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AirVenture Roadmap

AirVenture Roadmap

A report on the 2018 Gathering at Waupaca, a recap of Oshkosh—and tips to help you plan your next trip.

Based on what I saw (and a lot of the things I didn’t have the energy or time to see this year), AirVenture is now officially on the aviation must-do map like it’s never been before. I have no doubt that whatever in aviation holds your interest, you’ll be able to find it, learn more about it or do it at AirVenture. 

The Gathering 

One of the many benefits of being a Piper Flyer Association member is The Gathering at Waupaca.

More than 70 PFA members started arriving early for The Gathering at the Waupaca Municipal Airport in Wisconsin (KPCZ) on Friday, July 20. The official welcome reception barbecue took place 24 hours later on Saturday afternoon, at a hangar at the airport. 

Waupaca is 29 nm northwest of Wittman Regional Airport at Oshkosh (KOSH), the site of AirVenture. Since most inbound traffic to AirVenture is over there, flying into Waupaca is stress-free (relatively speaking) compared to the infamous Fisk VFR arrival process onto the grounds at AirVenture. 

Waupaca has an RNAV approach to the runway down to 500 and a mile. It’s also so much easier to depart from Waupaca when it’s time to finally head home. There’s none of that 22-airplanes-ahead-of-you conga line action, and Waupaca’s Avgas price is quite reasonable ($4.10 per gallon when I was there). 

Jennifer and Kent arrange ground transportation for members landing at KPCZ to and from the event hotel, the Par 4 Resort. But that’s not all.

The cost of The Gathering this year was a measly $110 for early registrants and $125 for those that missed the early opportunity. Where I live—and it is expensive here in California—it’s pretty easy to spend that many dollars for a good meal with wine for two. The Gathering bucks are a prudent outlay, since they include three meals, bus transportation back and forth to AirVenture for the first three days of the show, and maintenance and product seminars all day Sunday.

The Gathering provides a great value and a convenient way for members to meet other Piper owners, trade flying stories, compare purchases and get to and from AirVenture. Oh, and Gathering members are automatically entered in the door prize raffle Sunday afternoon after the presentations. This year, every Gathering attendee took home at least one door prize. It’s a can’t-lose deal.

Hotel costs for PFA members in Waupaca average a little over $125 per night for a room with two beds at the Comfort Suites Foxfire. 

For the first three days of the show, members can eat a free breakfast at the hotel and then board a bus to be whisked to Oshkosh. Then in the afternoon, after adventuring, shopping, learning and getting together with old friends, everyone gets back on the bus for a no-stress ride back to the hotel in Waupaca. 

This arrangement is one of the most stress-free ways to “do” AirVenture and is so cost-effective that fly-in members who attend The Gathering can scratch the cost of car rental off their AirVenture budget sheet. 

One-day admission tickets to AirVenture in 2018 were $34 for EAA members and weekly passes were $125. Ticket costs were around 30 percent higher for non-members. 

The Gathering at Waupaca group poses with their raffle prizes. Each attendee went home with something.
Lunch on Sunday of the Gathering, one of three meals included for Gathering attendees.


A&P/IA Steve Ells discussed owner-performed maintenance at this year’s Gathering.
A little bit of weather

Despite weather cells that dumped buckets of rain in the Oshkosh area Friday and overcast skies Saturday that slowed AirVenture-bound arrivals to a trickle prior to the official start of the show Monday, over 10,000 airplanes eventually touched down and stayed for at least a day. 

The numbers and facts about AirVenture 2018 are getting close to hard-to-believe. Attendance increased again, as more than 601,000 folks from all corners of the United States and many foreign countries passed through the gates during the seven-day show. Campers in tents and motorhomes packed over 12,600 sites. The number of show planes reached 2,979, and there were 867 commercial exhibitors spread across the width and breadth of the grounds. 

I especially like the opportunities available at AirVenture to approach and get to know the vendors that provide information on everything from fuel cells to avionics, ADS-B options, Rajay turbocharger systems and whatever else could interest a pilot/owner. (For a list of the speakers at the 2018 Gathering at Waupaca, see Page 52. —Ed.)

If you seek face-to-face discussions with vendors of the products you use, or are planning to upgrade your airplane, interior, paint or avionics, the opportunity to confer with and compare information from vendors across the board is one of the biggest reasons I like AirVenture. 

An original Gloster Meteor came from the United Kingdom to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the RAF at AirVenture.
AirVenture offers daily airshows. The Candian Harvard Aerobatic team performed for a record-setting crowd in 2018.


A walk around the grounds

Passes can be purchased online (and printed at home) or on-site near the main gate. You’ll take your ticket to a booth near the main gate in exchange for a wristband. An EAA staff member will put it on for you. It’s your gate pass for the day, days or week. Once you have a wristband, there are other show entry points. (A link to a map of the AirVenture grounds is in Resources.—Ed.)

Be sure to gather your group together for a photo under the big sign that marks the entrance. From there, the show spreads out as you walk east along Celebration Way toward Boeing Plaza where the really big and significant airplanes are parked. Most of the big companies (Piper, Lycoming, Continental, etc.) exhibit on or near Celebration Way. 

Four large buildings (A, B, C and D), located halfway to Boeing Square, are where you’ll find a tight concentration of vendors. After passing through Boeing Square, you’ll arrive at Wittman Way. A left turn will take you to the Homebuilt and Warbird areas; a right turn will lead to the Vintage and Ultralight display airplanes. 

