Archive for the ‘Debonair’ Category

One First-Rate Interior

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

What a pleasure it was to pick up the Debonair from Air Mod and fly it–with its new interior–to AOPA Summit’s static display at the Fort Worth-Meacham airport (FTW). The trip took five hours , 11 minutes, made possible by the airplane’s massive, 120-gallon fuel capacity and its wonderfully comfortable seats. That large Gatorade container also came in handy, if you know what I mean.

Air Mod’s Dennis Wolter is a fanatic about ergonomic design, and it shows with the seats. He’s fond of opining about the design merits of the concept of “the measure of man.” This term refers to the dimensions of a “standard” human, and it’s updated every ten years. Turns out, a standard human of the 1940s is much smaller than the overfed, overweight, beamier version of today. So it makes sense that design convention calls for re-evaluating average human heights, weights, and waistlines every few years.

Think this is baloney? Then you haven’t tried to move around inside a B-17 or other World War II-era airplane. People were comparatively tiny back then! In Rick Atkinson’s excellent three-volume series about World War II’s European theater (An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light), he notes that the average American recruit was five feet, seven inches tall and weighed 150 pounds! (130 pounds was the minimum weight).

How about today? Well, look around….

Me, I’m five feet 10 inches tall and weigh 205 pounds. The last time I was in a B-17 I gouged a pretty good, bloody ding in my skull trying to scramble around in there. But I fit today’s measure of man, which is a sad commentary I suppose.

Anyway, Wolter starts with the measure of man and then custom-tailors the seats of each airplane he overhauls to conform to the customer’s actual dimensions. So when it comes to comfort–and fatigue reduction at the end of those long flight–it’s quite like having your shoes custom-made, rather than buying them off the shelf and hoping they stand the test of time.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to Summit, here’s what you missed:

New front seats and sidewalls now join the Debonair's Aspen/Garmin-dominant panel

New front seats and sidewalls now join the Debonair’s Aspen/Garmin-dominant panel

In keeping with the sixties motif, the rear seats were kept in a bench configuration.

In keeping with the sixties motif, the rear seats were kept in a bench configuration.

 

Original Beech medallions adorn the front sidewalls, as well as gooseneck lamps.

Original Beech medallions adorn the front sidewalls, as well as gooseneck lamps.

Wolter took advantage of some unused space in the spar covers to make a huge cubby hole for storing charts, flashlights, and other pilot gear.

Wolter took advantage of some unused space in the spar covers to make a huge cubby hole for storing charts, flashlights, and other pilot gear.

 

The overhead panel was completely repaired. "Everything was broken," Wolter said. The fresh-air valve (silver handle at rear of panel) had to be completely rebuilt. It opens a cabin air intake door on the upper fuselage.

The overhead panel was completely repaired. “Everything was broken,” Wolter said. The fresh-air valve (silver handle at rear of panel) had to be completely rebuilt. It opens a cabin air intake door on the upper fuselage.

The front-seat headrests got "The Debonair Sweepstakes" logo embroidered on them. You like?

The front-seat headrests got “The Debonair Sweepstakes” logo embroidered on them. You like?

That’s it for today. Watch for another post later this week…..

Coming together at Air Mod

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

The pressure is definitely on. Air Mod is still working, hammer and tongs, on the Debonair. The airplane has to make it to Fort Worth well before AOPA Summit’s doors open on October 10. In fact, setup day is Wednesday October 9th. So I better have 75YR in place by Tuesday.

Now it’s time for more photos of just some of the home-stretch work at Air Mod. Here we go:

 

Gray sound-dampening material noew replaces the bad old sticky-tar job of 1963

Gray sound-dampening material now replaces the bad old sticky-tar job of 1963

 

Refitting and installing metal window trim moldings

Refitting and installing metal window trim moldings

 

BAS' intertial-reel four-point shoulder harness installation. Now the airplane will have a proper restraint system

BAS’ intertial-reel four-point shoulder harness installation. Now the airplane will have a proper restraint system

 

Stripping the control yoke T-bar. It was covered by the usual chips and sctratches that affect older Bonanzas, Debonairs, and Barons

Stripping the control yoke T-bar. It was covered by the usual chips and sctratches that affect older Bonanzas, Debonairs, and Barons

 

The control yokes, now reconditioned and repainted

The control yokes, now reconditioned and repainted

 

The Debonair Sweepstakes logo, embroidered into the newly-fabricated headrests for teh pilot and co-pilot seats

The Debonair Sweepstakes logo, embroidered into the newly-fabricated headrests for teh pilot and co-pilot seats

 

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……

Slidedown tiedowns

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

While we wait for another report from Air Mod, I thought I’d mention Sal Corio’s “Slidedown” tiedown system. Corio came up to the Debonair display at Oshkosh–er, EAA AirVenture–and wondered if we wanted to try out his knot-free tiedowns. Of course, we said.

