Archive for February, 2011

Attention to detail

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Interior front door, cleaned and ready for chromating.

All cleaned up.

Air Mod–located at Ohio’s Clermont County Airport–has built a reputation on its attention to detail. Sure, it’s best known as an exemplary interior refurbishment shop. But when you drop your airplane off at Air Mod, the team goes far beyond what you might expect. That’s because Air Mod will check out your airplane with a thoroughness that’s hard to find these days.

It all starts with an inspection and cleaning of the interior airframe. Then a cleanup of any corrosion, dirt, debris, mouse nests, etc., follows and then there’s a zinc chromate treatment  to prevent any further corrosion. “Yikes!” one reader commented after seeing Air Mod’s documentation of trouble spots and corrective actions. “It makes you wonder what your own airplane looks like down deep.” Yikes, indeed. A whole lot of general aviation airplanes were built in the 1970s, a whole lot of them are still flying, and a whole lot of them are beginning to wear out, corrode, and otherwise fall apart. BUT, you can’t see a lot of this damage unless to strip the airplane down and take a really good look.

Light corrosion at location where old seat rails were installed

Light corrosion at location where old seat rails were installed

At this point, several work projects have been completed at Air Mod–projects that go beyond interior design. For example, the old seat rails have been replaced by new ones from McFarlane Aviation Products (www.mcfarlane-aviation.com), and the corrosion beneath the old seats rails has been cleaned up and restored. This means 1) No more corrosion in that area, 2) No more fears of a seat-slip accident when flying at nose-high attitudes, and 3) No more AD requiring 100-hour inspections of the seat rails for dangerous wear patterns.

Also completed is the installation of the Knots2U wheel pants, along with the installation of exterior fiberglass components for the wing and horizontal stabilizer tips. Another important step was the removal of the old, recessed, standard-issue fuel caps–dubbed “killer caps” because they can trap water and allow it to enter the fuel tanks. Now, Hartwig Fuel Cell Repair’s Monarch fuel caps grace the Crossover Classic. These screw down and ratchet into the locked position. Their crowns prevent any water from entering the tanks–and they look great, too.

Check out some of the in-progress shots provided by Air Mod. Some serious work is afoot here, folks. Agree?

New Monarch fuel caps

New Monarch fuel caps

Cabin area completely zinc chromated

Cabin area completely zinc chromated

Drilling the new McFarlane seat rails prior to installation

Pattern drilling the new McFarlane seat rails.

That all-important clock

Friday, February 18th, 2011

That all-important clock - 086 - Davtron M803

That all-important clock - 086 - Davtron M803

To be legal when flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) you need to have an operating clock installed on your instrument panel. It can have an analog presentation with a sweep-second hand, or be a digital clock. This sounds simple enough. But some pilots seem a bit blase about this.

The Crossover Classic’s previous owner was one such pilot. He had a clock on the panel, all right. But it had given up the ghost long ago. “Ah, that doesn’t matter. I use my wristwatch,” he kept saying. Sorry, not good enough. The regs say a clock  must be mounted on the panel. To correct the situation, the owner had an “inop” sticker placed under the clock. But that’s no good unless the airplane has an approved minimum equipment list (MEL), which it didn’t. “What’s an MEL?” the owner wanted to know.

To remedy all this, renowned aviation chronometer manufacturer Davtron kicked in with its M803 digital clock. This useful–and did I say required?–unit shows time galore. We located it at the top left of the pilot’s instrument panel, where it has served us well. I mainly use it to keep track of elapsed time between legs. Just push the right button once, and the clock starts counting up. Push it again, and it stops. Easy.

The M803 shows Zulu time, local time, flight time, and elapsed time. It also shows the electrical system voltage and outside air temperature. You use the M803′s lower two buttons to initially set your times, and the ship’s power then keeps the unit running. A backup internal battery keeps the unit running should there be a complete loss of electrical power. In this case, you’d be down to the ship’s battery for powering a (load-shedded) panel, plus the M803′s and L-3 Trilogy’s own internal battery supply (worth up to two hours of flying time, I’ve been told) if everything goes dark.

Davtron is perhaps the largest supplier of general aviation panel-mount timepieces, and for good reason: They’re durable and intuitive to use. You probably have one in the airplane you fly! And what if the M803, by some ill stroke of luck, kick the bucket? Well, there are digital clocks in the Garmin 430s abaord the Crossover Classic, as well as a clock in the Garmin GTX-330 transponder. So we have time covered in spades on this unique airplane.

An interior’s exploratory surgery

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Original Interior arriving at Air Mod

It took Air Mod (based at the Clermont County Airport [I69] in Batavia, Ohio) just a few days to tear out the Crossover Classic’s nasty old interior, pull up the floorboards, yank out the seats and side panels, and take a really good look at the aluminum and other structures that have been covered up for 33-odd years. This is a hold-your-breath time. So far, all interior inspections have shown the airplane free of corrosion–but none of them involved disassembling the airplane to this degree. Sure, the easily visible parts of the airframe may not have any corrosion, but what’s under the rug?

