Beech supports the Deb!

May 15th, 2013

The Debonair is currently at KD Aviation at Newburgh, New York’s Stewart International Airport, awaiting its much-needed paint job. But before we can paint, we need parts! You can’t expect to find a 50-year-old airplane–no matter how nice–and not find some cosmetic problems. Period.

One vexing issue was the leading edge of the left cowling access door. Decades of opening and closing the door, plus all the airloads, have caused erosion of the leading edge. The aluminum has worn away, and over the years the wear has left the leading edge with a serrated look that conforms exactly to the crimping that Beech put in the nose bowl. So we needed a new cowling door–left side, please.

Here, take a look at the problem area:


Years of friction and air loads have cut these "teeth" into the leading edge of the cowl door

Years of friction and air loads have cut these “teeth” into the leading edge of the cowl door



Well, yours truly looked and looked, but no cigar. I was about to give up and accept a patch on the leading edge when Beechcraft came through with a like-new door. Thanks to Beechcraft’s Jeff Ellis, Director of Part Sales and Support Programs, and Denise Burkholder, Technical Sales Representative for the cowling door. It looks great, and spares us the risk of an ugly patch right where all would see it.

And now, the new door that Beechcraft found in their excess inventory warehouse at Global Parts Inc. in Augusta, Kansas:

35-910160-618 (3) (2)

Much better, no? Thanks Beechcraft. This proves that yes, parts are still available for 50-year-old airplanes. Beechcraft has been in the news a lot lately–most of it bad–but this certainly is an encouraging sign that the company still has the spirit when it comes to older Debonairs and Bonanzas.

On to paint

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

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

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!

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.

Sun N’ Fun Countdown: New wing bolts!

March 30th, 2013
One of the Debonair's ugly old corroded wing bolts

One of the Debonair’s ugly old corroded wing bolts

New wing bolts from Beechcraft to the rescue!

New wing bolts from Beechcraft to the rescue!

New wing bolt, installed in its fitting

New wing bolt, installed in its fitting

Most owners of Beech Bonanzas and Debonairs know that their wing attach bolts have been singled out for special scrutiny over the years. As part of the Sweepstakes Debonair’s annual inspection, these bolts were checked for corrosion. There’s a lot of lore and yarns about the wing-bolt issue. However, an Airworthiness Directive has never been issued to replace them periodically. The only service recommendation, according to the American Bonanza Society, is to inspect them every 15 years. Personally, that seems mild to me. I mean, these bolts hold the wings on the airplane, no?

So to be on the conservative side, we pulled the bolt covers (they’re at the wing root, on the upper surface of the wing) and saw–light surface corrosion. Well, what did you expect after 50 years? Then came a debate. Do we pull the bolts and take a close look at them? I think you know the answer to that one. We pulled the bolts and they did, indeed, have corrosion. The fittings were OK, and the drain holes in the “bathtubs” that surround the bolts were open, which meant that any water had been draining through the critical area–and not pooling inside it and creating serious corrosion. (Does anyone else think that a wing-attachment design that tends to trap water is somehow ill-conceived?)

When I got word of this, paranoia struck. Where in the world would we find replacement wing bolts for a 50-year old airplane? Turns out, Beechcraft still makes them, and they’re still in stock. Santa Fe Aero Services ordered up a set, had them overnighted, and they were at the shop the next day. What price peace of mind? For the entire set of eight wing bolts, a total just shy of $1,000.

Sun N’ Fun Countdown

March 30th, 2013


Reconditioned yoke assembly, complete with new Davtron clock

Reconditioned yoke assembly, complete with new Davtron clock


PFD, MFD, autopilot, and standby attitude switch panel

PFD, MFD, autopilot, and standby attitude switch panel

The new panel, almost finished

The new panel, almost finished

Here it is, a mere 10 days to go until the Sun N’ Fun Fly-In officially opens, and I’m in Santa Fe with the Sweepstakes Debonair. Santa Fe Aero Services has been making an all-out effort to get this airplane’s panel ready for the big show. This has been a 24-7 operation for several weeks now. As you can see in the photo above, the panel has a ways to go–but not as far as you might think. I’m told that on Monday, April 1 (no omens here) the airplane will be ready to fly. By Wednesday or so, it should be ready to make its way to Lakeland and Sun N’ Fun.

You can see that the panel has had its Aspen three-screen Evolution 2500 avionics suite installed, and that the overhauled control yokes and yoke bar are in place. The Garmin GTN 750 and GTN 650 units are installed on a tilt panel, and a detail shot of the panel work and switches above the central yoke position shows just how much quality is built into this one-of-a-kind restoration. And I mean it: how many 50-year old airplanes have this kind of equipment?

The two holes remaining in the panel shot will be filled by the Electronics International MVP-50P engine/systems analyzer and the iPad Mini.

The airplane received an annual inspection at Santa Fe Aero Services as well. That meant technicians were crawling all over the ship. Two huge feats are under way at the same time!


