AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes - Muncie Magic

November 11, 2009

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May 4
Muncie Magic

The Win a Six has been at Muncie Aviation Company since April 16, and a lot has happened in the meantime. Muncie's avionics shop, under avionics manager Bill Roundtree's supervision, has begun to work its magic.

Anyone who has followed an AOPA sweepstakes project airplane knows that the avionics upgrade is the most ambitious and time-consuming phase of the restoration process. This time is certainly no different. But as the years go by, something noteworthy happens. Avionics become increasingly sophisticated, capable, and intricate to install. And at the same time, the airplanes AOPA restores seem to regress to earlier and earlier vintages. (The Commander Countdown involved a 1974 airplane; the Win-A-Twin Comanche was a 1965 model.)

These older airplanes, like all I suppose, have personalities. Some seem to resist change, especially when it comes to swapping out old avionics for new. One notable ordeal occurred during 1997's Ultimate Arrow project, when we belatedly discovered that the airplane's 12-volt electrical system wouldn't support the fancy new, 28-volt avionics. The solution was an expensive installation of four voltage converter boxes on the firewall.

I'm glad to say that none of these sorts of roadblocks seem to be a factor with the Win a Six. (I'm knocking on wood right now.) All of today's more advanced avionics are compatible with both 12- or 24-volt electrical systems (the Win a Six is a 12-volt airplane), and Muncie Aviation is probably the best shop for such a massive upgrade as this one.

The A-Team
Muncie has gone all-out to make sure this job is done right, and on time. And we certainly appreciate their professional approach to the job. Roundtree has put five technicians on the Six. Here are their names and principal tasks:

  • Morris Wilhauer. Known as "Mo" around the shop, Wilhauer is the lead technician on the whole job. He's also the point man for the wiring harness work.
  • Micah Himelick. Wiring specialist par excellence.
  • Brian Manship. Wiring of the J.P. Instruments EDM 930 engine and fuel gauge cluster, S-Tec Fifty-Five X autopilot flight control runs, and Aero-Trim aileron trim system.
  • Jason Adams. Fabricator of panel cutouts, instrument trays, and rail mounts.
  • Mike Brown. Point man for the S-Tec autopilot installation, which is saying a lot.

Rip it out
The avionics overhaul began with what can only be called a gutting, a razing, a controlled demolition of the original panel. Muncie administrative assistant Tammy Sofronko supplied the photos to document the entire avionics work package, and when the first shots came in, the effect was shocking. One shot featured a black hole of a panel, with no instruments and not a trace of cosmetic appeal. Forty-year-old wires hung limp and worn. Tattered black aluminum was the dominant color scheme. Check out the photo gallery to see the Six's gory, gaping panel.

A panel undergoing this kind of work is always startling to behold, but also inspiring. You wonder: Can they get all those avionics in there? Will the wiring come together as planned, or will someone throw in the towel and head for the beach for a couple of weeks' worth of R&R? Then again, all this aggressive trashing is a sure sign that work has begun in earnest.

The panel's disassembly took Muncie a total of three days to perform. Seems these guys are in practice.

Build it up
After the old components were cleaned out, the next tasks are to make the new panel, build the trays to hold them, and make the new wiring harnesses. That's what's happening as this gets posted. I'll make another report in the next two weeks covering the final stages of the avionics work.

The latest panel news is that Roundtree and crew will install magneto switches like those in current-model New Pipers. The old rotating-key-style mag switch will be replaced by two guarded panel switches, and the ancient, round starter button is departing the fix - to be replaced with a square, lighted switch. In fact, all the switches will be lighted and are the same switches used in current-production New Piper 6Xs and Saratogas. There will be a total of 13 lighted switches, plus four rheostat switches for controlling the intensity of the panel, switch, radio, and overhead lighting.

I'm down on my knees now, thanking any and all deities for Muncie's tossing all the Six's old fuses into the garbage can. Though some vapid, smug Gen-Xers may refer to me as a geezer, the fact is that fuses precede me. I never made peace with them, and they seemed woefully inadequate to the task. For example, how would you know which fuse blew? I know, I know, you have to unscrew them and look for a busted filament; just what you need when an electrical problem crops up. And sure, they're labeled, but after 40 years, technicians often add other, unidentified components to fuses. How much better to have poppable, pullable circuit breakers, like the Klixon types being installed at Muncie.

Bottom line: The Win A Six will have "a panel that's as close as a New Piper 6X's as you can get," says Roundtree.

LoPresti update
It turns out that cylinders number three and four - the middle two cylinders of our/your Six's Lycoming O-540 engine - are running hotter than we'd like. Part of the reason may be that Ultimate Engines' overhaul, with its great attention to balancing, and polishing and porting of the cylinder heads, produced an engine that puts out slightly more than the rated, 260 horsepower.

Whatever the reason, LoPresti Speed Merchants is investigating ways of modifying their cowling to get the hot cylinders to lose 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It may mean a slight redesign of the cowling.

The odd thing is that the high cylinder head temperatures occur in cruise, when air is blasting over the cylinders. During taxi and extended climbs in hot weather, the cowling works well. Even at V Y climbs to the 6,000- and 8,000-foot altitude range, cylinder head temperatures are under control. That huge, single cowl flap is one reason why.

AOPA Fly-In
Stop by AOPA headquarters on Saturday, June 3. That's the day of our annual Fly-In, and that's the day that the Win a Six's new panel will first go on public display. I hope you can come by and take a gander at all that's been done to this heavy-hauling classic that's rapidly turning into what must be one of the fastest, most technologically advanced Cherokee Sixes in general aviation history. We'll spin a few yarns, tell a few lies, and answer all your questions about this wonderful airplane.

Oh, and let's all hope for good weather!

-Thomas A. Horne

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