Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Stand By for the Feature

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

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:

14_Sweeps Debonair_0112 (4)

The Deb’s paint job debut!

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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:

At KD Aviation's paint shop, ready to go.

At KD Aviation’s paint shop, ready to go.

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.

On AOPA's ramp, front and center

On AOPA’s ramp, front and center

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?




Flying the Debonair

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Happy Friday, Debonair Sweepstakes fans and followers! While we wait for Genesis Engines to evaluate the condition of all the original -K engines’ internal parts, I thought I’d take the time to share a video with you. It appeared on AOPA’s last week’s weekly video webcast–AOPA Live This Week–or ALTW as we call it around the building.

It was a cold winter day when I took up Paul Harrop, an ALTW producer, up to demonstrate steep turns, stalls, and a lazy eight or four. Go easy on my technique–I haven’t done a Lazy Eight in a couple years! But I have to say that the camera doesn’t do justice to the deck angle at the 90-degree point; it was way higher than it seems in the video.

Some of you may have already seen the video, but for those who haven’t, here you go:{5E55537C-4330-4325-8267-57425397FB87}#ooid=xnZTg0azqmmXM3sBr8lHrMYRuTDSUGSj


Air Mod Refurbs

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Air Mod is still on the job, and the past week was one devoted to even more interior fixups. A picture’s worth a thousand words, they say, so here are a few that illustrate the nature of the work. It’s all part of a wide-ranging series of incremental improvements. Take a look:

The old, rotten plywood floorboards are gone! Long live the new, much stronger and better looking aluminum-reinforced floorboards--both front and rear. Here you see the front floorboard.

The old, rotten plywood floorboards are gone! Long live the new, much stronger, lighter, and better looking aluminum-reinforced floorboards–both front and rear. Here you see the front floorboard.

This is the center console, reworked to include an access panel so that repairs and inspections of the mechanical landing gear position linkage can be easily made in the future.

Air Mod's Dennis Wolter, cutting the "waterfall Bubinga" hardwood veneer for the interior side panels.

Air Mod’s Dennis Wolter, cutting the “waterfall Bubinga” hardwood veneer for the interior side panels.

Final fit and check of the new side panels, armrests, and seats. Also, a look at the pilot's new seat, showing off the Garrett leather covering.

Final fit and check of the new side panels, armrests, and seats. Also, a look at the pilot’s new seat, showing off the Garrett leather covering.

Air Mod made a storage box in the forward spar cover. This takes advantage of previously-unused space.

Air Mod made a storage box in the forward spar cover. This takes advantage of previously-unused space.

More to come, so stay tuned! Soon we’ll be able to show off  the finished job……


Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

To many–yours truly included–the Debonair’s trip to the paint shop couldn’t come soon enough. That old, funky, faded paint job had to go! I mean, you could see where previous owners tried to “rescue” it by actually spray-painting some touch-ups. Guess they went to Home Depot or Lowe’s and got some cans of spray paint. Looks good….Not!

Anyway, I flew the Deb to KD Aviation at the Stewart International Airport (KSWF) a week ago on a blustery day. Surface winds were gusting to 35 knots out of the west, so Stewart’s super-long runway 27 was a welcome sight. By the way, KD is located off taxiway L in case you want to fly in for a visit. It’s over in the cargo area where they store the snowplows.

KD stripped off the old paint in a jiffy. The stripper reeks of ammonia but the shop uses eco-friendly materials and procedures. That was hard to believe when I stepped into the shop–it took my breath away. After the stripper is applied, the old paint sort of shrivels up and then dries. The next day, the dried-out flakes of paint are brushed off (if they haven’t fallen off already) and swept off the floor into bags for disposal.

What’s left is what you see in the accompanying photo. Notice that the control surfaces have been removed during the pre-paint process.

So long, old paint. Note that the new engine access door is being tried on for size in this photo, and that the control surfaces are currently removed.

So long, old paint. Note that the new engine access door is being tried on for size in this photo, and that the control surfaces are currently removed.