The Piper Flyer Association booth had a new location in 2018: Hangar C, Booth 3126.
BendixKing announced its new product lines and subscription plan for avionics equipment.


The AirVenture app

Anyone attending AirVenture will benefit greatly by downloading the AirVenture app onto a smartphone. The app lists the location of all the vendors and provides information about buses (not the Gathering bus) that run regularly to the seaplane base and stores near the site.

The app helps users distill the event into manageable portions. There’s so much to do and so much to learn that I believe it’s impossible to take it all in during one week. 

Want to learn to weld; work wood, sheet metal and composites; tear down and reassemble a Lycoming engine; catch up on no-lead 100-octane Avgas progress; learn how to grow your EAA chapter; explore an ag pilot career; learn how to efficiently lean your engine or any of a thousand other topics and subjects? 

You’ll need a roadmap so the next shiny airplane or gadget doesn’t pull you off your path. That’s where the app comes in. Select the events, vendors or demonstrations that interest you, and they’re moved to a day-by-day calendar in the app. 

The app also provides information about the free shuttles that run often to different areas on the grounds. Unless you have the endurance of a triathlete, the shuttles are a must if for nothing more than touring the different reaches of all that is AirVenture. 

The latest in…ADS-B

Foreflight and Sporty’s introduced Sentry, an ADS-B In receiver that has it all. Features include a 12-hour battery life (so there’s no need to plug into a backup battery during a long cross-country), a pressure altitude sensor, weather replay, a backup attitude source (AHARS), a carbon monoxide monitor and alarm and a built-in WAAS GPS. Every Sentry is shipped with a RAM suction cup mount and will support up to five devices on its Wi-Fi network. Price is $499.


The Sentry ADS-B In receiver will support up to five devices on its Wi-Fi network.
…head-up displays

Head-up displays (HUD) got a lot of attention at AirVenture, and at least three companies had HUD products on display. While I’m not an active IFR pilot, I can see how a HUD would be a real asset while flying a low IFR approach.

The Epic Optix Epic Eagle 1 connects to all major electronic flight bag (EFB) apps from either an iOS or Android phone or tablet via Wi-Fi. The Epic Eagle 1 displays a wealth of flight data, including synthetic vision, onto an infinity-focused screen that is part of the 1.6-pound unit that mounts on the airplane glareshield. The unit measures 7.8 inches by 12.8 inches by 4.7 inches. The Epic Eagle 1 was sold at AirVenture for $1,699. (Currently, it’s listed for $1,799 on the Epic Optix website.—Ed.) 

The Epic Eagle 2 connects to modern avionics equipment through both Wi-Fi and HDMI and is now set up for the Garmin G1000. The Epic Eagle 2 requires the installation of a GPU (3.7 inches by 2.8 inches by 1.5 inches). It has more capabilities and costs more than the Epic Eagle 1. The HUD is $1,999 and the GPU is $1,500. (This version is not yet listed on Epic Optix’s website.—Ed.)

According to the FAQs on the company website, approval is not needed to install or use the Epic Eagle. It is secured on the glareshield using a variety of mounts. Power (it draws less than 2 amps) is supplied through a cable to the airplane cigarette lighter. According to Epic Optix, a USB power port does not supply enough power for operation. 

Textron Aviation is listing the Epic Eagle on the options list for new Beech and Cessna aircraft. If it works at all well, it seems to be a bargain at $1,999. 

The MGF SkyDisplay HUD-LCD180 was also featured at AirVenture. The system projector is mounted to the roof of the cabin; the screen is suspended from an arm that’s connected to the projector. Information from installed avionics is fed through a display processor before being sent as video to the projector. Certification is expected in late 2018. Prices start at around $15,000.

The SkyDisplay HUD-LCD180 from MyGoFlight is expected to be certified in late 2018.

The Valkyrie HUD from Alpha System AOA is a glareshield-mounted “adjustable beam splitter” that provides a small head-up type display for either of the Alpha Systems angle-of-attack indicators. 

…com radios

I noticed a couple of new small-footprint com radios from Trig Avionics and TQ General Aviation. Both companies sell very capable coms that can be mounted in a round 2.25-inch hole—the small-sized instrument hole that’s often used for a clock. 

…electronic ignition systems

The team at Electroair announced two advances. First off, the company’s EA15000 ignition switch panel is now approved to replace all key-type magneto switches. The EA15000 can be mounted vertically or horizontally. Removal of the key switch system eliminates AD 93-05-06, a recurrent AD for certain Piper ignition switches. 

Electroair also announced it has obtained approval to install its electronic ignition system on turbocharged Lycoming engines (TIO-540, TIO-541 and TIGO-540 series) and on classic Continental engines (O-300, GO-300, E-165, E-185 and E-225).

…electronic flight instruments

Aspen Avionics introduced its low-cost building-block Evolution E5 Dual Electronic Flight Instrument (EFI), which takes the place of both the vacuum-driven artificial horizon and directional gyro instruments. The E5 Dual EFI has a backup battery to power the unit if aircraft power is lost and provides ARINC 429 and RS-232 busses that allow it to interface with some autopilots. 

