March 25, 2013
By Ian J. Twombly
Life is good. After just a hair more than 15 hours of flying, I’m back at the home base in Frederick, Md. Last weekend we showed off the Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer to the dedicated bunch of Cherokee owners at the group’s annual fly-in at the Grand Glaze Airport in Osage Beach, Mo.
This was the first time we’ve flown the airplane for more than an hour after finishing with the panel installation. It was a great opportunity to see what she was capable of, which turned out to be a lot.
I departed Frederick last Thursday morning en route to my first fuel stop at I99, Alexandria, Ind. Alexandria (I99) is a small airport just west of Muncie, Ind., with some very cheap fuel at less than $5 a gallon. Unfortunately flight service informed me on my preflight briefing that I99 was without said fuel, but I decided to leave the flight plan in place and amend my destination en route. Leaving Frederick, I climbed to 6,000 feet and spent most of the first leg in the clouds. The airplane performed perfectly. Weather uplink through the Avidyne MLB700 system showed no precipitation on the EX500. It’s great piece of mind to see on the screen what you can’t see outside.
After some fuel in Muncie, I made a short hop to the Bloomington/Normal, Ill., airport to meet with the folks from One Wink, LLC. One Wink provides the Cole Clarifier, a small magnifying glass over the Kollsman window that allows the pilot to precisely set the altimeter. The guys in the shop installed one in just a few minutes and I was off for my final leg to Grand Glaze.
Mother nature had other plans for me that night. After battling 26-knot direct headwinds since Frederick, I was an hour or two behind schedule. Around Springfield, Ill., I began to see some red on the EX500, indicating strong precipitation, as well as some lightning strikes. And then began the kind of thought process that’s dangerous with modern avionics. I reasoned that I could see the precipitation on the MFD, had a great autopilot and primary flight display, and plenty of fuel to divert if I needed it. At that time, the weather was still northwest of Osage Beach and I figured I might make it, even though I was more than an hour away. A call to flight service revealed the weather was moving, albeit at a slow 15 knots. St. Louis was just south and Spirit of St. Louis Airport has great facilities and access to many hotels. But only being an hour away, it seemed silly not to try and make it to Osage Beach.
In the end, something snapped and I realized that the mere fact I was contemplating going for it, and that I was rationalizing my decision, was enough to make me land short at Spirit. Without question it was the right decision. These are the things that pilots will go through with the highly capable displays and tools we have in cockpits today. The key is remembering we have personal limits for a reason, and sticking should be the same now as it has always been. I had a beautiful flight the next morning, got to shoot an approach in stable weather, and arrived at the airport only an hour later on Friday morning than I would have otherwise.
There’s no question in my mind that the winner will be pleased with the Archer’s panel. The tools are there to comfortably travel long distances, and easy enough to use for a quick pattern jaunt. In approximately 15 hours of flying, the Archer averaged 10.5 gallons an hour at 70 percent power. Those numbers were consistent at both 7,000 feet and 9,000 feet. According to book numbers, running at best power like I was, I should have expected 9.75 gallons per hour. That’s relatively close, given I’m not an expert at operating the JP Instruments engine analyzer. In all cases, the most I could eek out was 121 knots true airspeed.
With all the modifications, I would expect a better true airspeed, especially at such a high power setting. Part of the problem may be the aircraft rigging. With both the autopilot off and on, the airplane has a tendency to fly a half-ball width out to the left and a 3-degree bank to the left. Center the ball and the wings will come level, but airspeed drops by four knots or so. It’s something we’ll be working on in the coming months.
Many members have also been asking about the Micro Aerodynamics vortex generators and how well they work. After performing many landings, some stalls, and a bit of slow flight, I can say they definitely work as advertised. The airplane has better control response at low airspeed, and according to the Aspen’s airspeed tape, stalls at 40- or 41-knots indicated airspeed with full flaps. The book speed is difficult to ascertain exactly, but at the weight I was flying, stalling speed should be roughly 44-knots indicated airspeed. Landings have been a trick though. The wing doesn’t want to stop flying, so not floating the airplane means having to be on speed. It’s a fun exercise in the skill basics.
The flight home was a joy, despite two lost flight plans in the depth of DUATS. Leather seats, Rosen visors, a good autopilot, and fantastic situational awareness make for easy cross countries. I’m sure the winner will agree.
Next week: Backup power issues
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