And, as always it seems, a new issue emerged. The right flap actuator had damaged the nose ribs of the flap. This was damage that couldn’t be seen during a preflight inspection. Soooo, we shipped the flap to trusted airframe components supplier Aircraft Components by Williams Inc. (formerly known as Williams Airmotive).

Roy Williams heads up Aircraft Components, and he has helped us in the past with difficult-to-find airframe parts. In 2004, he stepped forward with a new stabilator for the AOPA sweepstakes plane that year–a 1965 Piper Twin Comanche. We called that project the “Win-A-Twin.” Remember? Williams’ stabilator was a beauty, and it saved our skin because the original stab was patched. Patching control surfaces is a no-no, especially in the Comanche and Twin Comanche, which have had issues (now resolved!) with tail flutter.

“Send both flaps,” Williams said of the Debonair. “And send the rudder too.” Thanks a million Roy. Williams is double-checking to make sure that any and all rudder Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins are complied with.

Anyone out there need control surfaces or other airframe parts for old airplanes? Then call Roy at 260-347-0807, or visit his website at And tell him I sent you.

As always, watch for more updates coming soon. And remember folks, this is a two-year project. The winner won’t be flying the Debonair away until the AOPA Summit in Palm Springs in 2014.

Bruce’s Custom Cover for Tornado Husky!

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Thanks to Bruce’s Custom Covers, the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky has some added protection from the elements.

A customized aircraft cover that perfectly matches the Tornado Husky’s paint scheme (and carries the Tornado Husky Logo) will shield the young airplane from sun, blowing sand, rain and anything else it might encounter on future adventures.

The canvas cover just arrived at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md., this week. It has a retail value of more than $600, and AOPA (as well as the future winner who will be named at the AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., Oct. 11 to 13) appreciate the thoughtful donation!

Rosen Visor for Tornado Husky

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Rosen Visor will keep the Sweeps winner from squinting on those beautiful sunny days.The winner of the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky won’t have to worry about glare or haze.

Rosen Sunvisor Systems has provided an optically perfect, swing-out visor that cuts glare and protects the pilot’s eyes like a great pair of sunglasses. With summer ahead and temperatures rising, Rosen’s timing is perfect.

The STC’d visor is easy to install, and the Rosen kit is absolutely complete. The company even sends the appropriate Allen wrenches (as well as the hardware, grease, and required aircraft logbook entries) to complete the task. Rosen also provided a pair of extremely lightweight sunshades that attach to the Tornado Husky skylight with suction cups to cool the cockpit on hot days. Those are sure to come in handy when the Tornado Husky is on display at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisc., this summer — as well as AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., in October where it will be awarded to its lucky winner.

Tornado Husky’s First Annual Inspection

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Pilot/Mechanic Kevin Holloway gave the Tornado Husky its first annual inspection.

You’ll be pleased to know that your 2012 AOPA Sweepstakes “Tougher Than A Tornado” Husky breezed through its first annual inspection this month.
The bill for new parts came to just $20, and most of that was a replacement air filter.
The fact that the airplane is in top mechanical condition shouldn’t come as a surprise since it’s just one year old and has only 130 hours on the Hobbs meter.
Kevin Holloway, an A&P mechanic and commercial pilot, performed the inspection at Landmark Aviation in Frederick, Maryland, and stood behind his work by flying in the airplane aferward. Holloway, a Cessna 140 owner, came away from his first Husky flight impressed with the design, build quality, and performance of the rugged aircraft.
“I enjoyed working on the Tornado Husky because it’s very well thought-out, and it’s built with maintenance considerations in mind,” he said. “A lot of airplanes aren’t built to be worked on, but this one really is.”
Holloway tightened the aileron cables, rerouted some air ducts to avoid chafing, tightened rocker covers and generally provided as much TLC and preventive maintenance as possible. A “cold” engine compression check showed all four cylinders on the Lycoming O-360 held 76/80 psi or above.
“It looks as good on the inside as it does on the outside,” Holloway said. “And it flies as good as it looks.”

Water Dog

Friday, December 9th, 2011

The Tornado has a factory installed float kit that makes it relatively easy for the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes winner to install straight or amphibious floats.

