AOPA's Get Your Glass Sweepstakes: You Say You Want a Revolution?

Bringing glass to the masses

February 1, 2008

Welcome to the glass revolution. Today, more than ever, glass cockpits are becoming available in light general aviation airplanes both new from the factory and now as a retrofit. AOPA is proud to be in the front row of the revolution as we equip a common GA airplane with a full glass panel.

Your 2008 sweepstakes airplane is a 1976 Piper Archer II retrofitted with a shiny new glass cockpit, new paint, a new interior, and an overhauled engine—or, as we’re calling it, “AOPA’s 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes.”

Until recently, there were few low-cost glass retrofit options on the market to swap out the electro-mechanical gauges for full electronic displays, thereby making a “glass” cockpit. Thanks to industry newcomer Aspen Avionics, putting in an aftermarket glass cockpit is now a viable option, and it costs the same as or less than common top-end GPS/Comm units, such as the Garmin GNS 430. The sweeps airplane will feature Aspen’s new EFD1000 Pro primary flight display, as well as the avionics you’ve come to know and love in past AOPA sweepstakes airplanes—such as Garmin GNS 430Ws, an Avidyne EX500 MFD, a PS Engineering audio panel, an S-Tec Fifty-Five X autopilot, a new Garmin transponder, and a J.P. Instruments EDM-800 engine analyzer. You’ll see extensive coverage on all these systems throughout the year, as well as other glass retrofit options such as the Chelton Flight Logic, Garmin G600, Avidyne Envision, and Bendix/King KFD 840 PFD and KSN 770 MFD.

Featured contributor: AOPA Aircraft Title Service

When buying an airplane, getting a title search is a critical step in the prepurchase process. Knowing you’ll be buying an airplane free and clear of any liens gives peace of mind and ensures there won’t be any hidden surprises in the future. AOPA Aircraft Title Services provided by AIC Title Service offers this and many other prepurchase services. In the case of this year’s sweepstakes airplane, the folks at AIC ran a complete title search, performed escrow services because of a current lien, and generally took away all the headaches of buying an airplane long distance. If you’re planning to buy, make sure to turn to AOPA Aircraft Title Services. It takes the guesswork out of a complicated process filled with potential pitfalls.

Before we turned the calendar over to 2008, the sweepstakes airplane was already warm and cozy in the hangars of Oxford Aviation in Oxford, Maine. Some readers may remember that we’ve worked with Oxford before, on the first in our current series of sweepstakes aircraft, AOPA’s Good as New 172. The company also completed a beautiful paint job in a short time frame on the Socata TB20 Trinidad GT “Spirit of Liberty” (June 2002 Pilot). A lot of time has passed since then, and Oxford Aviation has grown and prospered through the years. We’ll have lots more about the company throughout the year, as they’ve agreed not only to repaint the airplane, but also to complete a beautiful and expertly rendered interior, and engine and airframe work as well. Jim Horowitz and his crew at Oxford are skilled technicians and artisans with a proven track record and extensive customer base, and we look forward to showing you their fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.

While the airplane goes through the paces in Maine, the engine will be overhauled by Penn Yan Aero in New York. Penn Yan Aero is one of the country’s most reputable engine shops and we look forward to getting back a great engine.

Finding your Archer

Finding the perfect sweepstakes airplane is harder than one might think. Because most buyers are looking for low-time engines and airframes, good paint and interior, and a respectable panel, most sellers are offering just that. Add in complete logs and no—or minimal—damage history, and even an airplane model that is as widely available as the Archer can be difficult to locate with our unique criteria. Would we like a low-time airframe, complete logs, and no damage history? Yes, please. But because the sweepstakes airplane will go through a complete transformation, throw in a high-time engine, some less than stellar paint, and a powder blue interior on the side. Luckily, Greg Harrison of Winterset Aviation in Winterset, Iowa, was brokering just such an airplane. N22ZT was owned by Adco Air, a flying club made up of five or so members in central Iowa. Although the engine was strong at only 650 hours since a factory remanufacture, the paint, interior, and avionics left a lot to be desired.

We found Harrison and Winterset Aviation after searching through hundreds of ads for Archers. Some sellers wanted too much, other airplanes had extensive damage history, and still others had airframe times in the teens—bad numbers for humans or machines.

Since AOPA is in Frederick, Maryland, and Winterset Aviation is in central Iowa, we needed to find a local expert to complete a thorough prepurchase inspection. Former AOPA Pilot Technical Editor Julie Boatman is from that neck of the woods and suggested Dennis Gordon, a well-respected airplane broker, pilot, and general airplane man. We called upon Gordon to make a trip to Winterset to give the airplane a good look. He did a great job, taking pictures of past hangar rash, opening inspection plates for signs of corrosion, and going over the logbooks and Form 337s in detail for a snapshot of the airplane’s life. After Gordon’s diagnosis of sick, but not terminal, we decided to make an offer and set out to turn N22ZT into the newest glass airplane on the block. When it came time to pay Gordon for his time and effort, he wouldn’t accept the money, saying only, “AOPA has done a lot for me over the years. I figure when they come calling, it’s the least I could do.” Thanks for a job well done, Dennis.