In addition to a built-in air data computer and attitude heading reference system (ADAHRS), the E5 can be reconfigured and upgraded to include all the features of the Evolution 1000 Pro and further to the Pro Plus PFD, which features an angle-of-attack indicator and ADS-B and synthetic vision capabilities. Aspen also announced improvements to customers’ previously-installed Evolution flight display units. The E5 EFI is approved for installation under an STC and is priced at $4,995. 

...100-octane Avgas

Don’t expect PAFI to approve a new unleaded 100-octane Avgas soon.

The testing protocol administered by the Piston Aircraft Fuels Initiative (PAFI) was suspended in June 2018. Neither of the two candidate fuels—Shell and Swift—proved able to meet all the requirements. 

Consequently, the FAA invited other fuel providers to submit fuels. Phillips 66 and Afton Chemical announced that they had teamed up to create their version of an unleaded 100-octane Avgas. According to the presentation, the Phillips/Afton fuel will be almost identical to today’s 100LL except that a manganese additive (HiTec®3000) will be blended instead of lead. 

…Rajay turbocharger parts

If you’ve been looking for a source for new parts for your Rajay supercharger installation, look to Rajay Turbo Products. The company is also working to supply a hose kit that would terminate the repetitive five-year inspections required by AD 81-19-04.

I admit this is not a very comprehensive report, so I suggest you start saving now to get yourself to the 50th anniversary of AirVenture in 2019. I can guarantee EAA will be pulling out all the stops.

As I write this in mid-August 2018, there are only 49 weeks and one day before the show starts July 22, 2019. Attendees and show volunteers will begin arriving days and even weeks before the start date. 

At my age, I live by the rule, “The days seem long, but the years whiz by.” Now is the time to start making plans to attend AirVenture 2019. 

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, California, with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to .



AirVenture app
Along-the-route special offers for AirVenture-bound fliers
AirVenture grounds map


Piper Flyer Association


ForeFlight, LLC. (Sentry)


Epic Optix (Epic Eagle 1 and 2)
MGF (SkyDisplay HUD-LCD180)
Alpha Systems AOA (Valkyrie HUD)


Trig Avionics Limited

TQ Systems GmbH/TQ General Aviation




Aspen Avionics Inc.


Talco Aviation/Rajay Turbo Products
A Timeless Tri Pacer

A Timeless Tri Pacer

When it comes to PA-22 rebuilds, there are good Tri-Pacers and there are great Tri-Pacers. This is the story of an exceptional “truly better than the day it was built” Tri-Pacer.

The one thing I like most about attending events like Sun ‘n Fun and EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is the opportunity to just wander around and look at airplanes. Walking the grounds with the sun barely up and the dew still dripping from wings, I sometimes am lucky enough to come across an airplane with a story that just has to be told.

Such was the case when I happened upon my friend Darin Hart, owner of American Legend Aircraft Co., on a sunny Wednesday morning at Sun ‘n Fun. He was busily wiping Lakeland, Florida’s “liquid sunshine” off the most amazing-looking Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer that I have ever seen. It was like stepping back some 60 years to a spring morning in Lock Haven, just after the pristine PA-22 rolled off the assembly line. 

“This is without a doubt the nicest Tri-Pacer in the world,” Hart said. “And it’s not just because we rebuilt it. It’s as close to brand-new as you’re ever going to find. And it should be, considering the owner spent nearly $250,000 on it.”

While Darin had me at “the nicest Tri-Pacer in the world,” the thought that the owner had spent nearly $250,000 having it rebuilt meant this was a story to share.


You can’t put a price on love

“A lot of people say I’m nuts and that I’ll never get my money back,” explained the Tri-Pacer’s proud owner, Mark Wyant. “But I’m OK with that. That’s not what this is all about. This is not just any airplane to me. It represents a lot of great memories and a very special part of my life.”

Bringing back great memories and paying homage to his father are the two reasons why Wyant began the project to rebuild his beloved Tri-Pacer in the first place. 



To understand how we got where we are today, we have to go back to 1974, when Wyant was an eighth-grader in Dallas.

“When you’re going to school in Garland, Texas, if you don’t play football, there’s not much left for you to do. I was too skinny for football, so I spent a lot of time reading,” Wyant said. “I got a copy of  ‘Anyone Can Fly’ by Jules Bergman, and I was hooked. I read that book three or four times.”

“It was all about Bergman learning to fly in a Piper Tri-Pacer. It was full of Tri-Pacer stories and pictures, and that was my introduction and motivation to learn to fly,” he said. “And, of course, I fell in love with the Tri-Pacer because of the book.”

When he turned 15, Wyant started taking flying lessons at Dallas’s Addison Airport (KADS) in a Cessna 150. 

“Then, my dad and I got the idea of buying a Tri-Pacer together,” Wyant said. “We started looking around for a nice one. Turned out there was one for sale at Addison Airport where I was learning to fly. My dad and I went over to look at it together.”

“I just fell in love with it right there. We ended up buying it for $5,000.”

“Later that night, I snuck back into the hangar where it was parked. My best friend Jon Contreras and I just sat in it with the master on and all the lights flashing,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been more proud of it than if it was a new Learjet.”