To get an idea of the adventures open to the pilot of float-equipped Husky — and learn what it takes to qualify for a seaplane rating — I recently went to Ryan Aviation at Flagler County Airport in central Florida for two exciting, strenuous, and thoroughly enjoyable days of training with CFI Dan Nichols and DPE Tripp Wacker.

Now I understand why seaplane pilots so love their unique combination of the nautical and aeronautical.

The Tornado Husky winner will be getting a fine airplane that, with a couple of high-tech floats, also can be a world-class seaplane.

Stay tuned to AOPA Pilot for more detailed stories and videos.

Seaplane training with Ryan Aviation at Flagler County Airport

“I Came For This”

Monday, November 7th, 2011

The date for this often-postponed flight to spread my stepfather’s ashes above the Statue of Liberty was finally set for Sunday, Nov. 6. — but that morning, as every time before — brought a complication.

Previous trips had been scrubbed for weather, TFRs, and so many seemingly pre-ordained last-minute glitches that I was beginning to question whether it would ever take place.

But this time, the forecast was perfect with a golden fall day and sunshine throughout the region; no TFRs, the AOPA’s 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky ready to go; and my mom, Wilma Melville, on a visit from her home in California, and willing to make the actual drop from the Husky’s back seat.

The problem was me.

A stubborn head cold had kept my ears plugged for several days, and no amount of chicken soup, hot tea, orange juice or nasal spray seemed to make any difference. The night before, grasping at straws, I had come up with what I hoped was a reasonable compromise: A much shorter flight to Annapolis, Maryland, where we could spread the ashes over the Chesapeake Bay near the U.S. Naval Academy. My stepfather, John Melville, was a Navy veteran of World War II and took great pride in his wartime service. Was that good enough?

Early Sunday morning, I ran the idea by my wife, Martha, and she wisely rejected it out of hand.

Preparing for flight

“Look, John was a New Yorker,” she said. “He grew up on the east side. He went to Columbia. He ran the New York Marathon. It’s got to be the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor or nothing. Nowhere else has that kind of connection to him and his life.”

She didn’t say it, but other questions (to which the answers were plainly obvious) also sprang to mind: Would your stepfather have made an extra effort for you? Would he have been willing to tolerate some physical discomfort on your behalf? And haven’t you learned from him, by now, to do things right or not at all?

I took a double dose of Afrin and waited for my mom, who was still on Pacific Time, to wake up. The Tornado Husky could fly the entire route below 2,500 feet msl, so the relatively low altitudes would make flying tolerable, even for my plugged ears.

Mom met the rest of us in the kitchen at 8 a.m. wearing jeans and a warm jacket.

She’s 78 years old, about five feet tall, pragmatic, unsentimental, and an absolute force of nature. She’s a planner, and although she realizes that plans must sometimes change, she doesn’t bend easily.

“So, are we going to do this thing or not?” she asked in her customary, no-nonsense way. “If we’re going to go, we should go soon so it doesn’t eat up the entire day.”

I told her to collect her things, then slipped a small wooden box that contained the ashes of her husband of 33 years into my flight gear.

On the short drive to Frederick Municipal Airport (KFDK), I called flight service to confirm no TFRs had popped up. None had.

Mom, an instrument-rated private pilot, wanted to discuss the logistics of the ash drop. What were our airspeed and altitude going to be? How did the Tornado Husky’s window open and close? And how could she make sure the ashes got out without giving her a face full of dust?

These were just the sort of practical matters that my stepfather, an aeronautical engineer with a cutting sense of humor, would have loved. When my brothers and I were kids, he came back from a tough day of work at a California defense contractor and asked me to pour him a frosty glass of beer.

Evidently, John and his coworkers had been trying for months to perfect a fighter weapons delivery system and, after many failed attempts, finally got it right on the test range. The pilot of the test aircraft was so elated he spontaneously performed a “victory roll” at low altitude, misjudged, and plunged into the ground in a fatal fireball.

“All that data is gone,” John, a lapsed Catholic, moaned in disbelief. “I’d like to propose a toast to the patron saint of lost data, for Chrissakes.”

