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Premier Edition Piper Dakota

Premier Edition Piper Dakota

A “new-from-the-wheels-up” Premier Edition Dakota from Premier Aircraft Sales is a leading example of Piper’s legendary PA-28 series. 

Like many of you, I learned to fly in what is now described in Piper parlance as a high-wing “Wichita Spam can.” Cessna’s 150, 172, 182, 206, 210 and 336/337—I worked my way up through them all. I thought high-wings were the way to go.

Then in 1983 I got introduced to a brand-new Piper PA-28-236 Dakota. This, to me, was a game changer. Sure, the 182 was and is a wonderful airplane, but the 235 hp Dakota was all that and a bag of chips. In particular, the Dakota can carry a bigger load than the 182s of that era and, of greater significance to me, I think it looks cooler than the Skylane. 

That combination of good looks and good performance are two of the many reasons why Fort Lauderdale-based Premier Aircraft Sales selected the venerable Dakota to create what many would call a better-than-new option for today’s pre-owned aircraft buyer.

“What we chose to do was to take a very good Piper product and update it to today’s standards,” explained Fred Ahles, president and founder of Premier Aircraft Sales, Inc. “I was looking for a project and then I was approached by Bill Nutt about creating a next-to-new Dakota for his son and the project took off from there.”

“There is no good used equivalent for the Dakota, and you can’t buy a new equivalent at close to the price that we can refurbish one for,” he explained. “I think a comparably-equipped new Archer sells for around $500,000 today.”

“Basically, we are selling our Premier Edition Dakotas for between $260,000 and $325,000 depending on the avionics,” Ahles added. 

“That’s a lot to pay for a 37-year-old airplane, but it’s a heck of a lot less than buying a new Piper Archer. And the Premier Edition Dakota is faster and can carry more. All in all, we—and our customers—think it’s a very good value.”

While Premier doesn’t promote the Premier Edition Dakota as a next-to-new airplane, that’s essentially what it is. Premier takes the elements of a typical refurb project and kicks it up quite a few notches.

 

First comes the “mother of all annuals”

As Barry Rutheiser, Premier’s sales manager explained it, when the company locates a low-time candidate for the Premier Edition makeover, the engine is removed and the airframe is subjected to what he describes as “the first really good annual inspection any of these airplanes have had in at least 10 years.”

“We follow the Piper factory recommended guide and do everything in the book,” Rutheiser said. “We’ve found that typically these older airplanes have been in the hands of owners and mechanics who were doing the minimum to pass FAA muster every year. But that’s not what a Premier Edition buyer wants to have.”

“Our annuals have been running between $20,000 and $30,000 on these airframes—and that doesn’t include the engine,” Rutheiser explained. “That’s bringing everything up-to-date, including replacing every piece of cracked plastic and fixing all of the fiberglass components to like-new.”

The Premier annual also includes a super-detailed inspection by the experienced Piper technicians at Premier Aircraft Services, the company’s in-house MRO. 

“We see all kinds of age-related issues in the airframe, which all get addressed by the shop,” Rutheiser said. “Nothing is left unfixed. It’s really the mother of all annuals.”

One of the items that Premier addresses is the long-standing Piper Service Bulletin 1006 that details a corrosion inspection of the main spar behind fuel tanks. “The inspection is recommended to be done every seven years, so that’s what we do,” Ahles said. 

“You may not have a visible fuel leak, but we find seepage in the little lines at the back of the tanks that feed the fuel system. It’s small, but over time it can build up and cause corrosion on the wing spar. So, of course, we inspect the spars for any signs of damage.”

“When we have the fuel tanks out, we clean and inspect it all. We have yet to find one that doesn’t have some type of leak,” he said. “These are simple little eight-dollar rubber hoses that cost around $2,200 to change—but to do [the job] right, it has to be done.”

“Who wants to buy an airplane with a leaking fuel line? Not me,” Ahles said. “And I won’t sell one, either.”

After the airframe is inspected tip-to-tail and repairs are made, the control cables are all recalibrated to factory-new specifications and new stainless steel hardware is installed. 

As mentioned earlier, when the airframe begins its annual, the engine is removed and sent to Certified Engines Unlimited, Inc. at North Perry Airport (KHWO) in Hollywood, Florida. 

“Certified Engines does a complete overhaul of the Dakota’s 235 hp Lycoming O-540, including new factory cylinders,” Rutheiser said. “It’s a first-rate overhaul.”

 

It’s exhaust-ing work…

“Another thing I’ve always liked about the Dakota is the way the exhaust pipes come down on the side of the lower cowling. It’s pretty cool,” Ahles said. “But when you open the cowl and look inside these older airplanes, the exhaust looks like a patchwork quilt—there are so many patches welded on. It’s pretty ugly.”

“That’s not in keeping with the Premier Edition concept, so we take all that off and have a local sheet metal fabricator remake all those components,” he said. “When it’s all assembled and put back on the engine, inside the freshly-painted cowling and firewall, it just looks brand-new.”

Rutheiser pointed out to me that Premier is currently doing its first Premier Edition transformation on a Turbo Dakota. And while it’s exactly the same ground-up process, there is one big difference: they replace the original fixed wastegate turbocharger with a new generation Merlyn variable wastegate unit.

“The Merlyn will literally transform the engine’s operation,” he said. “I put one on my airplane, and engine management is now so much easier—and you get way better performance. In the case of the Turbo Dakota, we are literally improving on Piper’s original design.”

Along with all the new goodies under the cowling, Premier Edition Dakota buyers also have the option of upgrading to a new Hartzell three-bladed propeller, which gives the airplane greater climb and cruise performance as well as a quieter cabin. 

 

New airplane smell comes standard

Once all the mechanicals are brought up to factory specifications—Ahles said the team turns its attention on the interior, starting with totally refurbishing the seats. “We have a really good interior shop nearby and they take the original seats and strip them down to the bare frames. This is not a low-cost operation—it’s first class stuff,” he said. 

