It's that time again — time to start another AOPA sweepstakes project airplane on a flight plan that could have your home airport as its destination. This year, we'll be giving away a fully refurbished 1967 Piper Cherokee Six 260. To be eligible to win, simply join AOPA or renew your membership within calendar year 2006. To earn an extra chance at winning, persuade another pilot to join AOPA (the member-get-a-member program), or sign up for automatic annual renewal of your AOPA membership. That would raise your chances of winning to something like one in 200,000. Those odds are certainly better than any of the state-run lotteries that attract millions of contestants.
In the coming months, we'll be covering the "Win a Six in '06" project in detail. You'll see the airplane transformed from a well-used, somewhat-tattered workhorse into a full-blown, concourslike restoration. Watch for regular updates in the pages of AOPA Pilot, and be sure to check AOPA's Web site for more frequent reports that will include in-progress video clips of selected upgrades. You'll also be able to view a photo gallery of our/your Six on its step-by-step journey to perfection, and read reviews of the many companies that have so generously agreed to supply us with the labor and components so necessary to seeing the job through. Contributors have earned well-deserved respect for the world-class quality of their work and products, and AOPA thanks each one in advance for its participation.
Why a Cherokee Six, you may ask. Well, several factors drove our choice. First of all, the Cherokee Six is a sturdy, simple design that's easy to fly. Unlike some of the high-performance airplanes we've given away in the past, the Six is an easy step up for less experienced pilots. It's as forgiving and stable as they come, and has a storied load-hauling capability. With useful loads in the 1,500-pound range, and full-fuel payloads running around 1,000 pounds (in the Cherokee Six 260, that is), you can tote a lot of people, bags, and cargo on 800-nautical mile nonstop trips with ease. True, early Sixes like the Win-A-Six, with their fixed gear and 260-horsepower engines, are definitely not speed demons. Figure on a 130-knot true airspeed for "high speed" cruise and you'll be in the ballpark.
But it's this combination of comparatively low speed and power — and fixed gear — that makes insuring early Sixes a fairly uncomplicated process. That's because Cherokee Sixes have exemplary safety records. Most pilots will find that the insurance bill for a Six will be a whale of a lot lower than one for just about any other six-seat single. All the more reason for us to pick a Six for 2006.
The Cherokee Six line began in 1965. From 1965 through 1977, the Piper Aircraft Co. built 1,453 of the 260-horsepower Cherokee Sixes (type designator: PA-32-260). These airplanes have carbureted, normally aspirated Lycoming O-540-E4B5 engines with 2,000-hour recommended times between overhauls (TBOs). In 1966, Piper began building fuel-injected, 300-horsepower versions of the Cherokee Six. These stayed in production until 1979; The New Piper Aircraft Co. resumed production of 300-horsepower Sixes in 2003 under the "6X" name, but no new 260-horsepower Sixes have been built for 29 years. That makes our/your sweepstakes Six a classic. Experienced plane spotters know an early PA-32-260 when they see one. Squared-off window corners, a center windshield post, a two-blade propeller, forward-facing seats, pontoon-style main-gear wheelpants, and a finned nosewheel fairing are the big markers. Of course, the forward baggage compartment and left-side double doors are also features of the Six 260, but these are common to all Cherokee Sixes — and retractable-gear PA-32s (known as Saratogas or Lances), too.
We found the Sweepstakes Six through an advertisement in Trade-A-Plane. It belonged to Stewart Cole, of Frisco, Texas, (a suburb of Dallas). He is an executive with Wells Fargo Bank. Cole started flying when he was 15 years old, and shortly thereafter bought his first airplane — a Piper Tri-Pacer. Eight years ago he was living in Fargo, North Dakota, when he bought N187KJ, a Cherokee Six 260 then based in Waco, Texas. Changing job requirements brought Cole to the Dallas area, so he based KJ at Aero Country, an airport community in McKinney, Texas. What followed were many trips to relatives in Michigan and Indiana, plus countless other flights in the Southwest United States. Cole put 200 hours on his Six in the first year of ownership alone.
Cole wanted to build a Vans RV-7, so he put his Six on the market last fall. Soon thereafter, AOPA made the deal, and I was on my way to Dallas to pick up the Six and take it to the first stop in its renaissance odyssey: Ultimate Engines, a well-known overhaul shop at Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport in Arkansas. Ultimate will be the central engine overhaul facility, and we thank the company wholeheartedly for its generous contribution to the sweepstakes Six effort.