The Slidedowns are meant to work with The Claw and other stationary ground tiedown rings. Slidedowns, as the name implies, use small sliding cylindrical tubes to exert a locking force on tiedown ropes. No more elaborate knot-tying here. Just slide down the tubes until the ropes are taut, and you’re done. They come in various colors, and are cut to fit both low-wing and high-wing airplanes. Retail price for a set: $69.85 through Slidedown, Aircraft Spruce, or Banyan.

They make for fast tiedown jobs! Here’s a look:

The Slidedown's tubes hold tension on the tiedown ropes. No more knot-tying drills!

The Slidedown’s tubes hold tension on the tiedown ropes. No more knot-tying drills!

Contents of the Slidedown package

Contents of the Slidedown package

Close-up: Air Mod’s work in progress

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Thought I’d share some photos that Air Mod sent along. They document the steps Air Mod takes in its corrosion-control initiatives. It’s labor-intensive work that’s essential to keeping airplanes alive–especially older ones such as our/your 1963 Debonair. Air Mod president Dennis Wolter told me, “Sure, the interior will look great, but if you had to show people the single most important thing we do around here, it’s this attention we pay to dealing with corrosion. When we’re done with an airplane, it’s good against corrosion for another 20 to 30 years.”

There are also some good shots of the seat buildup and reconditioned interior parts.

Air Mod is also installing an Airwolf Filter Company spin-on filter assembly. This will help keep the engine oil cleaner (the original engine has a screen, not a paper filter), and let us examine the filter element for any particulates at oil-change time.

So here’s a look at the work in progress:

De-gunking the belly, with lacquer thinner, Scotchbrite pads, and a respirator

De-gunking the belly, with lacquer thinner, Scotchbrite pads, and a respirator

Belly clean. Note Reynolds Aluminum name on corrosion-free skins.

Belly getting cleaner. Can you imagine 80 hours of this?

One clean, corrosion-free belly

One clean, corrosion-free belly

 

Inner sides of fusalge show the end product of a thorough cleaning

Inner sides of fuselage show the end product of a thorough cleaning

Belly, finally cleaned up and finished with a coat of zinc chromate

Belly, finally cleaned up and finished with a coat of zinc chromate

Cutting the patterns for the seats. Air Mod has used Garrett Leather for past AOPA sweepstakes airplanes

Cutting the patterns for the seats. Air Mod has used Garrett Leather for past AOPA sweepstakes airplanes

Making the template for the rear seats

Making the template for the rear seats

New, aluminum-reinforced floorboards (foreground) replace the beat-up old plywood ones behind them

New, aluminum-reinforced floorboards (foreground) replace the beat-up old plywood ones behind them

Reconditioned, ergonomically correct seat, waiting for back and headrest covers to be installed

Reconditioned, ergonomically correct seat, waiting for back and headrest covers to be installed

 

Inspected, reconditioned, and painted seat frame, new reinforced seat sling, new foam, and new rollers

Inspected, reconditioned, and painted seat frame, new reinforced seat sling, new foam, and new rollers

 

Airwolf remote-mounted spin-on oil filter, awaiting fire-sleeved oil lines.

Airwolf remote-mounted spin-on oil filter, awaiting fire-sleeved oil lines.

That’s it for now. More to come!

Oil analyses: An IO-470 speaks

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

As I’ve mentioned before, the sweepstakes Debonair had a major overhaul completed in 2007, at Penn Yan Aero. Penn Yan does great work, but the then-owners didn’t fly the airplane much for the next five years. In that period of time they put approximately 28 hours per year on the airplane. Those hours most probably were local flights for currency purposes.

That’s not much time. For much of those five years it was tied down–outside–on a ramp at Hartford’s Brainard Airport. So the oil level sank to the sank to the sump in the crankcase, leaving the camshaft, pistons, valve assembly, wrist pins–the whole top end, in other words, left high, dry, and free of a proective oil coating. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly dry up there. Condensation must have occurred as humidities and temperatures rose and fell, and the seasons came and went. Obviously, this promotes rust.

Since taking delivery of the airplane, I’ve logged about 36 hours in N75YR’s left seat, on trips to Minnesota (D’Shannon Aviation, for tip tanks, window, and gap seal installation); Kansas; New Mexico (Santa Fe Aero Services, for avionics install); Lakeland (for display at Sun N’ Fun); Newburgh, New York (KD Aviation’s paint shop); Oshkosh (for display at EAA AirVenture); and Batavia, Ohio (for Air Mod’s interior renovation).

