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Destination Sanibel: Shell City, USA

Destination Sanibel: Shell City, USA

Florida is filled with fun, bright, beachy places—but there is nowhere quite like Sanibel Island on the state’s Gulf Coast.

Sanibel Island might be small, but it packs a lot into its 17 square miles. With 15 miles of beaches teeming with seashells, a rich history involving pirates, and lanais on every dwelling, it’s as “Florida” as Florida gets.

Thousands of years ago, Sanibel Island was a single island with neighboring Captiva. It was settled by the Calusa, Native Americans whose territory included the southwest coast of Florida. 

The city of Sanibel was established in 1974, a full 10 years after the Sanibel Causeway linked the island to the mainland. Before 1963, travel to Sanibel and Captiva was typically by ferry; most of the commerce on Sanibel is on the eastern side of the island. 

Despite the amazing amount of development, there are no airstrips on Sanibel or Captiva Islands. There are two private fields on nearby Pine Island; in addition, Southwest Florida International (KRSW) in Fort Myers offers all major services, but only 10 percent of the flights are transient GA.

So how is a pilot going to get here? I asked someone in the know. 

Southwestern Florida’s GA scene

The “real GA airport in the area,” according to Floridian David Hipschman —who some readers will recall used to write regularly for this magazine—is Page Field (KFMY) just to the northwest of KRSW’s Class C airspace. 

Located on the mainland between the Caloosahatchee River and I-75, just a few miles south of Fort Myers proper, KFMY has been in operation since 1940. It has acted as the GA reliever airport since the early 1980s when KRSW was certified for operation.

Base Ops, the FBO on Page Field, has an excellent reputation online at sources like Airnav.com. The terminal is practically brand-new (finished in 2011) and the list of amenities offered by Base Ops is long. Normal business hours are 7 am to 11 pm.

Ramp fees are modest: just $10/night—and they’ll even waive a few nights if you make a fuel purchase. Prices as of Dec. 8, 2016 were 3.87/gal for 100LL, with $3.37/gal listed for the self-serve pump off Runway 31. 

If you happen to fly in on a Friday, you’ll find that Base Ops offers a free hot dog and soda lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for “Hot Dog Friday.” 

Hipschman also mentioned these nearby alternates: La Belle Municipal (X14) 19 nm east; Punta Gorda (KPGD) 19 nm northwest; and Immokalee Regional (KIMM) 24 nm southeast.

Ground transportation

After landing at KFMY in Fort Myers, it’s a quick trip over to Sanibel in a rental car. Vehicles can easily hop on the causeway and be on Sanibel from the mainland of Florida in a matter of minutes—if traffic is light. Round-trip fee from the Florida mainland to Sanibel and/or Captiva Islands via the causeway is six dollars.

Anyone who has ever been on Florida’s sometimes very slow-moving streets during peak times already knows to be prepared for backups; and they can occur on the three-mile long causeway—and on the island, too. 

Many travelers park their vehicles at their earliest opportunity and use other modes of transportation on Sanibel; scooters and bicycles, mainly. Be alert for lots of “wanderers”—in cars, in carts, on foot and on two wheels—as well as four-legged wildlife “wanderers.”

With more than 2,000 acres of freshwater wetlands, an alligator sighting is likely. If you’re not familiar with alligator safety, make sure you review Florida state laws—feeding or harassing alligators is prohibited—and obey all posted signs.


Things to do on and around Sanibel Bicycling

A bike, scooter or Segway rental from Billy’s is the way to go (unless you brought your bike with you!) for traversing Sanibel’s 17 miles of bike paths. At $20 a day for a multi-speed bike, and nine bucks for a boogie board, you can be having fun on the beach all day on the cheap.

Street-legal golf carts from Cart Rentals is another great way to tour the island in the open air, but this mode of transport is considerably more spendy at $150 a day. 



Sanibel has more than 10 miles of beach frontage on the Gulf of Mexico and shellers can expect to find cockle shells, various conch, lightning whelks, tulip shells and bivalves like coquinas shells. The white-with-brown polka dots Junonia is rare enough that finders will get their photo in The Islander, the community newspaper.

Serious shellers head to the beach in the early morning for the best selection, but in my experience, any time of day can yield some wonderful shells. Live shells—those that contain any inhabitant, whether it appears to be living or not—are not allowed to be collected by mandate of the State of Florida. 



Fishers of all abilities get excited about the prospect of year-round fishing in Florida. 

Fishing from the beach or pier in state waters commonly yields tarpon, snook, redfish, tarpon and sea trout. If you don’t already have your salt water and/or fresh water license, you can acquire one from one of numerous outlets on the island. Fly fishing, charter boats for offshore waters and other guided trips are also available if you’re on the hunt for that big grouper. 



The Causeway Beaches are excellent for fishing. Parking is free, dogs are allowed (on leashes) and there are restrooms and picnic tables. However, no open fires or alcoholic beverages are permitted. 

On the east side of Sanibel is the Lighthouse Beach. It, too, is a popular fishing spot, with a T-shaped fishing pier. Parking fees are good for 24 hours, with no fees for bikes.

Mid-island parks include Tarpon Beach and Gulfside City Park, both excellent for swimming and picnicking. 

Our family’s favorite was Bowman’s Beach, on the “up island” segment just off Sanibel-Captiva Road. It’s less busy, breezy and just plain relaxing there.

Attractions Sanibel and Captiva Island Visitor’s Center

Sure, you can drop by and see them on the Causeway Road, but you can likely get all of your “work” done online and by phone before your voyage. The website for the Sanibel and Captiva Island Visitor’s Center is easy to navigate and stuffed—to the gills, if I may—with useful information for incoming visitors.