Unanimous dislike
My mom was a divorced public school physical education teacher with four young sons when she and John met in the early 1970s.

The box containing John Melville's ashes.

My brothers and I were unanimous in our dislike for him at first. Part of the rejection was loyalty to our “real” dad. The rest was made easy by the fact John was strict, sarcastic, and had a ridiculous New York accent. But his love for our mom was total, and that – over time – outweighed our own misgivings.

Mom was already a private pilot when they met, and she and John built a Rutan-designed VariEze together in the late 1970s. Later, they had a partnership in a Bonanza. She flew and he did the navigation and maintenance, and he was always amused that the vast majority of the people they met assumed he was the pilot.

A child of the Great Depression, John never had the luxury of indulging in athletics during his youth. But when he retired, he pursued endurance sports with astonishing results. He completed his first Ironman triathlon at age 65 and his last in Kona, Hawaii, at age 74. He also set age group records in distance swimming and the 50-mile run. While other athletes monitored their diets closely, he munched Twinkies and Oreos and drank beer.

He was totally supportive of his stepsons’ flying ambitions, and was never more proud than the day he pinned on my younger brother Harry’s Navy wings.

John died of cancer nine years ago at 82, and family members were all given decorative boxes containing some of his ashes. I had kept mine in an out-of-the-way dresser drawer ever since. I took the box on several flying trips thinking that I’d drop the contents over the Statue of Liberty, but fate always conspired to prevent it – until now.

A thankless job
Mom strapped into the back seat of the Tornado Husky, propped up on an extra cushion, and I handed her a Garmin GPSMAP 696 on a kneeboard to keep her busy during the 90-minute flight to New York City.

Target for today

She stowed the box of ashes within easy reach in the front seatback. “Sometimes you want to hold onto them and sometimes you want to let them go,” she said a few minutes after we took off. “Personally, I wanted them gone a long time ago. I spread them in the garden at home.”

Another brother distributed his share in Hawaii, site of John’s Ironman struggles and triumphs. Between New York, California, and Hawaii, the key places in his life would all be represented.

Mom had the New York Terminal Area Chart spread out on her lap as we approached the city’s towering skyline. I had been concerned that air traffic on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon would be high, but it turned out to be quite manageable.

We flew north over the VZ bridge, USS Intrepid, and other landmarks, all the way to the George Washington Bridge before making a 180-degree turn to the south.

“The Freedom Tower looks incredible,” my mom said as we went by with the upper floors still under construction above us. “John would really like seeing that, although he’d wonder why the hell it’s taken so long.”

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

On our way south, we overflew Ellis Island, the place where John’s ancestors (as well as ours), first landed in the United States. At 1,000 feet over the Statue of Liberty, a cool, swirling wind indicated Mom had slid the Tornado Husky’s left side window open. A moment later, we both said a silent prayer as she released the ashes.

As the ashes fanned out in the slipstream and dropped to the surface of the bustling, windswept harbor, I imagine that John would have been touched by our gesture. Perhaps it was his Irish ancestry that gave him a lifelong soft spot for ceremony and remembrance. And the combination of freedom and flying that the Statue of Liberty and the Tornado Husky represent would have been irresistible to him.

Being a stepdad is surely one of the most difficult and thankless jobs ever invented. My brothers and I did our best to make sure John’s assignment was as complicated and strenuous as possible.

It had taken a needlessly long time for me to deliver his ashes to this place where they belong. But I suspect that he’d agree that, finally, Mom and I had done it right. Like the rising tower at Ground Zero, the result, we hope, was worth the wait.

When we landed back in Maryland and pushed the Tornado Husky back in its hangar, I hugged Mom and thanked her for participating in this special delivery. What a lucky coincidence that she had been in Maryland visiting her grandkids when all the variables finally came together.

She smiled wryly and told me it hadn’t been a coincidence at all. Planning made it happen.

It turns out Ms. Pragmatism had traveled all the way across the country for the sole purpose of taking part in this final salute. She would fly home on an airliner the very next day.

“You know, I came for this,” she said. “Visiting you and your family is a bonus – but I actually came here for this.”

The Statue of Liberty