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.

Debonair Sweeps: It’s Official:New N-number!

January 15th, 2013

So far, the sweepstakes Debonair goes by N232L. That’s OK, but we needed to put a little more spark in the registration number. Something that would resonate with the notion of a sweepstakes. AOPA has done this with each of its past sweepstakes airplanes, so last December yours truly searched for a catchy N-number.

This entails going on the FAA’s registry website and plugging in the N-number(s) you wish you could have. And I tried a bunch. In all, I spent perhaps two hours thinking up cool N-numbers, submitting the requests, then almost immediately receiving the bad news: “N-number already in use.” When I reached burnout on this seemingly dead-end task, I asked the rest of the staff to take a whack at it.

Al Marsh rolled the dice and came up a winner. He picked a great N-number, and it wasn’t taken!

So I applied, paid the $10 registration fee, and the deed was done. When the airplane reaches the paint-job stage, it will have its paperwork changed and the new N-number will grace the fuselage. It will be N232L no more.

It will be N75YR

What’s the significance? Well, the Debonair will be given away at AOPA Summit in Palm Springs in 2014. That year happens to be AOPA’s 75th anniversary, hence “75YR.” Pretty cool, no?


Debonair Sweeps: Enter the iPad

January 8th, 2013

No doubt about it, iPad mania has made its mark in general aviation. The Debonair Sweepstakes is certainly no exception. Santa Fe Aero Services, our avionics installer, has made a special panel insert for an iPad Mini–a piece of equipment that will serve many valuable functions.

First off, the Mini will be continuously powered while it’s docked in the panel, so there’s no worries about its batteries going dead at some critical time at the end of a flight. We’ve all heard the horror stories about iPad batteries giving up the ghost just as the final approach fix is crossed, or when issued holding instructions prior to an approach. Well, that ain’t gonna happen in the Debonair. And even if it did, there will be two USB charging ports in the Deb’s panel to power the Mini–or an iPod or any other such device for that matter.

The Mini can also display electronic charts–a big enough benefit on its own merits. And with geo-referencing, you’ll be able to “see” the airplane’s progress on an electronic chart as it flies a route or procedure.

Another benefit ties into Aspen’s Connected Panel technology. This forward-looking feature will allow aviation apps on the Mini to talk to the three-screen Aspen Evolution 2500 panel and other avionics. Here, the promise is great. Engine diagnostics may one day be logged into specially-designed apps. Routes filed at home on the Mini will some day soon be sent to the Aspen system wirelessly, sparing the lucky winner the frantic hassle of manually dialing in fixes immediately before taking off. These and other wireless data feeds are just over the horizon–but they’ll be playable in the Debonair.

Wireless technology like Aspen’s Connect Panel is the future of GA cockpit design, and Aspen is to be congratulated on making this move. We’re proud that the sweepstakes Debonair will be one of the first major Connected Panel demonstrators.

The Mini is also a backup source of ADS-B traffic and FIS-B weather information. True, the Debonair will have Garmin’s GDL 88 dual-channel datalink transceiver, and the targets and text it receives will show up on the Garmin GTN 750′s big-screen display. The Mini can serve as a backup to the GDL 88′s data, but because the 88 can’t output to a portable device we added Garmin’s GDL 39 datalink antenna to the mix, which is designed to feed ADS-B data directly to Garmin’s Garmin Pilot app. And yes, that app is currently the prime mover on the Deb’s Mini.

The Garmin Pilot app has a lot more than electronic charts. There’s Garmin’s SafeTaxi, which can show your position on more than 900 airports, text and graphic weather, high- and low-altitude enroute charts for flights on instrument flight plans, sectional charts for the entire United States and Canada, and flight planning functions.

There’s a lot more to say about this very special Debonair’s panel, and we’ll touch on all of them in upcoming blogs. Stay tuned!

Debonair Sweeps: Panel Sneak-Peek

November 30th, 2012
N232L Radio Panel

N232L Radio Panel – click to see bigger image.

Ok, so the last Debonair post was a tad troubling…I mean, will that torn-up old instrument panel really make the leap to state-of-the-art?

