AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes

A Six to Go

December 1, 2006

A one-of-a-kind classic's upgrade odyssey

It seems like yesterday, but it was 15 long months ago that I flew AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes airplane — a newly purchased 1967 Piper Cherokee Six 260 — from Texas to Arkansas for the first of its many refurbishment sessions. In the year that followed, this sweepstakes airplane underwent a massive reconstruction. More than a few industry experts have called this process "Mission Impossible." I mean, just think of it: Five major work packages, multiple airframe and avionics upgrades, and no small amount of plain old repair work — all in a year's time!

Of course, none of this could have happened without the help from our many contributors, all of whom are listed with this article and posted on the sweepstakes Web site. These manufacturers, installation experts, service providers, and modification facilities provided generous support, and AOPA thanks all of them. They've made a good airplane into a great one.

In the beginning

The process began at Ultimate Engines, located in Mena, Arkansas. There the engine was overhauled and rebuilt to better-than-new standards. The crankshaft overhaul and replacement camshaft were provided by Aircraft Specialties Services, of Tulsa. Then the engine's crankshaft, pistons, connecting rods, and other components were balanced to very tight tolerances, and the new cylinders (provided by Engine Components Inc. — ECi — of San Antonio) were ported and polished for maximum efficiency. A whole array of new and rebuilt engine components and accessories was also installed at Ultimate, along with a new three-blade propeller from Hartzell with a great-looking "Designer Prop" paint job from American Propeller Service, of Redding, California.

Then it was a trip to LoPresti Speed Merchants at the Vero Beach, Florida, airport. There a new modern-looking cowl with LoPresti's signature, circular air-cooling inlets was installed, along with the company's "Speed Spats" (aerodynamically contoured wheelpants) and a single-piece windshield from LP Aero Plastics Inc., of Jeannette, Pennsylvania. Although the cowling didn't provide the cooling we'd have liked at first, a redesign and reinstallation of a second LoPresti cowling helped lower cylinder head temperatures experienced under high ambient temperatures. And the drag reduction provided by the wheelpants and flap gap seals raised this Cherokee Six's 75-percent cruise speeds. A stock Cherokee Six 260 should turn in 138-knot cruise speeds; the Win a Six will true out at 152 knots, or 174 mph. Not bad for a fixed-gear airplane. This must surely be the fastest Cherokee Six 260 around.

Here are some numbers I recorded during a recent test flight. At 4,500 feet, an outside air temperature of 22 degrees Celsius/72 degrees Fahrenheit, and 71-percent power (the airplane's EDM-930 engine gauge display from J.P. Instruments, which replaces all the original Piper gauges, shows power output as well as all other engine and fuel-flow parameters) the display showed 24.5 inches manifold pressure and 2,450 rpm. Indicated airspeed was 138 KIAS. Fuel flow was 17 gph, and yes, the EDM-930 has a fuel totalizer capability. Cylinder head temperatures (in Fahrenheit) with the cowl flap closed, going from cylinders one through six, ran: 362, 432, 432, 430, 400, and 443 degrees, respectively. CHT redline is 500 degrees. Opening the massive cowl flap lowers CHTs by approximately 15 degrees, but extracts a 5-knot speed penalty.

Muncie Aviation, of Muncie, Indiana, tackled the humongous job of yanking out all the tired old avionics and replacing them with a panel worthy of a small business jet. Muncie installed what is essentially a "half-glass" cockpit. The Sandel electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI); Avidyne EX500 multifunction display; J.P. Instruments EDM-930 engine gauge/fuel totalizer; and P.S. Engineering's three flat-screen video monitors are the glass components. The rest of the instruments, including the "six-pack" (well, make that a "five-pack," since the Sandel EHSI replaces a conventional heading indicator or horizontal situation indicator) of primary flight gauges, represent a more traditional "steam gauge" look of the panel.

It's electric

There are no vacuum instruments in this panel. Instead, it's an all-electric airplane, with a B&C Specialty Products standby alternator backing up the Kelly Aerospace primary alternator. Front and center, there's an electrically driven Castleberry Instruments & Avionics attitude indicator, complete with flight director command bars, used as the primary attitude reference. Should this instrument fail, it's backed up by another electrically powered attitude indicator, a standby unit generously supplied by Sporty's Pilot Shop — and that also happens to be manufactured by Castleberry. The Sporty's attitude indicator can be used to replace a conventional turn coordinator, but we kept ours anyway.

Situational awareness? The winner of the Win a Six in '06 will have it galore. The Avidyne EX500 depicts Nexrad imagery, lightning, textual, and graphical sigmets, airmets, METARs, terminal aerodrome forecasts, temporary flight restrictions, and traffic. XM WX Satellite Weather provides the datalink weather, but there's also an L-3 Communications Stormscope WX-500 aboard, so you can compare datalinked lightning strike information with Stormscope lightning plots. Traffic advisories, complete with voice alerts, come via Avidyne's TAS600 active surveillance traffic system. This depicts nearby traffic's altitude, relative position, and vertical movement on the EX500, the Garmin GNS 530, and the Sandel EHSI. If you can't detect traffic, maybe you should have your vision checked! Your hearing, too — because when traffic gets within two miles of your position a synthetic voice calls it out. "Traffic, two miles, 10 o'clock" comes over your Sennheiser HMEC 450-BP active noise-canceling headset (two of them, plus four additional Sennheiser noise-attenuating headsets come with the Win a Six). You can mute the warning voice using a yoke-mounted mute switch.