“I finished up my license in 8664D at nearby Rockwall Municipal Airport (F46). The Tri-Pacer was a lot more fun to fly than the 150,” he said. “Two months after I got my license, I flew my mom and dad a thousand miles up to Indiana to see my grandmother. My parents were very trusting—neither of them were pilots. I even took my grandmother for a ride back in the summer of 1976. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.”

Wyant said that during his senior year in high school, he took a lot of his friends flying and that the guys on the football team were now looking up to him—literally.

“I was suddenly the big man on campus, so to speak,” he said. “Not many high school seniors have their own airplanes. The Dallas Morning News even did an article on me when I got my license on my 17th birthday.”

While Wyant loved his Tri-Pacer, once he was out of high school, his head was turned by airplanes that were just, well, sexier. 

“We had the Tri-Pacer for about a year, then sold it,” he said. “You always want to go further and faster. I went on to become a CFI and fly freight at night. After a while, I went to work flying for American Eagle, and finally as an international 767 pilot for American Airlines.”

8664D: Gone but not forgotten

Wyant spent a total of 22 years flying for American. While he loved his job, when the opportunity came along to take an early retirement from flying the line, he took it. Wyant had a logbook full of hours in a wonderful assortment of aircraft types, yet he never forgot about his first love.

“I always knew my Tri-Pacer was out there. I kept checking the FAA registry for it and fortunately nobody ever changed the N-number,” he said. “That airplane just meant so much more to me than tubing and fabric. It has a history with me—a short one, but a very meaningful one in my life.”

“My dad passed away some 18 years ago, and he was always very supportive of my flying. It was one of those things that he and I shared a great attachment to,” Wyant said. “My dad couldn’t fly because of poor hearing and eyesight. But that didn’t stop him from loving time in the cockpit. He loved to fly. This right seat was his whenever we flew together.”

“As time went on, whenever we would buy another airplane—whether it was the Mooney, Bonanza or Aerostar—when we flew together, we’d laugh and say, ‘It sure beats the Tri-Pacer.’ But, that’s not a bad thing. That little airplane meant something really special to us,” he said. “That’s why I had to get this airplane back.”

As luck, or maybe fate, would have it, Wyant’s first love was living not far away in Tyler, Texas, which is about 80 miles from his home in Dallas.

“I had searched out the owner’s phone number and called to see if he was willing to sell. His answer was no,” Wyant said. “About a year later, I called and asked again. Same answer. About another year later, I decided that I was going to give it one last shot, so I called and offered twice what it was worth. That got his interest.”

As Wyant happily admits, he ended up paying “stupid money” to get his beloved Tri-Pacer back. When it comes to settling affairs of the heart, some things just can’t be measured in money. 

She didn’t look at all like her yearbook photos…

“When the owner had finally agreed to sell the Tri-Pacer, he had described it as being in ‘excellent condition and always hangared,’” Wyant said. “After I arrived at the airport, I found that, yes it was in a hangar all right—but leaning up against the hangar was more like it. It was horrible-looking. It hadn’t been out of that hangar for a long time.”

Wyant was in too deep to turn back, so he bought 8664 Delta and flew her back to Addison. While many an owner would have been totally disheartened by the sad condition his high school sweetheart was in, Wyant saw it as an opportunity to not just bring his beloved Tri-Pacer back to the way he recalled, but to make her even better. 

“That’s when I contacted Darin Hart at American Legend Aircraft Co. When I decided to do a restoration, I didn’t want just any restoration—I wanted to make this Tri-Pacer as good or better than the day it left the factory in Lock Haven,” Wyant said. “You can’t find many people that can do that.”

And who better to do a “factory-fresh” restoration on the Tri-Pacer than a company that currently makes factory-new Cubs? That is precisely what the craftsmen at American Legend Aircraft Co. have been doing since 2004 with their popular Legend Cub series.

Along with manufacturing new Legend Cubs, Darin Hart has become a legend of sorts among the Piper community with the exceptionally high-quality aircraft rebuilds that come out of his facility in Sulphur Springs, Texas. 

“American Legend Aircraft Co. actually started from our work doing high-quality restorations on Cubs. I think we’ve won five or six Lindy Awards at Oshkosh over the years,” Hart said. “People call us on a weekly basis wanting to do a restoration on a Cub, Champ or Tri-Pacer, but they have to be really serious for us to do the job.”

“For us just to pull the covering off and replace it, without doing anything else, will take 400 man-hours and cost $38,000,” he said. “And that’s not sandblasting the frame or replacing any hardware. That’s just the covering. The price scares a lot of window-shoppers away.”

Hart said that when Wyant called him about rebuilding 8664D, his first response was that the airplane wasn’t worth the cost of just stripping and recovering it. 

“But then he explained the story behind it. I could tell that this wasn’t really about the airplane to Mark; it was much more,” Hart said. “I am proud that he put his trust in American Legend to do the work for him.”

You want it when?

While Wyant was more than happy to pay American Legend Aircraft Co.’s premium price for the work, there was one catch. 

“We started the project in late January, and Mark said he had to have it at Oshkosh that July. We had inside of six months to rebuild the Tri-Pacer,” Hart said. 

“I think he was a bit surprised when I said that would be no problem at all. We are a production shop, so we are used to getting airplanes in and out quickly. We don’t have room or time to keep projects sitting around for years.”

While the timeframe was not out of the ordinary, the team didn’t have any time to waste. Hart said that a big part of what sets an American Legend rebuild apart from others is the high level of research and detail they put into the project. 