In other words, the airplane went from torpor to serious flying. Right before Oshkosh, we had an oil change done, and an oil analysis performed by Blackstone labs at the same time. The numbers–especially for iron–were disturbingly high. Iron particles in the oil represent wear from the cylinders. Aluminum (top end components), chrome (camshaft lobes), copper (bearings and valve guides), and silicon (dirt) were also represented in elevated levels. The high lead readings are from the lead in avgas, and aren’t cause for concern. Blackstone called us to express their interest in the engine’s condition.

A meeting of the minds–Penn Yan and Blackstone–came out with a recommendation to keep flying the airplane, but to change the oil at more frequent intervals. Compressions have been good, by the way, and the engine runs smoothly, puts out rated power, and meets book performance.

This is what happens when a long-still engine comes to life. Deposits work free as moving surfaces are cleaned by fresh oil, and acids and water are eliminated by long periods of combustion.

After Oshkosh, Air Mod changed the oil. It had been seven hours since it was last changed. We were hoping to see lowered particulate levels–and we did! Here is theBlackstone report, showing the results of the two analyses:

Blackstone's oil analysis from the oil changes made on July 23 and August 12.

Blackstone’s oil analysis from the oil changes made on July 23 and August 12.

So now the plan is to keep flying (look for more cross-country flying in the coming months) and keep quick-changing the oil. We’re also installing an Airwolf spin-on oil filter (the IO-470 has a screen, not a proper oil filter) so that we can better examine the filter for particles. The filter could also help capture any older particles that have been trapped over the years. In effect, we’re flushing the engine’s oil free of contaminants. We hope.

“If I sat on a couch for five years, then got up and went to New Mexico and back, I’d be shaking loose some deposits of my own,” said Bonanza/Debonair guru Adrian Eichorn. Well put. I’ll show the next oil analysis results when the time comes. If the numbers go down, great. If they don’t, we may have to consider another overhaul–an unplanned alternative we hope to avoid.

 

OK, who made the tail strike?

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

As Air Mod continued its extensive belly-cleaning, work progressed toward the tailcone. Under all the gunk and dirt of the ages a surprise was uncovered. At some point in the airplane’s history there was a tail strike. The impact occured right on the tail’s tiedown ring, but left no sign of damage there. During the prebuy inspection a slight indentation was noted near the tiedown ring, so there was some suspicion of a tail strike. (But no evidence of any structural damage to the aft bulkhead supporting the tail structure. Good thing, that. Damage in this area would have been a very big deal indeed.)

Once the tailcone was made shiny-clean, the situation was plain. There had indeed been a tail strike, and of such force that it cracked a support bracket. Wow. Air Mod called some purveyors of vintage aircraft parts (a/k/a junkyards, er, salvage yards) and these brackets are apparently as scarce as hen’s teeth. Even so, hopes are high that we’ll eventually find one.

But let’s think about this. How could this have happened? The answer is obvious, of course. Either one of 75YR’s previous owners WAY over-rotated on takeoff, or WAY over-flared on a landing. Either way, the conditions must have been desperate for this to cause the damage we see here:

Wham-o! First off, look at how clean the internal skins are, now that Air Mod has cleaned them. But the cleaning revealed a crack in a support bracket. Meanwhile, only slight indentations in the skin tell of the tail strike.

Wham-o! First off, look at how clean the internal skins are, now that Air Mod has cleaned them. But the cleaning revealed a crack in a support bracket’s right side. Meanwhile, indentations in the tailcone skin tell of the tail strike.

The Debonair’s tail rides high as it sits on the ramp, so any rotating or flaring had to be on the violent side. Perhaps the pilot encountered a big downdraft on short final, and made a mighty effort to soften the ensuing landing/arrival? Or maybe a short runway and high density altitude encouraged an over-enthusiastic takeoff?

Whatever the reason, we’ll address the damage as part of the interior work package. Ah, those 50-year-old airplanes….the stories they could tell!

 

Air Mod takes on the interior

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
AOPA's Sweepstakes Debonair, on Air Mod's ramp

AOPA’s Sweepstakes Debonair, on Air Mod’s ramp

Look for an upcoming article in the October AOPA Pilot, but thought I’d show you some of the work now going on at Air Mod. Air Mod, located at the Clermont (Ohio) County Airport in Batavia, Ohio, does more than simply pull an old interior and replace it with a newer one. The company also puts a lot of effort into dealing with corrosion and hidden problems. “This airplane is pretty typical of the older airplanes we work on,” said Air Mod president Dennis Wolter. “It’s got rotting floorboards and about an inch of dirt all along its belly.”

