Archive for the ‘Flights’ Category

Holding our breath

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

I see that is getting a workout lately. Some of you have noticed that the Debonair is now in Muncie, Indiana, and deduced that the sweepstakes winner must be near by. And about to receive the keys. Not true!

The Deb is currently at Muncie Aviation’s avionics shop, where Bill Roundtree and his crew are troubleshooting some squawks. The Garmin GTN 750’s comm radio has been putting out weak transmissions lately. The number-two cylinder’s CHTs have been cycling up and down for no apparent reason. The oil pressure readings have likewise been erroneous–showing low in the green arc. This, when we know that its true pressure is around 50 psi, as measured by an analog, mechanical gauge connected directly to the engine case. Finally, after making a comm radio transmission, sometimes the CHT and EGT indications zoom to the top of their scales, then resume normal indications. This requires that the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer be reset in order to see correct temperature readings.

So, glad to hear that your’re following along, but there’s no news on a winner quite yet. By the way, the winner is selected by an independent firm.

But it won’t be long! For the past few weeks the Debonair has been in its roost at AOPA’s new hangars at the south end of the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport–along with its new neighbor, AOPA’s “reimagined” Cessna 152, a/k/a the “Yellowbird.”

So all of us will have to stand by for the final word on a winner.  Believe me, everyone is eager to find out who and where. It’s the first thing most people ask me when I walk AOPA’s halls. But we’re all in the same boat!

But that could change in an instant. Stand by, all you potential winners out there!


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?




Debonair showtime: San Marcos, and the stormy trip home

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Its annual and some repairs completed, I picked up the Debonair from Santa Fe Aero Aervices and flew on to the next stop: AOPA’s regional fly-in at the San Marcos, Texas Airport (KHYI). I flew the route at 9,000 feet to stay above the low-level turbulence–and the blowing dust that was plaguing most airports in west Texas. Although skies seemed clear aloft, the ATIS and AWOS reports along the route were advertising surface visibilities hovering around two to three miles in blowing dust and winds up to 30 knots. Here’s a shot of Spur, Texas to give you an idea of the terrain I flew over in west Texas:

Spur, Texas. I can almost hear the theme from the movie "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Sure looks lonely down there, like much of west Texas.

Spur, Texas. I can almost hear the theme from the movie “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Sure looks lonely down there, like much of west Texas.

I shot the RNAV (GPS) runway 17 approach into San Marcos, and broke out through a 1,000-foot overcast. Then it was a taxi to the Deb’s tiedown spot, front and center at the fly-in’s static display.

The next day at 6:30 a.m., yours truly was making his way in the pre-dawn darkness to the Deb’s tiedown spot. Less than an hour later, the first fly-in visitors began arriving–even though the show wasn’t due to begin until 10 a.m. Oh well. This gives you an idea of the fly-in’s–and the Debonair’s–popularity. For the next nine hours, a steady stream of AOPA members and other visitors made a stop by the Debonair. Some came back two and three times. It was gratifying to hear that so many had been following the Debonair’s progress, and there were plenty of positive comments all around. It was great day–and even though the overcast posed some challenges, more than 2,500 enthusiasts visited the fly-in. I think we’re on to something.

The Debonair on static display at San Marcos.

The Debonair on static display at San Marcos.

Back when the Debonair project started, we had some baseball hats made up with the Debonair sweepstakes logo. Last year, we gave away 150 hats, which depleted our supply. So I reordered another batch. I brought along 30 hats for the San Marcos fly-in, and by mid-afternoon the supply was down to a mere two hats. That’s when AOPA member Mark Kiedrowski stopped by the airplane. He’d been an enthusiastic follower of the Debonair project, and his Dad–a pilot during the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift–owned a Debonair. So I awarded the last two hats to Mark. After I returned home, there was an email of Mark and his Dad in their Debonair hats. Nice.

Mark (left) and his Dad, wearing their Debonair hats.

Mark (left) and his Dad, wearing their Debonair hats.

