C-182Q N96934 at West Valley Flying Club

Friday, December 15, 2006

Round trip to SMO and a status update

I flew round trip to Santa Monica today. It was a good opportunity to make sure all the IFR equipment was in good order. My arrival at SMO on the GPS-A was through a thin layer of clouds that broke out right at minimums. I posted a few pictures from the return trip at Picasa Web.

The renter before me entered a condition report that the HSI was "not matching the magnetic compass." The first thing I checked was that the gyro in the HSI was slaved to the magnetic flux compass. It was not. I found it in the "free" position. It is actually working fine.

Please feel free to contact me or your favorite CFI if you have questions about systems operations.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Booked and Flown

Thank you to the WVFC members who are already scheduling time in 96934. I was up yesterday and verified that the EGT is working properly. The only significant issue is that the autopilot has been placarded INOP and the breaker tiewrapped to prevent inadvertent power-on.

I think that as I write this the plane is up flying with a member other than me for the first time in about seven months. I'm looking forward to hearing from members on their experience.

Life Story of a Skylane: Chapter Three

[Beginning][Previous Chapter]
In 1987, my son turned one year old. I was living in Newton, MA (slogan: The Garden City). This will be more interesting in a few minutes.

For details of what happened to 96934 between 12/31/1987 and 6/1/1993, I relied on the aircraft logbook, the ownership records at the FAA and information received from two individuals. It is a pretty sketchy picture.

The plane had routine maintenance performed on 12/1/1987. A tire and a light bulb were replaced, and some controls were lubed. The logbook notes that the TTAF (total time on airframe) was 799 hours. The next logbook entry is from 6/1/1993. At that time, there were 844 hours on the tach. It seems likely that many of those hours were logged by the pilot who flew the plane from sunny Santa Ana, CA (slogan: Downtown Orange County) to a snowbank in Davenport, IA (slogan: Crash Your Plane Here; actually, Iowa's Front Porch!) by way of the East Coast. By that time, my son was almost seven and I was selling the house in Newton, on my way to Antwerp, Belgium (slogan: 't Stad is van iedereen; English: the City is for everyone) for two years.

There are three entries with the 6/1/1993 date: one for a paint job, one for a new engine, and one containing the ever-so-benign text, "Replaced firewall - see 337 this date; installed customer supplied wings; rerigged all controls & test flown - OPS CK OK."

During that 5 1/2 years, the plane changed hands multiple times. As I mentioned in the last post, the owner sold it to the insurance company after the accident. They appear to have sold it to Midwest Air Center in Mandan, ND (slogan: Where the West Begins) in June of 1989. I have no information about Midwest Air Center, but they appear to still exist today. Whether the plane was ever dragged, carried, or otherwise transported to Mandan is a question mark, but common sense says it didn't get there. Six months later, in December, the plane was sold to El Paso Aircraft in El Paso, TX (slogan: The Land of the Sun). If you care enough to investigate on the internet, you will discover that El Paso didn't have an outstanding reputation. This is the first warning sign (unless you consider the total wreck of the plane in a remote airport) that there was trouble in store. In July, 1991, the plane was sold again to Lock Haven Aircraft Sales. Their business address was a post office box in Wilmingon, DE (slogan: A Place to be Someone). Given the inconvenience of storing planes in post office boxes, it is no surprise that this enterprise actually ran out of Lock Haven, PA (no slogan found). From what I have learned, it was started by one of the partners in El Paso Aircraft. So even though the plane changed owners, it sort of stayed with the same owner. I still have no reason to believe that the plane had left Iowa by this time. My guess is that after doing whatever airplane traders do for nearly two years, Lock Haven finally got around to having the plane put back together. This was done by Larkin Floyd of Tri-State Airmotive in Berryville, Arkansas (slogan: Where History Meets Progress). On my maps, Arkansas is nowhere near Iowa, North Dakota, Texas or Pennsylvania. I'm thinking Larkin got the work based on price.

