Archive for the ‘AOPA Sweepstakes Airplane’ Category

Paint shop home stretch

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Time for a few more shots of the Debonair’s paint shop adventures. Like I said in previous posts, this paint job will come in two stages: and all-white stage, and a later stage when the stripes are applied. We wanted to have the airplane completely painted for display at EAA AirVenture. But there wasn’t enough time, so it’s going to be all white for a time.

As you can see, the transormation is remarkable, especially when you compare this paint with the original scheme:

An in-progress shots shows the engine compartment, minus the new cowl access door from Select Airparts. The newly overhauled and painted propeller, from American Propeller, is soon to be added.

This in-progress shot shows the engine compartment, minus the new cowl access door from Select Airparts. The newly overhauled and painted propeller, from American Propeller, is soon to be added.

How white can white be? KD Aviation replaced that tired old mustard-colored paint scheme with this billiant Matterhorn white treatment

How white can white be? KD Aviation replaced that tired old mustard-colored paint scheme with this billiant Matterhorn white treatment

Even the cowling access doors have been painted--on the inside! New baffling will be installed at a later date.

Even the cowling access doors have been painted–on the inside! New baffling will be installed at a later date.

Paint sneak-peek

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Here’s a quick look at the latest goings-on at the paint shop, KD Aviation at Newburgh, New York’s Stewart International Airport. As you can see, the first coat of the airplane’s Matterhorn White paint has begun. Looks good, no?


Wings and empennage get the first coat of Matterhorn white at KD Aviation

Wings and empennage get the first coat of Matterhorn white at KD Aviation


As mentioned earlier, this will be an all-white paint scheme at first, with decals explaining the upgrades. Later, the stripes will be added. But for those of you going to EAA’s AirVenture, this will give you an idea of what to expect. Note: the control surfaces will be painted separately, then balanced before they are added to the airframe.

Debbie does Sun N’ Fun

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

After a three-ship, nine-hour flight from Santa Fe–home of the Debonair’s avionics installer, Santa Fe Aero Services–the Debonair Sweepstakes airplane made its way to Sun N’ Fun. The other airplanes in our loose formation were a Diamond DA40, flown (and owned) by Aspen Avionics president John Uczekaj, with Aspen sales director Rob Blaha in the right seat; a Navion flown by Santa Fe Aero CEO/GM Pat Horgan, who brought his wife Emily and kids along; and moi, in the Debonair, of course.

The first leg was from Santa Fe to Wichita Falls Texas’ Shepherd Air Force Base, home of what must be one of the longest and widest runways in the U.S. Since it was the weekend, there was no tower in operation. It somehow felt unusual to self-announce on CTAF when entering the pattern at a runway complex that huge.

The next leg: Wichita Falls to Alexandria, Louisiana, where we overnighted. Then it was on to Lakeland for the Lake Parker VFR arrival. The Garmin GTN 750 showed the way to the Lake Parker entry waypoint, and it was a fairly smooth procedure. Sure, it was a challenge following an antique biplane, but soon enough I was tugged through the entry gate to the display area.

The next challenge was towing the airplane past all the exhibitors’ cars and trucks on set-up day. But the crowning event of the arrival involved jockeying the airplane into its display site in front of the AOPA tent. A forklift held up one of the roof beams while workers removed the vertical post that ordinarily would support the roof. With great care, the Debonair was coaxed into position, the post re-installed, and the forklift backed away, leaving the Debonair at center stage under a huge sunscreen.

The Debonair, on display duty at Sun N' Fun 2013

The Debonair, on display duty at Sun N’ Fun 2013

It’s now Saturday, and the show ends tomorrow. Hundreds and hundreds of visitors to AOPA’s site have come by the Debonair to look at the new panel and offer their comments. The airplane has proven to be quite a draw, and often there are large crowds around it.

Visitor comments touch on similar themes. Here are the most common, in order of frequency:

1) “Are you going to paint it?” or “I guess it’s going to the paint shop next?” These questions reveal just how polite people can be. Subliminally, what these people are really saying is this: “That’s an awful paint job, and I sure hope you change it very, very quickly.” Yes, we are! That’s the next step in the restoration.

2) “What year is it?” This is a variation of question 1), only the context being in terms of appearance as a function of age.

3) “I’m going to win it,” or “this will look good in my hangar,” or “you can give me the keys now,” and other equally confident predictions.We hear this all the time, with any sweepstakes airplane, so this statement comes as no surprise.

4) “I used to own a Debonair.” Many owners apparently found Debonairs to be great step-up airplanes when moving to complex, high-performance flying–and a better option than buying a Piper Comanche, the Debonair’s main competitor back in the day.

5) “What’s that? An iPad?” Yes it is! For all the wonderful Aspen and Garmin gear dominating the panel, the Ipad Mini grabbed many eyeballs. The Mini uses Garmin’s Pilot app to display moving maps with own-ship georeferencing, ADS-B traffic, and much much more.

That’s it for now. The Deb flies north next–to KD Aviation’s paint shop at the Trenton-Robbinsville airport in New Jersey. Keep checking this space for more reports and news, and fly safely.