The interior was an aftermarket replacement for the original. Features include no lumbar support and now-rotting carpet and sidewalls. Take a good look, because it's history--already.

The interior was an aftermarket replacement for the original. Features include no lumbar support and now-rotting carpet and sidewalls. Take a good look, because it’s history–already.

Wolter and his crew will spend about 80 hours just cleaning up this mess, the detritus of 50 years. A tarry substance–an asphalt-based goo that Beech used as a corrosion preventive–has attracted dirt over the years.  It will take days of work to remove it and inspect the bare aluminum below for signs of corrosion. So far, the news is good on this front–no untreatable corrosion. But the dirt is daunting, and hard to reach. Wolter uses lacquer thinner and lots of ScotchBrite pads to make the interior skins shiny again. After that, the skins will be chromated, and ready for years of corrosion-free service.

The belly of the beast. Here you get a good look at the asphalt, plus the static line for the pitot-static system. The tube ends should have been secured with hose clamps. Soon, they will be.

The belly of the beast. Here you get a good look at the asphalt, plus the static line for the pitot-static system. The tube ends should have been secured with hose clamps. Soon, they will be.

Dirt, old springs, washers, and much more fell to the belly of the 50-year-old Debonair

Dirt, old springs, washers, and much more fell to the belly of the 50-year-old Debonair

“I weighed it, just for kicks,” said Wolter of all the dirt. “It’s four pounds.”

Of course, the interior is now completely gutted, and the seats are bare skeletons, awaiting cleaning, corrosion treatment, and new, leather-covered cushions with headrests. The seats will feature a dark-gray leather design, the sidewalls and headliner will be white leather with Bubinga-wood trim, and the carpet will be dark blue.

The old headliner--here secured with duct tape--will soon go. The fresh air scoop is opened and closed using a headliner-mounted control and it will be lubricated for smoother operation.

The old headliner–here secured with duct tape–will soon go. The fresh air scoop is opened and closed using a headliner-mounted control and it will be lubricated for smoother operation.

Best of all: the old seat belts will go. They’ll be replaced with four-point harnesses up front. The shoulder restraints are from BAS Inc. so many thanks to them. I hated flying with just a seat belt.

So adios, old interior! You were lovingly installed by a previous owner, but your glory days are done. And it had that moldy, Florida-damp smell, too. I once took something out of a saggy old pouch that was hung on the door. The pouch came off in my hand. Another time, I was getting a chart out of a side pocket. The chart snagged on a corner of the pocket, and r-r-r-i-i-i-p-p! There went a huge swath of that old brown sidewall. That looked ugly, so I pulled some more, and it was actually kind of fun pulling the sidewall free. It was so effortless! It was so…. rotten!

A glimpse of the near future: Swatches showing elements of Air Mod's interior scheme.

A glimpse of the near future: Swatches showing elements of Air Mod’s interior scheme.

As always, more news to follow, so stay tuned…..

A Debonair Oshkosh

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Engine start to engine stop, it was a four-hour, 28 minute flight from the Debonair Sweepstakes airplane’s home base at the Frederick, Maryland Minicipal Airport to Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A flawless flight, I might add. VFR direct nearly all the way, except for a few vectors around traffic in the Detroit area. Not that we didn’t see the traffic coming! We’ve got ADS-B and TIS traffic information aboard, so any nearby traffic was no surprise.

Now the airplane is proudly on display at EAA AirVenture. Flocks of people have come by to gawk and comment on the Debonair, which has made quite a bit of progress since its last public appearance at Sun N’ Fun in Lakeland, Florida back in April. Namely, that funky old paint job is a thing of the past. It’s been replaced by a Matterhorn white base coat, adorned with decals that describe the airplane’s improvements–and some facts about 1963, the year our/your Debonair rolled off the assembly line.

Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers came up with the decal idea after seeing an airliner done up with amusing decals. The idea caught on and now hordes of visitors stand, read, and remember that the Twin Comanche, Lear Jet 23, MU-2, Boeing 727, and Jet Commander were all born in 1963, that “Surfin’ USA” was a big hit, and that the average home price was a mere $12,800.

If you’re coming to AirVenture–or are already here–come by the west side of Hangar C and take a look. For those who can’t make the trip, here’s a glimpse of the action.

A good view of the decal work and logo. The new N-number--N75YR--is also a new addition to the exterior

A good view of the decal work and logo. The new N-number–N75YR–is also a new addition to the exterior

 

Front view, complete with passer-by. To the right is a structure that provides shade for visitors

Front view, complete with passer-by. To the right is a structure that provides shade for visitors

 

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.