Single Engine (31)
Piper compares today’s normally aspirated Saratoga II HP and turbocharged Saratoga II TC to SUVs. A friend who owned a 1981 fixed-gear Saratoga called his airplane a flying pickup truck. Having flown both, I think the SUV analogy is pretty close—and it turns into a pickup truck if you take the passenger seats out.
The Saratoga appeared in 1980, as a fixed-gear, six-seat single based on the earlier PA-32 Cherokee Six and Lance models. It differed from them in its longer, semi-tapered wing (derived from the “Warrior Wing” introduced on the PA-28-161).
In addition to making the airplane look better, the wing change improved handling and vastly simplified fuel management: the Saratoga has just two fuel tanks, one each in the left and right wings, holding a total of 107 gallons (102 usable). The earlier airplanes had a more complicated system with multiple fuel tanks that led to fuel exhaustion and resulting accidents in some cases.
I have seen the future. I have seen the future and it was installed in a 1976 Cherokee Six. As I sat in the cockpit of N4300F, it dawned on me that what I was looking at was the future of General Aviation.
Airframe and powerplant advances in General Aviation aircraft are virtually impossible to find. With few exceptions like the Cirrus, we are flying the same designs behind the same power plants that were designed in the 1950s. But avionics have made terrific advances.
It would stand to reason that a tried-and-true airframe and powerplant combination combined with modern electronics would create the next generation of personal aircraft. That is essentially what the factories are selling.
That is what I found when I arrived at Peninsula Avionics at the Tamiami Airport (KTMB) in Miami, Fla. Shop owners Jim Prince, a virtually newly minted pilot, and his partner Nick Popvski were understandably proud of their “new” toy.
It’s 1967 and you want to buy a new single-engine retractable. What are your options? Beech, Cessna, Mooney and Piper all have offerings, but you’re a loyal Piper flyer and want to stick with the brand. That still leaves you with two alternatives: the PA-24 Comanche and the newly introduced PA-28R-180 Cherokee Arrow.
The Comanche is fast and sleek. The Cherokee Arrow looks like and flies like—well, a Cherokee—which is not necessarily a bad thing, but here’s the clincher: the Arrow’s base price is just $16,900. The Comanche is groovy, but its $30,000-plus price tag is a bit of a bummer. Besides, the Arrow has that rad landing gear system.
The Arrow project began in 1964 as the Cherokee 180 C “Special.” Work focused initially on finding the right engine and nosewheel combination. The Lycoming O-360 was chosen originally and paired with various nosegear retraction systems, but none were suitable.
Eventually the fuel-injected IO-360 was chosen as it allowed room under the engine for gear retraction. It was necessary, however to reduce the nosewheel size to 500 x 5 inches to get the gear to fit.
When I was a student pilot, I wasn't much of a Tomahawk fan. The aircraft had a reputation for being difficult to fly well. Years later, one of my students bought one—and I got to fly the little Piper for the purpose it was intended. That's when my opinion changed for the better.
“There are two Diwys in my life,” said Barry Colvin with a wry grin, “but only one of them is temperamental.”
He didn’t volunteer any further information, and since I had just flown his Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six G-DIWY (named after his Dutch wife) without encountering any problems, I didn’t inquire further into the subject!
The Cherokee Six story really begins in 1957, when Piper hired leading designer John Thorp (of Sky Scooter and T-11 fame) to conduct a preliminary design study for an all-metal airplane to replace the Tri-Pacer.
At that time Piper was committed—philosophically, at least—to metal monocoque airframes, and was already building the Apache and about to introduce the Comanche.
September 2004 -
Here's an airplane that has been literally turning heads for more than 40 years, and for good reason. When Piper launched the first PA-30 Twin Comanche in 1963, it was immediately obvious that this new airplane could do all the things that it was supposed to: it provided speed, efficiency and economy. In short order it was also discovered that this light twin was delivering a few more things that it wasn't supposed to, but we'll get to those details later.
In production from 1963 until 1972, the 2,150 Twin Comanches that came out of the Lock Haven, Pennsylvania plant were always good to look at and relatively inexpensive to operate. When Ret Thompson retired from his 37 year career with Northwest Airlines (and the North Central Airlines and Republic Airlines predecessors that he worked for), he looked around for a personal airplane to keep his aviation appetite whetted.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned during the restoration of my neighbor’s 1939 Piper J-3 Cub. There weren’t any self-locking nuts in 1939; every bolt in the airplane is safetied with a cotter pin. The parts book is a joke. The Cub Club organization is super-helpful, as is Clyde Smith, Jr., aka “The Cub Doctor.”
