Archive for the ‘Tougher Than A Tornado’ Category

AOPA Sweepstakes 2012 – Tougher Than a Tornado

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Tornado Husky at undisclosed California location

Originally published on


The AOPA Sweepstakes Tougher Than A Tornado Husky is tucked away at an undisclosed location in Southern California and will remain there until being awarded to its winner at AOPA Aviation Summit Oct. 11 to 13 at Palm Springs, Calif.

The Husky flew to the West Coast at the conclusion of EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., with a stop at its birthplace, Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyo. There, the craftsmen who build the rugged bush plane by hand gave the Tornado Husky a thorough looking over and a new annual inspection.

During an adventure-filled year, the Tornado Husky has brought attention to the promise, challenge, and excitement of flying off the beaten path, and it has dropped in at places as far flung as Bar Harbor, Maine; Key West, Fla.; Kalispell, Mont.; and now Palm Springs. But even though it has traveled far and wide, the total time on the Tornado Husky’s airframe and engine are right around 200 hours—and the annual inspection confirmed this frisky young pup is just entering the prime of its life.

“It’s in great shape to provide many years of reliable service,” said Steve Hastings, an Aviat mechanic and IA who performed the annual inspection. “Engine compression is excellent in all cylinders (77, 78, 78, 78), and you can’t get much better than that. We cleaned and gapped the spark plugs and replaced normal wear-and-tear items such as brake pads. But it’s obvious this airplane is in terrific shape.”

Aviat performs Husky annuals in Afton that can resemble NASCAR pit stops.

When the Tornado Husky rolled to a stop on the factory ramp, company technicians pushed it into their maintenance hangar and got right to work. After the engine compression check, they drained the oil, replaced the filter, examined the screens, replaced a misfiring ELT, repaired minor blemishes on the right aileron, and hoisted the airplane off the ground with a chain that they attached to two metal lift hooks on the top wing. The 29-inch Alaskan Bushwheel tires were removed and the wheel bearings cleaned and greased.

Even the treadless tires seem to be holding up well. Whenever possible, AOPA pilots land the Tornado Husky on grass surfaces instead of concrete in an effort to preserve the specialized tires. But since the Tornado Husky has been hangared at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland (where there are no turf runways) all year and flown to and from similarly hard-surface airports, the tires have spent most of their time on concrete and asphalt.

The annual inspection at Afton was completed in a single day.

“If there are no complications and we can keep two guys on it, we can often complete an annual inspection in a day like this,” said Hastings, who was assisted by Aviat technician Val Swenson. “This time, the stars all aligned in our favor.”

SweepsThat’s been a consistent theme throughout the year. After the hard-luck Husky was battered by the Sun ‘n Fun Tornado in March 2011, its fortunes seem to have improved. Everywhere it goes, the Tornado Husky is greeted by people who appreciate its unique history and the limitless possibilities for adventure it offers. (But the airplane’s reputation for attracting wild weather also held true with a strong thunderstorm at EAA AirVenture, and wind and hail in Wyoming.)

And even though it’s not the world’s fastest airplane (105 knots at cruise), it goes places. On its westbound journey, the Tornado Husky flew 6.5 hours (with one fuel stop in Ohio) to Oshkosh where it joined a line of other aircraft on the Fisk Arrival to Runway 27. The day after EAA AirVenture ended, it logged 10.5 hours (with stops in Minnesota and South Dakota). From there, it headed almost straight south to St. George, Utah, and then hooked right into Southern California where it rode a rare tailwind westbound across the desert.

The airplane ran beautifully throughout the transcontinental flight, but stormy weather in Chicago meant crossing the blue middle of Lake Michigan, and headwinds and wilting high temperatures (and density altitudes) across the Great Plains demanded much—and the Tornado Husky delivered.

Aviat pilots Steve Anderson and Owen Genzlinger were ferrying two brand-new Huskys to Afton after EAA AirVenture, and AOPA President Craig Fuller joined their caravan in his personal Husky, and photographer George Kounis and I came in the Tornado Husky. The pack of four Huskys encountered 30-knot headwinds in western Wisconsin and Minnesota, jarring turbulence and haze and smoke from wildfires in South Dakota, and climbed as high as 11,500 feet crossing the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming. During the final hour of the marathon trip, we dropped into loose formation and followed the Snake River along the base of the Grand Tetons and through the canyons to a sublime sunset arrival at Alpine Airpark. There are 14 Huskys based at Alpine, and the four new arrivals seemed to fit right in.

When the Tornado Husky’s annual inspection was complete, Aviat test pilot Anderson took the airplane up for a post-maintenance flight around Afton. He then made a few minor adjustments by reducing the engine idle RPM to 675, double-checked the elevator trim tension, and lubricated the tailwheel to get rid of an occasional shimmy.