Fear not! Santa Fe Aero Services has come up with a plan. And a drawing that shows their vision of the Deb’s panel-to-be. Click on the accompanying image and it will enlarge.

Take a look at the illustration and see if you like what’s planned. It’s a display-rich panel with a clean look and a load of new avionics. Again, check for subsequent posts–and the sweepstakes article in the January issue of AOPA Pilot magazine–for updates.

But for now I just wanted to give you a peek into the very near future. What do you think?

Originally posted at

Debonair Sweeps: No Turning Back!

November 27th, 2012
The Debonair Sweeps' gutted panel

Yikes! The Debonair Sweeps’ gutted panel

I’ve shepherded three AOPA Sweepstakes airplanes through their restorations, and there’s something that shocks me each time.

What is it? It’s seeing a photo like one posted here! Yep, this is the stage where all the old avionics have been yanked, and then unceremoniously tossed or traded in to the avionics shop for credit (what little that might represent) against their labor.

But look at it…chaos incarnate. NO WAY the old panel is ever coming back! The point of no return has passed!

Even though you may intellectually grasp the idea, at this stage of a panel restoration the mind cannot fathom the concept of a full-on upgrade. How can any normally-endowed person have the ability to put things right after seeing such a mess of wires and gaping holes? You or I couldn’t, of course. So take a look, ladies and gentlemen: The Humpty-Dumpty metaphor, made manifest!

Good thing that Santa Fe Aero Services has been there, done that. Many times over. Before long, we’ll see a three-screen Aspen Avionics installation, along with Garmin’s GTN 750 and GTN 650 navigators, an Alpha Systems angle of attack indicator, an R.C. Allen backup attitude indicator, a PS Engineering PMA8000BT audio panel, a CO Guardian carbon monixide detector, a JP Instruments EDM 900 engine and systems monitor, and much, much, much more. Like a panel-mounted iPad Mini, USB charging ports, and new annuciators.

Check out the January 2013 issue of AOPA Pilot for more information about the Debonair Sweeps’ panel transformation.

And don’t worry. The gutted-panel look may prompt despair, but that will fade as the new panel springs, Phoenix-like, into the 21st century.

Originally posted at

All previous posts are for the AOPA 2012 – Tougher Than a Tornado Sweepstakes

Debonair Sweeps: Flying D’Shannon’s tip tanks

November 5th, 2012

Time for an update on the Debonair Sweeps’ progress–and the news is big! After buying the airplane at Hartford’s Brainard Airport, I flew it to AOPA headquarters at the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport–a flight of two hours. From there, I flew it another five and a half hours to Buffalo, Minnesota (stops were made at the Muncie, Indiana and LaCrosse, Wisconsin airports). Buffalo is D’Shannon Aviation’s home office. At Buffalo, D’Shannon went to town, installing its 20-gallon tip tanks, a new “Speed Slope” windshield, tinted side windows, and aileron and flap gap seals.

For those who may not know, D’Shannon is all about fixing up Bonanzas, Barons, and Debonairs. They have Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs)–98 of them!–that run the gamut. If you want your Debonair, Bonanza, or Baron to look better and go faster, then D’Shannon’s the place. Scott Erickson is D’Shannon’s president, and he’s your point person. He’s at 800-291-7616.

D’Shannon’s more aerodynamically-shaped windshield replaces the stock windshield, which has a kind of bubble shape. But the main advantages of new windshields and side windows have to do with visibility and noise reduction. The old windshield and side windows were scratched and milky. Believe me when I say that flying into the sun made forward visibility a challenge. The new windshield and windows are also thicker than the originals–3/8-inch thick versus the original 1/4-inch thick glass. So there is also a noise reduction factor.

The tip tanks come with two methods of determining fuel level. First, there’s a clear slot in the side of the tanks, so you can directly observe the fuel level. There are fuel quantity markings–1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and full–and each corresponds to five gallons’ worth of fuel. In the cockpit there are digital fuel gauges that give both numerical and graphic fuel quantity indications. The gauges are on the same small panel that contains the transfer pump switches. To use tip fuel, you burn down the main tanks first, to make room. Then you turn on the transfer pumps to move the fuel from the tips to the mains. It’s an in-flight fill-up!