Finally, unlike the parts situation with my own “modern era” airplane (the sweet-flying 1960 Piper PA-24 Comanche 180), every part we’ve needed has been readily available from either Wag-Aero or Univair.
We’d planned to be ready to fly N21938 south to the West Coast Cub Fly-in held in early July, but we didn’t make it. But we are making progress—and I’ll talk about the two types of aircraft maintenance progress later—and we are having a lot of fun.
A 75-YEAR-OLD ICON
This year celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Piper Cub, and the grand prize in EAA’s 2012 sweepstakes is N31085—a restored Piper J-3C-65 Cub. Cubs are simple machines that have served faithfully in the role of teaching stick and rudder skills to thousands of flyers over the decades. (The “Win the Cub” Sweepstakes is now closed to entries; the drawing will be held at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh on Sept. 10, 2012.—Ed.)
More than 14,000 Cubs were built in Lock Haven before production ended in 1946. In 1945, Piper built 6,320 J-3s—that’s 28 a day if the total number is averaged over a five-day work week. In spite of the low power loading (around 17 pounds/hp) and lower wing loading (6.25 pounds per square foot of wing area) when compared to more modern airplanes, flying a little yellow—they’re almost all painted yellow—J-3 Cub is near the top of almost every pilot’s bucket list.
May 2014- It was a rather long road to certification for the airplane which eventually became the Tomahawk, with lots of starts and stops along the way.
Piper began design of a two-seat, low-wing tricycle gear training aircraft in 1958. It was to feature side-by-side seating and be made of fiberglass reinforced plastic with a gross weight of 1,500 pounds.
The first (and as it turned out, only) prototype—N2900M—was completed in spring 1962 and was designated the PA-29 Papoose. It boasted an all-moving horizontal tail, flaperons and a 108 hp Lycoming O-235-C1B engine.
Piper management seems to have been underwhelmed by the plane and initiated a project review to determine the model’s viability.
Concerns were raised about the longevity of the fiberglass material and it was decided that prototypes should be sent to Arizona and Lock Haven to test the material’s ability to withstand summer heat and winter cold.
Other changes were suggested and eventually N2900M received new wings, which met with mixed reviews and added 30 pounds to the empty weight of the plane.
Piper management discussed the future of the PA-29 and considered dropping the project altogether, but really seemed to want a replacement for the PA-22-108 Colt, so they moved forward with the Papoose project. Howard Piper continued to mull over the advisability of committing to fiberglass construction.
Over the next couple of years changes were made to N2900M which included extended wingtips, centering springs on the flaperon system and other fixes. In 1964 a complete redesign was proposed with two possible variations for the canopy, larger wings and a change in material from a paper honeycomb construction to an aluminum honeycomb construction.
None of the proposed changes for the PA-29 were undertaken. Piper had begun production of the two-seat Cherokee 140 in 1964 and it seemed a safer bet to stay with that more tried-and-true design.
Piper’s historian Roger Peperell believes that the Papoose took its last flight on Feb. 22, 1965.
Although Piper executives had dropped the Papoose project, the company continued to look into other possibilities for its training fleet and in 1969 began development of the PA-38. The project was cancelled rather abruptly in July 1970, but Piper continued its market research of the flight training segment by testing competitive aircraft and through market surveys.
In 1972 Piper sent a survey to 10,000 flight instructors throughout the United States asking them what features they would most like in a training aircraft. The top five responses were “handling characteristics,” “performance,” “operating costs,” “cabin comfort” and “price.”
With this information at hand, Piper restarted the Light Trainer program with Richard Kroeger as project director.
Both two- and four-place aircraft were designed, and a wing based on a modified Whitcomb GA (W)-1 airfoil was tested and was fitted to the prototype. It had a conventional low tail and a 100 hp Continental O-200 engine held on by a sheet metal mount rather than the more standard steel tubular mount. Airflow problems created by the sheet metal mount were to be worked out during testing.
Although Kroeger left Piper in 1973*, work continued on the PA-38 for a short time. The prototype received new wheel fairings, wing fences, a new aft fuselage fairing and other changes, but the project was stopped in October 1973 and the prototype was disassembled and stored.
In September 1974 the PA-38 once again resurfaced as the “New” Light Trainer Project. The previous prototype was reassembled with changes; the sheet metal engine mount was scrapped in favor of a tube steel mount used to affix a Lycoming O-234 115 hp engine to its front. It also received sprung-steel landing gear, a new cowl and a change to the fuselage at the door.
Lynn Helms had been hired as Piper’s president in 1974 and he thought T-tails would help to modernize the Piper fleet. The PA-38 received a T-tail in 1976. Despite its modern T-tail, the Piper board would not approve production of the model and the project was once again scrapped on May 25, 1976.