“When an airplane leaves here, we make sure everything on it is right,” he said. “I’m satisfied that everything on the Tornado Husky is right. It flies like a Husky—and that’s the best compliment I can give any airplane.”

SNF Tornado Husky Update

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
The yellow paint of the Sweepstakes Husky shines like a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

The yellow paint of the Sweepstakes Husky shines like a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

The AOPA’s 2012 “Tougher Than A Tornado” Sweepstakes Husky will have traveled to all four corners of the United States by the time it is awarded to its winner in Palm Springs, California in the fall.

It’s already been to western Montana and coastal Maine. But returning to Lakeland, Florida, where it was tossed about by the infamous Sun ’n Fun tornado in 2011 (and earned its “tougher than a tornado” monicker) was perhaps the most challenging outing from a weather standpoint.

The 2012 Sun ’n Fun Fly-In brought with it a gorgeous weather forecast of sunshine for almost the entire week of the event. But getting there in advance from AOPA’s home base in the mid-Atlantic in a VFR-only airplane required making lots of “over, under, or around” decisions regarding the low ceilings and rain that can almost always be found on the 750-nm route in early spring.

This year, a persistent overcast in Maryland and Virginia, rain showers in North Carolina, thunderstorms South Carolina, and headwinds and turbulence in Florida, made the south-bound trip especially challenging from a weather standpoint—but still safely doable with the Tornado Husky’s capable tools.

The Tornado Husky’s instrument panel has a Garmin GPSMAP 696 linked to graphical XM Satellite Weather that allows pilots to make informed choices about conditions well beyond what they can see through the windshield. The Doppler radar displays as well as METARs and TAFs proved especially handy this year as weather came into play throughout the trip which began on an overcast afternoon in Maryland.

Follow the leader. Dave Hirschman sticks to the six of Craig Fuller.

Follow the leader. Dave Hirschman sticks to the six of Craig Fuller.

Instead of making the trip solo, this year AOPA President Craig Fuller accompanied the Tornado Husky in his own airplane, a 1999 Husky A-1A that he was bringing to Sun ‘n Fun for the week. (Huskys run in packs!)

Leaving Maryland, we crept along under the overcast, flew through the well-known notch in the mountains at Harpers Ferry, the historic town where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, and continued southwest through Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley.

We finally happened upon our first blue sky there and climbed to 6,500 feet where we easily topped the low clouds. We had planned to fly to the Atlanta, Georgia, area but a building line of rain and thunderstorms seen on the XM Weather display along that route convinced us to make a left turn toward the coast instead. In addition to being more direct, it also has much lower elevations and, on this day, fewer clouds.

We refueled in Danville, Virginia, then set our sights on Beaufort County Airport (a.k.a. “Frogmore International”) and expected to arrive a few minutes after sunset. Having elected to go over the clouds on the first leg of the trip, we went around them on the second, but still managed to get good and wet at the edges of a few downpours in the carolinas.

Paul Harrop, a videographer who recently joined AOPA and was traveling in the Tornado Husky with me and making his first cross-country trip in a GA airplane. I guess I felt compelled to reassure him about the weather many times during the journey, and the laconic Oklahoman eventually tired of my frequent (and false) pronouncements that each line of showers we went around would be the last before a “straight shot” to our destination.

“You don’t need to keep saying that,“ he told me. “I’ll panic when you panic—and not before.”

For the record, no one in our traveling party ever panicked. But I did push the power on the Tornado Husky’s 180-horsepower Lycoming engine up and had the three-blade MT prop singing at 2,500 rpm for the final dash into Beaufort.

AOPA President Craig Fuller flying his personal Husky over Hilton Head, S.C.

AOPA President Craig Fuller flying his personal Husky over Hilton Head, S.C.

(My wingman, whose 13-year-old Husky is equipped with normal-sized tires instead of the Tornado Husky’s 29-inch Alaskan Bushwheels, had no trouble keeping up.)

We arrived a few minutes after sunset and landed on the east-facing Runway 7 with the powerful LED landing lights on the Tornado Husky’s left wing putting out a beam powerful enough to stun the swarms of sand flies that call the marsh home.

The Husky team starts Thursday off right with a beautiful morning in Beaufort, S.C., ready to take off.

The Husky team starts Thursday off right with a beautiful morning in Beaufort, S.C., ready to take off.

The next morning brought patchy fog and rain, but conditions improved enough by mid-morning to get underway. We hugged the east coast as a flight of two until Savannah, Georgia, then turned inland and flew under the clouds for a time, then over them, to Cross City, our final refueling point and a time-honored stop for many fliers on the way to or from Sun ’n Fun.

The last leg to central Florida involved a stiff headwind and air lumpy enough to convince Paul to put down his video camera. And the Tornado Husky, which got a few good baths on the way south from the passing rain, sparkled in the Florida sunshine as it prepared to greet Sun ’n Fun visitors—one of whom may even get to take it home from AOPA Summit 2012.

