Sun N’ Fun Countdown: Panel-Perfect

 

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.

14 Responses to “Sun N’ Fun Countdown: Panel-Perfect”

  1. Tony says:

    MY PLANE IS SO LOVELY

  2. tony says:

    Avionics, don’t you love it

  3. Joanna Smith says:

    Thorne, your attention to detail is overwhelming at times! The fact that you work so hard especially considering you don’t actually get to keep the plane, is amazing and awe-inspiring. There are so many different angles to refurbing a new airplane and the way you review each and every one of them to ensure the plane goes beyond performance standards is beyond words. We as readers really appreciate everything you/AOPA do to ensure this project is at the top of its game and the best in the industry. This is the reason the project has so many followers and keeps us coming back each week waiting anxiously to see what is the next “new” thing!

  4. Chris says:

    Is that an AoA indicator on the left of the glareshield?!

  5. ndnflyer says:

    Nice panel! I have a 63 Debonair as well. I am really disappointed that you are not upgrading the engine to an IO470N 260 HP. Truthfully I can say that the stock IO470K 225HP in my 1963 Debonair is anemic in performance. I see 140-145 knots and find that the published numbers are inflated. Talking with other owners of the same vintage this is more realistic unless you have upgraded to the IO470N with 260HP. With this upgrade you are more likely to achieve the book numbers that are in the POH.

  6. PLease, don’t allow anyone to bang up my airplane before I take possession!
    Froggy

  7. Please don’t bang up my airplane!

  8. Pete Kuhns says:

    That panel’s more powerful than an A380. Crikey!

  9. Mike Kobb says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit odd to cut a hole in a metal panel to fit an iPad Mini? What will you do when Apple changes the product a little bit? I am installing a cradle in my airplane, but it’s surface mount so that I can easily swap out for a different device.

  10. Mike Kobb says:

    I would like to know one thing: what color is that panel? (i.e., if it’s powder coated, what’s the RAL color?) It looks very handsome.

  11. Craig says:

    The team at SF Aero did a full glass panel upgrade in my Mooney M20J – 3 tube Aspens, JPI-930, XM Weather and TCAD traffic – with FULL removal of the vacuum system. The great thing about these guys is they do all of their own panel fabrication, powder coating and laser etching in-house. Once you go glass, you never go back!

  12. Barry Wood says:

    The hard work from the men and women at AOPA in finding the right shops and talented people to restore this aircraft has paid off. You all did a fine job and the plane looks great, take a bow everyone, I applaud all of you.

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