I thought the first post-maintenance flight of the AOPA Sweepstakes Cessna 170B would be a little unnerving. So much of it is brand-new.
We’ve had a new 195-horsepower Continental Prime IO-370 engine, Hartzell Trailblazer propeller, Sportsman STOL wing cuffs, and other airframe modifications installed. The 170 has come to feel like my own since I’ve been overseeing its restoration, but my nerves faded away as I watched Dave Stoots and Parker Thaxton take off in the 170 for its first flight at Peach State Aerodrome.
As the days went by, progress was being made at a rate I had never seen. One morning the engine was sitting on the floor, and the next it was mounted on the airplane. One afternoon, the propeller was sitting in a box and just a few hours later it was hung. “We aren’t messing around here,” Stoots would say.
After several days of hanging around the airport, waiting for the word that the airplane was ready to fly, I received the “We’re ready” call early February 10, a day I had not ventured down to the airport. “You better get down here, Cayla, we’re flying it this morning to beat the weather,” Stoots said. After I informed him that I had a meeting to attend that I couldn’t miss, he replied, “Well then you’re going to miss the first flight.” Needless to say, I had that meeting canceled.
Half an hour later I arrived at Peach State, only to be greeted by a rainbow over the airport. It was lined up directly over the Barnstormer’s Workshop and the Cessna 170B—I took that as a promising sign.
After looking the airplane over a couple times, we rolled it over to the fuel pump and filled it up. Even though raindrops were falling here and there, the conditions were nearly perfect with little to no wind, high ceilings, and zero traffic in the pattern.
Gathered at the corner of the hangar, Thaxton, Stoots, and Harwell held a short but thorough preflight briefing before Thaxton and Stoots strapped in.
Thaxton, a commercial pilot with nearly 1,000 hours in Cessna 170s and 180s, familiarized me with the stock Cessna 170 when the airplane was purchased by AOPA this past summer. In my mind, he was always the one I would call on to pilot the first flight with new engine and propeller.
“Let’s do this,” exclaimed Thaxton as he climbed in and shut the door.
With Stoots in the right seat to monitor temperatures and other technical aspects, Thaxton taxied to the end of the runway and conducted a runup after allowing the airplane time to warm up.
In front of a small crowd, Thaxton applied full power, and the 170 leapt off the ground in a way I had never seen the airplane take off before. It was at that moment that we realized that this 170 was anything but the meek, underperforming taildragger we had once known. Thanks to Stoots and the entire team at Barnstormer’s Workshop, it had been transformed into a real backcountry beast.
“It was pretty fun,” Thaxton said after the successful half-hour flight. “We climbed up to 3,000 feet and I got to see what it’ll really do. There’s a big difference between [my family’s] 145-horsepower O-300 and the Continental Prime IO-370… It’s like comparing a VW Bug to a drag car. It’s a completely different airplane.”
“[The flight] went extremely well, just like I expected,” Stoots said. “All the temperatures were in the green and fuel flow was normal for the power settings, cooling was good, the oil temperature was good, speeds were good, pilot was happy, that’s what counts.”
Not only did Stoots leave glowing remarks for the airplane and install, but he also left glowing remarks for Thaxton. “Parker was excellent. He is a very proficient, mature young man. He flew by the numbers, and I felt very good with him at the controls.”
Even though there is much to celebrate with a squawk-free first flight, we aren’t leaving ourselves much time to celebrate. Over the next few weeks, Thaxton and I will be busy training in the 170 to ensure that I have been properly acquainted with the new engine and constant-speed propeller combination prior to our arrival at the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida, in March.
The AOPA Sweepstakes Cessna 170B, me, and Thaxton, will be hanging out at the AOPA booth during Sun ‘n Fun, so make sure to stop by, say hello, and get up close and personal with an airplane that could be sitting in your hangar this time next year.