After stripping the airplane and inspecting the steel tubing and wood ribs and components, they set about repairing and replacing whatever needed doing. All in all, Hart said, it was in serviceable condition for a 60-year old airframe.

“We took the frame down and sandblasted it clean, then replaced what metal tubing wasn’t up to our standards,” Hart said. “It’s essentially a new airframe. Then we replaced every nut, bolt, pulley and cable. Everything is brand-new.”






“Univair Aircraft Corp. has a tremendous stock of parts for these classic old Pipers. It was easy to buy practically everything we needed,” he said. “Control surfaces, ribs, flying wires, struts, the entire exhaust system—even the fairings that go around the struts—things you think you’d have to fabricate, you can buy from Univair.”

Hart said that instead of overhauling the 160 hp Lycoming O-320 engine, Wyant wanted a brand-new engine because that’s the way it left the factory in 1958. 



Speaking of achieving that factory look, Hart said that one detail that many restorers overlook is the painstaking replication of the original factory stitching. As Wyant recalled, “Darin went back and found the original build sheet on this airplane to find out how they laid the fabric on, how it was stitched and even the location of the ‘dollar patches.’” 

“The way American Legend stitched it all is exactly to the original Piper specifications published in the Piper production manual. Everything is as authentic as it can possibly be.”

“Also, most people don’t realize that the back half of the baggage compartment was originally made of canvas cloth,” he said. “Most have long since replaced it with the same fabric as they use to cover the exterior, but that’s incorrect. We found original OEM canvas and put it back where it belonged, including the strap that holds the tow bar in place.”


Back to the future

Of course, you can’t put all that work into making every detail factory correct and then rattle-can on any old paint scheme. So, while Wyant liked the yellow and white scheme the Tri-Pacer had when he flew her as a teenager, it wasn’t as she left the factory.

Since they already had Piper’s dimensional drawings of exactly where the stripes and N-number were laid out on the airframe, Hart contacted Piper restoration expert Clyde Smith, aka “The Cub Doctor,” to find out the exact colors the factory would have used in 1958.

“He knew by the serial number what the exact colors were for that airplane,” Hart said. “Santa Fe red and Daytona white. It’s a very classic combination for Pipers.”

“The only difference in the factory paint and what we used was that ours is shiny, while the factory originally used a matte finish. We felt the shiny paint would hold up better and be easier to clean,” Wyant said. “All of the interior fabric is also Piper spec. Turns out, it was the same upholstery that was originally from a 1958 Mercury Marquis automobile, which we were able to find from a supplier.”


Hart said that while finding the original material to redo the upholstery was easy; replacing the original batting material used for cabin soundproofing was much more labor-intensive. But, again, if it was done at the factory, it was replicated in Mark Wyant’s Tri-Pacer.

While it’s crystal clear that Wyant and American Legend spared no effort nor expense to make the Tri-Pacer as 1958 as possible, that type of originality won’t work when it comes to an airplane that’s actually going to fly in today’s airspace, especially with the 2020 ADS-B mandate on the horizon. 





N8664D goes NextGen

So how do you keep an airplane looking like it’s right out of 1958 while having all the avionics capabilities needed to safely navigate around Dallas’s busy airspace? Well, it turns out a bit of visual trickery does the job.

“My friend Jon—the same friend who sat with me in the airplane the night I bought it in 1976—and I took the panel rework on as our project. All of the instruments were sent to Keystone Instruments in Lock Haven where they were rebuilt, and the faces were repainted in the original off-yellow color,” Wyant said. “Most people think they’ve yellowed with age, but they were originally that color so that they would show up better when lit by the red cabin light.”

Wyant was even able to locate and reinstall the original Piper ashtray that came in the Tri-Pacer, not that there’s any smoking allowed. 

While he was able to add in many OEM details, when it came time for equipping the Tri-Pacer with modern avionics, Wyant was faced with a more difficult challenge. That’s where the high-tech trickery comes in.

“I wanted anyone looking in the cockpit to see an airplane the way it was in 1958, but I also needed avionics that give me the same safety and capabilities I have in my Citation Mustang,” he said. “To accomplish what I wanted, Jon took an original Narco Omnigator and a VLR-3 low-frequency receiver and cut them down so that they were about an inch and a quarter deep. We needed several “donor” radios to accomplish this, and it took over two months to pull it off.”



“We mounted them to a false panel piece that looks just like they are original. They even light up when you turn them on,” Wyant said proudly. “But, when you remove the faceplate, you’ll find a brand-new touchscreen Garmin GTN 750 and a Garmin GTX 345 ADS-B Out/In transponder. As it turned out, once installed in the panel, the height of the 750 and 345 were the same as the Omnigator and VLR-3 units, so it’s the perfect match.”

Another significant upgrade Hart and his team performed on the Tri-Pacer was the switch from the OEM BFGoodrich brakes to more modern and reliable Cleveland wheels and brakes. In addition, they replaced all the old incandescent exterior and interior lights with new LED lighting.

“Now I can leave all the strobes and landing lights on all the time, which is good for safety,” Wyant said. “For additional reliability, we also upgraded to a new lightweight, Sky-Tec starter and replaced the old alternator with a new 60 amp alternator.”

