November 11, 2009
July 12 - It's me again, Tom Horne, AOPA Pilot's chauffeur at large for AOPA's Sweepstakes Bonanza. This week my assignment, if I care to accept (I do! I do!), is to fly the Bonanza from the paint shop at Murmer Aircraft Services at the Houston-Southwest Airport (AXH) to the Aerospace Systems and Technologies (AS&T) facility at the Salina Municipal Airport (SLN) in Kansas.
Now after my last epic adventure in the Bonanza (see the June 6 entry), this trip was much, much tamer. No low IFR, no sandwiching between storm systems, no fronts to negotiate or storms to circumnavigate. Instead, this chapter of the Bonanza's metamorphosis was more about heat than anything else. But my, how I prattle on. What about the paint job, I hear you ask.
Well, let's just say that the swoopy red and gold stripes on white was dazzling to behold when Murmer's President Steve Tolson rolled open his hangar doors. I could scarcely believe the difference between the shabby "before" condition (let's be frank) and its current glory. Everything was done to perfection right down to the last detail - even the new stainless steel screws and rechromed pitot tube. The new windows were especially noticeable, given the backdrop of the new paint job. And what's this? A newly installed set of vortex generators now grace the leading edges of the wings.
It was all ooohs and aaahs as I inspected the handiwork, but one look at the interior and back came the bad memories. On the last flight you'll recall that the pilot's seat was fixed in a more or less permanently reclined position. This problem was remedied in a profoundly jack-legged (yet effective) manner, if I must say so, by wedging two carpet scraps behind my back. It worked, but I was filled with fear as I flew: What if the seat back let go altogether and I flopped backwards, carpet scraps and all?
Oh, no. A fast glance at the interior reveals that things have apparently gotten worse in the seat department - there was no seat! Tolson explained that mechanics were rigging the seat back in such a way that it would be fixed upright, and would stay that way. But where is it?
Ah, there it is. A mechanic is carrying the sad-looking thing across the ramp. In a flash it's installed, it tests well, and I'm ready to go.
Back to the heat. Did I mention that it was hot? Well, it was. The last time I was at AXH the problem was a nascent tropical storm called Allison, which later dumped 3 feet of rain all over the Houston area. Now I'm looking at the outside air temperature on the EDM-800 engine analyzer and it reads 106 degrees Celsius. Just kidding. It wasn't that hot! Make that 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inside a cockpit, this kind of heat makes you sweat buckets in instants. Sweat was collecting on my glasses, stinging my eyes, soaking my shirt and pants, rolling down my arms and off my fingers. And yes, I said pants, and don't make fun, OK? This in spite of the newly installed, second storm window on the copilot's side window. I had a roll of paper towels to wipe off with, but the sweat kept coming and the heat made my water bottles hot to the touch.
During the engine start and taxi I learned just how important it is to aggressively lean the mixture during ground operations. During the run-up the engine stumbled mightily until I pulled the mixture knob back about 6 inches.
Soon enough, I was cruising at 8,500 feet msl, on a direct route to SLN and a heading of 345 degrees. Even up there the OAT was still a very warmish 77 degrees (Fahrenheit). With the throttle firewalled, prop set at 2,450 rpm, and fuel flow at 14.5 gph, I saw a true airspeed of 179 knots. All this at a whopping density altitude of 11,500 feet. A mean-spirited headwind kept my groundspeed to 162 knots or so.
About halfway through the three-and-a-half-hour flight I climbed to 10,500 feet, where I picked up a few more knots and the headwinds slacked off. Now I was doing 180 knots over the ground.
It seemed to take forever, but sure enough, Salina appeared over the nose, and I was in the pattern at 8:15 p.m., just before sundown. That's important because N2001B is still a strictly day-VFR airplane.
By the way, for those of you who may be wondering if the Meggitt MAGIC two-tube glass cockpit is operational, the answer is: No! I still had to stare at those two black screens all the way, and still had to make do with a whiskey compass for raw heading information. Having the Garmin 530/430 GPS/nav/com combination helps in the track department, and their moving maps make following a route a snap - even without an autopilot, which is also yet-to-be-certified.
After my last report I got some e-mail from pilots jumping on my case for complaining about not having the MAGIC, not having a heading indicator, not having a VVI, etc. "Boo-hoo, Tom Horne's complaining about having to hand-fly a dual Garmin setup," was the gist of it. So this time I'm not complaining ... except to say that without an autopilot it can be real easy to get into unusual attitudes. Now I'm proud to say that I'm absolutely proficient in unusual attitude recoveries, especially those of the nose-low type. Of course, this sort of finely honed skill is just what you'd expect of a chauffeur at large.
There were several typical scenarios. Here's how they would usually go:
You get the idea. It all points up just one of the many advantages of a functioning autopilot - whether it's on our Sweepstakes Bonanza or any other airplane.
For the next week, N2001B will be in the AS&T shop, having its TKS "weeping wing" leading edge panels installed. The panels will be plumbed, the propeller slinger ring and ice protection control panel installed, and the system signed off. The TKS system won't grant N2001B the ability to legally fly in known-icing conditions, but it will certainly be a welcome addition for any pilot who faces flying in the icy months of the year. It buys peace of mind, and can be a very efficient tool for safely escaping any inadvertent icing encounters.
My next assignment: Fly N2001B from Salina to Oshkosh where it - and me, the chauffeur at large - will be on display at AOPA's tent at the EAA AirVenture. Oh, and there'll also be a whole bunch of other AOPA and AOPA Air Safety Foundation staffers there to answer your questions, show you our services, or just plain shoot the breeze. See you there between July 24 and July 30.
Don't forget: This could be your airplane!
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