The seat frames are tightened up and repainted. Then the shop uses the best seat foam on the market to reshape the seat bottoms and backs. 

“These are much more comfortable than what Piper originally installed,” Ahles explained. “We aim to make them as good as what you find in the new Meridian. The goal is to create seats that are really comfortable.”

“Depending on what the customer wants, the seats are covered in either a high-quality vinyl or leather—and all the owners so far have opted for leather,” Ahles added. “A couple of them have also wanted to go with wool carpeting. It’s very nice.”

When it comes to the avionics package, Ahles said each owner specs out the panel to their liking. Premier offers everything from a basic six-pack of steam gauges to a next generation-ready glass panel built around Garmin’s new G500 TXi display and GTN 750 touchscreen GPS units. Every Premier Edition Dakota leaves the shop fully ADS-B Out compliant. 

While every Premier Edition Dakota the company has completed to date is a custom completion, Rutheiser said that they do start with one of three basic configurations depending on cost. 

“Everyone wants a starting point,” he explained. “We offer a Premier Silver, Gold and Platinum—but I really try not to refer to them too much, because each owner has their own vision of what they want their Dakota to be.”

 

All dressed up and someplace to go

Obviously, you can’t do all this work on the airframe, engine, cabin and avionics and just rattle-can on any old paint job.

“We have all the paint work done by Ormond Beach Aviation in Ormond Beach, Florida,” Rutheiser said. “They do a great job. Colors are basically up to the individual owners, but we emulate the paint scheme found on the current PA-28s to ensure consistency.”

“After arriving at Ormond Beach, the airplane is stripped to bare metal and acid washed. All of the details—around the window surrounds, door edges, access panels—everything is prepped and painted to the highest quality,” he said. “Then it all gets clear-coated to ensure durability.”

“I’d dare say that the final finish on these airplanes is equal or better to anything that Piper turns out of the factory today,” Ahles said. “That’s not a knock on the factory—they do very good paint jobs in Vero Beach—ours are just that good.”

“And 20 years from now, Premier Edition airplanes will still look terrific.”

The devil is in the details

While investing nearly 900 man-hours totally refurbishing the airframe, engine, interior, avionics and paint down to the tiniest detail would be enough for most folks, it’s not quite enough for the folks at Premier. They want the Premier Edition Dakota program to offer benefits beyond what you’d expect

So Ahles’ team has taken their program further and provided buyers with the option to get great financing and a “power-by-the-hour” engine maintenance program. “The team at Scope Aircraft Leasing has agreed to finance these aircraft at the completed cost, and that’s a really big deal,” Ahles explained. 

“Most times, when you take a nearly 40-year-old airplane and upgrade it at the cost of a couple hundred grand, the finished price is a lot higher than the bluebook value—and that can make financing really hard to get.”

“Scope has seen what we are doing and offers, with 20 percent down, full financing on the rest of the purchase price,” he said. “That’s really helped the program get going. If you already own your Dakota, Scope offers attractive financing on the cost of the Premier Edition upgrade.”

With regard to the piston engine maintenance program, Ahles explained that while every Premier Edition Dakota is covered by a nine-month warranty from Certified Engines Unlimited, Premier has worked out an attractive program with PistonPower™ to provide an optional hourly cost maintenance program on the engines.

“It’s like a power-by-the-hour program you find on turbine engines, but it’s only for piston engines,” Ahles said. “They offer a menu of coverage options. For example, we offer a three-year program under PistonPower that covers the cost of any repairs to the engine up to a major overhaul. Owners can also sign up for a more extensive program that covers that cost when it comes around.” (See the sidebar on Page 47 for details. —Ed.)

“In addition, aircraft enrolled in a PistonPower program will also get a higher residual value from the Aircraft Bluebook, Vref and many banks,” he said. “That’s a double benefit for the owner.” 

Last but not least, as part of the Premier Edition Dakota program, Premier’s Chief Pilot Corbin Hallaran gives each owner a thorough checkout in his or her airplane as part of the delivery process.

“Corbin is not only a terrific pilot, but a terrific instructor as well—the best in the business,” Rutheiser said. “He does a very detailed walkaround with each owner and then gives them as much dual instruction as he feels they need before he will turn them loose with the airplane. It’s all about safety. If both the new owner and Corbin are not comfortable with the way they handle the airplane, they don’t leave here.”

 

You can make any Dakota a Premier Edition Dakota

While Premier Aircraft Sales started the Premier Edition Dakota program to stimulate sales of legacy Dakotas, Ahles said that if you’re lucky enough to already own one of these exceptionally capable airplanes, Premier is ready to work with you to upgrade it to your specifications.

“Should an owner bring us their Dakota, we can do any or all of our upgrades on their aircraft,” he said. “It’s totally up to the owner’s wants and wishes.”

As for the price, that’s based on what you want done. “I’d say it’s best to start with one of our detailed annuals and go from there,” he said. “That way, the owner will know what condition the aircraft is really in and determine their upgrade path.”

 

Bill Nutt “premiered” the Premier Edition Dakota

William “Bill” Nutt is the kind of guy you’d like to have in the next hangar over. He’s owned a lot of different kinds of airplanes over the years, and most recently he has had a Piper Archer, V-tail Bonanza, F33A Bonanza, T-34, a Baron, Piper Meridian and Piper Matrix. But the story behind why he went looking for what would ultimately become the Premier Edition Dakota revolves around his son, Alexander.

“My son is in medical residency in Billings, Montana and I wanted him to have an airplane that was a solid instrument platform and would also give him the performance to handle the high altitudes,” Nutt explained. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the Dakota so I started looking for a really nice low-time model for him.”

“I talked to Fred (Ahles) at Premier about the project and he thought it was a great idea. He shared my vision of making a Dakota better than Piper would today,” he said. “It’s one thing to refurbish an airplane for me, but when it’s for my son, it had to be perfect in every respect.”