What goes around, comes around…

Wyant said that, true to their promise, the team at American Legend Aircraft Co. completed the “brand-new” Tri-Pacer in time for Hart to fly it to Oshkosh AirVenture 2017. 

“We put just about 1,800 hours into the total rebuild,” Hart said. “I have to say that it really turned out great. And that it’s a very nice flying airplane. I’ve flown it to Oshkosh, and to Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland and it’s a very comfortable cross-country airplane.” 

“Although, I can see why Piper quit making them. They are very complex airplanes, and they couldn’t compete with the Cessna 172 for production,” he said. “In particular, the control cables—being fully interconnected—were very sophisticated and labor-intensive to install. Compared to the Piper Cub, the Tri-Pacer is probably twice as complex to put together.”

No matter how complex the project was or how much it ultimately cost, Wyant says that he is thrilled with how his beloved Tri-Pacer turned out. 

“I believe it’s the finest example of a Piper Tri-Pacer in the world,” he said proudly. 
“I don’t mean that as any type of hyperbole, but I truly believe that we achieved our goal in every way.”

So, you ask, now that the Tri-Pacer is done, what are his plans for it?

“Back in 1958, people thought they were dumpy-looking and nicknamed them ‘flying milk stools,’ but today, I think they’ve become retro,” he said. “My son is 13 and he’s a fan of the way it looks and flies. I’m slowly teaching him to fly the Tri-Pacer, and he’s loving it.”

“Another funny part to our story is that the hangar where I originally found 8664 Delta is only about 75 feet away from my current hangar at Addison Airport,” Wyant said. “Today, my Tri-Pacer lives in my hangar next to my Citation, and my hangar office is right inside. Every day when I walk in, I take a minute to give her a little pat.”

“This is not just an airplane to me; it represents a lot of great memories and a very special part of my life and the people in it,” he said. “There is no question that I own the world’s most expensive Piper Tri-Pacer. And I’m totally fine with that.”

Dale Smith has been an aviation journalist for 30 years. When he’s not writing aviation articles, Smith does commission aircraft illustrations specializing in seaplanes and flying boats. Smith has been a certificated pilot since 1974 and has flown 35 different types of General Aviation, business and World War II vintage aircraft. Send questions or comments to .


American Legend Aircraft Co.

Garmin Ltd.

Hartzell Engine Technologies LLC (Sky-Tec starter)

Parker Hannifin Corp. 
(Cleveland wheels and brakes) 

Univair Aircraft Corp.

Pre-Purchase Inspection: All It Should Be

Pre-Purchase Inspection: All It Should Be

11 tips to help you make a smart buying decision.

The most important rule in the sales game is “you make your money when you buy something, not when you sell it.” When it comes to buying an airplane, it’s about saving money in the long run. Saving money happens to be a big factor in the airplane-happiness formula.

As outlined in my previous article “Start with the Right Airplane,” in August 2018’s Piper Flyer, once a thorough search has identified a strong candidate airplane, it’s time to commit to a thorough inspection. What follows is a list of observations and guidelines to use before and during a pre-purchase inspection:

1. Have the inspection performed at a neutral facility by a trusted inspector who is interested in protecting you.

2. The first thing I would verify during a pre-purchase inspection is that the data plate and logbooks actually belong to the airplane. That may sound crazy, but considering the age of the fleet and the many reasons a less-than-honest person can benefit from changing the identity of a damaged or stolen airplane, these things happen. At Air Mod, we have seen this issue rear its ugly head three times in the past 15 years.

3. Have copies of the logbooks sent to the inspecting agency in advance. Be suspicious of missing logbooks, sketchy entries, or unusual periods of idle time when the aircraft was not flown. Missing items or gaps in the documentation could be an attempt to cover up damage history.

4. Establish a clear understanding with the seller regarding your expectations, and let them know what item(s) constitutes a dealbreaker. Be realistic; you are not buying a new airplane. If a non-dealbreaking item is found, be fair and objective when negotiating the cost of fixing it. Don’t be a nitpicker. Choose your battles as to what issues you may want to negotiate.

5. Confirm that the equipment list conforms to what is actually installed in the airplane. Most importantly, affirm that the installed equipment is approved for the candidate airplane and that the proper paperwork verifying approval for installation in that exact make and model of aircraft is contained in the aircraft’s records. It’s also very important to inspect the quality of the workmanship and the components used in the installation.

The process of acquiring paperwork after the fact for previously-installed-but-undocumented equipment can be expensive, and perhaps, impossible. I like to get the original equipment list from the manufacturer and compare it to what is currently installed in the airplane. Deviations can then be checked out to ensure the required documentation is in the aircraft or engine logbooks.

6. Don’t buy a corrosion bucket. Your money is in the airframe. Almost all 30-plus-year-old airframes, most of which were not primed with zinc chromate during manufacture, will have some corrosion. But corrosion can be remediated and controlled with modern technology and proper intervention techniques. (Wolter will cover corrosion issues in more detail in future articles. —Ed.)

In Piper airframes, we tend to find the most cabin corrosion hidden behind and below the floor carpets. Unfortunately, one must remove the often glued-in-place floor carpet as well as any foam or heavy cardboard substrate material in order to inspect the belly skins and structure for corrosion. Additionally, the lower glued-in-place side wall carpet must be peeled back in the corners to inspect the steel riveted-in-place reinforcement corner brackets and seat belt attachment fittings. 