The first flight

Although maybe not as momentous as a flight of the Wright brothers, my first flight in N22ZT was a special one. I have lots of time in Archers, as do many pilots. Aside from the Cessna 152 and 172, I would venture to say that we as GA pilots have more time in Archers than any other airplane. I’ve been flying them for years, and I’m confident in the airframe.

It stands to reason then that I know how to start one. After all, this is a standard Archer with basic KX155 radios, no airframe modifications other than gap seals, and a standard Lycoming O-360 engine. Following a very complete and thorough preflight inspection, I jumped in and turned the key. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Now I was starting to think that maybe the battery was dead. But the turn coordinator’s gyro was spinning. “Keep trying,” I thought to myself. “It’ll crank.” After a few minutes of this, Dan Young, Harrison’s soft spoken right-hand man, ran out to brave the cold wind. He leaned inside, turned the key to the right, and pushed. The engine started immediately. “You ever flown one of these?” Young asked. “Yeah,” I replied. “Lots of times.” An auspicious beginning if there ever was one.

After a short flight to Des Moines for some maintenance (thank you, Des Moines Flying Service for your great work), I was off. The plan for the first day was to go just two hours to Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington/Normal, Illinois. As the sun set over the plains, I settled in to my short trip and smiled at the airplane. Everything was checking out just great, save the clock and ADF. No talk radio on this trip. Orange turned to black on the horizon, and coincidentally, on the first KX155 nav/comm radio as well. “Problem number two,” I thought to myself. Luckily, I was VFR, so one nav/comm was just fine with me. Half an hour later as I was searching the cockpit for AOPA’s Airport Directory, I shone my flashlight past the panel. Suddenly my first radio lit up in full brilliance. A panel-mounted dimmer switch apparently decided it didn’t want to work that night, either.

After an uneventful second day of flying, the airplane sat for two weeks while we waited out the November weather for our trip to Oxford. In the meantime, Pilot’s editors got to study the airplane and comment on its horrid paint job.

One thing is for sure with this sweepstakes—the transformation will be obvious. Aside from the panel upgrade, which will be major, the paint and interior were badly in need of some TLC. Personally, I feel it looks as though someone had poured a can of paint on the wing. Some parts had no paint, while others dripped and globbed with the stuff.

Maine in November

We all were anxious to get the airplane to Oxford for its first set of work packages. None of us, however, was more excited than Jim Horowitz, president and owner of Oxford Aviation, who was eagerly anticipating our arrival. Luckily, the Northeast experienced one of those rare, see-forever, beautiful clear days in late November and we were able to deliver the airplane to Horowitz and his crew. The airplane performed well on the flight up. Mostly. On two occasions the directional gyro precessed so badly that I mistakenly banked the airplane to keep up with it. I didn’t even realize what was happening until the sun showed itself from behind the sun visor I had placed over the right front window. And here I thought the right wing sitting higher on the horizon meant the airplane was just rigged incorrectly! I was starting to think I needed to kick off the rust.

After a sporting approach and landing at Oxford thanks to some gusty, variable wind conditions, a photographer snapped away as I pulled up in front of Oxford Aviation. Did I mention Horowitz and his crew are excited? Editor in Chief Tom Haines and Julie Boatman had followed me up in Haines’s Bonanza, and they arrived a short time later. Horowitz took the time to give us a tour of their impressive paint, interior, maintenance, and cabinetry facilities. We met the faces of Oxford along the way, all of them eager to talk and share their knowledge of the craft. I think we’re in great hands and can’t wait to see the finished product.

Enter to win

During the next year, we’ll be profiling Oxford Aviation’s work, the complete glass panel retrofit performed by Penn Avionics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and other glass retrofit options on the market. You’ll also follow the journey of the airplane to Sun ’n Fun, EAA AirVenture, AOPA’s Fly-in and Open House, and finally AOPA Expo in San Jose, California, this November.

But the stories and the journey are worth nothing without a winner. That’s what this sweepstakes is all about—one lucky winner of a completely refurbished, technologically advanced 1976 Piper. But you have to be in it to win it. Simply join or renew your AOPA membership in 2008, and you’ll be entered. Enroll in AOPA’s automatic renewal program, or have your membership processed through automatic renewal, and you’ll receive two additional entries. Good luck and we’ll see you on the road!

E-mail the author at ian.twombly@aopa.org.