I had the opportunity to speak with Larkin in June of 2006, as I started learning about the plane I had bought and how different it was from the plane I had thought I bought. He is still running Tri-State, but it has apparently scaled way back from what it once was. Larkin told me that at that time he had a large staff. Now he is a one-man operation. I got some independent confirmation when I found this record of a big equipment auction where he was scaling back his business in July of 2002.

In any case, Larkin was kind enough to go up into his old records for information about the work he had done on the plane. I was specifically looking for any documentation explaining the brief note, "customer-supplied wings." The need for that documentation will be revealed when we get to 2006. He didn't have any official paperwork, such as yellow tags (tags indicating repairs done by an FAA authorized repair station--these are a very good thing to have) for the wings, but he did have some work orders that jogged his memory. He recalls having trouble getting the customer to pay for the work that was being done, which led to a stop-and-go nature on the project. According to him, he drove out to Colorado (slogan: Centennial State) to pick up these wings from a wing rebuilder named Coleman. He claims that Coleman was a real craftsman who had since passed away. $40,000 I no longer have and the expert opinion of some very qualified A & Ps make me think that he wasn't quite the craftsman Larkin claimed. Craftsman or not, Larkin bolted on the wings, repaired the firewall (first thing to break when a 182 has a rough landing), replaced the engine, and gave it a nice coat of paint.

With that chapter of its history over (or at least hidden), 96934 was sold to a private party in Brookline, MA (traditional name: Muddy River Hamlet ) on 7/20/1993. There is definitely kismet in play. Brookline is the next town over from Newton, and the plane arrived there four days before I left Newton on a migration that would take me two years later to Washington State, where the plane was first in service. Peeking ahead, that journey ends for plane and pilot in 1999, when we finally both arrive in California. That story will be revealed in another chapter.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Footnote to Chapter Two

I was actually able to get in touch with the owner of 934 at the time of the crash. He bought the plane to lease back to a flying school. One of the club members took the plane on an east coast trip in December of 1987 and was on his way home when he pronged it in Davenport. If the pilot had only 23 hours in type, I think it must have almost all been on that one trip. I've got quite a bit more in type, including a fair amount of training and also more instrument hours. I would not fly in the middle of night, middle of winter in stormy weather to an airport I had never flown to or from. It sounds like a case of get-there-itis.

After the crash, the plane was actually purchased by the insurance company, who owned it until 1989, although that is not reflected in the FAA records. Chapter 3 will tell the story of the plane's return to service, including the easter egg that has cost me $40,000 to address.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Life Story of a Skylane: Chapter Two

In Chapter One, I covered a little bit of the model history and the first owner of N96934. In this brief chapter, I will cover the next two owners, concluding with the most traumatic moment in the life of the plane.

In January of 1982, the plane was sold to two brothers in Washington State. Through some internet research, it appears that they were in the fruit-growing business, at least that's what they were doing in 1998. I have tried to find contact information, so that I can document any memories they have of the plane, but I haven't had any luck so far. I do know that the brothers both had private pilot licenses during the time they owned the plane and that their medicals were last issued in the mid-80s, so they seem to have gotten out of flying around that time. They sold the plane 10/13/1987.

The trauma will occur before 1987 draws to a close.

The next owners were two individuals in Corona Del Mar, CA. FAA records show that one of them holds a Commercial ASEL (Airplane Single Engine Land) rating along with a CFI rating. From other records, it appears that the plane was owned on behalf of a flight training academy in Southern California. The academy is still operating today and the purchaser of 934 is listed as one of their instructors. On 12/31/1987, at 0615 local time, the plane crashed on landing at Davenport Municipal Field in Davenport, IA. The flight had departed Lima, OH, 301 nm away. That means the flight must have been initiated at around 0330. Departing in the middle of the night in the heart of a midwestern winter in a 182 seems like a bold untertaking. Perhaps it was too bold for the pilot.