And according to Nutt, that’s just how N43AN (for “Alexander Nutt”)—the first Premier Edition Dakota—turned out. Nutt found the ideal subject Dakota: a 1980 model in Georgia that was in excellent condition but had reached TBO so the owner wanted to sell.

“This was a great airplane to begin with,” Nutt explained. “The current owner had it for over 20 years and had taken excellent care of it. Premier sent their mechanic to do the pre-buy and then they flew it back to Fort Lauderdale Executive (KFXE) to begin the upgrade.”

“One thing I insisted on was to paint the new panel in light beige, because I think it makes the instrument scan easier,” Nutt said. “We painted it like a new factory Archer DX and it really looks great. It turned out exactly like I wanted.”

Nutt spends his winters living at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida and currently keeps the Dakota at the club’s private airport, 07FA. 

“The Dakota is the perfect airplane for having fun flying,” he said. “People think it’s just an Archer with a bigger engine, but it’s not. It’s a much stronger, more robust airframe.”

“I can get in it alone and get an honest 135 knots all day,” Nutt continued. “I recently did something I’d never done before. I took off from Ocean Reef and headed to Billings. It took me two-and-a-half days and was a lot of fun. With the new engine, smoother Hartzell propeller and modern avionics, it was really an enjoyable trip.”

“I’ll have another...”

Nutt said he’s having so much fun with the nimble Dakota, he doesn’t want to let it go—so he bought another one and Premier is doing its Premier Edition magic on this one, too.

“This one will have the complete Garmin glass avionics panel including the new Garmin autopilot,” he said. “Plus, I’m having the engine upgraded to 250 hp. That will make it even better suited for flying in and out of the grass strip we have at one of our ranches in Montana.”

“The Premier Edition Dakota lets me really enjoy flying,” he said. “Last week I made three great trips around South Florida: I took my one son and his girlfriend to Key West to see friends. I flew my other son and his wife to Naples and then I flew my daughter and her two boys to Palm Beach for the day.”

“The Dakota is just that kind of airplane,” he said. “And the Premier Edition Dakota is the best version yet of a wonderfully fun-to-fly airplane.”

 

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 aircraft. Send questions or comments to .

RESOURCES >>>>>

PISTON ENGINE SERVICE PROGRAM 
Piston Power

 

PREMIER EDITION DAKOTA
Premier Aircraft Sales Inc.
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Pre- and Post-overhaul:  Engine Removal & Installation

Pre- and Post-overhaul: Engine Removal & Installation

 

Wise owners (and mechanics) know that a successful overhaul starts with careful engine removal. The overhaul process isn’t finished until after the engine has been reinstalled and the break-in period completed. A&P Jacqueline Shipe walks you through best practices to ensure start-to-finish success.

An engine overhaul is a daunting repair that usually takes several weeks to complete. In addition to the engine overhaul itself, there are several maintenance tasks that are associated with pulling the engine and reinstalling it after the overhaul. (For more about what comprises an engine overhaul, see “A Step-by-Step Guide to Overhauls” in the February 2018 issue. —Ed.)

 

 


Engine removal location and airframe storage

Once the decision to overhaul the engine has been made, the next step for an owner is to decide on the location for the engine removal. Some owners have their mechanic pull the engine and ship it to an overhaul facility. Other owners fly the airplane to the overhaul location and let the overhaul specialists remove, overhaul and reinstall the engine. 

 

The next task is to find out where the airplane will be stored while the engine is off the airframe. Hangar space is typically at a premium for both overhaul shops and general maintenance shops. 

 

Some shops place the airplane outside for the duration of time that the engine is off the airframe. The airframe is unbalanced and hard to secure on a tiedown once the engine has been removed. It is also much lighter than normal, leaving the aircraft more vulnerable to windy weather. 

 

Make sure to have a clear understanding with whomever is doing the engine removal and installation about where the airplane will be stored while the overhaul is taking place. 

 


Engine removal

Removing an engine from the airplane is typically not that time-consuming. The engine can be pulled easily enough in most cases in less than a day. 

 

Once the cowling and propeller are removed, the next step should be to take lots of pictures from all different angles of every section of the engine. This will help to determine the routing of hoses and control cables later on during the reinstallation process. 

 

The exact location of clamps is not usually specified by the maintenance manual and is left up to the mechanic. Knowing where the old clamps and supports were located helps ensure that everything fits properly during reinstallation.

 

Once all the engine components are disconnected from the airframe, the engine is stripped of everything that is not sent with the engine for the overhaul. The exhaust system, alternator, starter, vacuum pump and engine baffling typically don’t get sent in with the engine for overhaul. These components are either replaced or refurbished as needed by specialty shops. 

 

After all the necessary items are removed or disconnected from the engine, the engine itself is removed from the airframe. The tail of the airplane should be secured on a support that will hold it up once the heavy engine is removed. Most engines have permanent lifting eyes installed on one or more of the upper crankcase bolts. If an engine doesn’t have a lifting eye, one will have to be temporarily installed. 

 

A chain is most often used to attach an engine hoist to the lifting eye. Once the chain is secured, the engine hoist is raised until the chain has all the slack removed from it. Then, the bolts that secure the engine to the mount are removed from the vibration isolators and the engine can be lifted out of its mount. 

 

Once removed, the engine is either wheeled into the overhaul shop for disassembly or prepared for shipping if the overhaul is to take place elsewhere.

 

Engines that are shipped out by means of a freight company are generally bolted to a shipping pallet with a prefabricated mount. 

 

Owners that are having their engines sent out can save money by taking it themselves to the overhaul shop. The engine is often placed on a layer of used tires in the back of a truck and secured to four different tiedowns to keep it from shifting. 

 

In addition to saving money, the owner can have peace of mind knowing that he or she has overseen the engine shipment the entire time. Careless handling can damage expensive engine components and shipping companies do occasionally drop or damage items. 

 

If the overhaul facility is located a long distance from the aircraft location, shipping with a freight company may be the only option. In those cases, the shipment should be insured for the full replacement value of the engine. 