Under the direction Bill Barnhouse, the project was re-re-revived in late 1976. Changes were made to the flaps, wings and ailerons and a 112 hp Lycoming O-235-L2C was fitted to the airframe. A bubble-like cockpit provided exceptional visibility.
Finally the PA-38-112 (now dubbed Tomahawk) was approved for production. It was presented to Piper dealers and training centers in October 1977 to good effect and 1,400 pre-orders were taken. It received its certification on Dec. 20, 1977. Deliveries began in April at a price of $15,280.
Magneto failures caused the FAA to temporarily suspend the Tomahawk’s Airworthiness Certificate in September 1978, but the problem was corrected and production resumed.
Additional stall strips (above what had already been originally certified) became standard equipment on the PA-38 from January 1979 on, and Piper issued a Service Bulletin recommending installation of the additional strips for earlier models. In 1983 AD 83-14-08 was issued and it required (among other things) installation of Piper Flow Strip Installation Kit, Part No. 763-930.
In March 1981 Piper began deliveries of the Tomahawk II. This model came with improved cabin heating and windshield defroster performance, an improved elevator trim system, improved engine thrust vector, better cockpit soundproofing, larger six-inch wheels and tires for greater propeller ground clearance, and improved performance on grass and dirt runways, among other enhancements.
Sales of the Tomahawk II were poor and the model met its final end in 1982.
A total of 2,519 Tomahawks left the Piper production line and about 649 remain on the FAA registry.
The Tomahawk received a reputation for being dangerous in a spin, and in fact in 1997 the NTSB estimated that the Tomahawk’s stall/spin accident rate was three to five times that of the Cessna 150/152.
The AOPA’s Tomahawk Safety Review published in 1997 researched this apparent tendency. The report states, “Looking at the stall/spin scenarios in some detail, we found that the vast majority of them occurred at low altitude where, by our estimate, it would have been difficult—if not impossible—to recover from an incipient spin, regardless of aircraft type.”
It offered this advice for pilots and prospective pilots of the aircraft: “Some Tomahawk critics contend that the aircraft should not be stalled or spun. After looking at hundreds of accidents involving both the PA-38 and comparable aircraft, we note that some caveats are in order.
“No aircraft should be stalled or spun at low altitude, but we would extend the margins a bit in a PA-38. Before going solo, pilots should check out with an instructor who has considerable spin experience in the PA-38 and should have spins demonstrated to them, if circumstances permit, in strict accordance with the POH.”
Designed by a committee of thousands
The Tomahawk was—and is—a unique aircraft. You would think that designing an aircraft to the specifications of its end users would be a winning approach, but the process to get the Tomahawk to market seems remarkably convoluted.
The Tomahawk is nonetheless appreciated by its adherents and with cruise speed ranging from 90 to 110 knots, a fuel flow of about five gph and a range (with reserves) of more than 400 miles, it’s still used today as both a trainer and economical personal transport.
*Roger Peperell tells the story of Richard Kroeger’s post-Piper deeds. He writes, “Richard Kroeger left Piper in September 1973 and went to the University of Michigan, where he refined the design of his ‘light trainer’ in February 1974. Not surprisingly the design looked similar to the Piper ‘light trainer.’ Beech Aircraft [was] offered the design, which they accepted and it became the Beech model 77 Skipper that went on sale in 1979 and explains why the Skipper looks similar to the PA-38.”
“AOPA Tomahawk Safety Review” by Bruce Landsberg
I learned to fly in Cessna 150 rental airplanes out of Colts Neck, N.J., a half-mile dirt strip. When the pressure from real estate developers outweighed the interests of a few grass-strip banner-towing pilots in 1988, Colts Neck closed, and I considered buying one of the student-rental airplanes. My pre-purchase inspection became a “no-purchase” inspection and I ended up buying N4372J, a friend’s 1967 Cherokee PA-28-140. It had lousy paint, a torn-up interior, a chewed-up
propeller... and wonderful handling. From 1988 through 1995, N4372J got an intercom wired in, a new propeller, new paint, a fixed-up interior, a better radio and the other usual improvements we read about in Piper Flyer. It also received a LyCon 160 hp engine upgrade through Western Skyways.
October 2005- I had spent hours in the 1976 Warrior II (PA-28-151) working on my instrument rating. It was 1989, I was 19 years old and was going to college and working at Executive Air in Green Bay, Wis. as a ramp rat; learning the ropes, literally from the ground up. I would work the morning shift and finish the day flying.
Before flying the Warrior, all my time was in Cessna aircraft. The first thing I noticed was that the tapered low wing would float down the runway. I needed to peg that final approach speed, adjusted for weight, each time, or I would hover down the runway, using up asphalt.
