a year ago at Santa Fe Aero, were torqued down to specs during the annual…though only one bolt–the aftmost bolt on the right wing–needed to be tightened. There were oil leaks around the new oil cooler, and the remote oil filter housing, and these too were corrected. And by the way, new, color-coordinated oil hoses were installed to and from the Airwolf remote filter assembly. They’re light blue, a color that will play a big part in the final paint striping. Which will happen right after the San Marcos show.
And that monster ding in the tailcone? Clearly, someone dropped the airplane on its tail during an engine change. Horgan thinks the plane was dropped on its tail twice in the past. But Santa Fe Aero did a great job in reversing the damage.
So, with a new Aspen/Garmin/Electronics International/Alpha Systems/PS Engineering/R.C. Allen/CO Guardian panel, a newly overhauled and converted 260-hp Continental IO-470-N engine by Genesis Engines by D’Shannon, a new set of windshields and tips tanks from D’Shannon, a new interior from Air Mod, paint design and application by Scheme Designers and KD Aviation, plus all sqauwks addressed, ladies and gents we have what amounts to a one-of-a-kind, classic, way-better-than-new Debonair that runs smooth and cruises at 170 KTAS.
You’re probably wondering what the annual and all those repairs cost. That would be $5,619.19, $4,608 of that in labor, and $490 in parts. Pricey? Yes, but attention to detail and quality troubleshooting always comes at a price. And it’s always worth it in the end. We’ve seen examples of lousy troubleshooting that cost us days of down time and lots of worry, and you probably have, too.
It’s been an eventful week for our/your sweepstakes Debonair. It’s been on display now for four days, and many, many AOPA members and other visitors have made the pilgrimage to AOPA’s new tentsite to see the airplane. The comments and observations have been uniformly positive, and the usual banter–”watch my plane for me,” “give me the keys now,” and so on are mainstays of planeside conversations.
Many remember the Debonair from last year’s Sun N’ Fun. Back then, the panel was completed, but nothing else. It had its bad old mustard-colored paint job (the one you see at the top of the page), and the seats were pretty beat up. What a change this year! New interior from Air Mod, new basecoat from KD Aviation, decal paint scheme from Scheme Designers, and a replacement engine from Genesis Engines by D’Shannon. The engine has all of six hours–max–on it after the flight to Sun N’ Fun.
The engine has drawn the most curiosity. Some have noticed that the alternator belt is slightly misaligned in its pulley run. This will be addressed at the annual inspection, which comes right after the show when I fly the plane back to Santa Fe Aero Services, who installed the spiffed-up Aspen-, Garmin-, and Electronics International-laden instrument panel one short year ago.
Visitors also like the new battery box, and have plenty of questions about the engine’s new power rating (260-hp).
For the many out there who can’t make it to Sun N’ Fun I thought I’d give you an idea of what it’s like to have Debonair display duty at the show. First off, AOPA Pilot staffers do three-hour shifts standing with the plane, answering questions, and in general hosting AOPA’s showpiece in front of the tent. The shifts go from 9 a.m-12 p.m., 12-3 p.m., and 3-5 p.m. There’s a shade structure over the right wing, so there’s some sun protection. But don’t forget the hat and sunscreen!
The day starts around 7:30 a.m. when I show up to clean the airplane. Temperatures are in the mid-60s, and there’s a layer of ground fog as you make the way from the parking lot. Central Florida is a humid place, so what do you expect? You expect a low of dew on the airplane, that’s what.
This makes for a wet, grimy mess on the airplane, which is white of course. I’ve been using microfiber towels to wipe the plane down. It takes two passes to get the water and dirt off. A squeegee helps to clean the wings, but mainly it’s a towel job.
Here are some shots of the display environment to give you the feel of the place.
Hope you enjoyed the little tour. See you again soon ….
It was with great anticipation that I fired up N75YR this morning. The mission: Fly the airplane to the Sun N’ Fun Fly-In, where it is now on display at the AOPA booth. But first things first. I desperately wanted to know how the Debonair would perform on its first cross-country flight. Today would be the first real-world flight for the overhauled/converted IO-470-N.
Let me end the suspense right now by saying that there were no disappointments! Engine start for the 37-degree, 7:30 a.m. departure was uneventful, and the start procedure was identical to the one I’d learned worked best on the predecessor engine. The trick is to use less throttle during the priming for a cold start. So the best drill here is to go mixture full rich, then use slightly less than half-throttle while you hit the auxiliary boost pump (it only has a “high” pump speed switch position) for maybe four seconds. Then pull back the throttle so that it’s in the barely-cracked position. Now move the magneto switch to Start and the engine will respond every time. That’s the cold start drill.