Dolphin watching

Eco tours, like the one offered by Sanibel Dolphin Tours, can be a great way for a family to experience the marine wildlife. A two-hour private tour for six passengers costs $250, and can allow for lots of great “photo ops” in addition to unforgettable memories for kids—and their parents, too.



Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge 

More than 6,000 acres of mangroves, swamps, flats and marshes—and, of course beaches—comprise the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Almost half of the refuge is a national Wilderness Area. Visitors can drive, but may also walk, bike or kayak through the refuge. Admission is a dollar each for bikers and walkers, and five dollars per vehicle.

Something to take note of is that the popular five-mile driving route, Wildlife Drive, is closed on Fridays to allow the native species—over 245 species of birds call the Refuge home—much-needed solace.  

Kayaking through the mangroves is incredible, and I highly recommend it, even if paddling isn’t your thing. (It’s not mine, either.) I was a bit hesitant to be out in the big wide open Gulf of Mexico (okay, really the Tarpon Bay, but it’s still the great sea!) until we settled into the smaller waters of the Commodore Creek. 

Then, instead of feeling miniscule and adrift out in the bay, you’re kayaking underneath a canopy of mangroves along a gorgeous dappled route, with shore birds above and all around, with their piercing eyes, spindly legs and grand wings; jumbled roots lining both sides of the water and Spanish moss close enough to brush you on the shoulders. 

Other noteworthy spots The lighthouse

On the far eastern edge of Sanibel sits the Sanibel Lighthouse. Its real name, Hipschman explained to me, is Point Ybel Light, and it was named for the sandy point of dangerous shoal water it marks. The lighthouse is the island’s oldest structure and was first lit in 1885. Point Ybel Light was restored in 2013, and is not open to the public—but the beach is.


Grocery stores (yes, really!)

Jerry’s Foods has a few locations: Edina, Eden Prairie and Woodbury, Minn.—and Sanibel, Fla. (I think I know which location I’d prefer to be stationed at in January.) Prices at Jerry’s may be higher than average, but the convenience of not having to go the mainland when you’re on Island Time cannot be quantified. Plus, Jerry’s is the only grocery store I’ve ever been that has a live parrot as its greeter.

Meanwhile, Bailey’s General Store is a tourist attraction in its own right that regularly gets top marks in visitors’ reviews on the web. With a bakery, deli, coffee shop, hot prepared foods, books, a hardware store, and a full supermarket as well, Hipschman told me that Bailey’s is reason enough for him to visit Sanibel.

National Shell Museum 

Before you hit the beach with your pail and scoop, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum asks you to stop in; they’re open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. 

Its collections rival the Smithsonian, and the staff can offer guidance on where and when to look for shells. There is lots of programming going on, including beach walks guided by the marine biologists who work at the museum. Fees are modest at $13 for adults, $9 for kids ages 12 to 17; $6 for kids ages five to 11; and free for those ages four and younger.



Shopping is abundant on Sanibel, with gift shops, galleries, boutiques and more tucked in between the greenspaces. You’ll be able to get any souvenirs and mementos you need. But the real treasures are to be found in the sights and sounds on the beaches and shoreline.

After I returned home I discovered that Anne Morrow Lindbergh was so inspired by Sanibel and Captiva that she wrote a series of essays that became “Gift from the Sea.” The book was published in 1955.


You’ll find some good variety for dining choices. The Sanibel Café is a popular family restaurant that offers American fare and seafood, and The Island Cow has a similar family-casual ambiance along with outdoor dining. 

The Green Flash Restaurant has gourmet food and waterfront seating, and is located on Captiva. The Bubble Room Restaurant, also on Captiva, offers diners a fun atmosphere with eclectic décor and cleverly named entrees (“Anything Grows,” “Errol Fin”).

Newer restaurants on Sanibel include Sweet Melissa’s, which has dishes made from locally-sourced items, and Sanibel Sprout offers visitors an organic and vegan menu. 

In addition to many others, you will find ethnic restaurants here, too: Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, Bleu Rendez-Vous French Bistro and Cantina Captiva (Mexican and Southwestern).


Whatever you might seek for accommodations, Sanibel has it ready for you. From larger resorts and hotel complexes, to condo rentals, to smaller inns, to campgrounds, you have options. 

During our stay we found a nice, clean two-bed, two-bath condo on short notice without too much difficulty. 

And of the dozens of options for lodging on Sanibel and Captiva, many (23, by my search) show they are pet-friendly.

Tied to the sea 

Elevation on Sanibel averages just four feet above sea level, and you’ll feel that everywhere you go you’re only a step away from the water’s edge. Everything here is tied to the sea, and marine wildlife of all kinds are embedded with the local human population. For a Midwesterner, it was like stepping into an alternate universe.

Despite a touristy feel on first blush, there are many things to like about Sanibel Island. Give it a chance; I think you’ll find more than one thing on this island that makes it well worth the flight.

Heather Skumatz is managing editor for Piper Flyer. Send questions or comments to .

Sources: Wikipedia.org, Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Gopher Enterprises of Sanibel and Captiva Corp.


Pilot and visitor information
Base Operations at Page Field
Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce
Sanibel and Captiva Islands Visitor’s Center
Vacation rentals
Billy’s Rentals
Cart Rentals
Gopher Enterprises 
Activities and attractions
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Sanibel Dolphin Tours
Sanibel Lighthouse
Tarpon Bay Explorers
Piper CEO Talks M600: A Closer Look at Piper’s Newest Model

Piper CEO Talks M600: A Closer Look at Piper’s Newest Model


Interview by PFA Staff   |   Photos courtesy Piper Aircraft


Piper Flyer recently queried Piper Aircraft president and CEO Simon Caldecott about its latest offering in the M-series, the M600. Here is what Caldecott had to say about the development and features of this 600 shp single. 