After the San Marcos fly-in was over, I launched on the return trip to AOPA’s home field at Frederick, Maryland. It would be a long trip, so I could have theoretically made the 1,000-nm journey non-stop, given the favorable winds. However, nature intervened in the form of widespread areas of thunderstorm complexes. No way could I go direct with any degree of certainty. The gaps between the storms were too narrow, and I could visualize them closing up as the trip progressed. I opted for a route that took me from San Marcos to Lufkin, Texas, then eastward along a route that stretched to north of Baton Rouge, then eastward along a route running through south Alabama. Once past Montgomery, Alabama the ship’s route could turn to the northeast for a fuel stop at the Athens, Georgia airport. Almost five hours after takeoff I was on the ground at Athens, gassing up for the final, 2.7 hour leg to AOPA’s home base at the Frederick, Municipal Airport.

The Debonair has the luxury of having both XM WX and FIS-B datalink sources of radar information, so circumnavigating the massive storm complex to the north was comparatively easy. Here’s a couple shots of the situation that day:

My diversion around what certainly looks like a hook echo. Next stop: Atehns, Georgia.

My diversion around what certainly looks like a hook echo on the XM WX image. And look at all the lightning in the parent storm cell. Next stop: Athens, Georgia.


The ADS-B flight information system-broadcast (FIS-B) image of the same storm setup, as shown on the airplane's iPad Mini, running the Garmin Pilot app.

The ADS-B flight information system-broadcast (FIS-B) image of the same storm setup, as shown on the airplane’s iPad Mini, running the Garmin Pilot app.


The view outside the cockpit during the storm complex deviation.

The view outside the cockpit during the storm complex deviation.

So after a full, 7.7-hour day of flying, the Debonair was back in its hangar at Frederick, awaiting its next trip: a visit to KD Aviation’s paint shop at the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York. More on that in the next post.

The first cross-country

Monday, March 31st, 2014

It was with great anticipation that I fired up N75YR this morning. The mission: Fly the airplane to the Sun N’ Fun Fly-In, where it is now on display at the AOPA booth. But first things first. I desperately wanted to know how the Debonair would perform on its first cross-country flight. Today would be the first real-world flight for the overhauled/converted IO-470-N.

Let me end the suspense right now by saying that there were no disappointments! Engine start for the 37-degree, 7:30 a.m. departure was uneventful, and the start procedure was identical to the one I’d learned worked best on the predecessor engine. The trick is to use less throttle during the priming for a cold start. So the best drill here is to go mixture full rich, then use slightly less than half-throttle while you hit the auxiliary boost pump (it only has a “high” pump speed switch position) for maybe four seconds. Then pull back the throttle so that it’s in the barely-cracked position. Now move the magneto switch to Start and the engine will respond every time. That’s the cold start drill.

Those of you with time in big-bore Continentals like the 285-hp IO-520, or the 300-hp IO-550 can get into trouble starting the Debonair if you prime like mad using full throttle. The Deb will flood if you do that. Trust me, I know.

Preflight checks done, I line up on home-base Frederick, Maryland’s (KFDK) runway 30 for the takeoff, then firewall it. I’m right at gross, with all tanks full for the 728-nm trip to Sun N’ Fun’s Lakeland Airport (KLAL). The airplane lifted off into a slight crosswind, and soon I was climbing out at 100 KIAS and 900 fpm. Not bad at all.

Turbulence was forecast, and the forecast was correct. The climb to 6,500 feet was bumpy, and any rolling motions were exaggerated by all that fuel out there on the wingtips–20 gallons, or 120 pounds, per side.

John Clegg, director of operations at Genesis Engines by D’Shannon told me to “run it like I stole it,” meaning run it at high power, to help seat the ECi cylinders’ rings properly. So I did. Level at 6,500 in severe-clear conditions, I firewalled the throttle, set the propeller for 2,580 rpm, and used the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer to lean 50 degrees rich of peak EGT.

When things settled down, the Aspen PFD told the tale. At 76 percent power I was doing 170 KTAS while burning 17.3 gph. That’s a Bonanza-style cruise speed, friends. But the Bonanza would get that speed using a 300-hp engine. This Deb does it on 260-hp.

Airspeed fluctuated in wave activity as the S-TEC System Fifty autopilot worked to keep the altitude steady. Pitch angles varied as the nose rose and fell trying to compensate for the up- and downdrafts.