The publicly available records don't say whether the pilot was the owner or another individual. Since the plane was operated by a flight school, there is no reason to believe it was the owner. And there is no way to figure out why someone was flying a Cessna in the pre-dawn hours of New Year's Eve in the middle of the corn belt, although the purpose of the flight was recorded as personal. A few things are noteworthy.

The flight had been cleared for a localizer approach to runway 15, but the pilot cancelled IFR when he was in the clear below 3000 feet. He was 31 years of age and had a total of 395 hours flight time, including 23 in type and 73 total instrument time. He reportedly attempted to land, then aborted and tried to go around. Before he could take off he clipped a snowbank and the plane veered off the runway.

The NTSB said that the primary probable cause was the pilot's failure to maintain control on takeoff. There were no fatalities or serious injuries, but the damage to the plane was officially recorded as substantial.

At the time of the accident, the plane had about 40 hours with the flight school owner. Their were 887 total hours on the plane. It wouldn't fly again for 5 1/2 years.

Home at Last

My recovery mission was a success. The weather Friday was perfect. Clear skies everywhere, light winds, smooth air and moderate temperatures. I met my friend Brad at the airport and we departed at around 9:00. Brad was working on instrument approaches, so he was under the hood the whole time. We headed for SNS where we flew the GPS 13 followed by the VOR 13. After that, we picked up a clearance for SMX and headed south.

On arrival at SMX, we flew the ILS. I got my first glimpse of 934 on downwind for landing. We were on the ground a little after 11:00 and admiring the plane moments later. Brad had a quick meeting with Phil at Coastal Valley about having work done on his plane, then he took off for home.

It was time to check the work and pay both Coastal Valley and the paint shop. The paint job lived up to expectations, so I walked over to Artcraft and gave them their balance payment. A bit later, I realized there were one or two things not done quite to spec. When I went back over, Teresa, the owner, was very responsive. She offered to take care of the loose ends any time that I had the plane back in SMX with Phil.

The work on the plane was top notch, as expected. In addition to the repair, I had Phil move the OAT sensor for the JPI from the fuselage to the wing. On the fuselage, it was reading a few degrees high. I discovered this last winter when flying into a cloud at what I thought was 36F. Oops. He also relocated the oil temp probe for the JPI from the outlet of the oil cooler, where it reads too low, to the preferred location before the cooler. A quick look at oil temp records from a JPI download shows that oil temps are reading more normally now. This is important, because if the oil temp doesn't get high enough when the engine runs, it won't evaporate water vapor from the crankcase, which promotes corrosion.

He also installed flap gap seals, a minor speed mod which was well-timed since the flaps were off and the wings were being painted.

The last major item on Phil's list was reinstalling the repaired pitch computer for the STEC autopilot. That was completed, but he didn't have time to check it in his flight test. More on that in a moment.

After a very thorough preflight, I fueled the plane and headed for the runup. I gave the plane a good runup since the engine had been sitting for months, except for Phil's short test flight. The autopilot passed a ground prefligh. All systems were go. Takeoff roll and climbout were great. Others have said that the flap gap seals enhance climb performance. I don't have objective data, but the plane did climb eagerly. I have noticed the same on all subsequent flights. Whether that is a real improvement or just the result of all my recent Citabria experience, I don't know.

On initial climb to cruise, the #2 CHT quickly popped through the 400F mark. Despite a bunch of work by Phil, that cylinder still wants to run hot. I guess it will be a sort of long term project for now. Otherwise, everything ran nicely and the plane felt nice and tight.

When I tried the autopilot, it failed selftest. This is the exact same problem that required sending the pitch computer back to STEC. It seems like it was able to run for the length of time a preflight required, but after that it failed. I don't know if they failed to fix the problem or if something is causing it to reoccur.

Other than that, the flight was uneventful, just as it should always be. The plane is already back in CASSi. At my request, it is blocked out until later this week, so that I can be sure everything is ready for safe and satisfying use. Feel free to wander by L-28 if you are in the area.