Tornado Husky and the Big Apple

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

I’ve long had a special reason to fly the Hudson River VFR corridor in New York, but for a variety of reasons – usually weather – it had never happened.

Then, last week offered what seemed the perfect chance.

Flying the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky from Frederick, Md., to AOPA Aviation Summit in Hartford, Conn., required going right by New York City. And the weather was gorgeous on the day AOPA colleague Alyssa Miller and I planned to make the trip.

A presidential TFR in New York was going to shut down the corridor and virtually all other VFR traffic late in the day, but we could still make our transit with an hour to spare.

I loaded my special cargo – a small engraved box — into the Tornado Husky with our other gear for the week and studied the New York Terminal Area Chart to review the Hudson River Corridor procedures and reporting points. Alyssa would fly the airplane from the front seat, and I’d look out the window and handle the communications from the back.

Also, the Husky has a sliding window on the left side that seemed perfect for my purpose, which involved dropping something from the airplane in flight. That’s where the contents of the engraved box come in. You see, the ashes of my late step-father, John Melville, a New York City native, former aerospace engineer, and the person who made so many of our family’s dreams of flight come true, have resided in that box since his death in 2003. I wanted to honor him by spreading his ashes near the Statue of Liberty, a place close to the heart of freedom-loving people worldwide.

I loaded the airplane and was making final weather and TFR checks when the Lockheed briefer gave me the bad news. A United Nations TFR extended into the Hudson River Corridor shutting down all north-bound flights.

Reluctantly, I scrubbed the corridor mission that day.

We flew a nearly direct course to Hartford, and when we crossed the Hudson River 40 miles northwest of the city, the weather was so crystal clear we could easily make out the imposing skyline in the distance.

I hoped to have another opportunity to spread the ashes on Sunday, Sept. 25, the day after AOPA Aviation Summit ended when we planned to make our return flight to Frederick.

But a stubbornly slow low-pressure system had settled over the East Coast during Summit and refused to leave. The weather forecast called for rain and patchy low clouds along most of the route. So once again, I abandoned the idea of a Hudson River run and packed the well-traveled ashes in my backpack. Then I made the mistake of loading the backpack into another AOPA aircraft bound for headquarters.

Alyssa flew the return trip to Maryland from the front seat of the Husky, and the ceiling was high and visibility excellent coming out of Hartford. The cloud bases stayed elevated as we continued southwest toward home, and the XM Satellite weather display on the Garmin 696 showed the way was clear.

The Hudson River came into view from a distance of more than 20 miles, and on this day there were no TFRs. Alyssa said she was game for a north-south run down the river, so when we got to the Hudson, we made a hard left turn, descended to 1,100 feet msl, and followed the waterway southward.

I was kicking myself for putting my step-dad’s ashes in another aircraft, so there was no way to deliver them on this day. But I thought of him throughout our 100-knot tour of the city where he was raised in an Irish immigrant neighborhood during the Great Depression and went to college (Columbia University) graduating in 1940.

A swarm of helicopters plied the area around “the lady,” as New York pilots refer to the iconic statue in the harbor.

The Tornado Husky, an airplane made for the wilderness, hardly seemed out of place overflying New York City landmarks including the George Washington Bridge, USS Intrepid, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Fortunately, the Tornado Husky is scheduled to pass through the Big Apple again in the fall. And when it does, I’ll deliver the last remains of a remarkable man to the place that defined him.

And when those ashes fall to the water, I’ll remember how my step-dad did one of the world’s most difficult and thankless jobs – being a step-parent to four troublesome, quarrelsome boys – with steadiness and humor that my brothers and I can only strive to emulate with our own children.

Before he died at age 82, in one of our last conversations, I spoke with him about his many accomplishments. He summed up his record of achievement with a shrug, a wry smile, and a characteristically dismissive one-liner:

“Not bad for some jerk from New York.”

Landing a Husky: No! Bad dog!

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

The AOPA 2012 “Tougher than a Tornado” Husky is usually obedient and well mannered – but sometimes it strays.

Within two feet of the ground on landing, it can become willful and ornery, usually resulting in a firm touchdown and/or bounced landing. A rolled up newspaper won’t change this dog’s behavior, and neither will a pocket full of dog treats.

But the Tornado Husky (and all other Huskies) is certainly capable of smooth and consistent wheel- and three-point landings as long as pilots know the tricks: Precise airspeed control on final, full nose-up trim, and power above idle for elevator effectiveness.

This unconventional combination is necessary because of the Husky’s unusual elevator trim system. Turning the trim wheel moves the entire elevator (and not just a trim tab). The elevator travel is the same regardless of the trim position, but unless you’re Paul Bunyan, you won’t have the arm strength to command full up elevator in the landing flare if you’re working against the heavy spring in the trim system.

