AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes - Ultimate Engines, American Propeller Kick Off the First of Five Major Work Packages

May 3, 2008

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January 25
Ultimate Engines, American Propeller Kick Off the First of Five Major Work Packages

It's a pleasure to report that engine and propeller work on the Win A Six in '06 Sweepstakes airplane is moving right along. At this stage, all engine components have been sent to participating vendors and have been reconditioned, overhauled, or replaced as required. Now, Ultimate Engines, our overhaul facility, is in the process of assembling the engine.

For this project, Ultimate will concentrate on fine-tuning and balancing the engine components, as well as assembling the engine and reattaching the propeller. We're overhauling the engine that came with the airplane, not installing a brand-new or zero-time engine.

What's the difference? A new engine is just that - a brand-new powerplant fresh from the factory. A zero-time engine has been overhauled by the engine manufacturer. And the type of overhaul being performed on the Win A Six is called a field overhaul. With this Ultimate overhaul, the engine's official status is said to have "zero time since major overhaul" status, or "0SMOH" in maintenance slang.

Take a look at the list of contributors to see all the companies that are participating in the engine and propeller work. Without their help, this project wouldn't be possible. And the variety of work and parts they've provided make a nice educational checklist for anyone contemplating a field overhaul. The work began with Ultimate disassembling the engine and removing the propeller. Let's take a brief tour, from the bottom up, of the fate of each engine component.

Crankcase and crankshaft
The crankcase was split, and the case halves were sent to crankcase specialists Divco Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thanks Divco! Divco found no cracks - lucky us - so they machined the mating surfaces flat to provide a new seal, then rebolted the case halves together to make sure the crankshaft bores were properly aligned. The bores are basically large holes in the center of the case, where the crankshaft journals rotate as the engine turns. As such, crank journals (those ultra-shiny surfaces) are big-time wear points. The bores checked out fine.

The crankshaft was sent to Aircraft Specialties Services, also in Tulsa, where it was checked for cracks and wear. While no cracks were found, the crank's journals were worn down - something you'd expect after 1,900 hours in service. So they were ground down and polished. New sets of thicker connecting rod bearings, provided by ECi of San Antonio (it also donated a set of their Titan cylinder assemblies), compensated for the metal lost in the grinding.

Then Ultimate went a step further. The crankshaft was rebalanced so it would run truer and smoother in its bores. Ultimate CEO Mike Wagner said that the crankshaft was out of balance by 10 grams on the left plane and almost the same amount on the right. So he rebalanced it to within 0.3 grams on the left and 0.5 grams on the right. "We balance engines to tighter specs than anyone in the industry," Wagner said.

Connecting rods and camshaft
The connecting rods were OK, but Ultimate rebalanced them, too. First, all six were balanced to each other. Then each pair of opposing rods were balanced so that the forces acting on the crankshaft would be equal. This makes the engine run smoother and last longer.

As for the camshaft, it was toast - pitted and worn out. Aircraft Specialties replaced it with a reconditioned camshaft it had in stock.

Cylinders
The old cylinders simply weren't worth saving in a project like this. Why do an overhaul and not replace the cylinders? ECi's Titans, which come with sets of matched pistons, valves, valve guides, and springs, are designed for long life and trouble-free break-ins thanks to their Nickel+Carbide cylinder bores. The Nickel+Carbide alloy is stronger than steel, can be rebored later on in the engine's life, and has a five-year warranty against premature wear and corrosion. For more information about ECi cylinders, see the Web site.

To boost the new cylinders' efficiency, Ultimate polished the intake and exhaust ports. "We were able to increase airflow by 5 percent after porting and polishing," Wagner said.

Engine accessories
Then there were the accessories. And so many! Kelly Aerospace overhauled the carburetor, alternator, and starter, so thanks go to this fine outfit for the second time they've pitched in on an AOPA Sweepstakes project (the last time was 2004's "Win-A-Twin" Twin Comanche giveaway).

Unison Industries helped out with its new ignition system - the LASAR. It uses magnetos but has the help of a FADEC-like microprocessor. The microprocessor varies spark timing according to ambient conditions and power settings. This makes for optimum spark timing over a wide range of conditions. Run-of-the-mill magnetos are timed for just one specific set of conditions - static, with the engine not running. It may represent the tradition, but it's hardly representative of real-world flying nor is it particularly fuel efficient. Unison says that the LASAR system can improve fuel consumption by 10 percent.

Dawley Aviation Inc. took our worn-out, discolored exhaust stacks and made them look like new. They also repaired the muffler, the heat shrouds, and the heat shroud attach points (one for cabin heat, one for carburetor heat). What a great job they did; the parts look like new!

Rapco - another two-time contributor - provided one of its vacuum pumps, which have dipsticks to measure the pump's vane wear. It's a unique system and a great way to keep track of the pump's condition as well as prevent unexpected pump failures.