Then there's the S-Tec System Fifty Five X autopilot with altitude preselect. If this doesn't impress the winner of this airplane, nothing will. The Fifty Five X lets you climb or descend to a selected altitude, then levels the airplane automatically, all the while tracking a route with roll-steering inputs that make all course changes automatically. Of course, this flight control system will also fly precision and nonprecision approaches, or simply fly a heading you've selected with Sandel's heading bug.

Should the Fifty Five X leave you with some free time on a long leg, you can take advantage of another Win a Six feature. PS Engineering, which provided the airplane's PMA8000 audio panel, also contributed its PAV80 entertainment system. You can listen to AM or FM radio broadcasts over the PAV80, listen to CDs, or the passengers can watch a movie on DVD on one of the ship's three video screens. The PMA8000 and PAV80 let passengers listen to a different audio source than the front-seaters, and should air traffic control give you a call, your entertainment audio automatically mutes.

Want to fly it yourself? Download from our Web site Flight1's Six in '06 plug-in for Microsoft Flight Simulator and give it a try. You'll be amazed how detailed it is.

Great looks

Up to now, we've been talking about the Win a Six's performance. But there's more to this airplane than capability. It has great looks, too. For that, we can thank Dial Eastern States Aircraft Painting Inc., of Cadiz, Ohio, which did a fantastic job of applying the airplane's DuPont Imron paint. The paint scheme, from Scheme Designers, of Cresskill, New Jersey, features tastefully swoopy stripes over a base coat of Matterhorn white. Dial Eastern made all those stripes — and the N number, too — line up perfectly as they crossed the door seams. The company also made certain the airplane's skins were smooth prior to paint application, installed new side windows, and made repairs to the tail surfaces. Special thanks are also in order for Williams Airmotive, of Kendallville, Indiana, which replaced the damaged stabilator skins with new ones.

The interior is topnotch as well. Aircraft Interiors of Memphis, based at the Panola County Airport in Batesville, Mississippi, made sure of that. The airplane's beat-up, old fabric seats were tossed out and replaced with new leather-covered ones in a club seating arrangement. And by the way, compatible, aft-facing seats on the aftermarket are about as rare as proficiency in NDB approaches these days. But that's where Wentworth Aircraft, a well-stocked salvage firm in Minneapolis, came through with a nice pair of aft-facing seats it had in its massive stock of used parts.

Aircraft Interiors' Jimmy Jones — a Memphis native who once refurbished Elvis Presley's Convair 580 — completely transformed the inside of the Win a Six to Mercedes-like quality and finish. The gray-and-blue interior scheme — with yellow trim to match the exterior paint — includes a center console. Early Cherokee Sixes like this one (it's serial number 996) didn't come with center consoles, but Saircorp/Flight Boss of Smithville, Ohio, contributed one of its custom consoles for the Win a Six. It has an armrest, of course, but a clipboard, storage compartments, cup holders, and video monitor attach point, too.

A discussion of the interior wouldn't be complete without mentioning the efforts of those who helped secure the necessary field approvals to make the club seating (also not available in pre-1978 Cherokee Sixes), Saircorp console, single-piece windshield, and brand-new Piper control yokes legal installations. Harold Kosola of Kosola and Associates of Albany, Georgia, was especially helpful as the designated engineering representative (DER) who signed off on the club seating and single-piece windshield. DER Tom Morgan provided the paperwork on the Saircorp console. And Muncie Aviation secured the approval to replace the original square control yokes with brand-new Piper yokes.

Piper Aircraft Inc. is another very important contributor. Who says aircraft manufacturers don't stock parts for older models? Not Piper. We can't thank Piper enough for the parts it supplied for the Win a Six. These include a new forward baggage door, new engine baffling, new external power plug components, new interior console attach points, new three-point harnesses for the front seats, new pitch trim actuator components, new instrument panel switches and lights, and much more.

Piper also sent Muncie Aviation the current-issue control yokes — which come with all the usual buttons, plus com and nav radio frequency flip-flop switches, a traffic-annunciation mute button, and a transponder ident switch. These are the same control yokes used in today's Piper 6Xs, 6XTs, Saratogas, Seneca Vs, and Meridians. They really round out the panel's modern look.

So there you have it — literally. In a few more weeks, you could be the one who flies away with this fantastically restored, one-of-a-kind Cherokee Six. It's an airplane that can haul some 1,400 pounds' worth of useful load at the highest speed attainable for its type, and in the highest style, safety, and comfort. Having flown it for some 65 hours now, I'll be sorry to see it go. But I'll be just as happy to see the look on the winner's face when he or she gets the keys.

E-mail the author at tom.horne@aopa.org.