Those of you with time in big-bore Continentals like the 285-hp IO-520, or the 300-hp IO-550 can get into trouble starting the Debonair if you prime like mad using full throttle. The Deb will flood if you do that. Trust me, I know.
Preflight checks done, I line up on home-base Frederick, Maryland’s (KFDK) runway 30 for the takeoff, then firewall it. I’m right at gross, with all tanks full for the 728-nm trip to Sun N’ Fun’s Lakeland Airport (KLAL). The airplane lifted off into a slight crosswind, and soon I was climbing out at 100 KIAS and 900 fpm. Not bad at all.
Turbulence was forecast, and the forecast was correct. The climb to 6,500 feet was bumpy, and any rolling motions were exaggerated by all that fuel out there on the wingtips–20 gallons, or 120 pounds, per side.
John Clegg, director of operations at Genesis Engines by D’Shannon told me to “run it like I stole it,” meaning run it at high power, to help seat the ECi cylinders’ rings properly. So I did. Level at 6,500 in severe-clear conditions, I firewalled the throttle, set the propeller for 2,580 rpm, and used the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer to lean 50 degrees rich of peak EGT.
When things settled down, the Aspen PFD told the tale. At 76 percent power I was doing 170 KTAS while burning 17.3 gph. That’s a Bonanza-style cruise speed, friends. But the Bonanza would get that speed using a 300-hp engine. This Deb does it on 260-hp.
Airspeed fluctuated in wave activity as the S-TEC System Fifty autopilot worked to keep the altitude steady. Pitch angles varied as the nose rose and fell trying to compensate for the up- and downdrafts.
As the airplane burned fuel, its weight went down and by the second hour of flight I was looking at 178 KTAS, but burning 18.5 gph to get 78-percent power, in keeping with the “stolen airplane” performance profile. Nice.
And did I mention that I had a tailwind? Oh, yes, 35, and sometimes 50 knots’ worth. My groundspeed hit a high of 215 knots at times, then settled down to a more modest 183 knots by the time I reached Florida.
Oh, and did I mention that my flight path was straight as an arrow?
Bottom line: four hours, 12 minutes after takeoff, I landed at Lakeland. Non-stop, of course.
A great flying day in a great airplane, I’d say!
Stand by for more Debonair news during the show. It will be interesting to see how visitors to the tent react to the engine upgrade. Maybe you’ll stop by? Hope so.
…. the Debonair’s new engine is installed and ready for break-in. Yours truly was on hand for the final installation checks at Aero Engines of Winchester, located at the Winchester, Virginia Regional Airport last Friday. And the new engine’s first flight.
By the time I arrived the engine had had its first engine ground run, which included fast-taxi tests. All was in order, but when I started the engine for its first flight the oil pressure read zero! So it was with disappointment that I shut it down. Soon, four mechanics were elbow-deep in the engine compartment. A mechanical oil pressure gauge was fitted to the engine to determine if the Electronics International MVP-50P digital engine/systems analyzer might be giving faulty data.
Turns out we were on to something. A second start showed healthy oil pressure on the mechanical gauge. That meant the problem was either with the MVP-50P, or in the wiring feeding it. Sure enough, a misconnected transducer wire was discovered, and the subsequent start showed normal oil pressure readings on the MVP-50P. What a relief!
First impressions? The engine runs smooth–much smoother than its predecessor–and has the throaty sound you’d expect of a bigger Continental engine.
During the pre-takeoff runup, I made sure to check that all the engine controls–magnetos, boost pump, throttle, propeller, and mixture–performed as expected. All the engine indications were normal during the published runup done at 1,900 rpm, and again at full power. Which required extra pressure on the brakes, by the way. It was a hint of what was to come.
Did I feel like a test pilot? Hey, I was a test pilot, by definition if not profession! And I certainly sensed all eyes were on me from the time I taxied out. Hey, no pressure…..not!
Then it was line up on Winchester’s runway 32, stand on brakes, full power, another look at engine indications (all in the green and normal), and brake release. N75YR surged forward and we were off to the normal rotation speed of 89 mph/77 knots. That took a few short seconds, then it was time to pull. (Incidentally, the takeoff airspeed is seven knots faster than the original airplane’s, according to the Airplane Flight Manual Supplement that comes with the engine conversion.)
