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

AOPA Sweepstakes 2012 – Tougher Than a Tornado

August 15th, 2012

Tornado Husky at undisclosed California location

Originally published on


The AOPA Sweepstakes Tougher Than A Tornado Husky is tucked away at an undisclosed location in Southern California and will remain there until being awarded to its winner at AOPA Aviation Summit Oct. 11 to 13 at Palm Springs, Calif.

The Husky flew to the West Coast at the conclusion of EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., with a stop at its birthplace, Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyo. There, the craftsmen who build the rugged bush plane by hand gave the Tornado Husky a thorough looking over and a new annual inspection.

During an adventure-filled year, the Tornado Husky has brought attention to the promise, challenge, and excitement of flying off the beaten path, and it has dropped in at places as far flung as Bar Harbor, Maine; Key West, Fla.; Kalispell, Mont.; and now Palm Springs. But even though it has traveled far and wide, the total time on the Tornado Husky’s airframe and engine are right around 200 hours—and the annual inspection confirmed this frisky young pup is just entering the prime of its life.

“It’s in great shape to provide many years of reliable service,” said Steve Hastings, an Aviat mechanic and IA who performed the annual inspection. “Engine compression is excellent in all cylinders (77, 78, 78, 78), and you can’t get much better than that. We cleaned and gapped the spark plugs and replaced normal wear-and-tear items such as brake pads. But it’s obvious this airplane is in terrific shape.”

Aviat performs Husky annuals in Afton that can resemble NASCAR pit stops.

When the Tornado Husky rolled to a stop on the factory ramp, company technicians pushed it into their maintenance hangar and got right to work. After the engine compression check, they drained the oil, replaced the filter, examined the screens, replaced a misfiring ELT, repaired minor blemishes on the right aileron, and hoisted the airplane off the ground with a chain that they attached to two metal lift hooks on the top wing. The 29-inch Alaskan Bushwheel tires were removed and the wheel bearings cleaned and greased.

Even the treadless tires seem to be holding up well. Whenever possible, AOPA pilots land the Tornado Husky on grass surfaces instead of concrete in an effort to preserve the specialized tires. But since the Tornado Husky has been hangared at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland (where there are no turf runways) all year and flown to and from similarly hard-surface airports, the tires have spent most of their time on concrete and asphalt.

The annual inspection at Afton was completed in a single day.

“If there are no complications and we can keep two guys on it, we can often complete an annual inspection in a day like this,” said Hastings, who was assisted by Aviat technician Val Swenson. “This time, the stars all aligned in our favor.”

SweepsThat’s been a consistent theme throughout the year. After the hard-luck Husky was battered by the Sun ‘n Fun Tornado in March 2011, its fortunes seem to have improved. Everywhere it goes, the Tornado Husky is greeted by people who appreciate its unique history and the limitless possibilities for adventure it offers. (But the airplane’s reputation for attracting wild weather also held true with a strong thunderstorm at EAA AirVenture, and wind and hail in Wyoming.)

And even though it’s not the world’s fastest airplane (105 knots at cruise), it goes places. On its westbound journey, the Tornado Husky flew 6.5 hours (with one fuel stop in Ohio) to Oshkosh where it joined a line of other aircraft on the Fisk Arrival to Runway 27. The day after EAA AirVenture ended, it logged 10.5 hours (with stops in Minnesota and South Dakota). From there, it headed almost straight south to St. George, Utah, and then hooked right into Southern California where it rode a rare tailwind westbound across the desert.

The airplane ran beautifully throughout the transcontinental flight, but stormy weather in Chicago meant crossing the blue middle of Lake Michigan, and headwinds and wilting high temperatures (and density altitudes) across the Great Plains demanded much—and the Tornado Husky delivered.

Aviat pilots Steve Anderson and Owen Genzlinger were ferrying two brand-new Huskys to Afton after EAA AirVenture, and AOPA President Craig Fuller joined their caravan in his personal Husky, and photographer George Kounis and I came in the Tornado Husky. The pack of four Huskys encountered 30-knot headwinds in western Wisconsin and Minnesota, jarring turbulence and haze and smoke from wildfires in South Dakota, and climbed as high as 11,500 feet crossing the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming. During the final hour of the marathon trip, we dropped into loose formation and followed the Snake River along the base of the Grand Tetons and through the canyons to a sublime sunset arrival at Alpine Airpark. There are 14 Huskys based at Alpine, and the four new arrivals seemed to fit right in.

When the Tornado Husky’s annual inspection was complete, Aviat test pilot Anderson took the airplane up for a post-maintenance flight around Afton. He then made a few minor adjustments by reducing the engine idle RPM to 675, double-checked the elevator trim tension, and lubricated the tailwheel to get rid of an occasional shimmy.

“When an airplane leaves here, we make sure everything on it is right,” he said. “I’m satisfied that everything on the Tornado Husky is right. It flies like a Husky—and that’s the best compliment I can give any airplane.”

Bruce’s Custom Cover for Tornado Husky!

May 11th, 2012

Thanks to Bruce’s Custom Covers, the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky has some added protection from the elements.

A customized aircraft cover that perfectly matches the Tornado Husky’s paint scheme (and carries the Tornado Husky Logo) will shield the young airplane from sun, blowing sand, rain and anything else it might encounter on future adventures.

The canvas cover just arrived at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md., this week. It has a retail value of more than $600, and AOPA (as well as the future winner who will be named at the AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., Oct. 11 to 13) appreciate the thoughtful donation!

