AOPA Pilot Magazine
February 2005 Volume 48 / Number 2
AOPA 2005 Sweepstakes: The Commander Countdown Has Begun
AOPA's 2005 sweepstakes restores a classy single
By now most AOPA members have recovered from the fun and excitement of the holiday season and their thoughts are turning to...the 2005 AOPA sweepstakes airplane. If you're reading this you must have already looked at the accompanying photographs and you already know that sometime early in 2006 one fortunate pilot will be the winner of a fully refurbished 1974 Rockwell Commander 112A.
AOPA has already started reporting on the progress taking place on N1169J in the first of a yearlong series of AOPA ePilot updates. If you haven't yet subscribed to ePilot it's not too late to sign up for the weekly Friday-morning feed of AOPA's latest action on its members' behalf — as a bonus you'll be able to follow the refurbishment of the AOPA sweepstakes Commander. Before the year is over, this airplane will be completely refurbished with a new Chelton instrument panel, new avionics, new interior, and new paint. But that's not all — we hope to incorporate some aftermarket fairings and modifications. These updates promise to create a smoother, slipperier Commander that will climb better and fly faster.
We will need more speed to fly the sweepstakes Commander to airshows around the country so as many members as possible can get up close and personal with the Commander. Current plans are to show the Commander in Florida from April 12 through 18 at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. If the first part of the plan falls into place the AOPA Commander will not only have a full complement of new avionics (more on this exciting part of the project later), but also the fuselage will be outfitted with new windows and a stunning new paint scheme — with the new paint will come a new N number. You might want to start learning to get your lips around all the syllables in "November One-One-Two-Whiskey-November"(as in "win"). Give it a try; you'll find that it rolls off the tongue pretty easily.
AOPA has a pretty good idea of what the refurbishment schedule will be through the first quarter of this year, but beyond mid-April there is still a lot of fingers-crossed type of planning on the calendar. One reason AOPA can live with this fuzzy schedule is that the Commander, purchased from Doug and Yvonne Edmondo of Livermore, California, on November 20, 2004, has a low-time engine and propeller.
Unlike the Win-A-Twin Sweepstakes Piper Twin Comanche of 2004, which was in pretty rough shape on the date of purchase, this Commander is a well-maintained airplane with a low airframe time of 2,038 hours. While the 200-horsepower fuel-injected Lycoming IO-360 is a stout, durable engine that's capable of running strong at 2,038 hours, the engine was rebuilt in early 1997 at 1,550 hours because of an inadvertent nose-gear retraction. According to the aircraft records — and the records are complete back to the day that Joe Wooling signed off the production flight test on May 9, 1974 — there has been no other damage to the airframe.
The decision on a Commander 112A or later model was reached at the end of September. It took nearly two months to learn what to look for, and get around to inspect a couple of airplanes. The broad guidelines for our Commander purchase were low airframe time and no major airframe damage, while keeping acquisition costs within our budget.
The Commander models within AOPA's budget were the 200-horsepower 112 and 112A, followed by a longer-winged version called the 112B. We debated paying nearly 30 to 40 percent more than the earlier 112 models for a 112B because of the improvements, but in the end realized that it was not wise to blow the budget at the front end of a yearlong project, so we started looking for a 112A.
The first airplane we looked at was the lowest-priced one that we could find and it was located in Arizona. The seller was very accommodating and assisted in the prepurchase survey to the point of supplying a borescope for an internal inspection of the cylinders. Although the inspection didn't reveal any cylinder rust and the records showed that the seller had been conscientious in maintaining the airplane, the records also revealed a recent long period of inactivity. The engine would probably have held together long enough to get to the avionics shop — the first stop in the AOPA Commander Countdown Sweepstakes — but when none of the radios worked during the test flight, we took the hint and moved on to airplane two.
Airplane number two was advertised as costing at least 20 percent more than number one. But it did have a low-time engine and although it was a 112A (serial number 169), owner Doug Edmondo — a mechanical engineer — had gone through the steps to gain FAA approval to upgrade the landing-gear downlock system to conform to the improved system that was incorporated after serial number 381. We considered this an important upgrade and a strong selling point. I flew up to Tracy, California, and looked over the airplane and the records.