PF: You mentioned at AirVenture that the M600 is your favorite—or at least one of your favorite—Pipers to date. Why do you like it so much?

SC: The M600 is one of my favorite Piper products because of its capability and performance. As we went through the development program, we discovered that the M600’s performance and capability were going to surpass our initial expectations, which made me particularly proud of our team. 

Additionally, I challenged the group to design and implement an interior that was both luxurious and comfortable without creating a need for a significant amount of new tooling. We hit it out of the park with an interior design that was relatively easy to implement, is in line with today’s business aviation products, but is also comfortable and functional. We are delighted at how well received it has been in the marketplace.

Finally, the M600 is positioned to fit within multiple market segments. While we have initially targeted the owner-flown market, the aircraft—given its range and payload—is ideally suited as a “stablemate” to a corporate flight department with jet products in its hangar. It can also serve as a very cost effective and efficient Part 135 aircraft. 


PF: What prompted you to bring to market a new airframe requiring new FAA certification? Why not just refurbish the Meridian, for example?

SC: The Meridian as well as the M500 have both been tremendous products with great success. The M500 continues to serve a specific niche of the market place as an entry-level turboprop that features advanced safety features and a highly competitive price point of less than two million dollars. 

However, in conducting a thorough market analysis as well as a survey of both our dealers and customers, it was clear to us that the market needed an aircraft that could carry more and fly further. 

With this in mind, we knew that the wing on the M500 would need to be redesigned in order to carry the additional load as well as accommodate more fuel. The new project, which included a clean-sheet-design wing, was named PA-46X. 

PF: What will be different for the pilot that transitions to the M600, and what will be familiar—if anything?

SC: In early 2016 we announced that Legacy Flight Training would be the exclusive training provider for the M600. Each new M600 [purchase] includes one initial training course with the training provider. Legacy has worked together with Piper Aircraft to create a thorough training curriculum that includes a combination of ground school, simulator and in-aircraft training. 

The course includes systems training, normal and emergency procedures training, as well as transition training for the Garmin G3000 avionics system. Those customers who are stepping out of current M-class products will be somewhat familiar with the cockpit layout as well as the general operating procedures. Customers with G1000 experience will find the transition to the G3000 avionics systems relatively seamless and intuitive. 

As a far as aircraft handling performance goes, the M600 is not significantly dissimilar to the Meridian/M500. Certainly it has more payload, range and fuel, but generally speaking, there are more similarities than one might expect. 

Perhaps one of the more significant differences that one will find in the M600 as compared to its predecessor the M500 is the VMO speed (max operating speed). 

With the newly designed wing, the M600 is able to descend at a higher rate of speed, which is helpful when entering congested airspace—aircraft control is less likely to vector an M600 out of the way of larger commercial aircraft. 

Additionally, the time to travel from point to point is reduced as a result of the higher speed.


PF: What has the response been to the M600? How many ordered to date? 

SC: The response to the M600 has been extremely positive. While we do not publically announce production numbers outside of the GAMA Aircraft Shipments and Billings report, all units for 2016 are fully allocated, as well as the units for 2017.

PF: To what kind of mission profile is the M600 best suited: individual pilot business flyer, corporate, family trips or other?

SC: The M600 was designed to support multiple mission profiles and to fit within several different market segments. With a max range of nearly 1,500 nm and full fuel payload of over 650 pounds, the aircraft can easily support a private owner in both a business and leisure capacity. 

Additionally, with a price point of more than one million dollars less than the closest competitor, the M600 offers a great value proposition for a corporate flight department on trips that don’t warrant the use of larger, more expensive corporate jets.

The M600 offers a comfortable cabin that can serve as an office in the sky for a businessperson who needs a flexible workspace. A work table along with USB charging ports enables passengers to be productive while traveling from point to point. 

For families, there is plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the flight while charging devices like cell phones and tablets. There is room for 100 pounds of baggage in the aft compartment, which can be accessed from inside.

Piper Flyer would like to thank Simon Caldecott and Jacqueline Carlon for granting us this interview. For more about the M600’s features and systems, visit piper.com.


Papa’s Got a Brand New… Fuel

Papa’s Got a Brand New… Fuel

Swift Fuels’ 94 Octane Unleaded Avgas

Earlier this month I burned 25 gallons of Swift Fuels’ 94UL unleaded Avgas in the 180 hp Lycoming O-360 in my 1960 Piper Comanche, Papa. 

Swift Fuels of Lafayette, Ind. has submitted its 102 octane unleaded (102UL) Avgas to the FAA for testing in the Piston Aircraft Fuels Initiative (PAFI) program, but it also announced in mid-2015 that it was producing a 94 octane unleaded (94UL) Avgas. 

In the last year and a half, 94UL hasn’t gained much traction even though it’s approved for operation in a wide range of GA engine and airframes. 

94UL is produced to ASTM Standard D7547, the specification for hydrocarbon unleaded aviation gasoline. This lead-free Avgas was developed at the request of the military in 1994 for use in its drone fleet. 94UL is a stable fuel with a “tank life” of two years. 

I am looking forward to the day when Avgas will be free of tetraethyl lead (TEL), and when I saw that Swift offered a lead-free Avgas that I could legally use, I wanted to try it. What I found was very interesting.

By the end of my flight testing I hadn’t seen one iota of discernible difference in any engine parameter—EGT, CHT, manifold pressure, rpm or oil temperature—between the 94UL and 100LL Avgas. 


Data collection

The data I’ve captured is by no means an exhaustive test. I haven’t done an extreme heat or extreme cold temperature starting test. I haven’t done a high altitude (18,000 feet MSL) operational test. I haven’t done an in-flight restarting test. Nor have I done a fuel system compatibility test. 