I liked the aircraft the moment I flew it. I really liked sitting on the wing and when I made turns, the wing would bank away and clear the view. I felt that the Warrior, with the dihedral wing, handled turbulence and bumps better.... but, that could just be me.
There was a time when I would leave work, drive straight to the airport and pull out my airplane. But after 35 years of using my old airplane for work, travel,
a dozen and a half flights throughout the Caribbean and lots of nasty IFR; learning how to fly gliders; plus nearly 20 years of competition aerobatics, there just wasn’t much new to cause me to want to open the hangar door. Flying had stopped being fun, or even very interesting.
Then I decided to get my feet wet.
As I live in a desert valley, I decided my new craft needed to be amphibious rather than a straight-float flyer.
Lake Tahoe is the nearest water worth visiting and property with beachfront access is often inherited rather than available for purchase. (The waterside homes that are for sale are in the “If you have to ask” category.) There are no rentable floatplane storage areas, so I needed to be able to bring my aerial watercraft home after a day playing on the waves.
Of equal significance is that Lake Tahoe is the second largest alpine lake in the world, and the highest of its size in the United States. It’s a lofty 6,250 feet above sea level, with the en route pass at 7,200 feet—with density altitude on a hot day, this approaches 10,000 feet.
I knew floatplanes operated regularly at Tahoe, but was concerned that anything I could afford might not be up to the task of getting off of the water on a hot day or safely navigating around the mountainous area. Although it is essentially a 22-mile-long runway, reasonable takeoff run distance was an important consideration.
My grandson is a full-time companion, and moi belle femme du jour was a ready volunteer for fun flights, so a three- or four-seat plane seemed like a good idea.
I came to own piper(Papa), a 1960 PA-24 in a roundabout way. I had been screening ads in Trade-A-Plane and on the Internet for another airplane. I had studied Mooney, Beech and Cessna options but the airplanes that fit my needs were either quirky in some way or beyond my means.
I had previously owned a 1947 Piper PA 12. (Editor’s Note: For the story of Steve’s PA-12 see “My First Airplane, What Mike Taught Me About Flying”) June 2011, Piper Flyer) It was a very simple airplane and didn't burn much fuel but I wanted more speed. I had also owned a 1966 Cessna 182J. It was very comfortable and capable but burned a lot of fuel, especially since I almost always flew by myself.
My ideal airplane would be well-mannered, have a little speed and be easy to maintain—to me that meant a tried and true engine and prop combo, a reliable parts source and a good owner's club. A neighbor had been flying Papa back and forth to his Los Angeles job while his C-210 was being upgraded. When he got his 210 back he asked me if I wanted to buy her.
As I learned more about Piper's Comanche I realized that Papa would fit many of my wants. The "baby" Comanche is an airplane with a (bullet-proof) 180 hp Lycoming four-cylinder engine. The last owner had replaced the older design Hartzell HC-92 series propeller with a new-design compact hub Hartzell (HC-C2YR) prop a couple of years before—another plus!
Papa flew a little faster than my C-182 (135 to 140 knots) but burned 25 percent less fuel. Webco Aircraft (www.webcoaircraft.com) in Newton, Kansas more than filled the bill in my requirement for parts help, and the International Comanche Society (www.comancheflyer.com) had a dedicated staff of volunteers and a very robust cadre of maintenance forum contributors.
In addition the Lycoming could successfully burn future fuels (94 octane unleaded) with little or no modification. The engine only had 600 hours since a first-run field major overhaul, and the estimated airframe time was less than 2,500 hours. I say estimated because there was a blister on Papa's history—the logbooks before 1999 had been lost.
I was able to track down the FBO in Albuquerque (KABQ) that had supervised the maintenance during years past. They were able to supply some ballpark times so I started re-constructing the maintenance history. I also obtained a copy of the airplane records from the airplane registry division of the FAA (http://aircraft.faa.gov/e.gov/ND/airrecordsND.asp) which helped me flesh out the maintenance and ownership history.
The mechanic of the Albuquerque FBO told me that the logs had been held by an unscrupulous dealer in an attempt to leverage a rock bottom price from the owner's widow after his death. She didn't go for the deal so Papa sat on the ramp at ABQ before being purchased by a friend of my neighbor. All my attempts to track down the missing logs have failed. This glitch reduced the value of the airplane but I negotiated a purchase price that took this into account.
I purchased Papa in March of 2004 and logged 60 hours before I started in on a comprehensive inspection. My goal was to bring all the maintenance up to date, to upgrade the instrument panel from the scattershot layout that was the norm in 1960 to today's "sacred six" layout, and upgrade the avionics to permit GPS-guided light IFR flying.