As the airplane burned fuel, its weight went down and by the second hour of flight I was looking at 178 KTAS, but burning 18.5 gph to get 78-percent power, in keeping with the “stolen airplane” performance profile. Nice.

And did I mention that I had a tailwind? Oh, yes, 35, and sometimes 50 knots’ worth. My groundspeed hit a high of 215 knots at times, then settled down to a more modest 183 knots by the time I reached Florida.

Oh, and did I mention that my flight path was straight as an arrow?

Bottom line: four hours, 12 minutes after takeoff, I landed at Lakeland. Non-stop, of course.

A great flying day in a great airplane, I’d say!

Stand by for more Debonair news during the show. It will be interesting to see how visitors to the tent react to the engine upgrade. Maybe you’ll stop by? Hope so.

Just in time for Sun N’ Fun …

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

…. the Debonair’s new engine is installed and ready for break-in. Yours truly was on hand for the final installation checks at Aero Engines of Winchester, located at the Winchester, Virginia Regional Airport last Friday. And the new engine’s first flight.

A view of the Debonair's 260-hp Continental IO-470-N, installed and ready to fly.

A view of the Debonair’s 260-hp Continental IO-470-N, installed and ready to fly.

Side view shows the new baffling, complete with seals colored to match the airplane's final paint scheme. The original orange breather hose on top of the engine will be replaced with new hosing that will also match the paint job. The new ECi cylinders seem huge in comparison to those in the previous engine.

Side view shows the new baffling, complete with seals colored to match the airplane’s final paint scheme. The original orange breather hose on top of the engine will be replaced with new hosing that will also match the paint job. The new ECi cylinders seem huge in comparison to those in the previous engine.


By the time I arrived the engine had had its first engine ground run, which included fast-taxi tests. All was in order, but when I started the engine for its first flight the oil pressure read zero! So it was with disappointment that I shut it down. Soon, four mechanics were elbow-deep in the engine compartment. A mechanical oil pressure gauge was fitted to the engine to determine if the Electronics International MVP-50P digital engine/systems analyzer might be giving faulty data.

Turns out we were on to something. A second start showed healthy oil pressure on the mechanical gauge. That meant the problem was either with the MVP-50P, or in the wiring feeding it. Sure enough, a misconnected transducer wire was discovered, and the subsequent start showed normal oil pressure readings on the MVP-50P. What a relief!

First impressions? The engine runs smooth–much smoother than its predecessor–and has the throaty sound you’d expect of a bigger Continental engine.

During the pre-takeoff runup, I made sure to check that all the engine controls–magnetos, boost pump, throttle, propeller, and mixture–performed as expected. All the engine indications were normal during the published runup done at 1,900 rpm, and again at full power. Which required extra pressure on the brakes, by the way. It was a hint of what was to come.

Did I feel like a test pilot? Hey, I was a test pilot, by definition if not profession! And I certainly sensed all eyes were on me from the time I taxied out. Hey, no pressure…..not!

Then it was line up on Winchester’s runway 32, stand on brakes, full power, another look at engine indications (all in the green and normal), and brake release. N75YR surged forward and we were off to the normal rotation speed of 89 mph/77 knots. That took a few short seconds, then it was time to pull. (Incidentally, the takeoff airspeed is seven knots faster than the original airplane’s, according to the Airplane Flight Manual Supplement that comes with the engine conversion.)

And we’re airborne!  Vy is 104 mph/90 knots, and I held that speed until reaching 3,000 feet above the airport. Then it was time to orbit the field for a half-hour or so to make sure everything worked properly in flight. That’s the test-pilot part. Of course, I’d already scoped out the territory around the airport for suitable forced-landing spots. There were several that would be in easy gliding range once I got to, say, 500 feet above pattern altitude (1,700 feet msl/980 agl), but not so many below that. Turns out I didn’t need them anyway.

I kept the power up and had an uneventful time of it, and was glad to have the ADS-B traffic information to help me locate the traffic below in the pattern. The MVP-50P reported all was normal under the hood.

After 45 minutes or so, I descended and entered the pattern for a landing. The “new” engine’s first flight was a success! A postflight check showed no oil leaks or other anomalies, so it was off to AOPA’s home base at the Frederick (Maryland) Municipal Airport. With me was Paul Harrop, a producer of AOPA Media’s weekly “AOPA Live This Week” webcast, who videotaped the day’s events.

