AOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes - Project Update: The Long Way Around

November 11, 2009

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April 19
The Long Way Around

Your sweepstakes Cardinal journeys to Sun 'n Fun

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When we took the 1977 Cessna Cardinal apart for its restoration last fall at the beginning of the 2007 AOPA sweepstakes project, the one thing that struck us most was how fascinating it was to look inside the airplane, to see the hidden areas of the airframe we never get to see. When we had visitors at the hangar where the airplane has been kept, on-site project manager Dan Gryder and I noticed how pilots drew instantly to the naked fuselage perched on its cradle (and later, back on its gear), and could hardly keep their eyes off it.

We had something here, and we knew we had to share it.

So we based the project's timeline for the first four months with the intention to show the airplane at its initial engagement in much the same way at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida. We'd finish the avionics installation, airframe refurbishment, and paint, and bolt the engine into place - but leave all the interior out, the floorboards up, and the headliner dropped.

This way, everyone could see what we saw - the incredible engineering that went into the Cessna Cardinal.

To make that happen, we needed to take the airplane down to Florida without it being signed off to fly.

How do you...?
So how do you move an airplane 425 miles without having it in flying condition? You need to get creative. I scratched my head for weeks sorting out the problem.

First off, should we move the airplane in an enclosed truck or on a trailer? Expense aside, there are a couple of major concerns with moving an airplane by truck. In my research I discovered that an airplane, as a motor vehicle with fuel and oil on board, can be considered hazmat, and thus not allowed inside many rental vehicles. Then, I measured the airplane, and the trucks available, and found that the Cardinal's gear stance is about 108 inches from outside axle nut to outside axle nut. The standard tractor trailer is 102 inches wide inside.

Well, that wasn't going to happen.

So I looked at open trailers, and found that they too were typically limited in width - go much wider with a trailer and you're a wide load.

The problem had me confounded, and I was about ready to call in the national guard when Gryder had an a-ha moment: The largest aircraft salvage company in the southeastern United States (at least) is Atlanta Air Recovery & Storage - which just happens to be adjacent to the airport at Griffin, Georgia, where the Cardinal has undergone refurbishment.

Todd Thaxton of Atlanta Air Recovery & Storage readily agreed to ask his boss, Ron Powers, for his approval to donate the movement of the airplane - Thaxton and Powers had been following the project for some time, and we had hoped for a way to get the company involved. Atlanta Air warehouses a massive amount of parts just ripe for the picking - but since Cardinals are relatively rare, we could never quite make a match between a part we needed and what they had in stock.

So a Cardinal delivery made for the perfect way to include them in the project - and solve one of my major concerns.

It starts with a lift
Thaxton backed the 40-ft trailer into Gryder's hangar at Griffin last Saturday, April 14, so that we could move the airplane onto the trailer without doing so in the falling rain.

Because the airplane sits 108 inches wide on its mains, we'd use an extension to cup the right main in place. We couldn't just roll it up onto the trailer - we needed to use a forklift to put the airplane on board.

After looking at the lift we needed to accomplish from all angles, Thaxton attached one strap to the hook on the top of the engine, and another to the forward spar. Up - and on. It's not as easy as it sounds, and no landing, no matter the wind, ever made me so nervous as seeing the airplane several feet in the air. But all was secure, and soon we had the Cardinal strapped in six ways from Tuesday and ready for its Florida road trip.

Rolling, rolling
I spent the night before we drove south worried about the weather - much like the eve before a cross country in the face of a similar line of storms. We planned it so we would launch with the route clearing ahead of us - I didn't want to go through any significant rain with the airplane, let alone convective activity. We had shrink-wrapped the engine and a couple of areas on the fuselage, but I didn't want to take any chances with your airplane.

Our team for the trip consisted of Thaxton and I in the tow truck with the Cardinal, and a pickup trailing us with Classic Aircraft Maintenance's Danny Rexroad, and A&Ps Truitt Harper and David Hartman. They would keep a close eye on the airplane, and stay in contact with us by cell phone.

But the airplane was bombproof tight on that trailer, and rode the entire trip south on Interstate 75 with hardly a hitch (except a bit of the shrink wrap that let loose along the way). We garnered attention everywhere we went with that beautiful bird on the tail - including one family at a rest area in Florida near Ocala heading for Sun 'n Fun themselves.

It seems that Mel, his brother Alan, and his son JT were celebrating Alan's clean bill of health with a trip to see the airshow - a trip they had put off while Alan battled cancer. Life's too short not to go do what you really want to do, so they made the time to make the trip together. The three enjoyed seeing the airplane on the move, and I was glad to see them on Tuesday, the opening day of the show, at the AOPA display.

Cardinal wings
Well, the fuselage went down on the trailer - but what about the wings, stabilator, and control surfaces?

We stowed the stab beneath the gear of the Cardinal on the trailer, but we had different ideas for the wings. Gryder operates a 1938 Douglas DC-3, and planned to fly it to Lakeland for the show. Herpa Miniaturmodelle GmbH, a German die-cast model company, graciously offered to sponsor the movement of the Cardinal's wings by covering the operating expenses for that flight. At least part of your Cardinal would fly to the show - but we wondered, how would we account for the additional airframe time on the wings?

I hope you make a point to come see what we've seen - and educate yourself or someone you know on how an airplane is put together. We'll have the Cardinal on display through April 23 at Lakeland, with the pilot's door removed so you can see the brand-new avionics installation and wiring from Sarasota Avionics, airframe refurbishment by the folks at Air Wrench, new paint from Advanced Aircraft Refinishers, and the factory overhauled Lycoming engine ready for final installation by Don's Dream Machines.

Y'all come down!

- Julie K. Boatman

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