There really is not much to say about my first flights in the sweepstakes Six. Cole gave me a brief checkout in the airplane, and then I was on my own. The airplane was a breeze to fly and, best of all, proved its look-ma-no-hands stability in cruise. After taking off from Aero Country I took up a heading, called Fort Worth Center for VFR advisories (aka flight following), and was at 5,500 feet cruising over the clear skies of northeast Texas, Mena-bound. In the next hour or so I had plenty of time to scrutinize the Six's panel. It is a mishmash of avionics from the 1960s to the present, and for the most part all of it worked. I got a kick out of the ship's Bendix/King KNS 80, a cutting-edge area navigation system from the early 1980s that was still going strong. One big exception was the autopilot — a Piper "Altimatic" that had to be original equipment. It didn't seem to want to hold a heading, let alone track a navigation signal. Two recent additions — a Garmin GNS 430 GPS/com and a J.P. Instrument EDM-700 — really stood out among the panel's rabble, and would come in handy very shortly.
Nearing Mena, I tuned in the automated weather observation system (AWOS) and learned that the ceiling had dropped to 1,500 feet. I had long since air-filed an instrument flight plan because I was in and out of cloud tops. I was cleared for the VOR/DME-A approach for a circling approach to Mena's Runway 27. Suddenly, I was very busy, dialing up the procedure on the 430, backing that up by setting up the KNS 80, and all the while hand-flying the Six's nonstandard panel. Good thing the airplane is so rock steady.
Once on the ground, I taxied up to Ultimate Engines' ramp and company owner and Chief Executive Officer Mike Wagner sauntered out to greet me. The cowling was quickly removed, and an impromptu external engine inspection began, right there and then. "Well, everything that can leak oil is leaking oil," he dryly observed. But what do you expect? The engine was only 100 hours away from its recommended TBO.
At this writing (in December 2005), the engine has been disassembled and sent out for crankshaft, camshaft, gear, and connecting rod inspection, and overhaul, and balancing. Unison Industries has offered its LASAR ignition system as a replacement for the stock engine's traditional magnetos, Kelly Aerospace has volunteered a new starter and alternator, and — best of all — Engine Components Inc. (ECi), of San Antonio, has pitched in with a set of brand-new cylinder assemblies for the aged O-540. Rapco, of Hartland, Wisconsin, has donated one of its new vacuum pumps, which feature a dipstick-style measuring device to determine wear level; American Propeller Service, of Redding, California, has received the Six's Hartzell propeller for overhaul and a "Designer Prop" paint job; and Precision Hose Technology, of Tulsa, will be donating a brand-new set of fire-sleeved engine hoses. Kosola and Associates, of Albany, Georgia, will be doing engine-mount inspection and repairs, if necessary, and Dawley Corp., of Burlington, Wisconsin, will be repairing and reconditioning the exhaust system and heater shroud.
Of course, Ultimate will be doing all the balancing and blueprinting of engine components, porting and polishing the cylinders, reconditioning the firewall, and painting the engine to match the paint scheme.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Stay tuned for future reports of the step-by-step refurbishment news. After Ultimate, the airplane — -soon to be re-registered as N164U (a Six for you, get it?) — will be going to LoPresti Speed Merchants for an aerodynamic clean-up (in fact, it should be there by the time you read this), then to Dial Eastern States Aircraft Painting Inc., of Cadiz, Ohio, for a snazzy new paint job designed by Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers. Then it's on to a public debut at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida, from April 4 through 10. After that, the plan is for the sweepstakes Six to get its avionics and interior revival. The interior will be restyled and reupholstered by Aircraft Interiors of Memphis.
That's saying a whole lot in just a few words, but check the contributors list that accompanies this article for reference information about our partners, and be sure to check online for the very latest news, insights, and company profiles having to do with the rejuvenation of this very special airplane. In next month's issue of AOPA Pilot we'll revisit with Ultimate Engines, and delve into the overhaul process in more detail. See you then!
E-mail the author at [email protected].
Paint and propeller paint design
Speed mods, cowl, landing light
Autopilot, flight director
EDM-930 engine analyzer, engine gauges
Electronic horizontal situation indicator
Multifunction display, traffic advisory system
Remote gyro, standby instruments
Standby attitude indicator
Cylinders and cylinder assemblies
Engine hose kit
Exhaust system repair
LASAR ignition system
Propeller overhaul, designer prop
Starter, alternator, carburetor
Interior plastic components
Interior redesign, upholstery
A complete and updated list of contributors to the 2006 AOPA sweepstakes can be found on AOPA Online.