And even if the pilot does succeed in getting the stick to the full aft position during the flare, that’s not enough to ensure a soft, three-point landing – especially if the Husky’s center of gravity is at the forward end of the normal range (such as when the pilot is flying solo). The airplane simply runs out of elevator authority. In order to raise the nose to the required 10-degree deck angle, the airplane needs more airflow over the tail. And the only way to get it at normal speed is from the propeller. Crack the throttle about a quarter inch (roughly the same position you place it for engine start) and you’re in the ballpark.

Flap position also influences the character of Husky landings.

They can be set at zero, one, two, or three notches – and adding flaps increases the nose-down pitching moment. I prefer two notches for full-stall landings and three notches for wheel landings – but the method for both is almost identical.

Fly 65 mph ias on short final with full nose-up trim and the throttle a quarter-inch open; round out in ground effect and work the stick aft. With two notches of flaps (or less), full back stick results in a three-point touchdown. With three notches of flaps, I tend to run out of elevator before reaching the full-stall angle of attack. When the main wheels touch, relax the back pressure on the stick to pin them on and fly the tail to the ground as the airplane decelerates. Once the tailwheel touches, apply full aft stick.

Slowing to 60 mph ias on final, or even 55, works well for short-field landings. But it also requires significantly more power on final to avoid an excessive sink rate. (I use 500 fpm on final as a target.)

The same techniques apply for crosswind landings. The Husky POH lists a maximum demonstrated crosswind component of 15 miles an hour – and that number seems conservative. The airplane has an authoritative rudder and ailerons, and keeping it tracking straight with the upwind wing held down is easily doable in such winds. (YouTube has many examples of Huskies landing in much stronger crosswinds.)

Flying final approach with full nose-up trim sometimes requires slight forward pressure on the stick, and that feels awkward. (It also requires that the pilot be ready to apply brisk forward pressure in case of a go-around.)

But the exaggerated trim position gets the elevator right where it should be in the landing flare – and that (along with power) is the key to consistently smooth Husky landings.

The Crossover Classic arrives at Sun ‘N Fun

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

It was quite a pleasure to fly the Sweeps 182–fresh from its interior completion at Air Mod–to Sun ‘N Fun. The seats are super comfortable, and noise levels are low thanks to Skandia’s soundproofing package. My route took me from Air Mod (at Ohio’s Clermont County Airport) back to home base at Frederick, Maryland for the first leg. The first portion of the leg was marginal VFR, but by the time I was over West Virginia IFR had setttled in over the entire Mid-Atlantic, thanks to a persistent area of low pressure.

Now’s when a cockpit like the Crossover Classic’s really shows its worth. The Cobham/S-TEC System Fifty-Five X took care of the flying while I got set up for the ILS approach to runway 23 at the Frederick Municipal Airport. The center console, from Saircorp/Flight Boss Ltd., had enough compartments to hold all my charts and approach plates, and its clipboard kept the plate for the ILS close at hand. (The console’s lower compartment holds the airplane’s Mountain High oxygen bottle and regulator). Oh, and there’s a nice armrest, too–which flips up to allow access to a large storage compartment capable of holding larger items, like an Air Charts low altitude enroute chart book.

The ceiling was 800 feet, the visibility one-and-a-half miles, but it was no sweat really. The Garmin G500 showed the way–and the synthetic vision showed the virtual runway dead ahead. The G500’s flight path marker also backs up your nav visual cues by showing exactly where the airplane is flying. So, stay on the ILS and the flight path marker will remain planted on the virtual runway’s touchdown zone. Nice.

After a second,  five-hour flight I was descending into the Lakeland airport traffic pattern with AOPA Live’s Warren Morningstar aboard. We were Sun ‘N Fun bound, and having the airplane’s GTS-800 traffic advisory system (TAS) aboard made a big difference. Targets began to appear on the G500’s PFD (primary flight display) , the dedicated TAS page on the MFD (multifunction display), and on the ship’s two GNS 430 navigators. Talk about situational awareness!

The Crossover Classic is now on display at AOPA’s tent at Sun ‘N Fun, so stop by and  check out the new interior if you;re in the area. More from Sun ‘N Fun to come!

A new panel hits the road

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Advantage Avionics, of Chino, California, has finished its massive installation, and I was on hand for the shakedown flight tests on January 27. As I’ve said before, it was sensory overload when I first settled into the driver’s seat, but Garmin’s G500 is quite intuitive, and running the dual Garmin GNS 430Ws (which feed nav data to the G500) was a no-brainer since I was already familiar with their operating logic.


The JP Instruments EDM-930 showing engine and fuel parameters at 61% power. At this point in the flight, the fuel totalizer shows that we’ve burned 45.1 gallons of fuel. Note that the left main tank is down to 23 gallons, meaning that we can now begin transferring fuel from the left tip tank into the left main.

