Archive for January, 2014

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


Pull that engine! And a crankshaft news flash

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Aero Engines of Winchester–based at the Winchester, Virginia Regional Airport–has removed the Debonair’s old IO-470-LCK engine and basically hand-delivered it to the overhaul shop. “All went well,” said Aero Engines’ Tom Schwietz, who flew the engine to Genesis Engines by D’Shannon’s overhaul shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. Schwietz’s shop has earned a reputation for quality overhauls and other engine work in its own right, but this kind of personalized service was an unexpected luxury. Schwietz’s colorful background includes buying and selling airplanes in the overseas market, as well as vast experience ferrying general aviation airplanes across the Atlantic. “Just when I tell myself that I’m fed up with ferrying, well, I somehow get the urge to do it again,” he said. “I guess it’s just gets into your blood.”

 John Clegg, Genesis Engines’ director of operations, reported today that the Debonair’s engine disassembly has begun in earnest. After Aero Engines brought it to Mooresville’s Lake Norman Airpark, it was taken to the Genesis shop to begin its six-week upgrade process.

Today, Clegg reported that the engine’s new crankshaft (“crank”) has been freshly recertified. The “yellow-tagged” crank (so called because of the yellow tag portion of the paperwork that accompanies it) was declared serviceable and airworthy by an FAA-certified repair station, and Genesis subjected it to magnetic-particle non-destructive testing to make absolutely sure that it had no cracks or other imperfections. Magnetic particle testing involves using a dye penetrant medium that will adhere to any defects, making them visible to Genesis’ technicians. The cranskshaft passed with flying colors.

The newly-recertified crankshaft is necessary because the -N engine uses a crank with four counterweights; the old engine’s crank had just two counterweights. Also, the -N engine’s connecting rods are beefier than the previous engines’. In spite of this, Clegg says that the original crankcase is compatible with the new crankshaft.

That’s it for now. Check back for more news as it happens. The next step should be the arrival of the new ECi cylinder assemblies.

Breaking News: Engine Upgrade!

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

The Debonair sweepstakes airplane is going from 225- to 260-hp. That’s a big step up in performance, and there’s a good reason why we’re taking this route.

Those of you who’ve read the Sweepstakes Briefing item in the January 2014 issue of AOPA Pilot , or who saw the AOPA Live This Week video ({A395BD62-A728-4F52-948E-7A1CCDE2C475} know that we borescoped the Debonair’s cylinders and found evidence of pitting and corrosion. Bonanza/Baron/Debonair expert Adrian Eichhorn pronounced the cylinders fit, but we had a nagging feeling. We simply couldn’t give this airplane away unless we corrected the cylinder issue and made sure the entire engine was fit enough to meet the standards of an AOPA sweepstakes airplane.

Pitting as seen through a medical-quality borescope. The cylinder barrel is on te left. The cylinder head is the lighter-colored metal to the right of the junction

Cylinder pitting as seen through a medical-quality borescope. The steel cylinder barrel is on the left. The cylinder head is the lighter-colored metal to the right of the junction

We’d been seeing high iron levels in our oil analyses (the subject of a previous blog post) and after seeing the inside of those cylinder bores we knew exactly where they were coming from: the engine had been sitting for so long that the engine’s steel barrels had been drained of a protective oil coating, and basically rusted. So when I came along and flew the airplane across the nation to have restoration work performed, the corrosion was abraded. Though running the engine for 60-some hours had polished the corrosion and pitting, the bad news was that the iron particles were now in the oil. In short, the engine was “making metal,” and creating a potential danger by contaminating other moving components–like accessory gears, the camshaft lobes, and various bearings.

Eichhorn came up with an amusing metaphor: “Hey, if I’d been laying on the couch for five years, then jumped up and ran to Santa Fe, I’d be having some wear problems of my own.”

To continue flying posed too many uncertainties. Were the camshaft lobes worn, spalled, or scored? Were the pistons’ oil rings about to wear to the point that the engine would begin burning oil? How much longer could the engine go on like this without sacrificing safety?

We had to do the right thing. That meant a top overhaul (new cylinder assemblies, complete with pistons, connecting rods, and associated hardware) at the very least, and a major overhaul at most–if there was any evidence of damage to the “bottom end” (crankcase, crankshaft, camshaft, and their associated bearings and journals).