This means you should check next week’s AOPA Live broadcast for footage taken the day of the first flight.

On the short, 15 minute trip home I jotted down some information: at 75 percent power, N75YR was showing 168 knots true airspeed on 16 gph flying at 3,000 feet msl. Now those are preliminary numbers, mind you. But that’s a good 16 knots faster (and one more gallon per hour) than the previous 225-hp engine’s performance.

I’ll provide more information about the airplane’s performance after flying it to Sun N’ Fun. I plan to leave on Saturday March 29, and hope to make the flight nonstop by topping off all the tanks. That will give me 114 gallons and about five hours of endurance with reserves–which should be more than enough for the approximately 775 nm flight from Frederick (KDK) to Sun N’ Fun’s location at the Lakeland Linder Airport (LAL). Of course, it all depends on fuel burn, true airspeeds….and the winds and weather.

Besides, we’re in the engine’s break-in period. As with all break-ins, the advice is to run the engine hard so that the piston rings seat properly, so fuel consumption and speed will depend on the results of sustained flying at power levels of 75 percent, or more.

Thanks again to Genesis Engines by D’Shannon for its outstanding overhaul and conversion, and to Aero Engines for itsskill and attention to detail (they also dressed up the firewall and engine compartment) in the installation procedure.

I hope you’ll come by AOPA’s tent at Sun N’ Fun to see the airplane and its “new” (actually, zero-timed since major overhaul) converted engine–converted under a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) held by D’Shannon Aviation. Even if you can’t make it, I’ll do a couple posts from tent-side, if that’s the word.

I’ll be there to answer any questions, and to show you around this almost-fully-restored classic airplane. See you there, and as always, check back for more posts in the Sweepstakes Logbook.



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


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


On to paint

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Last Saturday, April 20, I flew the Debonair to KD Aviation, the paint shop that will soon give it a much-needed beauty treatment. It was an hour-and-a-half flight from AOPA’s home base at the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport (FDK) to KD’s location at the Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Newburgh, New York.

Much of the flight was taken up with photographing the panel. We wanted to show the Aspen and Garmin units at work–along with the iPad Mini. But the weather and light conditions were not cooperating. AOPA Pilot’s Al Marsh was in the right seat, trying to capture the displays. And not capture the reflections.

The climbout from FDK gave a hint of what was to come. Turbulence, light at first, built to a crescendo of continuous moderate turbulence at our cruising altitude of 7,500 feet. At that altitude we were above a broken layer, with clear skies above. That meant plenty of sun. Sun that put a lot of reflections on the display screens.

We anticipated this, so Marsh brought along about a half-dozen black cardboard squares of varying sizes, and a roll of gaffer tape to hold them in place. I wore a black jacket in hopes of keeping reflections down. That was a partial success in suppressing reflections. In perfect 20-20 hindsight, we should have borrowed a trick from staff senior photographer Mike Fizer and brought along a black cloth to quash reflections. Ah, well–next time.

But you should have seen it. Between the turbulence and all that cardboard taped here, there, and everywhere it was quite a scene. Many shots were compromised by reflections, but I’m told there are several good ones among the bunch. Here are a couple:

Aspen MFD (lft) shows winds aloft. PFD shows synthetic vision view with flight path marker. Right MFD shows radar view (bottom view)  and traffic (upper half of screen view)

Aspen MFD (left) shows winds aloft and mini-synthetic vision views. PFD shows synthetic vision view with flight path marker. Check out that crab angle! Right MFD shows radar (bottom view) and terrain (upper half of screen view)

Garmin GTN 750 showing TIS-B traffic

Garmin GTN 750 showing TIS-B traffic

By the way, the paint job will be done in two stages. The first step is to give it an all-Matterhorn white coat of paint. The second step will come later in the year, when we apply stripes.

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.


Sun N’ Fun Countdown: Panel-Perfect

Saturday, April 6th, 2013


The Debonair's new front office. Can you believe this is a 1963 airplane? That's the SAnta Fe Municipal Airport on the Garmin GTN 750's display, and a view of the sectional chart for the Santa Fe area on the iPad Mini. Photo by Robert Talarczyk, Darkhorse Designs.