The tests were anticlimactic, save for some minor tweaks: turning down the autopilot-disconnect warning tone’s volume, and adding command bars to the PFD among them. The Cobham/S-TEC System Fifty-Five X autopilot flew headings, vertical-speed and altitude preselect commands, instrument approaches, and course intercepts with near-perfection. In altitude-hold mode, there is some hunting in pitch, but I am told that Cobham/S-TEC will fine-tune the autopilot gain levels to eliminate this.


The MFD, showing some of the many XM radio channels available for enroute cruising atmosphere.

Activating the XM WX datalink weather and radio functions proved tedious, as others have told me. At first I called XM’s 800 number and talked to a pleasant, yet not completely English-fluent, call center employee who swore my account was activated. “Just turn on the power and wait for the datalink receiver to lock on,” I was told. I sensed something was amiss when I was quoted a price of some $12 per month for all service levels I’d requested–the Aviatior Pro includes a massive amount of weather data. Anyway, I powered up the panel as I was told, and the download….


One of the GNS 430s shows the status an hour after taking off from Wichita, bound for Clermont County Airport

Didn’t happen. Another call the next day, more waiting, and finally I was receiving all the XM data and music I’d ordered. The bill was now a bit north of $100 per month, though! Seems the $12 per month was for the automotive package of services.

Another item: the Crossover Classic is a 1974 airplane, so its airspeed marking are in miles per hour. Consequently, all the V-speeds and airspeed arcs are in mph to remain in compliance with the airplane’s flight manual. However, the L-3 Trilogy standby instrument system uses knots, and I like the GNS 430s to show knots, too. To someone who learned in mph, then spent a mighty effort to switch mental gears into knot-dom, this dissonance actually drove me to the whiz wheel as I made my way from Advantage Avionics to the airplane’s next stop–Air Mod, our chosen interior shop, located at southwest Ohio’s Clermont County Airport (I69). True airspeeds were mostly in the 150-knot range as I made my way across the southern Rockies at 11,000 feet.

My route went from Chino, through the Banning Pass, then on to the Thermal and Blythe VORs. The first leg–two hours in duration–ended with a landing at Phoenix’s Goodyear Airport (GYR). Most of that leg was flown at 8,000 feet, and the only disappointment was the failure of Garmin’s GTS 800 active traffic advisory system (TAS). Up popped a “FAILED” message, and suddenly I felt naked. I was really spoiled by the 800’s traffic information. The unit really does a great job at directing your attention to airplanes both near and far, and greatly enhances your situational awareness. Advantage says a simple data entry procedure should solve the problem, which will be addressed by Cincinnati Avionics–a shop located just across the field from Air Mod.


A view of Missouri’s Harry Truman reservoir from 9,000 feet.

The next leg was three hours and change, and ended with a landing at Albuquerque International (ABQ). There was the possibility that I could have gone non-stop from Chino to ABQ, but with my high power setting and wind situation, the leg would have lasted a bit more than five hours–and that cut into my fuel-reserve comfort factor. After ABQ, it was on to Wichita Mid-Continent Aiport (ICT) for an overnight. This was an easy leg, lasting just two hours. The hard part came when the flu flattened yours truly while an epic snowstorm/blizzard raged all along my next route from ICT to I69.

As I watched The Weather Channel endlessly, I reflected on my trip so far. What can you say about the G500? Everything. Airspeed and altitude trend information is portrayed with magenta trend lines on the PFD’s vertical tapes, terrain and obstacle info is on the MFD, as is route-, special-use airspace, and weather information. And don’t forget the synthetic terrain! Oh, and the XM radio has a page on the MFD’s “chapter” icons at the bottom of the screen.


The G500 PFD and MFD, at 9,000 feet over IL. Airspeeds are in MPH for the time being. The MFD shows predominantly VFR weather. On the PFD, a wind arrow (beneath the airspeed scale) shows the strength and direction of the winds aloft. The autopilot is hunting slightly in pitch, which accounts for the temporary 400 fpm decent (not that the command bars are calling for a climb back to the target altitude of 9000 ft.

On the PFD, you can seen indicated airspeed, true airspeed, groundspeed, wind vector, and flight path marker information–all at a glance. Again, am I spoiled? You bet. And so will the lucky winner of this fine airplane.

But the refurbishment isn’t finished, of course. As this is being written, the airplane is at I69, where Air Mod is gutting the ship’s funky old interior and preparing the airplane for a top-of-the-line leather interior, complete with Amsafe seat-belt air bags and much more. The old windows are gone, as are all the ancient fiberglass and plastic trim and other components. No mouse nests or noteworthy corrosion, however!

As always, stay tuned. Next time we’ll begin delving into the interior work in earnest.

Good to go

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Today was the first time I sat behind a Garmin G500, and it was a bit of sensory overload! So much capability, so many functions! But bottom line, today’s shakedown flight went well, for the most part. “When you do a big job like this, you can expect some glitches,” said Advantage Avionics’ Mark Krueger. “It’s kind of like open heart surgery.”

