AOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes - Project Update: Start Your Engine!

November 11, 2009

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June 14
Start Your Engine!

Getting the Lycoming ready to run









We rolled the Cardinal out into the late afternoon sun. We'd marked several moments of truth over the course of the last couple of days; now it was time for a major milestone - the first run of the engine on the airframe.

The 1977 Cessna Cardinal technically acquired its factory-fresh overhauled Lycoming O-360-A1F6 engine when Jeff Swords of Don's Dream Machines mounted it in March. But with a lot of other airframe work still to do - and a full complement of accessories to hang in the engine compartment - we weren't ready to fire it up until many other tasks got checked off the list following the airplane's display at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in April.

First, the airplane had to have the wings set, and the controls rigged, and components of the fuel system reinstalled and checked before the airframe would be ready to deliver the all-important avgas from the tanks to the fuel pump, and then to the carburetor. The last of the new fuel drains were installed earlier this week, and with some final adjustments, the Cardinal was declared ready for the first hurdle: the fuel leak test.

Looking for leaks
Avgas is an extremely volatile substance - probably far more so than many pilots realize. For months, we'd handled the Cardinal's airframe with care, but also with the knowledge that it was bone dry of fuel.

So when it came time for us to gas up the airplane, we took on a mantle of sobriety. We were about to pour fuel into lines that hadn't seen the blue stuff since November. Had anything jiggled loose? Maybe. Had any seals dried out? Perhaps. Was every junction tight? We'd soon find out.

Dan Gryder, of the AvNet, made the trip to the fuel farm to fill the airplane. We needed enough in there to fill the lines, but we didn't want to go overboard, lest we turn the engine shop into a fuel spill.

We filled the tanks, and waited, listening, looking. And then, there it was: drip-drip-drip. A fitting at the firewall had sprung a leak. We quickly stuffed rags into the area and shut off the fuel at the selector. And in short order, the crew tightened down the fittings and the leaks were solved.

Bring on the oil
Before the leak test, Jeff Swords had drained the preservative oil from the oil sump, and while we set up for the test, he began pre-oiling the engine. Pre-oiling is required when replacing an engine or if the engine has been idle for a prolonged period. Jeff accomplished this, and then his father, Don, had the honor of adding nine quarts of Phillips 66 mineral oil (donated by local distributor Young Petroleum) to the engine for break-in (a tenth quart was already in the engine from pre-oiling).

I'd never looked at fuel and oil in quite the same way before, but with them, the Cardinal went from an inanimate airframe to one alive with circulating potential.

We cleared the area around the airplane inside the shop to ready it for action. Jeff pulled the prop through several times to build a minimal amount of oil pressure in the engine, which read on the cockpit gauge - an exciting moment.

With some last-minute adjustments, we were ready to get serious.

Ready to run
As we unstacked the hangar, it became clear a milestone was about to occur. Mostly because the card in my video camera filled up, and I had to make a wild scramble to clear it without interrupting our momentum.

In all seriousness, though, as we posted a fire guard and extinguisher, and positioned the airplane into the wind, the awesomeness of it all hit us, and joking ceased (at least for the moment). But without much outward ado, Jeff cranked the mighty Lyc.

That engine fired right up.

The prop, which had looked so gorgeous all those months just sitting still, caught the sunlight as it spun. The baffles quivered ever so slightly with the rhythm of the engine, and the alternator belt whirred round and round its path.

The ground test
In accordance with Lycoming Service Instruction No. 1427B, we conducted several checks on the Lycoming as it ran this first time (outside of the factory test stand).

An oil pressure check right off the bat ensured that the engine wasn't running without proper oil circulation. Next, a mag drop-off check tested the rpm drop on each magneto. Then, Jeff turned to cylinder head temperature and oil temperature - well, the oil temperature gauge wasn't reading as high as Jeff expected, so there was one question to address (we later found out the gauge worked fine). Next, he cycled the prop in order to check the governor's operation, which was successful. With everything stabilized, he went to a quick full-static-rpm check - no more than 10 seconds long to minimize heating and stress - after which he checked the idle mixture.

Then, within five minutes of starting it up, he shut the engine down, and the crew inspected it for oil leaks. We'll do another run, and then pull the filter to look for contaminants. After a few system adjustments, the engine will be ready to take the Cardinal up for a flight.

- Julie K. Boatman

E-mail the author at [email protected].

   Tanis Aircraft Products
Tanis Aircraft
Tanis Aircraft Products, of Glenwood, Minnesota, has been in the engine preheat business since 1973, expanding its line to incorporate a variety of products to preserve and protect your engine investment. Peter Tanis, who was a charter pilot at the time, pioneered aircraft preheating as a solution to the cold-start problem he encountered while working in the north central United States.

Tanis recently introduced its latest innovation, the Tanis Engine Dehydrator, which removes up to 95 percent humidity between flights. The company also produces aircraft covers and blankets to help retain heat produced by both the engine (during flight) and the preheater - we used a Tanis prop blanket to protect the new propeller on your Cardinal during its transportation to the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland in April. If it can survive a 10-hour road trip, it will probably stay on in substantial wind conditions. Call 320/634-4772 or visit the Web site.