July 1, 2006
By Thomas A. Horne
Big things are in the works at Muncie Aviation Co. After six weeks in Muncie's avionics shop, AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes airplane has undergone a major-league transformation.
It all started back in April, when I flew the airplane from LoPresti Speed Merchants' shop at the Vero Beach, Florida, municipal airport to Delaware County-Johnson Field in Muncie, Indiana. Within a couple of days, Muncie Aviation's avionics technicians — under avionics manager Bill Roundtree — had ripped out the old instrument panel. They'd already created a new panel design, and quickly set to work re-wiring and preparing the cockpit for the impressive new complement of modern instruments. As the accompanying photographs testify, this was a monumental task — but one that Muncie Aviation was more than qualified to handle.
So it was out with the 1960s-era steam gauges and in with a modern panel.
Here's a list of the main panel elements the Win a Six will feature:
Recounting the panel's attributes may make your mouth water, but other realities are at work. Like the 700 or so hours that Muncie Aviation will put into the effort. Those working on the panel — Morris Wilhauer, Micah Himelick, Brian Manship, Jason Adams, and Mike Brown — must surely have as much patience as expertise. I mean, just look at all those wires! It takes special people to create the wiring harnesses and route the individual wires, and not lose their nerve in the process.
Muncie Aviation's contribution to the sweeps project wasn't limited to avionics. Steve Larrimore headed up a project to address some of the Six's airframe issues. One was the rudder skin. The airplane's rudder had obviously suffered some hangar rash in the past, and the dings in its trailing edge were crudely patched. Patching a control surface isn't a good idea because the patches can create imbalances, lead to vibration, or, in the worst case, cause flutter. The Cherokee Six isn't exactly known as a fluttering sort of airplane (flutter is typically associated with high-speed flight), but good practice demands that no control surfaces be patched.
Williams Airmotive, of Kendallville, Indiana, came to the rescue with a new rudder skin, and for that we thank Roy Williams. Larrimore's team installed the new rudder in record time, and also addressed some other issues. One involved a small crack in the upper wing skin, one that radiated from a rivet just outboard of the wing-to-fuselage seam. This kind of crack is common in Pipers of this vintage; these airplanes didn't have reinforcing doublers anchoring the wing skin to the ribs (later models do). To correct the problem, Larrimore installed an exterior doubler to stop the crack's progress and reinforce the area.
After the avionics and airframe work, it will be time for the paint and interior work. This will take place after the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2006, which runs from July 24 through 30 at Wittman Regional Airport. If you're Oshkosh-bound, please come by AOPA's big yellow tent (it's just a short walk from the main entrance) and pay the Win a Six a visit. It'll be parked right out front.
Take a good look. After AirVenture, the next time the Win a Six makes a public showing it will have a new paint job (thanks to Scheme Designers Inc. and Dial Eastern States Aircraft Painting Inc.) and a completely upgraded leather interior (from Aircraft Interiors of Memphis).
And, as always, those of you wanting more rapid-fire updates should check AOPA's sweepstakes Web pages for the latest news, photos, contributors, and video clips of this classic airplane's transformation.
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
Links to additional information about AOPA's 2006 Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes may be found on AOPA Online.
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
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