AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes - New Year, New Sweeps

November 11, 2009

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January 1
New Year, New Sweeps

AOPA’s Win a Six in ’06
Welcome to 2006, and welcome to AOPA’s Win a Six in ’06 Sweepstakes! This year, we’ll be giving away a fully refurbished 260-horsepower 1967 Piper Cherokee Six, and it’ll be one of the nicest Sixes ever. When the project is finished, that is. Right now, the airplane is going through the very first stages of the airplane’s transformation from a well-used family wagon to a luxury travel machine with the latest in avionics, engine, and airframe speed mods.

We found our/your Six in McKinney, Texas, which is north of Dallas. There, it belonged to Stewart Cole, an AOPA member and eight-year owner of N187KJ. Cole bought the airplane when he worked in Fargo, North Dakota. He saw a “for sale” notice on a bulletin board at the Muskogee, Oklahoma, airport and followed up with a phone call. The airplane was based in Waco, Texas, so Cole made the trip and did the deal. He was ecstatic. “I even sent out ‘birth’ announcements to my family and close friends, telling them about the addition to our family,” Cole admitted. As fate would have it, Cole was transferred to Dallas a short time later and he began to rack up the bulk of his flying time in KJ making family trips to Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. The airplane was based at the Aero Country Airport (T31) in McKinney.

“I put 200 hours on it the first year I owned it,” Cole said. “And we didn’t slow down much over the eight years we had it.” Recalling one memorable trip—to his son’s wedding—Cole said he filled all four aft seats, then added so much luggage that his daughter ended up engulfed by large containers of flowers that had to be removed so she could get in and out of one of the back seats. “That plane will carry nearly its own weight,” Cole added. “Its empty weight was 1,780 pounds, and its gross weight is 3,400 pounds.”

It’s this kind of load-hauling ability that makes the Cherokee Six a very desirable airplane indeed. But there are plenty of other reasons why this airplane has managed to stay in production for nearly 40 years. And why it makes a great sweepstakes airplane. It’s easy to fly, very forgiving, has simple systems, and its fixed landing gear make for manageable insurance rates for even low-time pilots.

Prepurchase inspection
A pre-buy inspection is an absolute must for any airplane you’re thinking of purchasing. That goes double for AOPA’s sweepstakes airplanes. N187KJ was examined inside and out by an A&P mechanic, with special emphasis on looking for corrosion—always a potential deal-killer for older airplanes. But our Six spent its 39 years based mostly in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, where salt air—the number-one cause of most extensive corrosion—isn’t a factor.

The airplane’s 260-hp Lycoming O-540 engine was a high-timer, with just 100 hours shy of its 2,000-hour recommended time between overhaul (TBO). That was good and bad. Good, because it reduced the asking price. Bad, because we’d be faced with the cost of replacing or overhauling the engine. But we’d do that anyway. The engine, by the way, is carbureted. Early Sixes (from model years 1966 through 1977) could be ordered either with 260-hp engines or the more powerful, 300-hp fuel-injected variants of the same engine.

As for the instrument panel, it was a collage of 1960s-era gear (a defunct Piper Altimatic autopilot), 1970s-era King nav/coms, a 1980s-era King KNS-80 area navigation unit, and some pretty attractive, current-era equipment. This included a Garmin GNS 430 GPS/Navcom (which we’ll be keeping), an L-3 Communications WX-500 Stormscope—also a keeper, and a JP Instruments EDM-700 engine analyzer. The creakier the panel, the lower the acquisition price, so that was one more attractive feature of this particular airplane.

The deal looked even better when we found out that Cole’s Six already had the club-seating mod. Back in the 1960s, Piper sold Sixes with forward-facing seating only. We’d have to reconfigure the interior to make a more modern club setup through an expensive and complex STC process, and were resigned to that, but if we bought Cole’s airplane that would be one refurb item we could skip.

Considering the high-time engine, the avionics blend of new and old, and the club seating, we got what we felt was a very fair deal at a purchase price of $80,500. Those Sixes really hold their value (especially the 300-hp version).