The day started with a call to XM WX satellite weather’s activation service, which is apparently based in India. I was told to set aside a half-hour for the activation process, and it came close to that duration. I had to give the datalink receiver’s ID number, the audio unit’s ID number, and the Garmin GDL 69A datalink receiver’s serial number. Then, I opted for both the weather and audio services, and–last but certainly not least–provide my credit card number so the activation could begin. The weather package is $12.95 per month; the audio, $8.99 per month.

Now I can listen to Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen sing “Hot Rod Lincoln” as I cruise over the Sange de Cristos tomorrow. And at the same time, keep an eye on a storm system–another one!–that is predicted to enter the Ohio River Valley area on Sunday and Monday.

To sync up the heading info, Krueger and I made a 360-degree turn around Chino’s compass rose, stopping at 30-degree intervals for the AHRS to do its processing. That setup completed, it was time to taxi to the active–made quite easy by using the airport diagram on the G500’s SafeTaxi display on the MFD.

After taking off from Chino, it was a left turn to cross a bumpy ridge, then on to the calm air over the ocean (low level turbulence makes for bad autopilot test conditions), and a level-off at 3,000 feet. The S-TEC System Fifty-Five X held altitude well–in spite of the bumps–and its heading and vertical speed functions also made the grade. The altitude preselect function was out to lunch, so autoflight climbs were done using the VS mode only. The other issue was the autopilot disconnect alert: so loud it tried to blow us out of our seats!

The traffic advisory system picked up plenty of traffic over south LA. I think I’ll leave it on all the time, and let it play on the #2 GNS 430. There was an intermittent “traffic fail” alert” on a couple of occasions, and then the problem seemed to go away. Finally, the XM WX and XM audio never activated as promised, so no Commander Cody on this flight.

The Fifty-Five X flew a near-perfect ILS to Chino’s runway 26R–Garmin’s ChartView provided the approach chart on the MFD–and then it was back to the shop, where all the squawks were resolved within an hour and a half. Now photographer Chad Slattery is taking some shots of the reborn panel, and near sunset we’ll launch again for some inflight panel shots.

Tomorrow’s plan is to try to reach Wichita, depending. A nonstop leg to ABQ could take as much as five hours, which would cut my fuel reserves uncomfortably close unless the winds cooperate. Also, it will be a flight at 11,000 or 11,500 feet most of the way, and I like to use oxygen when flying that high. Like to, but don’t have any oxygen on this trip (Mountain High is coming through with one of their oxygen systems in a few weeks). Can I make it to ICT after stopping and gassing up at ABQ? Sure–it’s only another 3+50 or so. But that’s a long day’s worth of flying.

Then again, I will have Commander Cody. Do check out “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

ICT to LGB–The Inside Story

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Let the games begin! We left Wichita at 830 am local on Saturday, November 6, anxious to see how the newly-re-engined 182 would fare on a cross-country totalling some nine hours. It was quite a revelation, from the start. We climbed away from ICT at nearly 2,000 fpm–in spite of our weight. But that was just the beginning.

The first leg took us to Albuquerque NM, and would last 3+18. At our initial cruise altitude of 6,500 feet  I set power at 71-percent (the best the engine would put out at that altitude). OAT was +14 degrees C., Manifold pressure was 23.8 inches (the EDM-930 is very precise), prop rpm was 2,500, and we were running at 100 degrees rich of peak EGT for maximum power. Consquently, fuel flow was high, at 19.4 gph.

At no time on the entire trip did cylinder head temperatures blow past 400 degrees. That’s something you can’t say about IO-550 installations in some Bonanzas!

Anyway, here are the results: 145 KIAS, and a whopping 162 KTAS. As promised, we were cruising in the yellow arc! But the air was smooth all the way to ABQ, and it was a treat to watch the scenery go by. I climbed in stages to 10,500 feet just prior to reaching ABQ, so as to clear terrain, and soon we were at Cutter Aviation, gassing up for the next leg to the Phoenix-Goodyear (GYR) airport west of Phoenix. That leg took 3+10. At times our groundspeed went to 152 knots–which ended up being the record for the entire trip.

Oh, and that 300-hp came in handy taking off from ABQ, which has an elevation of 5,355 feet msl and, when we were there, a temperature of 82 degreees F. In spite of the density altitude, our initial climb rate was 1,500 fpm. Not bad at all.

Most of the trip to GYR was spent at 10,500 feet, at 64-percent power with full throttle and a mixture setting of 50 degrees rich of peak EGT. The result was a 15.5 gph fuel burn rate, and a true airspeed of 147 knots.

Transferring fuel from the Flint Aero tip tanks to the mains takes about 25-30 minutes. Each tip tank holds 11.5 gallons of usable fuel, so having the extra 23 gallons for an “in-flight fillup” made for comfortable fuel reserves on trips like this–where distances between airports can be great.