Rosen Visor for Tornado Husky

April 25th, 2012

Rosen Visor will keep the Sweeps winner from squinting on those beautiful sunny days.The winner of the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky won’t have to worry about glare or haze.

Rosen Sunvisor Systems has provided an optically perfect, swing-out visor that cuts glare and protects the pilot’s eyes like a great pair of sunglasses. With summer ahead and temperatures rising, Rosen’s timing is perfect.

The STC’d visor is easy to install, and the Rosen kit is absolutely complete. The company even sends the appropriate Allen wrenches (as well as the hardware, grease, and required aircraft logbook entries) to complete the task. Rosen also provided a pair of extremely lightweight sunshades that attach to the Tornado Husky skylight with suction cups to cool the cockpit on hot days. Those are sure to come in handy when the Tornado Husky is on display at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisc., this summer — as well as AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., in October where it will be awarded to its lucky winner.

SNF Tornado Husky Update

March 23rd, 2012
The yellow paint of the Sweepstakes Husky shines like a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

The yellow paint of the Sweepstakes Husky shines like a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

The AOPA’s 2012 “Tougher Than A Tornado” Sweepstakes Husky will have traveled to all four corners of the United States by the time it is awarded to its winner in Palm Springs, California in the fall.

It’s already been to western Montana and coastal Maine. But returning to Lakeland, Florida, where it was tossed about by the infamous Sun ’n Fun tornado in 2011 (and earned its “tougher than a tornado” monicker) was perhaps the most challenging outing from a weather standpoint.

The 2012 Sun ’n Fun Fly-In brought with it a gorgeous weather forecast of sunshine for almost the entire week of the event. But getting there in advance from AOPA’s home base in the mid-Atlantic in a VFR-only airplane required making lots of “over, under, or around” decisions regarding the low ceilings and rain that can almost always be found on the 750-nm route in early spring.

This year, a persistent overcast in Maryland and Virginia, rain showers in North Carolina, thunderstorms South Carolina, and headwinds and turbulence in Florida, made the south-bound trip especially challenging from a weather standpoint—but still safely doable with the Tornado Husky’s capable tools.

The Tornado Husky’s instrument panel has a Garmin GPSMAP 696 linked to graphical XM Satellite Weather that allows pilots to make informed choices about conditions well beyond what they can see through the windshield. The Doppler radar displays as well as METARs and TAFs proved especially handy this year as weather came into play throughout the trip which began on an overcast afternoon in Maryland.

Follow the leader. Dave Hirschman sticks to the six of Craig Fuller.

Follow the leader. Dave Hirschman sticks to the six of Craig Fuller.

Instead of making the trip solo, this year AOPA President Craig Fuller accompanied the Tornado Husky in his own airplane, a 1999 Husky A-1A that he was bringing to Sun ‘n Fun for the week. (Huskys run in packs!)

Leaving Maryland, we crept along under the overcast, flew through the well-known notch in the mountains at Harpers Ferry, the historic town where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, and continued southwest through Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley.

We finally happened upon our first blue sky there and climbed to 6,500 feet where we easily topped the low clouds. We had planned to fly to the Atlanta, Georgia, area but a building line of rain and thunderstorms seen on the XM Weather display along that route convinced us to make a left turn toward the coast instead. In addition to being more direct, it also has much lower elevations and, on this day, fewer clouds.

We refueled in Danville, Virginia, then set our sights on Beaufort County Airport (a.k.a. “Frogmore International”) and expected to arrive a few minutes after sunset. Having elected to go over the clouds on the first leg of the trip, we went around them on the second, but still managed to get good and wet at the edges of a few downpours in the carolinas.

Paul Harrop, a videographer who recently joined AOPA and was traveling in the Tornado Husky with me and making his first cross-country trip in a GA airplane. I guess I felt compelled to reassure him about the weather many times during the journey, and the laconic Oklahoman eventually tired of my frequent (and false) pronouncements that each line of showers we went around would be the last before a “straight shot” to our destination.

“You don’t need to keep saying that,“ he told me. “I’ll panic when you panic—and not before.”

For the record, no one in our traveling party ever panicked. But I did push the power on the Tornado Husky’s 180-horsepower Lycoming engine up and had the three-blade MT prop singing at 2,500 rpm for the final dash into Beaufort.

AOPA President Craig Fuller flying his personal Husky over Hilton Head, S.C.

AOPA President Craig Fuller flying his personal Husky over Hilton Head, S.C.

(My wingman, whose 13-year-old Husky is equipped with normal-sized tires instead of the Tornado Husky’s 29-inch Alaskan Bushwheels, had no trouble keeping up.)

We arrived a few minutes after sunset and landed on the east-facing Runway 7 with the powerful LED landing lights on the Tornado Husky’s left wing putting out a beam powerful enough to stun the swarms of sand flies that call the marsh home.

The Husky team starts Thursday off right with a beautiful morning in Beaufort, S.C., ready to take off.

The Husky team starts Thursday off right with a beautiful morning in Beaufort, S.C., ready to take off.

The next morning brought patchy fog and rain, but conditions improved enough by mid-morning to get underway. We hugged the east coast as a flight of two until Savannah, Georgia, then turned inland and flew under the clouds for a time, then over them, to Cross City, our final refueling point and a time-honored stop for many fliers on the way to or from Sun ’n Fun.

The last leg to central Florida involved a stiff headwind and air lumpy enough to convince Paul to put down his video camera. And the Tornado Husky, which got a few good baths on the way south from the passing rain, sparkled in the Florida sunshine as it prepared to greet Sun ’n Fun visitors—one of whom may even get to take it home from AOPA Summit 2012.