 

After the engine overhaul is underway, attention can be shifted to the repair or refurbishment of all the parts that are now easily accessible with the engine removed. 

 


Engine mount

Once the engine has been removed, the engine mount is easily accessible and can be thoroughly inspected for cracks and pitted areas. 

Even if the mount itself is in good shape, remove the mount from the
airframe and inspect all the attachment areas on the airframe and mount
for corrosion. 

Mounts that are free of corrosion and have good paint are often reused as-is. Mounts that are in need of repainting should be cleaned, lightly sanded and painted with a high-quality primer and then a coat of paint. 

In addition, any corroded areas on the airframe should be cleaned and treated or repaired as needed. 

Engine mounts that have pitted areas, excessive corrosion or cracks are usually sent to specialized welding shops like Acorn Welding or Kosola (now Aerospace Welding) for repair. These shops have special jigs and can cut out bad sections of tubing and weld in reinforced sections without distorting the shape of the mount. 

The firewall of the airframe is easily accessible with the engine and the mount removed. Now is an ideal time to clean and paint the firewall. Painting areas such as the firewall and the inside of the cowling with a bright color (usually white) helps to spot leaks easier. It also makes the airplane look better, and adds another layer of protection against corrosion.

 


Propellers

Controllable-pitch propellers and propeller governors are often overhauled at the same time as the engine. This ensures that the engine will be able to develop its maximum power within the proper limits without being held back by a sluggish or malfunctioning propeller or governor.

 

Baffling

Metal engine baffles should be repaired as needed, and any worn baffle seals should be replaced to maximize engine cooling. 

 

Effective engine cooling is particularly important for overhauled engines because the new cylinder rings have to wear in and seat themselves against the cylinder walls during the first few engine runs. The extra friction will generate more heat than normal, especially in the cylinder heads. 

 

The air that the cylinders need for cooling should flow in through the front of the cowling, through the cylinder cooling fins, then down and out the bottom of the cowling. Any air leaks in the engine compartment that aren’t sealed off will allow cooling air to escape through a gap or hole instead of being ducted through the fins where it is most needed. 

 


Exhaust system

Exhaust system components are sent out for repair or are replaced if they are corroded, cracked or deformed in any way. Excessively thin or leaking pipes will only cause trouble later on. Leaking exhaust gases from warped exhaust flanges at the cylinder head connection will corrode and ruin the cylinder heads over time. 

 

Some overhaul facilities recommend replacing the exhaust system whenever the engine is overhauled. Turbochargers and wastegate assemblies should always be sent out for overhaul or replaced whenever the engine is overhauled. 

 


Hoses

 

All fluid-carrying hoses connected to the engine should be replaced at overhaul. Hoses become hardened and brittle after being heated and cooled during engine operation. A ruptured hose can cause a fire hazard or starve internal engine components of precious oil pressure. 

 

Also, tiny amounts of metal and debris can remain in old hoses even after they are rinsed and blown out and can contaminate the new engine. Many engine overhaul facilities will deem the engine warranty null and void if the fluid-carrying hoses aren’t replaced. 

 

It is also good idea to replace the SCAT hoses, but they aren’t critical like the fluid-carrying hoses are.

 


Oil coolers

Oil coolers should be replaced with new units or sent to an oil cooler specialty shop that can thoroughly clean the oil passageways. The oil passageways through the cooler have 180-degree turns in them that cause contaminants to precipitate out of the oil flow and build up in the turn areas.

 

It is impossible to get all the sludge, metal particles and dirt out of the old cooler by rinsing it in a parts cleaning vat. It’s not worth risking contaminating a freshly-overhauled engine with debris from the old engine in order to save a few dollars on the oil cooler. Clean oil coolers also have better oil flow through them and cool the oil more efficiently. 

 


Rubber vibration isolators

Most engines are mounted with the four attachments for securing the engine to the mount located on the rear of the engine. The rubber vibration isolators (often called “rubber engine mounts”) that are installed between the engine mounting pads and the engine mount should always be replaced whenever the engine is removed.

 

Vibration isolators lose elasticity over time and will begin to sag under the weight of the engine. Once the isolators start to age, they allow the front of the engine and the propeller to not only sag, but also to tilt down. 

 

The cowling is secured to the airframe and the propeller is connected directly to the engine, so as the engine mount isolators droop, the clearance between the bottom of the spinner bulkhead and the cowling becomes smaller while the gap between the top of the spinner bulkhead and the top cowling gets larger.

 

Isolators that are severely aged and distorted on these types of engine mounts can cause the engine to droop so much that the bottom of the spinner bulkhead actually starts rubbing on the lower engine cowling. 

 

In addition, rubber engine mounts are easily damaged and prematurely age if they are exposed to leaking oil or hot exhaust leaks. Constant oil leaks soften the rubber, causing it to swell and bulge. Exhaust leaks overheat the rubber, making it brittle and prone to cracking.

 

The isolators play a critical role in helping to secure the engine to the engine mount. They are typically not that expensive in comparison to other parts, and are easily accessible any time the engine is removed from the airframe—but difficult or impossible to replace without pulling the engine. 

 


Engine installation

The engine installation process takes longer to complete and is much more detailed than the engine removal process. Installing the engine mount on the airframe and then hanging the engine on the mount can be done quickly in most cases because there are usually only four bolts and nuts that secure the engine mount to the airframe, and an additional four bolts and nuts that secure the engine to the mount. 

 

Sometimes it is difficult to get the engine hoist adjusted just right so that the engine lines up correctly when attaching it to the mount. It can take a few attempts to get the bolts inserted through the mount and isolators. Components like the magnetos, fuel servo or carburetor may have to be removed to provide enough clearance to get the engine into the proper position on the mount. 

 

Engine mount bolts should always be torqued to the specified setting listed in the airframe maintenance manual and any specified torque sequence should be adhered to.

 

Once the engine has been hung, the baffling, accessories, hoses, oil coolers and all remaining parts can be installed. Clamping and securing hoses, wires and ignition leads is one of the most time-consuming tasks in this phase of the project. 

