Originally published on AOPA.org.
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.”
That’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.”