But thanks to the data collection feature of my Electronics International CGR-30P and 30C engine monitor, I could collect and plot the engine data gathered during the three test flights using EGView from EG Trends. 

I also asked Joe Godrey and Savvy Analysis to check my plots. He verified my findings.


Preparing for the tests 

There is one 30-gallon bladder-style fuel tank in each wing of my airplane. The fuel selector valve has three positions: left to the engine, right to the engine, and off. There’s no both position. 

After flying the right tank empty and sumping the remaining unusable fuel out through the system low point drain, I paid Rabbit Aviation Services at the San Carlos Airport (KSQL) $118.37 to pump 26.6 gallons of 94UL into the right-wing tank. 

I also topped off the left tank with 8.4 gallons of 100LL ($38.22). That crunches down to 100LL at $4.55 a gallon and 94UL at $4.45. (Vendors set the pump prices; when buying from Rabbit there’s minimal direct cost savings.) The fuelers at Rabbit asked if my airplane was approved for auto gas or 94UL Avgas before dispatching the 94UL truck. 

Initial observations

94UL smells different than Avgas and is clear. I checked the two fuels for weight. The 94UL is lighter at 5.79 pounds/gallon than the 100LL at 5.94 pounds. 

I flew three one-plus hour flights, switching back and forth between the left and right tanks. 

I switched during a full power climb; I switched with the mixture leaned to peak EGT on the first cylinder to peak; and I switched during my normal cruise power and mixture settings while level at 5,500 feet MSL. I also switched on descent and while idling before flight and after landing. 

In addition to collecting the engine parameters digitally, I also watched for any EGT difference in the seconds following the switches. I never saw the numbers change.


Users’ reports

John Poppy at the Portage Municipal Airport (C47) in Portage, Wis., a popular fueling stop near AirVenture, said he’s heard “zero negative feedback” about 94UL. 

Poppy has a 1,000 gallon tank and says he pays two cents a gallon for shipping for the five-hour drive from the Swift production plant in Lafayette, Ind. Poppy sells 94UL for $3.35 a gallon—59 cents per gallon less than his 100LL. 

Poppy told me that one customer who flies a Cessna 182 has been using it for over a year while commuting to another state. According to Poppy, the customer’s mechanic asked if he had taken his engine apart and cleaned it after pulling the cylinders for a top overhaul. 

Rich Volker of RV Airshows burns it in the 600 hp Pratt and Whitney R-1340 that powers the Harvard Mk IV he flies in his airshow routine. Volker told me he flies his routines at full power and in his opinion, his engine can’t tell the difference. 

Dennis Wyman runs the engine shop at G&N Aircraft in Griffin, Ind. Wyman told me that his experience is that running 94UL results in less deposits on pistons and valves. In his experience, the switch between the two fuels is transparent. 

The only change Wyman has seen is that the combustion chamber of an engine that uses 94UL looks slightly darker than a 100LL chamber. Can you use 94UL?

You can use 94UL is your airplane fits into one of the following options:

• Airframe/engine combinations that have an Auto Fuel STC (e.g., an STC from Petersen Aviation);

• Airframe/engine combinations OEM-approved for auto fuel (e.g., ultralights, LSAs and experimental aircraft);

• Airframe/engine combinations Type Certificated to operate on Grade 80 (listed as Grade 80/87 in ASTM D910) or Grade UL91 (ASTM D7547) Avgas; (Note: If the fuel data plate on the engine lists 80/87 as the fuel, you can legally use 94UL without an STC. This includes Piper singles such as PA-18, -20, -22 and 150 hp PA-28s.) 

• Airframe/engine combinations Type Certificated to operate on minimum 80 octane or lower (e.g., 73 or 65 octane) Avgas; or

• Airframe/engine combinations with an Avgas STC purchased from Swift Fuels.

The engine data plate on my Lycoming O-360-A1A specifies 91/96 octane fuel, yet my Piper PA-24 Comanche had never been approved for an auto fuel STC. My only avenue to use 94UL was buying an Avgas STC from Swift. 

Where can you get 94UL?

Per the user map on the Swift Fuels website, there’s only one public source for 94UL west of the Mississippi River, and it’s in California. 

There are also 14 that are cited as “private users.” The 18 other public outlets for 94UL include three in Florida, one in South Carolina, one in Ohio, one in Missouri, four in Indiana and eight in Wisconsin. (Note: If you would like find out more about setting up a 94UL station, contact the folks at Swift. They have a team that will tell you how to get started.)

One of the potential roadblocks between availability and pumping 94UL at your airport is tankage. Most airports now have two tanks—one for jet fuel and one for 100LL. One option for adding a third is installing a box station from U-Fuel in Elk Mound, Wis. 

U-Fuel offers a split tank—94UL on one side and 100LL on the other. It appears that split models have the same footprint as existing single-fuel models. 


94UL is here now; PAFI fuel is a few years away

Since most privately owned and operated airplanes in the GA fleet can safely burn 94UL, and since Swift sells it for less than today’s 100LL, Swift’s 94UL seems like a winner. 

No one knows when the new unleaded 100 octane Avgas will be produced—it’s still being tested in the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) program. 

The PAFI program is scheduled to complete the fuels testing in 2018, but there could well be a time lapse between the approval date and the production and delivery to your local airport. 

Based on my testing and my belief that TEL creates a wide range of problems in our air-cooled engines, I would be burning unleaded aviation fuel today if there was a pump with a Swift 94UL placard close by. 

Steve Ells has been an A&P/IA for 44 years and is a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings. Ells also loves utility and bush-style airplanes and operations. He’s a former tech rep and editor for Cessna Pilots Association and served as associate editor for AOPA Pilot until 2008. Ells is the owner of Ells Aviation (EllsAviation.com) and the proud owner of a 1960 Piper Comanche. He lives in Templeton, Calif. with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to


Engine monitors and cluster gauge replacements
Electronics International – PFA supporter


EGView software – data analysis tool
EG Trends Inc.