I first got a chance to check out the tip tanks on a flight from Buffalo to Wichita’s Jabara Airport. The takeoff from Buffalo was definitely sporty, with direct crosswinds out of the west gusting to 27 mph. And the turbulence on climbout was a solid moderate–if aviation had a Richter scale, it would have rated a seven I’d think.

I hear you asking about the effects of all that weight out on the wingtips. Yes, I was busy in the turbulence, and even with just five gallons in each tip tank, there was a noticeable moment-arm from those 30 pounds sloshing around out there. How would it be with the full, 120-pounds-worth of fuel in each tank? I’ll find out one of these days, and I hope it will be in smoother air!

The tip tanks certainly have benefits: seven- to eight-hour endurances, for example. And the tip tanks come with a 200-pound hike in max gross takeoff weight. It’s now a 3,200-pound airplane, which helps in the useful load department.

The Debonair’s empty weight now stands at 2,028 pounds; useful load is a decent 1,172 pounds. But fill up all the tanks and useful load shrinks to 488 pounds. So for two people and light bags, the Debonair Sweeps is ideal for long trips or tankering lower-cost fuel. Of course, the airplane’s weight will change during the refurbishment process, and by “change” I mean increase in weight. So the winner will probably need to modify the fuel load on typical flights.

That’s it for now, with some 20 hours logged on an airplane that has yet to experience its biggest work packages.

In the next post I’ll show you a photo and a drawing that’ll give you a fair idea of the goings-on at the Debonair’s current stop–at Santa Fe Aero Services, where its avionics will get a complete do-over. Stay tuned!

Originally posted at

The Sweeps Debonair: Sign of a Trend?

October 25th, 2012

Now that AOPA’s Debonair sweepstakes is under way, I’ve been thinking about the previous owners of this very special 1963 airplane. Our/your Debonair was previously owned by two partners. One was 90 years old. The other wanted a newer airplane–an A36 Bonanza, I understand. The 90-year-old is still flying, by the way, and the day I checked out the Debonair I watched him taxi out in a Skyhawk with an instructor. For him, the Debonair was too much expense for too little flying. For the past five years he averaged just 20 hours per year in the Debonair. Keeping it made no sense.

This sounds a lot like the previous owner of the 2011 sweepstakes airplane–a 1974 Cessna 182 we dubbed the “Crossover Classic.” The owner was in his late 70s and only flew his Skylane 10 hours per year. Though he couldn’t justify keeping the Skylane he, too, kept flying. He purchased a Piper J-3 Cub, restored it with a partner, and now flies it under Light Sport Aircraft rules.

Let’s go back further, to AOPA’s 2004 “Win-A-Twin” sweepstakes airplane–a 1965 Piper Twin Comanche. Same deal: an ex-airline pilot rarely flew the airplane. He was getting out of the twin because, you guessed it, he didn’t fly so much any more.

It strikes me that these pilots represent a groundswell in sales of older general aviation airplanes. All three owners were deeply involved in GA flying, and emotional about parting with their beloved airplanes. In each case it took years for the owners to come to the decision to sell. And in those years, I might add, each deferred essential maintenance. They became inured to their airplanes’ signs of wear and tear.

I’ll bet that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of owners and airplanes out there in the same situations. And guess what. Those owners and airplanes were part of GA’s glory years, which ran roughly from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. That’s when more GA pilots were trained, and airplanes built, than ever before–or since. It was the apex of GA’s bell-shaped activity curve.

Now many of those older owners are getting out of “conventional” GA and into light-sport flying. Others are simply walking away. No surprise here, but my point is that there aren’t enough younger pilots entering GA to compensate for the older ones leaving. That’s why AOPA’s many initiatives designed to promote growth of the pilot base–our flying club iniative being the latest–will be so essential in the years to come.

Originally posted at