Thanks Tom Schoder!

March 16th, 2013

A while ago I wrote about the Debonair’s sketchy baggage door. You see, after 50 years of people pushing on the door latch, cracks often occur on the sheet metal surrounding the latch handle. And that’s exactly what happened with the Debonair.

There are two cracks, one on the top side of the latch, the other on the bottom. Each about an inch long. Someone had stop-drilled the cracks at some point in the airplane’s history, but that only prevented the cracks from propagating further. The cracks themselves, of course, still remain. And for a sweepstakes airplane that just won’t do.

What makes it worse is that there’s no way to easily make those cracks go away. No amount of Bond-O or other spackling efforts would make them disappear permanently. So I began a search for a “new” 1963 Debonair baggage door. Wentworth Aircraft, my traditonal go-to salvage yard, didn’t have any in stock. Well-known Bonanza-Debonair-Baron parts source Dave Monti of Minden, Nevada had one he’d sell for $250. I’ll keep Dave in mind from now on.

I was just about to call Dave and place the order when I got an email from AOPA member Tom Schoder of northwest Oregon. Seems he’d read my story about the bollixed-up door. He had one in pretty good shape, he wrote, and did I want him to send it along?

You bet I did. Soon thereafter, Tom shipped his door to Santa Fe Aero Services (where the airplane and yours truly are right now) and I laid eyes on it for the first time yesterday. It does look good! And the price was right! This kind of member participation is inspiring, to say the least. I know that members/readers follow our AOPA sweepstakes restorations with a passion, but in this case Tom took his enthusiasm a few steps–no, leaps–forward.

So thanks so much Tom Schoder, for your generosity and welcome to the Debonair Sweepstakes restoration team. You’re in good company.


Debonair Sweeps: A Bigger, Better Alternator

February 5th, 2013


National AirParts’ new 70-amp alternator (right) next to the old 55-amp unit


I’m told that the first Debonairs–the 1960 models–came with 35-ampere/hour Bendix generators. That’s not much of a power output.  There are stories out there telling of lights dimming at idle power, and ammeters showing discharges when all electrical equipment is turned on. So next up was a 55-amp generator. That still didn’t provide a large enough volume of steady electrical power.

Our/your Debonair began life with the 35-amp generator, but that was swapped out for a 55-amp Alcor alternator according to the logbooks. That was a start in the right direction.

But 55 amps isn’t nearly enough for the basically all-electric panel being installed at Santa Fe Aero Services. “We need 70 amps,” said V-P and General Manager Pat Horgan.

Thus began my search for a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) holder that could provide us/you with this sort of power rating.

National AirParts, of Deland, Florida (  filled the bill with its popular STC that allows us to move up to 70-amp-land. National’s Al Petrone says he can even fix you up with a 100-amp alternator if need be. Thanks very much, Al.

National has a lot of alternator STCs covering a wide range of airplanes. Check their website for details and plenty of info.

And remember that bad old alternator bracket–the one that broke, and that I reported on last time? Well, Wentworth Aircraft’s replacement bracket (see my previous blog) fit the new alternator, and the whole works will soon be installed. Along with beefier wiring and a circuit breaker designed to the new limits.

Debonair Sweeps: Bracket Attack

February 4th, 2013


The offending alternator bracket. Note the two breaks.


Where do you find a replacement alternator bracket for a 50-year-old airplane? Probably not from the manufacturer, which long ago stopped making replacement parts for airplanes that old. No, you have to check the salvage yards.

In the Debonair Sweepstakes’ case, we sought out Wentworth Aircraft Inc. (, the Minnesota-based supplier of a huge array of aircraft parts. We’ve used Wenworth several times in the past, when older sweepstakes airplanes needed new latches, doors, and other airplane parts both large and small.

Here’s the background info. On a flight out of Wichita’s Colonel James Jabara Airport, the Deb’s landing gear wouldn’t retract. So it was back to the airport and into the shop for some diagnostic work. Up on jacks and fed by a power cart the gear–of course!–functioned perfectly. And they continued to work at fuel stops on the subsequent legs to the avionics shop, Santa Fe Aero Services.

But once in the shop for its massive avionics upgrade, technicians got a good look under the hood. What they found was an alternator bracket that had broken in two places. This helped cause the gear non-retraction issue by failing to put out its rated power (55 amp/hours) and thus depriving the gear motor of the juice it needed.

There wasn’t much of a search for a serviceable bracket. Remembering Wentworth from earlier sweeps restorations, your truly called them first. I got a Wentworth service rep–Dave–on the phone, gave him the part number, and sent him a photo (see above) of the failed part. He began digging and called back with the good news: Part found!

It’s proof once more of the value of salvage yards (please don’t call them ‘junk yards’) to owners of older airplanes. Wentworth in particular has scads of reasonably-priced components that can be so essential in keeping GA’s aging fleet in the air.