B&C Specialties (yet another two-time participant) supplied a standby alternator for the O-540. This makes sense, because of the many electrical components to be installed later. These include Avidyne's EX500 multifunction display, Garmin's GNS-530 GPS/navcom, and Sandel's SN3500 electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI). We wouldn't want to fly this airplane without a second source of electrical power and neither would you. So we considered the B&C alternator a must.

Overhaul and reconditioning of other components and accessories took even more time. This involved two-time contributor Kosola Associates (engine mount); Quality Aircraft Accessories (engine-driven fuel pump); Western Skyways (standby alternator drive shaft, crankshaft hardware); and Precision Hose Technology (a specialist in GA hoses and another two-time contributor, which set us up with a new set of their fireproof, Teflon-coated hose kits). Many thanks to all for the generous help.

Baffled
With overhauls, sometimes you get blindsided by unanticipated issues. This time it was the baffling. Critical to engine cooling, baffles don't age well. They're made of thin aluminum and are susceptible to cracks, maintenance-related wear and tear, and outright breakage over the years. So it was with the Win A Six's baffling. It looked bad with dings, bent spots, paint missing, and welded cracks.

The fix sounded simple. Just call up a vendor and get a new set (there are 18 separate pieces of carefully shaped metal in this engine's baffling kit). But no! No one had anything in stock.

We went to The New Piper Aircraft, hoping that they'd still have baffling for a 1967 airplane. Surprise - they had most baffles in stock! For now, we'll have to make do without the ones New Piper didn't have on hand, but as soon as New Piper makes us new baffles, we'll add them to the engine. Incidentally, you might think baffling would be inexpensive. After all, it's just a few pieces of aluminum. But some of those pieces of baffling sell for as much as $700 each!

Many thanks once again to New Piper, another two-time participant in the Sweeps. (They provided the modern control yokes for the Win-A-Twin Comanche in 2004 and will do the same for the Win A Six.) It's good to see a company still actively supporting its out-of-production airplanes.

Designer Prop
For our propeller work, we went to Ameritech Industries of Redding, California. That company's American Propeller Services branch, a two-time contributor (they provided the propeller paint job for last year's "Commander Countdown" airplane), also has an engine overhaul branch - Eagle Engines.

Originally, we thought we'd simply overhaul the Win A Six's existing, two-blade propeller. But American Propeller's service manager, Todd Marinkovich, broke the news - our prop was trash. The blade had been repaired too many times, and the blade shanks were showing some corrosion.

So we had a brand-new three-blade Hartzell installed. We feel this is a good choice for three big reasons: We needed a new prop anyway; the three-blade prop will make the airplane look more like today's New Piper 6Xs; and there's the promise of lower propeller noise.

But before it could be installed, we had Todd and his crew give the Hartzell the FAA-approved "Designer Prop" treatment. First, paint scheme designer Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers (a multi-year participant in AOPA's Sweepstakes, and a major player in the GA paint design world) sent the airplane's paint design and specs to American Propeller. Using Barnett's design, American Propeller began the application of its unique painting process.

A painted propeller inspires many questions. Does the paint come off under the abrasive effects of flying in rain? No. Why paint a prop in the first place? Because it's attractive and distinctive. What keeps the paint looking so new after so many flying hours? That's a secret. How much would painting my propeller cost? When done in conjunction with another repair, it costs $1,695 for a three-blade prop and $1,495 for a two-blade prop. Otherwise, a resealing fee is charged for removing and reinstalling a propeller, in addition to the charge for painting.

Marinkovich says the Designer Prop idea is catching on. "Julie Clark's Mopar airplane she uses in her airshow routines has a Designer Prop," he said. "She said she likes it because 'the shoes have to match the dress.'"

American Propeller's artists usually come up with a paint scheme to match a customer's airplane, but in our case they used Barnett's design. This consists of yellow and white strips at the tips, with the blade painted blue. On the blue is the lettering "AOPA SWEEPSTAKES." The idea is for the propeller paint scheme to match the design on the vertical pennants we'll place around the airplane at airshows like Sun 'n Fun, EAA AirVenture, the AOPA Fly-In, and AOPA Expo.

To paint the propeller, Marinkovich says computer-cut masks are used for the stripes and lettering. After the paint - which is concocted and applied according to a proprietary formula - is down, a clear coat is applied. Then the propeller and its leading edge are buffed to a high shine. The whole process takes about one week.

And it sure does look good. For more information about the Designer Prop, see the Web site or call 800/292-7767.

This brings you up to date on the Win A Six's progress. So far it's been a whirlwind process, even though the airplane is still at the engine shop as of this writing. I'll post a new update as soon as I take the airplane - and its good-as-new engine - on the next trip in its odyssey. Stay tuned for details, and be sure to click on this Web site's photo gallery and video shortcuts to help you visualize this work in progress.

—Thomas A. Horne

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