 

The exhaust system and propeller are usually two of the last items that are installed because once they are installed, they block access to other parts of the engine. 

 

Many overhaul shops run an engine on a test cell for an hour or so before sending the engine out. Some shops send the engine out with no run time on it at all. 

 

After reinstallation on the airplane, the engine should be started and run on the ground for the minimum time needed to ensure that there are no leaks; that the magnetos have the proper rpm drop when checked; and, if a controllable-pitch propeller is installed, that the propeller changes pitch as it should. 

 

Idle mixture and idle speeds should be checked and adjusted if necessary—but ground runs should be kept to a minimum, especially if the engine has not been on a test cell. 

 

After an overhaul, the rings are not seated. In order for the rings to seat properly, they must be blown out against the cylinder walls. The rings need high manifold pressures to force them to have metal-to-metal contact with the cylinder walls so they seat properly. 

 

Running an overhauled engine at too low of a throttle setting for any length of time (on the ground or in the air) increases the likelihood of glazing the cylinder walls. Glazing results from the oil oxidizing on the cylinder walls and creating a hardened surface that prevents the rings from ever seating properly. 

 

After the first flight, the cowling should be completely removed and the entire engine looked over for leaks and to make sure nothing has vibrated loose. Some shops will change the oil at this time if the test flight was the first run on the engine. 

 

The recommended break-in oil is generally used for the first 50 hours. After the 50-hour mark, there should be no metal in the oil filter when it is inspected. Metal found in the oil filter after this time may be indicative of an internal problem with the engine. 

 

Most overhauled engines perform well and provide many hours of trouble-free flight time and it is generally a relief for owners to have this major expense behind them.

 


Know your FAR/AIM and check with your mechanic before starting any work. Always get instruction from an A&P prior to attempting preventive maintenance tasks.

Jacqueline Shipe grew up in an aviation home; her dad was a flight instructor. She soloed at age 16 and went on to get her CFII and ATP certificate. Shipe also attended Kentucky Tech and obtained an airframe and powerplant license. She has worked as a mechanic for the airlines and on a variety of General Aviation planes. She’s also logged over 5,000 hours of flight instruction time. Send question or comments to .

 

 

 

MENTIONED IN
THE ARTICLE >>>>>

 

 

ENGINE MOUNT WELDING


Acorn Welding Ltd. – PFA supporter

acornwelding.com

 


Aerospace Welding Minneapolis, Inc.

awi-ami.com

 


To find resources for other components and services for engine overhauls, please go to the Piper Flyer Yellow Pages at piperflyer.org/piper-yellow-pages.html, or contact Kent Dellenbusch at Email or phone 626-844-0215. 

 

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Coming Unglued: Replacing Cable Seals on Fabric Aircraft

A step-by-step guide for making and installing cable seals on a PA-18.

When my 1952 Piper PA-18 Super Cub Special was restored in 2014, no detail was too small—even the black faux-leather cable seals where the control cables pass through the fabric skin were new and perfectly applied. However, after three years of heat, cold, exhaust gases and cleaning solutions, plus the buffeting of the slipstream, the edges of those seals started to dry, curl and peel away.

After pulling off a few of the seals and inspecting the material, it was obvious that their lack of flexibility and the old, dried adhesive would make them difficult to glue back in place. The seals seemed to be made of a plasticized fabric. The fabric had a woven backing coated with a black vinyl embossed in a faux leather pattern and was about 1 millimeter thick. 

I wondered if the original 1950s seals were leather, or if by that time they had been replaced by synthetic materials. Artificial leather, such as the brand-name material Naugahyde, was available as early as the 1930s. It’s likely that in the very earliest days of aviation this sort of item would have been genuine leather glued to the fabric, but I have no idea when Piper made the changeover to plastics. (Maybe a former factory worker will know?)


What are these things?

These cable seals might more precisely be called grommets, which is anything inserted around the edges of a hole through a thin material, which could be wing fabric, sheet metal, fiberglass, wood, paper or almost anything at all. 

Grommets perform several functions. They may be applied to prevent tearing of the pierced thin material, or to discourage abrasion by whatever passes through the hole. Or, it might be the other way around: to protect the wire, cable or whatever is passing through the hole from abrasion. Grommets can help keep dirt and water out of an opening, especially if the grommet is made of a flexible material, essentially making a big hole into a smaller hole. Since it doesn’t completely seal the opening from the elements, I wouldn’t call it a seal, exactly. 

Grommets are also used to cover the sharp edges of a hole so you don’t cut yourself. 

Often a grommet performs all these functions, which certainly seems to be the case for the fabric grommets used where control cables pass through the fabric on vintage airplanes. 

When most people think of a grommet, they envision a metal or plastic ring that’s pressed, like a rivet, into a fragile surface. But a grommet could also be something as lightweight as those self-sticking reinforcements students use for three-ring notebook paper. The stitching around a buttonhole could be considered a grommet in that it keeps the buttonhole from fraying. 

In the electrical business, rubber grommets are often known as “insulating bushings” and are commonly made of molded rubber. There are certainly a few of these on most aircraft. For large and irregular openings, long strips of cushioning materials may be applied to sharp edges. This is known as grommet edging.


Fabric airplane control cable grommets

On my Super Cub, the control cables pass through the fabric in four pairs of places—where the lower aileron cable passes from the floor of the cockpit and runs upward along the wing strut; where that cable enters the bottom of the wing (it emerges from the top of the wing under a metal shield); where the upper aileron cable running inside the wing passes out through the bottom surface of the wing to the aileron; and where the rudder cables exit the fuselage in front of the empennage to connect to the rudder arms. Two of these pairs of grommets are circular; two are elongated shapes. They are meant to prevent chafing along the fabric.