T31 to MEZ
I showed up in Frisco, Texas (a suburb of Dallas) on October 20 to take delivery of N187KJ. By the way, the airplane’s N number will be changed to reflect its new mission. It will become N164U; a Six for you, get it?

After a short familiarization flight, I launched on a cross-country to the Mena, Arkansas, airport. That’s where our chosen engine overhaul shop— Ultimate Engines—is based, and that’s where the first of many work packages would be performed on the Six in ‘06.

Forecasts were for good VFR all along the 144-nm flight, and that was fine by me. With a non-standard instrument panel layout, a kaput autopilot, and an engine close to the end of its supposed useful life, I figured I’d need all the help I could get in the weather department. The airplane turned in a true airspeed of 136 knots at 5,500 feet and an outside air temperature of 20 degrees Celsius, with power set at 75 percent. This turned out to be 24 inches of manifold pressure and 2,400 rpm.

But it was not to be. An undercast soon slid beneath the airplane, and then I was calling Fort Worth Center to air-file an IFR flight plan to Mena, which was now advertising a ceiling of 1,000 feet.

In short order I was flying in and out of cloud tops, then on solid instruments. It was bumpy, too! But the Six is nothing if not stable and rode the turbulence well.

Good thing, because soon I was cleared for a VOR/DME approach to Mena, complete with a hold. Here’s where the Garmin GNS 430 and KNS-80 came in handy. An airplane may be chronologically challenged, but modern panel equipment definitely preserves its utility. The approach went uneventfully, and so did the landing—nearly always a non-event in this, the biggest of the Cherokees.

Ultimate Engines
Ultimate Engines’ CEO and owner, Mike Wagner, was on hand when I pulled up in front of Ultimate’s hangar. In short order, the cowl was removed and a visual inspection begun.

“Well, everything that can leak, is leaking,” Wagner said of the coating of oil that seemed to pervade the engine compartment. Burnt scat tubing, a loose cabin heat shroud, and friction wear of the starter housing were also noted, along with some worn wires and other typical evidence of wear and tear.

Ultimate’s crew then removed the engine, disassembled it, and sent the propeller to American Propeller Service for an overhaul of the stock, two-blade constant-speed propeller. As it turns out, the turmoil of time has taken its toll on the old propeller and we’re forced into looking for an alternative—more on that later.

Ultimate will custom-balance the internal engine components for smoother operation and less wear and use its “blueprinting” procedure to ensure that our overhaul results in an engine that’s in better-than-new condition. Among other quality-control steps, the blueprinting process involves making sure all components (connecting rods, cylinder decks, valve spring pressures, and much more) are of equal measurements, ensuring long engine life.

At this writing, a brand-new set of ECi ( Engine Components Inc.) “Titan” cylinders, valves, and cylinder head assemblies have been delivered to Ultimate and await installation. ECi, based in San Antonio, has sent us their pride and joy—its CermiNil cylinders. These feature a nickel-alloy cylinder bore coating that provides corrosion protection, excellent piston ring seating, and low wear rates. The cylinders come with a warranty covering corrosion or premature wear for five years or TBO, whichever comes first.

There’s much more to this particular engine’s overhaul procedure, of course, and we’ll be covering these other aspects in more depth in upcoming Web updates of the Six in ‘06’s restoration. This will include the starter, alternator, and carburetor reconditioning from Kelly Aerospace; Dawley Aviation’s repair of the exhaust stacks and heater shroud; Unison Industries’ new, FADEC-like Lasar ignition system. Oh, and American Propeller Service’s “Designer Prop” paint job of the Six’s propeller.

Please check back for many more updates of the Win a Six in ‘06 project. They’ll be featured in AOPA Pilot and on this Web page. It’s only just begun, but you’ll want to keep track of the progress—whether for background information relating to improvements you’re planning for your airplane, an education in airplane restoration, or just to watch a good airplane become better—one that you could win simply by renewing your membership anytime in 2006. Better yet, also convince a member to join and you get an additional chance to win.

—Thomas A. Horne

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