Archive for the ‘Exterior’ Category


Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

To many–yours truly included–the Debonair’s trip to the paint shop couldn’t come soon enough. That old, funky, faded paint job had to go! I mean, you could see where previous owners tried to “rescue” it by actually spray-painting some touch-ups. Guess they went to Home Depot or Lowe’s and got some cans of spray paint. Looks good….Not!

Anyway, I flew the Deb to KD Aviation at the Stewart International Airport (KSWF) a week ago on a blustery day. Surface winds were gusting to 35 knots out of the west, so Stewart’s super-long runway 27 was a welcome sight. By the way, KD is located off taxiway L in case you want to fly in for a visit. It’s over in the cargo area where they store the snowplows.

KD stripped off the old paint in a jiffy. The stripper reeks of ammonia but the shop uses eco-friendly materials and procedures. That was hard to believe when I stepped into the shop–it took my breath away. After the stripper is applied, the old paint sort of shrivels up and then dries. The next day, the dried-out flakes of paint are brushed off (if they haven’t fallen off already) and swept off the floor into bags for disposal.

What’s left is what you see in the accompanying photo. Notice that the control surfaces have been removed during the pre-paint process.

So long, old paint. Note that the new engine access door is being tried on for size in this photo, and that the control surfaces are currently removed.

So long, old paint. Note that the new engine access door is being tried on for size in this photo, and that the control surfaces are currently removed.

And, as always it seems, a new issue emerged. The right flap actuator had damaged the nose ribs of the flap. This was damage that couldn’t be seen during a preflight inspection. Soooo, we shipped the flap to trusted airframe components supplier Aircraft Components by Williams Inc. (formerly known as Williams Airmotive).

Roy Williams heads up Aircraft Components, and he has helped us in the past with difficult-to-find airframe parts. In 2004, he stepped forward with a new stabilator for the AOPA sweepstakes plane that year–a 1965 Piper Twin Comanche. We called that project the “Win-A-Twin.” Remember? Williams’ stabilator was a beauty, and it saved our skin because the original stab was patched. Patching control surfaces is a no-no, especially in the Comanche and Twin Comanche, which have had issues (now resolved!) with tail flutter.

“Send both flaps,” Williams said of the Debonair. “And send the rudder too.” Thanks a million Roy. Williams is double-checking to make sure that any and all rudder Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins are complied with.

Anyone out there need control surfaces or other airframe parts for old airplanes? Then call Roy at 260-347-0807, or visit his website at And tell him I sent you.

As always, watch for more updates coming soon. And remember folks, this is a two-year project. The winner won’t be flying the Debonair away until the AOPA Summit in Palm Springs in 2014.

Beech supports the Deb!

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

The Debonair is currently at KD Aviation at Newburgh, New York’s Stewart International Airport, awaiting its much-needed paint job. But before we can paint, we need parts! You can’t expect to find a 50-year-old airplane–no matter how nice–and not find some cosmetic problems. Period.

One vexing issue was the leading edge of the left cowling access door. Decades of opening and closing the door, plus all the airloads, have caused erosion of the leading edge. The aluminum has worn away, and over the years the wear has left the leading edge with a serrated look that conforms exactly to the crimping that Beech put in the nose bowl. So we needed a new cowling door–left side, please.

Here, take a look at the problem area:


Years of friction and air loads have cut these "teeth" into the leading edge of the cowl door

Years of friction and air loads have cut these “teeth” into the leading edge of the cowl door



Well, yours truly looked and looked, but no cigar. I was about to give up and accept a patch on the leading edge when Beechcraft came through with a like-new door. Thanks to Beechcraft’s Jeff Ellis, Director of Part Sales and Support Programs, and Denise Burkholder, Technical Sales Representative for the cowling door. It looks great, and spares us the risk of an ugly patch right where all would see it.

And now, the new door that Beechcraft found in their excess inventory warehouse at Global Parts Inc. in Augusta, Kansas:

35-910160-618 (3) (2)

Much better, no? Thanks Beechcraft. This proves that yes, parts are still available for 50-year-old airplanes. Beechcraft has been in the news a lot lately–most of it bad–but this certainly is an encouraging sign that the company still has the spirit when it comes to older Debonairs and Bonanzas.

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: New wing bolts!

Saturday, March 30th, 2013
One of the Debonair's ugly old corroded wing bolts

One of the Debonair’s ugly old corroded wing bolts

New wing bolts from Beechcraft to the rescue!

New wing bolts from Beechcraft to the rescue!

New wing bolt, installed in its fitting

New wing bolt, installed in its fitting

Most owners of Beech Bonanzas and Debonairs know that their wing attach bolts have been singled out for special scrutiny over the years. As part of the Sweepstakes Debonair’s annual inspection, these bolts were checked for corrosion. There’s a lot of lore and yarns about the wing-bolt issue. However, an Airworthiness Directive has never been issued to replace them periodically. The only service recommendation, according to the American Bonanza Society, is to inspect them every 15 years. Personally, that seems mild to me. I mean, these bolts hold the wings on the airplane, no?

So to be on the conservative side, we pulled the bolt covers (they’re at the wing root, on the upper surface of the wing) and saw–light surface corrosion. Well, what did you expect after 50 years? Then came a debate. Do we pull the bolts and take a close look at them? I think you know the answer to that one. We pulled the bolts and they did, indeed, have corrosion. The fittings were OK, and the drain holes in the “bathtubs” that surround the bolts were open, which meant that any water had been draining through the critical area–and not pooling inside it and creating serious corrosion. (Does anyone else think that a wing-attachment design that tends to trap water is somehow ill-conceived?)

When I got word of this, paranoia struck. Where in the world would we find replacement wing bolts for a 50-year old airplane? Turns out, Beechcraft still makes them, and they’re still in stock. Santa Fe Aero Services ordered up a set, had them overnighted, and they were at the shop the next day. What price peace of mind? For the entire set of eight wing bolts, a total just shy of $1,000.

Thanks Tom Schoder!

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

A while ago I wrote about the Debonair’s sketchy baggage door. You see, after 50 years of people pushing on the door latch, cracks often occur on the sheet metal surrounding the latch handle. And that’s exactly what happened with the Debonair.

There are two cracks, one on the top side of the latch, the other on the bottom. Each about an inch long. Someone had stop-drilled the cracks at some point in the airplane’s history, but that only prevented the cracks from propagating further. The cracks themselves, of course, still remain. And for a sweepstakes airplane that just won’t do.

What makes it worse is that there’s no way to easily make those cracks go away. No amount of Bond-O or other spackling efforts would make them disappear permanently. So I began a search for a “new” 1963 Debonair baggage door. Wentworth Aircraft, my traditonal go-to salvage yard, didn’t have any in stock. Well-known Bonanza-Debonair-Baron parts source Dave Monti of Minden, Nevada had one he’d sell for $250. I’ll keep Dave in mind from now on.

I was just about to call Dave and place the order when I got an email from AOPA member Tom Schoder of northwest Oregon. Seems he’d read my story about the bollixed-up door. He had one in pretty good shape, he wrote, and did I want him to send it along?

You bet I did. Soon thereafter, Tom shipped his door to Santa Fe Aero Services (where the airplane and yours truly are right now) and I laid eyes on it for the first time yesterday. It does look good! And the price was right! This kind of member participation is inspiring, to say the least. I know that members/readers follow our AOPA sweepstakes restorations with a passion, but in this case Tom took his enthusiasm a few steps–no, leaps–forward.

So thanks so much Tom Schoder, for your generosity and welcome to the Debonair Sweepstakes restoration team. You’re in good company.


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

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

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

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

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

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

It will be N75YR

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