Archive for April, 2013

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.

Sun N’ Fun Countdown: Get a load of this!

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013
Ready for the road. Don't worry, upcoming posts will show it all powered up!

Ready for the road. Don’t worry, upcoming posts will show it all powered up!


We still have to do some shakedown flights to make sure there are no squawks to our/your Debonair, and that all the new avionics talk to each other the way they should. But now that the panel installation is complete, I felt like I just HAD to share this photo with you.

Pat Horgan and his staff at Santa Fe Aero Services have done a great job in time-travelling this airpane’s panel from 1963 to 2013. I can’t wait to go up on the calibration flights for the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer. That should happen later today or early tomorrow. Soon, the airplane will be pulled out of the hangar. Then its Aspen dual AHRS units will be tested and the heading algnments synchronized. Oh, and the magnetic compass will also be swung at this time.

So, even though it isn’t powered up quite yet, get a load of this.