November 11, 2009
December 6 Grand Flying Finale
How fast the time flies. It was some 14 months ago I took delivery of what was to become AOPA's 2006 sweepstakes airplane—a 1967 Cherokee Six 260. Now, the day draws near for the Six's winner. By February 2007, the airplane will have been awarded.
The finale for the Six—in terms of public appearances—was this year's AOPA Expo in Palm Springs, California. There, the Win-A-Six took center stage at the static display area, parked right by the convention center's entrance. If you went into the building, you had to pass the airplane.
Attendee comments were enthusiastic. Many likened the airplane to a brand-new Piper 6X, which would be fairly accurate—to a degree. It's this airplane's instrument panel and other features that make the Win-A-Six better equipped than the $500,000-plus 6Xs and 6XTs that Piper Aircraft Inc. manufactures today. Like the Avidyne TAS600 traffic alert system, the Sandel SN3500 electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI), and the S-TEC System Fifty-Five X autopilot and flight control system, to name a few. The new interior, complete with its club seating configuration, also gives the Win-A-Six a modern look, as does the five-color custom paint job.
Flying the Win-A-Six to and from Palm Springs gave me a better feel for the rejuvenated airplane. For the most part, the weather cooperated, and the instrument weather I ran into wasn't all that threatening. Headwinds did wreak havoc with my groundspeeds, though!
The trip began when I departed Panola County Airport in Batesville, Mississippi, home of Aircraft Interiors of Memphis—where the interior shop is located. And where the technicians at The Hangar Inc.—headed up by manager Randy Denny—performed an annual inspection on the airplane. From there it was a short hop to Memphis International for some maintenance on the airplane's Avidyne EX500. Then came a long leg, from Memphis to a planned fuel stop at Mineral Wells, Texas.
But by the time I reached Paris, Texas, the winds aloft were dealing me a bad hand: 40 knots on the nose. With my true airspeed of 142 knots, that meant I was sometimes looking at 98-knot groundspeeds, and that my fuel reserves could be dangerously low when I arrived at Mineral Wells. So, I landed short of Mineral Wells by 80 nm or so, at the sleepy Bowie, Texas airport. Elapsed time: three hours, 48 minutes.
By this time, an overcast layer at 2,000 feet (with tops at 7,000 feet) had crept along my route, which would next take me from Bowie to Midland, Texas—again, short of my intended destination (El Paso) because of the groundspeed-robbing winds aloft at my 6,000-foot cruise altitude. That took three hours. After Midland, it was a two-hour slog on to El Paso, where I called it a day.
The next day I followed the southern route from El Paso to Palm Springs. This meant climbing to 10,000-foot minimum enroute altitudes, as I made my way from El Paso International to the Phoenix/Goodyear airport. For that three-hour route segment I went via V198 to the San Simon VOR, then via the Stanfield VOR to Goodyear. The Six did a pretty good job of climbing in those hot-and-high conditions, but the climb rate did drop to 300-fpm or so as 10,000 feet was reached. And the cylinder head temperatures stayed in the 390-degree range during cruise. Best of all, the headwinds slacked off.
The home stretch was a quick, 1.5-hour jaunt out of Goodyear and down V16 at 7,500 feet, using the Buckeye, Blythe, and Thermal VORs as waypoints. For the arrival into Palm Springs, I was vectored down the east side of Interstate 10 for a right downwind to runway 31R.
Job done! And it only took three days and about 15 hours of flight time. All done in the kind of comfort and quiet that was quite a novelty after flying the airplane in its unrefined state for around 50 hours in the previous months.
The return trip also followed the Goodyear-El Paso-Midland route, but then I went VFR direct to Longview, Texas, and followed up with an overnight stop at Birmingham, Alabama on the second day. The landing at Birmingham was interesting, in that it involved a night ILS approach to runway 24, in 2,000-and-five conditions. It gave me my first nighttime chance to use the avionics in actual instrument conditions. And they worked just fine.
After Birmingham, it was another three-hour leg to Charleston, West Virginia for a gas stop, then a quick 1.5-hour leg for the journey back to AOPA's home base at the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport.
Of course, flying that long gives you the chance to get very familiar with the Win-A-Six's cockpit. And by this I don't just mean the avionics. The Saircorp center console's clip board certainly came in handy. I used it to hold charts and a small flight log. The armrest opens up to hold all manner of objects (pens, flashlights), and is just the right size to accommodate two NOS approach books.
And if the interior has a new look, credit all the new interior plastic. Vantage Plane Plastics' new window reveals, fuel selector and pitch trim/flap handle panels, floor and fuselage frame covers, baggage compartment, and overhead panels—to name but a few of the 45 plastic components Vantage supplied—go a long, long way to giving the airplane a brand-new look and feel. That, and the smell of the new leather seats!
Right now, the Win-A-Six is having some minor repairs made. Watch this page for its next few flights, as we march forward to the airplane's delivery date.
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