Retail suppliers

If you prefer premade grommets, Wag-Aero sells a Piper Naugahyde Cable Seal Kit (part No. M-423-003) for $7.50. The kit consists of “two slotted fuselage and two aileron punched cable seals. Set of 4.” Aircraft Spruce has a similar item on its website (part No. 09-00335) for $9.55 per set of four. The seals from Aircraft Spruce and Wag-Aero are all teardrop-shaped. 

To replace all the seals (i.e., grommets) on my Super Cub, I would need two kits. Depending on which company I order from, pricing would run $15 to $19, plus tax and shipping. 

However, I enjoy working on my airplane, so I decided to take a shot at making the grommets myself. 


Can you legally DIY?

My local mechanic said making these homemade grommets falls under FAR Part 43, Appendix A, which allows “preventive maintenance to be performed by a certificated pilot, holding at least a Private certificate, on an aircraft owned or operated by that pilot, provided the aircraft is not used in commercial service.” FAR Part 43, Appendix A, subpart (c), item No. 7 specifically mentions “making simple fabric patches not requiring rib stitching or the removal of structural parts or control surfaces.” 

My mechanic said he would consider these grommets no different than a pilot performing a small fabric repair job. 

I visited a nearby fabric store to look for replacement material. I found a few rolls of black vinyl in the upholstery section. One was called “marine vinyl” and the tag revealed it had a -10 F cold-crack rating. (“Marine” also led me to think that if it’s a good material for boat upholstery, it might be good for airplanes.) 

Since I was making just a few small grommets, I needed a minimal amount of material. The vinyl comes on a yard-wide roll. You must buy the material by length off the roll and the smallest amount I could buy was 1/8th of a yard, or 4.5 inches. At $19.99 per yard, it cost $2.50 plus tax.

After getting the material home, I checked the fabric store’s website and discovered the fabric’s brand name was Spradling. I researched a bit and learned that Spradling is a company that specializes in upholstery materials for automotive, marine and general upholstery. According to Spradling, marine vinyl is essentially the same as regular vinyl, with the addition of UV inhibitors and mildew or antifungal additives, all of which seem like good attributes for airplanes sitting inside damp hangars or out in the weather. 


Making and installing grommets: step by step

1. Carefully peel the old grommets from the fabric surfaces. I suppose if they didn’t come off reasonably easily, you wouldn’t be replacing them. Mine peeled right off.

2. Use the old grommet as a template and trace the shape onto the back side of the new vinyl. I used a fine point Sharpie marker, which made a 1/16-inch thick line.

3. Cut out the new vinyl with scissors or a sharp knife. I cut around the outer edge of the black line, making the new grommet about 1/8th of an inch larger than the original. This helps to cover any old glue that may be on the fabric and will give a clean look to the new installation.

4. Glue the new grommets in place. I chose original Gorilla Glue to adhere my newly-cut grommets. Make sure you keep this glue warm; put the bottle in your pocket for a while, otherwise it’ll be very thick and hard to spread. To use it, you must first wet the surfaces and then apply the glue. I used a small brush to spread the glue over the grommet’s surface to its edges. Gorilla Glue also comes in a “clear” version that I would select if I was buying glue again. It might also be good to use a spray adhesive, which would provide an even and thin application that wouldn’t squeeze out when the grommet is pressed on, keeping things neat. 

5. Wipe off any excess glue that gets squeezed from under the grommet before taping it in place (I used masking tape) until the glue sets. Be careful or you’ll glue the tape to the fabric.

6. After the glue dries, remove the tape and ensure that none of your control wires were glued to anything and they move freely. It’s also worth paying special attention to the “controls free and correct” item on your checklist in your next few flights. 

7. Admire your handiwork. 

From start to finish—including my travel time to the stores for the fabric and the glue—this project took around two hours. 

 

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

 
Dennis K. Johnson is a writer and a New York City-based travel photographer, shooting primarily for Getty Images and select clients. He spends months each year traveling, flies sailplanes whenever possible and is the owner of N105T, a newly-restored Piper Super Cub Special. Send questions or comments to .


RESOURCES >>>>>

MARINE VINYL

Spradling International, Inc.

spradlingvinyl.com

 

NAUGAHYDE CABLE SEAL KITS
– PFA SUPPORTERS

Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co.

aircraftspruce.com

 

Wag-Aero

wagaero.com

 

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ADS-B vs. SiriusXM

ADS-B vs. SiriusXM

Michael Leighton compares two popular portable units that can receive in-flight weather and more. 

Perhaps the most significant safety improvement in aviation in the last 20 years is the availability of cost effective, quality, real-time weather and traffic in flight. Once found only on high-end corporate aircraft, real-time weather is now available to any pilot with an iPad using a portable receiver. The most popular portable options are the Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver from Appareo and the SXAR1 receiver from SiriusXM Aviation.

I did a side-by-side comparison of both systems with each receiver dedicated to one of two iPads. My test flights were conducted in a single-engine piston and a single-engine turboprop. 

Similarities

Both receivers are small and lightweight. Both utilize rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with a life span that exceeds the average fuel leg in most General Aviation aircraft. The Stratus 2S has an eight-hour battery life, while the SXAR1’s battery life is up to six hours. In-flight recharging is easily accomplished with a USB cable, if necessary. 

The light weight of both devices makes a suction cup window mount or a piece of Velcro on the glareshield two practical solutions for mounting the receiver. Both units are simple to operate, featuring exactly one button to turn the unit on or off. 

Both units use indicator LEDs to identify which functions are operating and the status of the battery power. In flight, both receivers display weather in real time on an iPad. 

I use ForeFlight in my cockpit, and both receivers are compatible with ForeFlight. Though some tech-savvy users claim to have made these receivers work with other apps, only ForeFlight is officially supported.

Differences

Though both units provide weather information, they do so in very different ways. 

Stratus 2S and ADS-B

The Stratus 2S utilizes the government-developed Automated Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, commonly referred to as ADS-B. 

