AOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes - Project Update: Meet Your New Bird

November 11, 2009

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January 1
Meet Your New Bird

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Welcome to AOPA's 2007 Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes!

Rub your eyes, and get out of bed - the celebrating's over and 2007 has officially begun.

Yes, the rumors you may have heard online, at Expo, or perhaps at a Pilot Town Meeting late last fall are true - our sweepstakes this year features a Cessna Cardinal 177B, with fixed gear and a 180-horsepower engine. It's a sleek performer that you can fly well, afford to maintain, and use to get around in comfort and style.

But stand by while I segue a moment: What's your New Year's resolution? Maybe it's a simple change to your diet, or a vow to exercise more - or you're primed for an Extreme Makeover. (At least that's what your spouse has in mind for you!)

If you're due for a complete overhaul from spinner to tailcone, then you have something in common with our 2007 sweepstakes airplane. This year, we're taking our Cardinal from solid performer to showpiece - but this airplane's beauty won't be just skin deep.

We're stripping the Cardinal down to its bare metal and refurbishing the airplane from the inside out. Along the way, we'll talk about how you can complete various components of this process, whether your airplane just needs cosmetic help, or an instrument panel revision, or attention from the firewall forward - or you're ready to go in deep and make your airplane so clean inside that you'll want to sell tickets to your next annual.

The airplane
There were more than 4,100 Cardinals built, with 2,752 fixed-gear models made from 1967 (the 1968 model year) to 1978 (the last model year of the fixed-gear version). Our Cardinal is a 180-hp 177B; the earliest models (the straight 177) had 150-hp Lycoming O-320-E2Ds up front - 662 of these airplanes are still on the registry. The 177A, the 1969 model year, upgraded to the 180-hp O-360-A2F, and the 177B followed in 1970, with later changes to the "dual" Bendix-magneto-sparked O-360-A1F6D. There are just more than 1,000 177Bs plying the skies (and resting in hangars and on ramps) today.

The stock 177B cruises at 124 knots, burns about 10 gallons an hour at moderate cruising altitudes (5,000 to 7,000 feet msl), and can take off and land comfortably in less than 2,000 feet (considering a 50-foot obstacle and average piloting skills).

Cessna also made a 200-hp retractable-gear Cardinal, which cruises a little faster (148 knots on average), burns a little more fuel (nearly 11 gph), and uses just a skosh more runway. While it sure looks pretty, and has performance that pays off, we decided it wasn't quite what we had in mind for 2007.

Variations on a theme
When we sat down to determine what kind of finished airplane we'd like to put together for our members this year, we reflected on the various projects we'd completed - a succession of incredible airplanes that most pilots would be proud to taxi up to the pumps at their local field or favored destination. We knew we had to match that goal with this project - but a quiet question had formed in all our minds: How can we make this airplane as stunning as previous models, and yet also make it an airplane our members could really relate to? An airplane that the winner would feel instantly at home in, able to fly with little transition, and stay easy on the wallet?

We had selected the Cardinal for its combination of great looks and harmonious flying characteristics. We aimed for a fixed-gear airplane to help with maintenance and insurance costs - and create a "fly-away" airplane for most any winner (no complex endorsement required). We decided on an overhauled engine from Lycoming to help ease the refurbishment process - and it had been a while since we'd covered the options in this corner with a sweeps airplane.

We kept returning to the same idea: Keep it simple - and keep it useful. We knew the paint and interior would be top-notch, but we wanted long-wearing options that would hold up to the wear-and-tear brought on by kids, cargo, even a family pet or two, and still look sharp for years to come.

And the panel? Again, we looked at the many options available - as well as new avionics on the horizon - and went with some "best in show" boxes. We'll definitely feature new technology in this year's sweepstakes panel - brand-new WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) technology, in fact - but the idea was to keep it high in utility, familiar, and easy to learn for our winner.

To this end, we'll be putting in a WAAS-capable Garmin GPS/nav/com avionics stack with a multifunction display, an S-Tec autopilot, an L-3 Communications Stormscope lightning detector, a J.P. Instruments engine monitor, a Honeywell Bendix/King horizontal situation indicator, and a backup attitude indicator - rock-solid stuff you'll be proud to have in your panel.

We also want to keep upkeep down to a moderate cost, so we're making the airplane conversant with up-and-coming ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) datalink technology. Once you equip with an ADS-B receiver (and we're doing that part for you), the weather, traffic, and other in-flight data supplied by ADS-B is free - well, considering your tax dollars at work.

A family deal
Another theme in this year's sweepstakes is "family," and to ease the refurbishment process we have developed an incredible family of shops and contributors to make this Cardinal sing.

When you're looking a completing five major work packages in a one-year period, plus getting the airplane to display at various shows and AOPA events throughout the year, you're fulfilling a tall order. In 2007, we're doing things a little differently by enlisting a cadre of shops at a single airport, Griffin-Spaulding County Airport in Griffin, Georgia, to complete much of the work on the airplane.

We'll essentially complete three of the work packages (airframe refurbishment, new paint, and new engine and accessories) in close coordination at Griffin through the first few months of the project, along with a trip down to Sarasota, Florida, to install the new panel while the airplane is stripped down. It takes a lot of orchestration to pull this off, and helping me out will be a field project manager on-site at Griffin to ease the process.

As the year presses on, we'll install additional avionics and performance mods, and then totally revamp the interior, and finish up the refurbishment process with a fresh annual and wringout - all to deliver to one lucky winner an airplane that is truly gorgeous from the inside out.

Stay tuned - to complement our coverage of the project in the pages of AOPA Pilot, I'll be posting in this space regular updates featuring photos, video, and other multimedia treats every other week to fill you in on our progress.

- Julie K. Boatman

E-mail the author at julie.boatman@aopa.org.

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FEATURED CONTRIBUTOR
Cessna Aircraft Company
In 2007, Cessna Aircraft Company celebrates its 80th year in the aircraft manufacturing business - and there's good reason for the company's success. They not only make a great product, but they also support it.

Sales Manager Kelly Reich, of Cessna's parts division, recently rattled off several parts for legacy aircraft that he had shipped out from his stock to customers in the past month, including those from a late-model 170 and a 1943-vintage 140. If they have the means, and a customer has exhausted other sources, they'll build parts as long as they still have the tools (they do), and do so at or below their cost to produce it. It's a great deal when you can get genuine factory parts for a nearly 75-year-old airplane. Visit the Cessna Web site, or call 800/4CESSNA (423-7762) or 316/517-6056.