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AOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal SweepstakesAOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes

Flight TestFlight Test

Getting ready for first flight With past AOPA sweepstakes project airplanes, we've taken a flying airplane around the country to various shops for upgrades. Each point on the journey was like adding a bead to a necklace; over the course of the year we'd end up with a string of results that created a show airplane to give away.

Getting ready for first flight

With past AOPA sweepstakes project airplanes, we've taken a flying airplane around the country to various shops for upgrades. Each point on the journey was like adding a bead to a necklace; over the course of the year we'd end up with a string of results that created a show airplane to give away.

For the 2007 sweepstakes, the 1977 Cessna Cardinal we're refurbishing has been disassembled and then brought back together in stages: first avionics and new wiring, then paint, then an overhauled engine added to the airframe.

The last stage before we fly again?

A concert of effort by all our shops on the airport at Griffin, Georgia, tying together firewall forward, airframe, paint, and avionics work to put the Catch-a-Cardinal back into the air.

Countdown to test flight

Several areas come together in order to ready an airplane for a major return-to-service flight.

Airframe. The fuel systems, engine controls, cowling, and control rigging take top priority on the airframe side.

Avionics. A solid check of the electrical system is critical not only to ensure that juice is available for engine start, but also to prevent fire.

Engine. The first time an engine is flown on an airframe tests the hoses and fittings to the utmost, so everything is checked over again for snugness.

Paperwork. All signoffs — including an annual inspection, and ELT and transponder checks — must be entered into the logs before the airplane can legally fly.

Flight plan. The maintenance manual on the airplane should be consulted in concert with any service instructions from the engine and prop manufacturers in creating a test flight plan.

Safety equipment. Depending on the depth of maintenance or restoration performed, onboard equipment can include fire extinguishers, a parachute, and Nomex flight gear — plus a hot Thermos of coffee for pilot emergencies.

It takes a team

At times during the weeks of reassembly, we've had five people working at the same time on various parts of the airplane. Picture this: Scott Collins, owner of Precision Avionics, sits in the pilot seat placing the instruments back in with the panel. A pair of technicians from Air Wrench, Earl Clements and Brian Hubbard, work on rigging the flight controls. Another A&P, Troy Fordham, makes adjustments to the stabilator. Jeff Swords, from Don's Dream Machines, stands at firewall forward, attaching tubing to the carburetor airbox.

Certain tasks can only happen in close coordination with others. For example, the engine installation must be complete and the cowl mounts in place before the upper and lower cowls can be fitted to the airframe. And the cowl must be fitted correctly before the stripes can be masked on for paint. Therefore, Tony Dias, of Advanced Aircraft Refinishers, didn't shoot the cowl's red and gold highlights until the weekend prior to our first flight.

Any owner overseeing maintenance on his airplane should appreciate this: The Catch-A-Cardinal rolled from shop to shop on the field as necessary, with technicians working on it wherever it landed, regardless of their actual shop affiliation. The teamwork this required — and the setting aside of egos and "we've always done it this way" — was incredible, and we can't thank our shops enough for going the extra mile to make it happen.

It takes a mountain of paper

In the meantime, Dan Gryder, of the AvNet (and our field project manager for the airplane this year), and I had to make sense of the reams of paper that came with the airplane: the 8130s or airworthiness tags, the supplemental type certificates, the 8110-3s or designated engineering representative's release forms, and the FAA Form 337s and field approvals.

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Rhoads' team spends months building the aircraft add-ons for Microsoft Flight Simulator that have replicated each of the sweepstakes aircraft over the past three years. This year's Catch-A-Cardinal model debuted at Sun 'n Fun with an early version; the full version will be available for download and your entertainment at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh in late July. Call 877/727-4568 or visit the Web site.

We developed a system of binders to organize the paperwork, then we set to work on the biggest job: a master squawk list detailing every aspect of work completed on the airplane: Every new part FedEx'ed in from Cessna or Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, every new piece of hardware from Freeman's, every PMAed part we swapped out, every repair made to the airframe — the squawks total more than 300 items.

We also decided on a way to make sure that everyone's work had at least two other sets of eyes on it — both for our own peace of mind in a restoration this deep, but also for the future winner. So the technician performing the work signed the squawk sheet, then that tech's supervising shop IA (A&P with inspection authority) signed, then our overseeing IA, Todd Thaxton, looked over the project a final time. This three-tiered system was way more than the regs require, but we're going the extra mile to make sure everything is in its place.

It takes a test flight

With the airframe, systems, and avionics ready for initial flight testing, we turned back to the engine for its moment in the sun. The first run of an engine on a given airframe is like a pop quiz before the final exam of test flight. Both generally go well if you're prepared, and we followed Textron Lycoming's Service Instruction 1427B for both.

Swords preoiled the engine, and we fueled the airplane for the first time in seven and a half months for a leak test. Then Jeff's father, Don, added the nine quarts of Phillips 66 mineral oil, donated by local distributor Young Petroleum, to the sump of the Lycoming O-360-A1F6.

We rolled the airplane out onto the ramp, and cleared the area for the first start. That Lyc fired right up. Swords ran through the prescribed checks on oil pressure, magneto drop, cylinder head temperature, and prop governor function. After a five-minute run, he shut it down and checked for leaks. Everything had hung on tight during the shock and undulation of the initial run.

Who's behind us?

Air Wrench's Earl Clements

With 20 years of service as a technician and maintenance supervisor for a major airline under his belt, Earl Clements incorporated Air Wrench in 2003 to formalize his affinity for general aviation airplanes. Now with five top-notch, commercial-airline-trained A&Ps working at his shop in Griffin, Georgia, Clements is building a reputation for quality work done by quality people.

Air Wrench specializes in twin Cessnas, having recently performed several spar strap ADs (airworthiness directives) on various models — but the crew can handle everything from engine swaps to belly-skin repair, annuals to oil changes. Says Clements, "This little airport [Griffin] flourishes with business and talent," and Air Wrench is no exception. Contact Clements at 678/770-0850 or visit the Web site.

But during a compression check, Don noted that something was not right with the prop: It was clocking incorrectly, stopping at a different position on the clock (corresponding to a point in the compression cycle) than it should. So we called McCauley, Lycoming, and American Propeller, and soon we discovered the cause: The prop flange bushings were set incorrectly, a problem addressed by Lycoming Service Instruction 1098. This catch will save an incredible amount of wear and heartache down the road.

With all systems go, the time came for the first flight of your red, white, and gold bird. As the low scud cleared early one June morning, Gryder started up the engine, felt the controls become positive in his hands, and launched into the air. A crowd of folks who had made that moment happen stood watching — rightfully proud, and not a little relieved.

Time to let it hunt.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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