ADS-B weather is ground-based and subject to line-of-sight limitations; that’s why it’s typically not available when the aircraft is on the ground. Additionally, there are “holes” where ADS-B reception is intermittent. Since ADS-B is the cornerstone of the Next Generation (NextGen) air traffic control, the FAA says that when the system is fully operational in 2020, any in-flight reception issues should be resolved. 

Geographic coverage for ADS-B extends about 20 miles beyond the United States’ borders. On our trips to the Bahamas, we receive ADS-B coverage to about 30 miles offshore at 10,000 feet—our altitude and the lack of terrain obstructions allow the signal to reach farther. 

The weather products available with ADS-B are adequate for the average General Aviation mission. When in flight, composite NEXRAD is available. Base reflectivity and cloud coverage are available on the ground using an internet connection, but not in the air. 

Airborne ADS-B also provides METARs, TAFs, SIGMETs, AIRMETs, TFRs, visibilities, ceilings and flight conditions for graphic display and in text format; notams and Special Use Airspace alerts are also available.

ADS-B with the Stratus 2 includes features you cannot get from SiriusXM Aviation weather. Traffic and a backup PFD are phenomenal features provided by Stratus. I love the backup PFD. I teach my students how to shoot an approach with it in the event of a total equipment failure. 

If your aircraft does not have a traffic avoidance system, ADS-B traffic is useful, but until 2020—when all aircraft are supposed to be equipped with ADS-B—it does not depict all traffic. 

The best part of ADS-B is that the service is free, while SiriusXM uses a paid subscription. However, the receiver to get free ADS-B data can cost more up front: a Stratus 2S lists at $899, not counting any antennas. In contrast, an SXAR1 is priced at $699, and may qualify for a $200 rebate, but subscription fees will be extra.

SXAR1 with SiriusXM Aviation weather

The Sirius product, SXAR1, gets its data not from the ADS-B source, but from SiriusXM satellites. It also has a GPS/WAAS embedded receiver. 

The SiriusXM aviation weather subscription includes the same weather products provided by ADS-B, as well as icing icing, winds aloft, lightning, in-flight base reflectivity radar, radar echo tops, cloud tops, turbulence and surface analysis. The range of coverage includes most of Canada, parts of the Caribbean, and extends much farther offshore. 

A subscription for the SiriusXM Pilot For ForeFlight package is around $40 per month. More comprehensive weather information is available with Pilot Preferred ($59.99/month) and Pilot Pro ($99.99/month) packages. For all SiriusXM aviation weather packages, the ability to listen to your favorite music and news channels in flight, if you so choose, can be added to your weather subscription at a discounted rate. 

One unexpected issue arose with the SXAR1 receiver during my testing. The electrically-heated windows in turboprop airplanes interfere with data reception. Moving the unit to an unheated side window improved my reception. Depending on which side of the plane the receiver was placed also affected the unit’s ability to receive data from the satellite. (We contacted SiriusXM and about this and received this reply: “Heated windscreens on some aircraft may block or interfere with the SXAR1 Receiver data reception. If you experience a weak signal condition, place the SXAR1 close to either side window or you may choose to purchase an optional External Antenna at shop.siriusxm.com or at sportys.com. The antenna can then be placed in the cockpit for best signal and the SXAR1 receiver can be placed out of the way.” —Ed.)

Another difference to address is the display resolution. The resolution is the same for the SiriusXM Aviation via SXAR1 and for ADS-B through the Stratus 2 when viewing weather within 200 nm of the aircraft. Beyond 200 nm, the resolution of the SXAR1 really shines; beyond that range ADS-B reduces the radar resolution, making the radar appear more coarse and pixelated. SiriusXM is consistent with its resolution at longer range. 

Final thoughts

Do you have to choose one over the other? When flying with both units, you do not need to choose only one to use because SXAR1 connects because SXAR1 connects to your iPad with Bluetooth, while Stratus utilizes Wi-Fi. This means you can have both at the same time—on the same iPad. Playing with the displays of Stratus on the backup PFD and the SXAR1 shows the advantages of each; the advanced weather features and better range of the Sirius product and traffic on the Stratus. 

Is SiriusXM worth $39.99 a month? It is to me. From my observations, I can say that I love SiriusXM Aviation weather. Since I regularly fly in real weather, the echo tops, icing and selectable winds aloft features make a difference for me. I love that the weather data is usually loaded and displayed before I take off. I do a fair bit of flying in the Bahamas and XM’s radar coverage, particularly when trying to cross the Gulf Stream, is very useful. 

I have had SiriusXM weather in my plane for 12 years, but it is displayed on a Garmin 530. The limitations of the older Garmin devices preclude receiving all the benefits of the service. The portable SXAR1 unit coupled with an iPad allows a pilot to receive every benefit of the SiriusXM service. The value of in-flight real-time weather cannot be emphasized enough. 

For the owner-pilot who must comply with the ADS-B mandate by Jan. 1, 2020, it is typically far less expensive to install an ADS-B Out-only transponder and buy a portable ADS-B In receiver than to purchase a combined ADS-B Out+In device. A portable receiver allows these operators to enjoy the benefits of ADS-B In—without the installed-in-the-aircraft cost. 

In addition, the portability of the Stratus 2S and the SXAR1 are perfect for a pilot like me who flies several different aircraft. 

The SXAR1 receiver delivers the most complete and comprehensive in-flight weather data available on a portable device. The safety features in the Stratus 2—especially after the ADS-B Out mandate takes effect—are phenomenal. I plan to carry both. 

Michael Leighton is a 11,000-hour, three-time Master Flight Instructor and an A&P mechanic. He operates a Part 141 flight school in South Carolina and South Florida. You can find him on the web at flymkleighton.net. Send questions or comments to editor.

 

RESOURCES >>>>>

PORTABLE AVIATION RECEIVERS

SiriusXM SXAR1
Stratus 2S

SIRIUSXM AVIATION SUBSCRIPTIONS

SiriusXM Aviation 
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Q&A: Adding A/C to a Navajo, Fuel Flow & Adjusting K-factor, Annual Inspection Checklist for a Cherokee

Q: Hi Steve,

I’m looking for recommendations regarding the best aftermarket air conditioning for a 1968 Piper PA-31 Navajo. Any ideas?