Engine rebuilding, engine overhaul and engine sales
G&N Aircraft, Inc.


Auto fuel STCs
Petersen Aviation, Inc.


94UL fuel service (West Coast)
Rabbit Aviation Services, Inc.


Savvy Analysis – engine monitor data organizer
Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management, Inc.


94 octane unleaded Avgas, Avgas STC
Swift Fuels


Aviation fuel stations


Further reading
FAA PAFI program

Full Circle: A380 Lessons

A lifetime of learning contained in a story about Capt. Richard de Crespigny and his Qantas Airways crew.

When I began narrating audiobooks several years ago, I naturally found myself committing a good deal of my time to aviation subjects. I’ve produced a number of aviation titles into audio, from aviation-themed novels on through various technical and how-to books. 

When I finally wrap up one of these aviation books, I invariably find myself walking out of the audio booth with more knowledge about that particular aeronautical subject than when I walked in.

My most recent example of “in-the-booth training” came courtesy of part three of airline captain Eric Auxier’s series, “There I Wuz.” Auxier provided me with an up-close and personal interview with a very renowned airline pilot: Capt. Richard de Crespigny. 

What this man has to say about how to handle a really big problem in a really big airplane is packed full of good information for anyone who finds themselves behind the controls of any size airplane that has developed difficulties.

Q&A: Pitot Static Checks for a Cherokee 180 & Apache Stabilator Torque Tube Inspection

Q&A: Pitot Static Checks for a Cherokee 180 & Apache Stabilator Torque Tube Inspection

Q: Hi Steve,

I need more information on what my mechanic calls “pitot static checks.” I ask because he said I need them every two years—but then said only one is needed if I don’t fly IFR.

I am partway through my private pilot training and am using my dad’s Piper Cherokee 180. He said I could fly it as much as I want if I pay for the maintenance and upkeep.

I think it’s great that I get to fly the same airplane every lesson. I started out renting at a flight school and I personally didn’t like when I had to flip-flop between different airplanes. I think it made it harder for me to concentrate fully on the flying part.

But I’m afraid Dad hasn’t kept up with the maintenance on his Cherokee. For instance, the last pitot static check I found in the logbooks was over 10 years ago. I know who was doing his annuals and decided to go to a nearby well-established shop for the first annual I’m paying for.

So far they haven’t found any big-ticket items (whew!) but there have been plenty of catch-up items. I’m okay with that, because I’m going to be loading my family in this airplane and I want to be able to feel like it’s ready.

That’s my story. Now, the pitot static test?

—Learning Larry

A: Dear Larry,

Welcome to the world of flying. I feel like you’ve already made some good decisions regarding your training and the importance of having confidence in the maintenance work done on your airplane.

Unfortunately, there have been and continue to be “soft” annuals performed on a small number of airplanes every year. I’m glad you have resolved to take the steps required to get your dad’s airplane completely airworthy.

The pitot static system check you’re asking about is two separate checks. Both checks are spelled out in FAR Part 91, “General Operating and Flight Rules.”

The first rule is sometimes referred to as the IFR rule. It ensures the altimeter is working correctly and that the automatic altitude reporting system in your airplane is working and within tolerances. If you never fly IFR, you don’t have to keep this one current.

This rule, under FAR 91.411, “Altimeter system and altitude reporting equipment tests and inspections,” says that no one can operate in controlled airspace while operating under IFR unless, within the preceding 24 months, “each static pressure system, each altimeter instrument, and each automatic pressure altitude reporting system has been tested and inspected and found to comply with appendices E and F of part 43 of this chapter.”

I’ll explain a little more about this mandate—but it’s important to realize that even if you’re flying in clear weather, this inspection must be current if you’re on an IFR flight plan.

In fact, I think it’s a good idea to get in the habit of filing IFR from time to time on all except local flights because it helps keep procedures sharp and maintains a pilot’s awareness of how the “system” works.

The second rule, under FAR 91.413, is the transponder rule. 91.413, “ATC transponder tests and inspections,” states: “No persons may use an ATC transponder that is specified in 91.215(a), 121.345(c), or Sec. 135.143(c) of this chapter unless, within the preceding 24 calendar months, the ATC transponder has been tested and inspected and found to comply with appendix F of part 43 of this chapter.”

While the transponder test is required for all aircraft, there’s quite a bit of national airspace where a transponder is not required. This airspace is spelled out in FAR 91.215, but realistically, keeping your transponder check up-to-date assures that your system (and the airplane) is legal to fly almost anywhere in the country. Easier to just “get ‘er done.”

Many maintenance shops can perform both 91.411 and 91.413 tests, provided they have FAA approval in the form of a repair station license for these tests.

Avionics shops, manufacturers of the airplane, as well as a few other places also have this equipment.

Some folks grouse a little bit about the costs—which range from $200 to $300 for both certifications—but it is important to realize that the equipment needed for certifying your system also should be recertified on a regular basis, and that costs the shop some bucks, too.

I hope that answers your questions.

Happy flying.


Q: Hi Steve,

My mechanic wants to remove the horizontal tail feathers off my old Apache for what he says is an inspection from corrosion of the tube.

What’s he talking about?

—Apache Al

A: Hi Al,

Your mechanic is talking about Piper Service Bulletin No. 1160. It was issued in 2005 and calls for an inspection of the stabilator torque tube for internal and external corrosion.

The torque tube is a steel tube that ro-tates on large roller bearings that are supported in two-piece housings securely bolted to the aftmost bulkhead in the fuselage.