The upgrade took from the end of 2004 completely through 2005 and until September of 2006. There was a lot of work but I did interrupt the upgrade in 2005 to work as the project manager for the AOPA Commander Countdown Sweepstakes.
After logging over 120 hours in the AOPA Commander criss-crossing the country delivering the airplane to the long list of generous vendors that contributed the latest products and hundreds of labor hours to the sweepstakes, I was glad to be able to get back to work finishing up my airplane upgrade.
To my delight I found that my "baby" Comanche does everything—climbs, has a much higher service ceiling, goes a little faster, and handles better than a Commander 112 on 20 less horsepower.
The Big Refurb
During the big refurb I changed the instrument layout in the floating instrument panel, installed all new comm antennas and installed the following avionics along the left side of the fixed panel using the Radio Rax (www.radiorax.com) mounting system: Bendix King KLN-94 GPS, King KX 155 Nav/comm, Collins VIR 351 Nav, Collins VHF 251 comm, Mid Continent MD 41-524 mode indicator, and King KMA 24 audio panel.
Other instruments installed included a Datron 811B digital clock/Timer, a Garmin GI 106A indicator, a JPI 700 engine monitor with fuel flow, a PS Engineering PM 1000 II intercom and a King KT 76A transponder.
I also replaced the left fuel bladder with a new one from Aero-Tech Services (www.aerotechservicesinc.com).
I sent both fuel quantity senders to Paul Malkasian at www.fuelsenders.com for rebuild and married those to an Aerospace Logic (www.aerospacelogic.com) fuel quantity instrument. I was able to replace the original oil pressure, oil temperature, fuel pressure and ammeter gauges—usually referred to as primary gauges—with new digital gauging from Aerospace Logic in accordance with its STC.
To top off the panel I put in a Horizon digital tach, a SIRS NV2c-2400 compass mounted atop a Dennis Ashby glare shield and provided instrument lighting by installing an Aero Enhancements Ultravision system that I mounted to the glare shield.
I also installed the Bogert copper cable kit, a Lamar starter, Leonard Spall shoulder harnesses, a Zeftronics generator voltage regulator, Micro Dynamics vortex generators and the Aviation Performance stainless Steel exhaust system.
Late in 2007 I removed the horizontal stabilizer assembly and sent it to Webco to be inspected in accordance with Piper Service Bulletin 1160 and repaired as needed. Bearings were replaced, the torque tube was inspected for internal corrosion, passed that exam and was corrosion proofed. The stabilator horn was inspected for cracks by eddy current. No cracks were found so I re-installed the stabilator with all new hardware. Then Papa and I flew and flew. I did a few annuals along the way—I hold A&P and IA tickets—but haven't had to do much. Papa has purred and purred since the big refurb.
In late 2007 I took all four cylinders down to a local engine builder because, although compressions were still in the mid 70s, the engine oil was getting as black as tar very quickly after each oil change. I replaced one cylinder due to a cracked exhaust port. We installed a lot of new parts and put everything back together. I also sent the magnetos to Cliff Orcutt at www.aircraftmagnetoservice.net for 500 hour inspections. The last step was replacement of the Garmin wet vacuum pump with an overhauled pump and the installation of a set of new Teflon engine hoses.
I was finally ready to log lots of hours—or so I thought.
Unfortunately my plans were pushed off track when I was downsized out of my full time employment in July 2008, and then fell and broke my right arm six weeks later. So after flying 170 hours since the rebuild Papa and I have had to be content with keeping the engine dried out and well-lubed on $100 hamburger flights to Harris Ranch (3O8) from my home near KPRB. Papa and I also fly up to visit my sister's family—1 hour 15 minute flight vs. 3 hour 45 minute drive—on a regular basis.
I have trotted out this fly vs. drive example over and over when people ask how fast Papa flies. My reply is always, "Fast enough that I can take off at 8:00 a.m. be at my sister's in time for a late breakfast, visit her and her family for seven hours and then return home for dinner at 7:00 p.m. and a good night's sleep in my own bed. When I drive that same seven hour visit takes an overnight stay and over seven hours of driving." My point is that airplanes save time, the one thing that money can't buy.
To preserve the engine and slow the formation of rust on critical parts such as the camshaft and lifters I've been changing the oil every four months (regardless of the hours flown) and adding the prescribed portion of Camguard at every oil change. The latest upgrade was the installation of rebuilt carburetor from MSA carburetors (www.msacarbs.com). I had visited this company and was very impressed with the quality of their work. This change was well worth the money. CHTs are lower during climb and the engine just runs better.