The Debonair’s new front office. Can you believe this is a 1963 airplane? That’s the Santa Fe Municipal Airport on the Garmin GTN 750’s display, and a view of the sectional chart for the Santa Fe area on the iPad Mini. Terrain is depicted on the left Aspen MFD screen, and an approach chart is on the right MFD display. Photo by Robert Talarczyk.

The Debonair Sweepstakes airplane’s panel has been completed, and what a work of art it is. Thanks to the dedicated team of specialists at Santa Fe Aero Services, its funky old, Mad-Men-era 1963 panel has successfully been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Just take a look at all those screens, and think of all the information they can convey.

I flew the airplane twice today, and I can tell you that not only did the technicians do a great job at reworking the panel, but they did an equally remarkable job of bringing a tired engine back to specs. They installed a new fuel servo unit, retimed the magnetos, lapped a valve, cleaned the fuel injectors, cleaned the fuel filter, cleaned the oil screen, cleaned up the firewall and baffling, installed new engine mounts and spark plugs, along with much, much more. The result is an engine that performs a whale of a lot better than before.

Even at Santa Fe’s 6,300-foot elevation, takeoff performance wasn’t shabby at all–and the engine runs smoother and has a more macho rumble to its exhaust note. The first flight of the day was at 7 a.m., and the air was as smooth as glass as the airplane climbed away at a maximum of 62-percent power at that rarified altitude. Climb rate in the cool morning air: 400 fpm. “It sat too long, that was its problem,” said Pat Horgan, Santa Fe Aero’s CEO, v-p and general manager. Horgan and company director Ron Tarrson are co-owners of Santa Fe Aero Services.

True, the engine had had a Penn Yan major overhaul in 2007, but the airplane had only flown a couple dozen hours in the two years before AOPA bought it, and the resultant internal engine deposits were a big part of its performance shortcomings–before. In comparative terms, the shop turned a 90-pound weakling into a fire-breather. Well, as much of a fire-breather as normally-aspirated 225-hp engine can be in the terrain of northern New Mexico.

The crew that turned a panel around, left to right: Pat Horgan (VP/GM); Arturo Torres (servic emanager/chief inspector); Chris Rea (lead airframe mechanic); Joshua Sandoval (mechanic/installer); Brandon Maestas (lead avionics technician); Gerardo Ontiveros (piston maintenance technician). Missing: Nate Holman and Mark Wood (Avionics technicians), and Kermit Gowe ("The Mag Man.")

The crew that turned a panel around, left to right: Pat Horgan (CEO/VP/GM); Arturo Torres (service emanager/chief inspector); Chris Rea (lead airframe mechanic); Joshua Sandoval (mechanic/installer); Brandon Maestas (lead avionics technician); Gerardo Ontiveros (piston maintenance technician). Missing: Nate Holman and Mark Wood (avionics technicians), and Kermit Gowe (“The Mag Man.”)

But back to the avionics. I tried to be diligent and read all the owners’ manuals cover-to-cover (does anyone ever do that?) for the Aspen Evolution 2500 system, as well as the Garmin GTN 750 and GTN 650 navigators and the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer. But in the end it was a matter of pecking away at the keys and controls as a means of learning these very, very capable boxes. I’ll talk about the avionics in an upcoming article in AOPA Pilot magazine, but for now let’s just say that these boxes are as intuitive to use as they are sophisticated. Whoever wins this airplane will have it all: electronic charts, terrain, TIS-B and ADS-B traffic, XM WX and ADS-B weather, dual AHRS, battery backups galore, and an in-panel iPad Mini with the Garmin Pilot app. There’s also the ability to add future apps that will talk to the three-screen Aspens using that company’s new Connected Panel technology.

So it’s a big thanks to the dedicated “Team Debonair” at Santa Fe Aero Services, and off to Sun N’ Fun where visitors can gawk at the panel in the flesh. Believe you me when I say that this panel is not just cutting edge, it’s the only one of its kind in the world. Going to Sun N’ Fun? See you there! I’m the guy with the sunburn next to the airplane.