And we’re airborne! Vy is 104 mph/90 knots, and I held that speed until reaching 3,000 feet above the airport. Then it was time to orbit the field for a half-hour or so to make sure everything worked properly in flight. That’s the test-pilot part. Of course, I’d already scoped out the territory around the airport for suitable forced-landing spots. There were several that would be in easy gliding range once I got to, say, 500 feet above pattern altitude (1,700 feet msl/980 agl), but not so many below that. Turns out I didn’t need them anyway.
I kept the power up and had an uneventful time of it, and was glad to have the ADS-B traffic information to help me locate the traffic below in the pattern. The MVP-50P reported all was normal under the hood.
After 45 minutes or so, I descended and entered the pattern for a landing. The “new” engine’s first flight was a success! A postflight check showed no oil leaks or other anomalies, so it was off to AOPA’s home base at the Frederick (Maryland) Municipal Airport. With me was Paul Harrop, a producer of AOPA Media’s weekly “AOPA Live This Week” webcast, who videotaped the day’s events.
This means you should check next week’s AOPA Live broadcast for footage taken the day of the first flight.
On the short, 15 minute trip home I jotted down some information: at 75 percent power, N75YR was showing 168 knots true airspeed on 16 gph flying at 3,000 feet msl. Now those are preliminary numbers, mind you. But that’s a good 16 knots faster (and one more gallon per hour) than the previous 225-hp engine’s performance.
I’ll provide more information about the airplane’s performance after flying it to Sun N’ Fun. I plan to leave on Saturday March 29, and hope to make the flight nonstop by topping off all the tanks. That will give me 114 gallons and about five hours of endurance with reserves–which should be more than enough for the approximately 775 nm flight from Frederick (KDK) to Sun N’ Fun’s location at the Lakeland Linder Airport (LAL). Of course, it all depends on fuel burn, true airspeeds….and the winds and weather.
Besides, we’re in the engine’s break-in period. As with all break-ins, the advice is to run the engine hard so that the piston rings seat properly, so fuel consumption and speed will depend on the results of sustained flying at power levels of 75 percent, or more.
Thanks again to Genesis Engines by D’Shannon for its outstanding overhaul and conversion, and to Aero Engines for itsskill and attention to detail (they also dressed up the firewall and engine compartment) in the installation procedure.
I hope you’ll come by AOPA’s tent at Sun N’ Fun to see the airplane and its “new” (actually, zero-timed since major overhaul) converted engine–converted under a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) held by D’Shannon Aviation. Even if you can’t make it, I’ll do a couple posts from tent-side, if that’s the word.
I’ll be there to answer any questions, and to show you around this almost-fully-restored classic airplane. See you there, and as always, check back for more posts in the Sweepstakes Logbook.
Just this note to let you know that Genesis Engines has completed the engine build, and director of operations John Clegg even drove the new engine from Genesis’ shope in Mooresville, North Carolina to Aero Engines of Winchester (Virginia) to see the job through.
The engine looks great, and is even done up in colored baffling seals that match elements of the final paint scheme. Even the engine block, which is painted a dark blue, matches one of the fuselage stripes. By the way, Clegg says that this blue paint is a match for the engine block colors used in new Ford F150s.
The firewall and engine compartment have been cleaned and dressed for the Sun N’ Fun show as well. And I thought the firewall was a hopeless case, what with its 50 years of grime.
One personal touch is the signature on the accessory pad. “Earl Ramey” it says. Meaning that Earl literally signed off the engine work.
Next up, after the reconditioned exhaust stacks from Dawley Aviation are installed, is a test run and first flight. That should happen next week, and I can’t wait to be the first behind the new powerplant.
I’ve had requests to show comparisons between the bad old internal parts of the Continental IO-470-LCK and the new ones being used in its replacement, a 260-hp Continental IO-470-N. Genesis Engines by D’Shannon is assembling the new engine as we speak, er, write, so it’s a good time to have a look. Genesis’ John Clegg put together some photos, which show the parts fairly clearly.
Clegg says that D’Shannon goes a step beyond standard practice when it comes to their engine buildups. This includes treating many internal parts with what’s known as a REM finish. “”Basically, it’s a deburring and hardening process that makes oil adhere better to gears and other moving parts,” he said. How can you tell if the parts have been REM-finished? They appear uniformly brighter.
Similarly, a process known as jet-coating is used on air-intakes. This is a heat treatment that helps prevent corrosion.
That’s it for this Friday’s report. By this time next week the engine should be assembled and its first test run completed. In two weeks, the engine will be installed in the airplane and ready for first flight.