November 11, 2009
June 21 Let It Hunt The first flight of the Catch-A-Cardinal
In any big project, there's a point at which all the pieces come together to face the first real test.
For an aircraft restoration, that test is the first flight.
You can check each fitting for snugness, each control cable and how it's rigged, each instrument for proper ground function. You can run the engine and perform high-speed taxi tests. And you can preflight one more time, making sure all your documents are in order, and no steps have been missed.
But there are certain things you cannot find out about the airplane until you take flight. The aerodynamic loads induced by flight are different from those on the ground, and you cannot achieve the same power settings and proper airflow through the engine compartment until that engine and prop are pulling the airframe through the air.
After seven and a half months of maintenance and refurbishment, this return-to-service flight of the 1977 Cessna Cardinal — with its overhauled engine, new prop, new avionics and electrical system, many new Cessna parts, and new hardware and rigging — was a big deal.
Final items We had one more piece of paperwork to acquire prior to the first flight: We sought a field approval on the Maple Leaf Aviation tailcone as part of our thorough approach to the documentation on the airplane.
In the meantime, we conducted engine runs and taxi tests.
Finally, we got the long-awaited visit from the Atlanta FSDO representative earlier this week. Field Project Manager Dan Gryder and I walked him through the more than 10 binders of paperwork on the project and made quite an impression. The procedures surrounding all the paperwork processes are convoluted and, well, not the most intuitive. We'll talk more about these hurdles in later updates.
With this last box checked, and a fresh annual inspection, we were legally ready to fly.
Flight test We prepared a flight test plan using Textron Lycoming Service Instruction 1427B for engine break-in.
After starting the engine, a normal preflight run-up was performed, with the Cardinal's nose pointed into the northerly wind at the Griffin-Spalding Airport in Georgia. During takeoff at full power (as recommended), Gryder monitored closely the engine parameters: oil temperature, oil pressure, fuel pressure, and cylinder head temperatures.
As soon as possible, the power came back to a reasonable climb setting, given the relatively cool morning, and the Cardinal climbed at a purposefully shallow angle to 1,000 feet agl for the first portion of the test.
For the first hour, Gryder set the power at 75 percent, and noted as oil temperature and pressure settings stabilized. Circling around the airport, with me on the ground com and him in the airplane, we stayed in contact throughout, and he dictated engine parameters to me from the J.P. Instruments EDM-800 engine analyzer. Earl Clements, from Air Wrench, Jeff Swords, from Don's Dream Machines, and Tony Dias, from Advanced Aircraft Refinishers all stayed close by and in contact throughout the flight, while Precision Avionics owner Scotty Collins watched the test flight from his post a couple of miles away at the Griffin Fire Department (he's a hardworking member of the local fire detail).
An important aside — these core folks represent the heart of the team that saw us through these last three weeks prior to the first flight. Collins came in several nights following ball practice with his daughters to work out the last of the avionics chores to get us airborne. Dias stayed over the weekend to shoot the red and gold stripes on the cowl once we had it mounted and masked off. Tom Holt, of Freeman's Just Plane Hardware, was on the scene or a phone call away if we needed a bolt or pin or fitting. And Clements and his team of techs at Air Wrench burned away many evening, weekend, and holiday hours to get the Cardinal into flying condition. We can't thank them enough for all their efforts.
For the second hour, Gryder had climbed to 4,000 feet msl, and he alternated the power settings between 65 and 75 percent, per the service instruction. Temperatures stabilized and the engine ran smoothly throughout those first 2.5 hours in the air. After the second hour elapsed, he moved the power settings up to full power and watched for any changes. Full-power pressures on newly attached fittings and junctions can wreak havoc if they aren't properly secured, but all felt good to go.
Flying a power-on descent, Gryder landed out of the first flight with a squeak of new tires on asphalt — a success! On the ground, Swords uncowled the airplane and unsafetied the oil filter for testing. He observed nothing of note, and minimal oil consumption to boot. We had a clean bill of health to continue flying.
Let it hunt With the recommended testing complete, we launched for the Cardinal's first appearance, at the Eastern Cardinal Flyers Online Convention in Batavia, Ohio. The CFO has been a great help throughout the project so far — and since the airplane requires extensive flight at normal cruise power settings to break in the engine, it made sense to make the journey to debut the airplane to this dedicated type club.
The flight took Gryder and I through gorgeous skies (but a frustrating headwind left over from the passing cold front) from Griffin to Batavia, home of Sporty's Pilot Shop, who will be contributing a VHF transceiver to the sweepstakes winner — along with the use of their hangar at the CFO convention.
The good news? Even without all the speed fairings (and taking into consideration we're in the heart of the engine break-in period) we saw true airspeeds between 119 and 124 knots at 8,500 feet. We expect that to improve further in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more reports from the road, and look forward to seeing your Cardinal live at EAA AirVenture from July 23 through 29.
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