Jeff



A: Hi Jeff,

My research shows that Air Center in Chattanooga markets its Cool Air system for many singles and twins. The company claims it can install a Cool Air system in any 28-volt airplane. However, the PA-31 is not listed on the Air Center website as an aircraft they have converted. Contact Gary Gadberry to see if he can do your Navajo. (The website and telephone number are in Resources at the end of this article. —Ed.)

Just to be clear, I did not see the Cool Air system in the FAA Supplemental Type Certificate listing; but STC listings are not always up-to-date. Since it’s not on the STC listing, make sure you ask how Air Center certifies Cool Air AC systems.

One company that is listed in the STC listings for your aircraft is Air Comm; the STC holder is listed as ACC-KP LLC in Addison, Texas. However, as I wrote above, the STC listings are not always up-to-date. It turns out that Air Comm (now in Colorado) purchased Meggitt, which had previously purchased Keith Air Conditioners.

For what it’s worth, I once installed a Keith air conditioning system in a Cessna Skymaster. The compressor and fan are electrically-powered. Unfortunately, the current draw was very high; something like 50 amps. 

Since the two alternators on that Skymaster were 38-amp units, we had to get FAA field approvals to install larger alternators to ensure that there would never be too great a draw on the airplane’s electrical system generating capacity.

Frankly, we were surprised that an STC was granted for this installation without forewarning us of the need to update the alternators. And so was the owner when we explained the need for larger alternators.

In the end, the system worked well, and I have to say it was a very comprehensive and well-engineered installation kit.


Happy flying,

Steve



Q: Hi Steve,

I see about 16 gph fuel flow on my Piper PA-28R-200 Arrow 200 at sea level takeoff power. Strangely, this puts me at about only 75 F rich of peak. I’m seeing 1,400 to 1,450 F egt during takeoff.

Is there a way to increase the takeoff power fuel flow? What fuel flow should I see at full rated power in my Arrow 200?

Baris



A: Hi Baris,

Great question. Let’s look at some statistics about the systems involved.

The Lycoming Operators Manual: O-360 and Associated Models is chock full of information about your engine and other Lycoming 360-series engines.

Figure 3.5 in the manual cites a fuel consumption at full rated power (200 hp) of 93.5 pph. 100LL Avgas weighs 6 pounds per gallon at standard temperature. If you divide 93.5 by 6, you’ll see a full-power fuel flow of 15.58 gph.

Based on the data from the performance charts published by Lycoming, you are getting a little more than full-power fuel flow at takeoff.

You said you were seeing a fuel flow of 16 gph at takeoff. I’m going to assume that you’re getting that number from a fuel flow gauge. If your fuel flow gauge is an aftermarket stand-alone gauge or is part of an aftermarket engine monitor such as the ones from Insight, Electronics International or JP Instruments, the fuel flow gph reading will be correct if what’s called the “K-factor” has been properly set during the installation of the gauge. 

You can verify the correctness of the K-factor by filling each of your tanks to a recognizable spot; on the filler neck, for instance. Then after taking off on one tank (we will call this tank No. 1), climb to an altitude you’re comfortable with for cruising and leaning. After leveling off, lean the engine in accordance with your normal practice at your normal cruise power setting. Note the time and switch to the other fuel tank (tank No. 2). 

Fly without touching the throttle or mixture knobs or climbing or descending for an hour. Note the fuel flow gauge gph reading during the flight. At the end of exactly one hour, switch from tank No. 2 back to tank No. 1 and return to base. When fueling tank No. 2, the amount of the fill should match the gph reading you noted on the fuel flow gauge. 

If it doesn’t, you need to adjust the gauge’s K-factor setting. It’s an easy task, though the exact procedure varies by gauge manufacturer. You’ll want to consult the manual for your specific gauge. Continue to adjust the K-factor and check its accuracy with the procedure I just described until you’re within a few tenths of a gallon per hour.

Regarding your temperature readings: you’ll be better served watching your CHT numbers instead of EGTs. Cylinder head temperatures are the most important number during high-power operations. Exhaust gas temperatures should not be of much concern.

If your CHT numbers stay below 400 F during high power operations, you’re getting sufficient fuel flow, no matter what your fuel flow gauge reads.

EGT numbers are used to establish peak EGT when leaning at 75 percent power or lower. Due to many variables such as installation orientation and distance from the cylinder exhaust flange, the actual numeric value of EGTs is not important.

My suggestion is that you pay attention to your CHTs and do the K-factor calibration flight and adjust the K-factor if necessary.


Happy flying,

Steve

Q: Do you have an annual checklist for a Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee that you can send me?

A: You’ll want to get ahold of a copy of the Piper Cherokee Service Manual. The Inspection Report checklist for the Cherokee series begins on the first page of Table III-I (Page 68).

Be sure to read the helpful notes at the end of the checklist—but realize that this list does not include other must-do annual inspection items such as AD research and compliance for airframe, engine, propeller and accessories such as magnetos, spark plugs, induction air filters and so on.

14 CFR Part 43, Appendix D states what items must be inspected in the course of an annual inspection. However, there is no “FAA-approved” annual inspection checklist for your (or any other) airframe. Each repair station or independent shop creates a checklist or uses the checklist in the service manual as a general guideline.


Happy flying,

Steve


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

 

RESOURCES >>>>>

 

AIR CONDITIONING

Air Center, Inc.
aircenterinc.com

Gary Gadberry
(423) 893-5444

 

Air Comm Corp.
aircommcorp.com

 

ENGINE MONITOR/FUEL FLOW
GAUGES – PFA SUPPORTER

Insight Instruments Corp.
insightavionics.com

 

ENGINE MONITORS/FUEL
FLOW GAUGES – OTHER

Electronics International, Inc.
buy-ei.com

 

JP Instruments
jpinstruments.com

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