After a quick-turn at GYR, it was off to Palm Springs International–about two hours away. The weather in the LA basin was IFR, so a flight straight through was out of the question. Besides, night would fall halfway to PSP and it was just plain time to end the flying day.

The arrival at PSP was, um, interesting. Surface winds were 310 at 20, gusting to 35. A Falcon jet ahead of us reported a shocking 50-knot airspeed swing as it encountered wind shear on final. Soon enough, it would be my turn.

There was turbulence, but I’d call it light as I started down final. Halfway to the runway, though, and the bottom fell out. The ship sank mightily as my headwind went away and/or a downdraft sucked us earthward. That’s when that 300-hp once more proved its value. A blast of power, and the ship was back on the proper glide path for runway 31L. It took a lot of jockeying to get the plane to touch down properly, but all’s well that ends well, and soon we were tied down and heading for the hotel.

Crossover Classic Sweeps Cessna 182 arrival as AOPA Aviation Summit

Yesterday, I used the route that AOPA is publishing for VFR arrivals to LGB from the east. That meant a leg through the slightly turbulent Banning pass, then on to the Lake Mathews and Santa Ana Canyon VFR waypoints (they’re published on the Los Angeles VFR Terminal Area Chart.) Our initial cruise altitude was 6,500 feet, but after Santa Ana Canyon, SoCal approach sent us down, in steps, to 2,500 feet. Then it was over to Long Beach approach and tower for a landing on runway 25R. Well, not at first. LGB is a busy place, so expect rapid-fire radio chatter and clearance changes. Like my being told to go around for other landing traffic. The second landing was the last, and now the Crossover Classic is parked at the AirFlite FBO–the host FBO for AOPA Summit’s static display.

'AOPA Pilot' Editor at Large Tom Horne with the 2011 Crossover Classic Sweepstakes Cessna 182

If you’re coming by–and I hope you do–then stop by the sweepstakes airplane section of the static. You’re looking for N52832. It may look like a beater, but its Continental engine and Hartzell three-blade prop signal that this is definitely an airplane to watch. See you there!

Skylane search success

Friday, October 8th, 2010


Our 1974 Cessna 182P. What was once Tom Wortley’s is now the Crossover Classic.


Get a load of that nose bowl! The years have taken their toll on the 182’s lacquer-based paint job.

At last, we’ve found our Crossover Classic Skylane! It took a while, but after a two-month-long search we found our Cessna 182 at the Middletown, Ohio, airport. It’s a 1974 Cessna 182P, and it belonged to Tom Wortley—a local businessman who’s owned the airplane (N52832) since 1979. Sure, Don Sebastian, our pre-purchase inspector, found some squawks. But the main requirement—a sound airframe uncompromised by corrosion—was fulfilled. There was some light surface corrosion, but nothing that can’t be treated to restore the airframe to like-new condition.

You can read more about our prebuy, purchase, and first flights in the airplane in the November issue of AOPA Pilot.

And by the way, don’t feel too sorry for Wortley’s parting with his beloved Skylane. Together with a partner, he has fully restored a Piper J-3 Cub. This will be Wortley’s new ride, and it’s perfect for the purely recreational flying that he now pursues. The Cub’s data plate proclaims its date of manufacture as September 1946—a landmark birthday in the history of general aviation, in this project manager’s opinion.

In the October issue of AOPA Pilot, I wrote about our sometimes tedious search for the right Cessna 182. The reader response was nothing short of tremendous. It seemed as though everyone wanted to help us find a suitable 182. At last count, I received 132 e-mails, each one offering up a Skylane for consideration. A few members even phoned in with their recommendations. So, dear readers and potential 2011 sweepstakes winners, you can rest easy now that the die has been cast, and give your keyboards a well-earned break.

All this feedback is worth a comment or two. On the positive side, I think it proves that members are fully engaged in the Crossover Classic concept, and feel involved in the choice of airplane and its restoration process. On the other hand, the e-mails also prove that there are a LOT of older Skylanes out there. Based on the mail, many of them are sitting idle—and have been for months and months. What does this say about our used-airplane market? Knowing that the average age of a GA airplane is somewhere around 30 years old, this may mean that hundreds of owner-pilots have given up flying and now feel they must (reluctantly) shed their airplanes. Moreover, as I warn in the upcoming AOPA Pilot article, many of those older airplanes have serious defects that render them unairworthy. So, buyer beware! We certainly were spring-loaded in our search; that’s why we hired pre-purchase guru Don Sebastian ( to ferret out the squawks.


In many parts of the airplane, the lacquer finish has cracked to point of flaking off.


This is what happens when you lubricate elevator hinges with WD-40.


No, not rich Corinthian leather, but it will soon be replaced at Air Mod.


Advantage Avionics has the task of yanking out this vintage 1970’s, pre-GPS panel.

