Archive for March, 2014

The first cross-country

Monday, March 31st, 2014

It was with great anticipation that I fired up N75YR this morning. The mission: Fly the airplane to the Sun N’ Fun Fly-In, where it is now on display at the AOPA booth. But first things first. I desperately wanted to know how the Debonair would perform on its first cross-country flight. Today would be the first real-world flight for the overhauled/converted IO-470-N.

Let me end the suspense right now by saying that there were no disappointments! Engine start for the 37-degree, 7:30 a.m. departure was uneventful, and the start procedure was identical to the one I’d learned worked best on the predecessor engine. The trick is to use less throttle during the priming for a cold start. So the best drill here is to go mixture full rich, then use slightly less than half-throttle while you hit the auxiliary boost pump (it only has a “high” pump speed switch position) for maybe four seconds. Then pull back the throttle so that it’s in the barely-cracked position. Now move the magneto switch to Start and the engine will respond every time. That’s the cold start drill.

Those of you with time in big-bore Continentals like the 285-hp IO-520, or the 300-hp IO-550 can get into trouble starting the Debonair if you prime like mad using full throttle. The Deb will flood if you do that. Trust me, I know.

Preflight checks done, I line up on home-base Frederick, Maryland’s (KFDK) runway 30 for the takeoff, then firewall it. I’m right at gross, with all tanks full for the 728-nm trip to Sun N’ Fun’s Lakeland Airport (KLAL). The airplane lifted off into a slight crosswind, and soon I was climbing out at 100 KIAS and 900 fpm. Not bad at all.

Turbulence was forecast, and the forecast was correct. The climb to 6,500 feet was bumpy, and any rolling motions were exaggerated by all that fuel out there on the wingtips–20 gallons, or 120 pounds, per side.

John Clegg, director of operations at Genesis Engines by D’Shannon told me to “run it like I stole it,” meaning run it at high power, to help seat the ECi cylinders’ rings properly. So I did. Level at 6,500 in severe-clear conditions, I firewalled the throttle, set the propeller for 2,580 rpm, and used the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer to lean 50 degrees rich of peak EGT.

When things settled down, the Aspen PFD told the tale. At 76 percent power I was doing 170 KTAS while burning 17.3 gph. That’s a Bonanza-style cruise speed, friends. But the Bonanza would get that speed using a 300-hp engine. This Deb does it on 260-hp.

Airspeed fluctuated in wave activity as the S-TEC System Fifty autopilot worked to keep the altitude steady. Pitch angles varied as the nose rose and fell trying to compensate for the up- and downdrafts.

As the airplane burned fuel, its weight went down and by the second hour of flight I was looking at 178 KTAS, but burning 18.5 gph to get 78-percent power, in keeping with the “stolen airplane” performance profile. Nice.

And did I mention that I had a tailwind? Oh, yes, 35, and sometimes 50 knots’ worth. My groundspeed hit a high of 215 knots at times, then settled down to a more modest 183 knots by the time I reached Florida.

Oh, and did I mention that my flight path was straight as an arrow?

Bottom line: four hours, 12 minutes after takeoff, I landed at Lakeland. Non-stop, of course.

A great flying day in a great airplane, I’d say!

Stand by for more Debonair news during the show. It will be interesting to see how visitors to the tent react to the engine upgrade. Maybe you’ll stop by? Hope so.

Just in time for Sun N’ Fun …

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

…. the Debonair’s new engine is installed and ready for break-in. Yours truly was on hand for the final installation checks at Aero Engines of Winchester, located at the Winchester, Virginia Regional Airport last Friday. And the new engine’s first flight.

A view of the Debonair's 260-hp Continental IO-470-N, installed and ready to fly.

A view of the Debonair’s 260-hp Continental IO-470-N, installed and ready to fly.

Side view shows the new baffling, complete with seals colored to match the airplane's final paint scheme. The original orange breather hose on top of the engine will be replaced with new hosing that will also match the paint job. The new ECi cylinders seem huge in comparison to those in the previous engine.

Side view shows the new baffling, complete with seals colored to match the airplane’s final paint scheme. The original orange breather hose on top of the engine will be replaced with new hosing that will also match the paint job. The new ECi cylinders seem huge in comparison to those in the previous engine.


By the time I arrived the engine had had its first engine ground run, which included fast-taxi tests. All was in order, but when I started the engine for its first flight the oil pressure read zero! So it was with disappointment that I shut it down. Soon, four mechanics were elbow-deep in the engine compartment. A mechanical oil pressure gauge was fitted to the engine to determine if the Electronics International MVP-50P digital engine/systems analyzer might be giving faulty data.

Turns out we were on to something. A second start showed healthy oil pressure on the mechanical gauge. That meant the problem was either with the MVP-50P, or in the wiring feeding it. Sure enough, a misconnected transducer wire was discovered, and the subsequent start showed normal oil pressure readings on the MVP-50P. What a relief!