One final cabin item to inspect requires removing the windshield post plastic trim and inspecting the lower steel attachment brackets. We often find these critical steel reinforcement components to be rusting with their aluminum attachment rivets corroding.


The rest of the airframe (wings, aft fuselage, tail assembly, etc.) is easily inspected by removing inspection panels and fairings.

7. Identifying undocumented damage requires a careful and experienced eye. A savvy technician will know where and how to spot repaired damage. Overset rivets or driven rivets replaced with blind rivets are cause for some investigation. 

Shiny or zinc chromated new components in older airframes are just some of the clues that can reveal a secret. Be curious about a 40-year-old retractable-gear airplane; many have had gear-up incidents somewhere in the past.

8. Don’t overlook an evaluation of the avionics equipment in the candidate airplane. Having a knowledgeable technician ground-check the radios and autopilot is a very good investment. The technician can confirm that all equipment is approved for installation in the specific make and model of aircraft and that all components are approved to work together. They can also verify that the installation was done well. Not all work is good work, as shown in the accompanying picture.


9. Carefully inspect any modifications that were installed after the aircraft was built. Look closely to assess the quality of workmanship and verify that approvals and appropriate paperwork are included in the logbooks.



10. Ruling out the presence of hail damage is one inspection that’s sometimes overlooked. The best way to check for hail damage is to turn off the lights in a closed hangar and put a bright single light source as close to the aircraft skin as possible; look for any waviness in the skin surface that will be visible in the very low angle of the light. It is surprisingly difficult to see slight unevenness in a metal surface in bright overhead light. Skilled use of body fillers can hide almost any dent.

11. Not all engines are created equal. Low-horsepower four-cylinder Lycoming engines of 180 hp or less are about as bulletproof as they come. These engines can be evaluated with the usual maintenance record check, compression test, borescope cylinder inspection and an oil filter inspection. 

High horsepower equals high heat, and high heat equals more stress on cylinders, rings and valves. Add turbocharging to the system and there are more items to check out. Complex engines require careful and knowledgeable management and inspection. I personally believe the most predictable and cost-effective plan is to buy a high-horsepower airplane with a run-out engine and start your relationship with your airplane with a fresh quality overhaul.

It’s important to point out that not all overhauls are alike. By FAA definition, an engine can be considered overhauled if it has been disassembled, cleaned, inspected and all the critical components are precision measured to ensure that they meet minimum tolerance. 

This means that worn, but still serviceable, parts can be put back in an engine that can then be logged as overhauled and legally signed off for return to airworthy service. 

If one critical component experiences as little as one-thousandth of an inch of additional wear, the engine is no longer airworthy. So, hours since overhaul can have a significant—and precarious—meaning. (For more on this subject, see “My Engine is 50 Hours from TBO” by Bill Ross. You can find the article in the September 2018 issue. —Ed.)

The most predictable way to make sure an overhauled engine makes it to TBO is to require that it be overhauled using new limits. That means that all the parts begin their new life fitting exactly to new engine specifications and have a margin for wear that will help to ensure performance longevity, and, most importantly, safety—all the way to TBO.

Two more engine issues that are important to consider are how active the engine has been and how many years it’s been since it was last overhauled. 

Be concerned about an engine that was overhauled 20 years ago or has been inactive for an extended period of time. An inactive engine tends to develop corrosion and arthritic components, decreasing the likelihood that the engine and supporting components will make it to TBO. These conditions will often lead to increased maintenance issues along the way.

Writing this article reminded me of a wise older gentleman (fortunately, it seems like every airport has one) who said something years ago that I think was probably true, but at the time seemed a little harsh. He told me, “The three biggest lies in aircraft shopping are: one, no damage history; two, no corrosion; and three, the engine temperature and manifold pressures have never gone above redline.” 

Considering the age of the fleet today, these three comments are likely true and worthy of your attention. Be a smart buyer. 

Until next time, fly safe!

Industrial designer and aviation enthusiast Dennis Wolter is well-known for giving countless seminars and contributing his expertise about all phases of aircraft renovation in various publications. Wolter founded Air Mod in 1973 in order to offer private aircraft owners the same professional, high-quality work then only offered to corporate jet operators. Send questions or comments to .

Q&A: PA-34 Leaky Door Seals & Bouncing Fuel Gauges, PA-28R Main Gear Sidebrace Studs

Q&A: PA-34 Leaky Door Seals & Bouncing Fuel Gauges, PA-28R Main Gear Sidebrace Studs

Q: Hi Steve,

Couple of questions for you. I own a 1975 Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II Turbo. I have air leaks through the pilot entrance door. We’ve put in a new seal and adjusted it, but it still leaks. We think if we replaced the windlace with a new, more supple one that it would take care of the problem. Can you tell me where I could purchase this product? 

I also have a fuel gauge problem on the right engine. It does not indicate accurately and will vary between full and empty and anywhere between. What would be the best way to repair this problem? I read in your October 2016 issue on the Seneca II that Michael has had problems with this also. (See Resources for a link to the story. —Ed.)

I live in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and fly out of Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport (KGWS). The runway is 3,300 feet by 50 feet, at 5,916 feet msl. The Seneca II operates very well here. Love this PA-34; it performs everything
I ask of it.

I appreciate any advice you can give me.