Stripping seats

You can say that Air Mod, our chosen interior shop for several of AOPA’s annual sweepstakes airplanes, is fanatical about hunting down and treating corrosion. And for good reason. You can fix up an airplane to a fare-thee-well, but if the airframe harbors corrosion it may be the end of the line for the airplane’s economically useful life. It can cost thousands to rescue a badly corroded airframe; depending on the location of that corrosion–say, at the wing spar box or wing attach points–then you’re looking at a major restoration. Or a writeoff.

Removing the Windshield

Luckily, our 1974 Cessna 182P showed no corrosion at first. But then Air Mod pulled up the seat rails and looked behind the sidewalls forward of the door posts. And voila! Corrosion. Luckily, this can be treated and restored. As for the seat rails, they need to be replaced anyway. The seat-latch holes are slightly elongated, which means the front seats may not stay latched in takeoffs or steep climbs. So in lieu of yet another 100-hour inspection, it’s out with the old rails, and in with a new set.

Corrosion under lead vinyl damping panel

Corrosion is one thing. Plain old wear, tear, and rot is another. Air Mod’s procedure is to photograph and inventory all the worn items, and so we’ve included some of Air Mod’s photos in this post, as well as in the sweeps website’s “media” section. Of course, all of this precedes a zinc chromate treatment, followed by the design and installation of the new interior.

Dry-rotted fuel line coupling hose (evidence of fuel leak)

Other work is also scheduled to be performed at Air Mod–installation of the Monarch fuel caps, Knots2U wheel pants, and much more. Check back for more updates in the near future.

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.

console

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.

console

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….

console

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.

console

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.

console

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.

Sorry, no STOL kit

Monday, February 7th, 2011

The 2011 Crossover Classic is the third sweepstakes project I’ve managed, plus I’ve had a front row seat on several others. And every full-restoration project posed its own set of challenges. So it is with the Crossover Classic.

Sometimes, there are surprises in the work flow: a rare part must be replaced; a substandard repair must be made right; or, in some cases, a frail, yet critical out-of-production assembly can’t be located in salvage yards, online, or from the manufacturer. So a delicate fix must be carried out. (Such as the time when we had to re-weld the aluminum air intake box on the “Win-A-Six” Cherokee Six.) Sometimes, an older airplane’s personality just seems to have a mind of its own, and resists being dragged into modernity. Sound odd to anthropomorphize an airplane? Ask any owner. They’ll tell you that airplanes do have personalities!

With the Crossover Classic, we wanted the airplane to be the very best restoration project yet. That’s a worthy goal, but there are risks. There is always the compulsion to add more and more features and equipment. But there are down sides. These include extra complexity, extra weight, and extra time in the installation and completion shops. This latter is of critical importance in the Crossover Classic’s situation.

AOPA used to give its sweepstakes airplanes away in the February after the year of the restoration. This meant we had about a year to do all the work (although many were finished well before that deadline). Now, we give the airplanes away at AOPA Summit, which this year falls in September. Suddenly, we lost precious months.

The decision to forego the Robertson STOL kit modification was in part a result of this consideration. A short takeoff and landing (STOL) kit uses aerodynamic devices of varying complexities to improve slow speed handling and reduce takeoff and landing distances. In this case, there were other factors. And none of them, by the way, should be construed to reflect adversely on any of the fine vendors who have so generously participated in this project.

No, the decision was prompted by our standing back, pausing, reflecting, and re-evaluating a project that seemed heading into more complexity than was warranted. The airplane already has a 300-hp engine (70-hp more than the stock C-182P’s 230-hp), and 12-gallon wingtip fuel tanks, not to mention an ultimate panel retrofit–centered around Garmin’s G500 PFD/MFD, JP Instruments’ EDM-930 engine data management display, and Cobham/S-TEC’s System Fifty-Five X autopilot.

Would adding the STOL kit to the mix mean the autopilot would work harder during approaches flown at low airspeeds, as are possible with the STOL kit? Could the extra fuel weight at the wingtips cause a pilot to chase roll inputs while trying to track a course at those slower airspeeds? Were we on the verge of creating a sort of new, hybrid airplane? That’s too many questions, and that’s why we decided to keep the airplane simple.

Besides, with the Teledyne Continental’s 300 horsepower, a strong argument can be made that a STOL kit simply wasn’t necessary. Trust me: the airplane leaps off the runway in very short order, and a Vx climb will have you staring at a windshield full of sky, doing at least 2,000 fpm. (A Vy climb will produce the same result). Thanks to the C182′s big, stable, standard-issue wing, approach and land with full flaps at the proper airspeed, and you’ll make the first turn-off in style at most airports.

There’s a lesson here for those considering major restorations of their own: Don’t get carried away. Four big work packages is plenty, and any more will only add more surprises–and cost!