Since the left and right stabilator “tail feathers” are not normally removed during yearly maintenance, and since corroded torque tubes have been found, I feel that this is an important inspection.

I had to remove the tail feathers on my Comanche to comply with AD 2012-17-06 that related to an inspection for cracks in the stabilator horn. I did the inspection called for in SB 1160 at that time. AD 2012-17-06 does not apply to your Aztec.

Since my Comanche had spent much of its life near Phoenix where corrosion and rust rarely occur, I didn’t have any problem pulling my “feathers.”

However, I did do my best to soak the tube with AeroKroil before and during removal. The key to removing my feathers was to go slow and continue to apply Kroil.

I twisted the feathers slightly at first, and then more and more on the tube, and eventually they slid off.

SB1160 provides both a minimum outside diameter for the torque tube (2.3113 inches) and a minimum tube wall thickness (0.161 inches).

If there’s any deviation due to rust, the tube must be replaced. The part number for the tube for your Aztec is 16067-00. I just checked with Piper and was told that part number 16067-00 is no longer available.

If your torque tube is airworthy, make sure to apply a protective coating after the inspection. If it isn’t, a used serviceable torque tube assembly may be available through a salvage yard.

According to Tom Pentecost at DSA Flightline Group, owner of Piper Parts Plus (P3), the replacement kit (p/n 652-579) listed in Table 1 on page three of the service bulletin is still available with a lead time of 100 days.


Steve Ells has been an A&P/IA for 44 years and is a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings. Ells also loves utility and bush-style airplanes and operations. He’s a former tech rep and editor for Cessna Pilots Association and served as associate editor for AOPA Pilot until 2008. Ells is the owner of Ells Aviation (EllsAviation.com) and the proud owner of a 1960 Piper Comanche. He lives in Templeton, Calif. with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to


Penetrating oil


Piper replacement kit 652-579
Piper Parts Plus (P3) – PFA supporter


Further reading
FAR 91.411 and FAR 91.413


Piper Service Bulletin No. 1160
PiperFlyer.org/forum under “Magazine Extras”

The High & the Writey: The Future is Mostly Ahead of Us!


Kevin Garrison ponders all of the futuristic stuff going on out there and wonders why it has passed him by.

Thirty years ago, we all used VORs or looked out of the window to navigate, and thought that having a DME was the height of modern flight technology. Now, my antique airplane has dual AHRS and three GPS units: my watch, my iPhone, and my Stratus. The Stratus shows me weather displays that I did not have on the Boeing 777 when I flew it a few years ago.

Today I was watching the news and they were reporting about Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand delivering the first pizza by drone. The drone hovers and a wire lowers the pizza to the hungry customers. 

In addition to their plans to deliver various things by drone to our homes and businesses, Amazon.com has a new fleet of old 767s that it plans to use to enter the instant cargo business.

Elon Musk is deeply involved with sending people permanently to Mars and the planets beyond in a quest to ensure humanity’s survival by spreading our species around the Solar System. 

Solar-powered aircraft are no longer an idle dream. They exist and work quite well. 

So, very exciting things are happening in our world of aviation—and yet, here I sit in my cold office this month not doing very much. My plane is in its T-hangar with snow blocking the door, which is okay by me since the winds are too high to go flying anyway.

Gray skies, cold weather and a nagging long-term head cold have left me pondering all of the futuristic stuff going on out there and wondering why it has all passed me by. I haven’t droned, explored Mars, or built an electric airplane. All I have been doing lately is working, sniffing and waiting for spring. 

And I suspect that more than a few of you out there are not doing the same things I am not doing. There is a brave new world coming to life out there, and we are huddled under our blankets. We need to get out and embrace the future! We should grab a piece of the interplanetary future of flight that the rest of the world is developing! 

I have come up with a plan that will not only get me through the next few months without getting cabin fever to the point of shooting my refrigerator, it will make me a with-it member of the futuristic aviation tribe. 

Kevin’s plan to dominate the future of flying

1. I will start my wintertime renewal by watching every single episode of “Firefly” at least twice. This short-lived television series depicted a universe (or “verse,” as they said it) that has already finished Elon Musk’s program of planetary settlement. 

Since I “plan to do some misbehaving,” it is a perfect start in my quest to get modern—and it doesn’t involve getting out from under this blanket.

2. AOPA has a wide variety of free-for-the-taking, computer-based courses on just about any aviation subject you care to name. I’m saying free, as in costs you nothing but time. I want to learn more about the modernistic things I’ve been missing and here is a no-cost way to get my gray matter up to speed while my office thermostat continues to eat up every bit of my winter flying fund. 

Speaking of free education, have you noticed all of the You Tube videos on aviation education subjects that are free for the watching? Have you seen all of the FAA materials that are free for the taking? 

The days of having to spend thousands of dollars to learn about flying are over. Much like cat videos on the internet, there is almost no end to the no-cost aviation resources for us out there. All we need is the desire to learn and the time to do it.

3. New Agers have been saying for some time that we all live in the universe that we choose for ourselves out of an infinite number of possibilities. Many of these visionaries have been on the Oprah show, so you know they have to be legit. If you focus your attention on a life path or situation you want, you can get it, because the universe is all about making you happy. 

This theory is most likely a steaming and rancid bucket of moldy prop wash, but it would not hurt for me to test it out this winter. As I huddle under a blanket this winter doing my, ahem, daily meditation, I will focus on being in a universe where I own and fly a Spitfire Mark V. 

4. My General Aviation brain bag is in dire need of a futuristic update—and possibly a disinfecting steam bath of some sort. I need to get rid of the two-year out-of-date paper charts in my flight kit and buy futuristic “current” charts. I’ll also bring my handheld GPS into the future by getting a database update.