The longest cross country (7.6 hours each way) so far was in September 2007 when Papa and I flew down to Imperial County airport (N39) before crossing the Mexican border and heading southeast across the northern edge of the Gulf of California. We landed at Cuidad Obregon (MMCN) 3.7 hours later to clear Mexican customs before the short hop to Alamos (MM-45) and the fantastic Hacienda de los Santos resort (www.haciendadelossantos.com). We experienced absolutely no problem in dealing with the border crossing or with customs. I had joined the Baja Bush Pilots (www.bajabushpilots.com) for supplemental information about flying in Mexico.
The Hacienda resort is so unique and so well run that just one visit provided an experience my wife and I still talk about. Owners Jim and Nancy Swickard host two week-long Club de Pilots de México events each year and go out of their way to welcome and take care of their fly-in guests. You can read my write up about this resort at www.aopa.org/members/files/pilot/2009/march/postcards0903.html
Future Papa projects include new side windows, and perhaps one day I'll replace the "40 foot" paint job and the Artex interior. I enjoy working on Papa almost as much as I do flying him. The "baby" Comanche fits my flying needs (and wants) better than the other airplanes I've owned and I'm glad that I've done my part to keep another General Aviation airplane, my beloved "baby" Comanche flying.
With a little (okay, a lot!) of help from his friends, Tom Grove’s Piper PA-28 Cherokee 235 was deemed Outstanding in Type at EAA AirVenture in 2014.
“I think I caught him in a weak moment,” PFA member Tom Grove explained to me when I asked him how he came to own his newest aircraft, a Cherokee 235. The previous owner—who flew it for 27 years—is a personal friend.
“The plane was all original until about 12 years ago,” he said. Then, his friend started some serious refurbishing. Today, it’s a top-of-the-line example of a legacy aircraft.
Grove also owns and flies a 1979 Tomahawk, which you’ll read about in a future issue of Piper Flyer. “I fly both [aircraft] pretty regularly,” he said. And he really enjoys flying around Texas with his buddies.
“I needed a good four-place airplane that could really carry four people, camping gear and other stuff,” he explained. The PA-28-235 allows him to do so easily. “I use it mostly for just playing around, getting hamburgers, flying to Louisiana to visit family, and an occasional long trip.”
Living the $100 hamburger life
As a retired American Airlines check airman, Tom Grove is fortunate enough to live a $100 hamburger life in his retirement. Residing at Eagle’s Nest Estates, an airpark community in Midlothian, Tex., with Rheta, his wife of 47 years, the couple has easy access to their planes, a 3,200-foot lighted runway in their backyard—and plenty of opportunities for socializing with fellow pilots.
Grove and his flying companions can enjoy breakfast or lunch at Lancaster Airport (KLNC) just six minutes away, or they can get a bowl of the best tortilla soup in Texas (Grove maintains that he and his friend Tim are tortilla soup experts!) at Dallas Executive (KRBD), just eight minutes away.
On the weekends, they can head out for the best Sunday brunch at Hicks Airport (T67), a short 12 minutes away. For a world-famous barbecue treat, they head west 32 minutes to the Hard Eight restaurant in Stephenville, Tex. (KSEP). (Regular readers of Piper Flyer may recall Hard Eight BBQ from an article entitled “Best of the Best Airport Restaurants.” This two-part series by Dan Pimentel ran in February and March 2015. —Ed.)
Tom Grove does a lot more than fly-out lunch runs. Shortly after he acquired his 235, he and some friends took an extended flying trip from Texas to Utah, Nevada and Arizona. The mission, Grove told me, was to canyon fly—“and generally have fun,” he added.
Grove and his friends camped at the Utah Back Country Pilots fly-in held at Huntington, Utah. They also flew in to the private airstrip at Caveman Ranch Lodge in Moab, Utah.
When I asked him what the best part of the trip was, Grove quickly said, “I got to fly the Grand Canyon corridor and Canyonlands National Park (KCNY) twice with my longtime flying buds!”
Another unforgettable memory for Grove and his friends includes landing at Bullfrog Basin Airport (U07) on the Arizona/Utah border and spending time at a resort in Lake Powell. They arrived just before the United States government closed Glen Canyon National Recreation Area due to sequestration. “Fortunately,” Grove recalled, “it wasn’t closed by air! The park was really spectacular.”
A cool, fun flying machine
Many of Grove’s flying friends are well acquainted with aircraft restoration and have been closely involved in projects on N8771W. In fact, Grove’s 235 wouldn’t be the award-winning plane it is today without the help of many, many hands.
“I would like to thank all my friends at my home base (2TS6) for the hard work, long hours in cold and hot hangars, and the time and energy they’ve given to me and my airplanes,” Grove said.
