Debbie does Sun N’ Fun

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.


  • tony

    My daughter is ready for me to fly

    Ours, Ours, Ours

  • tony

    Getting it ready for me

  • tony

    soon will be mine

  • Bob

    Got my certificate at the flying club at Sheppard (not Shepherd) in 1980, while stationed there. Took instrument and commercial lessons and got lots of soft field experience at Wichita Valley in nearby Iowa Park. Most of the military flying clubs are closed now, unfortunately.

  • Nick

    What a great present for a soon to be PPL student with dreams of ATP, plus im in FL so you dont even have to fly it back

  • Kurt Belsten

    Love the Debonaire, It is probably the best “compromise” airplane ever built. I have owned mine for almost 25 years and every time I have thought of changing ships I realize how many shortcomings there are in other aircraft. I would like to point out a few things I noticed in the Deb on display at Sun N’ Fun. AD 91-17-01 not complied with, elevator trim tabs not painted Blue on Left side and Black on Right. Fuel caps appear to be installed incorrectly. The rings under the bladder need to be rotated so the caps levers are in the down wind position. It does not appear that the Beech or SMP Rudder Spar Kit has been installed. This means a recurring inspection to comply with AD 94-24-03. The nice folks at the American Bonanza Society will be glad to help you with any technical questions.

    • thorne


      The AD 91-17-01 was complied with. It’s in the logs. The rudder was recently inspected during the annual inspection so it’s in compliance with that AD. As for AD 94-24-03, that’s an AD affecting certain DC-10 airplanes–a much larger model of the Debonair. As for the fuel caps, I just turned them around at the last fueling.

      • Beau Chapman

        Tom, Beau Chapman calling again. While many of us AOPA Pilot subscribers are anxious about each Sweepstakes projects, I’m diappointed with a nonresonse to an email I sent to KD Aviation who is doing the paint job on the Debonair.

        On their web site they display with pride many grogress painting photos of the 2000 Millennium Mooney and 2004 Twin Comanche. So, I anticipated they would update their website to do the same for the Debonair Sweepstakes paint job. While there may be some explanation for not (yet?) providing photo updates, I think it totally unprofessional not to reply to an AOPA member inquiriing, and I did declare I was an AOPA member very interested in their work and photos of the Debonair.

        It seem with an advance notice by you to them that they would be performing the paint job, that either you or they would have shared what if anything they intend to do with regard to displaying on their site. Perhaps displays will appear, but there’s no excuse for not replying to my email. Shame!


        • thorne

          Hello again Beau–

          The airplane isn’t painted yet. It’s next in line. Even when it is painted it will be just a base coast. The stripes will come later.