Since we are talking about a brave and modern world in which a pizza can magically fall from the sky, I might do away with my flight bag all together. Why, all I need is my GPS wristwatch and my smartphone in order to navigate the skies of the land of the free! 

The only problem with thrusting my flight kit into the future by making it disappear is, where do I put the snacks, drinks and toys that I have in it now? Maybe the future will be one in which I lose weight and pay more attention to flying the plane. And that would not be a bad thing.

5. The final futuristic activity I will practice during this dark and dank winter is to stop talking about how great things were in the past. I will practice not saying things like, “we used to have to do arithmetic in our heads or with little wooden sticks called ‘pencils.’”

I won’t go on and on about hand-propping airplanes because “we didn’t believe in having that newfangled electricity in our airplanes that you youngsters seem so stuck on.” 

Of course, when I was a kid, all of us built kites out of newspaper, sticks, glue and string. We built our airplanes in our garages and flew out of grass fields with no transponders, ADS-B or an “interweb” of any kind. It was great, but the past is past—and this winter will be all about getting in the right frame of mind to enjoy the future of flying.

Two things are sure in this world: first, the future of aviation will occur—tomorrow; and second, at my airport it is cold, soggy and depressing—today. 

These are scientific facts, like the principles of fluid dynamics. Why disrupt the cosmos? Tomorrow is when I plan to do all of the things I listed to get ready to be modern.


Kevin Garrison’s aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Fla. He came up through General Aviation and retired as a 767 captain in 2006. Currently Garrison is a DC-9 simulator instructor and a 767 pilot instructor; his professional writing career has spanned three decades. He lives with the most patient woman on the planet on a horse farm in Kentucky. Send questions or comments to .

Researching the Regs: Owner Produced Parts

Researching the Regs: Owner Produced Parts

An in-depth look at FAR 21.9 and Advisory Circular No. 23-27 by aviation legal consultant and A&P/IA Kristin Winter

The FAA keeps an iron grip on the supply of approved replacement parts for Type Certificated aircraft. Replacement parts generally must come from the airframe, engine or propeller manufacturer, or from an approved source that has been issued Parts Manufacturing Approval, commonly referred to as a PMA. 

There are some other limited exceptions for what the FAA refers to as “standard” parts, such as nuts, bolts and other hardware manufactured under an industry standard such as AN (Army-Navy) or MS (Military Standard), or parts manufactured by a repair station. 

There is one major exception to the FAA’s tight grip, and that is the owner produced part. Owner produced parts are commonly used by the airlines, which often have a large fleet of the same or similar types of aircraft. 

Like the owner of a General Aviation aircraft, an airline often wants to avoid the high cost of commonly used parts from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), so it will reverse engineer and produce batches of parts that are
then used in its fleet. An example might be landing gear bearings that wear
out frequently. 

The availability of owner produced parts appears to go back for decades, though the origin is unclear. As it is of biggest benefit to airline operators, there is a major constituency to make sure that owner produced parts remain an available solution for all aircraft owners and operators.

FAA standards and definitions

The FAA sets out the limitations on replacement parts in FAR 21.9. 

Paragraph (a)(5) provides that one type of approved part is one that is “[p]roduced by an owner or operator for maintaining or altering that owner or operator’s product.” 

This simple statement leaves lots of questions unanswered. One common question is: must the owner or operator physically produce the part themselves? Most GA aircraft owners may not be equipped or sufficiently skilled to make a part in their basement. Fortunately, the friendly FAA has provided an interpretation. 

When the FAA renumbered and revised Part 21 in 2009, it specifically made mention in the Federal Register that the interpretation memorandum issued on Aug. 5, 1993 was still operative. 

The answer to the first common question as to whether the owner/operator must physically produce the part is clearly no. The FAA memorandum states that “An owner would be considered a producer of a part if the owner participated in controlling the design, manufacture or quality of the part.” 

The memorandum goes on to provide five nonexclusive indicia that an owner “participated” in the production of the part (italics added):

1. The person provided the manufacturer with design or performance data from which to manufacture the part. (This may occur, for instance, where a person provided a part to a manufacturer and asked that the part be duplicated.)

2. The person provided the manufacturer with materials from which to manufacture the part.

3. The person provided the manufacturer with fabrication processes or assembly methods to be used in the manufacture of the part.

4. The person provided the manufacturer with quality control procedures to be used in the manufacture of the part.

5. The person supervised the manufacturer of the part.

Responsibility of owners, responsibility of mechanics

So what does this mean to our aircraft owner faced with the unavailability of a critical part, or who is suffering from cardiac arrest at the cost and time delay of obtaining the part from the original equipment manufacturer? 

It is important to keep in mind that it is the owner or operator’s obligation to produce a part that is airworthy, meaning that the part conforms to type design and is safe to install in the aircraft. 

The installing mechanic’s responsibility is only to make a reasonable assessment that it is an airworthy part and to install it properly. (It will likely help the mechanic feel comfortable if they are provided with a copy of the drawing, the specifications, and/or have been part of the process from the beginning.)


Ways an owner can participate

Two options for owner participation jump out of the memorandum on first blush. 

First, the owner can provide the part to an appropriate manufacturer (such as a machine shop) and ask them to duplicate it. 

The other option is if an owner supervises the production, which might involve working with the mechanic to fabricate the part. Supervision would not likely require an owner to stand there every moment, but to be reasonably available to provide supervision or answer questions. 

In practice, owner supervision might be a little difficult given the likely disparity of knowledge between the owner and the mechanic. However, if the owner is willing to certify in the logs that he or she supervised the production of the part, it is unlikely to be challenged.

FAR 21.9 put into practice 

So let’s look at some practical applications. Not long ago, I determined that it was time to replace the flap tracks on my Twin Comanche. I had spoken with another owner who had the same problem, and we agreed to pool our resources to obtain some owner produced parts. 