“Without Jimmy, Steve, Marvin, Dan, Tim and JJ, my airplanes would just be pieces of dusty metal in a hangar, instead of really cool, fun flying machines that make great memories.”
“Phase one” upgrades
“In 2003, a collective effort was started to do a firewall-forward engine overhaul,” Grove explained. “Everything was removed from the engine compartment. The firewall, inside of the cowlings and engine mounts were carefully painted by Jimmy,” he said.
“The engine then went through a major overhaul, with lots of attention to detail by Jimmy, an A&P; Steve, an A&P/IA and me, the Master Flashlight-Holder, Tool Boy and Hangar Cleaner,” Grove recalled.
“After everything was assembled, the engine was painted Lycoming gray with crimson Millennium valve covers and hung back on the airplane.
“All hoses were replaced and firesleeved, along with the addition of a heavy-duty oil cooler and an Airwolf external spin-on oil filter,” he continued.
“The exhaust system was replaced, along with new ignition wires, all-new engine baffles and a new starter. A dual toe-brake system was added. All glass was replaced. Then, dual batteries were installed on an FAA Field Approval,” Grove explained.
The whole process took about a year.
In 2004, the Cherokee’s instrument panel underwent a partial overhaul. “At that time, they updated the panel shape—removed the big hump in the top—and overhauled the Century autopilot, attitude indicator and directional gyro,” he recalled.
“They also added an Electronics International instrument package, including an FP-5 Digital Fuel monitor; SC-5 Superclock, VA-1A Volts and Amps, OPT-1 Oil Pressure/Temperature, R-1 Tachometer and M-1 Manifold Pressure gauge.” An Insight engine analyzer (red LED) was also added.
In 2006, the interior was redone. “The original design in 1964 did not include headrests,” Grove told me, so Steve and Jimmy installed later model front seats. They also removed the rear bench and added later model Piper individual seats in the back. New matching seatbelts were installed.
The aircraft then received a custom three-color leather interior, and matching carpet was installed by a company located at Northwest Regional Airport (52F) in Roanoke, Tex. (The shop has since closed due to the owner’s health. —Ed.) Also that year, third side windows were added.
N8771W received late model main landing gear wheel fairings, new wing gap seals and wing root fairings.
In addition, the previous owner added aileron and flap and stabilizer gap seals and a late model extended vertical fin stabilizer.
The airplane was repainted in 2007 at A-One Aircraft Paint on the field at Midway Airport (KJWY) in Waxahachie, Tex. The paint scheme is crimson and a two-tone gold. The tasteful design and colors were selected by the previous owner and his wife.
“The main color is sand, not white,” Grove said, “and one of the accent stripes is called ‘Las Vegas gold.’
“Several coats of paint plus two coats of clear coat make this plane look like a high-dollar, corporate-jet paint job,” he continued.
Acquiring the plane
“One day, my wife and I were flying back from Alexandria, La. (KAEX) in our Piper Tomahawk after visiting family. The airplane was loaded to maximum with her sewing equipment, which she needed for our bimonthly, week- or two-week visits,” Grove said.
“She mentioned, ‘We could use a four-place airplane that could carry more stuff—or people.’ Now, my wife, being as wise and practical as she is, was absolutely correct.”
He continued, “After some discussion on budget, we decided that maybe my good friend, Steve, might be willing to sell us his now-very-beautiful Piper Cherokee 235.
“After all, I had known the airplane for 10 years; it had even lived in our hangar for a few years when it was an ugly duckling in its original Piper orange and brown paint.”
Furthermore, Grove said, “I’d watched the engine go through a firewall-forward engine overhaul, partial panel upgrade, paint and interior. It seemed like a natural choice to make: low-time, clean airframe; low-time, bulletproof engine; and a good load hauler.
“The next day I called Steve and announced, ‘Steve, I would like to buy your 235.’
“I think he was in shock, because in all the years we had known each other, I’d never expressed an interest in buying it,” Grove explained. “In his disbelief, he tossed out a number you only give to a good friend.
“It was right in the middle of where I’d hoped it would be, and without hesitation, I said, ‘I’ll take it! I’ll be right there with a check.’”
“Before either one of us had a chance to get buyer’s or seller’s remorse, the deal was done. Within a day or two, we exchanged keys and paperwork and taxied the airplane over to my hangar.
“And that,” Grove said, “is how the good ones never make it into the classified ads!”
He added, “Since we live on the same airport community, Steve still has full visitation rights, and is still involved in all the new projects and maintenance.
“He also knows they keys are in it anytime he wants to visit his old friend of 27 years.”
Grove bought the plane in 2012 when it had about 2,700 hours total time.
“During the time my friend owned it, he’d installed a very nice IFR Narco radio stack,” Grove recalled. “I bought it with that panel. It had the old 1960s-style switches—and the old ‘60s wiring,” he said.