We debated the options. Among them were doing a top overhaul on the existing engine, or stepping up to a 285-hp IO-520 or 300-hp IO-550 engine. In the end, D’Shannon Aviation proposed another alternative: converting the existing 225-hp IO-470-LCK engine (a -L engine changed–hence the “C”–to a -K variant) into a 260-hp Continental IO-470-N engine of 260-hp. D’Shannon holds the STC for this upgrade, which has proven popular over the years. In fact, there are very few IO-470-K engines out there; most have been replaced by now with more powerful engines–most under D’Shannon STCs.

After some debate, we opted for the -N. We could use the extra 35 horsepower, and we could keep the two-blade McCauley propeller that American Propeller Company had recently overhauled. Besides, we wanted to stay in character as much as we could with the Debonair idea, and going to the -520 and -550 engines would have meant too much power for a complex single that serves so well as a step-up from smaller fixed-gear singles. The 260-hp option seemed the best pathway–and the lightest.

The conversion will be performed by a newly-formed branch of D’Shannon that focuses on engine overhauls and upgrades: Genesis Engines by D’Shannon. With a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, Genesis Engines is in the heart of NASCAR country. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Race City USA.” Genesis has six technicians with NASCAR engine backgrounds and prides itself on its high quality and extreme attention to detail. John Clegg, director of Genesis operations, puts it this way: “When it comes to balancing pistons, for example, most manufacturers’ overhaul manuals allow two to five grams of difference between pistons. Here, we balance them to within a tenth of a gram. This allows our engines to generate much less vibration, which results in longer engine life.”

After being overhauled By Genesis Engines by D'Shannon, this Continental IO-550 runs on a dynamometer to check power output

After being overhauled By Genesis Engines by D’Shannon, this Continental IO-550 runs on a dynamometer to check power output

Another key partner in the engine upgrade is Engine Components International, or ECi as it’s known. ECi will be providing six new TITAN cylinder assemblies for the upgrade. The cylinder bores will be coated with ECi’s nickel+carbide treatment, which makes them much more durable, longer-lived, corrosion-resistant and reliable than the rusty old cylinders in the original -LCK engine. So so long steel barrels, hello nickel-and-silicon carbide coated ones. ECi has built more than 140,000 TITAN cylinders since 1994 and provides them with a 60-month warranty against premature wear and corrosion.

The TITAN assemblies will come with new valves, valve guides, pistons, connecting rods, wrist pins, and other necessary top end components. ECi will also be reconditioning any bottom end components that may need it, or providing any new such components if those components are worn.

And by the way, ECi’s cylinders come from the factory already balanced to Genesis’ strict tolerances.

Of course, we are well aware of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that the FAA is proposing, which would be an Airworthiness Directive affecting certain ECi cylinders made for the Continental IO-520 and -550 engines. The details of the NPRM (by the way, the comment period closed in December 2013) are complex, but it boils down to the FAA wanting some of those 6,000 cylinders taken out of service at 1,000 hours time in service, and some of them removed from service after 25 hours if their time in service is less than 500 hours. The cylinder assemblies not affected by those restrictions would need inspections every 50 hours for their entire lifetimes.

All this because of 30 instances where cylinder head and cylinder barrel junctions failed. Out of 30,000 installed cylinders. And ECi asserts that in none of the 30 cases did a failure cause an accident or injury; typically, there was a loss of 20 percent of engine power–enough to make safe landings.

AOPA feels, and has represented, that the proposed Airworthiness Directive is regulatory overkill, and an unwarranted waste of time and money (The FAA estimates that compliance with the AD would cost almost $83 million).

So by using ECi cylinder assemblies in the Debonair we’re backing up our belief, and have full confidence in the quality of ECi components. Besides, the cylinders being provided for our IO-470-N conversion are not mentioned in the NPRM.

There’s a lot more to this engine upgrade/overhaul than new cylinders, however. I’ll get to the full list of improvements and add-ons in the next post. I just wanted everyone to know that a new engine’s coming, and that it’ll be a huge asset to an already huge project. And if you go to Sun N’ Fun–or several of the regional fly-ins that AOPA is having this year–you can see it for yourself.