I obtained an exemplar track and sent it to a metallurgical lab for analysis to determine the proper material. The lab charged a bit over $200 for the testing and provided a formal report. The other owner produced a drawing of the part. 

Armed with material and drawing, we had a couple of ship sets made. The cost was about $75 each, and the sets were created in five working days (turnaround can vary depending on how busy the shop is), compared to a cost of over $300 each from Piper and a wait of unknown duration. 

We clearly met the first example of conditions that qualified me as participating in controlling the design of the part. (See photo, top of page 26.)

Some considerations 

One of the most useful options for the aircraft owner is the specific acknowledgement by the FAA legal memorandum that an owner may provide the part and ask that it be duplicated. 

There is one complexity here in that many machine shops can duplicate a part, but are not equipped to determine what material it was made from. That might mean that the owner will need to resort to the metallurgical testing lab as we did with the flap tracks. 

Consideration must also be given to whether the part had any protective coating which should be duplicated. This could mean having the completed part anodized or cadmium plated. 

All of this may make it uneconomical to use the owner-produced exception if one is simply trying to avoid purchasing an overpriced bushing from the manufacturer. 

This is an area where an active type club that maintains a database of parts that have been owner produced—and possibly test results, and even CNC programs—can be most helpful. There appears to be no requirement that participation in the design requires an owner to reinvent the drawing, material specs, etc.

Gray areas remain

There are some gray areas still, even with the FAA’s memorandum. Take, for instance, a retractable gear single with a loose bushing where the nosegear pivots. The boss in the mount is worn slightly oversized so that bushing is no longer a press fit. 

To use a new OEM bushing would require removing the engine, removing the mount and sending the mount out for repair. The cost could easily exceed $5,000. 

A repair involving an oversized bushing might be a cost effective solution, provided your mechanic is comfortable making that repair. 

As the owner, you send the bushing to the lab and sketch out a drawing with the dimensions that have the bushing .001 inch wider than the factory. 

With the material specification in hand and the dimensions, you may then have a machine shop fabricate one. I have done this with great success and the only way I could tell a new OEM bushing from the oversized one was to get out a micrometer. (See photo, bottom left.) 

Success here will require a mechanic comfortable with the oversized bushing being an acceptable minor repair, so it is important to discuss this with your mechanic before embarking on such a repair. 

It is not unreasonable for the mechanic to ask the owner to make a logbook entry that they provided a part produced under FAR 21.9(a)(5) and provide the information used for its manufacture.

Why not use a commercially available part?

Any discussion of owner produced parts seems to raise the question about whether an owner can just go and buy the part which is commercially available. 

A good example of this might be a wheel bearing which is frequently a standard Timken bearing. From Piper, that bearing is $110.24; the parts catalog even identifies it as a Timken 13889 bearing. One can likely get the same item from the local auto parts store or a bearing supply company for $25 to $30—but is that legal?

As an owner produced part, the interpretation seems to suggest that it is not, though to my knowledge that hasn’t been clearly addressed—especially in the context of Piper identifying the actual vendor part number. 

If the aircraft owner got out the calipers and confirmed that the auto parts bearing was the same size, number of rollers, etc., arguably that would qualify as participating in the quality control of the part. This is another gray area. 

But there is one more option. Fortunately with this example, McFarlane Aviation has already obtained a PMA for the bearing, so for $40 instead of $100, one can obtain a bearing with a PMA stamp. 


Substitute parts under Advisory Circular No. 23-27

Advisory Circular (AC) 23-27 provides information on using substitute parts for small, unpressurized aircraft Type Certificated before 1980. That includes most standard Piper airplanes. 

Note that the operative deadline is not when the aircraft was produced, but when it was certificated—so even a late model Piper Archer is going to qualify, as it was Type Certificated before 1980.

While a bit confusing in its applicability, this AC appears to provide an approval for parts substitution if such would be considered a minor repair or minor alteration and to provide the basis for a field approval if a major repair or major alteration is required. 

Directly applicable to our example is the provision that states that “You may substitute parts where a direct substitute for a part/material can be found under manufacturer part number, military specification, or other recognized standard, such as the SAE.” 

For most aircraft owners, AC 23-27 can provide a route for substituting an industry standard part for an OEM part which may no longer be available in a timely manner or for a reasonable price. Mil-Spec switches, SAE alternator belts, batteries, etc. can often be used under the guidance of this Advisory Circular without resorting to an owner produced part.

For those of us who cannot afford a new or nearly new aircraft and who don’t have the luxury of just dropping off our plane at the local OEM service center with the keys and the Visa card, FAR 21.9 and AC 23-27 can be helpful in keeping aircraft maintenance cost effective, while still meeting the regulatory requirements.

Kristin Winter has been an airport rat for almost four decades. She holds an ATP-SE/ME rating and is a CFIAIM, AGI, IGI. In addition, Winter is an A&P/IA. She has over 8,000 hours, of which about 1,000 are in the Twin Comanche and another 1,000 in the Navajo series. She owns and operates a 1969 C model Twinkie affectionately known as Maggie. She uses Maggie in furtherance of her aviation legal and consulting practice; she also assists would-be Comanche, Twin Comanche, and other Piper owners with training and pre-purchase consulting. Send questions or comments to .


Further reading
FAA Memorandum, Aug. 5, 1993
“Definition of ‘Owner Produced Part,’ FAR 21.303(b)(2)”
Advisory Circular No. 23-27,
May 18, 2009
“Parts and Materials Substitution for Vintage Aircraft”

Both documents are available at PiperFlyer.org/Forum under “Magazine Extras”

PMA wheel bearings
McFarlane Aviation Products
– PFA supporter
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