Debonair Sweeps: A Bigger, Better Alternator

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013


National AirParts’ new 70-amp alternator (right) next to the old 55-amp unit


I’m told that the first Debonairs–the 1960 models–came with 35-ampere/hour Bendix generators. That’s not much of a power output.  There are stories out there telling of lights dimming at idle power, and ammeters showing discharges when all electrical equipment is turned on. So next up was a 55-amp generator. That still didn’t provide a large enough volume of steady electrical power.

Our/your Debonair began life with the 35-amp generator, but that was swapped out for a 55-amp Alcor alternator according to the logbooks. That was a start in the right direction.

But 55 amps isn’t nearly enough for the basically all-electric panel being installed at Santa Fe Aero Services. “We need 70 amps,” said V-P and General Manager Pat Horgan.

Thus began my search for a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) holder that could provide us/you with this sort of power rating.

National AirParts, of Deland, Florida (  filled the bill with its popular STC that allows us to move up to 70-amp-land. National’s Al Petrone says he can even fix you up with a 100-amp alternator if need be. Thanks very much, Al.

National has a lot of alternator STCs covering a wide range of airplanes. Check their website for details and plenty of info.

And remember that bad old alternator bracket–the one that broke, and that I reported on last time? Well, Wentworth Aircraft’s replacement bracket (see my previous blog) fit the new alternator, and the whole works will soon be installed. Along with beefier wiring and a circuit breaker designed to the new limits.

Debonair Sweeps: It’s Official:New N-number!

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

So far, the sweepstakes Debonair goes by N232L. That’s OK, but we needed to put a little more spark in the registration number. Something that would resonate with the notion of a sweepstakes. AOPA has done this with each of its past sweepstakes airplanes, so last December yours truly searched for a catchy N-number.

This entails going on the FAA’s registry website and plugging in the N-number(s) you wish you could have. And I tried a bunch. In all, I spent perhaps two hours thinking up cool N-numbers, submitting the requests, then almost immediately receiving the bad news: “N-number already in use.” When I reached burnout on this seemingly dead-end task, I asked the rest of the staff to take a whack at it.

Al Marsh rolled the dice and came up a winner. He picked a great N-number, and it wasn’t taken!

So I applied, paid the $10 registration fee, and the deed was done. When the airplane reaches the paint-job stage, it will have its paperwork changed and the new N-number will grace the fuselage. It will be N232L no more.

It will be N75YR

What’s the significance? Well, the Debonair will be given away at AOPA Summit in Palm Springs in 2014. That year happens to be AOPA’s 75th anniversary, hence “75YR.” Pretty cool, no?


Debonair Sweeps: Enter the iPad

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

No doubt about it, iPad mania has made its mark in general aviation. The Debonair Sweepstakes is certainly no exception. Santa Fe Aero Services, our avionics installer, has made a special panel insert for an iPad Mini–a piece of equipment that will serve many valuable functions.

First off, the Mini will be continuously powered while it’s docked in the panel, so there’s no worries about its batteries going dead at some critical time at the end of a flight. We’ve all heard the horror stories about iPad batteries giving up the ghost just as the final approach fix is crossed, or when issued holding instructions prior to an approach. Well, that ain’t gonna happen in the Debonair. And even if it did, there will be two USB charging ports in the Deb’s panel to power the Mini–or an iPod or any other such device for that matter.

The Mini can also display electronic charts–a big enough benefit on its own merits. And with geo-referencing, you’ll be able to “see” the airplane’s progress on an electronic chart as it flies a route or procedure.

Another benefit ties into Aspen’s Connected Panel technology. This forward-looking feature will allow aviation apps on the Mini to talk to the three-screen Aspen Evolution 2500 panel and other avionics. Here, the promise is great. Engine diagnostics may one day be logged into specially-designed apps. Routes filed at home on the Mini will some day soon be sent to the Aspen system wirelessly, sparing the lucky winner the frantic hassle of manually dialing in fixes immediately before taking off. These and other wireless data feeds are just over the horizon–but they’ll be playable in the Debonair.

Wireless technology like Aspen’s Connect Panel is the future of GA cockpit design, and Aspen is to be congratulated on making this move. We’re proud that the sweepstakes Debonair will be one of the first major Connected Panel demonstrators.

The Mini is also a backup source of ADS-B traffic and FIS-B weather information. True, the Debonair will have Garmin’s GDL 88 dual-channel datalink transceiver, and the targets and text it receives will show up on the Garmin GTN 750’s big-screen display. The Mini can serve as a backup to the GDL 88’s data, but because the 88 can’t output to a portable device we added Garmin’s GDL 39 datalink antenna to the mix, which is designed to feed ADS-B data directly to Garmin’s Garmin Pilot app. And yes, that app is currently the prime mover on the Deb’s Mini.

The Garmin Pilot app has a lot more than electronic charts. There’s Garmin’s SafeTaxi, which can show your position on more than 900 airports, text and graphic weather, high- and low-altitude enroute charts for flights on instrument flight plans, sectional charts for the entire United States and Canada, and flight planning functions.

There’s a lot more to say about this very special Debonair’s panel, and we’ll touch on all of them in upcoming blogs. Stay tuned!

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?

Originally posted at

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.

Originally posted at

All previous posts are for the AOPA 2012 – Tougher Than a Tornado Sweepstakes

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.

Originally posted at