According to Judi Anderson, owner of Sunrise Aviation in Tampa, Florida, and a member of the Commander Owners Group, there are only three airworthiness directives (ADs) that are deal killers on Commanders of this vintage. These are referred to as the wing-spar side brace AD (90-04-07), the seat and seat belt AD (85-03-04R2), and the vertical fin-attach fitting AD (88-05-06). The aircraft records showed that the owner at the time took advantage of Commander's fleetwide offer to perform the spar side brace and vertical-fin-attachment modification ADs for a flat rate of $2,000 in 1992. This offer included the cost of a Commander pilot ferrying the airplane to and from the factory in Bethany, Oklahoma, after completing the upgrades.
A quick call to the AOPA Aircraft Title Services showed that the records were complete and that the title was clear. A little bit of over-the-phone negotiating resulted in the Edmondo family's — Doug, Yvonne, and sons Daniel and Brian — meeting me at their hangar at the Tracy Municipal Airport for the official hand-over of the airplane keys. Some flying stories were told but the combination of a north-facing hangar door and a blustery November day soon ended the party. During the short noneventful hop to its temporary tiedown at the Paso Robles Municipal Airport, the aircraft ran very well. The true airspeed at our 7,400-foot-pressure altitude worked out to 125 knots while burning about 9.5 gallons per hour — about what we'd been led to expect.
There were two discrepancies noted on the 1.1-hour flight. The first is a serious case of airframe misrigging. The control wheel was cocked to the right in straight-and-level flight and the right wing was heavy throughout the flight, although the fuel load was even. The second was constant ignition noise on the com radios, which probably will be solved by the installation of a couple of magneto filters.
So now AOPA has a sweepstakes airplane, with a sweepstakes logo and a new N number reserved. What's the next step?
A new instrument panel
AOPA will start the restoration by picking up where it left off with the 2001 Sweepstakes Bonanza and going forward with another glass panel. This time the instrument panel will frame the dual glass panels that make up the Chelton Flight Systems FlightLogic Synthetic Vision EFIS (electronic flight information system). This revolutionary application of 3-D synthetic vision, highway-in-the-sky technology, and integrated flight information/displays should get AOPA members excited. The FlightLogic EFIS features heads-up display (HUD) symbology laid over real-time forward-looking 3-D terrain displays.
One way the FlightLogic system sets itself apart from other EFISs is through the display. Instead of the simple brown-is-earth and blue-is-sky picture shown on other systems' primary flight displays (PFDs), the Chelton system PFD shows a virtual picture of what the pilot would see if he were flying in bright-sunlight VFR conditions. Because of this 3-D-terrain feature pilots can see what's ahead of them even when they're flying in solid IFR conditions. Is there a mountain out there? On the Chelton FlightLogic EFIS that mountain is shown — it's as if the pilot has a dose of Superman vision that enables him to see through the clouds.
The 3-D synthetic vision feature of the Chelton FlightLogic EFIS is stunning, and it's only one of the eyeopening advantages of this system. Learn more about this system by visiting the Web site (www.cheltonflightsystems.com).
Also on our wish list — and subject to change — are two Garmin AT SL30 nav/coms, an L-3 Skywatch traffic advisory system, and a Garmin MX20 multifunction display (MFD) with WSI datalink for Nexrad and other weather information. A PS Engineering PMA 8000-SR audio panel — with Sirius Satellite Radio receiver — and a Garmin GTX 327 transponder will round out the avionics. Autopilot chores will be handled by the Chelton AP-3C (see "Chelton AP-3C," page 109).
In addition to the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, over the next year AOPA members will be able to see the Commander Countdown airplane on display at AOPA's annual Fly-In and Open House on June 4, at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh from July 25 through 31, and at AOPA Expo 2005 in Tampa from November 3 through 5. You may even see the Commander landing at your airport as it travels the skies around America throughout the year. Look for the latest update in each Friday's AOPA ePilot, and don't hesitate to follow every step of the complete refurbishment on AOPA Online (www.aopa.org/sweeps/), and throughout the year on these pages.
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