First impressions? The engine runs smooth–much smoother than its predecessor–and has the throaty sound you’d expect of a bigger Continental engine.

During the pre-takeoff runup, I made sure to check that all the engine controls–magnetos, boost pump, throttle, propeller, and mixture–performed as expected. All the engine indications were normal during the published runup done at 1,900 rpm, and again at full power. Which required extra pressure on the brakes, by the way. It was a hint of what was to come.

Did I feel like a test pilot? Hey, I was a test pilot, by definition if not profession! And I certainly sensed all eyes were on me from the time I taxied out. Hey, no pressure…..not!

Then it was line up on Winchester’s runway 32, stand on brakes, full power, another look at engine indications (all in the green and normal), and brake release. N75YR surged forward and we were off to the normal rotation speed of 89 mph/77 knots. That took a few short seconds, then it was time to pull. (Incidentally, the takeoff airspeed is seven knots faster than the original airplane’s, according to the Airplane Flight Manual Supplement that comes with the engine conversion.)

And we’re airborne!  Vy is 104 mph/90 knots, and I held that speed until reaching 3,000 feet above the airport. Then it was time to orbit the field for a half-hour or so to make sure everything worked properly in flight. That’s the test-pilot part. Of course, I’d already scoped out the territory around the airport for suitable forced-landing spots. There were several that would be in easy gliding range once I got to, say, 500 feet above pattern altitude (1,700 feet msl/980 agl), but not so many below that. Turns out I didn’t need them anyway.

I kept the power up and had an uneventful time of it, and was glad to have the ADS-B traffic information to help me locate the traffic below in the pattern. The MVP-50P reported all was normal under the hood.

After 45 minutes or so, I descended and entered the pattern for a landing. The “new” engine’s first flight was a success! A postflight check showed no oil leaks or other anomalies, so it was off to AOPA’s home base at the Frederick (Maryland) Municipal Airport. With me was Paul Harrop, a producer of AOPA Media’s weekly “AOPA Live This Week” webcast, who videotaped the day’s events.

This means you should check next week’s AOPA Live broadcast for footage taken the day of the first flight.

On the short, 15 minute trip home I jotted down some information: at 75 percent power, N75YR was showing 168 knots true airspeed on 16 gph flying at 3,000 feet msl. Now those are preliminary numbers, mind you. But that’s a good 16 knots faster (and one more gallon per hour) than the previous 225-hp engine’s performance.

I’ll provide more information about the airplane’s performance after flying it to Sun N’ Fun. I plan to leave on Saturday March 29, and hope to make the flight nonstop by topping off all the tanks. That will give me 114 gallons and about five hours of endurance with reserves–which should be more than enough for the approximately 775 nm flight from Frederick (KDK) to Sun N’ Fun’s location at the Lakeland Linder Airport (LAL). Of course, it all depends on fuel burn, true airspeeds….and the winds and weather.

Besides, we’re in the engine’s break-in period. As with all break-ins, the advice is to run the engine hard so that the piston rings seat properly, so fuel consumption and speed will depend on the results of sustained flying at power levels of 75 percent, or more.

Thanks again to Genesis Engines by D’Shannon for its outstanding overhaul and conversion, and to Aero Engines for itsskill and attention to detail (they also dressed up the firewall and engine compartment) in the installation procedure.

I hope you’ll come by AOPA’s tent at Sun N’ Fun to see the airplane and its “new” (actually, zero-timed since major overhaul) converted engine–converted under a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) held by D’Shannon Aviation. Even if you can’t make it, I’ll do a couple posts from tent-side, if that’s the word.

I’ll be there to answer any questions, and to show you around this almost-fully-restored classic airplane. See you there, and as always, check back for more posts in the Sweepstakes Logbook.



The installation begins

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Just this note to let you know that Genesis Engines has completed the engine build, and director of operations John Clegg even drove the new engine from Genesis’ shope in Mooresville, North Carolina to Aero Engines of Winchester (Virginia) to see the job through.

The engine looks great, and is even done up in colored baffling seals that match elements of the final paint scheme. Even the engine block, which is painted a dark blue, matches one of the fuselage stripes. By the way, Clegg says that this blue paint is a match for the engine block colors used in new Ford F150s.

The Debonair's IO-470-N, waiting to be installed and with all-new, well, everything.

The Debonair’s IO-470-N, waiting to be installed and with all-new, well, everything.

The firewall and engine compartment have been cleaned and dressed for the Sun N’ Fun show as well. And I thought the firewall was a hopeless case, what with its 50 years of grime.

The good-as-new engine compartment, here almost complete. New Lord mounts have also been installed.

The good-as-new engine compartment, here almost complete. New Lord mounts have also been installed.

One personal touch is the signature on the accessory pad. “Earl Ramey” it says. Meaning that Earl literally signed off the engine work.

Next up, after the reconditioned exhaust stacks from Dawley Aviation are installed, is a test run and first flight. That should happen next week, and I can’t wait to be the first behind the new powerplant.