A: Hi Darwin,

Glad you like your Seneca. I wish I had one. 

The two companies that sell a variety of door seals are Brown Aircraft in Jacksonville, Florida, and Aircraft Door Seals in Wisconsin. I don’t have enough experience with these companies to recommend one over the other, but I believe both will send you a sample of the seal they recommend for your airplane so you can take a look at it. (Aircraft Door Seals is a Piper Flyer supporter. —Ed.)

I do know that Dennis Wolter of Air Mod, who is now writing for Piper Flyer, sometimes has to “build up” the surface behind the seal to get the seal he wants. Wolter uses flat rubber sheets in different thicknesses. He and his staff trim and adjust to get the proper build up. That tells me that you can have a very good length of seal, but you may still have to spend time tuning the installation to get the sealing you want. 

As far as your bouncing fuel gauge, it can be a couple of things. 

It can be problems with the gauge itself. Remove the signal wire at the sender and, while watching the gauge, touch the signal wire to the body of the fuel sender assembly. If the gauge is good, the needle should move smoothly from empty to full. If there’s hesitation or nonlinear needle movement, it’s probably a malfunction in the gauge.

If that looks good, you can test the fuel level sender by flying until the fuel level is below half so you can look inside the tank to locate the sender float.

Remove the signal wire from the sender. Then, by reaching in through the filler, use a safe tool to move the float on the sender arm up and down while an ohmmeter is attached to the signal stud on the sender. The varying resistance seen on the meter should be smooth and linear as the float is moved. I’ve used a long, smooth wooden dowel to move the float.

Other than visually inspecting the signal wire for bare spots—which is impossible in some installations—if you can find no other explanation for the bouncy needle, replacing the wire is probably the best solution. 

One option if you determine it’s the sender is to order new senders from CiES. They are much better and more accurate than the original Piper senders, and are FAA approved for installation on your Seneca. The CiES fuel level senders rely on a magnetic connection between the float arm and the signal arm. This type of connection eliminates corrosion and wear problems in the senders and provides a very linear signal. CiES senders are compatible with a wide variety of gauges and engine monitors.

Happy flying,


Aircraft Door Seals, a PFA supporter, will send prospective customers a sample of the seal material best suited for their aircraft.

Q: Hi Steve, 

Every 500 hours, my 1971 PA-28R-200 Arrow requires a removal and inspection of the main sidebrace bracket assembly to comply with an AD. My time has come...and apparently, it’s a bit of a job to remove these brackets. 

My A&P mentioned that if the brackets are replaced by those from a PA-32, then they will not require inspection again. The part numbers he provided me are: Part No. 95643-06/-07/-08/-09. I’ve found some new, but they are over $2,000 each! Any assistance locating some reasonably-priced alternatives would be greatly appreciated.



A: Hi Pete,

Your mechanic is referring to AD 97-01-01 R1. The title is “Main Gear Sidebrace Stud.” It calls for removal and inspection of the sidebrace studs. 

The initial inspection does not require the purchase of anything.

I suggest you remove the sidebrace stud brackets. It’s an easy task in my PA-24 which is also affected by the same sidebrace stud inspection as your PA-28R. 

After you remove the sidebrace stud brackets, remove the stud from the brackets and get your mechanic to find a shop near where you live that can do the fluorescent penetrant inspection or the magnaflux inspections called for in the AD. I believe all aircraft engine shops have the tooling to perform the magnaflux inspections. 

If you don’t find any cracks, reinstall the stud in the brackets and reinstall the brackets in the aircraft. Fly for another 500 hours and repeat. When I did the inspection on my PA-24, there were no cracks in either of my studs. 

The AD provides two ways to comply if cracks are found in either of your sidebrace studs. 

First, since the original-sized stud is no longer available, owners have the option of installing a larger stud in the original bracket after installing a new bushing and machining the larger stud to work with the original bracket and new bushing. 

Piper Flyer Association member Jason Williams added this on the PiperFlyer.org forum: “You can buy the new 5/8-inch stud (Piper Part No. 78717-02) and bushing (Piper Part No. 67026-12), along with the washers, roll pin and nut for around $700. A good machine shop should be able to ream and chamfer your bracket to accept the new parts.”

Thanks, Jason, your help is appreciated.

The second option is to buy new brackets, studs and bushings, and install these parts. 

As far as buying less expensive parts, that’s not as easy as it once was. Piper now sells its parts through Aviall, a national parts house. 

You may find the parts you need through an internet search or used from a salvage yard (see Resources for more information on how to locate parts and parts suppliers —Ed.) but they will have to be inspected in accordance with the AD prior to installation.

Let me know what the inspection turned up.

Happy flying,


AD 97-01-01 R1 calls for removal and inspection of the sidebrace studs for Piper PA-24, PA-28R, PA-30, PA-32R, PA-34 and PA-39 series airplanes.

Know your FAR/AIM and check with your mechanic before starting any work.

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, California, with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to .



Aircraft Door Seals – PFA supporter
Brown Aircraft 


CiES Inc. – PFA supporter


Piper Flyer Yellow Pages
Piper Flyer parts locating request form (must be logged in)




“Life with a Seneca II” by Michael Leighton
Piper Flyer, October 2016
AD 97-01-01 R1, “Main Gear Sidebrace Stud”
Piper Flyer forum (must be logged in)
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