N8771W’s O-540 had 300 hours since overhaul, and the prop and governor had been overhauled at San Antonio Propeller.
Grove took it on the cross-country to Utah the following year, and soon, more improvements were to come.
“After we returned from Utah, I decided to redo some things,” Grove said.
He took the plane to Avionics 1st at Dallas Executive (KRBD). “Dennis Sorber, Lloyd Timmons and Gus Moreno got rid of all the old switches and relays,” he recalled. “Dennis gutted almost all the old wiring and replaced it with very nice custom-built harnesses made on-premises.”
“An all-new split electrical bus system was installed; all circuit breakers were replaced with new; and a split master rocker switch was installed,” he said.
“They replaced the old 1960s toggle switches with very reliable factory rocker switches and dual avionics switches.” These electronics components give Grove excellent peace of mind.
Grove started planning his instrument panel project several months before work began. “I used Panel Planner software from One Mile Up. It lets you select every radio, instrument, warning light, switch and knob,” he explained.
“The software allows you to rearrange your panel to your heart’s content—in full color and in full detail.
It even gives you a cost breakdown before any money is spent at your avionics shop,” Grove said.
“My actual panel was so close to the pictures I’d printed from the software, it was amazing.”
N8771W received a completely new upper and lower instrument panel. A new extra-strength metal panel was custom fitted, and all holes, circuit breakers, switch locations and flight instrument locations and controls were carefully placed to allow easy access and viewing.
“The completed panels were then painted to match my interior and sent to a silk-screening company to have all the labels, checklist and limitations imprinted,” he said.
“Next, Dennis Sorber and his team reinstalled my Aspen 2000 Evolution package,” he explained. “They had installed it a year earlier, complete with Synthetic Vision and Terrain Warning on both displays and XM weather.”
“In the center stack they installed a Garmin 340 intercom, and Garmin GNS 530 and GNS 430 WAAS. Just to the right of that, they reinstalled my Garmin 560, which also has a Garmin GDL 39 ADS-B receiver for additional stand-alone weather and traffic alerting,” he said.
“In the far right of the panel, they reinstalled my Century 21 autopilot and added an Aspen EA-100 autopilot interface to control it with digital precision. Just below the autopilot, they installed my Garmin 327 transponder.”
“I didn’t put in a big fancy analyzer,” Grove explained, “but the new G1 engine analyzer is a good color display instrument.
“It flattens the temperature bars, which makes it easy for leaning, and gives you numerical values for your EGT and CHT, as well as colored bars,” he said. “I usually see temps at about 370 to 380.”
“Avionics 1st is very easy to work with and provided a very nice finished panel. With such a large project, there were a few minor problems at completion time, but all items were resolved without hassle,” he said. “It’s a good shop; I will definitely use them again in the future.”
The previous owner upgraded to a later model alternator for its better-quality electricity and higher capacity.
Grove upgraded to a later generation lightweight Sky-Tec starter and Sky-Tec starter relay. “The people at Sky-Tec in Granbury [Texas] are very friendly, and a treat to deal with,” he told me. “A great Texas company, full of Texas hospitality.”
Other aftermarket improvements include Bogert Aviation battery cables. “I’m a firm believer in Bogert cables. I’ve put Bogert on every plane I’ve ever had,” he commented.
He elected to keep the vacuum pump on the aircraft, just to have a truly free-standing backup system.
… and a Lindy Award winner, too!
With 46 years of flying and many more to come, Grove has made several trips to EAA AirVenture and other aviation events. With his Cherokee in such fine shape—and some pushing by friends JJ, Danna, Steve and Dan—Grove decided to admit the aircraft for judging in the Lindy Awards just two summers ago.
“Steve and I loaded up the 235 and headed for Oshkosh,” he said. “To our surprise, N8771W received the award for ‘Outstanding in Type’ in the Contemporary (1956-1970) class for 2014.
“The paint job is what probably won me the award at Oshkosh!” he joked. (That, and all the help from his friends!)
“It was a real honor to be chosen from so many airplanes for an award at such a great worldwide event,” Grove said.
“But just as rewarding was the smile on Steve’s face when we walked up to the airplane and saw the announcement hanging from the prop.
“We were like two proud parents—didn’t stop smiling for weeks!”
Airwolf Filter, LLC
A-One Aircraft Paint
– PFA supporter
– PFA supporter
– PFA supporter
Insight Instrument Corp.
– PFA supporter
One Mile Up, Inc.
San Antonio Propeller Service
Sirius XM/XM WX Weather
– PFA supporter
Sky-Tec Partners Ltd.
Utah Back Country Pilots