At this moment, the Crossover Classic is at the Wellington, Kansas, airport, where Air Plains Services will install a 300-horsepower factory remanufactured Teledyne Continental IO-550 engine. A new three-blade Hartzell propeller will also be installed, as well as Flint Aero’s 12-gallon tip tanks and JP Instruments’ EDM-930 engine monitoring gauge cluster. While Air Plains has its work cut out, it’s what the company regularly performs. Its engine-upgrade conversions are extremely popular, with more than 2,000 such jobs performed in its 33-year history. If you want a power boost for your Cessna 172, 180, or 182, check out Air Plains. They also offer gross-weight-increase and propeller STCs.

When I was last at Air Plains, the original engine had been removed and the new IO-550 was being readied for installation. The IO-550 is proving very popular as a retrofit for Bonanzas, Barons, and other airplanes, and it’s easy to see why. More power, fuel injection, and the ability to take advantage of GAMIjector fuel injection nozzles for lean-of-peak cruise operations are all big draws.

Other components that have arrived at Air Plains include an exhaust system from RAM Aircraft of Waco, Texas; new baffling from Airforms Inc. of Big Lake, Alaska; a lightweight alternator from Plane Power Ltd.; and tires from Goodyear Aviation.

As always, stay tuned for more developments!

Narrowing the Hunt

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The October 2010 issue of AOPA Pilot contains the first of what will be a series of articles about AOPA’s sweepstakes Cessna 182 (a.k.a. “Crossover Classic”) and its metamorphosis to a raving beauty. As you’ll see in the article (“Skylane Seeking,”), finding a good 1970s airplane poses huge challenges.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on the details of my search. I used Aircraft Shopper Online, Barnstormers, and Controller as starting points. At these sites you can see all sorts of Cessnas, most of them Skyhawks, but a batch of Skylanes as well. I picked out a half-dozen promising candidates and called their owners—or their brokers. Of course, the ads promised the usual mantra: Always hangared, complete logbooks, no damage history.

Don’t believe it. Especially the part about damage history. A couple ads were up-front about damage. Usually the damage had to do with busted nosewheels, bent firewalls, and propeller strikes (and subsequent engine inspections for related internal damage). Seems that Skylanes, being naturally nose-heavy when loaded with two up front and little in the way of bags, need a good pull in the flare to make absolutely, positively certain that you don’t make a “three point” landing, or—heaven forfend!—nosewheel first.


One of the airplanes we checked out had a crack in a critical landing gear component: the fitting between the stur and the wheel assembly. Somewhere along the line, someone stop-drilled the crack—an illegal repair in itself on such a component—but the crack propagated beyond the stop-drilled hole. This made the airplane unairworthy.


Check out the airframe logbook entry for another 182 we examined, then rejected. Look at line four…. “left wing tip bent up at 50 degree angle.” The seller first said the airplane hit trees, than added that it might have hit a deer at one point. In each case, the assertion was that the damage was “light.” Good thing the mechanic was diligent in his entries.

One ad fessed up and said the airplane had been through three firewalls! Firewalls get bent when nosewheel assemblies transmit the shock of a nose-first arrival through the engine mounts. One of the first things our pre-purchase inspector, Don Sebastian, looked for was a bent firewall. Sebastian says another way to check for nosewheel- and firewall-related damage is to measure the gap between the prop spinner and the cowling. Is the gap uniform for the entire circumference of the spinner? If not, the engine is, in effect, sagging in its mounts. Any firewall/nosewheel assembly/engine mount damage is usually a deal-killer, Sebastian says. It would cost too much, parts would be hard to find, and the repairs mean a lot of down time. Expert insight like this is why we hired Sebastian to check out our airplanes.

Closing in

It seems that all this searching may soon end. We’ve located a suitable airplane in Middletown, Ohio, that just may work out. Problem is, the owner is ambivalent about selling it. It’s a classic approach-avoidance quandary.

I was talking to renowned Skyhawk broker George Van Bortel about some owners being overly sentimental about their airplanes. So George tells me a story. Seems he took a buyer’s airplane as a trade-in, but the buyer was reluctant. Got emotional. Said he wanted to fly his old airplane just one more time. For old time’s sake, just once around the patch.

Van Bortel says, “OK,” and the pilot gets into his old airplane, takes off, and flies away! He went back to his home field! In effect, he stole his own airplane!

Air Plains anticipation

Whatever we buy, I’m looking forward to flying it to Air Plains Services at the Wellington, Kan., airport. Air Plains will be yanking the old engine and replacing it with a factory remanufacted Teledyne Continental Motors IO-550D engine of 300-hp. That’s 70 more horsepower than the stock engine! Carolyn Kelley of Air Plains tells me that some of their customers see true airspeeds of 160 knots once this very popular conversion is installed. Extra range, too, owing to the Flint tip tanks—which will also be part of the Crossover Classic’s conversion.

Please stop back often for updates on the project. Time flies, and sometimes breaking news may appear here before it does in the magazine.